Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This I Never Do

So I’m sitting on the bus right now, writing this as I head to school after a really fun (for me, anyway) session of doing philosophy with the students at Lake Washington Girls Middle School.

At one time, I had planned that this would be my usual habit: working up 327 Words on the (bus, not bike) ride out to Bothell; I’ve never done it, though, and at the moment, I see (at least in part) why.

There’s something just a bit too nerdy, even for me, in being one of those guys with his laptop out in public. I can’t help feeling like I must feel like someone who’s so full of himself that he has to take care of “important” business all the time. Like I’m on the fast track man; I’ve got no time for down time, even on the road.

I don’t really even like writing in a journal around strangers; I’m sure they think I think I’m some kind of fast-track no-downtime poet.

Bertrand Russell wrote an essay I’m fond of called “In Praise of Idleness.” In it he wondered why people who work hard and save their money are considered morally superior to those who play hard and spend theirs when the latter, after all, do a much better job of spreading joy and stimulating the economy.

And I concur. There’s entirely too much value placed on productive labor and identifiable outcomes and not nearly enough on activities that are relaxing and fun and whose point may not be absolutely clear.

For me, doing philosophy with kids, though, is in many ways the best of both worlds. It arguably is worthwhile productive work, but it’s also lots of fun (again, for me, anway)—and certainly what it intends to accomplish is somewhat murky.

At any rate, it’s a more civically-engaged use of my time than writing this blog; too bad I can’t figure out how to do P4C on the bus.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Slow Leak

One of the banes of my existence as a cyclist is the slow leak in a tire; the problem this presents for me is whether to live with it or fix it; and the problem this presents for me is endemic in my life: should I make do with what I have or effect the changes necessary for full repair?

I can go some time regularly pumping up a tire that’s slowly losing air before I decide to patch it, as long as it’s losing air slowly enough to make it feasible for me to pump it up regularly and still ride.

I’m sure this is a metaphor for how I live my life; I’m consistently putting up with small annoyances that could be alleviated were I to make the effort to put things really right.

Like I wouldn’t have to paint the exterior windowsills every summer if I replaced them. Or I could spare myself the headache of scrolling across my Excel spreadsheet grade books if I upgraded them from the version I created years ago. Or I wouldn’t have to use duct tape on the knees of jeans if only I sewed on a fabric patch.

Part of my difficulty is that I’m not always clear on the prudent course of action. Is it better to deal with the symptoms or actually fix the problem? And does the problem really merit the all-out solution?

Because, after all, at some level, all fixes, even the major ones, are only temporary, right?

So, if we can get our clothes dry by running the dryer cycle twice instead of replacing it with one that could do the job in half the time, but will eventually end up like the one we have now, why not?

Today, though, perhaps I turned over a new leaf; I fixed my slow leak after just a single day of putting up with it.

Am I becoming more practical? Or just less tolerant?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Wild Hair

I sometimes get possessed of a notion and can’t let go of it until I’ve gnawed it good for a while.

Today, for example, I’ve gotten obsessed with the idea of buying a pedicab and operating it as a small business venture this summer. My vision is that one day cars will be all but absent from downtown Seattle streets and human-powered taxis will ferry (there’s a funny locution; could ferries taxi?) people all over from Pioneer Square to at least lower Queen Anne and Capitol Hill.

The only place and time I’ve seen pedicabs around here is at sporting events near the baseball and football stadiums. Perhaps that’s the only context in which they’re a viable business. I have to believe, though, that a person could make a living wage (or at least a supplemental one) driving pedicabs on a more regular basis.

No doubt I’m being naïve about this; certainly if this were a realistic business model someone would have done it already. Poking around the web, it looks like most of the places that run pedicab businesses make their money by leasing out the rigs to drivers; while I think it would be grand to provide job opportunities for cyclists in this way, I’m not that interested in owning the capital goods--even though I guess that’s where the money is historically.

Apparently, the pedicab business in New York City hasn’t been particularly pretty; from what I’ve read, it seems like the same cutthroat competition as in the taxi world, just played out on a smaller scale.

I don’t even like the idea of taking rides away from those three or four guys I’ve seen down by Safeco Field in the summer; I’d like to think that there’s enough of a market for pedal-powered hansom cabs that entire fleets of them could serve our fair city.

And hey! That’s the perfect name: Hansom Pedalers.

But then I would have to get some other drivers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fucking Hills Race

Every parent thinks his or her kid is the bomb; I’m no exception, but I have especially strong justification for my belief as illustrated today by her full-on rocking of the Fucking Hills Race, .83’s 33 mile-long checkpoint race on Bainbridge Island that follows the same route (and day) as Cascade Bicycle Club’s Chilly Hilly Event.

Mimi got right up today at 7:30, even after going to bed at 12:30 last night. She assured me she’d rise no problem because the race was something she wanted to do. And she was true to her word.

It took virtually no cajoling to get her onto the tandem by 8:15, even in this morning’s chilly drizzle.

We arrived at the sign-up location in time to get one of the few remaining pirate flags which we affixed proudly to the back of our bike and enjoyed milling around and ogling bikes as we waited to board the ferry for Bainbridge.

The race started near the Winslow terminal and we began threading our way through the throngs of spandex clad weekend warriors on their fenderless Treks and Cannondales, making solid progress on the flats and uphills, and major gains on the downhills.

