Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm an Amateur

I read the NY Times obituary the other day for this guy, Robert W. Shields, who may have been the most prolific diarist who ever lived. Apparently, he spent like four hours a day recording the minutia of his life in five-minute increments, retiring to his study in his underpants dozens of times a day to record everything he did, from pondering God to going to the bathroom. In the end, he churned out approximately 37 million words over the course of some twenty years, making him perhaps the most verbose diarist in history.

For me to get there on 327 words a day would take me about 113,000 days or about 300 years; chances are, I’m not going to make it.

The Times said that “What seems certain is that Mr. Shields believed that nothing truly happened to him unless he wrote it down.” While I’m not quite that obsessed, I do appreciate the sentiment. There is something about recording your days that makes them more tangible; and definitely, as my memory gets more selective with age, it’s nice to be able to look back on what I wrote on a given day as a way of assuring myself that it really happened.

So today, for instance, I’m sitting in the lobby of the Rex Hotel in San Francisco, waiting to meet Richard Leider so we can go to our “author day” at Berrett-Koehler, our publisher. A year from now, I likely won’t recall the strange faux-British décor with lots of bad paintings of dour-looking English women. But, I can refer back to this entry on the blog and remember how my stomach was grumbling a bit in anticipation of a stressful day and because all I’ve put in it so far today is a triple espresso.

That’s minutia, of interest to no one but me, but at least, unlike Shields, I’m not reporting on my bowel movements; again, as a diarist, I’m an amateur.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Revelation, Sort Of

One thing that scares me a lot whenever I stop to think of it is the reportedly high percentage of Americans who believe that the prophecies of the Book of Revelations are true and that in some short order, the faithful will be transported to heaven while the rest of us sinners suffer plagues and pestilence down here on earth.

While I find it hard to believe that the number is as astronomical as the 55% you sometimes hear, I do worry that apocalyptic fundamentalism may be behind some of the foreign policy decisions made by the current administration who, if indeed Bush and/or some of his advisors do hold such views, might be inclined to think the future doesn’t matter much anyway since God is going to sort things out in His own way soon enough.

As a godless secular humanist, I heartily reject any notion of biblical prophecies about the end of days and such and therefore, want to commit myself strongly to practices that increase the likelihood that human beings can sustain themselves for many generations hence.

And yet, in my own way, I too, harbor apocalyptic beliefs that, when you follow out their implications for personal and societal behavior, might not imply so very different choices than do those of the religious fanatics I deride.

After all, is my suspicion that human-induced global climate change will soon doom the human race all that different than the expectation that God will destroy us all before too long? And don’t both those beliefs incline a person to say, “Aw fuck it; may as well live it up now while we can, the future be damned?”

If I’m right about this (and there’s a first time for everything), then maybe I have hit on the perfect campaign strategy for our next President. Bring the bible-thumping evangelical and the Prius driving liberals together under a single Bible verse: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Green Eggs and Ham

I’ve spent lots of time refraining from doing things that I eventually end up enjoying—going to college, wearing socks with sandals, eating eggs—and now, after this weekend, I add another: visiting the San Juan Islands off the coast of western Washington, specifically, San Juan Island itself.

For all thirteen-plus years we’ve lived here, people have asked, “Have you been to the San Juans?” and I’ve answered, “Nah, not really interested. Too much hassle getting up there, and then, you’re on an island, which I don’t like because if the apocalypse hits, there you are stuck out there with no way to get back home,” to which they would respond, “But you’re a bike rider; you should love those secluded country roads,” and I would say, “Oh, that’s for taking bike rides, not bike riding,” and they would roll their eyes at what a cantankerous old fuck I seemed to be even before I was very old.

This weekend, though, along with Mimi, Jen, and her Dad, Sweet Old Bob, I busted my San Juan’s cherry, staying two nights at this place called The Lonesome Cove on the northeast tip of the titular island, and had a blast, drinking in the pastoral beauty of the island scene, riding my bike on deserted country roads, and even sampling the local oysters, grilled up on the Weber until they crack open for easy eating.

It took Sam I Am dozens of attempts to get the shaggy-haired protagonist of Green Eggs and Ham to eat that fabled breakfast, but in the end, he would eat them in the rain, on a train, with a goat, and even on a boat.

I wasn’t pestered nearly as much to sample the island life, which is perhaps why it took me over a decade to succumb; I’m glad I finally did, though, and expect to be back across the water for another visit.

Next up: I try riding a recumbent bike.

Or maybe not.

