Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cats in Art: Holy Family with the Adoration of the Child (Le Brun)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

And the  mandatory kitty close-up, this feline being found in the lower right corner.  Perhaps Le Brun was dyslexic and thought he painted this lovely feline in the lower left?

Image credit The Atheneum Holy Family with the Adoration of the Child, Charles Le Brun, 1655, oil on canvas, 34" x 46", held by The Louvre, Paris, France.

Comments from Bugler:

The Virgin raises a finger to her lips to hush the youthful John the Baptist so that he does not wake the baby.  But the Christ Child sleeps on, his pose foreshadowing that seen in many paintings of the dead Christ in his mother's lap following the Crucifixion.  For now, however, he is blissfully unaware of anything, least of all the cat dozing under the brazier.  Its eyes half closed, it encapsulates the spirit of somnolence, lending an aura of peaceful calm to the scene.

Couple of my comments: This painting is variously called The Sleeping Christ, or Holy Family with the Adoration of the Child.  Again, and I've made this point before, this is quite common the world of art history, for unless a particular artist specifically wrote down a title, it often fell to future generations to supply a convenient or descriptive one.

And as for the sleepy kitty, I have no reason to believe that house cats of the Middle Ages needed any less sleep than the 19 hours daily that cat experts tell us is typical of cats of today.

In fact, when the bride or I am looking for one of our cats, and asks something like, "Where's Ca Beere?" or "Where's Amanda?", the response is likely to be, "She's working on her 19 hours."

[Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!]

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Supremes...and Ultrarunning

I confess to a double entendre here, in referring to both Supremes.

First, regarding the highest court in the land and the dispute over whether President Obama should get to nominate a successor to the late Justice Scalia.  Or defer for a year as the Senate Republicans wish.

It might be illustrative to read about what 3 of those very Republicans said in 2008:

Republicans in Congress are twisting themselves into strange rhetorical knots trying to argue against President Obama's ability and duty to nominate Scalia's successor. The issue came up in 2008, George W. Bush's last year in office. 

At that time, Sen. Chuck Grassley said, "The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president's term." Now, he's against it.

Sen. Lamar Alexander said back then, "Just because it's a presidential election year is no excuse for us to take a vacation. And we're here. We're ready to go to work."

Sen. John Cornyn said back then, "Now is the perfect time because, of course, we're in a presidential election year and no one yet knows who the next president will be. What a unique opportunity to establish that regardless of the next president's party, the nominees will be treated fairly and on the basis of their qualifications, and not on the basis of ancient political squabbles." Now, he's against it, too.

Now, let's change gears to those other Supremes.  I liked them but didn't love them, I just got triggered by the Scalia thingy and decided to look at the Supremes' song list and create a nexus to Ultrarunning.  

It was quite easy.  Clear your mind, take a look through these song titles, and tell me you are not carried back to some trail race, memorable due to the trail or to the people you ran with, perhaps the nighttime hours of a hundred-miler?  (Supremes info credit here):

Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Am I Asking Too Much
Blowin' in the Wind
Everyday People
Fancy Passes
I Can't Make it Alone
Misery Makes its Home in my Heart
Save Me a Star
Silent Night
The Beginning of the End
Too Much a Little Too Soon
Will This be the Day

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Odd but Beautiful Weather

Day started out just fine, a pleasant midwinter day with highs in the 40s.  The last vestiges of our mammoth 38" snowfall still lay scattered about our backyard, but melting quickly.

This shot I took on Wednesday morning.  That's our water garden across the foreground, still half buried under the leaf screens:

Then around 5:30 pm we experienced some odd but beautiful weather, as a strong front surged through.  On the one hand, we saw thunderstorms with lightning in the southern sky, while a double rainbow simultaneously hung to the northeast:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cats and Cream

I am told by veterinary professionals that milk and cats don't mix.  Don't do it.

However...for centuries there is a long standing tradition in American farms to squirt a shot of milk into the mouths of the gathered kitties at milking time.

