Saturday, March 31, 2007

So Far, So Good

Today is nuts. I’m trying to do way too much.

But it’s okay.

The Three Twenty-Seven Words Half-Century Ralleycat went off as planned. About 25 people started and most of them finished the essentially 50 mile ride in three hours and twenty seven minutes.

Winner solo rider was Greg S. Barnes, pulling his child in a trailer. He made 16 out of 17 checkpoints and even finished with a few minutes to spare, having come out to the safety meeting at Matthews Beach halfway through the race.

Winning team of two was Mike O.D. and spouse, marathon runner, Dianne. They rocked all the stops but one and finished reasonably within the time limit.

Winning team of three or more was a group of three guys from Fast Friday, Justin, John, and Lee who, even though they got way lost on the way managed to find their way to the ending point in just enough time to end up in the money.

No girl finished all by herself, to an extra prize went to second place solo finisher Chris Langston.

What I liked best, or at least a lot about the event was that a bunch of people I’d never met showed up. Katy Rourke, who saw a flyer for the race at 20/20 Cycle brought out a handful of buddies who stuck with the thing the whole time.

I was pretty satisfied with the route, although I erred mightily on the manifest in a few places, mis-naming both stops and locations. Bless the hearts of the riders who persevered in spite of my mistakes.

My lesson from all this was graciousness; too often, I’m upset if it’s not all perfect; today wasn’t exactly in every way as I imagined in might have been: we only had half of half a hundred instead of the full 50; my directions were flawed, and so on.

But I’m pleased with the results anyway; with age comes patience, if not wisdom.

Friday, March 30, 2007


I survived all day meetings at school and so now can get down to the serious business of focusing on my real focus all week: preparing for the 327 Words Half-Century Ralleycat and my birthday party to follow.

Typically, I’m taking on way more than I should have in putting together these two consecutive events; on the other hand, I’m thrilled to be organizing a pair of occasions that, while they’re ostensibly all about me, are mostly intended to be forums for good times for people I care about and strangers, too.

It’s an open question, of course, whether or not my efforts can be construed altruistically, even though I think they are.

Psychological egoism is the view that nothing we do is ever done for any reason than our own gratification. According to psychological egoism, even Mother Theresa was acting selfishly when she devoted her life to the care of orphans in the Calcutta slums. The problem with this view, however, is that it doesn’t allow us to distinguish between someone who devotes her life to caring for others and, say, Donald Trump. So, as philosopher Joel Feinberg has reminded us, being able to make a distinction between “selfish” and “self-interested” is valuable.

Thus, I can say I’m being self-interested when I try to create events intended to give other people pleasure without having to assert that I’m being selfish when I do so.

Robert Nozick's “experience machine” thought experiment supposedly allows us to see this more clearly. The scenario here is to wonder whether you would be willing to hook up for the rest of your life to a machine that produces in you absolutely real ideal experiences rather than experience a real-world life filled with all the usual frustrations and boredoms we all experience.

If you wouldn’t hook up, that seems to indicate that perhaps we are motivated by unselfish concerns.

So, I’m not Mother Theresa, but at least I’m not Donald Trump, either.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I like when the term “punk” is used in the normative sense and when that sense is something to be aspired to.

As in, “that is SO punk,” where the thing being described has the attributes I admire in punk, among those being: it questions authority, comes from a place of raw honesty; eschews bullshit, emerges out of authentic DIY culture, and is enthusiastic, intense, and sticks it to the man.

I’m sure much has been written (and even more shouted in late-night drunken arguments) about what’s punk and what isn’t, who gets to wear the title of “punk,” and whether this person or band or scene is really punk or not and while I’m sure those debates shed a great deal of light on the subject (and generate even more heat), I’m sort of side-stepping them here. Moreover, the last thing I could even pretend would to be some sort authority on whether or not so-and-so or such-and-such lives up to a given dogmatic conception of what’s punk as embodied by lives and images from the 1970s (even though I think I was there for part of it.)

I was thinking more about how it’s punk when someone dumpster dives for bike parts or fashions fenders out of salvaged political signs, how it’s punk to not care so much how it looks as long as it works.

It’s also punk to speak truth to power, even in small ways, even when that power is your dad, as my punk daughter did the other day.

She had left her scooter in the alley and it was “borrowed” by a neighbor kid, causing us to think that it had been stolen. When we eventually found it in his yard, I said, paternalistically, “Let this be a lesson to you,” meaning a lesson about the dangers of leaving your stuff out where people can get to it.

Mimi interpreted the lesson differently: “What? That I hate him?”

That’s punk.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

One of Those Days

It’s probably the emotional hangover from being all amped-up about my birthday yesterday, but today has just felt like one of those days when the center cannot hold and everything’s spinning completely out of control.

Bush and Congress are at a stalemate over Iraq; Britain and Iran seem to be ratcheting up their conflict over the capture sailors; the Saudi king is condemning the US occupation of Iraq; Sunnis and Shiites continue to blow each other up; and even the mass extinction of the dinosaurs didn’t lead as quickly to mammals as scientists have long believed.

I like that bumper sticker that reads, “Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?” That’s what it seems like and even though the sun is out and the birds are singing (well, at least the crows are cawing), I get the feeling everything’s going to come crashing down—socially and politically—and we’ll all be foraging around in the post-apocalyptic landscape for turnips and hubcaps to cook them in.

I wish I could say that this invigorates me to redouble my paltry efforts to make the world a better place, but on the contrary, it inclines me to order up and handful of new credit cards and max them out on champagne, travel, and shoes.

I think part of my problem today was poking around on 9/11 conspiracy theory sites in preparation for talking about them in the Critical Thinking class. While it’s inconceivable to me that the Twin Towers were brought down in a controlled explosion, I can’t help feeling like a sap when I watch those impassioned paranoiacs make their crazy case.