Friday, October 26, 2007


The next to last thing I remember was somebody saying “where is everybody?” and then someone said, “Well, Nova’s here, so we’re all here,” and then we were cruising down First and she hit a pothole, her feet popped off her pedals and then what I saw was her front wheel turning, crumbling beneath her and then she was diving over her handlebars and her bike rolled over her.

She lay there for long enough that it seemed like she might not get up, but then she did; Derrick in his Santa costume checked her over and we all decided to escort her to the hospital which we managed eventually, even though Kris Fucking Kringle insisted on taking a detour including at least two through traffic, but then, there we were and our hero had her bike on her shoulder carrying it into the emergency room.

Resiliance. That’s what I like about my bike gang; we persevere.

And counterpoint: one minute we’re like some sort of Special Operations Unit taking over the street to care for a fallen comrade, the next we’re a bunch of drunks in Mustard Bottle costumes, furry monkey suits, and Buster Brown outfits weaving through traffic on our way to Dick’s.

And mechanicals: A safety meeting before Ravenna Park, where the zip line provided limitless opportunities for innovation and entertainment, capped off by four on a swing and bruises for Cowgirl Laura on her Bianchi horse.

And exuburance: Cackling like a madman as we rode up the Ave; the Halloween spirits beginning to emerge.

And then it was Duncan with Tyler bragging about how many times he had already crashed on his way to Aladdin falafel, but they made it: that’s perseverance.

I’ve heard a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; I say, it’s only as strong as it mends the broken ones.

This chain of fools carried on and I’m sure without me, but no missing links; that’s resilience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Because I ride the bus most weekday mornings and because I don’t like to miss it, I spend some fair amount of time most days waiting for it. If I were bolder about my ability to race from home to Third and Jackson and more confident that Sound Transit drivers were likely to keep to their printed schedules, then I might be more willing to cut things closer, but as it is, I usually arrive at the stop five to fifteen minutes before my bus arrives. Consequently, I end up standing around, looking at people, cars, and buildings until my ride pulls up.

I don’t especially hate this, but I do wonder whether I’m wasting my life away in moments that I could be spending doing something else, more productive, move loving, maybe, or more fun. I mean, there I am, at 7:20 in the morning, watching people get off the Sound train from Tacoma, when I could, were I less frantic about arriving on time, be having another half cup of coffee with my wife and daughter before heading out.

It’s a truism that, as we age, we seem to get less anxious about passing empty moments like this and it’s commonly observed how odd that is: you’d think with less time remaining, we’d want to pack as much as possible into it. My guess is that by a certain time in our lives, we’ve come to notice that most of what we do or don’t in any given moment doesn’t matter nearly as much as we once thought it did. So, back when I was 25, for instance, because every second of my life represented twice as large a percentage of it as it does now, each one seemed all that much more important.

Now, though, with—if not the wisdom, at least the experience—of age, I’ve come to believe that ten minutes here are there hardly matter …although twice that many probably would a lot.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Human-induced global climate change has probably already doomed us; and likely, we’ll succumb in unexpected ways. It won’t be rising seas or tornadoes that do us in, it’ll be something far less dramatic, like a bacteria that thrives in warmer temperatures and melts our flesh or simply causes billions of us to die from some more virulent form of the common cold.

Today, I think I got a taste (literally) of what it might be like as I rode home on the Burke-Gilman, besieged, on this remarkably beautiful and unseasonably warm day by millions of gnats apparently, I guess, sprung from their winter resting places by the near record high temperatures this afternoon and early evening.

My conjecture is that the birds that would normally eat them up are already gone for the season and so the critters were able to just go wild; in spring, it’s not unusual to pass through swarms at certain points along the trail; today, though, all the way from Bothell to the UW, I was passing through what looked like floating dandelion fuzz but which, upon closer inspection was tiny flying insects. They coated my shirt and pants, blotted up on the lenses of my glasses, and stuck in my eyebrows and when I wasn’t careful, my mouth and nose.

Given how annoying it was, I kept wondering whether if this were a more frequent occurrence, would I give up riding between school and home. Probably not, but it certainly bugged me (ha-ha) way more than your typical drizzle on an October day.

And I do believe that, unfortunately, this is the sort of thing we’ll be looking forward to (although not happily) in the years to come. As the historic predator-prey relationships go out of whack more and more, we’ll see all sorts of things nibbling at us that would normally have been consumed by something else.