My thought is that in any balanced diet a cat can have just a taste of milk:

In this case, Ca Beere is enjoying a teaspoon--no more--of fat free half and half [image credit Gary] 

Of course, now the cat police will be storming my doors, breaking them down to prevent this egregious form of animal abuse.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

For. The. Children.

It's probably been a couple of years since I posted on the topic I loosely call For. The. Children,  and I am prompted to do so by a post I just saw over at First Draft blog.

It's entitled There is No Prison Dark or Deep Enough/For the People Who Did This to Flint.  An excerpt:

In 20 years we will have a court case, maybe, and people will discuss if reparations are due, and we will say why no, of course not, we can’t afford that, probably some people are faking or exaggerating their symptoms to cash in, and we will forget that America poisoned babies in their bathwater and there is no repair for that, only punishment.

I want serial killer prison for Rick Snyder and everyone downward who touched one of those horrifying e-mails about let’s not tell anyone about the poison. I want Supermax, Unabomber, you’re-only-alive-because-beheading-is-messy prison for anyone who knew and did nothing. For anyone who saw and stayed silent. For anyone who let a mother pour water over her baby’s head thinking in perfect safety and, it turns out, doing irrevocable damage.

Poisoning babies in their baths. I want them seeing daylight one hour out of 24. I want us to keep Gitmo open just for these people.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cats in Art: Esau Selling His Birthright to Jacob (Corneille)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

Image credit FineArtAmerica, Esau Selling His Birthright to Jacob, Michel Corneille, 1630, oil on canvas, 45" x 49", held by Musee des Beau Arts, Orleans, France.

And the kitty close up from the lower left:

Bugler's comment:

While the dog is alert and interested in the human interaction, the cat sitting by the fireside seems completely oblivious to the drama: it has just discovered its own reflection in the lid of the copper pot in which the lentils were cooked.

This key event in human history merely causes the kitty to scope out its own image.  To the cat's credit, it certainly knows what is important.

And I hardly need to point out that the artist has placed the cat in the lower left corner of the painting.  Yet again.  That positioning must have been taught in the art schools of Europe since the Middle Ages!

[Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!]

Friday, February 19, 2016

Walt Whitman...and Ultrarunning

Ran across a pair of unrelated Walt Whitman quotes recently, that could pertain directly to Ultrarunning:

And the second, from Song of Myself

I think I could turn and live with animals, 
they are so placid and self-contain'd, 
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition, 
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, 
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, 
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, 
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, 
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Real Men...and Ultrarunning

Nope, this is really not a macho post, just mostly an excuse for another cat picture:

Image credit Gary, of a refrigerator magnet in a gift shop.  Sorry, no info as to the maker!  I should have bought it.

The link to Ultrarunning is this: if we--men and women alike--are honest with ourselves, one component of the reason why we are practitioners of this sport is what in the photo above is called "Real Men."  I like to call it the smugness factor.

Remember back to your first marathon, when people that you knew told you how they simply could NOT believe that a person could run 26 miles.  No way.  We smiled and acted all self-deprecating, but inwardly we were hugging ourselves.

Fast forward to the day when you ran your first 50 miler, or later advanced to the point where you ran a 100 miler.  The smugness factor went waaaaaay up, and you knew it.  And you liked it.

The smugness factor is not why I run vast distances in the backcountry, but in my heart of hearts I know it exists.

(Of course, to be the devil's advocate, "It's not bragging if you can do it.")

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Foiled by Weather

Two days ago I was slated to do an Appalachian Trail run with a good running buddy, JS.  However, trail conditions of snow topped by ice, with a few refrozen footprints, made that not a practicable plan.

Then yesterday was to have been an AT work day along a slightly different stretch of the trail.  Squashed for the same reasons.  Oh well, people, we do live in the Northeast where it does snow in the winter.

I'll have to content myself with my trail-supporting license plate and trailhead photos:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Foreign Policy, God...and Ultrarunning

Seen somewhere recently on the Internet, but I forget where:

"I'm starting to suspect that the only strategy we have in Syria is to give weapons to random people and see what happens."

Thinking in the larger sense about warfare and conflict, I have always wondered why evangelical Christian politicians--who sometimes cherry pick and interpret quite literally certain biblical passages to justify a particular position--do not then take equally literally Jesus' words about turning the other cheek when you are attacked.  Just wondering.

