Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sitting and Sleeping

I think I have a slight case of narcolepsy. Whenever I sit down, especially if someone is talking to me, it’s all I can do to stay awake.

This isn’t so much a problem on the bus, or at the movies, but it’s starting to bug me at school. In meetings, for instance, it’s embarrassing to be the guy doing the head nod thing when the president is endorsing our institution’s mission, vision, and values.

But worst of all is in the class I’m team teaching when I’m sitting in the back trying to pay attention even as my eyes are drooping and students are pointing and laughing at me.

Today, for instance, my colleague showed a movie and although I was interested in it, I had to stand up, walk around the room, and lean my head out the window to keep from falling asleep.

I’ve always had something of a problem with statis; I’m a fidgeter, and I don’t like being stuck in one position. But these days, more than ever, sleep overcomes me when I stop moving.

Oddly, this isn’t always the case when I’m lying in bed, especially of late when it’s been staying light and getting light so late and early respectively.

I should say, though, that I’ve got nothing on a couple students in my current class. There are two kids, one in particular, who use the class period as their full on opportunity to catch up on forty or more winks.

One of these students seems to be attempting to take in the entire course content by osmosis. Typically, he arrives at his seat, sits down, slumps his head on his chest or forearm and remains that way for as long as an hour or two.

I don’t have the heart to wake him, although I have been thinking of doing Sharpie drawings on his face. That might not rouse him, but his fellow students would probably sit up straighter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


As of today, I’ve been married for twenty years. That’s pretty good; the only other things I’ve done for as long and as consistently are write little pieces like this, read the hard-boiled novels of James M. Cain, and enjoy margueritas, shaken, not blended. (Even bike-riding and pot-smoking don’t rate; while I’ve done both of those longer overall, there have, during the last twenty years, been fairly significant hiatuses for each.)

This morning, as I rode Mimi to school on the tandem, I reminded her what day this was. “That makes you officially old,” she said. I responded that turning fifty had already done that. “But this makes you officially old in your marriage,” she said.

She’s right: twenty years is a long time to be hitched. It looks like, according to this site, that less than half of married people make it two decades together.

Jen and I both had good role models; her parents had been together more than 50 years when her Mom died; mine had been married something like 48 when my Dad passed away.

I remember being proud when we hit our fifth anniversary but humbled to think that, at that time, my mother and father had been together more than eight times longer. Now that Jen and I are nearing half as long as they made it, the figure still seems impressive.

After 20 years, perhaps amazingly, especially given what Jen has had to put up with, we still like each other. While there have been higher and lower points, one reassuring consistency is that the more time we spend together, the better we seem to get along. All of our rocky spots have been when circumstances have gotten in the way of hanging out with each other.

Plus, perhaps even more surprisingly, we both can still fit into our wedding clothes. Jen has the advantage of being as svelte as ever; I’m lucky that Eighties fashion for men emphasized baggy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cargo Bike Ride

Yesterday, I had a great time on what was originally billed as the Memorial Day Cargo Bike Jamboree, but, later, in an effort to expand the cycling constituency, was changed to the Memorial Day Barbecue. Both monikers express the essence of the occasion pretty well and I doubt anyone who participated would quibble about either name.

I showed up at Pike Market about noon with the Haulin’ Colin trailer, loaded up with my neighbor’s giant-sized Coleman cooler filled with a case and a half of beer, three ten pound bags of ice, and some tofu and Portobello mushrooms marinating in my “secret” sauce of olive and sesame oil, mustard, vinegar, and brown sugar.

There, I met up with about thirty other cyclists on various bikes designed or modified for carrying things. There were plenty of Xtracycles, several front-loading cargo bikes, a Baksfiets, a few old road bikes with big baskets in front, a handful of folks with racks and panniers, some riders with large backpacks or messenger bags, and a couple other rigs pulling trailers.

After milling around a bit, ogling each other’s rides, we set off en masse for Lincoln Park in West Seattle. I found it remarkably satisfying to be in a group of cyclists who were using bikes for such a utilitarian purpose and it was delightful to see the generally positive responses we received from pedestrians, other cyclists, and even cars as our rolling parade made its way across town.

The effectiveness of the bicycle as a means of hauling stuff was illustrated superbly by the bounty we unloaded at the park: copious amounts of food to be grilled, bags and bags of charcoal with which to cook it, and plenty of quaffables, alcoholic and non, to wash them down with.

I was pleased to be of special service to the group in the ice and huge cooler department.

After peak oil, I’m going to make my fortune delivering frozen water by bicycle.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today we celebrate (or I guess “commemorate” is more like it) Memorial Day as a tribute to U.S. men and women who have died in military service. It’s a somber occasion, observed—ironically—by picnics, backyard barbecues, and sporting events.

It occurs to me on this day that I don’t know personally (or knew, that is) a single person who died in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines—or even the Coast Guard. This illustrates clearly, I think, the class divide in our country and reveals in stark outline the way in which military service falls so much more heavily on the backs of families who aren’t like me, middle class, college educated, and White.

I’m not exactly sure how I should feel about this. Certainly, I’m grateful for the sacrifice of those who have died to secure the freedoms I enjoy. And, understandably, I do feel some guilt that I’ve been so lucky as to not suffer any losses personally in that effort.

But additionally, I also feel angry that so many of the deaths have been, to my way of looking at it, totally unnecessary. Of the thousands who have died in the current Iraq War, how many have really sacrificed their lives for a meaningful cause? Of the tens of thousands who died in Vietnam, how many really helped make me, as an American, safer, freer, or more secure?

To ask these questions is not, I hope, to convey any disrespect for the lives lost; I have no doubt about the nobility of all the fallen and nothing but respect for their efforts.

But the wars themselves do not, I think, have any similar measure of nobility. Every one—at least in my lifetime—seems a grave failure of the human spirit. Each represents a defeat for the highest ideals of human beings—compassion, understanding, trust, and care.

