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Friday, September 26, 2008

Quiz Time: What is THIS?

Give up? Watch the video below for the answer-

More details here and here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Without God?

The article basically argues that we don't need religion anymore, now that we have science. Obviously I disagree, although I share the author's disdain for many of the religious views he has come across. But this is the most interesting admission:

Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature, of the sort imagined by philosophers from Anaximander and Plato to Emerson. We even learn that the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years. And yet we must not sink into nihilism or stifle our emotions. At our best we live on a knife-edge, between wishful thinking on one hand and, on the other, despair.

I would really like to hear the author, on rational grounds, try to defend his choice of the word "must" in the penultimate sentence of this paragraph. In a consistently naturalistic world, all human "musts" and "shoulds" are as meaningless as belief in God.

And, I would add, it isn't just emotions that are the mere effect of chemical processes and chance mutations. The same MUST be said for so-called "rational" thought (such as scientific theorizing) itself.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Best Long-Distance Runner on the Planet? Me!!!

... and You!!!
"So why do we have all these tendons in our legs?" Lieberman asks. "You don't evolve big tendons unless you're a runner."
I would argue that we were created to run, rather than evolved to run, but either way, baby, we were born to run! Here's my favorite line- you'll have to read the article for context:
The butt, it turns out, is crucial—

Friday, September 19, 2008

People who stop believing in God...

... don't believe in nothing, but they will believe in anything. Here's evidence:

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship (sic- she means, "never attend church") expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Plain Pics

Thanks to Michael Cartwright, Eric Barnes & Ben Blessing for these:

5:00AM Saturday

back of the pack, Saturday, first light

Enjoying the views on the first climb

Top of Klone Peak, 10:45AM; 20M down, only 88 to go!

More Bad News from Britain

The veteran Government adviser said pensioners in mental decline are "wasting people's lives" because of the care they require and should be allowed to opt for euthanasia even if they are not in pain.

She insisted there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or society. (link)

The battle over human dignity is still in its infancy. Do humans have inherent ontological value or only utilitarian value? Health care is expensive and many people lead lives that don't add value to the economy or culture- should we just off them so there's more money for the rest of us to spend on upgrading our iPods or so we can afford organic rather than proletarian foods?

There's a long history of governments helping people to die "for the sake of society"- in recent times Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler come to mind as major proponents of this line of thinking. Should we get rid of everyone who can't hold down a decent job? Round up all the panhandlers and toss 'em in the sea? Send hit squads to the Special Olympics? Gas all the nursing homes?

With all the partisan rancor today, how many angry right or left wingers would agree that doing away with their political opponents would be the best thing for the sake of society and the planet and the future of the human race?

Who decides whose life is worth living? Who determines the standards and decides how to apply them?

Human beings are made by and for God. Life is sacred. But if we stop believing in God, that becomes a nonsensical statement. Christians believe that ALL human life is sacred, including, yes, the lives of unbelievers. But atheists and agnostics have no logical reason to agree. In the end, for them, it comes down to economics, or perhaps sentimentality.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How to stifle creativity in your children.

The author is a daydream believer.
The culprit is, yes, you guessed it.

The Worst Country in the World to be a child?

Perhaps so:
Eighty percent of British children have televisions in their bedrooms, more than have their biological fathers at home. Fifty-eight percent of British children eat their evening meal in front of the television (a British child spends more than five hours per day watching a screen); 36 percent never eat any meals together with other family members; and 34 percent of households do not even own dining tables. In the prison where I once worked, I discovered that many inmates had never eaten at a table together with someone else.

Let me speculate briefly on the implications of these startling facts. They mean that children never learn, from a sense of social obligation, to eat when not hungry, or not to eat when they are. Appetite is all they need consult in deciding whether to eat—a purely egotistical outlook. Hence anything that interferes with the satisfaction of appetite will seem oppressive. They do not learn such elementary social practices as sharing or letting others go first. Since mealtimes are usually when families get to converse, the children do not learn the art of conversation, either; listening to what others say becomes a challenge. There is a time and place for everything: if I feel like it, the time is now, and the place is here.

If children are not taught self-control, they do not learn it.
Click here to read the whole thing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Pain in Plain was Mainly to My Gain

That was hard!

I knew Plain was basically tied with HURT as the second hardest 100 mile trail race in the country. I know that, even though I did well at HURT last January, during the last 50 miles of that race I was so miserable I swore I'd never run any 100M race again, ever.

I knew Plain was, in reality, between 106-110 miles long (I think 109 is about right), and that without aid stations, it was critical to carry enough, but not too much food and stuff.

I knew that Plain had one of the lowest finishing rates of any 100 and as far as I knew only one person (Mike Burke) over 50 had ever finished before the 36 hour cut-off. I knew that Plain had wasted me after only one loop in my previous attempt (2004).

I knew that speed-walking the loop portion of the second loop last Monday night (34 miles in 10:30) had left me feeling wasted.

I knew that heat was often a real factor at Plain, especially during the 4800' climb (in 5 miles) up Signal Hill, starting from the hottest point on the course at the hottest time of the day... and that it was unseasonably warm all week up to the race with hotter temps predicted for the weekend.