Of course, the knock-down argument against a conspiracy is that Bush would have to be an evil genius to have masterminded the whole thing; I find it far more plausible that he’s just a doofus who let the terrorist attack happen.

But on a day like today, I’m not even sure about that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Today’s my fiftieth birthday, an event I’ve been preparing for all my life, although I didn’t really know it at the time.

I can, though, assert with certainty that, at last, I am something I will be for the remainder of my days: old!

Fifty is some sort of milestone; even if I live to be a hundred, I’m on the downhill side; even if I live—as I’ve always pretended to believe—to be 112, my days are numbered. (As a matter of fact, today is numbered, according to this site’s calculations 18,263.)

In any case, at this advanced point in my life, I probably should have some words of wisdom to share with the world.

One nugget I could offer is that you should never make a decision based on an idea you came up with when you are stoned. Unfortunately, I came up with that idea after smoking a joint, so I dunno.

Another bit of advice that has served me relatively well is that if you are too impaired to unlock your bike, then you’re too impaired to ride it home. This has only happened to me once, but all the other times (knock wood) I have been able to figure out my combination, I’ve made it home safely.

Generally, it’s been my experience that worrying about things doesn’t improve the situation. Although saying that, I worry whether it’s true.

I subscribe to Woody Allen’s view that 80 percent of success is showing up; and most of the time, I think, you can get away with leaving early, too.

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and even easier if you bring a gift.

If you’re having someone review your work, put a few easy-to-correct errors in it, so they won’t dig too deeply for the hard-to-fix ones.

Finally, you're only as old as you feel, so I hereby invite everyone to feel me all over, so we can establish exactly what age I am.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nice Day for a Bike Ride

It turned out really lovely this afternoon: sixty degrees, some sun, and no wind to speak of, the kind of day that people in shops who see me wearing a helmet say, “Nice day for a bike ride.”

My standard answer is: “Any day you’re on a bike is a nice day,” but of late, I have sort of forgotten how pleasant it is to be out on two wheels when the rain is not blowing sideways into your face and you’re either all geared up and getting soaked from the inside or underdressed and feeling the water soak through to your bones.

It was delightful today to be riding in shirtsleeves; I even took off my vest and neck gaiter, a sure sign that spring is in the air.

One challenge for me, though, as the weather gets nicer, is to remain gracious towards the throngs of cyclist who will soon be thronging the trail. It’s hard for me to avoid feeling like they’re trespassing on my route even though I realize that just because they weren’t out there in December slipping on the snow and ice in the dark doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be permitted to share the road now that it’s sunny and warm.

In spite of my support—even evangelism—for cycling, I find myself paradoxically wishing there were fewer cyclists. Everyone should ride bikes…just in a different place than me.

I think this is one of those human condition phenomena: we want everyone to be like us but we also want to be unique. Or maybe it’s just that we crave to be the perfect archetype of the archetype we embody.

I had this tweed wool cover made for my helmet, thinking that I would then start marketing them. But I decided I liked having the only one around even better so I never followed up with manufacturing.

I’m all about a nice day for a bike ride, but only for me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Auction Item

Jen and I went to the benefit auction for our kid’s school last night, an event which performs the same function in the lives of middle-aged private school parents as did the occasional night of hard drug abuse in our lives before we had children: you get together with a group of people you know tangentially; you get all frenzied up and you find yourself saying and doing things you’ll later regret, until you wake up the next morning shocked with how much money you spent and vowing never to do that again.

We had an okay time, though, and got to feel good that it was all “for the kids,” even though, I felt sort of weirded out by the whole phenomenon of people bidding hundreds of dollars for things they didn’t even want just to be able to say they were willing to pay more for them than another person in the room. But hey, it’s all “for the kids,” so more power to them. That is, us.

We did win a “kayak extravaganza” in a raffle; I’m not sure what that entails, but generally, I’m all for extravaganzas, especially if they involve water.

I was hoping for one of those ego battles you hear about at these events for fancy private schools in Manhattan, where two investment bankers go checkbook-to-checkbook over some classroom project or another, bidding it up to tens of thousands of dollars just to prove who has the bigger dick. Mimi’s school apparently doesn’t have enough Microsoft-millionaire parents to get this dynamic going, or maybe it’s just people being “too nice” in Seattle to really go at it this way.

One parent I talked to last night told me about a Seattle school that is abandoning the auction altogether; instead of having the gala event, parents just write checks in their kids’ names.

I suppose that could work, but then I wouldn’t feel so lousy today, and what fun is that?

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Well, Orangie-Yellow, anyway.

As part of the ongoing festivities commemorating my 50th birthday—which, by the way, I’m not making a big deal of at all—I’ve dyed my hair blonde…well, orange-yellow, anyway.

I’ve done this suicide blonde (dyed by his own hand) thing about half a dozen times, usually with somewhat mixed results, and this time's no exception.

Usually, I either get it really platinum, (but fry my hair to the consistency of sawdust), or it ends up a sort of punk-albino pinkish yellow wheat color (but then, at least, my hair feels not entirely dead and dessicated.)

This time, it’s more the latter result; my scalp, thankfully, is not on fire, although the tips of my hair do look a bit singed.

Jen, bless her heart, was my colorist this time around and she persevered through three separate applications of the caustic chemicals. If that’s not a fine birthday present, I don’t know what is.

I’ve gone to a salon several times and while the outcome tends to be a bit more predictable, I find the process really hard to take. It’s bad enough paying like five times more than the do-it-yourself cost, but what’s worse, and what my fragile male ego just can’t stomach, is sitting in public with the goop and shower cap on my head for two to three hours. I’m ambivalent enough about being the sort of pampered sissy who has the time and inclination to devote so much energy to his hairdo; having to present myself as an exhibit of this at the haidressers for all to see is more than I can take.

