Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Skinny Stoners

We already know that smoking dope keeps rats—and old people—from getting Alzheimer’s and now it turns out it may keep them thin, too.

And I thought all it was good for was making bike rides more entertaining, helping music to sound better, and brightening the colors of the local flora and fauna on overcast afternoons.

I love that we’re getting these regular reports on the health benefits of cannabis; it’s like in the Woody Allen movie “Sleeper,” where in the future scientists discover that all the things we thought were unhealthful in the 1970s—cigarettes, red meat, and chocolate—turn out to be exactly what’s required for a long life.

It’s also refreshing to me that the usefulness of pot as an appetite suppressant is being verified, too. I have long experienced the “anti-munchies” when I get stoned. Generally, the last thing I want to do right after finishing a joint is to eat. I’m all for drinking in the world and consuming the mystery of the environment around me, but the idea of putting food in my mouth tends not to be very appealing.

Occasionally over the years, I’ve made the mistake of getting high before going out to eat or at a dinner party with friends. When that happens, it’s all I can do to fill up on martini olives or the marischino cherry at the bottom of my Manhattan.

No doubt my career as a leggy supermodel would be derailed by restrictions on marijuana use; Kate Moss can hoover up her monster lines of blow; I’d prefer a few hits off the bong instead.

All this said, it is also my experience that typically, several hours after the initial effect, the munchies do set it. That’s when everything from pickles dipped in mustard to kale soaked in rum to melted cheese on a plate tastes remarkably delicious.

The trick, therefore, to sustained weight loss on pot is pretty obvious: just keep smoking.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cycle Slug

Today was one of those occasional times when I take public transit both directions to school. And even though I got my usual short ride to the bus in the morning and a slightly longer one from school to Lake Forest Park where I caught the 522 coming downtown, I still feel like a lazy slug for not riding at least one direction all the way.

I mention this not entirely in a spirit of self-abnegation, but also to explore the phenomenon of feeling dissatisfied with one’s own behavior, especially when it’s simply a matter of not living up to some arbitrary standard that one has set for oneself.

No one cares whether I ride my bike back and/or forth to school except me; if I decide out of laziness, exhaustion, or whatever to hop the bus instead of pedal, why should I feel any remorse?

Moreover, today, I even appealed to my standard rule of not being allowed to wait for the bus (I can only take it if I see it coming); as I came upon Lake Forest Park, the 522 was just pulling up and, as a matter of fact, it took a lucky red light stopping its progress for me to catch the coach.

So, perhaps I can even argue that the universe meant for me to take the easy way home.

To do so, of course, assumes that it makes any difference at all to the universe what I do, a claim which I take as something of a hard sell. It seems far more likely that the planets will go on spinning and the stars shining brightly no matter what I do.

But if that’s the case, then again, it only matters to me whether I’m on the bike or the bus and we’ve already established that if I don’t care, then it shouldn’t matter to me anyway.

Apparently, even though I’m not on my bike, I’m still pedaling in circles.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Agony of Defeat

After nearly fifty years of living with myself, you’d think I ought to know a few things about the person I am. And you’d be partially right.

I have, for instance, developed a fairly clear picture of how lazy and self-centered I am. My general disposition is pretty much to do the bare minimum necessary to get my own way and often—perhaps a saving grace—I’m even lazy enough not to care whether things go the way I want or not.

I’m also aware that I’m biased towards escape. I like sitting on the aisle and prefer to have an excuse to leave the party if I need to.

And I’m not someone who has a particularly high tolerance for pain—not mine, to be sure, but nor do I care much for seeing others (except maybe Dr. Phil) suffer, either.

One thing I haven’t learned, though, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, is that I’m not really an athlete.

Yesterday, for instance, even though I was reminded of the contrary every time I assayed steeper or more moguled runs, I still cling to the belief that I’m an excellent skier, only a weeklong ski trip away from competing in the X Games.

On the bike trail to work, in spite of being passed by pre-teen girls on single-speed cruiser bikes, I can’t shake the notion that with a little training I could win the Polka Dot jersey in the Tour.

One of the unhappiest moments in my childhood was at the 4th grade district-wide track and field games day. After I failed in my third attempt to clear the initial three-foot height in the high jump, I shuffled tearfully over to the group of geeks and nerds who also couldn’t make it. My friend, Ricky Minutello tried to comfort me. “Don’t cry, Dave,” he said, “None of us made it either. We’re all here with you.”

That’s when I really started to bawl.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Five Day Workweek

Capitalism is responsible for many great things—dozens of models of Converse All-Stars sneakers, 100 percent pure agave tequila imported straight from Mexico, DIY bands becoming world-famous mega-million dollar grossing stars practically overnight—but in plenty of ways, it sucks, too—capital moving freely around the world while labor can’t, environmental degradation in order to make a quick buck, pre-packaged pop stars becoming mega-million dollar grossing stars literally overnight—but what bugs me about it nearly as much asanything else is how the globalmarket system supports, fosters, and seems to depend upon the five day workweek.

Now, granted, in my career as an academic, I’m not always on that time clock, but for the most part, I’m beholden to it as a worker, parent, and citizen. Consequently, I’m unable to fully be all those things, at least with any real degree of expansiveness or reflection.

Saturday is half over before I’m even done cleaning house and if I do something that takes all day long like going skiing, as Mimi and I did today, then there’s the weekend, used up in a flash.

Sunday night is all about worrying over and preparing for Monday, so essentially, the entire weekend is gone by Friday night.

If people took to working four-day weeks, at least we’d have one day that felt sufficiently like vacation that we’d have time to recharge and reinvigorate for the week ahead.

I’ve seen arguments to the effect that instating the four-day work week would have great economic benefits. Productivity would go down only marginally, and people, paid the same amount for 32 hours instead of 40 would enjoy a higher standard of living and have more time to shop, thus stimulating economic growth even more.

