Friday, December 28, 2012

2013 Race Schedule

My race schedule for the coming year is taking shape. Not exactly as I wanted, but it's taking shape. I put in for the lotteries at Hardrock, Massanutten, and Barkley, but didn't get in. So I'm left with:
February 23: Febapple Frozen 50 Miler (NJ)
May 31: Bryce 100 Miler (UT)
June 29: Western States 100 Miler (CA)

I'd like to (1) break 24 at States, and (2) do something fun in July. San Juan Solstice is too soon before States. Leadville and the new Telluride Mountain Run seem kind of late (I do have to write a new labor economics course and have a new job market paper for next fall, after all.) This thing in Alaska is seeming very tempting. But what it really means is that I'm an idiot for dilly-dallying and not registering for the Vermont 100 when I had the chance.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homemade Sauerkraut

What all the cool hipsters are doing.


Recovering after an enjoyable 5 miles in the dark while it was sleeting.

Happy Holidays from the South Pole

May you all be as happy as this guy during the holidays and the new year.

h/t Radiolab

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Economist on the Spartathlon

I have no desire to run the Spartathlon, because it is on pavement. Make it that long and on trail and I'll be there.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

There weren't horses in the Americas before 1492. I like this painting, but when did the rhinocerouses get brought over?

Anacostia River

This is the furthest George has ever gone into water on his own. A meal of fresh Canada Goose was at stake, but he gave up.

Happy Festivus, America!

Nice 13 or 14 mile runs today along the Anacostia and the National Mall.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Eat & Run

Just finished reading Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatnessby Scott Jurek (with Steve Friedman). While I'm happy that the book has motivated me to run a little (lot) more consistently, I mostly didn't like it, for two reasons. One, the writing was tired and cliched. Two, there were too many pseudo-scientific and psuedo-spiritual claims about the source of his running prowess (e.g. homeopathy, cleansing toxins, etc.). For good measure they mentioned one of the many horrible statistical studies showing that sitting makes people die early (tangent you've heard before: just because you control for smoking and other aspects of lifestyle doesn't mean you get at causality. If there is anything in the world that you did not include in your analysis that is correlated with both sitting and life expectancy, then your estimate of the effect of sitting on life expectancy is incorrect. And if there are plenty of things that you can measure that are correlated with both (like smoking) that you do include, why the hell would you think that there is not a single other thing out there that you can't or didn't quantify that is also correlated with both? Run a randomized trial of assigning sitting desks and standing desks, and then I'll believe it. OK, on with the show.)

This is not to take away from Jurek's accomplishments, because I believe that he's had some rough things happen in his personal life, he's one of the best ultra-marathoners ever, and from all accounts, he's a very nice and humble person. As a vegan, I think it's great that he's one too. I just can't read this much self-help style pseudo-science without rolling my eyes. Again, Scott Jurek's story of overcoming adversity and becoming a champion is amazing. He won Western States seven times in a row, for crying out loud. I just didn't think the book was written very well, that's all. If you're less of a cynic than me and you like vegetables and running, you might very well love it.

For an interesting take on the science of plant-based diets and sports competition, see this NYT piece.
I think this quote is pretty sensible:
In general, vegetarians are healthier, with less risk for heart disease and obesity, although there are obese vegetarians. Many people tell me after they start a vegetarian diet that they feel better, but then again, many of them — and I believe this was the case with Scott Jurek — were eating a pretty poor diet before, so of course they feel better. They could have switched to a healthier meat-based diet and they would probably have felt better. 