At least these gnats didn’t bite; riding through them though, did kinda suck.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Good Game, Anyway

The Steelers fell 31-28 on a last second field goal to the Denver Broncos last night; again, I blame myself: I didn’t start drinking Rolling Rock until they were already down by two touchdowns, and I was trying to listen to the final game of the American League playoffs at the same time.

So, on the Broncos’ final drive, when I should have been fully focused on helping the Black and Gold defense tighten up and make big plays, I had an ear tuned to the travails of the Indians as they fell apart faster than a cheap suit in the seventh game at Fenway.

The game at Mile High Stadium was a good one, anyway; the offense moved the ball well and Roethlisberger looked pretty sharp, especially in the second half. Hines Ward dropped a pass or two, but I chalk that up to being rusty after his injury layoff and last week’s bye. Except for a fluke play on which Big Ben juggled a low snap, had the ball slip from his grasp as he was hit and roll on the grass as the fumble was run back for a Denver touchdown, Pittsburgh would likely have prevailed.

Alas, though, it was not to be as boys from the Burgh fell to 4 and 2, still good enough to lead the division, but not nearly as comfortably in control of their destiny as they looked a couple weeks ago.

Worst part about it was having to eat crow in front of my Monday morning Logic class over whom I got to lord the Steelers win against the Seahawks the week before last. We’ve been doing categorical propositions, so used as an example of translation into formal language the English phrase, “The Steelers beat the Seahawks” into something like “All teams identical to the Pittsburgh Steelers are teams that beat the Seahawks.”

Unfortunately, it’s also true that Some teams the Steelers lose to are teams from Denver.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bring It On

Another thing I like about being a cyclist is that it makes me less afraid of the weather than I would be otherwise.

When you’re inside, hearing or surfing for the weather report, or even when you look out the window and see the rain coming down, you’re apt to be more concerned than you might otherwise be about what’s going to be falling from the sky or blowing through the trees.

But when you’re outside on your bike, even if you’re getting drizzled upon, even if the headwind is pushing you all but backwards, you tend to see that it’s not as bad as you might have thought it was and you’re able to go on about your daily business, the elements be damned.

On Thursday afternoon, at my school, we received an email canceling a late afternoon meeting because near gale-force winds were being predicted for the afternoon commute. Nobody, of course, really minded much getting out a bit early, but as I rode home, it became clear that the worry was a bit hyperbolic. Sure, it was windy, and yes, the Burke-Gilman trail was littered with fallen branches, and indeed, a few times, twigs and leaves blew past my face somewhat too close for comfort, but the day was far from being dangerous enough to require battening down the hatches and staying indoors.

Or today, here in our fair city: it’s dreary and dismal outside, but when you’re out in it, you realize that it’s actually kind of pleasantly misty and that the sky is all shimmery silver edge-to-edge.

Of course, winter hasn’t really begun yet, so I’m pretty sanguine about the season’s gloominess so far. Come December, when my jacket hasn’t dried out for two months and my gloves smell like cottage cheese, I’m sure I’ll be much more inclined to complain than now.

Still, if I just get out in and ride, the worst that will happen is getting wet.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Taking the Initiative

As usual, we’ve got a number of contentious ballot issues on this year’s election slate; as usual, the backers and opponents of those measures are inundating the electorate with all sorts of half-truths and whole lies in an attempt to sway the public in favor of one side or another; and as usual, the people (and here I include myself) are no more qualified to assess those claims than they are to drive 6000 pound motor vehicles while talking on cell phones and drinking hot coffee, an inability, unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent them from doing so, resulting in accidents no less ugly, but far more frequent than the yearly results on the first Wednesday morning after the first Tuesday in November.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the ballot initiative process is the worst thing to happen to our country’s alleged representational democracy since the Electoral College. All it does it let a bunch of ill-informed voters (and again, here I include myself) make decisions that historically, and according to our Constitution, ought to be made by elected representatives since, after all, isn’t that what we elect them for in first place?

So, this year, for example, we’ve got a ballot measure that asks whether we should tax ourselves to the tune of a hundred dollars or so on car tabs and other automobile-related expenses to fund some billions of dollars in road and transit projects. I say “sure,” or “maybe not,” or “hell no;” I can voice my opinion, no problem, but do I really have the information to make an informed choice? To acquire it strikes me as a fulltime job—and isn’t that what I’ve elected those bozos in Olympia to do?

The other contentious one has to do with whether policy owners should be allowed to file lawsuits against their insurance companies when claims are contested; I’ll probably vote for it, but I’d rather have elected officials who took the initiative to lead, instead.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mr. Know-It-All

Sometimes when the wife and I get into a heated discussion, she’ll say something like, “You always think you know better than anyone else!” as if I were meant to take that as a problem, or character flaw, or point against me in our little talk.

