^zhurnal 0.53

Howdy, pilgrim! You're in volume 0.53 of the ^zhurnal — see ZhurnalyWiki on zhurnaly.com for a parallel "live" Wiki edition; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about. (Briefly: it's the journal of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.52 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... tnx!)

Fire Fighting

In a staff meeting not long ago one of my colleagues explained that a certain approach would do more damage than its benefits warranted. As he said:

"That's like using a shovel to put out a fire in your hair!"

(cf. Bureaucratic Immune System (9 Aug 2000), Uncivil Servants (23 Aug 2000), Organizational Inertia (11 Aug 2004), Authorized Versus Forbidden (3 Jul 2005), ...)

- Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 05:54:20 (EDT)

Troublesome Words

(In order to avoid Internet filters and other perhaps-obvious "issues", some character strings below have certain vowels replaced with asterisks.)

Meanings evolve, and words that were once benign can over time acquire implications that make them difficult or impossible to use in polite society. Among the most obvious of these are terms that have picked up s*xual connotations and denotations. "Int*rcourse" once simply meant trade or commercial dealings. An "ej*culation" was an exclamatory verbal outburst. "S*x" was a biological category of creatures. "Gender" was a linguistic term for classes of nouns and adjectives. And so forth.

Randall Kennedy, Harvard law professor, wrote a book in 2002 titled N*gg*r: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. It's a thoughtful, heavily footnoted treatment of a tangled thicket of problems that have arisen from historical and social mistakes during the past several centuries. It also unabashedly uses the "N-word" in almost every paragraph and prominently on the cover. "Maybe you shouldn't read that on the subway!" a family member advised when I got the book recently.

Kennedy outlines the questions he will address in the first paragraph of Chapter One ("The Protean N-Word"):

How should n*gg*r be defined? Is it a part of the American cultural inheritance that warrants preservation? Why does n*gg*r generate such powerful reactions. Is it a more hurtful racial epithet than insults such as k*ke, w*p, w*tback, m*ck, ch*nk, and g**k? Am I wrongfully offending the sensibilities of readers right now by spelling out n*gg*r instead of using a euphemism such as N-word? Should blacks be able to use n*gg*r in ways forbidden to others? Should the law view n*gg*r as a provocation that reduces the culpability of a person who responds to it violently? Under what circumstances, if any, should a person be ousted from his or her job for saying "n*gg*r"? What methods are useful for depriving n*gg*r of destructiveness? In the pages that follow, I will pursue these and related questions. I will put a tracer on n*gg*r, report on its use, and assess the controversies to which it gives rise. I have invested energy in this endeavor because n*gg*r is a key word in the lexicon of race relations and thus an important term in American politics. To be ignorant of its meanings and effects is to make oneself vulnerable to all manner of perils, including the loss of a job, a reputation, a friend, even one's life.

The book N*gg*r is rather legalistic in the tone of its discussion. It's shorter and less passionate than Kennedy's later Interracial Intimacies, and perhaps it's less important. But it does have some major lessons to teach. As Kennedy concludes (in the "Afterword" essay to the Vintage paperback edition):

I deplore racist uses of any word. I believe that it is a good thing that n*gg*r is widely seen as a presumptively objectionable term. I think that people who use n*gg*r in their speech should bear the risk that listeners overhearing them will misunderstand their intentions. I am glad that many people who interview me about this book express discomfort with pronouncing the N-word (though I get the distinct impression that some of these protestations of innocence and discomfort are merely formulaic.). N*gg*r has long been used as a weapon of abuse and continues to be so used today; we ought to be keenly attentive to that fact. The problem is that insofar as n*gg*r is deployed for other, socially useful purposes — satire, comedy, social criticism — we should also be careful to make distinctions between various usages. Unwillingness to make distinctions — the upshot of the eradicationist approach — generates all too many pathetic episodes ....
One purpose of this book has been to urge caution before attributing the worst meaning and motives to any word or symbol since all can be put to a variety of purposes, good as well as bad. The swastika evokes memories of evils thart are among the worst in all of world history. Yet artists (for example, Art Spiegelman and Steven Spielberg) have movingly used the swastika in a variety of useful ways, including comedic lampoons designed to satirize Hitler's colossal failure. Another purpose of my book has been to counsel likely targets of racist abuse to respond in ways that are self-empowering. All too often, they are told that they should become emotionally overwrought upon encountering racist taunts. They are taught that they ought to feel deeply wounded and that authorities should therefore protect them from this potentially crippling harm by prohibiting n*gg*r and other such words and punishing transgressions severely. In my view, such a lesson cedes too much power to bigots who seek to draw psychological blood from their quarry. A better lesson to convey is that targets of abuse can themselves play significant roles in shaping the terrain of conflict and thus lessen their vulnerability through creative, intelligent, and supple reactions.

That last is particularly wise counsel: "supple reactions" are appropriate in countless contexts throughout life ...

(cf. Interracial Intimacies (24 Feb 2003), Racial Relationships (10 Jan 2004), Interracial Checkmate (20 Jul 2004), Race And Love (6 Aug 2004), ...)

- Sunday, April 09, 2006 at 14:45:55 (EDT)

Acronym Overload

AI for me used to be simply Artificial Intelligence — until a few years ago when a veterinarian friend ("Dr. Suz") pointed out that in her line of work it stands for Artificial Insemination. But recently "AI" appeared again, during discussions at a big meeting. Neither of the above translations made any sense, nor did anything else I could think of. Finally somebody (braver than I) asked, and the answer was given: AI now means Avian Influenza, aka "bird flu". Apparently I never got that memo!

(cf. Intelligence Augmentation (25 Aug 2001), Too Clever (5 Apr 2004), ...)

- Saturday, April 08, 2006 at 10:05:13 (EDT)

Mystery Face


The human mind has a wonderful capability for recognizing visual patterns containing faces. It's a talent that obvious evolutionary forces select for with ferocious power. (Likewise natural selection has bred into the male mind a wonderful capacity for recognizing ... uh, we'll discuss that another time.)

At home at night, looking out from the window at the top of the stairs, intermittently during the past year or two I've noticed something face-like glowing in the distance, as shown in the above photograph. Its angular size is small, about the size of my little fingernail at arm's length. Tree branches in neighboring yards partially obscure it, so it must be some distance away, seemingly tens of meters or farther. (For this picture to be the right size it should be viewed from across a room; to maximize the effect, look at it in a darkened room against a black background.)

My brain instantly parses the pattern as a huge black-and-white image of a woman's head, features framed with long straight hair, projected on the wall of a building a block or two away. As I stare at it the face seems to move slightly, like a silent movie of someone speaking to the camera. But why would anyone run such a strange film outdoors, late at night or early in the morning? What kind of show would always have almost the same picture? Is this some supernatural vision?

The Mystery Face didn't appear to me every night, only occasionally. I couldn't figure out how far away it was, or how to observe it from any vantage point other than that single upstairs window. Often it came to my attention shortly before dawn, just as I was preparing to rush off to work, so I didn't have time to investigate it in any detail. During daylight hours nothing corresponding to the face was apparent to me as I looked in that direction.

A few days ago I solved the puzzle. Like the "Face on Mars", and like countless sightings of the faces of religious figures on walls, trees, pancakes, etc., my Mystery Face was the product of a visual cortex striving to find meaning in pattern. It was simply a semi-transparent basketball backboard, located at the top of a neighbor's driveway, perhaps taken down or covered at certain seasons. Even when it was in place, unless a streetlight much farther away was shining through it the effect wasn't noticeable. In seasons when there were more leaves on the trees it was completely obscured. Below is a daytime photo. Case closed.


(cf. Daily Presents (26 Feb 2004), ...)

