What I'm Reading: July 6, 2014

The People Who Can't Not RunThe Atlantic

As Denver slowly morphs me into a running addict, I can't seem to avoid articles on the subject. This one comes from Katherine Dempsey at The Atlantic  on streak runners, the nickname given to those who run every day. Travel, holidays, births, deaths—there are no exceptions. Every day means every day.

The Dogs of War, National Geographic

As you might imagine, the US military has long been developing ways to better detect IEDs, that cause of fatal roadside bombings. A solution, it turns out, is to use a dog's nose. The nature of the job makes these creatures of war entirely disposable. The always impressive Michael Paterniti explores this under-discussed aspect of war through the story of soldier Jose Armenta and his German Shepherd Zenit. 

The Toughest Footrace in the WorldOutside

The Western States Endurance Run: one of the most, if not the most prestigious ultramarathon in the world, and one of the handful of items that is unequivocally on my bucket list. There are now ultramarathons that are longer, tougher, higher, and harder than Western States, but this race, held every summer in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, is on an untouchable pedestal in the hearts and minds of ultra runners. In 1980, writer Lee Green profiled the toughest footrace in the world.

Rethinking the Wild, The New York Times

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, designating large sections of our country as wilderness areasdeserts, forests, and plains to be left untouched by humans until the end of time. However, things aren't so black and white. In some cases, the protected flora and fauna are not adept to handle the sudden effects of global warming, and thus human intervention, the antithesis of the Wilderness Act, will ultimately benefit these areas. We are entering an era where these regulations will be to be reevaluated, while still having to keep "America's appetite for land, roads, mines, timber" in check. From the pen of the talented Chris Solomon.

Australian Optimism

What will resonate the longest with me when my time Down Under comes to an end is the deep optimism present in Australian culture. And optimistic doesn't completely capture it. It is a temperedness, a nearly tangible authenticity, a nonchalant attitude that never dips into negligence. They take things at face value and rarely suspect dishonesty (sarcasm doesn't really have a place in their humor). It is a culture nearly void of insincerity.

There is plenty of ambition here. Australians are hard workersfocused, reliable, and competent. This permanent cheer I'm referring to does not negatively affect their productivity. Instead, it is like a light blanket that drapes over this continent and compliments every aspect of life. It is something that is so innate to these people that I don't think they are aware of an alternative way to function.

This is mostly manifested in a very subtle ways. If you're looking for it, you'll notice it in their body language, behavior, social attitude, and even in their diction. It's a mindset and a lifestyle that has made this deep-breath of a culture one of the most pleasurable places to live.

An example from work: If someone must leave early or needs an extra day on this assignment or that project, barring an immediate deadline, there is no reason for anyone to object. It goes without saying that whatever you state is done so without deception. (Again, I have put myself in very uncomfortable situations by thinking they'll understand sarcasm).

Now, 90% of Australia live along its coasts and this has created a beach culture. Although a beach culture generally produces an outdoor-centric, Vitamin D-enriched community where smiles are more common than not (probably a big factor in my whole point here), it also inevitably creates bros. You know what I mean. The are most certainly bros in Australia. And in particular circumstances, when these bros are around other bros, blood starts to boil. Australians are not immune to irrational emotion and aggression, and I have witnessed their usual passivity challenged right in front of me. But the difference here is honesty. There is no fluff. There is no deceit. It is, even in circumstances where there is anger, truthful. Feelings are laid out free of misinterpretation. I sincerely don't mean for this to sound condescending, but in circumstances like the one I've just described, the way Australians communicate reminds me of children. It is plain, and they're unafraid to call a spade a spade. "You did this and this is why that makes me mad." If violence or an argument ensues, then so be it. But there is so sense in sacrificing decency to prove a point. 

(Note: I have not put forth serious effort in understanding Australian politics, but I figure politicians are politicians no matter their longitude. Perhaps they will get a pass from my argument. But in terms of general cultural behavior, there is an attitude towards life and living Down Under that is inspiring.)

Modern Australians are descendants of British criminals. How this happened over the course of 200 years is beyond me. Perhaps this attitude is the reason that although the history of the United States and Australia are strikingly similar, we have created a much larger global footprint. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

I am not here to trace cause and effect. I am simply stating facts. And a marvelous fact it is. 

After Dinner.

You’re very full, regretfully full, and you cannot shake the notion that somehow you’re projecting your fullness to her; it’s slowing you down, hunching your back, it’s giving you an uncomfortable, awkward look. So you quickly throw your shoulders back, take a deep breath, smile, and reach into the soapy sink to grab another dish. She cannot stop talking about how delicious dinner was, which you’d have to agree with. It didn’t take you that long to prepare at alljust a quick recipe your Dad gave you. But every time you make it, people seem to fall in loveclaim they’ve never tasted anything like it before. All it is in a bit of peanut butter, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes on noodleslaughably simple. But she liked it—a lot—so you’re not complaining.

She takes the next dish from your dripping hand and begins to dry it. She breaks the momentary silence with a question about where the pan goes. You tell her it’s below the oven and panic for just a moment when your voice slightly cracks. She didn’t hear, or at least ignoring it, so you pick up the next dish and pretend like nothing happened. You can hear your roommates farther back in your apartment zipping up their backpacks, putting their jackets on, getting ready to leave. This means that you’re going to be alone with her. This excites you in the most uncomfortable way possible. Rationally, you know this is a good thing, exactly how the night was supposed to go. But your subconscious anxieties refuse to let you forget that they're there. Oh, no, you think—can she tell I’m nervous? A moment later, though, you have a quick change of heart and embrace the nervousness: it’s normal, healthy, and evolutionarily a good thing.

You rinse off the last dish, which was a particularly messy pot, as your three roommates—loud, laughing, possibly tipsy—walk out the door. The last one shoots you a quick, knowing glance. He follows it with a slight smirk and exits the room. She didn’t see it—thank God—as she’s opening every cabinet in your kitchen trying to find where this last pot goes. It’s right above her, she just hasn’t checked it yet. Without thinking, you walk up behind her and reach over her head to open the cabinet. You apply a slight amount of pressure to her back with your torso completely by accident—you surprise yourself. She doesn’t pull away though; she hesitates, waiting for you to make the next move. Is this how it’s going to happen? After all the planning, meticulous planning, is this how it’s going to happen? In your dirty kitchen? She turns around, and with the sweetest puppy dog look, stares right into your eyes. It’s a more deliberate stare than anyone would normally give. You know what it means, but you lock up. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen! You tell her you can put the pot away and thank her again for drying. She pauses as if to convey her disappointment and while shaking her head says you’re welcome. She’s heading to the table to sit down, but something powerful and foreign comes over you like a spell. As if you’re a passive observer of your own body, you watch your right hand reach out, gently grab her wrist, and pull her back towards you. The last thing you see before you close your eyes is the beginnings of a smile on her small mouth. But that is erased as you press your lips against hers. You are amazed that after all this anticipation, your mind is relatively clear for the 5 or 6 seconds in which you’re kissing her. She pulls away and rests her chin on your shoulder. Softly, into your ear, she whispers, “I like you.”