The route was pretty up and down, with a few fairly serious steeps. At least twice I suggested we get off and walk, but the girl would have none of that; we pedaled up even the steepest grades and flew on the downhills.

About halfway through there was a rest stop; I was ready for a break, but my pint-sized stoker egged us on.

The last four or five miles were a test of my legs, her butt, and our shared wills, but we persevered, finishing a respectable 33 out of 40 or so, and would have done half a dozen places higher had we not gotten lost near the finish.

“Pretty good for my first race,” was the kid’s assessment; I’d say way fucking (hills) better than that.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Really Seems Silly

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been able to get to the studio of late, and so, for 5 of the last 6 days, I’ve had to practice yoga at home. Doing the Ashtanga series alone, in my bedroom, wearing my pajamas, really brings home to me how ridiculous of a pursuit it is.

I could be getting another hour or so of sleep or another few cups of coffee, but instead, I’m wrinkling myself into sometimes painful but almost always difficult body positions, doing my best to keep an even flow of breath, something I’d have no trouble doing were I still warmly ensconced under the covers.

I ask myself continually why I’m doing this and indeed part of it is simply habit; I’m used to starting my mornings out this way; I’m not sure what else I’d do, even if I did sleep later or drink my coffee.

Part of it is certainly fear: I’m afraid that if I stop practicing regularly, I’ll never be able to get back into it consistently. But if I really stopped, why worry about that?

Another aspect is curiosity: it’s always interesting to me to see what today’s practice will be like. How will it feel doing the forward bends? Will my knees ache in lotus? What will happen in headstand? Every morning’s series is a snapshot of where my body is that day and one that I find strangely compelling to observe.

David Williams said that for him, doing the practice is like harvesting maple syrup. Each pose is like another tree at which he harvests prana. I’m not so poetic; for me every asana is like cracking another knuckle, sometimes literally.

I like to imagine myself still practicing six days a week for the rest of my life; in Yoga Mala, Pattabhi Jois says that people over fifty can get away with just Sun Salutations and the finishing poses; that’s something to look forward to, too.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Critical Mass Again

I rode in Critical Mass tonight and had a fine time; the ride was dry and festive; I was dressed just right in a waffle-shirt, flannel, vest, and armwarmers with wool tights and jeans; a few snorts of bourbon kept the chill off and a safety meeting at ride’s end, under the Fremont Troll, made the ride home for me that much more interesting.

I love the mood at the mass up; it’s heartwarming to see familiar faces with bikes getting ready to ride. Some people really make the scene: Haulin’ Colin was there with a kegcrow in his trailer and a friend sitting next to it dispensing en route; a couple girls in tights rode up on a tandem singing happy birthday and handing out brownies; Aaron was there on his fucking tall bike; and Derek Ito worked the crowd with flyers for the FHR on Sunday.

And I like the swarming as people begin circling before leaving Westlake Center; the first few minutes of the ride as riders pour into the streets thrills me, too.

But I think I pinpointed tonight what’s the challenging part and it’s not even the somewhat adversarial stance that some participants take towards cars; I’m used to that.

There are two things, really, one of them a drum I regularly beat.

That, the first one, is that what I like best about the bike is using it for transportation; riding to places, not just around is, for me, what cycling is all about. And Critical Mass, for all its hoopla, is really just another ride around; it’s fun to be on our bikes together, but where are we going?

The second thing is embodied in the Simpson’s quote, “No one suspects the butterfly.” My friend Moosh said that on a ride when we were breaking some traffic laws sneakily.

I support Critical Mass’ noble mission of making the bicycle more; but part of me that likes it better being invisible.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Eustace Tilley

Deb mentioned it the other day when the New Yorker arrived with the annual Eustace Tilley cover; he’s the dandy who the magazine featured on the front of their very first issue, the end of February 1925, and who has reappeared there the last week of the shortest month every year since.

As Deb said, his appearance always held special significance for us because it provided a wake-up call that it was time for our mother’s birthday. Thanks to Eustace, I rarely missed calling her on the anniversary of her birth, which falls on what we used to know as George Washington’s birthday.

Seeing Eustace is bittersweet these days; I like the reminder of my mom but it’s a shame not being able to call her up and tell her that the string around my finger that told me to do so was the image on the cover of her favorite magazine.

Like the New Yorker, my mom also came into being the last week of the second month of 1925; her outlook on life was one that magazine has historically embodied: strong opinions voiced with a literary flourish and a certain sense that at the end of the day, wit may matter more than substance after all.

The sense of connection between Mom and the magazine is such that when I was a little kid, I actually thought she was the one who wrote “Talk of the Town.”

The cartoons are what drew us all, as a family, into the magazine, especially those by Charles Addams. We had a couple books of his collected works, one called, Drawn and Quartered that I pored over almost daily for a while in second or third grade. Reading it, I felt sophisticated and macabre at the same time although I’m sure I didn’t know what either of those words meant.

But guess that’s sort of what I feel seeing Eustace and bringing my dead Mom back to life, too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Another Reason I Like Cycle Commuting

Today turned out to be sort of a strange work day. I taught the Philosophy for Children class at the UW in the morning and then rode up the Burke-Gilman to Cascadia. A lovely, if slightly chilly, day—lots of blue in the sky and silver on the Lake.

There, I installed myself in my office and prepared to do prep work for tomorrow’s classes and then take care of a stack of grading.