- Thursday, April 06, 2006 at 05:28:50 (EDT)

Tough Times

"We've kinda been deficient in miracles for a while."

(comment by George S., late 2005; cf. Gibbon Chapter 20, ...)

- Tuesday, April 04, 2006 at 06:13:08 (EDT)

En Déhanchement

A lovely new word in the sculpture garden of my vocabulary — or rather, a new-to-me word for a lovely classical posture: déhanchement. It caught my eye a couple of weeks ago in a New Yorker book review by Joan Acocella titled "The Girls Next Door: Life in the Centerfold" [1]:

... The poses, too, are often traditional. Again and again, we see the full-frontal stance with the déhanchement — said to have been discovered by the sculptor Polyclitus in the fifth century B.C. — in which the body's weight is shifted onto one leg, thus creating two different, beautiful curves at the two sides of the waist. ...

Online French-English dictionaries translate déhanchement variously as "swaying walk", "limp", "squirming", "lopsided hips", etc. — none of which seem quite to touch the target. The word appears in an anonymous essay (by "J.") titled "Unexpected Beauty" [2]:

It is worth comparing the Aphrodite from Melos with two other Aphrodites from classical antiquity, the Cnidian Venus and Medici Venus. These are less well known so it will be worthwhile to describe them. The Cnidian Venus represents a nude woman standing beside an urn. In her left hand she is holding a piece of drapery that rests on the urn. Her head is turned slightly to the left. She is standing with her left heel off the ground, her weight thrown over her right hip en déhanchement.

The posture is described in greater detail in a SUNY/Oneonta Art Department class-note essay (by Professor Allen Farber) titled "Polyclitus's Canon and the Idea of Symmetria" [3]:

Modern scholars have seen in Polyclitus's work a similar balance of opposites. Three of these pairs are easily detected in the Dorphoros: right/left, rest/movement, and straight/curved. It is telling that the figure's right side is the side of rest and is straight in clear opposition to the left which is in movement and is bent or curved. Scholars have noted what they call the chiastic principle in the composition of the figure of the Doryphoros. The term is derived from the Greek letter chi which is formed by two lines crossing obliquely, but the stroke descending right to left is straight while the other is, like a reversed S, curved at both ends. Thus the upper curve on the left corresponds to a mirror-image curve on the lower right and two straight halves face each other across the sinuous divide.

Though I didn't have the word for it then, a few years ago I witnessed déhanchement, live, during a hallway conversation. Comrade Nancy was counseling me on iliotibial band syndrome, knee pain that's the bane of many a long-distance runner. "A good exercise to stretch your ITB is to stand like this," she demonstrated, "with one hip cocked out — like a streetwalker, eh?!"

En déhanchement, however, is a slightly more suave way to say it. And perhaps there are elements of déhanchement visible in the script form of the Cyrillic Ж character — in the delightful curves of the Zhurnal Wiki logo itself?

(cf. Gibbon Chapter 24, Art And Ideas (1 Sep 2001), Flying Eagle (16 Apr 2002), Rear Admiral Lower Half (1 Jul 2003), ...)

- Sunday, April 02, 2006 at 17:08:21 (EDT)

HAT Run 2006

Abby's Run — that's what today's 50 kilometer ramble through the woods of Susquehanna State Park is for Ruth and me. It's Saturday morning, we've gone a few miles down the trail, and the crowd has now spread out so we can jog freely. Then the Spirit of Ultrarunning, personified by a fit blonde woman, appears beside us and introduces herself.


We're attempting my friend Ruth's first ultramarathon, and we're a little nervous about our chances to finish. The lady next to us is Abby, a veteran with half a dozen or more prior races here under her belt-pack. She tells us that today she's only planning to do the first 16 miles of the 31-mile journey. Then she tells us why. Last month Abby had several major medical procedures — "female" surgeries, to be euphemistic.

Abby, however, is the absolute antithesis of euphemism! She describes her recent operations and her ongoing reconstructive program in complete and cheerful detail. We're fellow trail runners; there's no need for reticence. The body is the runner's machine, and Abby is as close to her machine as you can get. She's undergoing these treatments so that she can live to see her twin daughters, now age 11, grow up.

Abby's enthusiasm is instantly contagious. We applaud as she confesses that neither her doctor nor her husband knows that she's out today. We talk about politics, our families, the weather, and the downside of marathon fund-raising training programs. Ruth hails from Wales, and as we cross a meadow Abby and Ruth chat about the Welsh farm book I Bought a Mountain by Thomas Firbank. Abby and Ruth soon discover that they even have some friends in common. Long trail, small world.

It's a total joy to be with Abby. She tells us that she ran the first organized race here here back in 1989 and took second place among all the women. "Of course, there were only two women in the event that year!" she laughs. When Abby complains of being warm and wishes aloud that she could take off her tights, I offer her the outer of my two pairs of shorts. "But people might talk," I caution, "if we came out of the woods wearing each other's clothes."

Ten miles later our angel Abby starts to slow on a steep hill. She sends Ruth and me onward with her blessings, but cautions us to keep energy in reserve for the final segments of the course. We'll never see her thereafter. We'll never forget her either.

Now I can say "only a marathon" and smile!

Fast-forward to the drive home, as newly-minted ultrarunner Ruth makes that remark with justifiable pride. The 2006 HAT Run is in the rear-view mirror. "HAT" is an acronym for "Hinte Anderson Trail"; this year is the 18th annual event organized by and named for Jeff Hinte and Phil Anderson. Ruth and I cross the finish line together in 7 hours 34 minutes, tied for 328th place among 397 starters and 354 finishers.

The weather on 25 March 2006 is a near-optimal compromise: a little too warm for me, a little too cool for Ruth. The forecast includes a chance of rain and maybe thundershowers, but the only precipitation we experience is a momentary sprinkle so light that rather than feel it we only hear it, as droplets tickle dry leaves that blanket the forest floor.

I've done two previous HAT Runs, so this year's finish gives me a "HAT Trick". As we prepare to race Ruth and I are both a little concerned that the official time cutoffs may abruptly truncate our experience. We have to make it back to the start/finish Pavilion, mile 16, by 3 hours and 50 minutes according to the rules. That's a wee bit edgy since both of us are practitioners of what I like to call an "ultra-low-mileage ultra training regime", only ~20 miles/week over the past few months.

Our goals in descending order are to have fun, to avoid injury, to finish, and to cover the distance in less than eight hours. I have one additional mission: to get home in time to visit the hardware store and buy a replacement "J"-shaped grease trap for the kitchen sink. On Friday evening as I attempted to clear a clog I managed to poke the plumber's snake through the existing trap; it was corroded to paper-thinness. A minor flood ensued. It was too late in the evening to buy any hardware to fix it, so the project awaits my return.

Location Distance Time Split Pace
Out-and-back ~1 mile 0:10 10 min 10 min/mi
Aid Station #1 ~5 1:05 55 14
Aid Station #2 ~10 2:07 62 12
Unmanned Aid Sta. ~14 3:04 57 14
Pavilion ~16 3:37 33 16
Aid Station #1 ~20 4:45 68 17
Aid Station #2 ~25 5:59 74 15
Unmanned Aid Sta. ~29 7:01 62 16
Pavilion ~31 7:34 33 16

Rewind to early Saturday morning, when Ruth arrives at my house a little after 6am. I load two bags of gear into her car, we buy gas, then head north. We arrive at Susquehanna State Park more than an hour early and are registered within a few seconds. The HAT Run is the fifth-largest ultra in the USA, but long-distance trail running is far from the mass-of-humanity phenomenon that marathoning has become. So Ruth and I relax, take a few photos, then huddle in her car to avoid chills. As 9am approaches we emerge, stand in line at the restroom, and take our place at the back of the pack for the initial on-road scamper.