Plus, blonding at home allows one to more freely consume alcoholic beverages, which enables one to be much more sanguine about the results.

The elephant in the room question, of course, is whether I look younger (or intended to) as a blonde. I’d say “results inconclusive,” but maybe one more treatment later this week will tell.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Adventure Cycling

I’ve been asked what the hell I’m doing drinking, smoking, and riding bikes with kids half my age and less—and I’ve asked myself that, too.

All sorts of none-too-flattering answers could be given, I’m sure: it’s my midlife crisis; I’m denying my age; I’m just a creepy old guy, and maybe there’s an element of truth in all of those.

But I think the real reason I’m drawn to these regular .83 rides is the opportunity to infuse my staid, middle-class (and middle-aged) existence with some small sense of adventure.

T.S. Eliot said, “Old men should be explorers,” and I agree. When I’m not making at least minor discoveries in my life, having at minimum a few unexpected explorations, I start to feel really old and in the way.

So what’s particularly satisfying about setting out on an evening ride with the bike gang is that, more often than not, I don’t really have a clue about where we’re headed or what’s going to happen.

Last night, for instance, about twenty of us swarmed from Westlake Center in a disorganized mob that somehow re-congregated at Dick’s Burgers near the Seattle Center. Then, after those who wanted them got their meaty gutbombs, it was off down Western, racing traffic towards the Magnolia Bridge.

Another stop in lower Magnolia for beer and Slim Jims, then it really got interesting. We pedaled up into Discovery Park and then dove down a very steep and dark hill to the water, where we rode single-file along the trail to a secluded cove.

Quaffables were quaffed and then came the most adventurous part of the night: we hiked up through the woods, at a fairly furious pace, carrying our bikes to the top of the hill we had descended earlier.

It sort of sucked and was nothing I would have done on my own; I’ll bet few of us will ever do it again.

But there’s no denying it was an adventure.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bicycle Built for Two

Jen and I rode around this afternoon on the tandem, something we don’t do nearly enough but always resolve to do more of whenever we do.

Our plan was to ride to Capitol Hill for a quick drink and then do clothes shopping for the birthday party, but the quick drink metamorphosized into two and a bite to eat, so we opted instead for a cruise around Volunteer Park in the mist, marveling at the manner in which spring is busting out all over.

One of the images I found most lovely was the poignant sight of a flowering cherry tree, its blossoms in full flurry, spreading wide over gravestones in the cemetery. Life and death all at once, a testament to the universe’s regenerating powers as well as the consciousness shifting potential of several Manhattans and a puff or two of cannabis.

Thus, spring break was invoked, at least for an afternoon.

The Rodriguez performed beautifully; it’s such a fine and stately bike. The new yellow handlebar tape improves both the look from the side and the view from the cockpit; on Jen’s advice, I think clear shellac will be the way to go.

We stood for a while enjoying the memorial to Thomas Burke created after his death by his friends; while being enshrined in statue is not the way I’d like to do it, I fully appreciate the motivation do leave something lasting after you’re gone.

But I liked the quote on the statue of William H. Seward even better, “Let Us Make the Treaty Tonight.” While it’s probably an agreement that’s been violated many times in the name of oppression of indigenous people, I certainly admire the sentiment.

On the ride home, we got plenty wet, but it was one of those times when it didn’t seem to matter; the ride was an easy downhill and there were warm clothes waiting for us at home.

Let us all make the treaty tonight, indeed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fined for Procrastinating

I went to get my new Driver’s License today; it wasn’t so bad: about an hour of hanging around the DMV, and now I don’t have to do it again for ten years, so I guess, amortized over that time, the waiting was only six minutes for 2007.

The renewal fee was $25.00, which pays for what I’m not sure, but if any of it goes to street maintenance, then my claim, as a cyclist, to a share of the road is enhanced. (If the fee only goes to supporting the DMV, then my claim still stands: I pay car tabs, property taxes, and other assessments that help pay for pavement, concrete, and traffic lights.)

When the cashier rang me up, though, she said I owed a hundred bucks. Apparently, I was being charged a seventy-five dollar “reinstatement fee” for when my license was temporarily suspended then returned to active status last year. This was because I had gotten a speeding ticket in New Mexico that I failed to pay in a timely manner, only doing so when I received a letter that said—as I understood it—my license would be suspended if I didn’t pay up.

And it wasn’t that I had no intention of paying. The reason it took me so long was that I lost the original ticket; I kept meaning to call the state of New Mexico and get the info, but I just never got around to it. In fact, I was glad when I got the suspension notice because that gave me the address and agency to send the money to.

So, basically, it seems to me that I’m being charged seventy-five bucks mainly for being a space case. And that strikes me as excessive.

I can’t imagine that I cost the state of Washington seventy-five dollars in administrative salaries to essentially press a computer key twice.

Couldn’t they just have forgotten about the whole thing?

I know I did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shakedown Ride

Today, I rode part of the route I’d mapped out for the 327 Words Half-Century Ralleycat and discovered that my eyes are bigger than my legs, so to speak; consequently, some changes are in order that will shorten the route, in hopes of making it more fun and festive for riders and organizers alike.

The main thing I think I’m going to do is take West Seattle and Kenmore off the map; the route I took today, which carried me from the Central District, through downtown, along Eastlake to the UW, on the Burke-Gilman to Matthews Beach, then backtracking a bit before going over Ravenna around the south end of Greenlake to Phinney, across the Fremont Bridge and west to Queen Anne, down through Pioneer Square and up Jackson, then right on 12th across the bridge to Beacon Hill, and finally down into Columbia City, and over to Seward Park before finishing up in Madrona was all but fifty miles from start to finish—48.69 according to my uncalibrated odometer, but who’s counting?