My office computer is on the fritz, though, and I’m unable to access any of the internal network locations or my campus email, so, since my students submit all their assignments electronically, I can’t (at least from my office computer) get to any of their papers to work on them.

Consequently, the practical solution is to return home and do my grading at my desk in the basement.

Thus, as it turned out, I bike commuted about three hours to spend just over two in my office. Had I driven, I’m sure I would have been complaining about what a drag it was, what a waste of time, and so forth. On my bike, I saw at it as an opportunity to get in two lovely rides.

I’m not saying that the experience wasn’t fairly ridiculous or that my time couldn’t have been spend more efficiently; my observation is simply that I generally have few complaints when my commute time—however long it may be—is spent on two wheels.

Of course, (and I may have made this observation before), I realize that my aversion to driving in, at least in part, a function of the car I would be driving. Generally, the Ford Focus station wagon doesn’t get the heart racing.

If my Saluki were a car, it would be something nifty, like a Mercedes roadster or at least a Toyota Celica; driving those would be more fun than the Ford.

Even so, I think I’d prefer a Huffy on the trail.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Little Annoyances

Every so often, you have one of those days where it seems like a lot of little things go wrong and you wonder whether you’re just noticing stuff that occurs all the time or if things really are conspiring against you for no particular reason.

It’s probably both, of course, but let’s see.

When the alarm goes off this morning, I reach for it and drop it on the floor, knocking the battery out of it. That sets the digital display back to a blinking 12:00 meaning, since I now can’t tell what time it really is, I have to get right out of bed.

Getting ready for yoga, I wake up the dog; not a particularly huge problem, but now I’ve got to let her out to pee before I can leave, thereby losing precious seconds in my early morning routine.

On the way home from practice, I mis-shift my front derailler; the chain slips off the small chainring and I have to stop to put it back on.

Padding around the house in my stocking feet as I make coffee, I step in spilled water from the dog bowl; wet socks, ugh!

At work, my computer is on the fritz; I can’t access my email and all my shortcuts in Explorer have disappeared. When I call the Help Desk, they helpfully advise me to send an email requesting support.

There’s a headwind all the way home; it takes me fifteen minutes longer than usual and my toes are freezing.

I walk in the door and find out we’ve had a minor plumbing disaster in the basement; the rugs are waterlogged, a bunch of clothes are soaked, and everything’s been pushed in the corner to dry out.

I just went to open a bag of potato chips and dropped them on the floor, pulverizing the bottom third of the bag.

Good thing I woke up in such a good mood today or I’d be really annoyed.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Probably Not Prudent

After half a century on the planet, you’d think I’d have it mostly figured out, but there are still loads of things I remain unclear about.

For instance, I don’t have a principle that determines when I will or won’t give money to panhandlers. For a while I tried ‘anyone who asks,” and sometimes I’ve adopted “as long as they aren’t smoking;” of late, I’ve tried not to give to anyone who make me feel uncomfortable, but I’m inconsistent.

Last night, this guy in the QFC parking lot was sparechanging with a simple “God bless you,” to whomever passed by. Generally, I’ve tried to steer clear of theistic appeals; this time, though, I gave him my pocketful of change—maybe sixty cents—and in doing so, noticed his one eye to be completely clouded over with a cataract. So maybe he really was in need and I ought to have helped out more.

Nor am I very good at making small talk with my neighbors. Some people have the knack for chatting about the weather and such but I always feel like a great big idiot when it comes time to fill up the backyard space with words.

And I guess I’m still unsure about when I ought to spend more money on something new as opposed to fixing the old thing. I’ve got this several year old rain jacket, see; it’s been my reliable wet weather gear for two or three seasons and I’ve got no particular complaints with it. But it’s wearing out; the waterproof laminate is going and the zipper is completely shot.

So, I took it to this place, Rainy Pass, that repairs Gore-Tex stuff and the price for installing a new zipper is like sixty bucks. The jacket itself only cost like seventy-nine ninety-nine, so what am I to do? A new one is around $200, so I went for the repair.

Is this prudent? At almost fifty, I still don’t know.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Swap Meet

I rode out to the annual Seattle Bike Swap at Magnuson Park today—a cool gray day, perfect for meandering on two wheels. The Swap itself produced in me the usual pattern of emotions: a slightly frantic sense upon first entering, followed by feeling overwhelmed, then, eventually becoming fed up with the whole thing.

I did manage to make the purchase of the show: for five bucks, a plastic desk-accessory model of a bicycle called “Midfielder Writing Bicycle” that comes apart to reveal pens, protractors, paper clips, and other office supplies, whose slogan is, in slightly fractured Japanese to English translation, “Enjoy Your Desk Work in Play Mind.” (Now there’s an attitude I can truly appreciate.)

Afterwards, my friend Andy and I rode to Kenmore, specifically the Bastyr University campus, to check out a possible stop for the Half-Century Ralleycat, the former Chapel of the Seminary at St. Thomas. Very impressive in a starkly modern institutional kind of way; it reminded me of something out of cheesy sci-fi film from the fifties. While the cornerstone reads ‘1956” and the official opening day was in 1958, I think it could count as an example of something as old as me.

Then I headed over to Phinney Ridge to look at the Norse Home, a building very much in the same style whose cornerstone does, in fact, read 1957.