As we trot along a man ahead of us comments to his companions, "I realized I was a runner one day when I went out jogging, looked at my watch, saw that an hour and a half had passed, and thought, 'Gee, I guess I better turn back soon!' " A little later I meet Keith, who to my astonishment has participated in the legendary Barkley Marathons and is going back to run it again this year. The Barkley consists of five 20-mile loops through almost-impassable terrain. In a typical year no one finishes the race; since it began in 1986 only six people have succeeded at it. In 2005 Keith covered about 8 miles, he tells us, during blizzard conditions. "You don't have to be fast to run Barkley," he explains, "just stupid!"

As for our race today, predictably Ruth and I start off too fast. Once the first (paved) mile is behind us, however, the single-file dirt-and-rock trail is both steep enough and crowded enough to slow us to a more sensible pace. Angel Abby joins us and offers reassurances, but we're still slightly worried. As we pass the unmanned aid station Ruth's GPS says we've only gone ~12 miles — and are far behind schedule — but now I'm pretty sure the real distance is ~14 and we're comfortably under the time limit.

As it turns out, I'm right: we make the major cutoff with 13 minutes to spare. After that we're more than an hour ahead of any looming deadlines. When Ruth and I reach the Pavilion at mile 16 we chat with the HAT's "H" man himself, Jeff Hinte, who reveals that the 3:50 cutoff there is more symbolic than solid. "If it's 4:10 and somebody is looking good, we let them keep going," he tells us. The key concept is to keep folks from hurting themselves through exhaustion, to avoid losing a runner in the woods after dark, and to give the volunteers time to clean up the trail and aid stations.

"The Washington's Birthday Marathon was just a training run for the HAT. The HAT is just a recovery run for the Washington's Birthday!"

Ruth offers that comforting observation as we climb the last hills before the Pavilion. At mid-race we pause to eat, drink, and re-tie loose shoelaces. A helpful volunteer warns us that sitting down can be hazardous during a long run. He cites the ultramarathoner's proverb, "Beware the chair!" — but we dare, and survive, a six-minute sedentary session.

Then Ruth and I gather up what scraps of energy we have left, take banana fragment in hand, and reenter the woods for the final 15-mile lap of the HAT Run. Our brisk first circuit has taken most of the starch out of our collars, but we downshift and persevere at a pace 2-3 minutes/mile slower than when we were last here. Between miles 20 and 25 I start to feel sensations of significant intestinal disquiet. I speculate that my Friday evening dinner may have been suboptimal. It consisted of leftovers found in the 'fridge: Chinese carry-out (spicy green vegetables) plus Mexican carry-out (half of a bean and cheese burrito). I hammered shut my coffin with a dessert of popcorn.

In "The Cremation of Sam McGee" Robert Service observes: "There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold; / The Arctic trails have their secret tales / That would make your blood run cold; ...". Likewise the trails of Susquehanna State Park during a long sylvan scramble. Although Ruth claims near-exhaustion, at mile 23 she breaks out in song:

     Little arrows in your clothing
        Little arrows in your hair
     When you're in love you'll find
        Those little arrows everywhere,
     Little arrows that will hit you once
        And hit you once again
     Little arrows that hit everybody
        Every now and then.

It's the chorus from "Little Arrows" by Leapy Lee, a popular ditty of 1968. Maybe Ruth sings it to drown out the noise of my churning guts. Or perhaps she's trying to preempt my threat to deliver the much-dreaded ^z Cosmology Lecture — a legendary presentation that has reduced strong men to tears and caused my comrade Steve to punch out after sticking by my side for more than 40 miles of the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler.

For whatever reason, however, Ruth's solo recital heartens us both. Soon we find ourselves at the Aid Station with less than 10k to go. Now we know we're going to make it. It's a perfect day.


Set aside the sweat, the scenery, and the silly jokes: for us this year's Hinte-Anderson Trail 50k will simply be Abby's Run — a reflection of a lady's love of family, and nature, and life. Many thanks, to her as well as to all the other HAT runners and organizers and volunteers, for a superb experience.

(see http://hatrun.com/ ; cf. Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Hat Run 2005 (20 Mar 2005), Closer To The Machine (4 Aug 2005), Washington Birthday Marathon 2006 (20 Feb 2006), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006 (5 Mar 2006), ...)

- Friday, March 31, 2006 at 05:42:02 (EST)

Painting vs. Writing

George Eliot — herself a writer, of course — contrasts two media in Middlemarch, where in Chapter 19 an author and an artist argue:

" ... And what is a portrait of a woman? Your painting and Plastik are poor stuff after all. They perturb and dull conceptions instead of raising them. Language is a finer medium."
"Yes, for those who can't paint," said Naumann. "There you have perfect right. I did not recommend you to paint, my friend."
The amiable artist carried his sting, but Ladislaw did not choose to appear stung. He went on as if he had not heard.
"Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for being vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere coloured superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment. — This woman whom you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her."

(cf. Remember Me (21 May 1999), Conversations In Paint (18 Aug 2000), My Religion (6 Nov 2000), Terrible Obstacles (17 Nov 2000), Dejah Thoris (19 Jan 2005), Revolutions Of An Irregular Solid (21 Jun 2006), ...)

- Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 21:24:08 (EST)

Code of the Haggler

I won't be happy until you aren't happy!

(quoted by RL, attributed to MC)

- Monday, March 27, 2006 at 22:23:01 (EST)

Great Picnic

"This sport is beautiful. It's like being at a great picnic, you don't want to get it over right away. 'Gotta go, gotta go, gotta beat the crowd, gotta beat the rush,' that's not baseball. The truth is, if you're in a hurry, maybe the game's not for you."

(Mike Piazza, as quoted by John Vinocur in "Baseball: Enticing the world to game of lulls", 7 Mar 2006 International Herald Tribune; cf. Keys To The Kingdom (1 Aug 2001), World Series Lines (22 Jun 2002), Heart Of The Order (3 Aug 2002), Happy Moments (10 Nov 2002), Leonard Koppett (23 Aug 2003), Baseball Football Basketball (14 Oct 2004), ...)

- Saturday, March 25, 2006 at 21:37:44 (EST)

Skills of Deliberation

John Churchill in the Spring 2006 Key Reporter (Phi Beta Kappa newsletter) editorializes about the relevance to society of a strange club with the motto "The love of learning is the guide of life." He reflects on the core values of democracy and identifies three "skills of deliberation that are important to citizenship":

  1. capacities of critical thought that provide an understanding of how to make and evaluate arguments,
  2. possession of knowledge of the facts whose relevance to things that matter makes them reasons that can be presented in arguments, and
  3. discernment about what matters – that is, what is worth deliberating about.

Earlier in his essay Churchill raises the question, "Is Phi Beta Kappa gloriously useless?" He concludes:

If citizens in a democracy are to deliberate, these are their tools. They need to be able to think; they need facts to think with; and they need a grasp of what is worth thinking about. So, if we want a democracy that is about more than counting votes, a democracy in which citizens are equipped to withstand the skills of manipulators and in which the connection between truth and freedom is clear, we will support the ideals of Phi Beta Kappa. Useful as well as glorious.

(cf. http://pbk.org/ and Questions Ideas Arguments (14 Sep 2000), Education Of The Youth (1 Dec 2001), Pursuit Of Excellence (22 Feb 2002), Liberal Arts (13 Mar 2003), Bronc Burnett (1 Jul 2004), ...)

- Thursday, March 23, 2006 at 05:33:32 (EST)

Revolutions of an Irregular Solid

Not long ago as I began to reread Middlemarch I hit a sentence that could only derail a theoretical physicist's train of thought. At the end of Book I Chapter 4 the protagonist's fusty uncle is confounded by his niece's decision to marry:

In short, woman was a problem which, since Mr. Brooke's mind felt blank before it, could be hardly less complicated than the revolutions of an irregular solid.