The exact Biblical quote from Matthew 5:38-40New International Version (NIV):

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, but when I read up more on this, the gist of the school of thought that says "We can't really be literal about this one" is can be summarized thusly:

To "turn the other cheek," does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in mortal danger. 

This and other sites go on to make mighty definitive pronouncements about what Jesus really meant and what he could not possibly have meant.  Me, I think that if in your worldview you elect to rely on the Bible as the source of all wisdom and guidance for human affairs, and decide to go literal in some instances, you gotta go literal in all instances.

Oops, but that's a tad inconvenient for our current crop of evangelistic war-mongering Presidential candidates.

Oh, and the mandatory link to Ultrarunning: whenever I'm out in the backcountry, my thoughts go to trees, Nature, critters, and being a good animal myself as I silently run.  I don't concern myself with international affairs, revenge, or wars.

I wish our Presidential candidates were Ultrarunners; the world would have to be be a better place.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cats in Art: 3 Holy Families With Cats (Rembrandt, Dossi, Diamantini)

Happy Valentine's Day!

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

Since on 31 Jan and 7 Feb I've covered two different paintings called The Madonna of the Cat, I figure it'd only be fitting to make this week's post also on the same very popular subject matter.  I will broaden it a bit to refer to the topic as "3 Holy Families With Cats. "

I can see that many artists would have painted the Holy Family, but I am extremely gratified that so many of them included kitties in their images!

This first one is from none other than Rembrandt, entitled Virgin and Child With Cat: and Joseph at the Window.

And the mandatory kitty close-up, where the cat appears in the lower left corner, of all places:

I think it's kinda telling that the cat gets better exposure than Jesus' daddy....

Image 2 of 3 is an etching from Giuseppe Diamantini, and is called Holy Family With a Cat:

And the kitty close-up, yet again at the lower left:

Finally, I present image 3 of 3, The Holy Family, With the Young Saint John the Baptist, a Cat, and Two Donors.  This is a truly beautiful image, with sharp lines, vibrant colors, and just an air of majesty or authority:

And the close-up of the very skinny kitty, this time centered rather than in the traditional lower left corner:

Enjoy these images of the Holy Family!

[Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!]

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentines in Space

I've used some images from Phil Plait's blog Bad Astronomy in the past, and they are great.  So here goes again for 2016:

Image credit Bad Astronomy

Make sure you make your loved ones feel special tomorrow.

Note: the link above is to Phil's post as it originally appeared.  His current blog address is here, and you really should hop over there at least once a week.  You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thinking of Spring...and Ultrarunning

On cold, nasty winter days, this is one of the things that keeps me going:

Image credit Gary

A loved one got the us this orchid a couple of years ago and the bride's green thumb has helped it thrive ever since. The plant seems to like somewhat bright but filtered light conditions, so we've found our best winter location is on a mantle in front of a large east-facing window that is largely shaded by a tree outside.

In the summer the orchid resides on a table on our screen porch.

It gets multiple flowers on a stalk, size of each is perhaps 3" across.

Think spring...but remember my theory that some of the best runs you'll ever have are those undertaken when the weather, by any objective standard, sucks.  So when you head out into the teeth of the gale, or slog through snow that's deeper than your shoes, you are bound to be creating memories that you are likely to recall as good ones.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Carrying Stuff...and Ultrarunning

I've owned this SPIBELT for a couple of years now and love it:  

Image credit Gary

I believe the acronym stands for "Small Personal Items."

Normally on backcountry runs I use a 1 or 2 bottle pack, with a compartment that can also carry some food, Epipen, matches, etc.  But on very short trail runs, or on road runs, this SPIBELT fits the bill perfectly.

It is made of some stretchy material that'll easily hold my iPhone 5, my Epipen, money, and even some keys.  The waist sizing is fully adjustable so that you can crank it as tight as is required to eliminate the weight-dependent bouncing of the contents.