My next stop was the Terry-Lander dorm complex at the UW; the plaque inside Lander says it was dedicated in 1956; I couldn’t get into Terry; I think, though, it came along a year later.

The style of all these buildings from around the time of my birth struck me as infused with feelings of optimism and efficiency; they’re relatively unadorned, with lots of glass and steel; I wondered if my own outlook on life is, in some way, similarly reflective of that time.

The buildings strove to look new, but all were showing their age. Me too, I guess.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

327 Words Half-Century Ralleycat

In celebration of 50 years on the planet and the considerable joy that bikes, bike-riding, and bike riders have brought in those five decades, 327 Words is pleased to invite cyclists of all styles to participate in the first (and probably only) 327 Words Half Century Ralleycat, to be held at 1:19.57 PM on March 31, 2007 from 2020 Cycle in Seattle’s Central District.

This modified alleycat race and rally will challenge riders to reach as many on a list of 16 different checkpoints as they can within 3 hours and 27 minutes, covering up to 50 miles total along the route.

Each of the checkpoints features an historical structure built in 1957, giving riders a fresh perspective on how well brick, glass, and mortar have weathered the last half-century and ample means to compare the years’ effects on human beings who also mark their beginning five decades ago.

While the precise route is still to be determined, confirmed checkpoints range from Columbia City to the south, Lake City to the north, West Seattle out west, and Kenmore towards the east. Speedy riders can probably hit all stops AND cover 50 miles by averaging just under 16 miles an hour, but doing so might make them miss surprise libation and safety meeting stops along the way.

Prizes will likely include fifty dollar awards for most stops (men’s and ladies’ division), and most miles, as well as other demi-themed items like 50-tooth chainrings and half-racks of favored quaffables.

An odometer will be required for competing in the most miles category; we hope, though, to provide cheap ones as part of the sliding-scale entry fee.

Five bucks suggested donation gets you into the race; probably another ten if you want a cyclocomputer.

Sign ups start at 12:00 noon on 3/31; race at 1:19.57 sharp. Get there early-ish if you need and need to install your computer.

After party at race end starts at 4:57.

More info: email

Let’s ride bikes!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Not Quite Instant Karma

Being into yoga makes me something of a Hindu, I guess, and I admit there’s plenty of it I’m down with: non-violence, vegetarianism, many-limbed dancing deities. But there’s also plenty in the program I don’t buy: reincarnation, a panoply of gods and goddesses doing battle endlessly, that weird fetishism about semen.

And karma, too.

I just can’t get right with the idea that people are punished or rewarded in this life (of by this life) for what they did or didn’t do in previous ones. A basic tenet in ethics is that “ought implies can;” that is, you can’t be held morally responsible for something you’re unable to do. Nobody can wag their finger at me, for instance, simply because I can’t fly. So it seems unfair that, in this life, I ought to have done something differently in another one because, as far as I can tell, that’s way out of my control. (Unless, of course, reincarnation, but see above.)

On the other hand, I do believe that what goes around comes around and I’ve seen that many times in this very existence. Like when as a teenager working in the primate lab at the University of Pittsburgh, I made off with some of the methamphetamine the doctors were using in their experiments on monkeys, sold it, only to have our house broken into and my stereo stolen a week later.

Or the time I laughed at some guy being pulled over for drunk driving and then, drunkenly, rode into a parked car.

Or this one: a couple years ago, I forgot to take back a key I’d checked out from UW classroom services. They hounded me for a while with emails but I never got around to returning it, or paying the then, $5.00 lost key fee.

Two weeks ago, I lost one of their keys and to get a new one, it cost me $31.44.

Not exactly instant karma, but payback to be sure.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Big Tent

Last month, Kent Peterson wrote a lovely piece (he does that regularly) about how lots of bicycle riders think lots of other bicycle riders are morons, maniacs, poseurs, and wannabes—basically, jerks who aren’t “real” cyclists like they themselves are.

I myself have fallen prey to this sort of thinking; many is the time I’ve seen someone with mountain bikes on top of their SUV and said to myself, “What a phony! Real cyclists ride from the door; anyone who carries their bike is using it merely as a toy and not saving the world like me. They suck and I rock!”

But as I was riding home tonight I reflected on that attitude. In part, my ruminations were inspired by riding the old Miyata Triplecross, my late 80’s “hybrid,” with funky Scott AT-4 handlebars, a bike I’m sure many people would judge to be unworthy of a serious cyclist.

And yet, there I was, doing my daily commute, earning whatever props that earns me on a bike that has probably seen more miles than any other I own, as real a cyclist as I ever am on any bike that I have.

So I thought that I ought to seriously interrogate my biases and prejudices about other riders. I ought to consider cycling a much bigger tent that welcomes all kinds of riders.

So what if someone is merely a “weekend warrior” and only rides in groups around the lake on Sunday mornings. Who cares whether someone else is what my .83 buddies and I refer to a “squid”—those guys in the dye-sublimated Spandex advertising cycling products or teams? Why should it bother me if another person favors a full suspension high-tech rig that never sees pavement except from the top of a car?

At least all those people are on bikes and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all that it really takes to be a real cyclist.

Well that, and a Brooks saddle.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I often think that human beings should never try to make decisions in groups larger than two, if even that. It’s difficult enough to make up one’s own mind about anything, much less negotiate the preferences, biases, and knee-jerk reactions of a bunch of people with any degree of efficiency or charm.

