... My best friends are the Wilson twins. Every night after Lights Out at school, Pat Wilson and I lean out of our cubicle windows, which are next to each other, and discuss Astronomy, which we both prefer to anything as far as work goes. Pat has a telescope and we study those stars that we can see. For the first part of the year we had Pleiades, and the constellation of Orion, then Castor and Pollux, and what we thought to be Mars and Saturn. Now they have all moved over, and we usually have to creep past the prefect's room to other parts of the building to carry on our observations. We have been caught a few times now, though, so it's rather difficult....
Albert's reply was dated 25 Aug 1946 and offers some good thoughts about the proper response to Higher Authority:
... I hope that yours and your friend's future astronomical investigations will not be discovered anymore by the eyes and ears of your school-government. This is the attitude taken by most good citizens toward their government and I think rightly so....
(see also Seeing Stars 3 (14 Jan 2000), Personal Responsibility (9 Oct 2002) ...)
- Monday, November 25, 2002 at 06:13:58 (EST)
County Executive Doug Duncan has submitted a Supplemental Budget request to the County Council that includes $62K to begin design of five connecting paths for the CCT. One of those connectors is the Rosemary Hills Connector. The urgent need for this connector is described in the July 20, 2002 update that is below on this webpage. Another is a ramp between the Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail and the parking lot at the synagogue at Ray's Meadow, along the trestle bypass route. The other three are in Bethesda, providing access to the CCT from the sidewalks at Bradley Blvd, Arlington Road, and Mass. Ave.
A new Capital Improvements Project (CIP) budget is approved every two years, and this request for supplemental funding outside of the normal two year cycle indicates the Executive is aware of the urgency of this project.
On 29 October the Transportation and Environment Committee of the County Council recommended the Council NOT support the funding, in part because the Council staff recommendation dismissed the CCT as being only "recreational" and as not having any significant transportation value. The issue will be taken up for a vote by the full Council on 26 November. If the full Council upholds the committee recommendation, it will be at least two years before Rosemary Hills will have safe access to the trestle and Trail.
Provoked into a fine and fiery frenzy, on Friday evening I wrote the following turgid and too-long note to my Elected Representatives:
Dear County Council members,
I read that the Council will soon have the opportunity to vote on a Supplemental Budget request to expand access to the Capital Crescent Trail in Silver Spring and elsewhere.
Trails are extraordinarily important to all of us in Montgomery County, for countless reasons. Our trail system offers valuable transportation alternatives for many who bicycle, skate, jog, or walk on their way to work, shop, and reach other destinations. Trails offer safe access to tennis courts, soccer fields, playgrounds, and other recreational facilities. And children (and adults!) can observe and learn about nature along our trails. In recent months during my own excursions I have seen a surprising range of fauna of all sorts, "up close and personal" --- including diverse birds, squirrels, deer, raccoons, snakes, turtles, and rabbits. It's a true delight to see wildlife in our own neighborhoods, and to remember that human beings are only one part of a wide spectrum of creatures that share our world. And the trees and bushes and flowers and ferns and other flora along our trails add further wealth to our lives here in Montgomery County.
But even more important in my belief, and much more often overlooked, are the major benefits to the health of people in our County provided by our trail system. Exercise is simply good for us all --- as new medical studies are constantly re-discovering (surprise, surprise!). My own experience during the past year offers a graphic example. In January 2002 my doctor diagnosed me with hypertension and put me on medication to reduce my blood pressure; I was overweight and over-stressed. She said that I could try getting some more exercise, but she was skeptical that it could make much difference for me.
Silver Spring has been my home since 1979, but until this year I never appreciated the marvelous network of trails that run, almost invisibly, around and through our County. I began to walk and then to run slowly along the paths in my area. I started with short jogs along segments of the Rock Creek Trail. Soon I discovered the Georgetown Branch Trail that intersects it and leads to Bethesda. I extended my jaunts further up and down Rock Creek, and then over to Sligo Creek Trail to the east and the Capital Crescent Trail to the west. It was fun for me (after a while!) --- but it was also a critical part of my health care. I lost weight, gained energy, reduced my stress level, and lowered my blood pressure ... enough so that, by July, my doctor permitted me to stop taking the antihypertensive pills which she had prescribed.
On 17 November I was proud to participate in the Montgomery County "Marathon in the Parks". Over 800 runners went 26.2 miles on Sunday morning, starting near the Shady Grove metro station and proceeding around Lake Needwood, down Rock Creek Trail, and across on the Georgetown Branch Trail to a finish line in downtown Bethesda. I was not fast, and I did a lot of walking along the way, but I finished the course --- and I had yet another chance along the way to marvel at the lovely trail system which we have in this County. I also realized, again, the immense contribution that our trail network made to my improved mental and physical health.
Our trail system is far more than a "recreational" frill for County residents --- it's a vital component of our lives.
I thus respectfully request that you support the trail system in Montgomery County --- as a contribution to better health for County residents, as well as for better transportation, recreation, education, and environmental preservation.
Thank you all for your fine work on behalf of our County!
^z = Mark Zimmermann = http://www.his.com/~z/
It's not likely to change anybody's mind this time around, at such short notice, but perhaps in the long run similar arguments will help increase investment in urban and suburban access to nature ....