One interesting side note: Jurek is quite a competitor. It should have been obvious that to win that many races, you have to actually care about winning, per se, but I guess I sort of imagined him as ignoring other people and racing against himself. Jurek does stuff to psych out his competition, like turning off his headlamp to sneak up on people, or pass them and not look back to demoralize them. This is totally standard fare at the front of every race of any distance, it was just interesting and surprising to me since I don't care very much about beating other people. Mostly when I see other runners on the course I'm hoping we'll strike up a conversation and I'll make a new friend.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

A while ago I read, and loved, Peter Heller's book The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals (my review), so when I heard on Fresh Air that Heller had written post-apocalyptic fiction, I was looking forward to it. I stayed up till 3AM last night finishing it, and I wasn't disappointed. It's perhaps not great literature, and I found Heller's style of incomplete sentences to be mildly annoying, but I guess I'm a sucker for outdoorsy survival stories that are even halfway good.
You got in your plane and flew past your point of no return. In a world maybe without any more good fuel. You left a safe haven, a partnership that worked. For a country that is not at all safe, where anyone you meet is most likely going to try to kill you. If not from outright predation then from disease. What the fuck were you thinking? Hig.

My dog died, I said.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dropping Out, Money Style

I just read Mark Sundeen's The Man Who Quit Money, about a guy (nicknamed Suelo, see his website or blog) who quit using money in 2000 and has lived mostly in a cave outside Moab, Utah since then. Suelo doesn't use money, and doesn't really barter either, he mostly just dumpster dives and accepts what is freely given. The book is maybe half about Suelo's spiritual quest that led him to the decision, and half about how he does it in practice and the adventures he's had along the way. Suelo was born in a fundamentalist family, and although now atheist, he is still very spiritual and talks about religion a lot. The pseudo-spiritual stuff wasn't my favorite, but the environmental and anti-corporate reasons behind Suelo's extreme freeganism I found quite interesting, and the author (a liberal environmentalist travel-writer with his own history of dirt-bagging) does a pretty great job of investigating the compromises he makes in his own modern life. He washes out and re-uses Ziploc bags, even though he's well aware that's not going to actually solve anything: not corporate greed, not poverty, not global warming. His therapist told him he should plant a garden. Apparently it helped.

on Moab (and another free spirit who lives there):
A bisexual dope-smoking Jack Mormon who speaks fluent German and whose passions included spelunking, choir, motorcycles, nude hiking, feminist literature, and classical piano might be hard-pressed to assimilate into even the most tolerant of communities: in a hick Utah mining town he was a clear outlier. But in Moab, nobody blinked an eye; they never did. Indeed, when I told locals that I was writing a book about a guy in a cave, they asked, "Which one?"
from a "Why Freegan?" pamphlet by a punk named koala:
There are two options for existence: 1) waste your life working to get money to buy things that you don't need and help destroy the environment or 2) live a full satisfying life, occasionally scavenging or working your self-sufficiency skills to get the food and stuff you need to be content, while treading lightly on the earth, eliminating waste, and boycotting everything.
 Obviously I'm sympathetic to a lot of this. That said, I am going to go to my office now. At least my job is teaching and research, and tonight I'll be taking public transit to go consume an experience (Of Montreal at the Trocadero, with Foxygen and French Horn Rebellion), and not purchasing more stuff I don't need.

As a friend said: "Yep."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Pipelines for Everyone!

People are pretty stupid in general, and it's impossible to aggregate preferences well, so instead of conservation, or a cap and trade system for carbon emissions, we should just cause lots of problems and then try lots of geoengineering to fix those problems. Pipelines are a good place to start. Specifically, let's build one to move water from the Missouri River to Denver. Zero unintended consequences, guaranteed!

If you want a nice economics lesson from this, it's that you people should index more of their contracts. More financial stuff should be tied to inflation rates, and when you sign your state up to divide water with six others for the rest of civilization, you should probably talk in terms of percentage of million acre feet available over some moving average window, not absolute acre feet.

Finally, a Post about Hiking

My buddy Krud is making a video about his epic Reno to the Bering Strait trip last summer. Here's his trailer.

In other awesomeness, the other day I was reminded of this couple who hiked the length of the Andes.

Across The Andes from Gregg Treinish on Vimeo.

Kenyan Art

I spent the day stretching a bunch of the painting I acquired in Kenya. I just ordered the stretcher bars off, bought a staple gun at the TrueValue down the street, and occasionally used the landlord's right angle square, though a tape measure to test both diagonals would do the trick. I suppose I had to live in East Africa to acquire the art as well.