It took me from ten-fifteen in the morning to almost four, a wee bit more than three hours and twenty-seven minutes, although cycling time, according my cyclocomputer, was just under four and half hours, so it’s conceivable that somebody really fast could do the whole route in the allotted time.

I’m really hoping people consider doing teams; I think a group of three or four could pretty easily make all the stops and do so in a way that didn’t require everyone to bust ass the whole time.

I saw a bunch of the city and a whole variety of weathers: on Phinney Ridge it was warm and misty; in Columbia City, I got seriously hailed on.

I stopped for a tofu sandwich at the Saigon Deli but then I wasn’t hungry when I got to the taco truck on Rainier.

I’ll just have to save that for another ride, maybe the Ralleycat itself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Break

I turned in grades for all my classes today, so now I’m officially on spring break. By rights, I should be dancing in a Speedo under the tropical sun, but instead, I’m just sitting in my bedroom under gloomy Northwest skies. It’s not so bad, really: I’m looking forward to a week at home to catch up on my life, which—as always happens near the end of quarter—has run somewhat out of control.

I never really had the full spring break girls gone wild experience anyway, so I don’t know what I’m missing. The few times I’ve gone away this time of the year it’s usually been skiing; typically, my March vacations have been more of the hot buttered rum type than of the pina colada.

That said, I know no better proof of being fully into the vacation mode than having a rum drink at breakfast time. Perhaps that’s something I can aspire to at some point during the next six days.

In any case, this break is just a tease; a week off gives you just enough time to begin slipping into a calmer pace, then wham! Back to work.

I’m not complaining (whenever anyone says that they are); I’m lucky, as an academic to get these regularly-scheduled breaks, even if they’re not as long as I—and certainly my students—would prefer.

My challenge is not to be too ambitious about what I hope to accomplish. At this point, all I have on tap is reading half a dozen books, riding at least 50 miles a day, getting completely set up for my birthday party and the Half-Century Ralleycat, spending some extended periods of time with Jen and Mimi, saving the planet, curing cancer, and watching the complete ninth season of the Simpsons on DVD.

Good thing I’m not heading off to Fort Lauderdale or Jamaica; I’d never get a thing done, although with pina coladas for breakfast, I might not mind.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Couple of Bike Events

Yesterday I rode in the Tangletown Poker Scramble, a St. Patrick’s Day race organized by Lee Williams from .83. You had 90 minutes to cruise around the triangularly-shaped neighborhood between Greenlake, I-5, and Wallingford, trying to find a handful of roving checkpoints: folks on bike or foot who would then deal you a playing card. The goal was to gather up a poker hand, with prizes for first hand completed, best hand, worst hand, and so on.

My strategy was to get stoned at the race start and then ride slowly, in an attempt to just vibe where the checkpoints would be. That failed dismally, as I only found one of the six in my hour and a half of riding about.

Still, it was a lovely day—overcast and cool—and a pretty ride through a very sweet neighborhood. I stopped for a coffee at Zoka and a drink at the Tangletown Pub and finally, after all these years in Seattle, have figured out how the streets work in that strangely-gridded part of town. So, although I finished well out of the money, I count the event a success, no less because it gave me a few ideas for things I’m going to try in the Half-Century Ralleycat the week after next.

Today, I used the trailer to help Chris Nygaard, who organized last years, “Brews, Brewed, and Bruise” race move some boxes from his old apartment on Interbay to his new one in Fremont. I carried six boxes of books—I’m guessing around a hundred pounds—and felt particularly good about myself for getting up and out Sunday morning to help somebody while getting a bike ride out of the deal, too.

The trailer continues to perform beautifully, although sitting here, I do feel a residual bucking motion from the way the weight pushes and pulls me as I pedal.

I take it as a pleasant reminder of the past two days on two wheels.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

March Mildness

I can’t get too excited about the NCAA basketball tournament this year; it’s probably because I didn’t enter a pool, but even so, March Madness seems like the sporting equivalent of American Idol: lots of hype and bluster, followed by snarky commentary and lots of tears.

Part of my detachment is that I’ve never been a huge basketball fan; as a kid, it was my worst sport and the one most likely to send me home crying with broken glasses.

Another reason is that the only teams I might care remotely about—my undergraduate alma mater, Minnesota, and my graduate institution, the U of WA—failed to make it to the “big dance;” and without money riding on it, I just can’t get my heart beating fast over whether Washington State wins.

But I think the biggest contributor to my boredom with the whole thing is that it doesn’t live up to it’s billing: if it’s really going to be “March Madness,” then I want to see clinically insane people having grand mall seizures all over the place.

I think it would great TV if we got to witness people really wigging out. Maybe one of the coaches could tear of his suit and go running around the course naked and foaming at the mouth. Maybe a player could have some sort of psychotic episode where he sits on top of the basketball rim refusing to speak in anything but rhyming couplets. Or maybe an announcer could flip out on his broadcast partner and drown him in his water glass.

If ever there were a march for my own madness, this one might be it. Turning fifty probably qualifies as at least a minor “get out of jail free” card. I would imagine if people see me running down the street in my underwear screaming epithets at the world, they’ll merely attribute it to the stress of this life event.

Is it madness to bet on that?

Friday, March 16, 2007


The acquaintances in my life are separated into four fairly distinct groups: I know the teachers I work with, the yogis I practice with, the cyclists I ride with, and the rest—fellow parents, old friends, and neighbors—who I guess I mostly drink, eat, and hang out with.

There doesn’t tend to be much overlap among them.

The yogis, for instance, I hardly ever see outside the studio—and I know only a handful of names—even though with many I have had this strangely intimate but totally detached experience of bending and sweating profusely together three to five times a week for half a dozen years or more.

As for my fellow instructors, all of whom I really appreciate and deeply respect: our time together is pretty much restricted to school. In five years, I’ve only been to one of their houses; I’ve never opened my home to any of them.

