Monday, February 23, 2009

The Grand Paladin?

There's an OK article about ultra-runner Matt Carpenter in the NYT. It claims he is the "grand paladin of high-altitude distance running," which I take issue with, mostly because a "paladin" is a character class in Dungeons & Dragons, not a word you're actually supposed to use in real life, and more importantly not a word I should go around admitting that I know is a word from Dungeons & Dragons.

Anyway, here's a link to his running bio, which is probably more informative than the article.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mobilis in Mobile--Freedom in a Free World

I finished reading Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty. For those who don't know, Everett Ruess was the Christopher McCandless of the Depression era. I'm guessing that definition doesn't help many people; if you know one you know the other. Ruess was a young aspiring artist that became somewhat of a legend after disappearing mysteriously in the canyons of Southern Utah outside the town of Escalante in late 1934, leaving behind his donkeys, a pair of "NEMO 1934" inscriptions, and no sign of his belongings. Krakauer mentions him in Into the Wild and Stegner mentions him in Mormon Country. Vagabond is a collection of Everett's letters home to his family and friends from the years preceding his disappearance. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that this book will only be enjoyed by a subset of those already infected with the wanderlust virus. Everett's letters are left to stand on their own for the most part, without much explanation or analysis. I think an unedited collection of pretty much anyone's letters would be uninteresting, and Everett is unfortunately no exception. Much of my communication with my parents is limited to "Mom, could you please look in my closet and send me the pants to my black suit?" (By the way, I looked awesome in that suit, so if anybody knows where the pants are, I'd love to know.) Most of you would not find this interesting, and I don't blame you. I don't find it interesting, and I don't find Everett's
"Both my trousers are quite worn out, so please mail the striped grey ones that fit me (not the baggy ones) to El Portal, with instructions to hold a week or two. I'd also like to have another 200-page diary book if you can find one reasonably. You might send five dollars of the October money to El Portal."
very interesting either. (But seriously, if you know where the pants to my black custom-tailored suit are, TELL ME.)

Everett is also frequently described as "sensitive," and his letters are what some might describe as soulful. I don't want to be too big a jerk here, because Everett was a talented artist and by all accounts a very nice kid (he was only 20 when he disappeared) who probably got robbed and murdered, but that means I might describe his letters, in the literary sense, as saccharin sentimentality or new-agey bullsh--: "Now the aspen trunks are tall and white in the moonlight. A wind croons in the pines. The mountain sleeps." I don't think that's the appropriate way to critique the writing since it is just casual correspondence, but since it is just correspondence, it could do a lot better with exposition and analysis, of which editor W.L. Rusho provides little.

The version I read is an annoyingly typo-laden two-book combination edition of Vagabond (Ruess' letters) along with his journals, The Wilderness Journals of Everett Ruess. I suppose I'll eventually get around to reading the second half.

Similar to the above, the book is full of Ruess' block prints of beautiful southwest redrock. I love Ruess' art, I find his story fascinating, and I envy his devotion to living a life of adventure and freedom, but I just don't think I need to read every single note he wrote home asking his mom to send him a pair of pants.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things & Stuff

1. Today I mentioned the possibility of doing orals to a professor and was not immediately laughed out of the room. Progress!

2. Norm MacDonald was on Conan again. Hilarity ensued. Watch it.

Nothing much else is going on. I'm almost done reading a book on Everett Ruess; the review will follow shortly.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Sometime in the last 24 hours my blog lost its status as the #1 google result for the "garret christensen" search. No, I don't routinely self-google every single day to check, I just happen to have been horribly bored at least twice in the last 24 hours. I was worried I'd eventually lose out to the set decoration assistant for the movie Twilight with my name on imdb, but I'm still ahead of him, and instead I've lost out to one of those dumb take-up-every-single-domain-name-in-the-universe-and-put-up-a-blank-site-with-just-ads-so-we-can-extort-the-person/company-with-this-name-if-they-ever-want-it services.

I was hoping to end this post with "oh well, at least my hike naked day photo is still the number one on that search" but I just checked and that's not true either. Woe is me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Colorado River Compact

After reading a bunch of Wallace Stegner and watching John McCain lose Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado after he said during the campaign that the Colorado River Compact might need to be renegotiated, I decided to read up on the matter. I just finished Norris Hundley's Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West. Normally when I try and think of research ideas I just read the newspaper looking for examples of bad journalism (if there's two of something it's a trend), or I just try and think of arbitrary situations or quirks that lead to natural experiments, from which I could get some sort of easily econometrically identifiable causal estimate or program evaluation. (Title IX causing arbitrary variation in girls' sports participation, catastrophic injury causing arbitrary variation in time a rookie QB rides the bench before starting, etc.) This time I thought I'd pick some large general topic I'm interested in (water in the west) and read the history of it and see if there was any sort of thing economics issue I could address. Nope. Too broad. There are all sorts of interesting "what if" questions that one could ask about the Compact, (What if the amounts agreed upon had been different? What if there had never been a compact?) but that's not really what I do. I suppose there are also other cost-benefit analysis questions that one could ask about dams or other development on the river, but that's not really what I do either. Anyway, about the book itself.