- Sunday, November 24, 2002 at 16:41:29 (EST)
But surrender all fantasy of control and the odds improve. A recent bequest to Poetry magazine by Ruth Lilly, last heir to a drug company fortune, suggests a good approach. Find something that's already alive --- an ongoing enterprise, or a forest, or just an enthusiastic group of people --- and give it your support. Don't tell it what to do; simply provide it with the resources it needs to grow. Then let it go ....
(see also Anonymous Immortality (7 Dec 1999), Shakespearean Ivy (22 Jan 2000), ...)
- Saturday, November 23, 2002 at 10:36:35 (EST)
Now I'm trying to outgrow my embarrassment at another phenomenon which might be called PDPs --- Public Displays of Patriotism --- flag waving, national anthem singing, jingoistic speechifying, allegiance pledging, independence-day in-formation marching, and so forth. Yes, like PDAs, PDPs are often overdone and go a bit beyond good taste. Yes, a mature person may well cringe at youthful (and elderly) exuberance in expressing public-spirited emotions.
But as Edward Gibbon observed in Chapter 1 of his Decline and Fall (see Gibbon::GibbonRePatriotism):
"That public virtue which among the ancients was denominated patriotism, is derived from a strong sense of our own interest in the preservation and prosperity of the free government of which we are members."
If we want to have another generation around, to subsidize us in our retirement, we probably need to tolerate PDAs. If we want to have a civilization around, to keep the peace, we probably need to tolerate PDPs. And maybe we should go beyond tolerance and applaud (or at least smile upon) both sorts of public displays ....
- Friday, November 22, 2002 at 06:45:53 (EST)
As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toadstool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name.
The narrator ("Call me Ishmael....") continues in good comic style to describe his growing concern over Queequeg's lengthy observances, until he gets to the wise conclusion:
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also.
And then, of course, he can't help himself and commences a hilarious lecture to Queequeg over precisely the issues which he said he would ignore ....
(see also My Religion (6 Nov 2000), Religion And Reverence (8 Jul 2001), Cardinal Newman (4 Oct 2001), Tolerance And Pacifism (8 Nov 2001), ...
- Thursday, November 21, 2002 at 06:17:09 (EST)
Well, they struck again early on Tuesday the 19th. I rose at 0430 local time; hobbled downstairs; donned slippers, sweatshirt, cap, gloves, and windbreaker; and creaked through the front door to station myself on the neighbors' front lawn. This year the hobbling and creaking were literal events, since my left knee was still voicing its complaints about the previous Sunday's stroll in the park (see Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002)).
Streetlights and porch lights glared, looming trees obscured the majority of the heavens, and the glow of an almost-full moon painted a watercolor wash that rendered all but the brightest stars invisible. Nevertheless I saw a handful of Leonid meteors within ten minutes --- enough to convince me to go back indoors, wake my son Robin (aka Rad Rob), and invite him to join me in the ordeal. He was eager, particularly since an astronomy enthusiast had announced the possibility of a strong meteor storm at the prior evening's Boy Scout meeting --- it was billed as "the best opportunity for the next 90 years!"
I added a winter parka to my layered defenses, changed into better shoes, and with Rad Rob returned to keep our vigil at about 0500. We immediately saw a couple of meteors. They persuaded us to jump in a car and drive a mile to a meadow in a local park (where I remembered once upon a time seeing a sunbather ... not that I was paying attention, mind you ... but it was near mile 2.4 of Rock Creek Trail on 1 June 2002, a hot and humid day; she was stretched out in a bikini, working hard to increase the melanin content of her well-exposed skin when I went by on a jog to the Kensington post office; half an hour later as I returned homeward she was gone ... mind you, not that I was paying attention ... but I digress) where we hoped to find fewer obstructions and no local lights. The car windows fogged badly, on both outside and inside. When we arrived at the park a couple of other early risers were already there, one smoking a cigarette. They leaned against their car, heads tipped back. As we approached them I killed our headlights to help preserve their night vision.
We pulled off the road, emerged from our vehicle, surveyed the terrain, and crossed the street where we lay down on our backs on Rock Creek Trail. The seeing was good, modulo the setting moon's interference. Orion stood proud in the southwest, belt stars leading the eye down to Sirius; Jupiter dominated the south-central sky; an inverted Big Dipper hung by its handle to the north. At 0510 the International Space Station popped out of the Earth's shadow almost overhead and crept brightly toward the southeast.
Rad Rob and I saw several dozen fine meteors --- swift streaks, many of which left glowing wakes behind them. They matched the thumbnail description in my old Norton's Star Atlas: ""Very fast. Persistent trains." It was rather fun, lying there in the dark and exchanging profundities such as "Hey, bright one heading west --- did you see that?" ... "Nope, missed it" ... "Ooh, look at that!" ... and so forth.
After ~45 minutes of scanning the skies we declared victory and went home. I spent the remainder of the pre-dawn hour trying to thaw my frozen feet. Until next year ....
- Wednesday, November 20, 2002 at 11:58:01 (EST)
It's a fine essay, worth re-reading. It reminds me of Jonathan Sturm's recent comments on the value of knowing the first name of the person who is the source of your meals, and on the independence earned by growing your own food. It also resonates with some old ^zhurnal bits (e.g., What Counts (24 Nov 1999), Robert Nozick (2 Feb 2002), ...).