My cycling buddies are another class altogether; although Mimi’s met them at the FHR and Jen made the acquaintance of several at the Patchkit, for the most part, their realm is a completely different orbit I travel in.

So it was particularly swell for me last night when, on the regular Thursday evening .83 ride, I had a chance to see two of these groups—the cyclists and the teachers—together in one place for a while.

.83 rode from Westlake Center, over freeway and down Interlaken to Montlake and then up the Ravenna ravine through Northgate with a stop at the Taco truck and ended up at the Pinehurst Pub where a group of Cascadia teachers was celebrating the end of quarter with beer and conversation.

Our wild bunch of around twenty cyclists arrived en masse and pretty took over the joint to the delighted cries of the table of teachers. I felt like the Marlon Brando leading the cavalry, a weird combination to be sure—but so was the one in the Pub.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Discussion Finals

In both my classes this quarter, I had students do discussions as their final projects.

Now, someone might argue that I did this as a way to avoid grading dozens of papers over the weekend, and certainly there's a reasonable case to be made for that.

However, while not having to pore over student writing for the next three days is a benefit, I think I can safely say that wasn’t my primary motivation.

The main thing I want students to take away from philosophy courses is the ability to engage in dialogue about questions whose answers are neither readily apparent nor answerable by consulting a manual. I want people who take my classes to learn to discuss with others and develop solutions and answers that emerge from those discussions.

And I think this was demonstrated in both the Philosophical Ethics and the Business Ethics classes.

I was really impressed with how able students were to take on the discussions in groups of four or five. And it seemed like all I had to do was occasionally insert myself into their groups to keep the conversational ball rolling.

One complaint that could be lodged against this mode of final is that I didn’t create a capstone project that enabled students to pull together all of their learning in the quarter into some sort of grand cohesive whole that demonstrated to all their competence with all the material we took on.

And yet, even when I have had such projects, there’s a way in which no real surprises occur. Students who have done great work all quarter typically do better work than those who haven’t. In fact, I can’t think of any time where a student who’d been really struggling suddenly pulled himself up from the depths of academic failure via a stupendous final, and only occasionally does the converse happen.

So, I’ll probably do discussion finals again, and not just to avoid grading papers…although that’s nice, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Healing Power of Cycling

I use a plastic shower cap as a cover for my leather saddle; it’s cheaper and less of a loss to lose than the official Brooks model. Over the years, I’ve gone through a number of caps and so, have become something of a connoisseur of them, at least insofar as they function as bicycle seat covers rather than hairdo water keeper-offers.

I’ve been quite happy with the one I’ve had of late; it’s a thicker vinyl than most models and while it doesn’t have the lacy edges that make some models so charming, the elastic around the bottom is quite strong, keeping the cover firmly affixed to its place on my bike even when my rig is on the front of a bus, hurtling down the highway at sixty-plus miles an hour.

Imagine my dismay, therefore, when I left school this afternoon and found that my shower cap had been taken from its seat where I’d left it this morning when I parked the bike. Even worse, it had apparently—at least going by physical evidence in the nearby trash can—been stripped from its place to be used as a makeshift rag to wipe dog shit from, I presume, someone’s shoes.

The thought that someone had selfishly grabbed my saddle cover to clean his shitty footwear and then simply tossed it in the trash seemed all-too-metaphorical for the way strangers regard each other these days and that depressed me considerably.

As I began my ride home, I muttered to myself about how disgusting the whole thing was, beginning, of course, with the asshole who let his dog shit where someone would step in it. Human society, it seemed to me, was exactly that: shit being passed from one unsuspecting sap to the next.

Soon enough, though, I found myself enjoying the afternoon’s ride, and while I didn’t forget all about the shit-swiper, I was able to imagine his predicament and so, in part, forgive him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Too Nice?

It’s the last week of the quarter and I’m still waiting for a few students to turn in their papers, some of which are weeks, even months late. They all assure me I’ll get them right away (except for the ones who are positive they’ve already submitted them), and I’ve insisted that if the work’s not in my inbox by tomorrow, I won’t accept it—even though, with a simple excuse, I’m sure I will.

Some of my colleagues don’t stand for this; they set strict deadlines that students miss at great peril—specifically, receiving a zero for the assignment. I can’t seem to bring myself to do that, even though it would make my life—or at least the grading aspect of it—simpler.

My feeling is that things come up; students would get their papers in on time if they could; that they don’t isn’t a reflection on me, and anyway, deadlines are arbitrary; it’s not as if there’s going to be some sudden advancement in the field of philosophy that’s going to make their writing obsolete if it’s turned in a few days or weeks or even months after the original due date.

One reasonable objection to my wishy-washiness is that I’m being unfair to students who turn their papers in on time; and I suppose in some way, I am. On the other hand, those who are timely know that I wouldn’t dock them any points if they slacked off like their colleagues. And it’s certainly not easier for the stragglers; the longer they take to turn in their papers, the more time has passed since we’ve discussed the material, so the more independent work they have to do.

Another concern is that I’m not preparing students for the “real world;” their bosses aren’t going to let them turn in reports weeks late, so I’m creating false expectations by letting them do so.

But what if their bosses are too nice, like me?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Narcissistic and Self-Centered

In several conversations I’ve been in of late, the subject of narcissism has come up. (And in the spirit of narcissism, I suppose I should attribute that to myself.)

In a couple of those discussions, we’ve tried to contrast narcissism with self-centeredness and while I’m sure you could read up on the official difference between the two, as a self-centered person, I offer here my take.