On this day, therefore, I mourn not only lives lost, but opportunities missed, as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Movie Day

Yesterday, I saw three movies—“Surf’s Up,” “Monkey Warfare,” and “Office Space,” at three different venues—Pacific Place, the Egyptian, and my house. I liked all the films and, in spite of sitting down more than I prefer, felt reasonably satisfied with the time spent watching them.

“Monkey Warfare” was my favorite of the three. It’s an independent feature from Canada that tells the story of Dan and Linda, a couple of middle-aged bicycle-riding pothead ex-radicals from the Sixties who make ends meet in their underground lives by scavenging garage sale items and selling them on eBay; one day, Dan, played by Don McKeller (one of my favorite actors; I chose to see the film because he was in it), makes the acquaintance of Susan, a twenty-something wannabe radical who has easy access to the excellent organic B.C. bud he covets, and as she becomes his regular pot dealer, he, and eventually Linda, develop a quasi-parental relationship with her that leads to shakeup in all their lives.

Among other things—excellent acting, witty writing, a great selection of protest rock from the 60s and 70s, including the MC5—the film paid tribute to boys and especially girls who ride bikes. One short musical sequence featured clips of about a dozen hot bike chicks on their upright three-speeds happily two-wheeling through the streets of Toronto, much to the re-awakening of Dan’s somewhat dormant libido. It’s no wonder I gave the film a 5 out of 5 rating on the rating cards SIFF passes out.

At home, I screened “Office Space,” which, I’ve read, is the one cultural artifact that college teachers these days can count on as having been seen by all their students. Even though it was pretty over-the-top in its parody, I thought it did a fine job of humorously capturing the soul-numbing boredom of life in the cubicle.

And it’s no wonder the 20-somethings in that situation were so miserable: none of them rode bikes.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Mimi and I ride the tandem all over: to school, the grocery store, the lake, and to her friends’ houses for play dates. This morning, we cruised downtown at 10:00 AM, to catch one of the Seattle International Film Festival films, this one, an upcoming major Hollywood release, the animated “Surf’s Up.” (I liked it pretty well; on the quality continuum for kid’s movies, with “Toy Story II” and “Monsters, Inc.” at the high end and “Stuart Little” or “The Rugrats Do Paris” at the bottom, this was squarely in the Pixar’s best territory; I even cried a little, which is pretty good in the realm of evoking responses for computer-generated images on a flat screen.)

After the show, we rode crosstown to Folklife, Seattles’ annual outdoor celebration of music inspired by the “Beverly Hillbillies.” I’m all for mandolins and washboards as percussion, but I have to say that the appeal of them amongst thousands of people eating various foods on a stick is somewhat lost on me. We stuck around long enough to see a fine selection of teenage musical entrepreneurs with their trumpets, saxophones, and/or violins and instrument cases for donations set before them and then rode the roller coaster in Seattle Center, which was the last straw for me.

The tandem then brought us home, up over Capitol Hill, and even though it was one of those times where I seemed to be doing both the captaining and the stoking, we arrived home no worse for wear and never having had to worry about parking or paying for it in all the crowded downtown areas we visited.

I’m surprised that we rarely if ever see anyone else using a tandem for daily riding like this. Mostly, the only tandem riders I ever come across are couples in spandex out for a training ride on the Burke-Gilman trail.

Just another example of how weird her dad is Mimi will be telling her therapist one day.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Epistemology is the part of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge. And because the standard conception of knowledge is justified true belief, epistemology also includes questions about the nature of mental states and truth, as well.

I’ve generally steered clear of these topics in my philosophical training; I took the standard graduate-level course in epistemology from an eminent philosopher in the field and have a working knowledge of the main questions that epistemologists wrangle with. But, for the most part, I never really got turned on to the issues, which always struck me as more technical than practically relevant to our day-to-day lives.

I do, though, find myself wondering more and more these days about what gets to count as knowing something and whether I can ever know if I know anything.

For instance, we’ve got this bigleaf maple tree growing in our back yard. It’s just about the same age as Mimi; it was barely a twig when we first moved in but now, almost ten years later, it’s a strong young sapling, fifteen feet tall, eight inches in diameter at its trunk’s base. But we’re thinking of taking it out, cutting it down so we can relocate the fence that runs along the alley behind our property.

This makes me very nervous, though. I hold a belief that the health and well-being of my kid is somehow linked to this tree. It’s superstitious nonsense to believe this; there’s no conceivable causal link between the vitality of Mimi and the tree. I can explain how I developed the belief, seeing human and plant grow up together, but I don’t think I’m justified in holding it.

And yet, part of me still thinks I have some mysterious knowledge here; I’m unable to completely reject the perceived connection between tree and child. If we cut down the tree Mimi gets a bad cold or breaks her arm or something, I’ll feel awful. That I do know.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Atomic Power and LSD

I was in a conversation the other day about whether we—as a country, a global society—ought to build more nuclear plants to meet our insatiable need for energy. While my own view on this is still informed by a knee-jerk tree-hugger distrust of atomic power, I found some of the points made in defense of greater reliance on nuclear to be pretty persuasive—in particular that way more people die every year from pollution created by traditional methods of generating power than ever died in any nuclear power plant accident. And I also had to agree that modern nuclear power plants are designed more safely than those that have had problems in the past.

In response to this, there is, of course, the very difficult problem of radioactive waste disposal, but then again, as was pointed out to me, this has to be balanced by the global warming caused by the disposal, if you will, of carbon into the atmosphere from burning coal and gas.

Additionally, as many have argued, we shouldn’t think it’s an either/or choice between coal or gas and nuclear; we all ought to work on reducing our energy needs first and then explore smaller, more localized solutions like wind and water power.

My own thinking is that the only way it’s really going to work is to develop a mix of all these technologies, including an increased reliance on nuclear.