The only downside, as I can see it, might be reduced sales for makers of anti-depressive drugs. But then, they might make it up on sales of antiobiotics, since fewer people would want to call in sick on Fridays.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Greenlake Race

I partipated last night in the regularly-scheduled post-Critical Mass Greenlake Race. It’s held at midnight on final Friday of each month, the same evening that the usual parade of “Massholes” (I can use that word; I am often one myself) takes place.

Riders race a lap around the lake, generally unlit (well, their bikes are; participants themselves are often well-lit), the winner being the first cyclist who can make it all the way from start to finish, avoiding late-night joggers, dog-walkers, homeless people with shopping carts, and in the summer, lawn sprinklers and garden hoses.

The first time I raced, last summer, I was under the impression it was all good fun, and, while it is, some of those boys (and the occasional girl) are really serious about the competition. In my career, I’ve come in second to last, last, and yesterday, in a personal best ever, third to last.

And I will note that in the January 2007 race, for first time ever, I was able to see the taillights of one group in front of me for two-thirds of the way before they completely disappeared in the distance.

It was a lovely—if slightly chilly—night for a bike ride. The half full moon was bright behind a veil of fog and there was virtually no wind.

The ride over to Greenlake, slightly cannabis-enhanced, was just enough of an adventure while still allowing the reflective space to think of all sorts of fleeting ideas for teaching, writing, and making the world a better place.

As cyclists were massing for the start, another rider, Jeff, asked our organizer, Derek Ito, if there was time to get stoned before we took off. It was clear that we’d be gone before he could pack a pipe, so I whipped out a joint.

“Ah! Professor McStoney comes through again!” cried my fellow rider.

I may not be known as a fast cyclist, but at least I’ve got a reputation.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Yoga on Coffee

I’m taking part of an Ashtanga Second Series workshop this evening and tomorrow afternoon. It’s a much-needed kick in the ass to get me back into the alleged nerve-cleansing group of poses.

The problem for me, though, (well, one of the problems) in doing yoga after 8;30 or so in the morning is that I’ve got to have my coffee and when I do, I get all jittery in the postures.

At least that’s what I’m blaming it on.

I admit it; it’s no lie: I’m addicted to caffeine, so the chances of my going all day without my cup of joe are slim to none; still, I notice the difference it makes in my practice. I guess if I were a better yogi, and perhaps a better person, I’d try to give it up.

On the other hand, there’s part of me that clings to my vices—assuming coffee is a vice (it’s a crutch, at least)—and recoils at the idea of getting all pure and everything.

Conversely, I regularly, especially during my practice, wish I weren’t so dependent upon something that clearly isn’t all that great my long-term goal of achieving liberation through the eight limbs of yoga—assuming, of course, that that is my goal.

Assuming, of course, that it even makes sense to think about a goal whose main quality is a kind of goal-lessness.

I think. Or don’t.

My understanding from Douglas Brooks, who knows something about this kind of stuff is that the desires that we’ve been given—for nice things, including in my case, bikes and coffee—are not to be discounted unless one buys completely into an ascetic path to enlightenment. The road I’m on clearly is filled with a number of temptations, not all of which I am inclined—at least in this incarnation (which I’m inclined to think is the only one I get)—to turn down.

Especially when they are freshly ground and piping hot.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Six Weeks

It’s been six weeks since I took that spill in the rainy wet and badly bruised my back and ribs. And now, I’m pretty much recovered.

Maybe I feel a tiny twinge when I’m not adequately warmed up and I twist just so, but for most every intent and purpose, I’m back to what professional athletes usually call 100 percent.

This still seems rather amazing to me and makes me thank my lucky stars that the human body is such a miracle of auto-therapeutics (although I don’t really believe it’s a miracle; rather I see it as a straightforward result of adaptive selection.)

It also reminds me to be inclined towards a healthy measure of patience when it comes to matters of health.

Often, when I’ve hurt myself or am otherwise feeling less than ideal, I have tended toward seeking solutions outside myself. Perhaps if I can keep the six weeks model in mind, I won’t go rushing off after doctors or other health-care providers so rapidly.

(I make exception here in matters of pain; I am a firm believer in the value of analgesics; and insofar as some of the best ones can only be gotten through a licensed provider, then here I come, Dr. Feelgood.)

And perhaps this same admonition of three fortnights can be kept in mind when I find myself bogged down during a quarter of teaching or in my yoga practice or as a spouse or father during those inevitable rocky times we all experience.

I’m not advocating avoidance or downplaying of real problems; I’m just exploring whether or not there may be times when time is not of the essence, that instead, allowing nature to perform its natural healing process may be the prudent course of action.

As I read this back, therefore, and find myself less than fully satisfied with my thinking and writing, I can just relax and see where I’ll be a month and a half from now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What Victory?

President Bush wants U.S. troops in Iraq until we achieve “victory,” and warns that there will be terrible consequences of “defeat.”

I might begin to buy that even for a second if I had shred of a notion what either of those—especially “victory”—means.

If winning the war in Iraq means that U.S. troops will no longer be targets of insurgent attacks, then it seems to me that victory is impossible as long as troops stay there. No doubt there will always be at least some factions within Iraqi society that see U.S. troops as targets and so continue to plant roadside incendiary devices or attempt suicide bombings against them.

If “victory” means that warring factions in Iraq will stop warring, then again, I don’t see how U.S. military might will bring that about. For if U.S. presence is required to keep them from warring, then, victory—which presumably would mean that we could leave—is a logical impossibility. And if it’s not, then why not just declare victory and get out?

If “victory” means that the U.S. “saves face” on the world stage and prevents terrorists from feeling emboldened to mount attacks on American soil, then “victory” is only possible on terms we set. And if we can do that, then again, why not say we’ve won and come home?