Complicated, but also completely understood (the solid, that is!). An arbitrary irregular object tumbles as it rotates, performing an aperiodic ballet described by Jacobi elliptic functions. The precession of a symmetric spinning solid such as a toy top is a straightforward special case. Herbert Goldstein whimsically encapsulates rigid-body motion in his famous (or infamous, if you had to study it) textbook Classical Mechanics (1950):

Hence the jabberwockian sounding statement: the polhode rolls without slipping on the herpolhode lying in the invariable plane.

It actually makes sense, but only after one struggles through a flock of definitions and derivations. George Eliot, however, has more complex fish to fry — human nature — so she wisely ends her chapter with Mr. Brooke's befuddlement ... and no equations.

(cf. Spinning Sources (11 Apr 2000), Qpo Lmxb (8 Jan 2001), ...)

- Tuesday, March 21, 2006 at 05:44:39 (EST)

Caissic Uncertainty Principle

In Chapter 2 ("Psycho-Logics") of the delightful Chess for Zebras GM Jonathan Rowson discusses "The Importance of Not Having a Clue":

In my late teens, rated around 2400, I had the impression that grandmasters, especially stronger ones, knew certain things. I really thought if you showed them a position they would be able to say, with conviction: 'this one is winning', 'this one is drawn', etc. Moreover, I thought that they would be able to explain their judgements in a way that would enlighten me.

But chess is so much more complicated than that! After describing his own loss of certainty Rowson observes:

... the stronger a player is, the more likely he is to begin by saying "I don't know" when you ask him what is happening in a position!

He concludes this section with:

Strong players have a fuller sense of how difficult chess is because after moving through successive stages of understanding they gradually learn that ultimately there is no end in sight. From my own experience, I know that even now, around number 150 in the world, I feel that in many positions I am seeing only a fraction of what there is to be seen. Of course we can approach the truth, and strive to understand the game more deeply, but we have limitations. Therefore I would advise all players: be confident in your own abilities and your capacity to defeat the opponent, but temper this confidence with humility towards the game as a whole. ...

Likewise, as I often tend to say, in life ...

(cf. Caissic Metaphors (8 Jan 2000), Deliberate Opinion (14 Oct 2001), Nunn So Ever (20 Jun 2003), Prophetic Uncertainty Principle (29 May 2004), Teaching Zebras (28 Dec 2005), ...)

- Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 08:53:45 (EST)

Prime Focus

A wonderful phrase: Prime Focus. Technically it refers to the location where light hitting the main optical surface of a telescope forms an initial image, without further alteration by secondary mirrors or lenses. But the connotations of those words are far more magical. Astronomer George Ellery Hale wrote (in Harper's Magazine, 1928):

Starlight is falling on every square mile of the earth's surface, and the best we can do at present is to gather up and concentrate the rays that strike an area 100 inches in diameter.

The 200-inch Mount Palomar telescope was the result of Hale's lobbying and the generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation. This morning I chanced across the Palomar Observatory's pages of history ([1] and esp. [2]). They make marvelous reading.

For whatever reasons, astronomers tend to be long-lived. Jesse Greenstein (1909-2002) was one of the earliest observers at Mount Palomar; he joined the Caltech astronomy department in 1948, and spent cumulative months of his life in the Prime Focus cage of the big telescope, perched above the great mirror where he could change photographic plates and adjust instrumentation throughout long cold nights. See [3] and [4] for a memorial commentary in his own voice.

(I was lucky enough to meet Jesse in 1976 when I spent a night on Mount Palomar; cf. Seeing Stars 3 (14 Jan 2000), ...)

- Friday, March 17, 2006 at 06:15:25 (EST)

Time Vault

One of my favorite Magic: The Gathering cards is the "Time Vault". As the wording on the card was originally formulated a Time Vault could be used to create infinite loops, since it let a player gain an additional turn in exchange for skipping a future turn — and that procedure could then be repeated in the newly-acquired turn. It thus allowed a cheap-trick win, quickly and without skill. Oops! The MtG wording and rules have now been fixed to prevent that.

The main reason I like the Time Vault is the illustration on the card, created by Mark Tedin. It shows a couple of bizarre radiation-suited creatures doing something incomprehensible with broken sandglasses and what might be a primitive nuclear reactor. What's going on? I have no idea!


Occasionally I think of the Time Vault when running a long race. There's always the temptation to "put some time in the bank" by going fast during the earlier part of the competition, when the old legs feel fresh and strong. Alas, that never works: every minute ahead of schedule at the midpoint costs at least two minutes during the second half. There are no Time Vaults in the marathon.

(cf. The Metagame (18 Feb 2003), Deceleration Parameter (28 Dec 2003), Man Of Mystery (12 Aug 2004), ...)

- Wednesday, March 15, 2006 at 05:52:32 (EST)

Pawing the Earth

Winter/Spring Race Season is here: a marathon, a trail "marathon", and an ultramarathon decorate my February/March calendar. For the past month, therefore, the ^z dance card shows a potpourri of short & long & fast & slow, a bit over 100 pedestrian miles:

Crooked Ladder

7 Feb 2006 - 4+ miles (~9 min/mi pace) — When I get to the track I discover that a late lunch of Chinese carry-out (egg drop soup, spicy tofu with black mushrooms, fried rice) isn't the best preparation for speedwork. As the sun sets the temperature falls into the 30's, with gusty northwest breezes that further enhance the chill factor on upwind legs of the oval. I'm at the University of Maryland to pick up a couple of kids, and fortunately for me don't have time to attempt a trail run, so it's a "speedwork" session. My ladder gets ragged when I lose count of laps at one point, so I do 400 + 800 + 800 + 1200 + 1600 + 1200 + 800 + 400 at an average pace of 8:53, with half laps (~2.5-3 min) of walking and sipping an electrolyte drink to recover. A few other hardy souls are also at the track, some jogging, some walking, and one sprinter first working on his starts and later doing amazingly brisk 100 meter dashes. I spend most of my time in lanes 3, 4, and 5. (How much extra distance does that give me?)

Shooting Star

10 Feb - 3+ miles (10:00 pace) — Near sundown fellow-traveler Carl and I set off for a jog along the shore road, as the temperature falls into the 70's. Carl sets a fast pace for me, or rather, I slow him down to my plod as we chat, look at the sights along the way, and avoid the fierce traffic at crosswalks. We turn around at the big flagpole/monument and by the time we're passing the hotel my GPS says 3.01 miles. So we sprint a few dozen final yards together and I punch out while Carl goes on for another 3 or so. After a shower and dinner at the local mall's fast-food court (Indian food: I have a sweet lassi, rice, bread, and sabzi jalfrezi, mixed vegetables with hot bell pepper curry) we're walking back to our rooms and I see a bright meteor (or maybe an errant satellite? – it's about 9:25pm and the object is perhaps first-magnitude and leaves a sparky trail for half a second as it covers a 5-degree arc in the high southern sky) ... hopefully an omen of good luck for the upcoming race season!

Corniche Crawl

11 Feb - 5 miles (10:30 pace) — Comrade Mark and I walk two miles from the hotel eastward along the coast road ("The Corniche") and then part ways for the return journey, him to walk through town in search of interesting shops and me to jog on the brick sidewalk. At 6pm I clear the GPS trackfile and start my stopwatch. Today I take a walk break every 5 minutes and feel good enough to continue the jog past our starting point and out the causeway again to the big flagpole/monument and back. There are quite a few other joggers out today, with a pleasantly stiff sea breeze knocking temperatures down in the lower-70's (but with hazy skies and moderate humidity).