My friend EK is trying to build a library in Busia, Kenya, where she and I once lived at the same time. To raise the funds for the library, she's teamed with some artists she met in Kisumu. I finally met these artists earlier this year when I lived in Kakamega, and I really like the work of one of them. Seth Amollo. So I bought a few of his paintings.  Look for him at the Coca Cola stand by the Impala Park in Kisumu if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Seth Amollo
Fish Ladies (AL bought this one she visited)

Women Drawing Water. Man, I should really just wait until tomorrow when I can take pictures of these outside, because the colors come out horrible indoors. They're all really bright (see above.)

Bicycle Taxi

  This is by a different artist. He sells at the main Masai Market in Kisumu.


The rest are obviously not paintings. But I stretched a couple of these colorful sheets of fabric anyway. I'm using a few as window drapes. I've got a bunch of extra if any friends want some cheap and easy wall hangings.

The flag of the Fruitarian Republic of Pineapplestan
Nice South Lakes High School colors

As to what all these Swahili sayings mean, your ability to use Google Translate is just as good as mine.
I brought this back from Tanzania in '06.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

If you need a Jeff Mangum fix,

you should try Gashcat, the most Neutral Milk Hotely thing since Neutral Milk Hotel

This one came up randomly in the youtubes, but the video's kind of fun.

Straight C-minuses

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, by Harvey Pekar
I love Harvey Pekar, and I'm pro-Palestine, but this book was disappointing. Mostly a dry history of the land changing hands over the last couple thousand years. The more modern, the more relevant, in my opinion.

Coming into the Country, by John McPhee
Very disappointing. Took me forever to finish. I felt like most of this book was minutia about Alaskan state government, or even worse, local government gossip. I do think the claim that too little of Alaska is privately owned, and that BLM shouldn't be kicking individual homesteaders out of their handmade log cabins, is interesting, but I couldn't care less about Alaska's attempt to relocate the capital, or at least the way McPhee wrote it. I'd recommend that outdoorsy types read book I (traveling the rivers), skip book II entirely (relocating the capital), and start book III (homesteaders mining, trapping, hunting, and surviving hard winters) but quit when it devolves into local gossip.

The Visible Man, by Chuck Klosterman
A therapist tries to help a man who has developed cloaking technology and likes to watch people.

This book is ruined by its format. Instead of just being a novel, it's written as a collection of e-mails and transcripts of therapy sessions. The basic idea is pretty neat, Klosterman can turn a clever phrase, and the discussion of voyeurism and privacy is sometimes interesting, but the format just doesn't work and comes across as sloppy and a waste of time.

No Man Knows My History

"We do not believe that God ever raised up a Prophet to christianize a world by political schemes and intrigue. It is not the way God captivates the heart of the unbeliever; but on the contrary, by preaching truth in its own native simplicity."
Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844
(The words of the opposition newspaper whose printing press Joseph Smith had destroyed, leading directly to his arrest and murder by a mob three weeks later.)

My having read Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet (and the glowing review to follow) may upset Mormon friends or family, but I sincerely hope not. Although I think that the large majority of the book is likely very near to the truth, I think the really fascinating part is just being exposed to the nuances of a completely different take on events. Having grown up Mormon, I was quite familiar with most of the characters and basic events surrounding the origins of the Mormon church (mostly from an early morning study class before school every day of my senior year of high school taught by a really engaging teacher), but I had never been exposed to a different take on things. Now for the glowing part: I think it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences in the past several years. It was basically a 400-page long epiphany. 

When I decided I didn't believe in God six years ago, I was happy to write off Joseph Smith and all of early church history with a fell swoop of "meh, he made it all up." Meaning that before reading this, I had never bothered to think about the details of these many interesting events from any perspective other than that of a faithful Mormon. "How did he make it all up?" turns out to be a pretty interesting question. And again, it's pretty obvious that I'm predisposed to believe nearly all of Brodie's book, and practicing Mormons are likely to look for errors or disagree. But regardless of agreement, I think it's valuable to know how 99.86% of the world's population would interpret the events surrounding the formation of the church. (Assuming 7 billion people and 10 million believers.)