If we do this, though, I think it’s incumbent upon society to re-legalize LSD. As the hippies routinely pointed out, Albert Hofman synthesized the drug at essentially the same time as the scientists involved in the Manhattan project created the atom bomb. Their stoned conjecture was that God or whomever had thus given humanity the twin tools to either destroy or save ourselves simultaneously.

I don’t buy the cosmology, but do think that if society could safely re-introduce LSD to ourselves, then we might be ready for nuclear power plants, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A soldier in one of the films my class and I saw yesterday made a claim that really struck me. He said something like in the military, you’re trained to do things perfectly, but in real life, you can’t achieve perfection, so you’re left feeling guilty and ashamed. I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t think it’s only in the military. All of us, everywhere, no matter what we do, consistently fail to live up to our own expectations, and as a result, feel worse about ourselves than we would otherwise.

From the moment I get up, I start falling behind my image of myself. If I get out of bed at 5:07, I think I should have been up by 5:06. I brush, but fail to floss. Doing 100 stomach rolls to get my intestines working only means I ought to have done 110.

At the yoga studio, every pose is an exercise in not being better at it. I come home and shave, but even with a new razor, there are spots I miss. My morning coffee is fine, but if I’d have let it steep another minute or so, it would be better.

And so it goes, all day long. Every effort, though acceptable, is not as good as it could be, but of course, the only reason each is acceptable is because I’m not as good as I could be. Had I higher standards, I’d never be satisfied.

I suppose this is the human condition: we’ve developed the cognitive abilities to conceive perfection but our physical abilities to achieve it lag far behind. We’re like the Salieri character in the movie “Amadeus:” forever blessed to adore Mozart’s sublime genius; forever cursed to fall far short of it.

The best we can do is, of course, the best we can do, so perhaps all we can do is learn to accept things as they are. I’ll start with this, and not change a word.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Voices in Wartime

The Cascadia Student Activities Board brought two documentary filmmakers to campus today for a viewing of their movies and a panel discussion afterwards; both films centered around the experience of American military personnel in the Iraq War and writings that have emerged from their experience. The first, called “Voices in Wartime,” focused on poetry; that second, “Operation Homecoming” explored a wider range of narrative forms. Both pieces were intensely moving and the discussion afterwards, which, in addition to the filmmakers, included a soldier and a medic who had done tours of duty in the war, was provocative, poignant, and much more interesting than the class I would have led had I not brought my students to the event.

Hearing the words of the soldiers in the films and those on the panel afterwards made me cry a couple times but also left me feeling a deeper sense of despair about the situation our country has gotten itself into through arrogance, naivete, bad luck, and bumbling. The human dimension of the war, that came through so well in the personal narratives of people who have been there, made me feel hopeless that any resolution to the ongoing tragedy is possible.

The one thing I did glean was that more killing is unlikely to do anything than lead to additional killing. None of the poetry or narratives presented in either film represented the violence of wartime as a solution to anything.

The piece that touched me most deeply was the final one in “Operation Homecoming.” It was a narrative by a Lt. Colonel in the Marines who volunteered to accompany the body of a dead soldier to the boy’s hometown in Wyoming. He wrote beautifully of his sense of duty and to his fallen comrade and the compassion he had for the youth’s family. When, at last, the soldier’s coffin was lowered to the grave, he said he felt utterly useless.

That’s pretty much how I felt today, too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lummi Island

Thanks to the generosity of some friends on the occasion of my 50th, Jen and I got to spend last afternoon, night, and this morning at the Willows Inn, a charming bed and breakfast inn on Lummi Island, the 9 square-mile fingernail clipping of land that sits just west of Bellingham, WA between the mainland and the larger San Juans.

We had a lovely time, strolling on the rocky beach, drinking cocktails on the inn’s deck, and dining at their on-site restaurant. The scene was pretty genteel, and at times I suspected that our friends had played a bit of a joke on us by checking us into a place that so obviously caters to folks “of a certain age,” but there was no denying we fit the clientele demographic pretty well.

On Sundays at this time of year, the restaurant features fresh prawns as a specialty of the house. They had a cooler of the little creatures, just caught that afternoon, chilling on the deck while we had our pre-prandial libations. I was fairly fascinated by them and couldn’t resist picking one up and holding it as it struggled against my grasp.

Jen was convinced to order some for her meal and we watched them being sautéed alive (although not for long) in oil and garlic. I felt bad for the critters in a way, but on the other hand, as long as they’d already been caught and stood no chance of being released back into the wild, it seemed to me the respectful thing to do to sample one or two.

I found their meat to be fairly sweet and rather richer than I prefer, but tasty enough—although probably not quite enough to justify for me their capture and kill. I liked my asparagus gratin much more, to be honest, and the only ethical challenge it presented was causing me, a short while later, to violate the bathroom maxim, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Meat Puppets

Last night, I went to see one of the bands that, for a time, was among my favorite of all: the Meat Puppets. Their 1985 album, “Up On the Sun” counts as one of the main soundtracks to the period of my life when I was living in New Mexico and falling in love with Jen, and it evokes some of my fondest memories: high desert nights, bopping around the land of enchantment, feeling like my friends and I owned the entire town of Santa Fe.

I’d not really listened to our thought about the Puppets in a long time until I noticed the ad for their show about a month ago. Then, coincidentally, I heard “Up on the Sun,” with its haunting chorus, “Not too much more/Too much more” being played on the sound system at 20/20 Cycle the other day. At first, I couldn’t quite place the tune, in spite of how familiar it sounded.

A quick web search provided the reminder and with it, an array of memories came flooding back. I wondered why I hadn’t kept up with the Puppets at all, while I have, of late, listened again to some of my other SST Records faves from that time, including the Violent Femmes, Zeitgeist, and fIRHOSE, natch.