Last (not-so) Long Run

13 Feb - 8+ miles (11:00 pace) — Temperatures in the lower 70's but humidity of ~60% equals a somewhat sweaty outing – my last, if I have any sense, before Sunday's George Washington Birthday Marathon. I set off at 8pm along the bike path by the coast road and jog:walk::4:1 eastwards. There are plenty of pedestrians and a few other joggers and in-line skaters out this evening. The full moon in front of me first plays peek-a-boo through high clouds and then vanishes. After I've gone about 3.5 miles by the GPS odometer, past the neighborhood of the restaurant where friends and I ate dinner last night, I enter a construction zone where the absence of streetlights makes me begin to get a bit nervous about tripping, and besides which my water supply is now mostly consumed. So I turn around at the 4-mile point and head back, carefully stepping over loose bricks and small ditches. The water fountains I try aren't functional, but a soda machine near mile 5 produces a can of low-carbonation orange beverage that I use to refill my bottle, and so I'm happily hydrated for the return journey.

GW Birthday Marathon

19 Feb - 26.2 miles (~11:30 min/mi pace) — See Washington Birthday Marathon 2006 for a report on this frigid frolic through the forests of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and nearby Greenbelt, Maryland. My "official" finishing time is a hair over 5 hours, but by my watch I made it across the line in 4:59:58. Moving clocks run slower, according to Einstein's Special Relativity, but at my pace that effect only accounts for half a picosecond.

Out and Back and Out and Back

25 Feb - 14 miles (~11:20 min/mi pace) — At 7am on Saturday morning C-C and Ruth and Ken and I converge on the little playground in Kensington near mile 6.4 of the Rock Creek Trail [1]. It's near freezing as we set out northward, past Ken-Gar to milepost 9. Then we reverse course and are back at our starting point in less than an hour. Ruth and C-C have to stop here today; Ken and I continue downstream to milepost 2 and then return, for Ken's longest-ever run as he trains for the Frederick Marathon at the end of April. Our pace remains steady as MCRRC Saturday Long Run participants pass us en route.

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail "Marathon"

4 Mar - 28 miles (~15:45 min/mi pace) — See Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006 for a full literary report. During the race I ingest 4 Clif Shot energy gels, 4 Succeed! electrolyte capsules, 4 pints of Gatorade, 4 Girl Scout cookies, and at least 4 fistfulls of salty chips; I had 4 hours of sleep the night before. Comrade C-C and I go slowly, enjoy the perfect weather, observe the beautiful scenery, and approach the finish line with enough reserve energy to run most of the final mile. We finish a proud last in our respective classes, just under 7 hours 21 minutes.


11 Mar - ~6 miles (~14:00 pace) + ~10 miles (~14:30 pace) — At 6am Ms. C-C and I rendezvous at the MD Route 28 intersection with the Greenway Trail [2]. We observe Venus brilliant-cut in the dawn sky and debate the likely temperature and appropriate number of layers to wear. Then eastward we go, flushing a family of deer eating breakfast at the tree farm. We trot upstream along Seneca Creek, past archaic Black Rock Mill to Germantown Road (MD 118) and back. At scenic spots we pause to photograph one another. We shamelessly walk the hills and finish strong, apparently recovered from last weekend's trail marathon together. Caren sprints over and down the final ridge ahead of me. As she unlocks her automobile I discover to my chagrin that I've carried the ignition key to my car rather than the key to the doors. Deja vu – I last did this to myself on an 11 Nov 2004 run.
I phone AAA and they call for a locksmith to come break into my vehicle. C-C is concerned about my plight and lends me her spiffy Marine Corps Marathon jacket; she has to leave soon on family business. An elderly fellow Texan named Steve pulls his pickup truck into the parking area and chats with me about the drought on his ranch, Middle East politics, etc. He's crusing along the country roads enjoying the morning but took a wrong turn; no problem! Next the Auto Club man arrives and opens my car. He's a Marine, driving a tow truck in between tours in Iraq, and feels embarrassed that it takes him a few minutes instead of the five seconds he initially estimated.
Then it's nap time: I sprawl across the back seat, take off shoes, prop up feet, and rest tired eyes for much of an hour. Shortly after 9am Ruth appears and we set off in the direction that C-C and I went but go a bit farther, to Riffle Ford Road. It's much warmer now, in the 60's and rising, so I suffer. I take two S! electrolyte capsules but run out of Gatorade during the return trip; Ruth gives me some of a British sports drink that she's carrying. We stop to take pictures on the way.
Ruth feels strong and pulls me along during miles 3-5 and again for much of the way back. Being in front is, however, hazardous today: I stumble during the first mile and scrape my left hand and right shin; when Ruth takes the lead she trips twice but rolls properly and fortunately suffers minimal damage. Hidden flocks of birds make loud clacking-calling noises as we pass. Ruth spies a brown frog on the path outbound and we see it again, or its twin, during our return. A yellow-brown snake slithers out of Ruth's way, startling her and vice versa.

(cf. September 2005 Jog Log (30 Sep 2005), Golden Trump (16 Oct 2005), Late October 2005 Jog Log (30 Oct 2005), Three Mooseketeers (1 Dec 2005), Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), ...)

- Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 11:45:10 (EST)

Poetic Credo

In the Preface to Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (1996) Stephen Dobyns writes:

I believe that a poem is an emotional-intellectual-physical construct that is meant to touch the heart of the reader, that it is meant to be reexperienced by the reader. I believe that a poem is a window that hangs between two or more human beings who otherwise live in darkened rooms. I also believe that a poem is a noise and that noise is shaped. A poem is not natural speech; it is artificial speech. I believe that whether one is a formal poet or a free verse poet, one is always involved with the relation between stressed and unstressed syllables. And I believe that a poem doesn't try to present reality but presents a metaphor that represents some aspect of the writer's relation to the world: a metaphor that can be potentially reexperienced and become meaningful to the reader. In the next several hundred pages I will expand upon these ideas and ideally they will grow more precise.

And so he does, in a series of essays some of which themselves shatter windows with their imagery and insight ...

(cf. Rules Versus Principles (23 Jun 1999), Iambic Honesty 1 (23 Apr2001),Lying Verses (15 Mar 2001), Where We Are (24 Apr 2005), Chekhov On Tolstoy (15 Jul 2005), Dangerous Literature (3 Mar 2006), ...)

- Friday, March 10, 2006 at 20:24:25 (EST)

Arnold Bennett Requiem

After Arnold Bennett's death Virginia Woolf, who had disagreed violently with him in years before, wrote in her diary (entry of Saturday 28 March 1931):

Arnold Bennett died last night; which leaves me sadder than I should have supposed. A lovable genuine man: impeded, somehow a little awkward in life; well meaning; ponderous; kindly; coarse; knowing he was coarse; dimly floundering and feeling for something else; glutted with success; wounded in his feelings; avid; thicklipped; prosaic intolerably; rather dignified; set upon writing; yet always taken in; deluded by splendour and success; but naive; an old bore; an egotist; much at the mercy of life for all his competence; a shopkeeper's view of literature; yet with the rudiments, covered over with fat and prosperity and the desire for hideous Empire furniture; of sensibility. Some real understanding power, as well as a gigantic absorbing power. These are the sorts of things that I think by fits and starts this morning, as I sit journalising; I remember his determination to write 1,000 words daily; and how he trotted off to do it that night, and feel some sorrow that now he will never sit down and begin methodically covering his regulation number of pages in his workmanlike beautiful but dull hand. Queer how one regrets the dispersal of anybody who seemed – as I say – genuine: who had direct contact with life – for he abused me; and yet I rather wished him to go on abusing me; and me abusing him. An element in life – even in mine that was so remote – taken away. This is what one minds.