But I can’t deny it; I do: most of the time, in most situations, I am of the opinion that my opinion is the superior one, and that’s only because—as far as I can tell—most of the time, it is.

Now, it’s not as if I have a wealth of evidence to support this view; heaven knows, (as does anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes with me), I am among the more fallible of all us fallible human beings around. Many of my views on the nature of things are mistaken, I’m lousy at math, and I don’t know a thing about home repair beyond taking out my checkbook and signing away more of the kid’s inheritence.

Still, I remain relatively convinced that I know better than most people about most things. I would imagine this is a gift (or curse) from my parents, both of whom were inveterate know-it-alls about pretty much everything. The difference, though, between their airs of confidence and my own is that, in my dad’s case, he did more or less know it all, and in my mom’s, she could convince you she did, whether she knew anything about what she was talking about or not.

And so, I can’t see past my own nose when it comes to determining who has the better view of things; nor am I able to see why I shouldn’t.

There have been times when it’s been said to me something like, “You could ask everyone you know and they would all think differently than you do on this one.” And I would say, let them; it’s just too bad for them they’re wrong and I’m right.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Close Nit Family

We’re sitting around he dinner table last night and the kid says “I think I have lice,” and we’re all like, “No way, that’s just the little kids at your school,” but we take a look anyway, and lo and behold, we see a number of little pediculus capitus wandering around in her hair, so, like anyone faced with problems like this in the 21st century, we get on the internet and read all about it.

But then, we talk to our neighbors, whose kids had them a couple months ago, and a bunch of parents at Mimi’s school, where cooties have been endemic all year.

Of course, Jen and I are relaxed about in on our score, thinking this only happens to kids and are reassured by online information that says it’s mainly in the under-twelve set, but we can’t help but feel itchy, in spite of what reason tells us.

So, we opt to run the nit combs through our own heads and fuckin’ A if we don’t each find a few of the little six-legged creatures wandering about on our own coiffures, so after all these years of being accused of being a nit-picker about one thing or another, now I really am.

The lesson, I guess, is that this can happen to anybody, even conscientiously tidy folks like ourselves. Now, we’ve been vacuuming and clothes-washing and shampooing like crazy the last 24 hours or so and I guess this would be my chance to shave my head if I really wanted to, but I’m thinking maybe I’ll bleach it instead.; if that shit doesn’t kill anything that lives, I don’t know what would.

I remember being in second grade and Kerry March, this kinda grimy kid was taken from the classroom for having head lice; everyone got sent home to have their parents check them out.

My mom just rolled her eyes and did nothing; I wish I could do that, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Students Getting It (In Spite of Me)

Yesterday I attended a teaching seminar in which a bunch of my fellow instructors and I wondered whether having a clear and explicit theme for a class helps students learn.

Certainly, it seems reasonable to assume that if a teacher knows what he or she is doing, then students are apt to learn more; however, lazybones that I am, I couldn’t help but push back at that a bit, probably with the hope that if it doesn’t really matter, then I won’t have to prepare as much as I now do for the classes I teach.

I couched this in terms that, believe it or not, I do actually believe: I’m not entirely sure classes that are well-organized around questions, problems, or issues that instructors can clearly articulate really do provide the most transformative learning experiences. After all, if I know exactly what I expect students to get out of a class, then that might be all they get; if I’m not certain what we’re trying to do, magic can happen.


Anyway, as a matter of fact, I do usually know what I’m trying to accomplish in a given course, even most courses, and usually, as a matter of fact, most of the classroom activities we engage in. (Not that I always reach those outcomes, but still, most of the time—except after the infrequent late-night midweek bike ride—the general idea is there.)

In Logic, though, which I’m teaching this quarter, I’ve tended to be less sure about the point of it all. (The main reason I studied logic as an undergraduate was to get out of math classes.)

So this morning, I asked my logic class what they thought the reason for our study of logic was and they wrote answers like learning to analyze arguments, and persuade people without appealing to emotion, and critiquing the mumbo-jumbo of media and politics!

Several though also said they just didn’t want to have to take math.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Flat Fixing

I find the act of fixing a flat on my bike pretty satisfying; it’s a mark of how abstract and confusing my life is that the simple task of removing an inner tube, patching it, then replacing it back inside a bike tire and pumping the thing back up gives me such a feeling of accomplishment. Few things I do present themselves so clearly as a problem to be solved and even fewer have such a straightforward solution.