Anyway, their brothers Kirkwood were in fine form last night, looking as long-haired and stony as ever. The opening band was called “Kirkwood/Dellinger,” and was apparently, Curt Kirkwood’s son’s band. They looked and sounded like a mini-version of the parental unit; perhaps they should call themselves “The Meat Patties.”

The effect, though, was to make the overall show almost like a “before” and “after” review; it had this strange multi-generational theatricality, almost like a PBS special or anyway an homage to Spinal Tap” or maybe “The Osbornes.”

I stayed for most of the show, long enough to hear “Up on the Sun;” I’m not buying the album, but I did download the song from Itunes.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dear Old Dad

I did a variety of Dad-like things today: I mowed the lawn, washed the car, drank a Rolling Rock, and tonight I’m barbecuing. All I need is a pair of madras shorts and a “Kiss the Chef” apron covering up my beer gut to complete the picture.

For the most part, I don’t mind these fatherly chores; mowing the lawn is a necessary evil, I suppose, and since Jen and I are going to take a little road trip tomorrow, I thought it prudent to clean out the car sufficiently that there is room to sit in the passenger seat. The beer-drinking responsibility I dispatched without complaint and I can do the barbecue piece with relative ease on our itty-bitty propane-powered Weber.

I suppose I could gripe a bit about the car-washing, but as a matter of fact, it was sort of fun. Mimi and I went to the nearby do-it-yourself place and she got to use the pressure washer, the force of which, when on high, was nearly enough to knock her down. And then she was an animal with the giant shop-vac; using two cycles worth of quarters to suck up months of crushed pretzels, corn chips, and Cheetohs from the back seat.

My general attitude to these sorts of activities is no doubt informed by my own dad’s. He cut the lawn fairly begrudgingly, usually enlisted his kids, or went to the local drive-through to wash the car, and barbecued with no more frequency than I do. (I think he had some Madras plaid shorts; I’m sure he never had a “Kiss the Chef” apron, though.)

And I’m probably not all that typical; I’ll bet not too many lawn-mowing, car-washing, beer-drinking fathers in America began their day with a two-hour Ashtanga yoga class.

It’ll be interesting, therefore, to see what Mimi considers typically dad-like activities for a Saturday when she’s all grown up: sitting in padmasana, working on a bike, writing for the blog?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bike to Work Day

Today is National Bike to Work Day and this morning the Seattle-area Cascade Bike Club sponsored a big to-do with dozens of “commuter stations” handing out free stuff to cycle comuters as part of their effort of encouraging people to take two wheels to work rather than four.

Mimi and I hit a few downtown stops for free schwag before school; we got a couple water bottles and some Cliff bars, woo-hoo.

I can’t say that I saw a lot more cyclists on the road this morning than usual; I did, though, see more bikes being carried on top of cars than is typical.

Still, I think Bike to Work Day is a worthy event and I have nothing but appreciation for the organizers. I’m sure it gets plenty of people who usually take cars into the office onto their bikes at least one day a year, and that’s a good thing.

Ironically, though, I heard today about injury accidents to two different experienced cyclists I know, a rather strange way to commemorate these 24 hours set aside for cycling.

In one, Heidi B., a young woman I’m acquainted with through .83, wrecked on a training ride with her bicycle team, breaking her elbow. In the other, Alex Wetmore, a longtime fixture in the local cycling scene and moderator of the bicycle news groups, was run into by a left-turning Honda Civic, leaving him with an ugly road rash and a destroyed front wheel.

So, I guess cycling is pretty dangerous in a way, although (knock-wood) my only injuries (so far) have been sprains and scrapes. I’m lucky that most of my commute is off-road and I suppose there’s also something to be said in the name of safety for being as old and slow as I am.

Still, one person’s danger is another person’s ride to work; and as scary as it might be on a bike; I’m way more terrified of commuting by car.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What I Was Thinking

I had all kinds of thoughts that were interesting to me on the ride home tonight. One of them was that it doesn’t matter what you think, what matters is the inference to action. That is, anything you believe is okay, what’s open for review is what you think that makes you justified in doing.

This makes it an epistemological question as much as an ethical one. When am I justified in believing I am justified in doing something?

I like the idea of taking ideas seriously; I wondered how I can encourage students to do so.

My idea for the final project is text karaoke. Students have to find a piece of text with an argument in it whose conclusion they accept and present it in some way that demonstrates they understand it.

It was a marvelously beautiful evening and I felt privileged to have the chance to be outside on a bike taking it all in.

It also occurred to me how important it is to commemorate people who are leaving before they leave. Change is in the air all around and a moment should be taken to recognize that.

At home, Mimi and I composed a song by taking turns writing the next word in the lyric. I thought this could be an example of some kind of in-class exercise for students to demonstrate to me what they’ve learned in our class. How this would actually work I have no idea.

Sometimes, coherence takes a back seat to creativity; the details to be worked out later.

Sitting in padmasana this morning, I had a brief glimpse of an alternate, kaleidoscopic perspective that sitting in padmasana for longer might bring. I think I recall, though, that that’s not the point.

Pedaling home, I thought that one norm I could try living by would that as long as your rode your bike there, you were welcome.

By analogy, as long as you think it, it’s okay.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ride of Silence

This evening, I pedaled in part of the Ride of Silence, the annual group ride commemorating cyclists who have been killed while on their bikes. This is the second year there’s been one of these in Seattle, and my second time participating in it.

Last year’s turnout seemed to me to be a lot bigger; I figured about a hundred cyclists tonight; I think there were like 300 last year.

Part of the reason for that, I think, is the solemnity of the thing. Participants are asked to ride at no more than twelve miles and hour and to remain silent during the ride. That’s fine and represents a perfectly legitimate way to honor fallen cyclists, but I don’t think it does much in the way of attracting people back for another go.