Pollan's article led me to the complete version of Jeremy Bentham's 1789 remarks on animal rights which I quoted in part here a couple of years ago (see Suffer The Animals (11 June 2000)). Footnote 2 in Chapter XVII of Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation is quite interesting in its totality. It reads:
Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us: we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit. [Cruelty to animals]. The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
- Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at 16:38:11 (EST)
First, some kudos. All the MitP volunteers did a splendid job; as a friend (CR) commented, of the marathons he has experienced this one was notably the best organized. Race packet pickup was managed efficiently, and the low entry fee included a high-quality cold-weather running shirt. Event day featured a comfy-warm tent before the start, a well-marked route, accurate mileposts, precise timing technology, and bountiful food and drink, both along the way and at the finish. Spectators were not numerous, but the ones who ventured out were enthusiastic. ("Hooray, it's Santa Claus!" several greeted me. "Merry Christmas!" I replied.) First aid stations were frequent and professionally run. Police protection was meticulous at major road crossings.
The MitP course itself is beautiful. It starts on wide city streets, branches onto residential lanes, and then curves past Lake Needwood. At the 10 mile mark it turns to follow Rock Creek through forested parklands, leaving the water at intervals to venture over small hills, across meadows, and past fractured gray rock outcroppings. I've often trained along these trails during the past year and have been pleasantly startled by deer, rabbits, and countless squirrels and birds. Neat paths, in short, delightful to experience.
So with all those factors going for it, why did today's excursion turn into such a tough test for me? I had fantasized that my familiarity with the course plus the usual race-day magical aura might let me maintain a 10 minute/mile pace --- "Plan Ten", I called it. The weather was better than forecast: cool but not frigid, light winds rather than a Nor'easter gale, and intermittent sprinkles instead of heavy rains. I wore new (but sufficiently broken-in) shoes, a full size larger than those that pinched my toes a few weeks ago. My feet were well-coated with grease, my head and hands and torso were warmly clad, and I had a comrade (SA) to run alongside me. I was able, without much trouble, to skirt even the hugest of puddles left on the course by yesterday's showers. Wet shoes and socks didn't faze me. I felt rested and ready at dawn.
Yet I finished in pain, and slightly slower than at the Marine Corps Marathon three weeks ago which had seemed such a piece o' cake. Why? I don't know exactly, but I have enough data to suggest several hypotheses.
Early this morning I felt some twinges on the bottom of my left foot. They faded away, for the most part, but during the initial miles of the race my left knee began a serious ache. I ignored the pain and pressed onward. The first half of the marathon flowed by smoothly; and Plan Ten was right on target. Then things unraveled --- or as they say in military affairs, "No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy". I met The Wall.
I suddenly began to feel tired and started walking. Initially I did it only on uphill gradients, through water stops, and when crossing the mud wallows churned up by earlier passers-by. Then I had to start scheduling walking breaks by the clock. I tried taking it easy one minute in every five. But the breaks soon grew longer --- to one in four, one in three, one in two, and more. Plan Ten quietly evolved into Plan Eleven, which became Plan Twelve, which eventually transformed itself into Plan Z: finish, regardless of time. My fellow-traveler (SA) passed me, with my blessings, and ran on ahead.
But hope springs eternal: at about mile 22.5 I found myself walking near a young woman, a first-time marathoner she told me, who seemed to feel somewhat more chipper than I did. We chatted and walked and jogged and played mind games on ourselves: "Let's run to the next corner" ... "Just to that big tree" ... "We can start running again at the sign"... and so forth. It worked, briefly --- until near mile 23.5 when my upper left leg muscles began to cramp. Ugh! I told my companion to carry on while I stretched and hobbled along. Attempts to start striding just brought the cramps back worse, and spread them to my left calf.
After executing an ignominious stiff-legged crawl for half a mile I found a compromise that both body and mind could accept: I would jog (slowly!) for 50 to 100 paces, then pay the piper by walking for an equal number of steps. My left knee hurt again, especially during the transition from the walks to the runs. But I could stand it. My speed increased slightly, and I estimated that I might at least finish the ordeal in slightly under five hours, preserving a small shred of honor. Thus passed the 26th mile.
That left me in a quandry. How to cover the remaining 285 yards? Pride played the trump card: I conserved my energy and walked through the course's final tunnel, where hardly anybody could see me, and then bumped the pace up to a staggering run as I emerged and turned toward the goal. My wife and daughter were there to cheer me on. The announcer read my number, called out my name, and made a ZZ Top joke about my beard. I shambled across the finish line, accepted my medal, ate, drank, and came home to type this with a bag of frozen peas balanced on my sore knee.