Could “victory” mean that Israel is made safer? If so, why not invest some part of the billions we’re spending in Iraq in Jerusalem instead?

Then again, maybe “victory” means that U.S. corporate interests in Iraq are made safe; maybe it means that oil is flowing freely through the Iraqi oil pipelines. If that’s what it is, then I wish they’d just say so.

My suspicion is that “victory” in Iraq means whatever the Bush administration wants it to mean. They made up plenty of reasons for starting the war; I just wish they were as creative in coming up with reasons to end it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bikes on Busses

One of the Seattle amenities to which I’m most amenable is being able to put my bike on the bus and catch a public transit ride to wherever I’m going. The entire Metro and Sound Transit fleets are fitted with bike racks that fold down from above the front bumper, allowing them to carry two or three bikes at a time depending on the size of the rack.

In my dozen years here, I can count on one hand the number of times a rack has been filled to capacity on a bus I’m trying to catch and never in my half decade commuting to Cascadia have I ever had to skip a ride because the rack was fully utilized—although one time, my bike was the third and a guy who showed up later had to wait.

Sometimes I feel almost guilty availing myself of this service; it’s like this phenomenal secret benefit customized almost solely for my needs.

During the school year, I typically put my bike on the bus a couple times a week on the way out to school; this allows me to do a bit of reading or, more often, doze over a book, entering that lovely dreamlike state which would potentially be fatal were I doing the driving.

What’s especially convenient about being able to do this—apart from the opportunity to safely catch a few much-needed Z’s—is that it enables me to not be beholden to bus schedules for transfer purposes. On my bike, it’s ten minutes downtown to catch the express bus to Bothell; if I used a Metro bus for the connection, I’d have to leave 40 minutes earlier.

I should, perhaps, be reticent to sing the praises of the bikes on busses program; if more people knew how great it was, I might occasionally have to fight for my bike’s place on it.

Fortunately, however, this is the 327 Words blog, not the New York Times.

Monday, January 22, 2007

As If

Sometimes someone asks me why I cycle commute and or don’t eat meat when it’s certain that these paltry efforts to save the world—if that’s what they are—won’t make any real difference in the long (or short) run when it comes to whether or not the planet (or more, importantly, the people and animals who live on it) will survive much into the next century or beyond.

(And as a matter of fact, in the case of cycling, it can even be argued that I’m actually making things worse since—although I may be helping a bit by using less fossil fuel, that will be far outweighed by the likelihood that I’ll live a few years longer, thereby using up lots more resources and creating way more greenhouse gasses than if I drove lots, got fat, and died a few years sooner.)

Still, I’m not inclined to change my ways simply because I can’t bring myself to not act as if what I do matters even if it doesn’t.

It’s the existential absurdity of trying to live meaningfully in a meaningless universe.

I have no purpose for being here, but I need to live purposefully in order to live.

The couple times I’ve been successful in a bike race has been when I’ve ridden knowing full well that I have no chance to win while simultaneously believing that I might. (It’s also helped when I’ve followed the reasonable admonition to refrain from getting stoned until AFTER the race.)

The Native American (or shampoo company) norm is to live with the awareness of seven generations. I knew my great-grandmother and if I’m lucky, I’ll know my great-grandchild; that would put me smack in the middle of those seven.

Did my great-grandmother, Emma, really live as if the life of Mimi’s grandkid makes a difference?

I can’t possible say for certain (or even uncertain); I do want to believe, though, that she lived as if it does.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

24 Hour Bike Ride

A guy from .83, Chris Langston, organized a 24-hour bike ride yesterday commemorating his 27th birthday. Those who committed to the whole thing started at 9:00 in the morning, did a massive 84 checkpoint alleycat, and then spent the nighttime hours spinning on trainers at a warehouse space downtown.

I showed up there about 9:00 at night and hung around drinking beer, taking short rides around the waterfront, and marveling at the stamina of those who were participating in the full event.

At one point, a group of us went on a mission to liberate construction tape and orange roadwork cones in order to set up a phony “velvet rope” outside the warehouse space. It was fun engaging in a bit of rather harmless petty vandalism, especially trying to ride my bike down the street, slightly inebriated, carrying a plastic cone lifted from a new building site.

I also rode around the new sculpture garden a few times; it looks very impressive and I’ll be it will be really fun to ride through at night after the newness wears off and security gets a bit more lax.

Most of the 24-hour riders looked pretty spent; a whole day is a hell of a long time to be in the saddle; I think the longest I’ve ever ridden non-stop is about fourteen hours and by the end, I was useless. On the other hand, I was touring with around 30 pounds of gear and didn’t get the requisite ten-minute breaks very hour. On the other other hand, though, I wasn’t drinking beer and partying the whole time, either, so perhaps it all comes out as a wash in the end.

I did get a few ideas for what I might do on my own birthday ride should I hold it; I’m thinking a series of loops from home of varying lengths. We won’t do 24 hours straight, but if can aim for 3.27 hours that would be ideal.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


There’s this guy, Jonathan, who lives in a group home down the street from us; I met him last year outside the video store one night when I was stoned and got into conversation with him, the result being giving him ten bucks in response to a sob story he related about his life and the way he’s treated in the place he lives.

A few weeks later, walking by, he saw me on the front porch of my house and now, from time to time, he stops by and panhandles me in the name of some difficulty or another he is facing.

I don’t know quite what to make of the guy; he seems “not quite right;” but at the same time, he apparently remembers a lot of details—my name, Jen’s name, that I’m a teacher—and he has a way of speaking that’s strangely engaging.