By the way, I have no financial interest in endorsing this product.  It simply works, and works extremely well.  It is easily found online.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Where I Run: Swamp Fox Road

Well, here in south-central PA we're going to see some more snow today, right about when our 38" monster snow from January is finally just about melted.

Oh, well, it's winter in the northeast.  It snows.  Get over it.

And now for some shots I took of one of my favorite local routes.  Note the road names!

I've posted before about this road and this route, here.  You ought to click over and scope it out.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cats in Art: The Madonna of the Cat (Romano)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art.  Having moved on from Stefano Zuffi's marvelous work, The Cat in ArtI am now using some ideas from Caroline Bugler's equally impressive book, The Cat/3500 Years of the Cat in Art.

Since last week's post was The Madonna of the Cat, I figure it'd only be fitting to make this week's post also The Madonna of the Cat.

I guess there was a shortage of unique titles back in the 1500s.  See, last week's painting was by Federico Barroci (1575), and today's is by Guilio Romano (1520).  Same title...although if you do enough looking around at museum web sites as I do, you will quickly see that titles can be kinda soft.  Unless the artist wrote down his/her actual title, it fell to future generations to develop the name for the image.  Thus both of these have been called The Madonna of the Cat...or something else.

Turns out I previously used the Romano image for a Cats in Art post back in 2011, so here is that post again:

The Madonna of the Cat: image credit here, Giulio Pippi (known as Giulio Romano), 1520, oil on wood, 171 x 143 cm, held by Capodimonte National Museum and Galleries, Naples, Italy.

And here is the kitty, cropped and close up:

The figures in the painting are Mary and Jesus, and Elizabeth and John (the Baptist).  Zuffi points out that the only figure in the painting that looks directly at the viewer is the cat, "...crouching vigilantly to the right."  He goes on:

The magnetism of this animal--only apparently marginal and extraneous to the overall design of the composition--justifies the title by which the painting is traditionally known.

If it were one of my cats, it would have bitten my toes by now.  The Madonna's surely are at risk, especially if Baby Jesus were to crawl over and pull the cat's tail.

[Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!]

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Great News from Arizona...and Ultrarunning

Of course, we cannot know what this cat calls himself, but humans have dubbed him "El Jefe."

From the Center for Biological Diversity on 3 Feb 2016:

Conservation CATalyst and the Center for Biological Diversity released new video today of the only known wild jaguar currently in the United States. Captured on remote sensor cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains just outside Tucson, the dramatic footage provides a glimpse of the secretive life of one of nature’s most majestic and charismatic creatures. This is the first ever publicly released video of the jaguar, and it comes at a critical point in this cat’s conservation.

The camera project is part of ongoing efforts to monitor mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona for endangered jaguar and ocelot. Chris Bugbee, a biologist with Conservation CATalyst, has been collecting data on the Santa Rita jaguar for the past three years.

“These glimpses into his behavior offer the keys to unlocking the mysteries of these cryptic cats” said Aletris Neils, executive director of Conservation CATalyst. “We are able to determinehe is an adult male jaguar, currently in prime condition. Every new piece of information is important for conserving northern jaguars and we look forward to building upon on these data so that we can collectively make better decisions on how to manage these fascinating and endangered cats.”  

“Jaguars have always occurred in Arizona and yet we know so little about them in the northern portion of their range. Arizona should be poised to harbor and protect both jaguars and ocelots as they continue to disperse out from Sonora,” said Bugbee.  

“Just knowing that this amazing cat is right out there, just 25 miles from downtown Tucson, is a big thrill,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center. “El Jefe has been living more or less in our backyard for more than three years now. It’s our job to make sure that his home is protected and he can get what he needs to survive.” 

El Jefe, as he has come to be known in Tucson, has been photographed repeatedly by remote sensor cameras in the Santa Ritas over the past few years. He is the only verified jaguar in the United States since Macho B was euthanized as a result of capture-related injuries in March 2009. “Jaguars are solitary cats that only tolerate each other for reproduction,” said Neils.  

But a huge conflict is brewing that threatens to destroy El Jefe’s home. A Canadian mining company is pushing to develop a massive open-pit copper mine right in the middle of the big cat’s territory. The mile-wide open pit and 800-foot-high piles of toxic mine waste would permanently destroy thousands of acres of occupied, federally protected jaguar habitat where this jaguar lives.