Woolf is more than a little self-revealing in her "How does this death affect me?" appraisal of Bennett. Perhaps as Margaret Drabble speculates in Arnold Bennett: A Biography (Chapter 15, "The End", and elsewhere) there is an unconscious class issue behind the perception of Bennett by those who "... had never known poverty, and who could not discern Bennett's passionate yearning for fraternity and joy and opportunity for all." Drabble goes on to quote Rebecca West, who observed in The Telegraph:

All London will miss him, and some Londoners will miss him very bitterly. For he abounded in kindliness; and it was to be noted that some of his closest friends were men who had no other friends. His rich understanding of human nature enabled him to bridge gulfs that others could not.

(cf. His Own Light (20 Oct 2005), Pauline Smith (14 Dec 2005), Vast Injustice (13 Jan 2006), Unenviable Happiness (27 Feb 2006), ...)

- Wednesday, March 08, 2006 at 05:57:04 (EST)

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2006


(stone railroad bridge above Seneca Creek, built in the early 1900's; photo by Caren Jew, 4 Mar 2006)

As we sprint toward the finish line a sunbeam slips through the trees and glints off C-C's diamond earring with a flash of startling colors. We've come full circle: nine hours earlier Venus twinkled brilliant against the predawn sky when we drove to Riley's Lock on the Potomac River. The Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50k ends here. It begins here too, as volunteers in the darkness direct cars into the parking lot and then shepherd entrants into the vehicles that will take them to the starting line more than 28 miles upstream. Minutes earlier, as I left home and cruised down the highway at what I thought was a brisk pace, trucks and autos blitzed past me left and right — a forecast of what I experience along the trail.

Pace Control is the watchword for the long training run that Comrade Caren, aka "C-C", and I undertake along Seneca Creek in the guise of participating in today's marathon. Our goals are to enjoy the scenery, gauge our fitness level, and put some hoof-time and mileage into the bank for future use. C-C is parked and pacing the frozen grounds at 5:45am. She greets me as I arrive about 6:15 and we take pre-race photos of each other looking chilly. The temperature is in the 20's (°F) with intermittent northwest winds gusting up to 30 mi/hr. Brrrrrrrr!

Five of us carpool to Damascus Regional Park, Karen-with-a-K driving, Caren-with-a-C in the front seat, and me sandwiched in back between Tim and Brian, experienced ultrarunners who entertain us with tales of their adventures. The staff at the registration tables are well-insulated against the cold but the runners aren't; our garments are layered to allow the escape of internally-generated heat. As soon as we have our bib numbers we retreat to the shelter of Karen's car and await race time. When Director Ed Schultze summons us to the pre-event briefing we abandon all concept of personal space to huddle together like a colony of penguins fighting the frigid breezes for survival.

A few minutes after 8 o'clock we're off. C-C and I coast down the paved path and soon assume our proper station at the back of the pack, a pack which rapidly proceeds over the hills and beyond our line-of-sight. We stick to our game plan and take walk breaks early and often, traversing a mile every 15 minutes or so. Caren has recent speedwork under her belt but hasn't had much opportunity to go long for the past several months as she recovers from a shin fracture, so this is near her optimal pace. It's comfortable for me too, and good preparation for the 50k Hinte Anderson Trail Run (the HAT Run) that I hope to do in three weeks.

After a few miles several fast racers blast by us. They went off course earlier, did an extra mile or more, and now must work a bit harder. No problem; this is a trail run, not a road race. We wish them all well and carry on slowly — "Relentless Forward Progress" is our motto — down Magruder Branch Trail and across the stream to where it joins Seneca Creek.

The first major aid station is at Brink Road (~7 miles, 1:30 into the run). We're greeted with cheers: Caren's husband Walter and the family's two lovely daughters, Ashley and Jenna, hug their Mum and shake my hand. After a few minutes to refuel we're on our way again. The next stop is on Route 355 (~11 miles, 2:45 elapsed), where I'm saluted by friend Meredith and her six-year-old son Toby who have been waiting almost an hour for me to appear. We trek onward and downward and upward to Clopper Lake, the checkpoint at roughly the center of the race (~15 miles, 3:45). We arrive precisely as planned, a quarter of an hour ahead of the most stringent time cutoff on the course. After this we have no worries about being disqualified, barring an injury that prevents us from walking. We lollygag for several minutes, eating and drinking and applauding the 50k contestants who are finishing the bonus-distance circuit around the lake and rejoining the marathon course here.

This year my club race number is 333 — my nom de trail, "Half Beast". At Route 28 (~22 miles, 5:45) when the volunteers need to see my bib in order to check me on their list I pull up my outer windshirt and offer to flash the number at them in exchange for Mardi Gras beads. (Weak humor, sure, but during a long run that's the best I can generate.) Caren chats with friends, we chug soda and snarf Girl Scout cookies, thank the patient helpers there, and amble on. We cross tributary streams, meadows, and an increasing number of muddy sloughs as the day warms up. When the wind pauses we doff caps and gloves, but a few minutes later it blows and we're forced to don the extra garments once more. A few 50k-ers catch up with and pass us, including Jenny whom we've met at past runs. Now we walk a bit more than we jog, converse, point out jet planes on their final approaches downriver, and successfully cross a big creek while maintaining dry feet thanks to well-placed steppingstones and guide ropes. Then it's time to tackle an intimidating Capital-H Hill, steep and high; we succeed by shifting to ultra-low gear.

When we see the road to the parking lot we know the end is near. We've saved enough energy to dash (relatively speaking) to the wire. The official clock says 7:20:37 for Caren and 7:20:38 for me. We're each dead last in our respective categories. At the picnic pavilion we eat, drink, congratulate one another, pick up our finisher's commemorative running shorts, and proceed home to our families — a little tired and a lot happy. Full circle.

(cf. Hat Run 2004 (2 Apr 2004), Eric Clifton (1 Oct 2004), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (5 Mar 2005), Hat Run 2005 (20 Mar 2005), Golden Ticket (6 Feb 2006), ...)

- Sunday, March 05, 2006 at 22:48:59 (EST)

Dangerous Literature

A comment in the Preface to Stephen Dobyns' book Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry led me to a letter by Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak (27 Jan 1904), in which Kafka pounds the table and shouts:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could could write ourselves, if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

or in the original German:

Ich glaube, man sollte überhaupt nur solche Bücher lesen, die einen beißen und stechen. Wenn das Buch, das wir lesen, uns nicht mit einem Faustschlag auf den Schädel weckt, wozu lesen wir dann das Buch? Damit es uns glücklich macht, wie Du schreibst? Mein Gott, glücklich wären wir eben auch, wenn wir keine Bücher hätten, und solche Bücher, die uns glücklich machen, könnten wir zur Not selber schreiben. Wir brauchen aber die Bücher, die auf uns wirken wie ein Unglück, das uns sehr schmerzt, wie der Tod eines, den wir lieber hatten als uns, wie wenn wir in Wälder verstoßen würden, von allen Menschen weg, wie ein Selbstmord, ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. Das glaube ich.

(above translation by Richard and Clara Winston; cf. [1], Where We Are (24 Apr 2005), Chekhov On Tolstoy (15 Jul 2005), ...)

- Friday, March 03, 2006 at 06:17:24 (EST)

Silver Naga


Gift from Paulette: a shelf-sized silver-plated dragon statue. The descriptive tag begins:

Dragons, or Naga, are featured throughout Asian folklore. These four-toed beasts symbolize the essence of strength and virtue. Their primary role is as protector and benefactor. Since their abode is the deep water, they are a source of knowledge and of fertility but they also guard the immense riches of the earth ...

A peculiar myth to which I hold a peculiar attachment, having been born in the Year of the Dragon. Naga comes from Sanskrit and means "serpent". This one holds a sphere representing the world in one paw.

(cf. Here Be Dragons (22 Sep 2000), The Defenders (27 May 2002), ...)