Lessons learned? Many, including:
I also speculate that a Zimmermann Conservation Law may govern Z-familial total running comfort --- since, on this very morning of my suffering, my brother Keith was setting a pleasant personal record on a half-marathon race half a continent away. Our positions were reversed at the Marine Corps Marathon on 27 October when he he had to tough it out while my spirit soared. (see Bless The Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002))
And for those who want mile-by-mile statistical details, plus brief impressionistic commentary:
|01||0:09:29||09:29||my typical too-fast start|
|02||0:19:15||09:46||still ambitiously brisk; left knee begins to hint of serious trouble to come (time approximate --- I missed the mile marker)|
|03||0:29:35||10:20||first water stop accounts for the slight but sensible slowdown|
|04||0:39:25||09:50||my knee issues further warnings, which I continue to ignore|
|05||0:49:25||10:00||"Plan Ten" proceeds apace (10 minutes/mile)|
|06||0:59:16||09:51||knee complaints intensify, esp. on downhill stretches|
|07||1:09:43||10:27||great views across Lake Needwood|
|08||1:19:56||10:13||migrating geese honk hello|
|09||1:30:27||10:31||as the course hooks back, SA & I see that we are not quite last in line|
|10||1:39:46||09:19||a steep downhill segment concludes the county-road-dominated part of the course and sends us onto Rock Creek Trail --- terra cognita for me, as I've jogged here many times in recent months|
|11||1:49:19||09:33||gentle rolling hills; no animals seen today, unusual but explained by the flocks of noisy 'thoners storming along|
|12||1:58:55||09:36||first of many major encounters with flooded areas of the path --- wet feet and muddy calves commence|
|13||2:09:43||10:48||we pass the Sue Wen Stottmeister memorial glade, with its flowers, flags, and race medals (see Sue Wen Run (29 May 2002))|
|14||2:20:33||10:50||big puddles turn the trek into an obstacle course|
|15||2:31:14||10:41||the last of the major hills, though enough ripples remain to challenge us|
|16||2:42:50||11:36||The Wall, bane of overconfident marathoners, knocks and announces its presence to me ...|
|17||2:53:31||10:41||... I try to ignore it ...|
|18||3:05:31||12:00||... but it insists --- so I start taking deliberate walks every five minutes|
|19||3:17:24||11:53||my walking breaks lengthen|
|20||3:29:30||12:06||I fail to note the mile marker in my bonked state (time approximate)|
|21||3:43:10||13:40||my running duty cycle shrinks further, to ~50%|
|22||3:57:00||13:50||a truck protecting the road crossing is playing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" on its speakers, for which I thank the owner|
|23||4:10:14||13:14||jog-walking with a new acquaintance, the pace improves ...|
|24||4:24:48||14:34||... until my left leg seizes up in cramps of the quadriceps and calf muscles|
|25||4:38:55||14:07||slight improvement, as I learn to alternate short jogs and walks|
|26||4:52:26||13:31||further refinement of my desperation strategy gains a few seconds, until ...|
|26.2||4:55:09||... The End!|
People have said that if the pain of childbirth were properly remembered there would be far fewer brothers and sisters. Similarly, if the agonies of (some) marathons were not so quickly forgotten, repeat performers at that distance would be scarce. Alas, amnesia is already setting in: health permitting, I'm thinking about trying some more long runs soon ....
(for pointers to generic ^zhurnal entries on pavement-pounding see Topic Running; for specific GPS latitude/longitude measurements along the MitP course see Coordinate Collection (19 May 2002) and Marathon Coordinates (3 Oct 2002))
- Sunday, November 17, 2002 at 21:36:43 (EST)
... and so forth.
But better would be to express such choices in a positive way, in the gentle spirit of the late Leonard Read (see Education Versus Eduction (30 Apr 1999), ...). Read's mantra was "Anything that's peaceful!" He worked via his Foundation for Economic Education to spread a philosophy of liberty and justice; he sought out good ideas and shared them with anybody who was ready to listen.
So perhaps I should say:
... and so forth.
Maybe it's more accurate to put it that way ... and it certainly sounds nicer. But alas, I've gotta confess that it's not nearly as much fun as saying things negatively ....
- Saturday, November 16, 2002 at 11:04:52 (EST)
- Friday, November 15, 2002 at 06:55:18 (EST)
(correlates: Why This, Readings On Thinking And Living, Tidy Time, ...)
What that means is that, as far as my "Oracle" program is concerned, the listed "correlates" have something in common with the current page ... and therefore might be worth looking at if you're interested in pursuing a subject further. In this specific example, the details read:
So Why This is linked to Dear Diary with strength 0.60, mostly (0.59) because of the (stemmed) phrase elements "opinion- thought-". More on all that another time; ask me if you're curious.
The process for doing auto-linkage among ^zhurnal entries is rather a hodge-podge of tinkering. In brief, I have to:
Unfortunately, the links suggested by the Oracle are sometimes rather bizarre, since the program simply uses a weighted-average statistical analysis of the co-occurrence of words and short phrases --- and not any sort of deep natural-language "understanding" of page content. (See Correl Oracle, Correl Oracle2, Correl Oracle3, etc. for gory details of how the correlations are calculated.)
But on the brighter side, many of the links that the Oracle recommends aren't half bad ... they're a sporadically-helpful navigation aid between pages which otherwise wouldn't have been linked, because no human being has enough time to do so. CPU cycles are cheap nowadays; we might as well burn some if the result can help people a wee bit. (And "burn" has a more literal meaning on my Macintosh iBook, since the little laptop gets uncomfortably toasty against my leg after so much heavy computation.)
