Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cats in Art: Lion Statue in the Vatican (3 of 3)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.


Today's subject is the third of three lion sculptures from the Vatican.  One large room of one of their museums was filled with animal sculptures, among them this gem:


Image credit Gary, lion statue in the Vatican

The lions of the past couple weeks appeared to be struggling: thin, desperate-looking.

Not so with this svelte kitty, who appears to be well-fed and contented-looking.  Raising a playful paw, this lion seems ready to bat a ball around or to cuff an unruly cub (unfortunately, I managed to not include a pulled-back shot that would have shown the other lions--cubs, possibly--to either side of the principal lion).

Again, I am astounded at the pure skill that rendered this kitty a couple thousand years ago, and wonder if in his wildest dreams he could have imagined that millions of people would have gazed upon his work.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Origins of the Phrase "It Is What It Is"

Last Christmas season I fired up my Kindle and read for the first time A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Then this season the bride did the same.  This was a repro of the original version with illustrations, which in itself was quite interesting.

We are Christmas Carol junkies, trying to see a stage production every year and watching all of the various film versions we own (our fav is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim).  Something about the story just seems to resonate with us, and we are please to note that this habit seems to be passing down to our descendants.  So I guess we did something right!

Anyway, back to the now-ubiquitous phrase "It is what it is."

Charles Dickens may well have foreshadowed it in writing about the Ghost of Christmas Past, who famously replied when Scrooge was complaining about seeing his painful past:

"I told you that these were the shadows of this things that have been," said the Ghost.  That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

Historical references aside, I just love how the book concludes, after Scrooge realizes what a d*ck he has been his entire life:

Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well....

Watch it this year, and feel good about what you may learn.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Audubon Birdcam...and Ultrarunning

Last Christmas, the bride bought me (upon my specs!) an Audubon Birdcam.  This is an automatic wildlife camera; it is motion-activated and has various settings to tweak.  I opted for no flash since I was not going for nocturnal critters.

I use the BirdCam out at our feeder, specifically focused upon the suet feeder.  It has a choice of 3 focal distances; I am still experimenting with the exact focal length for optimum clarity.  In addition, I am fiddling with the shot angle to try to obtain the best background behind the birds.

So this shot isn’t museum quality but it’s nice anyway!

Image credit Gary


This guy, for some inexplicable reason, is called the Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  NOT the Red-Headed Woodpecker that one might assume would be the name (...and one would be wrong!).  Read more here about this bird at All About Birds.

He or she seems quite happy to visit our feeder daily.  Of the some 180 shots that the Audubon Birdcam took over the past 4 days, I whittled them down to about 25.  The red-bellied woodpecker showed up frequently; this shot really struck me as being a pretty decent image.

The link to Ultrarunning is the fact that birds are omnipresent in our backcountry excursions...only we may not be aware of them.  If I consciously focus on birds, then I see or hear them everywhere; if I just run, then typically I miss these wonderful companions.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where I Run: Abandoned South Penn Branch Line Railroad

These ghostly tracks are all that remain of the South Penn Branch Line of the Cumberland Valley Railroad.  This is less than 2 miles from my home on foot.

 image credit Gary


I don't know why, but there is something mighty compelling about railroads, particularly abandoned railroads.  I mean, how can you NOT run out along these tracks?


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cats in Art: Lion Statue in the Vatican (2 of 3)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.


Today's subject is the second of three lion sculptures from the Vatican.  One large room of one of their museums was filled with animal sculptures, among them this gem:


Image credit Gary, lion statue in the Vatican

Like last week's kitty, who brought down a sheep, this female lion has nailed a goat. 

Like last week's kitty, this statue is near life sized, what I wrote in my last post holds true again about the desperation, the gauntness, and how the artist was somehow able to magnificently convey a living-on-the-edge moment.  

Like last week's kitty, again I shake my head and marvel at the incredible talent displayed by this unknown sculptor from a couple thousand years ago.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Return of Wisdom...and Ultrarunning

Obviously the subject line is meant to have a double meaning: it's the physical return of a bird called Wisdom, as well as--perhaps--a return of wisdom by humans contemplating a process much bigger and older than ourselves.



From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a feel-good story:

Wisdom, the world’s oldest living, banded, wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge! Wisdom’s mate has been waiting within a few feet of the pair’s former nest site since November 19. Wisdom was first spotted on November 22. This isn’t the first time these two have readied their nest. Laysan albatrosses mate for life and Wisdom has raised between 30 to 35 chicks since being banded in 1956 at an estimated age of 5.  Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 365 days incubating and raising a chick.

Now, I seriously doubt that there are any Ultras run on Midway, but it's the spirit of things like this that so captivate we who like to run in the backcountry.  We love the natural world but we understand it so incompletely.  Stories about a 63 year old albatross returning to nest yet again reaffirm to me the fact that things are somehow still OK, despite it all.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Possibly the Best That Humankind has to Offer

The day after we read in the Torture Report about the worst that this nation can do, then we see something that has to be one of the best things than humankind can offer.

YouTube is full of cute and touching videos and I almost always blow them off whenever somebody sends me a link.  While I'm sure that it would be interesting, I figure that I just don't have time to do that for every single link that somebody thinks is worthwhile.

Well, the video below is worth 6 minutes of your time.  Trust me, you will not regret spending those few minutes of your life watching this:



(Link is here in case the embedded video does not play)

I should point out that while the musicians are Air Force personnel, this beauty of this piece has nothing to do with the military.  It is simply beautiful music wonderfully played and sung, and, well, is just kinda inspirational.

When we send space probes out to the far reaches of our solar system and beyond, a lot of thought goes into what info is included in case some other intelligent species finds it someday and wants to know who sent it.  I believe that things like stellar maps,  mathematical universal facts such as pi, and the pediodic chart of the elements are included, as well as some cultural info about our species.

In the latter category, they should just include this video.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Senate Report on Torture

From the Earth Bound Misfit, a succinct summary of where things stand or should stand with respect to the just-released Senate Report on torture.


"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly." -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, in one of many meetings about using torture.
The Bush Administration knew about it. The Cheney Cabal pushed for using more brutal methods.  
As horrific as the report is turning out to be, it is also a profile in cowardice. There was no acknowledgement of the Bush Administration's demands that people be tortured. And the Obama Administration, aka MTAHNSrefused to turn over nearly ten thousand documents to the investigators. Obama opposed the CIA turning anything whatsoever over to the Senate inquiry, which makes Obama, for trying to cover up the commission of war crimes, as culpable as Bush.
The CIA and the Department of Defense committed war crimes. They committed the sort of crimes that, nearly seventy years ago, we executed enemy prisoners for doing similar things.
But they were not rogue agencies. The CIA and the military did what their bosses demanded of them. Which is not an excuse, but an explanation.
The release of the Senate report is a laudable step. But it is also a stark example of the shitty tendency of bureaucracy to blame the underlings for following the orders of the bosses.
Which leads me to this: We should either open a prosecution of the senior members of the Bush Administration for what they did, or pardon everyone who was convicted for torturing prisoners at Abu Graib. Either we follow through on being a nation of laws or embrace that we are a nation of war criminals. There really isn't any middle ground.



My thoughts are that since so many people wanted to hide the report--basically because it contained unpleasant things and would cast the mighty United States of America in an unfavorable light--then that's all the more reason to release it fully. 

If we are not proud of what we did, then it was wrong.  Period.  So...I'm waiting for the indictments or the pardons.  It's likely to be a long wait.