He’s very skinny and seems harmless enough, but I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t admit that I’m a tiny bit scared of him—not on my account, really, but more for Jen and Mimi. A few times he’s come by, especially at night, I’ve shooed him away rather abruptly; I’m not crazy about his showing up after dark, even though I’m not sure why.

Today his gambit was that tomorrow is his 50th birthday. I have no reason to doubt this and if it’s true, boy, I sure am looking a lot better at this age than he is. Jonathan has lost close to all his teeth, he’s bald, and if he is what 50 looks like, then I am still a teenager.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist today’s appeal: a financial contribution on the occasion of his half-century anniversary? My initial reaction when he hit me up was to decline, but when he told me tomorrow is his birthday, my wallet came out.

Now, I even wish I had doubled the amount I have him.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fast and Slow

One of the things I don’t like about having a regular job is that I often look forward to the weekend. It seems weird to me that I am eager for the days of my life to run out; I find myself regularly wishing on, say, Tuesday, that it was already Friday, even if it meant that I’d trade the experience of the days for the outcome of them.

Conversely, come the weekend, I want time to drag. For example, it’s hardly Friday evening, but already, I’m wishing it were just the afternoon so I’d have the entire weekend ahead of me.

One would think if I were living entirely authentically and wholeheartedly that there wouldn’t be a hierarchy of days; every moment would be as full and rich as every other one; I certainly wouldn’t want to trade today for next week if I could.

I suppose this is perfectly natural in the modern world; kids do it all the time, for one thing. Mimi has intimated that she’d be willing to forgo the time between now and her birthday, for instance, if that day would arrive more quickly. Everyone remembers counting the days until Christmas and wishing they would just fly by like those old movie calendar pages being swept away by the wind.

The first time I remember remarking at the strangeness of this desire was in high school; I had gotten tickets to a Jethro Tull concert a few months in advance. It struck me as odd that I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive even though I had days of experience in between.

As I get older and my time remaining gets shorter, I’m doubly impressed by the irony of wanting time to speed up. On my deathbed, I’m sure I’ll wish I had more time left; certainly I ought to savor the time I do have for all it’s worth.

Even so, I sure am looking forward to summer vacation.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Almost Like Work

Today, I taught two classes back-to-back, at 11:00 to 1:05, then 1:15 to 3:20; after that, I facilitated a meeting from 3:30 to 5:00. Man, I don’t know how people with real fulltime jobs do it. After six hours straight of non-stop having to be “on,” I was totally spent.

Good thing I had the ride home to decompress; otherwise, I’d never have managed going out to dinner.

I’m spoiled, I know, and I wonder how bad, if at all, I should feel about that. On the one hand, I realize that it’s dumb luck that I’ve ended up in the relatively cush situation I find myself; on the other hand, I realize that feeling guilty over my good fortune does nothing to alleviate anyone else’s pain or suffering.

In the Business Ethics class, we (or at least I) have been an article by the original “greed is good” guy, Milton Friedman in which he argues that the only “social” responsibility a business has is to maximize profits. Desirable social ends are not to be pursued by corporations—that’s the job of government—businesses should pursue profit and in doing so, desirable social ends will be fostered indirectly.

One student, who is attending Cascadia on a Gates Foundation Scholarship, pointed out that if Microsoft hadn’t been such a cutthroat competitor over the years, his scholarship might not even exist.

By this reasoning, I shouldn’t waste a moment feeling bad about feeling so good; I should just enjoy myself and in doing so spread the love around.

Of course, Friedman, may he rest in peace, was kind of a nutjob, wasn’t he? Most of the students in my class, even those who profess wanting nothing more from school than to get a good job and make lots of money, were relatively appalled by his naked form of uber-capitalism.

My own concern is slightly tangential; I simply don’t have what it takes to work as hard as Friedman’s view requires.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Most Unique

Our little family enjoys the guilty pleasure of watching American Idol, especially the early rounds when you get to see the parade of weirdoes and self-deluded freaks who think they have what it takes to be the next person turned into a one- or two- or even many-hit wonder by television’s favorite star-making machine.

Many of the rejects think they should have been “going to Hollywood” because they are—in that locution that drives even amateur grammarians like myself crazy—“very unique.”

The basic idea is that simply being unusual is a talent in itself; it doesn’t matter if you can sing well or not as long as you’re sufficiently different than anyone else.

But of course, each of us is unique; there’s probably no more common trait than being different than other people. Oddly enough, the contestants that tend fare well in the competition are often quite a bit like someone else; they’re usually a knock-off of some more original version: there’s the young Ella Fitzgerald type; here’s the Harry Connick, Junior, Jr,; this one is the mini-Mini Riperton, and so on.

Another aspect of the show that makes it like watching a train wreck is how often it transpires that the worse a performer a contestant is, the higher opinion he or she has of him or herself.

Time and again, we wonder whether this screeching tub of goo or that caterwauling troglodyte really believes they have a chance to be America’s Next Idol.

Naturally, their inabilities to perceive their own lack of talent makes me wonder if I am similarly deluded about my own abilities.

I do subscribe to the view that it is better to slightly overestimate one’s talents than to give them short shrift. Many times, simply believing you’ve got what it takes is enough to get you by.

While it’s important to take a long hard look in the mirror, that’s no reason not to dim the lights a bit first.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kinda Wimpy

Seattle Public Schools had another snow day even though there was but a light dusting of new stuff and most of it had melted by just after noon or so.

Mimi was delighted of course, but I thought that the decision to cancel classes was kinda wimpy. “When I was a boy,” we would have sucked it up and made it to school in conditions much worse than those that obtained today.

I’m probably only saying this because Cascadia wasn’t closed this morning; I had to be there to teach so I’m just spewing sour grapes; on the other hand, I was glad, as a matter of fact to be back in class.