I’m speaking of course about meetings, that scourge of right thinking people everywhere; and we certainly don’t need to set up a focus group or “disappearing task force” to establish the veracity of that claim.

I’m just not cut out for sitting together on padded chairs with a posse of people trying to come up with solutions, strategies, and initiatives.

For one thing, I tend to fall asleep. Within moments of joining a circle of chairs in a conference room where someone is talking, I start to do that dozing thing where your head drops and you jerk yourself awake. This is particularly embarrassing when I’m the one doing the talking.

Even worse is the phenomenon where people feel compelled to fill the scheduled time with discussion even when there’s nothing to say. Sort of like this piece here.

Today at school I preserved through an hour and a half meeting in which some stuff actually did get done. But I can’t help thinking that we’re all sort of just play-acting at it; we follow a modified Robert’s Rules of Order, with motions, seconds, and voting, but I wonder if we’d be just as efficient if the whole thing was more of a free-for-all.

I wonder if meetings wouldn’t be more effective if everyone had to stand up during them—more like a cocktail party.

And then, of course, to really fill out the image, we could have cocktails, too.

I’m not at all convinced we’d be significantly less successful in getting our work done. And probably, it would be easier to achieve quorum in most cases.

And I’ll bet I’d hardly ever fall asleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oppressor Is Me

If you know anything about higher education staffing, you’re familiar with the phenomenon of so-called “freeway flyers” or “road scholars,”—the low-paid, part-time faculty who teach almost half the classes at most colleges and universities, even more at your average community college like Cascadia.

It sucks for them; they do the same work with students as fulltime faculty like me, but they’re paid significantly less and don’t qualify for healthcare benefits unless they teach at least two classes a quarter—and they’re generally not guaranteed that they will.

While those of us on the faculty have additional responsibilities, like committee work and institution-building, it’s not at all clear that this justifies the inequity in pay, benefits, job security, and office accommodations.

I realize that—because the use of part-time faculty saves the college money—this inequity helps support my position, so—at least indirectly—I am benefiting from a situation that is arguably unfair and unjust.

So, what should be my response to this? Ought I to refuse to be party to it? Should I resign and insist that equity be achieved? Ought I mobilize my students to sit-in or walk-out until the situation is rectified?

Or do I try to work within the system to make changes, knowing full well I am being co-opted all the while?

Admittedly, as an American, this is just one of many such situations in which I find myself, whether it’s as a consumer of natural resources, a buyer of globally-manufactured products, or even a fan of any major (or for that matter, minor) sport; it’s hard to deny that my good fortune depends, more or less, on the misfortune of someone else.

If I were a better person, I’d do more to rectify the situation; if I were smarter, I’d have a better idea of what do to.

Admitting my complicity may be a step in the right direction; writing and posting this, though, probably doesn’t earn me any points.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Club Penguin

Mimi is totally into Club Penguin, an online multi-user dimension designed for kids ages eight to fourteen. She’s “allowed” to be on it an hour a day, two hours on weekends, but she routinely finagles extra time by subterfuge, willfulness, and parental apathy; Jen and I are both convinced she’d play there nonstop without some limits; I’ve seen her easily put in a four-hour session on a Sunday when Jen and I have been up too late the night before and our paternalistic impulses are somewhat compromised.

The site seems benign enough; it’s highly moderated, and doesn’t try to sell kids stuff with pop-ups and other come-ons.

Players assume the roles of small animated penguins who waddle around a snowy virtual world that features such spots as a frozen nightclub, an icy plaza, a town with gift shops, and other Disneyland-like environments. Penguins can chat with each other, participate in multi-player games, and build “buddy lists” to keep track of each other.

Each penguin gets an igloo that players can furnish by buying items with coins that are earned by doing different activities such as a “cart surfing” mine-shaft ride or a “thin-ice” breakout-type game.

Mimi sits at the computer typing furiously and sometimes mumbling to herself or cursing at the screen. Jen and I shake our heads and try to entice her away with outdoor walks and food.

For the most part, her obsession with the site doesn’t bother me, but sometimes, I get fed up and demand she do something else. That’s when I feel like the typical parent complaining about his child’s choice of music, haircut, or wardrobe.

This does, though, probably mark a generational gap; while for a few months back in the mid-1990s, I used to spend a couple hours here and there in a text-based MUD, I could never see myself devoting as much time to a virtual world as does the kid.

I’ve got my hands full already with the actual one.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Even though we’ve got more than a month to go until winter is officially over, it’s sure felt a lot like spring in Seattle these last few days. Yesterday and today, even during the occasional rain showers, the sky has had a lovely softness; the dark days of December are nothing but a fading bad dream beneath the cottony fleeciness of this afternoon’s fat, bunchy clouds.

I think it’s partly the light; the sun isn’t setting until about 5:30; it rises now around half past seven, so even though we’re not up to an even split between darkness and light, the worst is over. I’m almost able to make it home from school without turning on the bike lamp or blinkies; gone is the time I needed them all the way into work.

Outside the yoga studio a bunch of crocuses are coming up; someone on the .83 ride the other night said he saw azaleas starting to appear in the arboretum.