- Thursday, November 14, 2002 at 06:48:22 (EST)
But suddenly now, as with the Stuttgart soccer player Mark Zimmermann (see Will The Real, 13 Feb 2001), I find that I've begun to develop a personal affinity for Wiki Gonzalez ... purely by chance, of course, because of a naming coincidence. That's how lots of connections get made in the real world. Consider most choices of career, not to mention spouse (and children, and parents, and other relatives, eh?!).
Maybe a certain amount of randomness is a good thing ....
- Wednesday, November 13, 2002 at 11:26:57 (EST)
"Look at it this way --- you aren't out to run one marathon. You are out to run so many that you lose track of them."
Joe Henderson (see Pleasant Surprises (8 Aug 2002)) struck a similar chord in his collection of essays Run Gently, Run Long (1974), when he suggested:
"If you're running to last, it may be best not to set high goals for yourself. Goals are stopping places when they relate to racing performance. People stop when they fall short of them, and often when they reach them. The only goal should be to keep going. To keep going, you have to keep healthy, happy, and hungry. You have to get your kicks from the means, not some imagined end."
It's the journey, not the arrival, that matters. The same applies to just about every worthwhile pursuit in life (though maybe one shouldn't try to get married and divorced too many times to count, eh?!) ...
- Monday, November 11, 2002 at 20:38:01 (EST)
"Baseball is hard, as I have been saying here, but there are days when it yields a little to good luck and good play, and suddenly seems almost easy. It becomes a game again, instead of a business or a war or a test of character, and for once we can smile and simply enjoy it."
- Sunday, November 10, 2002 at 11:21:27 (EST)
The youngsters out there won't believe this, but there was a time when the U.S. Congress was an estimable branch of the American government. It was a place where people took lawmaking almost as seriously as winning elections, where strong views were tempered in the interest of solving problems. There was a prevailing aura of good will that reflected the well-meaning homeyness of America. Sometimes memorable and illuminating debates took place. Really.
Now --- to put it in the slam-dance vernacular of politics today --- it is a collection of the spineless led by the cynical, constantly lap-dancing for special-interest cash to finance the permanent campaign, deadlocked not over high principles but over petty partisan advantage ....
Good metaphors, and accurate invective about our current quasi-obscene legislative mess. One might try to argue, on the other side, that past Congresses were not always full of colossal statesmen ... that we tend to remember the high points of historical rhetoric and forget the petty squabbling of the politicos ... and that money has (almost) always spoken louder than justice.
But that debate misses the point. In a real sense, the fault is not in our political stars but in ourselves. We, the people, seem to elect a preponderance of quasi-losers year after year. Why? Buckets of cash can pay for slick hucksters who shout through the amplifiers of mass media, sure, and reach big audiences. But advertising can't sell bum products, at least not forever; folks eventually catch on that they've been fooled.
The pollution of politics by money is not a new problem. Historian Michael Grant describes Julius Caesar's career as a succession of ever-large fund-raising endeavors, each one required to pay for the next step up the Roman ladder. Sound familiar?
There's no quick-fix single-point solution to our current governmental challenges. Term limitations and campaign financing reform may be part(s) of the answer(s). But real progress will come only when we can reduce the effectiveness of money as a vote-getting tool.
Maybe "Make them spend it all" wouldn't be a bad slogan for a grass-roots counterrevolution. We need to promote (starting with ourselves) a conscious ridicule of moneybags ... a deliberate bias toward the candidate (usually not the incumbent) who expends the least on advertising ... a strong allergic reaction to junk-mailed brochures and computer-generated phone calls ... and a willingness to talk with one another before entering the voting booth --- to share information about choices one-to-one rather than one-to-many, horizontally rather than hierarchically.
Our mantra could be: "Not for sale" ....
- Saturday, November 09, 2002 at 20:34:03 (EST)
But my comrade's group rebelled and picked a more realistic, and perhaps far wiser, motto. Their choice?
Go for the bronze!
(see also Two Great Secrets (9 Nov 2001), ...)
- Thursday, November 07, 2002 at 18:07:01 (EST)
A recent example: on Sunday morning I found a scrawny little squirrel, a veritable tree-rat, lying stretched out on our front doorstep. At first I thought it was dead. It seemed to have a puncture wound in its side, perhaps from a neighborhood cat or dog that killed it and left it there as a trophy for us to admire. Or maybe it had fallen out of its nest in the huge pin oak tree that looms over our house.
Then I saw that it still was breathing, in shallow little gasps. I wanted to cry.
I couldn't just leave the baby squirrel there. I thought about smashing it with a rock, "to put it out of its misery", but I couldn't bring myself to do that either. I didn't want to touch it, so I scooped it up with an empty flowerpot and heaved it toward a bush in the front yard.
A minute later I heard the most piteous high-pitched shrieks imaginable; they sounded like strange bird-calls, but of course they came from the wee creature. I went out and found it, stretched out and panting; somehow it had turned itself over onto its stomach again. All I could think to do was cover its tiny body loosely with dry leaves, to insulate it a bit against the cold and, I thought, "give it a chance". Maybe a predator would come soon to finish it off.
I tried to forget, but only remembered more clearly the time when, a decade ago, I found a small and not-quite-dead mousie in one of my traps. Its back was broken, its hind legs paralyzed, but still it struggled. I took it outside and released it under a shrub, where it dragged itself slowly into a hiding place beneath some leaves, doubtless to die there. But maybe it was a bit less terrified in its final minutes than it would have been in the mousetrap. At least, so I tell myself. I did all that I could do for it ... and still, the situation was so sad. I set the trap, and this was the result.