- Wednesday, March 01, 2006 at 05:40:00 (EST)

Unenviable Happiness

Margaret Drabble describes British writer Arnold Bennett on vacation in 1927, almost 60 years old and delighted (in a semi-Stoic fashion) with his life — his belatedly-found true love, the infant daughter that they now have together, and the simple thrill of the road:

On 5 April he set off from Victoria Station to Rome, having arranged to meet Otto Kahn and his party some days later in Sicily. He travelled alone, by train, noting the Fascist Englishwoman (a card-carrying one) who unsuccessfully tried to engage him in conversation at lunch on the train, the alcoholic waiter, the beautiful sunset and other such things, and reading The Brothers Karamazov for the fourth time. In Rome he slept well, did some churches, took some notes, wrote some letters, had lunch in a trattoria, and caught the six o'clock train to Naples. As ever, when reading his travel notes, travel journals, or memoirs (this trip was to reappear later as Mediterranean Scenes) one cannot help but comment on his happiness. It is a happiness that rouses no envy, for it is solid, unecstatic, almost attainable: the fine balance of interests, internal, external, sensual, intellectual, the self-reliant, self-contained, yet in no way introverted good faith of the hopeful voyager, represent at least a possible image of unselfish yet independent well-being. It is a kind of ideal, and rarely achieved, I suppose, but it looks democratic rather than exclusive. Though what could be more exclusive than the Duke of Westminster's yacht? Perhaps one finds Bennett so cheering and reassuring simply because he existed, because he got there, because he enjoyed it. Out of all those millions in the Potteries, one of them managed to take a train to Taormina, sail the Aegean, and enjoy every minute of it. What would he had said of the package tour, the £25 weekend in Sicily from Gatwick, the coach trips? He would surely have approved. One cannot imagine his deploring the quality of tourist one meets abroad these days. He liked his luxury, but he didn't mind sharing it.

(from Arnold Bennett: A Biography, Chapter 14, "In the Thick of Things"; cf. His Own Light (20 Oct 2005), Pauline Smith (14 Dec 2005), Vast Injustice (13 Jan 2006), ...)

- Monday, February 27, 2006 at 05:52:58 (EST)

Journal Bearing

The word "journal" seems pretty obvious — it refers to a daybook, a publication, a record of events. The root is from Latin ("diurnalis" = daily), via French ("jour" = day). But the other day I ran across a completely different meaning for journal: the part of a shaft or axle supported by a sleeve or bearing. There's apparently no explanation known for this mechanical-engineering usage. Wow!

(even better: seeking more information on this topic led me to find the "bearing blog" [1], which appears to be both fascinating and well-written; cf. Si Monumentum Requiris (4 Apr 2004), Zhurnal And Zhurnaly (8 Dec 2004), ...)

- Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 10:16:36 (EST)

Rhythm Method

     The oldest English   accented meter
     Of four, unfailing,   fairly audible
     Strongly struck    stresses seldom
     Attended to anything   other than
     Definite downbeats:   how many dim
     Unstressed upbeats   in any line
     Mattered not much   motion was measured
     With low leaps   of alliteration
     Handily harping on   heavy accents
     (Echoing equally   all vowels,
     Consonant cousins   coming together).

That's a typical example of self-reference from Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse, a spritely little volume by John Hollander. As the author laments via extended metaphor in his Introduction:

Both verse and prose, then, are schematic domains. Literacy used to entail some ability to write in both modes, without any presumption of poetry in the execution of skill in the former. But today sportswriters on the few newspapers we have left know no Latin nor can write good witty verses. We no longer memorize poems at school. Young persons are protected from the prose cadences—so influential on writing in both modes—of the King James Bible by aggressive separatism and the churches themselves; all of us are shielded from Shakespearean rhythm by the ways in which both prose and verse are publicly intoned in America. The territory covered in this guide—this road map through the region of poetry in English—has itself tended to run back into second-growth timber, if not into wilderness.
Some day we will all be reading Blue Guides and Baedekers to what once were our own, familiar public places. In former times, the region of verse was like an inviting, safe municipal park, in which one could play and wander at will. Today, only a narrow border of that park is frequently used (and vandalized), out of fear that there is safety only in that crowded strip—even as the users' grandparents would cling to walks that went by statues—and out of ignorance of landscape. The beauties of the rest of that park are there, unexplored save by some scholars and often abandonded even by them.
I am old enough to have grown up in the park, and to map a region one loves is a way of caressing it. (Goethe wrote of counting out hexameters on his Roman lady's back as she lay in his arms: he was mapping her body's curve even as he felt for the ancient rhythm.) I too set out now as a loving rather than merely dutiful tour guide. Even today, when touch seems casual and only discourse intimate, one can't presume on Whitmanic relations with readers. I shall content myself (Inquiry's too severe in prose; / Verse puts its questions in repose) with tapping out my self-explaining diagrams and illustrations of the walks and alleys and bosks and ponds and parterres and follies and hahas and so forth that comprise my territory, as it were, on the reader's hand. After all, this is a manual.

Hollander's exemplars range from trivial (for the simplest formal structures) to pleasantly arch:

     Apostrophe! we thus address
     More things than I should care to guess.
     Apostrophe! I did invoke
     Your figure even as I spoke.

Later editions of this tiny tome include illustrative samples from poets over the centuries. Throughout its course Rhyme's Reason is a delight to drift along or dip into, with happy surprises around every riverbend.

(cf. Rules Versus Principles (23 June 1999), Lying Verses (15 March 2001), Iambic Honesty 1 (23 Apr2001), Iambic Honesty 2 (27 Apr 2001), Iambic Honesty 3 (6 May 2001), Poetic Processes (3 Mar 2002), Never Told Anybody (16 Dec 2005), ... )

- Friday, February 24, 2006 at 20:48:34 (EST)

Tristram Shandy

Michael Winterbottom's new film Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story isn't actually a movie of Laurence Sterne's 1765-1769 novel. It's not even, as it pretends to be, a movie about making a movie of the novel. What TS:ACaBS really is, is a proposal for a movie — a rough draft that brings great energy and humor and creativity to the screen but which never quite makes them cohere. It's a laugh-out-loud romp with dozens of utterly successful scenes and dozens more that fall short. Given ten times the budget and a sharp-scissored editor, TS:ACaBS could have been a wonderful reimaging of an "unfilmable" novel. Maybe next time?

- Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 21:00:56 (EST)

Washington's Birthday Marathon 2006


These woods are neither dark nor deep, but lovely are they during the 45th George Washington's Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, Maryland on Sunday 19 Feb 2006. Comrade Ruth and I convince ourselves that this is merely "a training run with a medal at the end". The delusion succeeds: instead of pre-race insomnia and butterflies each of us reports a restful night. Ruth meets me before the start and we trade our bib numbers for special ones indicating that we're doing the hour-early start for self-designated slowpokes. Colleague Carl arrives and takes photos of us. He's planning to do only ~20 miles today, since he has family time on the afternoon schedule. The small crowd gathered before the race is cheerful and friendly. I take pictures of a clique of Annapolis Striders who, like Ruth and I, are doing the event today in preparation for the HAT Run 50k ultramarathon next month. After a caffeinated Clif Bar and a sip from the Recreation Center water fountain, it's time to set off.

At the 0930 starting line the temperature is a balmy 18°F. The mercury climbs over the next several hours into the upper 20's, though gusty northwest zephyrs remind us that it's still winter during upwind legs of the three-loop course. An ancient pair of torn hand-me-down thin tights plus double socks, double shorts, double shirts, and double gloves keep me comfy. After the first mile I feel hot-headed above and frigid below, so I doff my cap and stuff it into my shorts to provide extra insulation where it's needed most. An hour later the outer gloves come off. My new fanny pack carries electrolyte drink as well as a variety of munchies and a camera.