I know that if I’m ever killed while cycling—or for that matter, even when I die of whatever cause—I’d like people to commemorate my life with a loud, raucous, and liberatory ride. I’d encourage the consumption of mood- and mind-altering substances should people be so inclined and I’d certainly want them to talk—especially about me!

Of course, there are any number of appropriate ways to show respect for the deceased. Herodotus observed that the Greeks were appalled at the Callatians’ practice of honoring their dead fathers by eating them while the Callatians could in no way be persuaded to accept the Greek practice of burning theirs. So, in the case of the Ride of Silence, it’s clear that “custom is king.”

Still, I’m a little put off at events that take the fun out of cycling. Sheldon Brown has written about “thons” in this same vein, and I agree. To me, it’s a shame when two-wheeling is turned into a means to support any agenda other than the delightful experience of two-wheeling itself.

Not to diss the Ride of Silence, but when I’m on my bike, I want to make noise!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Fever

It’s a lovely day in Seattle today and I don’t feel like doing anything I should, from mowing the lawn to writing today’s piece. But, whereas I’ll leave the grass to grow at least one day longer, I’ll nevertheless plug my way through these 327 words before heading outdoors to enjoy the evening.

Fortunately, I got all my grading down yesterday since, had I not, I wouldn’t have made any progress on it today.

(I like those kind of counterfactual statements: if a previous state of affairs was different, then the current situation wouldn’t be what it is now, but it wasn’t, so this isn’t. My first logic teacher, John Dolan, had a name for a fallacy of that sort; I forget what he called it, but the example was a statement like, “I sure am glad I don’t like Brussels sprouts because if I did, then I would eat them, but I can’t stand the taste!”)

In the critical thinking class today, we had a guest speaker talk to students about Feng Shui, which our textbook author, Theodore Schick, takes to be another paradigmatic example of a pseudoscience. And while today’s speaker did refer to her discipline as both an art AND a science, she was also almost completely non-dogmatic about her dogma. Students found her willingness to pretty much entirely dismiss the time-honored principles of Feng Shui—just so long as a person’s intention was appropriate—to be a strong point in favor of her view.

(I appreciate that paradox, too: students seem more apt to accept a system of beliefs that the person holding those beliefs is willing to reject. Let’s call this the “whatever” epistemological stance; I say, “It’s my view that and such is the case, but…whatever,” and that makes me more credible somehow.)

Of course, if students didn’t have this view, then our speaker wouldn’t have been so epistemologically ecumenical, in which case they wouldn’t have believed her at all, but…whatever.

Monday, May 14, 2007


If you ask me, and even if you don’t, this is a messed up state of affairs: As reported today in the Times, Adam Feldmar, a Vancouver psychologist, was on his way to Seattle, when, as he was attempting to cross the border “[a] guard typed [his] name into an Internet search engine, which revealed that he had written about using LSD in the 1960s in an interdisciplinary journal. Mr. Feldmar was turned back and is no longer welcome in the United States, where he has been active professionally and where both of his children live.”

The story goes on to quote Mike Milne, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection agency in Seattle, who said the law is clear: people who have used drugs are not welcome here.

“If you are or have been a drug user,” he said, “that’s one of the many things that can make you inadmissible to the United States.”

I hope some other people are as frightened by this as me.

If we’re all to be held accountable for everything we did back in 1974, when, according to Mr. Feldmar, was the last time he used illegal drugs, then we are all in for it, big time.

I’m particularly troubled by this because Mr. Feldmar was never arrested for anything; can he really be held accountable for illegal activities if he was never even prosecuted for them?

Moreover, if his LSD use was primarily during the 1960s, before 1966, to be exact, it wouldn’t even have been illegal.

The precedent this sets scares me; the only positive I can glean out of it is that it probably means that there won’t ever be any more Rolling Stones tours in America.

Just in case any other countries adopt this policy, let it be said loud and clear that any of my own drug references are purely fictional; I’m just playing a character here; nothing I say is to be taken seriously.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Motherless Day

This, then, would be the third Mother’s Day I’ve experienced without a living mother. I’m still not used to it—as if I’ll ever be.

I still awake on this day with the nagging feeling I ought to call Mom, and unlike times when that little voice could be silenced simply by picking up the phone, I no longer have such an easy way to connect with her. So, I’m left really at loose ends, quite a different result from those days I could talk with my mom and have her answer all my questions, even those I had no idea I was asking.

I still sort of expect her to beat me to the punch, which she did the time I waited too long in the day to make the call. Rather than sitting around for me to fulfill my filial duty, she simply dialed my number and reminded me what day it was. This was much more effective in getting me to never forget again than was my father’s technique a few years earlier of phoning me the day before and securing my promise to call.

It’s not, however, that my mom was the sort of mother who put a lot of stock in the traditional sort of expressions of gratitude expected of children on this day; she considered Mother’s Day a made up Hallmark card holiday; nevertheless, she wanted me to recognize and be able to dispatch the traditional expectations for kids on this day, even if she herself didn’t really care all that much.

Were she still around, I probably would have sent flowers and we would have chatted about mundane things: the approaching conclusion of the school year, the recent fortunes of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which vegetables are currently becoming available at the Farmer’s Market.

Afterwards, I would have gone about my day, thinking kind thoughts about her and how lucky I was to be her son.

I still do that, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


We had our family astrologer, Katie Kay, interpret our charts today. This is something we’ve done a couple times before and even though I don’t really believe in astrology, I’ve found her readings, (and today was no exception), to be useful in the cause of self-understanding and domestic harmony.

Many people would look quite askance at this exercise; astrology is, of course, the paradigmatic pseudoscience and astrologers themselves notorious charlatans or at least, self-deluded nutjobs.

I used to hold Nancy Reagan in great contempt for consulting an astrologer (well, not JUST for that; her frozen smile in awestruck devotion to Ronnie was a big part of it, too), and here I am doing just the same thing. (Although, in my defense, at least I’m not basing national policy decisions on the positions of the planets at the present time.)