The Philosophical Ethics class is going especially well; my students really did philosophy today: they spent a lot of time pressing me on questions about epistemology which I can’t say that I answered with any great degree of success.

One student wanted to talk about whether Bill Talbott’s claim that there should be certain universal human rights implied the existence of objective truth. Another wanted to know if relativism entails subjectivism.

I kept trying to address their questions while at the same time sticking, in general, to the content we were supposed to be covering.

Of course, it’s only me who decides what we’re “supposed”to be doing, just like it’s only the school board or whoever who decides whether school is going to be held or not. And if I think they were kinda wimpy to close school today, then I was kinda wimpy to insist that we cover content.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here watching American Idol when I probably should be preparing for Thursday’s classes.

In the Business Ethics class, we watched Black Gold, a documentary about the global coffee industry that highlighted the plight of Ethiopian farmer who are unable to secure a living wage for their product.

This made me think that if I weren’t kinda wimpy I’d start drinking tea.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Half a Thought About Half a Century

Larry recently wrote about plans for a 60th birthday bash; while the next anniversary of my arrival on earth will merely be number 50, and although the question of whether to invite Green Day (or whomever) to perform at the event doesn’t figure in for me, I have, somewhat in spite of myself, begun to think about what I should do to mark the date or even, predictably, if it should even be marked at all.

The two ideas I’ve been knocking about are an event and an image.

The former would be a fifty mile bike ride—a half-century—that would visit spots that have been meaningful to me in and around Seattle. I’ve thought that I would like to pull half (in keeping with the demi-theme) a keg of beer around on the trailer and serve it up to whomever en route.

The image is simply this: I see myself arriving home, on my bike, accompanied by a parade of fellow cyclists, welcomed by a cheering throng of my loved ones.

Is that too much to ask, really?

Ideally, of course, I ought to commemorate the day through service to others. We have a neighbor who planted 40 trees on her 40th birthday. Maybe I could fix 50 flat bicycle tires or something like that.

It all comes back to this question that Richard and I want to explore in Hunting the Invisible Game. How do we plan a day to simultaneously save and savor the world?

One of my models for a day in which my own joy was made manifest by manifesting joy for others was the Patchkit Alleycat. Even though everything I did was for the sake of participants, it all gave me the deepest possible satisfaction. If only the entire experience could have provided a service to the larger community it would have been perfect.

I’m not yet saying my birthday party should be a fundraiser for say, Bikeworks, but maybe.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Seahawks Loss

Watched the Seattle-Chicago playoff game with my old friend Chad Worcester, in the downstairs TV room of his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Thanks to a couple of Rolling Rocks, the big screen, and theater sound speakers, I got pretty excited by what turned out to be a really good game, but even so, my engagement in the outcome paled in comparison to what I would have felt were the Steelers playing.

I suppose this is a matter of childhood training, but it’s curious that even if I try, I can’t conjure up the emotional connection to my current home’s home team that I can’t help but feel towards my childhood’s.

In fact, I take this as a positive sign of character; it’s silly enough to care about the outcome of any professional sporting contest; by rooting for the Steelers, at least I have the excuse of being trained since youth to feel this way. Additionally, I can appeal to links with my dearly departed mom and dad with whom I can imagine unseen connections through the medium of professional football.

In any case, it was an excellent game, with a number of lead changes, eventually going into overtime with the Bears winning on a sudden-death field goal.

As the ball passed through the uprights, I merely shrugged, accepting the defeat with hardly a sigh. Were it the Steelers who had been beaten, I would have been on my knees, banging my head on the coffee table, pounding my fists on the floor.

Of course, I probably would have gone through more than merely a several beers; in this game, for instance, I didn’t even pop the traditional twist-off at kick-off. Rather, I waited until well after the second quarter had begun to begin wetting my whistle.

And maybe I should have been drinking Red Hook or Hales instead of Rolling Rock.

But then, I didn’t really care all that much if the Seahawks won or not.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Still Not

If ever there were a day that I were going to miss, then this would be one. I’ve been in talking with Richard Leider since early morning about the new book, then out for a drink or two with my old friend Chad and now, after midnight (Minneapolis time, so I’m still good for Seattle) settling down in bed.

And yet, for whatever reason—commitment, stubbornness, absurdity—I’m going to carry on the 327 words a day project once more, even if today’s entry won’t be posted until tomorrow or the day after.

I think we made a bit of a breakthrough on the new book this evening; we were re-reading a Rumi poem called “Wean Yourself,” that more or less describes the human development process from an embryo living on blood through and infant drinking milk to an adult eating food and concludes with a line about, in the end, becoming a “hunter of more invisible game.”

So, we think we are changing the title to Hunting the Invisible Game, which strikes us both as what we’re really doing all through, but especially in later life as we plan our day to save and savor the world (which may be close to what the subtitle ultimately is.)

The writing process itself is kind of a hunt for invisible game: the message we’re trying to communicate is out there, evanescent and ephemeral, and yet it can be captured if we proceed with authenticity and wholeheartedness.

Richard and I spent a while during our discussions watching his cat stalk unseen prey through the bushes and brush in his front yard. Isabella (our four-legged feline friend) moved with a focus and precision that seems to me a model for how a life of purpose and commitment could look.

I’m not advocating pouncing upon mice as a goal to which we should aspire; I would, though, endorse living as fully in the moment as Isabella, hunting our own invisible game.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Something to Live For

I’ve come to Minnesota for the weekend to work with Richard Leider on our next book, currently titled Something to Live For: Leaving a Footprint That Matters.

We’re trying to discover exactly what it is we’re writing about. Both of us want to craft a book that is powerful, meaningful, and significant (duh!) but I think we’re both (well, I am, anyway) still engaged in the struggle to figure out exactly what that entails.

Two themes I know we both want to course through the book are authenticity and wholeheartedness.