To me, narcissism is where you see yourself reflected everywhere in the world around you, like Narcissus, staring at his reflection in that clear pool of water. In contrast with his reaction, though, you don’t necessarily fall in love with what you see. Still, narcissistically, you end of up attributing more of the world-at-large to your own influence and being. Consequently, the responsibility is overwhelming. When things go well, it’s your doing and when they don’t, it’s all your fault. Ironically, most of us (and here—narcissistically—I suppose I mean me), tend to be fairly narcissistic in our close personal relationships. When my loved ones are having a bad day, for instance, I blame myself; and to some extent, when they’re happy, that’s all me, too.

On the other hand, being self-centered means that you think the world revolves—or should revolve—around you. It’s not so much that everything out there is your doing; rather, it’s that all that’s doing out there ought to be doing for you.

The image is different: the self-centered person is the sun around which everything else moves; the narcissist is the moon whose shadow falls everywhere.

Toddlers tend to be self-centered; teenagers epitomize, for me, narcissism.

Cats are narcissists; dogs, self-centered. Descartes is the narcissist philosopher; Socrates is the self-centered one.

When I drink too much, I become more self-centered; when I get really stoned, I tend to be more of a narcissist.

The impulse behind writing a blog is self-centeredness; when I read it back to myself, especially online, I’m being a narcissist.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cyclocommuter Magazine

It’s a shame that just thinking about something doesn’t bring it into existence—except, I guess, in cases like the movie Ghostbusters where Dan Akroyd manifests a giant Pillsbury Doughboy simply by imagining it.

Because if all it took was the idea, I would be publishing a really cool magazine called Cyclocommuter targeted at the somewhere between a million and four million Americans who regularly commute to work by bicycle.

Unfortunately, (and contrary what I understand the latest self-help phenomenon, The Secret, to claim) execution matters, too. You have to actually do the work necessary to make your notion real, so, given my preference for conceptualizing over creating, it’s unlikely that Cyclocommuter will ever appear in print.

But if it did, it would contain at least some of the following:

Bike shop reviews: Every issue would profile a local bike shop and talk about its strengths and weaknesses. I would talk about how this place is especially good if you’re looking to buy a kid’s bike, how that place is the best for cheap used parts, and how at another, the mechanics make you feel like a total idiot, even if you’re just a partial one.

Profile of a cycle commuter: I would interview somebody who rides their bike to work most day and get them to talk about their route, their equipment, their best and worst days, and so on. Special points for folks who also run most of their errands by bike.

Equipment talk: I would write about items that make cycle commuting easier and more fun. (This might also be a way to get some free stuff from cycling companies.)

Event reports: There would be a column on homegrown races and alleycats. I’d also include a calendar for upcoming events.

Cycling editorials: Naturally, I’d have to include a column that would give me space to rant and rave about cyclists and cycling. And I could even ensure that I did so in 327 words.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Daylight Savings This!

I’m irked that Daylight Saving Time starts tonight. The spring forward thing always vexes me a bit, but it especially gets me that it’s starting so early this year.

I suppose I should be pleased; often, it happens the last weekend of March, acing me out of an hour of my birthday should the 27th fall on a Saturday. But frankly, I’m not ready yet for the changeover. It’s just started being light about the time I’m out the door; now, I’m going to be another month in the dark—literally as well as figuratively.

The other thing that sticks in my craw is that, as I understand it, this is a mandate from the President supporting the cause of saving energy. Besides the fact that it’s pretty pathetic that this is all he can come up with, everyone knows that what Americans do with an extra hour after work is to drive their cars around, thus eating up in gasoline any energy saving that might take place in nighttime lighting.

I like the fall back thing; it’s great to wake up at nine in the morning and have it only be eight; I find it terribly depressing to rise at a relatively early hour, though, and discover it’s already almost eleven.

For a number of years in my 20s, it always seemed like I had some early morning appointment—often a theater rehearsal—that first Sunday of the change. No matter how much extra time I gave myself, I’d always end up cutting it right to the edge, and then, to make it worse, there’d always be someone more important that me—the lead or my boss or whomever—who’d wander in an hour late anyway.

I’m resolved to getting up early tomorrow, even though it’s won’t really be according to the clock. The good news is I don’t have to be anywhere in particular; the only person who I’ll disappoint if I’m late is myself.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Three Hundred Twenty-Seven

Here is the three hundred and twenty-seventh posting I’ve made to this blog.


This means I’ve probably spent on the order of two hundred hours writing pieces for it, or something like nine or ten days of my life down the drain on an enterprise that is at best benignly meaningless, at worst, narcissistically self-centered, or both.

My original idea was to get 327 pieces written before March 27th, but then I decided to go non-stop 327 days in a row. I guess I’m committed to that now, although many is the day I recognize the full absurdity of the task I’ve set for myself and feel strongly inclined to call it to a halt.

In any event, I’m still an advocate of the 327 word form; it’s just long enough that I usually run out things to say right about the same time I run out of words to say them in.

And I’m still intrigued by the numerological permutations of the number 327, even though I don’t put any stock in what those numbers might mean. But it’s interesting to me that 3 to the third is 27, that 3 plus 2 plus 7 is 12, which is 3 when you add the digits together, and that 3 times (2 plus 7) equals 27, too.

Then, of course, there’s always the 327 cubic inch V8 engines of muscle car fame.

Mostly, though, it’s just an arbitrary fixation that allows me to set a parameter on activities that would otherwise be open-ended, thereby enabling me to tackle them more consistently than I would if there wasn’t that limit.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have written 327 blog entries if I didn’t know how long they were going to be when I started them.

Now certainly a case could be made that that would be a good thing—and far be it of me to dispute it, especially since I’ve already used up all of today’s words.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Not So Bad

I left my rain pants and shoe covers at home today; consequently, I got pretty soaked, at least from the waist down, on my ride home in the chilly wet this evening. It was pretty miserable, especially where rain dripped down from my jacket front into my crotch, but all things considered, not so bad, really. I didn’t melt or anything, and as soon as I got home was able to change into warm dry clothes, so even the discomfort was relatively fleeting.