Now, this doesn’t mean I always enjoy fixing a flat; it’s not so much fun when I’m pulling off my tire in the pouring rain by the side of a busy street, but by and large, most of the time, the warm feeling of the job well done outweighs the “grrr” factor I experience upon that telltale feeling of my tire losing air.

When I came out to the shed this morning, I discovered that the rear tire on the Saluki was almost airless. Naturally, I said, “Shit!” but fortunately, all I had to do was grab a different bike to ride away.

Upon returning home tonight, I brought the Saluki down into the basement and repaired the tube at my leisure. The hole in it was pretty tiny; I probably could have pumped up the tire this morning and just let it slow leak all day long; still, it’s a luxury to repair a flat in the basement instead of on the shoulder, and I was happy to avail myself of that.

I always think of my dad whenever I fix a flat; I remember him showing me how to find the leak in the tube by pumping it up and submerging it in water to look for bubbles. I didn’t have to do that this time; the hole was big enough to see but small enough to fix with one small patch.

Of course, with all this talk of flats, I’m sure to get another one tomorrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bye Week

The Steelers have their bye week this week, so my interest in the games on tap today and tomorrow is purely intellectual, as opposed to inspiring a deep emotional response from the darkest depths of my fragile psyche. Sure. it’ll be great if the Seahawks win and I’ll be pleased if the Packers prevail and the Browns and the Bengals both tank, but it’s a completely different animal than when the boys in Black and Gold are involved.

I try to make things more interesting by laying small bets on; I’ve had some success this season taking the underdog at home when it looks like the game might be closer than the oddsmakers predict. This week, for instance, I like the Jets and Falcons with points, and I even picked the Cowpokes plus 5 in their showdown against the Cheatriots; saying this, of course, will probably blow the whole strategy sky high, although an article in the Times Magazine last year did point out that, as a general rule, sports bettors are irrational given that, over time, taking the home underdog with points will tend to pay off, yet players fail to exploit that.

I myself am guilty of that failure, too, but only when the Steelers are favored away; I can never bring myself to put money down on their opponent although I could win money if they fall to my team; it seems wrong somehow to not want the margin of victory to be as large as possible. I have, in the past, bet against Pittsburgh to win, thinking that if they lose, at least my disappointment will be tempered by pecuniary gains; that doesn’t really work, though: I end up feeling guilty making a profit off the boys’ failure and with a nagging suspicion that their defeat is partly my fault.

So these days, I stick to the over/under only in Steelers’ games, with a bias towards the under until Hines Ward returns.

Friday, October 12, 2007


When I was a scrawny four-eyed geek of a teenager, I got called “homo” all the time; not because I wanted to have sex with males—except my social studies teacher, Brother Bernard, but that was to get an “A" in the class—but because, I think, I simply loved my friends too much and was just geeky enough to let them know in inappropriate ways for an adolescent boy: like giggling and waving my hands about saying something like, “Aw jeez, guys, aren’t we all like the best friends ever?!”

So that’s kinda how I felt like a big homo on the bike ride last night; pedaling along behind the dozens of blinkies winking at me from cyclists up ahead, eavesdropping on conversations of riders behind, shouting “wheee” as we poured down a winding hill to a secluded beachfront in Magnolia; I was all “Awww, ain’t these guys the greatest?" especially after the pre-funked stink butter kicked in—coincidentally, same as last time along the Myrtle Edwards trail, and even before we ended up at Gasworks Park overlooking a hilariously charming skyline view of Seattle, so picturesque that it seemed like a model put together in a Tokyo film studio to be stepped on by Godzilla at the movie’s climax and well before getting all smashed and bleary-eyed sentimental at the Knarr.

In between, I got to talk to the magical Daniel Featherhead at this pizzashop in Ballard about his epic bicycle trip to a piece of land he inherited in New Mexico; I love the idea of setting forth on two wheels to end up at a place whose location you’re unsure of until you get there—which was kind of last night, full of surprises, but none as unexpected as seeing Henry crash sideways on a concrete seam and then DJ Strokey go endo-ver him but fortunately, no broken bones for anyone which I’m glad about because aw man, I just love those pointy-threes, all of them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Zoom Zoom

This quarter, I teach at 8:45 in the morning on Mondays and Wednesdays, which is no big deal except that it takes an hour from the bus stop to school, which isn’t a problem other than that I need to budget fifteen minutes from the time I’m on my bike to when I arrive at the corner of Third and Jackson, which itself is no worry except that I want to make sure I have half an hour to make coffee, eat breakfast, scan the newspaper, and get my rain gear on if needed, which is easy enough to do as long as I get thirty minutes or so to shave, shower, and dress, which I can handle just fine insofar as I have an hour to do a half primary Ashtanga series including finishing poses and a short Savasana, which is reasonably do-able just in case I’ve had twenty minutes to wake up, do my stomach exercises, and take care of my morning constitutional.