Katie is incredibly ecumenical in her attitude about non-standard ways of knowing. Astrology? No problem. Tarot? Sure. Angels? Well, if believing in angels makes your life better, then why not?

I, myself, am not able to adopt such an open-minded (some might say uncritical) perspective on what’s so. It bugs me to believe in something for purely pragmatic reasons whether it’s really the case or not.

So, for instance, while it would do worlds of good for my self-esteem to be convinced that thousands of people are reading my blog on a daily basis and taking great comfort and insight from it, I would prefer to not delude myself into thinking that without a good deal more objective proof.

That said, I’m perfectly satisfied to remain in the dark about things; I haven’t, for example, put a counter on my site; as long as I don’t have to know the truth, should I?

I’m sure that this head-in-the-sand attitude has an explanation; I’d imagine it has something to do with my upbringing.

Katie might say it’s my Mars in Gemini; if it works to believe that, why not?

Friday, May 11, 2007

American Idle

As much as I aspire to be a cosmopolitan renaissance man-about-town, it’s clear I have fairly middle-brow tastes: my favorite beer is Rolling Rock; I like powerpop music better than opera, I think coffee ground a few days ago is just as flavorful as the stuff that comes right out of the grinder and, in the most embarrassing admission of all, I kind of enjoy American Idol.

Our little family has established a Tuesday night habit of taking dinner in front of the TV and watching the human drama of musical competition unfold before us onscreen. Like millions of our countrymen, we’ve followed the pathetic and overwrought stories of the performers as they vie each week to achieve their dreams of musical stardom in the most elaborate karaoke night anywhere on the planet.

And while I realize how cheesy the whole American Idol phenomenon is, I’ve been willing to come to terms with my inner cheeseball and accept it, even given the compelling point that people’s fascination with the show is not merely distasteful, but in light of the many problems in the world and the lack of attention they typically merit, downright obscene.

Today, though, the ridiculousness of the whole thing was really brought home to me. The suburban town of Bothell, where my community college is located, was hosting a parade for and mini-concert featuring Blake Lewis, the beat-boxing singer who’s one of the final three contestants.

The entire town was tarted up with balloons and banners and by 4:00, when I left school and the parade had begun, gridlock (except for those of us on bicycles) reigned. It occurred to me that someone (probably the taxpayers of Bothell) were paying through the nose in police and fire department overtime for the privilege of taking part in the Idol extravaganza.

If I were a non-American Idol-watching Bothellite, I’d be pretty annoyed; as it is, I was tickled to catch a glimpse of Blake himself, live.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Testing, Testing

I’m proctoring a test for my colleague in astronomy; watching students work through a multiple-choice examination is an unusual experience for me. In the dozen or so years I’ve taught, I’ve never given a “bubble-sheet” exam; the only class I’ve ever used in-class tests in has been Logic and even there, only sporadically.

It’s not just that I’m too lazy to write multiple-choice examinations, although that’s probably part of it.

Philosophically, I remain somewhat opposed to the whole institution of testing. It’s not obvious to me that most tests do anything more that test a student’s ability to take tests.

Studying for tests is another matter; I think learning takes place when students prepare for exams, but not really when they take them. Perhaps if we could figure out a way to make them study without forcing them through the test-taking exercise itself.

Paolo Friere calls this the “banking model” of education. As teachers, we make deposits of information into students’ heads and then withdraw that knowledge at a later date. Unfortunately for students, they never get anything of much value from their savings and expenditures.

My animosity about testing is somewhat unexpected. I, myself, was a pretty good test-taker, typically doing quite well on standardized exams. My SAT and GRE scores, for instance, were pretty respectable, placing me in the upper percentile (especially in the verbal sections) of all who took them. So, by rights, I should be a powerful advocate for the institution of testing, considering them a true gauge of people’s abilities.

Part of my opposition is informed by having an experience like this, watching students as they page through their mid-terms, making pencil marks on their bubble-sheets. The tension is the room is palpable and mistakes, which normally we encourage as equally valuable in the learning process as correct answers, are to be not merely avoided, but feared.

I’m sure I could test this claim, but I wouldn’t use a bubble-sheet to do so.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Because I’m a sucker for anything bicycle-related, I occasionally read popular cycling magazines that offer advice on how to go faster, lose weight, and crush your rivals in the pelaton. Generally, they tell you to schedule the occasional day off in your training regimen so your body can recover and muscle fibers re-knit (or whatever), thus enabling you to come back stronger, faster, and more vicious on two wheels.

Historically, I’ve been skeptical about this. For one thing, I’m not sure I buy any sort of “training” that doesn’t involve a whip and a chair, or at least a whip and a tub of Crisco shortening.

For another, the recovery thing never really made sense to me. I mean, if some exercise is good, shouldn’t more be better?

Of course, my skepticism about this is likely informed by my never having really worked out enough to warrant a day off, anyway, so what do I know.

Today, though, I’m feeling wrung out enough to just maybe believe the line about needing to lay off occasionally.

Last week, I rode more than I have at any time in my life other than when I’ve been on a tour. I logged close to 200 miles back and forth to school and around town during the week, then another 150 or so on the weekend.

And today, even more than yesterday, on which I added a paltry 20 or so, my legs feel especially rubbery. On my way out to school this morning, I felt like an old pipe-smoking Cambridge Don, slowly turning his cranks on the way to morning lecture. Now, that in itself isn’t such a bad thing, but it’s slightly mortifying when you get passed by a six year-old kid riding a bike with training wheels.

(Full disclosure: I was taking off my vest at the time and putting it in my handlebar bag, but still…)

So, tired, yes, but still not quite exhausted enough to drive.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chatting With the Kid

Here, in the 21st century, there is lots of stuff that I—as a middle-class American male in the industrialized West—do that would strike the space aliens observing me—or for that matter, my grandmother (who, for all I know, is what an alien is)—as quite strange: using a five blade-razor to shave my face, sitting in front of a glowing screen watching people sing and dance on it, eating food that comes frozen from a box, for instance.