The weather makes me feel energized, even hyper; this morning, I’ve been roaring around doing all sorts of errands: grocery shopping with the trailer so I could get the big bag of dog food AND a six pack of beer; running to the auto supply store (on my bike, I love that irony) to get fresh wiper blades and a replacement tail light; paying bills and catching up on correspondence.

Spring is my favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest, which is good because it lasts so long, starting around Valentine’s Day and going until mid-July; from now until high summer, a new batch of flowers or blossoms will be appearing more or less weekly.

Of course, I’m totally jinxing everything by mentioning this; no doubt it will be sleeting sideways before I finish writing today's piece.

As I look out the window, though, I can still see patches of blue in the sky. So, what am I doing sitting here inside?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pick Your Battles

I’m at Victrola last night, buying an espresso and half a pound of ground coffee and as I prepare to pay at the register a Christmas song comes on the sound system. It isn’t a particularly annoying one—not “Little Drummer Boy,” at least—in fact, it’s some girl group doing “Sleighride,” but still, it’s February, so I kind of raise my eyebrows and share a chuckle with the cashier. She shrugs back and I assume that’sthe end of it, when the women in line behind me growls, “Ugh, I can’t stand this music.”

I look over at her; she seems normal enough: a typical short-haired middle-aged Seattle woman; she’s got the boiled wool coat, dark pants, and nondescript shoes.

I say, “Well, yeah, it is a little out of season, isn’t it?”

“I hate Christmas music,” she replies.

I still think she’s kidding, so I go light. “Hate? That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?”

“I don’t celebrate Christmas,” she snaps.

“Uh-huh…” I’m starting to get a little weirded out, but I still opt for benign. “Well, I guess you gotta pick your battles.”

Apparently, she has, and now with the cashier. “What IS this music?”

The girl tries to explain that it’s just come up randomly on the shuffle.

“I am offended,” says the lady and the cashier looks shocked.

The Polyanna in me tries to make nice to the customer. “Sometimes, I think you just gotta be a duck, let it roll off you.”

“I am NOT a duck!” she says. “That’s the problem with the American people, too complacent! That’s why George Bush was elected!”

My espresso is now ready, so I take the opportunity to extricate myself from the little scene, sharing a “cuckoo” look with the barista as she hands me my drink.

But upon reflection, maybe the angry lady was right; maybe we are too complacent.

Still, Christmas music in February isn’t nearly as bad as George Bush all year long.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Waffle Ride

Last night,.83 conducted this year’s version of what is now an annual tradition (“tradition” meaning anything you do twice): the WWW or Winter Waffle Wide.

Some thirty riders loaded up their messenger bags, panniers, and Xtracycles with flour, eggs, syrup, camp stoves, waffle irons, distilled spirits, and cases of PBR then rode to a park on Mercer Island that, for some strange reason, features—in its picnic shelter—electrical outlets that are full of juice all year long. There, batter was mixed, butter was melted, and dozens of waffles made and consumed.

I missed the start of the ride from Westlake Center because I was at school listening to a frightening lecture by Red Cavaney, who is CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. As you might expect from someone who is the public face of Big Oil, his talk was mostly about how we’ve got to all pull together as Americans to ensure that we have a steady supply of burnable hydrocarbons for many years to come. The good news, from his perspective, is that if we can just get Congress to lift those silly restrictions on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, we can count on being able to keep sucking crude from the ground at an increased rate until way off in 2030, by which time, he assured us, “technology” will have found a replacement energy source that conveniently will use the same infrastructure already laid in place by Exxon, Shell, et al.

By the time he was done, you could have powered a Hummer off the steam pouring from my ears.

A bike ride through the streets of Bellevue, then west on the I-90 trail to Mercer Island was an ideal pressure release; to then come upon my fellow cyclists creating a shared outdoor feast was perfect.

I had forgotten all about Red Cavaney by the time I finished my first waffle; way before the bottle of Maker’s Mark was spent.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Tofu Sandwich

My sister writes a blog about food on which she occasionally ruminates about her life; I write a blog about my life on which I occasionally offer meandering thoughts about food.

Today I sing the praises of the Vietnamese tofu sandwich, a delicacy which these days is probably my favorite portable lunch. It’s a variation, of course, on the more authentic Vietnamese pork sandwich (Bahn Mi Thit), but being a namby-pamby plant-eater, I routinely opt for the meatless version.

The sandwich is a testament to the unexpected positive effects of imperialism and colonialism, of which, I guess, Vietnamese cuisine in general (at least as we get it in the States) is an example of overall. It’s not quite the same as Marco Polo running into Kubla Khan and inventing spaghetti, but I’d reckon it equal to the happy accident of peanut butter and chocolate that led to Reese’s Cups.

The French, during their abortive regime in Indochina, apparently introduced the baguette into the local diet and the Bahn Mi, in its various incarnations—pork, beef, chicken, and soy bean—flourished.

In the version that I usually get, at the hugely understated (actually, kind of gross-looking, at least from the outside) Saigon Deli on the edge of the International District, the torpedo-shaped mini-baguette (5 inches or so) is cut open lengthwise and then the following is laid inside: cucumber slices, cilantro, julienned daikon radish, super hot green peppers, some sort of soy (or maybe fish, I hope not) paste, mayonnaise, and a handful of deep-fried tofu.

The sandwich is then heated for a few minutes in a microwave, wrapped in waxy paper secured with a thin red rubber band, and handed to me in a plastic bag with napkins.

All for the staggering sum of $1.75.