Very briefly, the US Constitution Article 1 Section 10 allows for interstate compacts. Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California all got together and decided how to split up the waters of the Colorado. The Upper Basin (WY, UT, CO, NM) agreed to give 7.5 million acre-feet (that is how much water it takes to fill an acre one foot deep) to the Lower Basin annually (plus, confusingly, another 1 million acre-feet maybe to Arizona, maybe from Arizona's own tributaries). The Upper Basin wanted the compact because everybody knew California was developing the fastest, and water law in the arid west is based on prior appropriation--whoever starts using water from the river for some useful purpose first gets to keep doing it, so people upstream can't make the river go dry. So the Upper Basin could develop in its natural way and not have to worry that when people finally did start living there there wouldn't be any water. California wanted the compact because the federal government was being all sorts of slow about allowing development on the river, and California really wanted a dam on the lower river for electricity and flood control. Nevada wanted a dam too, and Arizona, well, they didn't really want the compact. They wanted to build a canal called the Highline Canal, which would divert a crapload of the water from the Colorado and ship it all the way to Tucson. The canal was the brainchild of George Maxwell, who believed that without the canal the US would get in a war with Asia because Mexico was being colonized by Asians. (Seriously. Read that sentence again.) So Arizona didn't ratify the compact until 1944, 22 years after everybody else signed on, and only after 2 or 3 unsuccessful Supreme Court cases against California (the US Supreme Court is the court of original jurisdiction for inter-state conflicts). Then after a few more years they sued California again, and after 11 years the Supreme Court decided that basically Arizona did get a lot of water, but really, Congress and the Secretary of the Interior could in fact do whatever it wanted with the water, so in some sense the compact doesn't even matter. Also, Native Americans and Mexico need water too. And oh, by the way, there's not nearly enough water in the river as you guys originally thought. And yeh, Arizona's canal did end up getting built. The End.

The first 75 pages are rather forgettable, discussing the first attempts to develop along the river in the Imperial Valley. The rest is actually pretty interesting, but probably only if you're already interested in the relevant subject. I read a 1975 printing, so this book could definitely use an update. A new version is indeed due out this May; I do not know if it will be updated.

Even if you don't read the book (or even the Wikipedia articles I linked to, or even this whole post) you should definitely look at these pictures of a rafting trip down Glen Canyon before they built the dam and consider supporting efforts to restoring a free-flowing river.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tri-Ultra Article

Articles in the Chron about running, swimming, and biking endurance athletes from the Bay Area.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More on Scouts

Chron columnist Mark Morford wrote an OK column on the Boy Scouts today. I guess I harp on this because it makes me really sad. I'm proud of being an Eagle Scout, and if there were any sort of volunteer organization I would love to get involved with it'd be the Boy Scouts, except I never will because they discriminate against gays and atheists, and I can't try and change them from the inside because I fall into the latter of those two categories. I assume there's a substitute (Campfire USA?) but it's not the same. Oh, and BSA has a trademark on the word "scouts," so that complicates matters if you want to form some sort of substitute. If only they had the male analog of one of the Girl Scout slogans: "Every girl, everywhere."

On a more positive note, I met my Little Brother for the first time last week, and I started helping people file their taxes this week. I'm excited about both of those things, but that's probably the last you'll hear about them, since the point of my blog is not to tell you about other people, but to say embarrassing things that will be publicly visible on the Internet forever that make me both unemployable and unelectable. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Test, Mostly

This is mostly just a test-post to see if the new feed-burning works.

I didn't get into Hardrock. I'm 189th on the waiting list, which means every single current runner would have to drop and then some, so I'm taking that as a big negatory/negatron. On the plus side, the fact that I'm even on the waiting list is proof that my alternative entry (CDT yo-yo as opposed to having finished a major mountainous 100-miler in the past two years) was accepted.

I'm still waiting on Wasatch. The drawing is in four days, and based on the number of spots, guaranteeds, and lottery entrants, I think I've got less than a 50% chance of getting it. If I don't get in there, I might have to look into a new race, the DRTE 100, outside Santa Barbara in October. It'd be easier to get to, I have an ultra-running friend in the area, and I wouldn't have to acclimatize.

So what am I going to be doing in July instead of running Hardrock? Let me ignore that question and go run some regressions in Stata. I picked up a cool method off the listserver to use the outreg command inside a foreach loop without causing file writing errors. Exciting!

Proof I don't really know what I'm talking about

Apparently it's not cool enough to just let blogger (aka blogspot) do your blog's feed-burning for you; it's much cooler to sign up with feedburner (confusingly, also owned by google). I am not quite sure why, but I think it has something to do with feedburner letting users subscribe via e-mail (the built-in option only allows the owner to add e-mail subscribers) and giving the owner good stats on the number of subscribers. So after this post I'm going to re-direct my feed to If you don't use a feed-reader (,, etc.) you should start, but until you do you can mostly ignore this post. If you happen to already subscribe to the old built-in Atom feed (I believe there are a whopping 16 of you), you might need to resubscribe to the new feed using the above link.

If you happen to be my tech-savvy friend MRB, I'll happily read any elucidation of the matter you want to post in the comments.