Authenticity is the mandate to really be and express the person you are through your actions and impact upon others. My example of this is that I think that, as an instructor, the most important thing my students will take from my classes is the experience of who I am rather than what I teach. They will remember this weird guy who rode his bike to school most days much longer than they will Euthyphro’s answer to the question “what is piety?” in Plato’s dialogue.

Wholeheartedness is the willingness to be fully present in all that you do, especially when connecting with your fellow human beings. It is expressed through compassion—for others, for oneself, and for the planet. When we approach life wholeheartedly, we engage fully in the present experience. We understand and appreciate rather than hang back and judge.

My biggest challenge in trying to get started on the writing of this book is that I don’t want to be prescriptive—which is tricky if you’re trying to advise people. How do we write a self-help book whose thesis, in part, that readers don’t really need our help?

I want the book to help readers build a bridge from their lived experience to the afterlife, from the before to the beyond. It will show us all how to merge into the Oneness by enriching the lives of those remaining after we’re gone.

No biggee, right?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Here's the Problem

The thing is it’s just too easy to buy stuff and eat food.

As soon as I get on my computer, (well, as soon as I go online), I’m tantalized from all sides to purchase things. Most of these I have no interest in—reduced rate mortgages, new types of insurance, penis enlargers—but some, notably cool bike stuff, the occasional computer upgrade, camping gear or kitchen gadgets—I’m relatively enticed by. So, it’s only a matter of time before I’m worn down by the sheer bombardment of temptations and out comes the debit card to be fired up for the UPS delivery several days hence.

Same thing when I’m out and about on my bike or anywhere near the refrigerator or pantry cabinet in my house: slices of cheese, cold pizza, chips, sesame crackers, a banana, sometimes some tofu, they’re all right there, calling to me. How can I resist their relentless appeals?

Perhaps it’s just a failure of willpower. If I were a stronger person, I could shut my eyes and ears to the inducements of things I don’t really want anyway and carry on, free to be myself, unencumbered by desires that impel me that way and that.


Moreover, as I write this, I’ve got a small bag of the stinkiest sweet-smelling pot in the file cabinet next to me that is just begging to be sampled. And it’s a snow day, too, and I’ve got most of the work I need to get done already done.

I’m always trying to balance my half-hearted knee-jerk asceticism with a proper appreciation for my appetites.

One of the Aristotelian moral virtues is “temperance,” which sits in the mean between the associated vice of excess—gluttony—and that of deficiency—something like insensibility, essentially the inability to take any pleasure in the sensual pleasures.

I don’t want to be a pig, but I don’t want to be a dried-up prune, either.

Maybe just one small toke.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Burke Gilman Trail

There are plenty of things I like about Seattle: those “seven hills” rising up out of several different bodies of water, the public library system, the general bike-ability of the place, the ready availability of good coffee and decent bread, the fact that so many people I love live here and, among many other things, the Burke Gilman trail, on which I commute most days of the week.

Tonight, I especially appreciated the trail as itenabled me to bike home in pastoral splendor while poor souls in cars lined up for miles in the snow that to them was a headache but to me, a lovely dusting on an already beautiful winter wonderland scene.

As I left Bothell, the snow was coming down pretty hard. About an inch had accumulated in the school’s driveway and cars were beginning their dosey-do dance entering and exiting the parking structure.

People were clumped up waiting for buses that were already twenty minutes late; I considered briefly joining them, but decided to give riding a shot.

The first mile or so was somewhat harrowing, as I had to navigate alongside cars on the snowy streets.

But as soon as I got onto the trail, all was fine. Occasionally, the snow had piled up a bit and going was slippery, but for the most part, the path was only wet or sometimes slushy.

I had the great joy of seeing traffic backed up for blocks upon blocks as I sped by parallel to the road.

It was so satisfying, that as a matter of fact, I even felt pity for the hapless drivers trapped in their cages while I breathed fresh, bracing air, free to catch snowflakes on my tongue and eyelashes all the way home.

My feet got a little cold and I had to stop at Starbucks to fill my thermos with hot water for de-icing my rear cogs, but riding on the Burke warmed my heart all the way.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Weather Report

Everyone at school’s been running around like a chicken with its head cut off because the weather report is for high winds with the possibility of snow, perhaps accumulating one to three inches.

If it comes to pass that there’s another blizzard or that a bunch of trees blow down, cutting power, it will be a drag, but I find it a bit pathetic to see so many people so exercised about a prediction that hasn’t yet come to pass and may not at all.

I realize it’s important to be prepared, but I think people are falling prey to the local TV news weather person hype thing. You get these commercial blurbs during the Simpsons that sound like it’s time to batten down the hatches for a hurricane when it hasn’t even begun to drizzle outside.

I suspect there is a bit of wishful thinking in people’s concern; even though we express the hope we won’t be snowed under, a gleam shows in our eyes indicating we wouldn’t particularly mind another weather-induced day off.

I’m trying not to worry about things unless I really have to. Of course, the rub is whether I’m not worrying about things that I should be.

I was planning some event—a party, I think—with my friend, Nick, his wife, Sara, and Jen. He was all stressed about some aspect of it. I said, “Nick, I wouldn’t worry about that.” He said, “Well, someone has to!”

I’m always saying to Jen, “Oh, don’t worry about that; it will all work out.” She points out that it will work out, but only if she does worry about it—because I’m not likely to.

So, perhaps we will get a foot of snow tonight (although it’s not looking like it), but no amount of planning I do is going to have any effect on whether it does.

So, in those immortal words of that great philosopher, Alfred E. Newman, “what, me worry?”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Universal Human Rights

One of my former professors from the UW, William J. Talbott, came to Cascadia today to give a talk based on his recent book, Which Rights Should Be Universal? as the kick-off event for activities in support of “Human Rights Week,” a series of talks, films, and seminars in conjunction with International Human Rights Day and MLK Day.