Thankfully, this year's Sunday story has a perhaps-happier ending. An hour later I chanced to see a big squirrel on the ground in my front yard, probably the mother of the fallen-from-the-treetop-cradle baby. She picked up its little body in her jaws and sprang up the side of the oak. I can now fantasize that she took it back to the nest, where maybe, just maybe, the infant is recovering. I hope so ....
(see also Just Desserts (20 Sep 1999), Learning Inconsistency (12 Oct 1999), Suffer The Animals (11 Jun 2000), Robert Nozick (2 Feb 2002), ...)
- Wednesday, November 06, 2002 at 06:06:51 (EST)
On Saturday 2 Nov 2002, the day before the race, Frank Litsky wrote in the New York Times:
When Jifar was asked if he would win, he said, "God knows." When asked if God had told him how the race would come out, he answered, "We talk to one another privately."
- Tuesday, November 05, 2002 at 18:58:41 (EST)
For the first time in our long talks, he seemed a bit uncertain. He did not sound crazy but only like a man who could no longer find work or a challenge that was nearly difficult enough to nurture his extraordinarily demanding inner requirements. Maybe there was no such work, outside of pitching. Baseball is the most individual and the most difficult of all team sports, and the handful of young men who can play it superbly must sense, however glimmeringly, that there will be some long-lasting future payment exacted for the privileges and satisfactions they have won for themselves. Like other team sports, baseball cannot be played in middle age; there is no cheerful, companionable afternoon to the game, as there is for old golfers and tennis players and the like. A lot of ex-ballplayers become sentimental, self-pitying, garrulous bores when they are cut off from the game. Some of them, including some great stars, go to pieces.
Thinking of what Wendy [Gibson's wife] had said, I told Bob Gibson that I was sometimes aware of a sadness in him.
"Sad?" he said uncomprehendingly. "No, I'm not sad. I just think I've been spoiled. When you've been an athlete, there's no place for you to go. You're much harder to please. But where I am right now is where the average person has been all along. I'm like millions of others now, and I'm finding out what that's like. I don't think the ordinary person ever gets to do anything they enjoy nearly as much as I enjoyed playing ball. I haven't found my niche now that that's over --- or maybe I have found it and I don't know it. Maybe I'll still find something I like as much as I liked pitching, but I don't know if I will. I sure hope so."
Maybe he will. Athletes illuminate our imaginations and raise our hopes for ourselves to such an extent that we often want the best of them to become models for us in every area of life --- an unfair and childish expectation. But Bob Gibson is a tough and resolute man, and the unique blend of independence and pride and self-imposed isolation in his character --- the distance again --- will continue to serve him in the new and even more difficult contest he is engaged in. Those who know him best will look to him for something brilliant and special now, just as they have always done. Even those of us who have not been spoiled by any athletic triumphs of our own and the fulfillment of the wild expectations of our early youth are aware of a humdrum, twilight quality to all of our doings of middle life, however successful they may prove to be. There is a loss of light and ease and early joy, and we look to other exemplars --- mentors and philosophers: grown men --- to sustain us in that loss. A few athletes, a rare handful, have gone on, once their day out on the field was done, to join that number, and it is possible --- the expectation will not quite go away --- that Bob Gibson may be among them someday. Nothing he ever does will surprise me.
- Monday, November 04, 2002 at 06:12:16 (EST)
But for those who want less fuzzy humanity and more quantitative ammunition for their analyses, consider please the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates that I captured as my brother and I jogged along the course. (Click on the thumbnail to see the full image as produced by Keith Zimmermann.)