I spent the days prior to the race feeling scared and questioning why I wanted to put myself through this kind of suffering. Never have I entered a race with so much dread. But I had come all this way, spent the money, and I was determined (or trying to be determined) to finish before the cut-off. I thought that on a good day I might be able to do around 33 hours, but all I wanted was a finish.

Had I known that I would finish in 5th place with a time of 31:01, my mood might have been a bit brighter. Not only was I the oldest finisher (and tied with Burke for oldest finisher ever), my finishing time was a course record for over-50 runners and the 14th fastest time ever turned in at Plain (including the four ahead of me this year). As a runner of modest abilities, that's more bragging rights than I'm used to so if you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, you might want to avoid me for awhile!

My success was due to:

1. The expected heat didn't materialize and the temperatures were quite pleasant, though it did get down to freezing Sunday morning up on the ridge.

2. I followed the advice of starting out extra slow for the first loop. I kept holding back, walking a lot of runnable flat sections. Going up Signal Hill, I didn't even try to speed walk the way I always do on climbs, instead I just relaxed, gave myself a mental and physical break, and climbed slow but steady. Heading up Klone Peak at mile 20, I was in a pack of 7 guys. Only one woman (the only starter older than me) was behind us. I was actually in 23rd place (of 26 starters). The rest of the runners were somewhere way ahead. None of the others with me or behind me finished the race.

3. I prayed. My fear of suffering (not normal for me) reminded me that I had my reasons for doing Plain, but I hadn't really submitted myself fully to whatever the Lord might want. Anything could happen. I could suffer for 100 miles and still not finish. I could win the race if it was hot enough that everyone else folded (there have been years when no one finished Plain). I told the Lord that I would receive whatever He had for me- success or failure, suffering or joy.

With my slow start I was able to enjoy the first loop thoroughly. Because I was usually in a group (after leaving the first group at Klone, I caught up with another group of seven or so by the top of Signal Hill), I was able to enjoy talking to a lot of folks during the day. With only 26 entrants you'd expect us to be all spread out (and I only saw two people- briefly- on the second loop), but it actually turned out to be a very social run.

As night approached I was beginning to feel a little tired (50+ miles with 16,000' of climbing will do that to you) and I was remembering how I fell apart on my approach to Deep Creek in '04. Deep Creek is the one place where you can resupply or get help from crew and it is only 1.5M from the start finish, so it's an easy place to drop out. In '04 I'd had a good first loop until I just lost it emotionally on the final approach to Deep Creek and just flat out quit. That's been eating at me for four years, and I was steeling myself against it now.

Here's what happened (and I'm sure it was an answer to prayer). On the final three miles to Deep Creek I felt absolutely GREAT! My various pains and sorenesses and tirednesses miraculously disappeared and I was filled with energy. I felt like I could run forever- and would rather be here running than doing anything else. The only problem with Deep Creek is that I would have to stop (change shoes, eat, repack) and I didn't want to.

I got to Deep Creek with about five other runners and was offered a grilled cheese sandwich (delicious) which I ate with my can of fruit cocktail while two women appeared out of the darkness catering to my every need (helping me sort out my stuff as I repacked). We were told that seven others had already entered the second loop. I was at Deep Creek from 9:45 to 10:11 and headed out feeling great. My energy kept up until 3AM and got me most of the way up the big climb (the second loop is mostly uphill for the first half and downhill for the second half). Still, I had 9 hours to go, and there are no words to explain how hard it was!

I passed Wendell, Jeff and Larry in the first few miles of the loop, putting me in 8th place. By the time (4AM) I got to mile 78 (30 to go), where Race Directors Tom and Chris were greeting us, I was in 7th due to a drop and two runners were just ahead with the others quite aways ahead. I passed those two quickly, despite not feeling so well myself (I really wanted to lay down for a nap), but at the top (where it was VERY cold) I couldn't run the flat section (about two miles) and had to settle for a "speed" walk.

As day broke I began having sleep-deprivation hallucinations, more than I've ever had in a race: people and vehicles and animals and signs and buildings kept popping up in the most unexpected places. I'd see something and think, "that can't be," then get closer and think, "But there it is!", and get still closer and it would disappear or turn into a tree stump or something. It got to be very distracting!

Then I came to the big 9 mile downhill run and actually felt pretty decent. I knew I was in fifth place and couldn't move up, but I didn't want to be passed- the runners I'd passed on this loop were all good runners, better than me on most days. Besides the hallucinations I saw two elk (real!) on the way down.

At the bottom of the hill I had gone 100 miles and still had nine to go. It was 10AM and the remaining section had taken me 2:05 when I was fresh so I was hoping to manage a sub-32 hour finish (i.e., by 1:00). The next 7.5 miles were on a trail built for dirt bikers (as were most of our trails) and would go up a couple hundred feet, then down, then up and down, up and down. Meanwhile there were big ruts and humps and I kept having to move to the side to let the motorbikes past (and then eat their dust). On the way out this section had seemed easy (during my superman phase). Now it was exceedingly tedious. I forced myself to run everything that wasn't uphill. Still, as hard as the last 9 hours was, I kept myself together emotionally. I suffered physically, but never got down.