Following a pair of over-enthusiastic initial miles we come to our senses and settle into a sustainable trot in the 11-12 minute/mile zone. Ruth hasn't had much opportunity to train for the past few months so she has to work harder than Carl and I, who entertain her with our discussions of family, entomology v. etymology, programming languages, and similar inane topics. We reach the midpoint of the race in 2:28:34. I take a "Succeed!" electrolyte capsule at that point and swallow another one every hour thereafter. During the run I suck down three Clif Shots (gooey 100-calorie packets of sugars and salts) and quaff a cup of Gatorade at every aid station. This keeps leg cramps at bay, though I do feel them threatening me in the final miles.

After the second circuit the members of our happy fellowship part ways at mile 17: Carl punches out to return home, while Ruth wisely decides to slow down and therefore insists that I proceed alone. I take advantage of a net downhill region and string together a couple of sub-11 miles, but then start to feel real fatigue looming and return to a more rational pace. At mile 20 a young Asian gentleman (who started at the regular time, and who thus is an hour ahead of me) interrupts my reverie with a desperate "Please, do you have any food?" The Wall has hit him hard. I offer him a variety of options from my pack and he gratefully accepts a Clif Builder's Bar, which he inhales without water. Then he speeds onward and is soon out of sight. After the race he sees me and again thanks me for restoring his energy level.

On a long run, mental arithmetic capabilities are the second thing to go (or maybe the third thing?). At the halfway point I figure that a finish under five hours is straightforward to achieve. At mile 22 my calculation indicates that it's a cakewalk. Likewise the sub-5 seems in the bag at mile 24. But somehow it slips out of the sack, maybe during the final uphill climb that just won't end. By mile 25.5 the sure thing is clearly a close call. A last-five-minutes sprint to the finish, however, puts me across the line in 4:59:58 according to my watch. Whew! In the following chart red circles show "Raw Splits", blue plus-signs represent a smoothed pace (averaged over adjacent miles), and the yellow filled area is a yet-smoother depiction of local average speed.


Here are the data upon which the above is based.

Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace Mile Time Pace
1 0:10:42 10:42 10 1:52:44 11:28 19 3:37:05 10:38
2 0:20:53 10:11 11 2:04:04 11:20 20 3:47:46 10:41
3 0:32:27 11:34 12 2:15:58 11:54 21 3:59:08 11:22
4 0:43:34 11:07 13 2:27:30 11:32 22 4:10:36 11:28
5 0:54:39 11:05 14 2:38:24 10:54 23 4:22:22 11:46
6 1:06:16 11:37 15 2:50:16 11:52 24 4:33:58 11:36
7 1:17:19 11:03 16 3:03:06 12:50 25 4:45:29 11:31
8 1:29:16 11:57 17 3:15:20 12:14 26 4:58:03 12:34
9 1:41:16 12:00 18 3:26:27 11:07 26.2 4:59:58 9:35

As in 2004 and 2005, kudos to Race Director Pat Brown, to his coterie of assistants, and to the DC Road Runners for putting on a fine race. (The vegetarian chili at the end is scrumptious!)

(photo by Carl Rogers; cf. Washington Birthday Marathon 2004 (23 Feb 2004), Washington Birthday Marathon 2005 (20 Feb 2005), Half Beast (4 Jan 2006), ...)

- Monday, February 20, 2006 at 17:55:46 (EST)

Bill Bowerman

Comrade Carl gives me his copy of the December 2005 issue of Runner's World magazine. Deep within a forest of advertisements for fancy shoes, I discover on pages 72-75 a real gem: Kenny Moore's anecdotal mini-profile of the Bill Bowerman (1911-1999), legendary running coach at the University of Oregon and a founding father of the Nike shoe empire. The author himself trained under Bowerman's gentle whip in the 1960s and went on to finish strongly in the 1972 Olympic marathon. Perhaps more significantly, Moore was a co-author of the fine 1998 movie Without Limits in which Donald Sutherland portrayed Bowerman.

Kenny Moore's article contains much wise advice, relevant in areas of life far beyond running. For example, there's a striking thought from the Australian miler Herb Elliott:

To run a world record you have to have the absolute arrogance to think you can run a mile faster than anyone who's ever lived; and then you have to have the absolute humility to actually do it.

And from Bowerman himself:

If you go out to race and know you'll lose, there's no probability involved. You'll lose. But if you go out knowing you will never give up, you'll still lose most of the time, but you'll be in the best position to kick on that rare day when everything breaks right.

(The Kenny Moore biography of Bill Bowerman is due to be published in the spring of 2006 – I've already ordered a copy; cf. Without Limits (12 Feb 2005), ...)

- Saturday, February 18, 2006 at 11:05:22 (EST)

Still True Names

Vernor Vinge's 1981 sf short novel True Names was reprinted in 2001 as part of True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. That collection of articles, edited by James Frenkel, includes a variety of pieces by computer scientists and technopundits. What's most amazing to me is how little these clearly-smart people manage add to the original Vinge tale and the accompanying Marvin Minsky 1983 "Afterword" essay. Maybe Vinge and Minsky told the story about as well as it can be told – the "story" being a description of mind via the metaphor of computation and vice versa. Attempts to put a political/social/technological spin on it are both unnecessary and irrelevant.

(one exception to the above: Richard M. Stallman's nightmare parable "The Right to Read"; cf. Vernor Vinge (17 Sep 2001), Boston Public Library (20 Jun 2002), True Names (16 Oct 2003), Countermeasure And Godshatter (30 Oct 2004), ...)

- Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 16:38:27 (EST)

For back issues of the ^zhurnal see Volumes v.01 (April-May 1999), v.02 (May-July 1999), v.03 (July-September 1999), v.04 (September-November 1999), v.05 (November 1999 - January 2000), v.06 (January-March 2000), v.07 (March-May 2000), v.08 (May-June 2000), v.09 (June-July 2000), v.10 (August-October 2000), v.11 (October-December 2000), v.12 (December 2000 - February 2001), v.13 (February-April 2001), v.14 (April-June 2001), 0.15 (June-August 2001), 0.16 (August-September 2001), 0.17 (September-November 2001), 0.18 (November-December 2001), 0.19 (December 2001 - February 2002), 0.20 (February-April 2002), 0.21 (April-May 2002), 0.22 (May-July 2002), 0.23 (July-September 2002), 0.24 (September-October 2002), 0.25 (October-November 2002), 0.26 (November 2002 - January 2003), 0.27 (January-February 2003), 0.28 (February-April 2003), 0.29 (April-June 2003), 0.30 (June-July 2003), 0.31 (July-September 2003), 0.32 (September-October 2003), 0.33 (October-November 2003), 0.34 (November 2003 - January 2004), 0.35 (January-February 2004), 0.36 (February-March 2004), 0.37 (March-April 2004), 0.38 (April-June 2004), 0.39 (June-July 2004), 0.40 (July-August 2004), 0.41 (August-September 2004), 0.42 (September-November 2004), 0.43 (November-December 2004), 0.44 (December 2004 - February 2005), 0.45 (February-March 2005), 0.46 (March-May 2005), 0.47 (May-June 2005), 0.48 (June-August 2005), 0.49 (August-September 2005), 0.50 (September-November 2005), 0.51 (November 2005 - January 2006), 0.52 (January-February 2006), 0.53 (February-April 2006), 0.54 (April-June 2006), 0.55 (June-July 2006), 0.56 (July-September 2006), 0.57 (September-November 2006), 0.58 (November-December 2006), 0.59 (December 2006 - February 2007), 0.60 (February-April 2007), ... Current Volume. Send comments and suggestions to z (at) his.com. Thank you! (Copyright © 1999-2006 by Mark Zimmermann.)