|an aerial photo of the downtown Washington DC area with connect-the-dots marathon mile markers (but missing #7 and #8, alas; see below) --- ~400 kb|
|a USGS topographic map of the same data, showing contour lines and labeled features --- ~2 MB|
And for the true quants in the audience, behold the raw lat/lon data, accompanied by timing information recorded on my stopwatch as we ran, plus a few contextual remarks:
|01||38:52:32||77:03:22||0:09:48||09:48||swept away by early enthusiasm and adrenalin|
|02||38:51:43||77:03:07||0:20:11||10:23||settling down to a saner pace: Keith's schedule of 1 minute walking per 4 minutes of running for the first half of the course|
|03||38:51:48||77:03:51||0:30:42||10:31||jogging past the shopping centers and apartment complexes of Arlington, following the route KZ & I had driven a few days earlier in our preliminary reconnaissance|
|04||38:52:01||77:03:20||0:41:00||10:18||Pentagon south parking lot|
|05||38:52:24||77:03:30||0:51:40||10:40||northwestern side of the Pentagon, near the 11 Sep 2001 terrorist attack|
|06||38:52:19||77:03:04||1:01:48||10:08||approaching the 10km mark where our official time was recorded as 1:03:49|
|07||-||-||-||-||no mile 7 marker seen (I am told it was hidden by the crowds)|
|08||-||-||-||-||no mile 8 marker seen|
|09||38:53:52||77:04:08||1:32:46||-||approaching the Key Bridge from Rosslyn to Georgetown|
|10||38:54:19||77:03:36||1:43:36||10:50||on the bumpy pavement and slippery steel plates of M Street|
|11||38:54:34||77:03:02||1:54:18||10:42||in Rock Creek, parallel to the path that I've sporadically jogged between the Levine School of Music and the Kennedy Center over the past few months|
|12||38:55:07||77:03:21||2:05:01||10:43||near the turnaround point (and out of earshot of the bagpipers who played vigorously further south along Rock Creek Parkway)|
|13||38:54:30||77:03:14||2:15:53||10:52||confession: we sprinted a bit as we neared the 13.1 mile half marathon sensor pad, where our time was officially logged as 2:16:56|
|14||38:53:41||77:03:23||2:26:57||11:04||by the Kennedy Center and the Potomac|
|15||38:53:31||77:02:33||2:37:40||10:43||past the Lincoln Memorial, the Einstein statue at the National Academy of Sciences, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, etc.|
|16||38:53:29||77:01:41||2:48:29||10:49||after viewing the White House and the Washington Monument we cut here onto the Mall proper, by the Smithsonian museums of American History and Natural History|
|17||38:53:35||77:00:43||3:00:08||11:39||past the National Galleries of Art and turning northeast toward Union Station|
|18||38:53:14||77:00:22||3:11:49||11:41||just in front of the Library of Congress on the eastern side of the Capitol|
|19||38:53:20||77:01:11||3:23:34||11:45||hooking into the south side of the Mall near the Air & Space Museum, the Hirschorn, the Freer, and other art galleries|
|20||38:53:16||77:02:16||3:35:31||11:57||back to the Washington Monument|
|21||38:53:05||77:02:51||3:47:38||12:07||curving down to the river again near the Lincoln Memorial|
|22||38:53:02||77:01:59||3:59:57||12:19||on the approach to the 14th Street Bridge, near the unofficial free beer distribution point|
|23||38:52:29||77:02:34||4:11:32||11:35||crossing the Potomac again, on a bridge that seemed to be mostly uphill|
|24||38:52:00||77:03:14||4:23:42||12:10||a final view of the Pentagon|
|25||38:52:46||77:03:35||4:37:15||13:33||commencing a long climb up toward the end of the race, roadsides packed with cheering spectators|
|26||38:53:24||77:04:09||4:50:13||12:58||almost there, but first a final arc around the Iwo Jima Memorial (this is the Marine Corps Marathon, after all)|
|26.2||38:53:22||77:04:13||4:53:00||-||the finish line ("Rejoice --- we conquer!")|
(All latitudes are North, all longitudes are West; datum is WGS84. Note that this table may contain errors from both measurement and transcription. See also Global Positioning System Runs (16 Feb 2002), Gettysburg Coordinates (27 Feb 2002), Richardsonian Extrapolation (18 Apr 2002), Coordinate Collection (19 May 2002), Rock Creek Trail (31 May 2002), Boston Public Library (20 Jun 2002), Marathon Coordinates (3 Oct 2002), ...)
- Friday, November 01, 2002 at 06:15:26 (EST)
Alas, to a low-minded creature such as Yours Truly, a crude pun on the first word of "memory support" brings up utterly inappropriate images of unmentionable undergarments. Silly, I must confess --- but not a wholly irrelevant metaphor. Writing notes to oneself is a splendid way to lift and separate recollections from their unenhanced state. Personal memoranda, carefully composed, can shape thoughts to make them stand out dramatically. Artificial, arguably unnatural ... but to make a clean breast of it, as with physical body-building the results can be quite striking.
And as Hadot himself (or his translator, Michael Chase) so aptly puts it, hypomnemata help a person both form and inform the mind --- two noble goals for an examined life.
(see also Dear Diary (19 Mar 2001), Zhurnal Anniversary2 (4 Apr 2001), Self Improvement (29 Aug 2002), Inside The Inner Citadel (15 Oct 2002), ...)
- Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 06:13:18 (EST)
But set aside the amateur production values, consider the content, and The Slower Runner's Guide shines. Throughout his little book, Amchan offers sensible guidance, light-hearted encouragement, and a strong dose of experience-based wisdom. Some examples:
- Wednesday, October 30, 2002 at 09:36:39 (EST)
For instance, when I start ranting about endemic societal stupidity (or pseudoscientific balderdash, or mass media idiocy, or selfish shortsightedness, or ...) would somebody please come up behind me (metaphorically) and apply the maneuver? I'll thank you afterwards, I promise ....
- Tuesday, October 29, 2002 at 07:05:12 (EST)
The MCM (see http://www.marinemarathon.com) is also known as "The People's Marathon"; it attracts all sorts of folks, but relatively few professional runners because there are no monetary prizes. It's also called "The Marathon of the Monuments" since the course passes by so many Washington DC area landmarks --- the Capitol building, various Smithsonian museums, the Washington and Lincoln memorials, the Pentagon, the White House, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and on and on.