The guy behind the counter usually asks me how many I want when I order; one is generally enough, but they’re so good, (and cheap!) I can easily eat (and afford!) two.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Philosophy With Kids

I’m supposed to be an expert in the field of Philosophy for Children; I’ve published papers, spoken at conferences, and I teach a class at the University of Washington exploring the theory and practice of doing philosophical inquiry with pre-college students.

But I’ve felt like something of a phony of late; when I was a grad student, I used to go to as many as four different classes a week and for five summers before this past one, I always taught a three-week long all-day class to middle-school students through the Robinson Center for Young Scholars at the U of WA. In the last 18 months or so, though, I’ve only been in a couple of classrooms with kids; mostly I’ve been with college students or adults talking about what it’s like to work with children. It makes me feel about myself the way I used to feel about professional educators who theorize wonderfully but never put themselves in front of the students they’re theorizing about.

So it was very rewarding today to visit Lake Washington Girls Middle School and do some philosophy with a class of 6th graders there. I had sort of forgotten how fun it can be to explore ideas with young people in a classroom community of inquiry.

Today we wrangled with the question, “Is life fair?” and played a game that gives students a chance to develop what they think are fair principles for distributing benefits in society.

The solution that these students came up with was novel in my experience of playing the game with dozens of classes in the past decade or so. Most classes develop principles for distributing the benefits society-wide. This class worked in groups of five or six to distribute the benefits among the neighborhoods, if you will.

I brought a handful of my students from the UW to the class; I’m not sure they had as much fun as me, but I think they liked it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


In the Ethics class, we’re studying Utilitarianism; I’m wondering whether doing so contributes to overall utility.

In any case, John Stuart Mill is my favorite dead white guy; I enjoy wandering around the room sharing my affection for his writing, spouting quotes like this one on what philosophers mean by happiness:

“The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.”

Students, by and large, seem to understand Mill and are sympathetic to his views; our discussions have generally been pretty lively and philosophical.

Still, I always feel a little bad when I read Mill since I consistently fail to live up to the standard of Utilitarianism; I realize that I could do a much better job of contributing to the overall pleasure of people in the world.

We read a profile of Zel Kravinsky, who gave away 45 million dollars to charity and then donated one of his kidneys to a stranger; that’s the Utilitarian ideal.

Mill, of course, points out that the vast majority of our life’s decisions don’t affect anyone nearly as much as they affect ourselves and those immediately around us, so we can maximize utility by being good friends, neighbors, and spouses, but I still wonder whether I ought not to be doing more for the world at-large.

One of my students pointed out that Utilitarianism can’t require us ALL to donate to charity because if utility is increased by my helping someone else then if that person gives away what I have sent their way, then utility won’t be maximized.

I’m not sure I agree, but I do think that, in my case, utility is not maximized by my being a Utilitarian.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Old Guys On Bikes

About once a week on my cycle commute out to Bothell, I pass by five or six old guys on bikes, riding together as a group down the Burke-Gilman trail. Each is at least 65 or 70, they all ride upright hybrid bikes, and none of them is going very fast. (I know this because the few times I’ve come upon them going my direction, I’ve passed them, proving they’re going just barely quickly enough to keep from falling.)

Although I’ve never exchanged more words with them than a casual “hello” as we go our separate ways, I love these guys. They are a model to me for friendship, camaraderie, and the lifelong joys of two-wheeling with your buddies.

Usually, they’re carrying on a conversation while they ride, and they pedal deliberately enough that talk flows freely. I’ve seen them break into smaller groups of two or three, but in general, they maintain a pretty close pack.

I don’t get the sense that they were serious cyclists in their younger days, so I wonder how they all arrived at the decision to take it up. Did one of them starting riding and come back—to the retirement community or wherever—singing the praises of cycling? Or did it all happen at once? Their bikes are all relatively new and similar in design; did they go en masse to the shop? Did they all try the first guy’s bike and decide they wanted one just like it?

I’ve never seen any women riding with them, so I’m assuming cycling is a way for them to get out of the house and away from the wife for a while; this really makes me appreciate the little boy inside the geezer.

Today I saw them hanging outside of Metropolitan Market with their bikes, taking a break, eating and drinking. It was like a window into .83, fifty years from now—except none of them was working on a forty ouncer.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I sure have a different attitude about this year’s Superbowl than last year’s. Today, the big game is merely background entertainment; the 2006 edition, by contrast, was a matter of—if not quite life and death—at least longer life and near-death.

Props to the Bears and Colts, and especially their coaches, but it doesn’t really matter who wins; without the Steelers involvement (or even, to a far lesser extent, the Seahawks), it’s just a silly game played by oversized men in colored tights.

I guess I’m rooting for da Bears; Chicago is a real football team and Indianapolis still doesn’t deserve to claim the Colts from Baltimore. And while I like former Steelers coach Tony Dungy on the sidelines, I can’t stand bigtime Bush-donor and corporate shill, Payton Manning. I think his legacy will be much more interesting if it remains “can’t win the big one.”

Of course I’ll tune into the game; if nothing else, I don’t want to miss the commercials. But I’m not going out of my way to set up all my superstitious good-luck charms or to make faux-Primanti Brothers sandwiches using oven-fries and store-bought cole slaw.