While concerns could be raised that it smacks of tokenism to have just one day or even a week devoted to awareness of human rights, no such quibbles with Bill’s talk, which was a fine example of accessible philosophy deeply engaged with real-world issues.

Essentially, Talbott’s view is that human rights are “discovered” through a socio-historical process of empirical inquiry much as any facts about the world or human nature are discovered. He rejects the claim made, for instance, in the Declaration of Independence that certain rights such as life and liberty are “self-evident,” asking quite reasonably, that if they were, why did so many of our Founding Fathers keep slaves?

What’s especially refreshing about Bill’s view is that it is, as he puts it, “epistemologically modest but metaphysically immodest.” To wit, he’s immodest enough to claim that certain rights—for instance, to life, to an education, to freedom of religion and the press, to a sphere of personal autonomy free from paternalistic restrictions—should be universal, but he’s modest enough to say he—and we—could be wrong about any one or all of these.

Thus, he strikes a balance between moral imperialism and moral relativism, avoiding both absolutism and wishy-washyness.

His talk was well-attended and nearly everyone stuck around to ask questions. It was incredibly gratifying to see people excited by philosophical discussion and I was reminded me of what brought me to philosophy in the first place.

Plus, it was ego gratifying to be able to introduce my former teacher as a tenured faculty myself. Doing so, I felt neither epistemologically nor metaphysically modest at all.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Mimi and I went skiing today at Crystal Mountain, about two hours from Seattle. We got in plenty of runs on reasonably challenging slopes; the snow was excellent, if a bit heavy—(it snowed the entire time we were there)—the lift lines were manageable, and even the process of renting equipment and getting lift tickets was relatively painless.

All in all, we had a good time, enjoyed each other’s company, and hardly ever argued at all: in short, a successful day of father-daughter recreation and bonding, the kind of time spent together that the Mastercard commercial would call “priceless.”

Still, I can’t help being ambivalent about the whole thing, mainly the vast amount of preparation and organization it takes to get up in the morning, get out to the mountain, get geared up, and get on the slopes.

Thankfully, our neighbor, Elod, drove; I’m sure, especially after staying up till 1:30 last night, that I’d never have been able to manage two hours behind the wheel of a car at 6:45 AM to get there.

And then, of course, it’s not cheap, although I guess if it costs $25.00 an hour to play video games at Gameworks, $100 bucks a day for two of us to rent skis, boots, and bindings, and ski all day long is kind of a bargain.

Part of my discomfort with alpine recreation is feeling like some sort of cow herded here and there as I move through one line after another all day long: there’s the queue for parking, the one for renting equipment, the one for the ski lift, the one for getting lunch, another to use the bathroom and so on and so on.

I do still love sliding down the mountain on two boards, and I get a deep sense of joy from skiing with my kid; I just wish the whole thing was as simple as simply getting on a bike and riding down the street.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Whole Bean Coffee

My friend, David Latourell, who works for a place that makes an automated French press machine called the Clover, gave me a couple pounds of whole bean coffee from a boutique roaster in Portland, Stumptown Roasters, who he says do as good a job as anyone of turning green beans into drinkable ones.

It was a lovely gift but also one intended to get my goat since I have long complained about whole bean coffee, as I also intend to do right here.

For anyone who drinks coffee with any degree of regularity, buying whole beans is a waste of time, effort, and efficiency. The idea that we need to bring home coffee from the store that isn’t already ground is a fiction perpetrated by coffee grinder companies and lazy baristas. Coffee made from beans ground a week or two ago tastes just as good as any made with freshly ground beans and anyone who thinks it doesn’t just likes to show off their Krups machine or is pretending to taste something that isn’t there.

Above all, I can’t stand grinding coffee beans first thing in the morning. Maybe if I had a hand grinder, it would be different, but the last thing I want to hear before my first cup of joe is the whirring, whizzing, whining of the machine that grinds the beans. Plus, then I don’t want to have to clean up the stray beans and coffee dust that inevitably get spilled in transferring them from grinder to pot.

I remember being fascinated by the coffee grinder in the Giant Eagle grocery when we’d stop there on the way home from kindergarten; I never quite understood what Mom was doing when she emptied the bag into it placed the empty bag under the spout. But she let me press the buttons and I loved that—which is perhaps why I still prefer grinding my coffee where I buy it rather than in my kitchen.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sick of It

There comes a time when a guy is just sick of himself: his likes and dislikes, his habits and attitudes, the things that he does and thinks, even his tastes in food, drink, and recreational stimulants.

Today was one of those times. I’m fed up with me, even to the point of being fed up with my fed-upedness.

It’s like I’m the boring guy sitting next to me on the airplane; there I am, nattering away oblivious to the fact that I’m boring the hell out of myself as I sit there cringing at every “amusing anecdote” and “luminous insight.”

In eighth grade, I was very full of myself—the sort of kid who had an answer for everything and believed he knew all there was to know about things of which he was actually clueless.

One day, two of the girls in my class—Debbie Fiedler and Ellen Buncher if I recall correctly—flat out called me on my shit. The both let me know what a conceited little jerk I was in no uncertain terms.

I was still sufficiently convinced of my own infallibility to reject their assessment of me as they were giving it. However, that night, or soon after, when I was alone in my room, I got a momentary flash of what they were driving at and I’m sure it took something like picking on a kid who was smaller than me at school the next day to make the feeling go away.

I don’t really have that option these days; usually some beer and a bike ride are the prescription. Unfortunately, I’m even sort of sick of beer-drinking and I’m had enough of the two-wheeler after commuting home against a relentless headwind.