So, these days, I set my alarm clock for 5:11 AM, am downstairs and out of the bathroom by 5:30, have completed my yoga practice by 6:30, am into and out of the shower and have shaved by 6:45; coffee’s made and drunk by 7:00; I’m geared-up and on my bike by no later than 7:10; and have raced down Jackson and am waiting for the 522 Express to pull up at its scheduled arrival time of 7:27, if all goes like clockwork—as it all had better, or I’m basically fucked for showing up in class on time.

I don’t mind the early rising all that much; it’s the tic-tic-tic aspect of the morning that gets to me; there’s never a moment from the moment I rise that I’m not aware of the moment.

I don’t think people are supposed to live like this: if I want to stop and smell the roses, I have to start a stopwatch to do so.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pumpkin Beer

Fall means flaming red leaves on the Cherry Street maple trees, intermittent sideways rain and putting your rain gear on and off two or three times on the way home, your favorite football team breaking your heart all over again, and, of course, pumpkin beer.

Mmmm, pumpkin beer.

The Elysian Brewing Company (and probably some other places in town) have this seasonally; a pumpkin-flavored ale with a hint of cinnamon or maybe nutmeg and allspice so it’s like drinking a slice of pumpkin pie. You wouldn’t want to only drink it; that is, you wouldn’t want to have no other beer choices, but my goodness, it’s so good that I have been occasionally, during the last few weeks that it’s been offered, finding excuses to ride over there and have a quick pint (or two), even when I’m not all that thirsty or in cases I should be somewhere else.

It’s funny to find yourself craving something like this; now I know how it feels to be a junkie or at least how it feels to be this guy I’m acquainted with, Don, who told me in passing that sometimes he’d be driving down the street near Ezell’s Chicken and couldn’t help himself from stopping in and getting a box of wings. When I heard that story, I was all like, “Oh, sorry you have no willpower, man; if you were a more evolved person you could reign in your animal desires and ascend to a place of higher consciousness, like me.”

But now I see I’m just the same as that, only with a different item I’m attracted to. It’s easy for me to eschew fried chicken flesh, but not so simply to refrain from an frothy amber ale, whose pumpkin tones tickle the nose and tease the palate.

It’s been a couple days since I’ve been to the Elysian for some of their signature Night Owl; tomorrow, though, I’ll probably be sipping pumpkin pie.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Testing, Testing

People often characterize philosophy as having no right or wrong answers; philosophers tend to push back at this. Even someone like me, who isn’t especially sympathetic to the view that there exist objectively true answers to most interesting philosophical questions still tells students that even if there are no right or wrong answers in philosophy, there are certainly better and worse ones.

Except, of course, in logic, where there are straightforwardly correct or incorrect responses to all sorts of inquiries and problems, even if those answers are no more than filling in the right boxes in a crossword puzzle or a sudoku game.

Consequently, when I teach logic, I routinely make students take traditional tests; and while I haven’t succumbed to subjecting them to multiple-choice scantron examinations, I do require them to sit there, with sharpened pencils, and answer a bunch of questions I’ve prepared that I will then read and grade according to whether they produce answers to questions with the answers I expect them to.

I’m guilty here of the so-called “banking model of education,” where you make deposits of knowledge into students’ heads and then withdraw that knowledge at a later date—hopefully, with interest.

I justify this less-than-ideal teaching strategy by telling myself that I’m not simply putting in and taking out the very same facts; I am, I hope, providing students with skills that they can then apply to novel problems, even if they are problems quite like ones they’ve presumably seen before, on the homework and in class.

I’ve graded about half the tests, though, and am pretty surprised by how badly many of the students are doing. I had thought that I’d gone overboard in my explanations, even giving a practice test and the opportunity to review and ask questions to their hearts’ content. They said they were ready, but they’re bombing out right and left.

So if my task was to prepare them to succeed, I’m failing this test, too.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Taking It For Granted

My life isn’t perfect: I could stand to be more flexible and pain-free; it wouldn’t be bad to be richer; and there still isn’t a Henry’s Hunan restaurant in Seattle; still, most things considered, I have it made, even though I usually take that almost entirely for granted if not ignore it completely.