By this time last year, I had already cleaned the house top-to-bottom and was getting ready to crack the first Rolling Rock of the day; this year, I’ve barely finished a few cups of coffee and worked my way through the Sunday papers.

And while I do wish the Steelers (or at least, the Seahawks) were playing today, there remains part of me that’s a bit relieved. From the vantage point of a casual fan, I can see clearly how ridiculous all the hype and hysteria is. I’m reminded that there are far more important things to do than plop down in front of the TV and scream for the figures onscreen to behave the way you want them to.

At least today there are; next year, when the Steelers are back, it’ll be different.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Groundhog Eternity

Although I don’t believe in a creator of the universe—especially one with preferences or desires (like which religion is best or who should win the Superbowl)—I am sympathetic to the idea that there’s more to reality than meets the eye and it wouldn’t particularly surprise me to find out that when we die, there’s some sort of afterlife waiting in the wings.

And if there is one, I wouldn’t be surprised a bit if it were something like what TV weatherman Phil Connors experiences in what might be my most favorite movie of all, Groundhog Day.

As anyone who doesn’t spend his or her life underground only to surface once a year looking for winter shadows well knows, Groundhog Day tells the story of a jaded and egotistical broadcast meteorologist, played by Bill Murray at his finest, who finds himself experiencing the same February 2nd over and over forever.

Phil transitions through a number of responses to his predicament. At first, he thinks he’s going crazy, then he embraces it, using his omniscience and immortality to live out any number of fantasies; later, he falls into a suicidal depression, before finally coming out of his misery by putting the needs of others before his own.

The part that strikes me as the most likely afterlife scenario is how Phil is trapped in a world constrained by experiences he had in the real world. Suppose that when we die, it’s like that: we can go anywhere or see anyone we experienced while we were alive and we can do so eternally.

At first, it might be fun to visit Vegas, for instance, and play at being a high-roller. After eons, though, this would probably get tedious and lead us, like Phil, to overcome our narcissism.

With that in mind, though, it might make sense to do and visit as much as possible while we’re living so our own Punxatawnies are as large and varied as possible.

Friday, February 02, 2007

US Intelligence

“Top US intelligence agencies” report that if American troops are removed from Iraq, the country will become increasingly unstable, perhaps drawing neighboring countries into a potentially ever-widening war.

But given past performance, how can we take that term, “US intelligence” as anything but an oxymoron, right up there with “jumbo shrimp,” “fuel-efficient automobile,” and “creative blogging?”

Moreover, it’s not at all obvious that if American troops stay, the above gruesome scenario won’t transpire anyway. In fact, I have little faith that the exact opposite of what those “top intelligence agencies” predict isn’t far more likely to occur—and by removing its troops, the US will actually contribute to the stability of the region.

Who are these “top intelligence agencies,” anyway? And how did they get to the top? Certainly not because of the fine job they’ve done in the past, I would say.

Are there “bottom intelligence agencies?” Should I picture an entire farm system or lower division that agencies graduate from into the big-time intelligence “show?”

Come to think of it, “intelligence agency” itself is an oxymoron; agencies, by their very nature tend not to be intelligent at all. “Confusion agency,” or “Obfuscation agency,” or even “Self-Perpetuating Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings Agency” I could buy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said something like “Intelligence is the ability to hold two competing ideas in the head at the same time.” If that’s right, then “US intelligence agencies” are anything but. Time and again of late we’ve gotten from them dogmatic, one-sided proclamations about the way things are and will be, no doubt about it.

I myself am not nearly intelligent enough to have any real suggestions for how to address the catastrophe that is contemporary Iraq. But at least my philosophy training has taught me this: Socrates was deemed by the oracle at Delphi to be the wisest man in Athens because he alone knew he wasn’t wise.

Intelligence agencies would likewise be smart to deny their intelligence.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Good Day

I am an experience junkie; I reckon a good day as one on which I get to generate a bunch of different memories.

I might even trade quality for quantity; I’m probably most satisfied when many separate moments pass before me.

But maybe that means I’m just noticing more things. Although if that’s the case, why don’t I remark at that many everyday?

Nevertheless, today featured a number of typical, yet clearly identifiable occasions.

I awoke early and made it to AYS no later than I had intended. This series of events included a bike ride on frosty pavement; there I got to notice an unusual squishy sound emanating from my tires on the road.

I remarked at what a privilege it is to do yoga; I am honored and humbled to work on the second series of Ashtanga.

Thursday’s bus ride to school is generally my favorite; I’m able to read the Stranger, a regularly-occurring experience that is oddly comforting.

In the Philosophical Ethics class, I had the opportunity to introduce Utilitarianism via one of my favorite classroom activities. With students, we work through a Benthamite calculus of whether or not to hold class. It’s usually fun and, I think, educational; today was a stellar example of the form.

In the Business Ethics class, we watched The Smartest Guys in the Roomthe recent documentary about the Enron debacle. I just kept wondering how a person ends up making the kinds of choices those executives did and trying to see (thankfully, so far unsuccessfully) real analogues in my own life.

Later, it was my good fortune to facilitate a Faculty Assembly meeting. I must say, we are in fine form, feeling our oats.

I rode downtown on the Quickbeam, stopping for a solo safety meeting at Matthews Beach.

.83 meet-up at Westlake Center, a ride to the bridge to nowhere, then to see a reading by alterna-dad Neal Pollack and music by "Awesome."

Quantity and quality.