I suppose the good news, though, is what I alluded to above: since I’m already fed up with being sick of it all, it’s likely this mood won’t last.

Now, if something can just be done about that headwind.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pillow Angel

Today in the news: a troubling story about the parents of a severely disabled 9 year-old girl who have used surgery and hormones to keep their little “pillow angel” a small and manageable size.

Given the unique challenges faced by the couple and their daughter, it’s not a situation to be made light of; I’ll try, though, as best I can.

According to the Associated Press, “The bedridden 9-year-old girl had her uterus and breast tissue removed at a Seattle hospital and received large doses of hormones to halt her growth. She is now 4-foot-5; her parents say she would otherwise probably reach a normal 5-foot-6.”

Are the parents really doing it for the child’s good or are they keeping her small to make it easier for themselves? My life would be simpler if Mimi never grew out of her shoes or if she were still little enough that her kicks to my shins didn’t hurt, but would that make it all right for me to go all bonsai on her?

It wasn’t cool when Rick Moranis turned his son and daughter into the size of dust specks in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” even though it would help the family budget to be able to feed both of them on a single corn chip a day.

I’m made nervous by parents who try to limit their childrens’ development in the name of protecting them. We could ensure that Mimi never falls off a full-size bike and breaks her collarbone by amputating her legs, but that’s probably extreme.

Part of the reason I find this case so troubling is that there aspects of the parent’s behavior that I find compelling. Their intention in giving their daughter hormones to prevent puberty was to have the girl avoid the discomfort of menstrual periods and the possibility of breast cancer.

I must admit, I could see giving your kid those drugs just to avoid having to live with a teenager.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seeing the Light

I don’t like when fellow bike riders approaching me on the Burke-Gilman trail at night cover their headlamps as we pass by each other. I realize that they do this out of courtesy, but it annoys me for several reasons.

First, because my own lamp is positioned down on my fork out of easy arm’s reach, I’m unable to reciprocate, so I end up feeling like a cantankerous jerk—(which I may be anyway, but that’s beside the point.)

Second, it bugs me because lamp-covering seems paternalistic; the message I take is that those riders think I’m too dumb to look away from their lights; I have to be protected from blinding myself by staring straight into the glow emanating from their handlebars.

A couple years ago, some guy called me a “cocksucker” as I passed him without covering my lamp. At least I think that’s why he did—which is another reason I’m annoyed by light shielders. One of the satisfactions of bicycle commuting is that I get to feel—rightly or not—that I have the moral high ground. But if I’m failing in my obligations to others when I don’t cover my lamp, then I’m knocked off my high horse—metal horse, that is.

Still, according to the Golden Rule, I should treat others as I want to be treated. So, since I would prefer that others don’t shield their lamps, we can conclude that I’m doing the right thing by not shielding mine. (Here, though, I may be committing the masochist’s fallacy; just because I want people to cause me pain, doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to cause them pain, does it?)

If it’s a matter of safety, I would argue that it’s probably safer to not cover your lamp; approaching riders can see you better, you don’t lose your grip on the bars moving your hands around, and nobody’s going to turn around and punch you for calling them a cocksucker.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Waste of Time

In what apparently has become a first day of the quarter tradition, I once again missed the bus today on my way to school. I was awake plenty early to catch it, but I dawdled getting dressed and out the door, and a cop car pulled up next to me at one of the traffic lights that I usually run, so the bus was already on its way to Bothell by the time I arrived at my usual stop.

I didn’t realize at first that I had missed it and spent about five minutes gazing down the street in vain for its arrival; gradually, though, it sank in that the bus I had seen pulling away as I neared the stop was mine and that consequently, I would be late for the early meeting I didn’t even want to go to in the first place (careful what you wish for, I guess).

Thereafter followed time in self-recrimination for being such a slowpoke, but eventually, I accepted the situation and resigned myself to the prospect of arriving after everyone was already seated and getting those looks of mingled disdain and envy from my colleagues who had managed to get themselves to school on time.

Meanwhile, I still had about twenty minutes until the next bus came and it occurred to me as I stood there cooling my heels that this period was just a complete waste of time. Here I was, essentially stuck on the street corner with nothing to do, whereas, had I caught the bus, I could get to my office before the meeting and use the time wisely and/or productively.

But it made me sad to think that I would consider any of the remaining moments in my life as time wasted; I tried to enjoy people-watching and simply being outside on a relatively pleasant winter morning.

I can’t say that worked completely, but at least it got me over caring that I was late.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bike Ride of Shame

I got (had?) to do what I call the “bike ride of shame,” (BROS) this morning. That’s where you get on your bicycle first thing in the morning to ride back to the place you partied the previous night to pick up the car you left there because you were in no state to drive it home.

I always enjoy this little bit of penance for a couple reasons: first, it helps the hangover to get out on two wheels as quickly as possible and second, it reminds me that the behavior that precedes the BROS is best engaged in only sparingly.

It’s been at least a year since my last such ride and while I don’t particularly regret last evening’s overindulgences, I am, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, encouraging myself to consider carefully when and where I will next stay up so late and drink so much with only cold fondue and crackers for sustenance.

It’s generally been my experience that coming home in a car leads me to feel a bit worse the next day than had I ridden my bike—another point in favor of human-powered transportation over that of the internal combustion engine.

For I while last night, my friend who drove us home—Andrew—and I toyed with the idea of our riding the tandem back to his house to drop him off (he used our car to get us home) but cooler heads prevailed; (he drove the Focus back to his neighborhood, hence my BROS this AM), but I believe if we had done that, I might be a bit more spry as I write this.

Of course, if I hadn’t made all those toasts to auld lang syne, I might be a bit more spry today, too.

But let us eschew such wallowing in the past and instead, boldly face the New Year ahead—making all our bike rides of shame be bike rides of joy in 2007.