But among the strangest of all would be the occasional sight of me online chatting with my daughter, using Yahoo messenger to send single lines of text to each other while she sits at a computer on the couch upstairs and I’m in my basement office typing away.

What would be the historical analogue to this? Shouting at each other across the peat bog? Shooting arrows over the river with notes attached to them? Having an upstairs and downstairs telegraph to contact each other in Morris code?

Odd as it is, it turns out to be a reasonably effective away for me to offer up parental suggestions like “it’s time to take your shower,” asks questions that she tends not to answer in person, like “is your homework done yet?

I’m sure this represents another capitulation on my part; no doubt doctors Phil or Laura would have something to say about what a disservice I’m doing to my child, but as far as I can see, no long-term damage is being done.

Conceptually, how is it any different, really, than dropping her a written note? And from a parental effectiveness standpoint, at least when I type to her, I know she hears me; I’ve got a written record to prove it.

Parenting for me has been an ongoing and consistent adventure in doing things I never thought I’d do; this is just another one of those, and at least I’m not text-messaging on a cell phone.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Older and Wiser?

Yesterday, the New York Times magazine was devoted to a subject that, in coming years, will be exceeded in its prevalence only by its tedium: the aging of the Baby Boom generation and how that great mass of people born from 1946 to 1964 or so are redefining age just as they redefined youth oh so many years ago.

I found the articles about waning sexual desire, memory and muscle loss, and so on pretty boring, which admittedly, may be something of a defense mechanism on my part. I was, though, fascinated in a piece by a guy named Stephen Hall which explored the tie between age and wisdom, and connection that, in some part, anyway, we seem to take or less for granted.

Hall pointed out, however, that just getting old is no guarantee that a person will wise up. (My dad had a tape dispenser on his desk that captured this well, I think. It read, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.”)

Apparently, what experts on wisdom believe, says Hall, is that wise people “learn from previous negative experiences. They are able to step outside themselves and assess a troubling situation with calm reflection. They recast a crisis as a problem to be addressed, a puzzle to be solved. They take action in situations they can control and accept the inability to do so when matters are outside their control.”

Wanting to know where I stand in terms of wisdom (I’m trained as a philosopher to love wisdom, after all), I took the wisdom scorecard and scored a 3.9 out of 5, meaning, according to the scale, I have relatively moderate wisdom, just under a 4.0, which would be relatively high wisdom.

I suppose if I were a wiser person who was able to recast a crisis as a problem to be solved and accept the inability to do so in matters outside my control, I’d be more sanguine about these results.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

There and Back Again

Yesterday, at 11:00 in the morning, I set out by bike to a place called Smoke Farm, about 10 miles outside of Arlington, Washington. It took me just over six hours to travel those 70 miles; this morning, starting at 6:00 AM, I rode home, arriving at approximately quarter past noon.

The point of my excursion was to visit the farm, where I will probably be taking part in a weekend workshop this summer, tentatively expected to explore what it means and do nothing. The co-owner of Smoke Farm, Stuart Smithers, a professor of Eastern Religion at Pacific Lutheran University, had organized a work party, so I arrived to help out the fifty or so college students he’d rounded up to dig fence holes, demolish tumbledown buildings, lay new flooring in an attic space, and, in general, provide free labor for the place which Stuart and his partners envision to one day be a full-fledged environmental, theological, and philosophical retreat center.

I think, though, my main contribution to the event was to demonstrate that it’s not at all an unreasonable bike ride from here to there.

More the half the trip is on bike trails: for the first 15 or so miles, you follow the Burke-Gilman; then, the major middle section of the ride is on the Centennial Trail, which connects the towns of Snoqualmie and Arlington about 20 miles apart.

The Centennial Trail blew me away; it was practically deserted and for much of it, you couldn’t even hear cars in the distance.

At one point, I thought a magic spirit was following me; for several hundred yards a big-leaf maple leaf was skittering up the trail in my wake; drunk on the beauty of the woods, I could only explain it supernaturally.

Only after firmly convincing myself what couldn’t possibly be happening really was, did I notice the fishing line connected from my pant leg to the leaf.

Still, the whole trip was pretty magical.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Not Like Me

Like most people who write a weblog, I spend lots of ink—that is, bytes—complaining. And typically, I’m complaining about other people: Republicans, cellphone users, folks who wear neon-colored nylon jackets and spandex pants to ride their bikes faster than they’re competent to along the Burke-Gilman on days that it’s sunny and over 65 degrees.

What all these people, and others who earn my ire, have in common is that they’re not like me. The live their lives and make choices in them that are different than those I make in mine.

Naturally, therefore, they piss me off and compel me to write snarky little pieces about how creepy and pathetic each and every one of them is.

But really, why should I care?

Whose should it make any difference to me—and especially a difference that is expressed through annoyance—that so many people in the world make so many choices that I don’t or wouldn’t? Shouldn’t I be glad they’re not like me and wouldn’t it make more sense to celebrate our dissimilarities?

After all, if everyone was a cyclist who favored steel bikes and wool garments, imagine how hard it would be for me to not only distinguish myself from the crowd, but also to simply acquire all the things that I prefer.

As things stand, it’s relatively easy to find ample stocks of tofu, leather saddles, and Chuck Taylor basketball shoes for sale. If the world was just like me, though, I’d have to wait in endless lines for all of these and more.

It’s probably primal: I’m driven to denigrate those who express attitudes and preferences unlike mine because I see them as representing a different tribe, one intent upon stealing my fire, Mammoth meat, and petroglyph brushes. But in the contemporary world, it makes more sense to see others as simply a different demographic—one that keeps the waiting list for what I want reasonably short.