To my surprise I hit Deep Creek at 11:45 and had about 1.5M (maybe a bit more) on paved road to the finish. I actually ran "fast", trying to get in before 12. I didn't quite make it, but was actually quite pleased by how fast I could run after all I'd been through. And I could only blame myself for not finishing sooner as a couple of navigation errors on the first loop had cost me an extra 30 minutes or so before I got back on course.

Besides no aid stations or course markings, Plain has no t-shirts or other special prizes either. All participants get a rock with the word "Plain" stenciled on it in blue paint. Finishers get a bigger rock that says "Plain 100". It is now one of my most-prized possessions.

Other reports: Davy Crockett, Rob Hester

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mainly in Plain (Runalong goes all postal).

Oops! I forgot to post a post explaining why I'm not posting this week.

So this is the post I didn't post.

I'm in Washington (the state, not the dead president) this week for the Plain 100 mile race which starts Saturday at 5AM. The last time I was up at 5AM was, um, yesterday, but that's only because I hadn't gone to bed yet.

Anyway, this my third (and last!) attempt at Plain. The first was '03- I got as far as Portland before finding out the race was cancelled due to fire.

The second was '04. I got as far as the halfway point before falling apart and quitting. It's still my most disappointing race ever.

Plain has no aid stations and no course markings. It is run largely on dirt bike trails that have large deep ruts filled with six inches of powdery dust. It's supposed to be hot Saturday. My friend Hans, who has run almost every 100 mile race around (he does a dozen or so a year, I think), tried Plain once. At Hardrock (considered the toughest 100M race) I asked if he would come back. He said, "No, too hard". Hans has finished Hardrock numerous times.

It's kind of spooky heading out onto unmarked, unknown trails in the middle of the night (last time I finished loop one around 11PM and was too tired and freaked out by fear of getting lost and winding up in Canada, exhausted and delirious). So this time I came down early. Monday evening I went out on the loop part of loop two (35 miles); starting at 7:40PM, just as it was getting dark. I sped-walked the whole loop, finishing at about 6:10AM without getting lost or eaten. I did get a couple blisters from the dust and no, it wasn't easy. Now I'm resting up in nearby Leavenworth, WA (sort of a Disneyfied version of a European town).

I'm determined to finish this time. I'm expecting the last 15 hours or so to be extremely unpleasant. The first loop, when I'm still feeling good, should be "fun". Except for the part about getting up at 4AM.

Thus concludes the post I forgot to post but which now has been posted. My next post will be a post-race post posted post-race.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Sarah Palin "crush"

Lots of Palin posts? I know, for a guy who rarely blogs about politics...

Here's the backstory: One of the things I want to know about a candidate is: How effective of a salesperson/communicator is he/she likely to be? Will they win young people to my side of the aisle? Reagan was the master, but Bill Clinton wasn't bad either. I like Bush, but he's been bad for the "brand". I don't just want someone who agrees with me, I want someone who can convince others to agree with me!

So, in researching VP prospects, I searched YouTube to see what they were like in terms of charisma, communication skills, authenticity, likeability, composure, etc. And what I found was that Palin stood out head and shoulders above the rest. The other VP finalists have all had their moment at the podium this week so, if you've been watching, you now know what I mean.

Nevertheless I was so surprised and thrilled when she was picked. But for me last night's speech was no surprise.

She still might flop. The one advantage that other recent "unexperienced" candidates (Obama, Edwards, Dean...) have over her in is that they got to hone their act during the primaries. She's going to make some flubs. Hopefully they won't be big ones.

Still undecided? Here are some important Sarah Palin facts for you to consider:

As head of Alaska’s Nat’l Guard, Sarah Palin taught troops in a training exercise to scare a grenade into not exploding.

Sarah Palin is the reason compasses point North.

Queen Elizabeth II curtsied when she was introduced to Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin was not flown to Ohio in charter jet- she ran as part of her morning workout.

Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience

Sarah Palin always beats the point spread.

When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.

Sarah Palin isn’t allowed to wield the gavel at the convention because they’re afraid she’ll use it to kill liberals.

Sarah Palin doesn’t need a gun to hunt. She has been known to throw a bullet through an adult bull elk.

Sarah Palin can divide by zero.

Sarah Palin became governor because five children left her with too much spare energy.

NFL teams may draft Sarah Palin, if they forfeit all their other players forever, to maintain league parity.

We don’t know who would win in a Chuck Norris - Sarah Palin cage match because they’ve never invented a cage that can hold Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin knows the location of DB Cooper’s body because she threw him from the plane.

The Northern Lights are really just the reflection from Sarah Palin’s eyes.

The raw energy of Sarah Palin melts the Alaskan ice roads every spring.

Sarah Palin once bagged a caribou by staring it down until it died.

Sarah Palin fishes salmon by convincing them it’s in their interest to jump into the boat.

Sarah Palin once guided Santa’s sleigh through an Alaskan blizzard with the light from her smile.