Grant Peterson of Rivendell fame says that it’s a good thing to occasionally be cold on a bike; I’m not sure I agree, but I did like feeling that I don’t have to be all geared up to ride in less-than-ideal conditions. It would have been a drag had I been headed somewhere that didn’t afford me the option of changing my pants and socks, but given my destination, it all worked out fine.

I was riding the Miyata, which has nice long mudflaps on the front fender, so my feet didn’t have it as bad as they might have. And that kept me from having the full experience of feeling like a frozen peasant that cold toes gives me. When we lived in Minnesota, it was the icy extremities that made me want to start speaking Russian and drinking vodka; so today, as long as I didn’t have water sloshing around in my boots, I could deal.

And what is the larger message to take from this?

There’s got to be a point about making do with less; maybe there’s also something about recognizing that what one dreads isn’t really as bad once you’re in it as it seemed beforehand.

The hills always look steeper from a distance; once you’re actually climbing them, the task is straightforward enough: just keep pedaling until you reach the top.

The hardest part of today’s ride wasn’t being soaked; it was just accepting the first few drops.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Never Again...Sure

I haven’t done this in a while: stayed up late and had at least one too many drinks on a school night. Getting up and out of the house to class by 7:30 this morning was a bit of a challenge, although no less than it was staying alert, engaged, and articulate (sort of) for two hours of student presentations.

“I’m too old for this,” is the standard quote here, and it fits. Mostly, I should know better than to overindulge on occasions that precede early mornings; in any event, though, I survived; my students (unless they happen to read this—an unlikely scenario) were no wiser, and by late afternoon, I’m feeling a good deal less like dog food than when I first got up.

Over the years, my behavior has been less-than-saintly when it comes to the consumption of various inebriants and intoxicants; I used to be able, however, to bounce back more quickly than I do these days. I recall a few nights in my late 20s back in Santa Fe when I closed down a bar and could still be lively and creative for an 8:30 AM meeting. Not so, anymore.

Nevertheless, I would still say it was worth it. Last night was a perfect night for bike riding: unseasonably warm, dry, and clear. A large group of riders turned out at Red Square and we made our way up through Greenlake and then west to Golden Gardens for a beachfront campfire and cookout. Bombing down the twisty hill from 32nd to the park was particularly a blast.

My mistake—if you want to call it that—was leaving the beach and heading through downtown to hit a few restaurant bars—Union, and its sister establishment, Tavolata—that I’ve been wanting to check out.

They were both okay, I guess; it’s certain, though, that I’d have been more with it this morning had I stayed on the bike seat and off the bar stool.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Good Day, Bad Day

It doesn’t take much to convince me a day will be good.

If I sleep all the way through the night until my alarm goes off; if the newspaper has been delivered to my front porch rather than the bushes; if the blankets I use to keep warm in savasana at the end of yoga practice have been folded the way I like; a few things like this and I’m whistling all morning long.

But conversely, it’s pretty easy to tip things the other way. If I can’t find my keys as I head out the door; if someone else’s yoga mat in the storage basket has crushed mine, putting a kink into it; if there’s not enough soy milk left for my granola; a few of these and pretty soon, I’m grumbling from dawn until dusk

My observation about this (apart from embarrassment over my own pettiness) is to note how tenuous—and even arbitrary—is my emotional state. Contentment and frustration are nearly evenly balanced; all it takes is a featherweight added to one side or the other to tip the scales that way.

Moreover, it’s clear that what sets me off in either a positive or negative direction is entirely mundane; what would I do if something really good or really bad happened? If I won the lottery, would my head explode? If I had another bike stolen, would my heart literally break?

Aristotle famously conceived of virtue as a mean between two vices, one of deficiency and one of excess. So courage, for example, is the proper point between cowardice and foolhardiness. But there are some virtues, like honesty, for instance, where the mean is more of an ideal; being honest isn’t, after all, to lie half the time.

So maybe I shouldn’t be straddling the line between good and bad days like this; maybe it should take at least knocking over the coffee pot—before my first cup—to ruin the morning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Oldest Guy in the Room

One good thing about getting closer every day to the occasion of my fiftieth is that I can now look forward to being at least one thing for the rest of my life: old!

I’m sure it will bother me plenty—more than I’m willing to admit—but at the present time, I’m fairly sanguine about the prospect of hitting the half-century mark. As many people regularly point out, getting old sure beats the alternative.

One thing I have noticed more of late, though, is how often I’m the oldest person I run into. Jen and I went out to a club the other night and of the several hundred people there, I saw nobody who’d lived as long as I had. Perhaps I doth protest too much, but really, it didn’t bother me all that much—at least on my account.

What I do worry about sometimes is being that weird old guy hanging around with youngsters. As a teacher, being the oldest guy in the room seems normal enough; when I’m out on a bike ride or in a nightclub, it can be slightly strange, or at least make me feel like it might feel strange to somebody who was weirded out being out in public with people older than their parents.

At the club, I was wearing my vintage Member's Only jacket and had the sleeves rolled up in the full Michael J. Fox Back to the Future style. Some girl tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Oooh, I love your jacket. My daughter had one just like it.”

That’s what I heard, anyway.

When I thought about it, though, that made no sense. It occurred to me she must have said, “My DAD had one just like it.”

Later, coincidentally, we met her sister outside the club, who confirmed that, indeed, her sibling was talking about their father.

That cracked me up and really, didn’t make me feel that weird at all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Three's a Charm

I spent most of today running back and forth from home to BikeWorks in Columbia City trying to get the right size seatpost for the tandem’s stoker position’s new Brooks saddle.

The first time I was there, having ridden the Quickbeam, I misremembered the size and returned home with one too big to even fit in the seat tube.