Like this morning, for instance, I got to get up at a reasonable hour, take a bike ride in relatively warm weather through reasonably safe, fairly empty streets, plop myself down with the New York Times in an almost-empty coffee shop that whose roasts coffee experts consider some of the best in the world, and now I’m sitting on my posterior watching my childhood hometown faves the Pittsburgh Steelers take on my current hometown second-faves in an NFL game on TV while listening to the radio broadcast from Pittsburgh through the miracle of the interwebby-thing.


There’s probably an evolutionary adaptive advantage to being easily dissatisfied; no doubt our hunter-gatherer ancestors who wanted more than a single leg of mastodon did better at passing on their DNA those who rested complacently at a single serving, but still, it seems odd that we all tend to be more concerned with what we don’t have than what we do.

Why, for instance, should I be so bent out of shape about not being able to be more bent out of shape, instead of resting happily that I can rest happily without hurting? Or how come I complain to myself that I can’t afford to fly to Paris for the weekend when I can, if I want, lay out 200 bucks for lugged handlebar stem for my new bike to be.

Shouldn’t I be more pleased with what I’ve got than displeased with what I haven’t? Seems sensible, but maybe not: right now I’m bummed that the Steelers aren’t winning even though, with a 0-0 score at the end of quarter one, they’re not losing.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The World Without Us

Read the recent best-seller, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, in which he carries on a book-length thought experiment about what the world would be like should human beings suddenly cease to exist. It’s both slightly chilling and strangely uplifting, sort of the inverse of those shows where we see how things would be today had Germany won World War II or Rome not declined and collapsed.

One of the things that’s quite striking is how quickly many of the artifacts of contemporary civilization would begin to be overtaken by nature. In an oft-cited example from the book, Weisman conjectures that the subway tunnels in New York City could be completely flooded in as little as 36 hours and from then, it would only be a matter of a relatively short time before pavement began collapsing overhead and Lexington Avenue eventually reverted to being a river. Weisman also points out that the concrete and steel skyscrapers of the city, subjected to repeated freezing and thawing would crumble much faster than the older brick buildings like Grand Central Station. That makes me glad; when the anthropologists and paleontologists of the future come to visit Manhattan, it would be nice if most signs of Donald Trump and his ilk are long gone.

The creepiest part of the book to me is Weisman’s extended description of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a spot in the ocean where due to ocean currents, some hundreds of millions of tons of plastic have collected to create a garbage patch roughly the size of the continent of Africa. And unlike New York City’s skyscrapers, those petroleum-based products are expected to last hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years before they fully break down.

Weisman concludes with a reminder that in some 5 billions years, the dying sun will consume all the planets in our solar system anyway; humans will be long gone by then and the earth won’t miss us at all.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Inspired Stupidity

The world is a serious, scary place: murder and mayhem everywhere, bird flu virus mutating to a strain more easily spread, K-Fed getting custody of the kids; and the only good news in today’s paper is that Bush’s approval rating continues to spiral downward and the Yankees got pounded 12-3 in game one of the playoffs.

So, I’m glad I live in a place where (relatively) grown men can put on kids’ glow-in-the-dark Halloween skeleton costumes and ride bikes and drink beer in the middle of the night without being arrested, maimed, or thrown in the loony bin; fuck representative democracy, a free press, and 24-hour health clubs—this is what makes our great country great!

Last night’s .83 ride had all the elements that, for me, result in a positively transcendent cycling experience: a reasonably hilly route to an outdoor location in town I haven’t been to before, plenty of recreational intoxicants applied liberally to one’s nervous system, and purely random idiocy taken one step beyond the place it’s annoying to become joyously stupid all over again.

It’s a rare opportunity to ride a bike in a group of more than twenty-five fellow cyclists, drunk on bike love (and cheap beer), while escorting a trio of glowing rib cages and femurs—one with a magenta mullet rattail—and not to be missed if it presents itself, and my only regret is that I didn’t snag the last costume myself at the Grocery Outlet store we stopped at for provisions on the way.

It was Tim Burton's Beetlejuice meets Breaking Away with a hefty dose of Dumb and Dumber thrown in for good measure and I was saved, too, from being a complete dunce by good samaritan Matthew (IIRC) who rescued my bike bag I’d left in the field as we rode away and so pathetic fool that I am, fortunately I’ve got sense enough to ride with people who may be stupid, but at least, unlike me, aren’t dumb.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Whom to Root For?