Things natural, wild, and free.  Sounds like a great area to take a run.  Live long and prosper, El Jefe!

Friday, February 5, 2016

A State of Permanent War

I recently read a pretty disturbing article by Micah Zenko, here, asking a pretty simple question: "How many bombs did the U.S. drop in 2015?"

Let’s review U.S. counterterrorism bombing for 2015. Last year, the United States dropped an estimated total of 23,144 bombs in six countries. Of these, 22,110 were dropped in Iraq and Syria. This estimate is based on the fact that the United States has conducted 77 percent of all airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, while there were 28,714 U.S.-led coalition munitions dropped in 2015. This overall estimate is probably slightly low, because it also assumes one bomb dropped in each drone strike in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, which is not always the case.  

So, let's accept these data at face value (Zenko's article does cite source data from which he built this estimate).  What is our policy towards ISIS?

“We kill them wherever we find them,” and just this week, Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, claimed, “If you’re part of ISIL, we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

Since our avowed foreign policy seems to be one of destroying ISIS, how are we doing?

Pentagon officials claim that at least 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed (an anonymous official said 23,000 in November, while on Wednesday, Warren added “about 2,500” more were killed in December.) Remarkably, they also claim that alongside the 25,000 fighters killed, only 6 civilians have “likely” been killed in the seventeen-month air campaign. At the same time, officials admit that the size of the group has remained wholly unchanged. In 2014, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated the size of the Islamic State to be between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters, while on Wednesday, Warren again repeated the 30,000 estimate. To summarize the anti-Islamic State bombing calculus: 30,000 – 25,000 = 30,000.

So we've killed 25,000 bad guys, but there still seems to be at least as many of them now as when we started:  "At the same time, officials admit that the size of the group has remained wholly unchanged."

Sounds like a recipe for a state of permanent war.  They are replacing themselves faster than we can kill them.

Also sounds like it's time for a different approach.  Zenko's article touches upon the notion of preventing radicalization of young people to becomes terrorists, rather than wait till they actually have crossed the line and then focus on the kill.

You should go read the article, here.  This is not an unexpected result.  Suppose your family was decimated by a drone stoke.  If you're a survivor, wouldn't you bear hatred in your heart forever for the U.S?  We are creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.  It's a failed approach.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Serendipity...and Ultrarunning

Ever have a cool unexpected experience while trail running, that occurred because you were precisely at the right place at the right time, and any number of circumstances, if altered only slightly, would have precluded the occurrence?

Courtesy of The Free Dictionary, Let me introduce the word serendipity, which was invented some 262 years ago:

We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the wordserendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which (along withhis novel The Castle of Otranto, considered the first Gothic novel) his literary reputation rests. 

In a letter of January 28, 1754, in which he discusses a certainpainting, Walpole mentions a discovery about the significance of a Venetian coat of arms that he has made while looking at random into an old book—a method by whichhe had apparently made other worthwhile discoveries before: "This discovery I made by a talisman [a procedure achieving results like a charm] ... by which I find everything I want ... wherever I dip for it. This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word." 

Walpole formed the word on an oldname for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of "a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...."

You can go to this site and read more yourself.  I can come up with a number of ultrarunning experiences that were truly serendipitous.  For example, despite spending many hours on trails and in the backcountry over the course of my lifetime, I'd never seen a bobcat...until one time about 10 years ago when I was on a business trip to Monterey, CA.   

I was running a trail in a park only a couple of miles from the city center, when I decided on a whim to take a turn at a junction.  Moments later a juvenile bobcat scampered right across the trail in front of me.  It stopped, and I stopped, in awe, and enjoyed the moment.  

The bride tells me that when she was a kid, she was told that bobcats are invisible, that's why people don't see them.  Also she revealed how puzzled she was the when she saw a sign advertising "Bobcats For Rent," dumbfounded at the fact that people could actually rent a bobcat (for what purpose is unknown)....then she realized that the ad was for a piece of equipment.