So, I put the old seat post in the basket of the 420 bike and headed back. At Bikeworks, using calipers, I apparently mis-measured the size because when, having returned home, I tried to insert the new post in the tandem, it wouldn’t fit—I could jam it in, but it wouldn’t slide.

So, I hopped on the Saluki and took the ill-fitting post back, returning, at last, with one that fit just right.

I could be annoyed with myself for doing this so inefficiently, but in fact, it was only at the end the third time I climbed the hill back from Columbia City that I started feeling as idiotic as my behavior would seem to warrant.

The way I look at it, I got in three nice rides and got to visit with the mechanics at the shop three different times. And in the end, the post is the right one, so all’s well that end’s well, I suppose.

In the past, a day like this would have given rise to lots of swearing and kicking; today, for no reason I can tell, I seemed to take it all pretty much in stride. There was a scary moment when I was afraid I’d hopelessly jammed the slightly-too-big post in the seat tube, but a few deep breaths, some grunting and groaning, a slightly skinned knuckle and it all worked out.

I wonder if this is a sign of patience developing with old(er) age. Or maybe it’s just a function of being a bit groggy after a late night out. There’s nothing particularly new about that, anyway.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

All About the Bikes

Here’s a Saturday that seems like a Saturday should be.

After (and during) my morning coffee, I tuned up this department store bike that my friend, Chris, dropped off for me to look at. This entailed cleaning the chain, adjusting the gears, front and back, truing the rear wheel, adjusting the headset, and pumping up the tires. A test ride around the block proved it road-ready; I set it in the garage for him to pick up, or perhaps I’ll carry it over to West Seattle on the trailer tomorrow.

Then I spent about an hour giving the 420 bike some much-needed TLC. I overhauled the bottom bracket, cleaned the drive train, adjusted the deraillers, and shined up the whole rig with simple green. Another spin around the neighborhood to make sure everything was in proper working order; the old bike proved as grateful as ever to be cared-for.

I convinced Ani, Mimi, and Elek it would be fun to ride on the trailer over to 2020 Cycle, and it was. They laughed the whole time, even when we were going barely three miles an hour up even the slightest grades.

At the shop, I splurged on two new Brooks saddles for the tandem, a B17 standard for the front and a fancy tooled-leather spring B18 replica for the rear.

Back at home, I did some minor service on the tandem, replacing the rear derailler cable, cleaning up the remnants of last week’s Fucking Hills Race, and installing the front saddle. (The rear await an adapter part.)

My neighbor, KC, had asked me a few weeks ago would I help him do some work on his bike. Having the repair stand set up in the studio with the door open was my (not-so-subtle) way of inviting him.

I got to pretend I was a real mechanic adjusting his gears. Returning from his test ride he said, “That’s a happy bike.”

And a happy day for me, too.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Currently, the contentious political question in Seattle is “What to do about the Alaskan Way Viaduct?”

This is our 1950s era elevated highway that carries traffic from the northwest end of downtown towards the south along Elliot Bay; it was damaged in the Nisqually Earthquake a few years ago and engineers tell us it must be replaced because it’s certain to come down the next time we have even a minor temblor.

Since our city council and state governor are spineless, the citizens of Seattle have been asked to vote on whether we would prefer to replace it with a new and bigger elevated roadway or a tunnel. I’m told the cost of this civic survey is something like a million bucks.

But the election is the worst kind of solicitation of input; the vote is non-binding, and it’s entirely likely no consensus will emerge from it. It’s like when you’re a kid and mom asks you what you want for dinner; you say Pop Rocks, your sibling says French Toast, but you both get meatloaf anyway.

The op-ed pages are filled with people weighing in on the issue; everyone expresses their preference and nearly all the reasons offered are self-centered. In my mind, the worst reason for going elevated is that people like the view (from their car?); the worst argument for the tunnel is that it represents a vision for Seattle’s future (from underground?)

A few people advocate building a high-rise bridge over Elliot Bay; to me that sounds cooler and more futuristic than the other two options.

And there’s the contingent of people who advocate dismantling the road and converting the waterfront to a grand boulevard; I appreciate the simplicity of that one.

I was thinking today that instead of any of these, we should just take the 3 billion dollars anything will cost and buy like three million bicycles for people to use. And I wouldn’t even need one; I’ve got plenty already.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Unhappy Drivers

As I ride through or near traffic, I can’t help noticing the unhappy faces of the drivers in the cars I pass.

Of course, this could be one of those cognitive bias phenomena, where I only notice examples of what I already believe, so just like the kids in my classes who think old people drive too slowly and never seem to come across senior citizens in sports cars, I might simply overlook the happy drivers, but I’m not sure; it sure seems like everyone behind the wheel is bored, impatient, worried, or otherwise halfway to all the way pissed off to be stuck in a motorized box in a long line of similarly imprisoned humans.

At any rate, I compare their state to my own which, even when I’m cold, wet, tired, or otherwise less-than-ecstatic to be on my bike, is generally positive. Sometimes I wish I were home already or didn’t have hills or headwinds to face, but I hardly ever don’t want to be riding and only very, very occasionally would I trade places with the people I see driving.

Last week on the Critical Mass ride this was especially apparent. (Admittedly, some of the frustration etched on drivers’ faces could be attributed to our blocking—or at least slowing—of their passage through ding-dong downtown.)

This isn’t, of course, an original observation. Anyone who’s ever wended their way through city (or suburban) streets has seen what I mention here. Today, I observed dozens of people in just this state of repose along Bothell Way. None of them even seemed to be enjoying the late spring snowfall we got last night.

I, on the other hand, chilly toes and all, had a big smile on my face as I rolled down the Burke-Gilman trail towards Seattle. Not that I wouldn’t have liked it better were it fifteen or twenty degrees warmer, but for sure I wasn’t wishing I were anywhere else than I was.