Data freak that I am, I carried a GPS receiver and took coordinates at almost every mile marker; I also recorded the time that Keith and I passed each of those points. Those numbers will perhaps appear in a later ^zhurnal entry. Meanwhile the official record shows:
|10k||Half||18 Mile||Pace||Predicted||Clock Time||Chip Time||Overall||Over Sex||Over Division|
To translate that for the nonaficionado: Keith and I finished the first 10 kilometers in a trifle less than 1 hour 4 minutes, did the half marathon (~13.1 miles) a few seconds under 2 hours 17 minutes, and reached the 18 mile point just before 3 hours 12 minutes. We took almost 10.5 minutes per mile for the first half. Our predicted total time (doubling the half marathon readout) is thus about 4 hours 34 minutes. By the official clock, set ticking at the firing of the Marine howitzer at 8:30am that morning, our actual finishing time was a little over 4 hours 54 minutes. But since we didn't reach the starting line until over a minute after the gun (due to crowds) our time as reckoned by the computer chip sensors laced to our respective shoes was about 4 hours 53 minutes. I came in 8732nd place overall, 6006th among the men and 460th within the 50-54 year old group.
But enough arithmetic! A few human images:
- Monday, October 28, 2002 at 06:35:21 (EST)
And in a magical-marvelous linguistic coincidence of sound and meaning, the word zhurnal is pronounced just like the central syllables of the English phrase Treasure Knowledge --- which is precisely what the ^zhurnal is all about. What a miracle!
(see also Secret Origins (3 Aug 2001), ...)
- Saturday, October 26, 2002 at 06:20:17 (EDT)
from Chapter 1, "Forms of Life and Forms of Discourse in Ancient Philosophy":
By the time of the Platonic dialogues Socrates was called atopos, that is, "unclassifiable." What makes him atopos is precisely the fact that he is a "philo-sopher" in the etymological sense of the word; that is, he is in love with wisdom. For wisdom, says Diotima in Plato's Symposium, is not a human state, it is a state of perfection of being and knowledge that can only be divine. It is the love of this wisdom, which is foreign to the world, that makes the philosopher a stranger in it.
from Chapter 3, "Spiritual Exercises", section 1, "Learning to Live":
Spiritual exercises can be best observed in the context of Hellenistic and Roman schools of philosophy. The Stoics, for instance, declared explicitly that philosophy, for them, was an "exercise." In their view, philosophy did not consist in teaching an abstract theory --- much less in the exegesis of texts --- but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate lifestyle, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom.
from later in Chapter 3, section 4, "Learning How to Read:"
With the help of these exercises, we should be able to attain to wisdom; that is, to a state of complete liberation from the passions, utter lucidity, knowledge of ourselves and of the world. In fact, for Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, and the Stoics, such an ideal of human perfection serves to define divine perfection, a state by definition inaccessible to man. With the possible exception of the Epicurean school, wisdom was conceived as an ideal after which one strives without the hope of ever attaining it. Under normal circumstances, the only state accessible to man is philo-sophia: the love of, or progress toward, wisdom. For this reason, spiritual exercises must be taken up again and again, in an ever-renewed effort.
The philosopher lives in an intermediate state. He is not a sage, but his is not a non-sage, either. He is therefore constantly torn between the non-philosophical and the philosophical life, between the domain of the habitual and the everyday, on the one hand, and, on the other, the domain of consciousness and lucidity. To the same extent that the philosophical life is equivalent to the practice of spiritual exercises, it is also a tearing away from everyday life. It is a conversion, a total transformation of one's vision, life-style, and behavior.
from Chapter 10, "The Sage and the World":
In a sense, one might say that the world of science and the world of philosophy are both, in their own way, opposed to the world of habitual perception. In the case of science, this opposition takes the form of the elimination of perception. Science discloses to us a universe reduced, by both mathematical and technological means, to its quantitative aspects. Philosophy, for its part, deepens and transforms habitual perception, forcing us to become aware of the very fact that we are perceiving the world, and that the world is that which we perceive.
from Chapter 11, "Philosophy as a Way of Life":
Philosophy in antiquity was an exercise practiced at each instant. It invites us to concentrate on each instant of life, to become aware of the infinite value of each present moment, once we have replaced it within the perspective of the cosmos. The exercise of wisdom entails a cosmic dimension. Whereas the average person has lost touch with the world, and does not see the world qua world, but rather treats the world as a means of satisfying his desires, the sage never ceases to have the whole constantly present to mind. He thinks and acts within a cosmic perspective. He has the feeling of belonging to a whole which goes beyond the limits of his individuality. ...
from the "Postscript: An Interview with Pierre Hadot" (by Michael Chase):
Everything which is "technical" in the broad sense of the term, whether we are talking about the exact sciences or the humanistic sciences, is perfectly able to be communicated by teaching or conversation. But everything that touches the domain of the existential --- which is what is most important for human beings --- for instance, our feeling of existence, our impressions when faced by death, our perception of nature, our sensations, and a fortiori the mystical experience, is not directly communicable. The phrases we use to describe them are conventional and banal; we realize this when we try to console someone over the loss of a loved one. That's why it often happens that a poem or a biography are more philosophical than a philosophical treatise, simply because they allow us to glimpse this unsayable in an indirect way. Here again, we find the kind of mysticism evoked in Wittgenstein's Tractatus: "There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical."
(see also The Unspeakable (31 May 1999), Change Your Life (25 Sep 2002), Inside The Inner Citadel (15 Oct 2002), ...)
- Friday, October 25, 2002 at 06:40:21 (EDT)