It repeatedly reminded me of my experience with the All About Mormons episode (S07E10) of South Park (Seriously, watch it if you haven't already.) Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, and got Martin Harris to work for him transcribing his dictations. Harris' wife didn't believe him, so she stole the 116 pages. Then either (A) Joseph had made it all up, and knew he couldn't make up the exact same story again, so he claimed that God had known this would happen beforehand, and had included two slightly different versions of the 116 pages in the book to begin with, or (B) Joseph had translated the word of God through divine inspiration, but was worried that Martin Harris' wife would alter the version she had stolen, but God had known this would happen beforehand, and had included two slightly different versions of the 116 pages in the book to begin with. Before seeing that episode for the first time in 2003, it had honestly never occurred to me that the convoluted circuitousness of (B) is evidence against it. It had never even occurred to me that (A) was a possibility or that people might think the circuitousness of (B) was anything but evidence in favor of its validity.

Still following? I'm just trying to say it's fascinating to be exposed to totally different takeaways from the same accounts, ones that you didn't even know existed, or didn't know could exist. And Brodie's book was full of them:
  • Joseph Smith got in trouble with the law as a kid for telling people he could magically see where to dig for hidden treasure.
  • Joseph Smith gave several contradictory accounts of his first religious experiences (most importantly, in early accounts he never mentioned seeing God and Jesus, but in later accounts he said he saw them, and also said he immediately told everyone as much.)
  • Several of the witnesses to the gold plates may have admitted that they never saw the plates with their physical eyes, but only saw them in a vision when worked up into prayer-induced trance state. (Same goes for angelic visitations by Moses, Elijah, and others.) 
  • Native Americans aren't from Jerusalem, and there were no horses in the Americas prior to European discovery. The "reformed Egyptian" language and a lot of the Book of Mormon make sense if you know the scholarly book Joseph might have had access to: Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews.
  • Joseph Smith claimed that papyri found with some Egyptian mummies was written by Abraham. He translated it. The papyri still exist and have absolutely nothing to do with Abraham.
  • Basically all but one second-in-command in the church's early history (save Brigham Young) had a falling out with Joseph. As a kid I never questioned why this happened all the time, but Brodie's explanation is that one after another every one of these guys either lent Joseph thousands of dollars that was then lost on a seriously bad investment, or Joseph stole their wife while he sent them off to do missionary work, and often misled them about it. 
  • The bank the church set up in Ohio was as wildcat a bank as ever there was, and its failure led to Joseph fleeing Ohio.
  • Joseph's bodyguard Porter Rockwell may have been sent by Joseph to kill former Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs in revenge for Boggs' having expelled the Saints from Missouri a few years prior. (That said, nothing even in this critical view of Mormon history does anything to justify the horrible treatment of the Mormons by earlier Missouri settlers. It may have largely been a question of the slaveholding settlers versus northern Mormon converts.)
  • Polygamy. Seriously. Polygamy. Soooooo sketchy. Joseph and the inner circle who practiced it lied about it, denying its existence, to so many people, including their first wives, that it's ridiculous. Eventually Joseph tried to take William Law, Hiram Kimball, and Robert Forster's wives, and they could afford to buy ink by the barrel. There's also the story of Joseph's first wife, Emma, who caught Joseph and her previously trusted friend Eliza Snow in an early morning embrace. Emma flew into a rage, beating Eliza with a broom handle and running her out of the house. Sadly this resulted in a miscarriage, but still, I'm with Emma on this one. 
 I doubt that people not familiar with Mormon church history will get nearly as much out of the book as I did, but I think it's objectively true that the literary style of Brodie's writing is quite impressive. She apparently had a background in literature before beginning to write biographies. And even non-Mormon readers may gain something from understanding this "uniquely American" religion. I've heard that phrase several times over the years, and Brodie does an excellent job explaining it. As she explains the books that had been published in America in those years, the politicians elected, the banks failing, the frontier expanding, and the run-up to the Civil War, the religion Joseph Smith created fits very nicely into place.