Vive, then, la difference.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Budget Meeting

I spent all day long today in budget proposal meetings at my school; from 8:30 in the morning to late afternoon, representatives of various departments came before the committee I’m on, hats in hand, to request funding for projects to be paid for by Cascadia’s 2007-2008 year budget.

And I thought being on a hiring committee was hard.

What’s crazy-making about this is that all the proposals have merit; everyone is requesting funding for something that would make our jobs and our ability to serve the needs of students more efficient, safer, and/or easier. And while some of the requests seem scarily urgent, like purchasing a back-up power supply should the inevitable power outage threaten to bring down our computer network, and others—better counseling support for students “merely” basic to our institutional mission—not a single one I’ve heard so far doesn’t deserve to be have money put behind it.

The problem, of course, is that there is probably at least three times as much money requested as there will be funds allocated by the state for our school.

What is one to do, therefore?

This is why I’m loathe to keep a budget in my own personal life. Our little family’s strategy has typically been to just buy stuff until we’re broke. No sense in making plans that can’t be realized; we temper our desires in the crucible of reality.

I realize, of course, that an organization can’t behave this way: goals must be set and procedures must be followed to reach them. It might be interesting, though, to just give everyone on campus check-writing authority and let us all draw upon the available funds until they’re all used up. We’d probably all have much nice computers and office chairs than we currently do, but I wonder if there would be any paper towels in the bathrooms.

And I’d probably use my money on hiring someone to sit in this very meeting for me.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Good Days to Be a Plant...For Now

If I’m reincarnated as vegetable matter, I’d like to come back as a flowering tree in Seattle at this time of year.

These last few days must be some sort of crazy Mother’s Day brunch experience for plant life: periods of rain showers followed by bright sunshine followed by more rain all over again.

You can practically see photosynthesis in action, plants gorging themselves on water and sunlight.

Yesterday, for instance, it poured intermittently all morning; riding my bike out to school, I changed in and out of my rain gear three or four times. Typically, of course, as soon as I got all plasticed-up, the rain would stop and just as I took it all off, the showers would begin again. As frustrating and slow it was for me, I consoled myself with the bursting beauty of the flowers and leaves all around.

All this weather might be sort of a pain for me, but the flowers, at least, we having a rocking good time.

At school, though, I read this chilling article about how honeybees are dying out in record numbers and that if this keeps up, it might spell the end for commercial production of about a third of the current human diet.

Scientists haven’t figured out what’s causing the die-off yet, but my crazy conjecture is, not surprisingly, to wonder whether it’s the fault of cell phone use.

What if it turns out that the signals upon which cell phone calls are sent are somehow damaging the delicate communication signals upon which honeybees rely? Would people be willing to stop calling each other wirelessly in order to save the food supply?

Getting people to refrain from using their own phones would present a classic collective action problem; even though everyone could see that it would be better if no one called, everyone individually would have incentive to do so.

As bad as that would be, what if what’s killing the bees is blogging?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Marijuana Madness

According to CBS News, “New findings on marijuana's damaging effect on the brain show the drug triggers temporary psychotic symptoms in some people, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions, doctors say.”

Here’s another story about pot that I’m filing under“dog bites man.”

Anybody who smokes dope knows that getting high can make you paranoid; heck, that’s part of the fun.

A couple hits of weed makes you notice things you normally don’t: like how bright the colors of the azaleas are, the transcendence of the prose in the book you’re reading, how magnificently intoxicating is the flavor of a strawberry. But along with that, you’re also made aware of those people across the room laughing about something that’s somehow probably associated with you, or the way the lyrics on the radio seem suspiciously pertinent to your own life, or how scary all those shoes in the closet can seem to be.

One of the most frightening experiences I ever had on dope was way back when, when I first made the acquaintance of my old friend Larry Livermore. The first evening we hung out together, he got me so wasted on a joint of some sort of Columbian something-or-other back when that meant something that I came to the conclusion he must certainly be a psycho-killer who was going to strangle me and leave me for dead in my attic apartment. (Or it could have been the leather jacket he was wearing.)

Fortunately, he was able to talk me down and we became quite close in the days that ensued. I’m pretty sure, though, that without that little bit of marijuana-induced psychosis on my part, our relationship wouldn’t have blossomed nearly so quickly. (Or perhaps withered so inevitably, but that likely had much more to do with other substances than cannabis.)

Point being: as the aforementioned study suggests, real schizophrenics probably shouldn’t smoke dope, but for people who might enjoy a little craziness in their lives, why not?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


So, now I’m becoming one of those old people who’s always complaining about his aches and pains, but I’m not really complaining; I’m just noticing.


And what I’m noticing was what a funny practice I had today—funny hmmm, not funny ha-ha.

In a number of poses, I experienced a number of pains I usually don’t and they weren’t precipitated by a tumble or stumble I recall experiencing. For instance, while my wrist is still bothering me in plank pose from the bike crash a few weeks ago, I also felt a weird twinge in my hand in a few of the asanas that require you to put your weight over your palms. Or, even though I’m usually stiff in my lower back during the first few sun salutations, today I additionally felt an uncharacteristic tightness in my hip..

Some of this can be attributed to not doing the full practice these last few days, but I always wonder whether a new sensation is going to be chronic or not.

When people ask me why I practice yoga six days a week, I typically say “because I’m afraid if I stop, I won’t start again.” It’s the same concern that keeps me plodding away on the 327 project, I guess.

There’s that old quote that goes something like, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.” What is it called then, when I do the same thing over and over and expect it always to come out the same way?

I am one of those creepy people who always puts his mat in the same place every day if that space is available. I’ve sometimes tried to practice in a different spot, but it just feels weird. I can’t tell if a perosn learns more through repetition or by switching things up occasionally.

I’ll probably never know, since I’d have to do something different to find out.