I was hoping that the Mucking Fets would hang on into the playoffs; even though the 1986 team of scoundrels and neo-conservatives pretty much eradicated any love I felt for the Amazings of 1969, I still feel a certain affinity for the Queens-landers, in part because I like some of their players—Paul LoDuca, Shawn Green, and Moises Alou—(and feel sorry for manager, Willie Randolph), but also because, as a Pittsburgh boy, (and right-thinking human being), I can’t possibly root for the hated Phillies, even if they do have the ageless Jamie Moyer on their roster.

But since Glenn Close’s favorite team have tanked in spectacular style, I’m not sure who I’m going to pull for in this year’s version of baseball’s post-season, or whether I should just hope it gets over as quickly as possible and that the Yankees are eliminated in the first round.

Typically, my default choice is to root for the National League team; again, my upbringing in a Senior Circuit town informs this attitude. But no amount of childhood allegiance is strong enough to get me to root for the soulless Arizona Diamondbacks or the parody-of-themselves Chicago Cubs; I could perhaps pull for the Colorado Rockies given their stirring late season charge (and their elimination of the hated Bland Diego Pads), but only, I think, if this was a softball tournament instead of hardball.

Obviously I’m not going to pull for the so-called “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim;” to do so would be apostasy for this onetime fervent Los Angeles Dodgers fan. And even though I was pleased to see the “Curse of the Bambino” finally lifted, you won’t find me cheering for Boston—except when Tim Wakefield pitches; he ‘da man.

So that leaves Cleveland, I guess. And they’ve certainly got the pitching—Sabathia and Carmona—to be a factor deep into the post-season.

Plus they’ve got the Yankees in the first round, so I’m cheering hard for the sweep.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bad Good for My Ego

One of the things I like about doing Ashtanga yoga is that I’m reasonably good at it—not compared to anyone who’s really good, mind you, but compared to your average stiff-bodied fifty year-old, anyway. After more than a decade of bending my body into various shapes on a pretty regular basis, I can manage to do so with some degree of success—at least with the poses that I do pretty regularly.

So, I get to feel, when I reach around my body to grab my big toe while standing on one foot and then bend from the waist to bring my head towards my knee, for instance, that I’m doing something that most people can’t and I get to feel all special and good about myself, even imagining that anyone who might be watching me out the corner of their eye as they do their own practice is saying to themselves, “Right on. Check out that old dude; I hope I’m like that when I’m his age,” or even, “Boy, I wish I could do that myself.”

However, with my left knee all messed up as it currently is, my ability to fold myself into some of the more impressive—and even many of the more basic—asanas is seriously curtailed. I’ve even lost lotus and am essentially, in terms of flexibility on my lower left side, pretty much where I was when I began this journey twelve years ago.

Anyone watching me now would say, “Aw, that poor old guy; I sure hope I’m not as stiff as him when I’m his age,” and I concur; I wish I wasn’t either.

But I’m trying to take this as a lesson in humility; so, I’m not as cool on the yoga scale as I thought I was; as a matter of fact, I am a stiff middle-aged man who isn’t impressing anyone with his slow and gentle practice.

But I sure am cool to think that way, no?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Steelers Lose, Sorry

I’m pretty sure it’s my fault the Steelers lost yesterday; granted the running game never got started and Roethlisberger threw an incredibly ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the Cardinal’s end zone, and yeah, the tackling on the punt return for touchdown by Cardinal return specialist Steve Breaston was awful, but all those are simply symptoms of my own errors and I apologize to the entire Steeler Nation; I chalk it up to early-season jitters and I’ll try to do better in the coming weeks.

See, the thing is, there was a benefit event at my yoga studio for a longtime student there who has had to have shoulder surgery. It began at 2:00, right about the beginning of the second quarter. My mistake was trying to fit that into my schedule along with catching the game at a local sports bar; I should have either committed to staying home, listening to the internet broadcast from Pittsburgh while doing chores around the house (in general, the most successful strategy for securing victory); going to the benefit event and taking part in it fully, just trusting that the boys in Black and Gold would take care of business without me; or I ought to have gone straight to a place where I could watch the game and drink Rolling Rock or at least something besides Heineken.

As it was, my attempt to do all three undermined everything with its lack of focus; and that’s pretty much how the Steelers played. They seemed all at sixes and sevens and never really got rolling: a couple runs here, a few passes, there, a half-hearted gadget play—nothing seemed to cohere and before you knew it, the Redbirds had a two-touchdown lead.

Of course, it didn’t help that Hines Ward was injured or that Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu went down; still, I’m confident that had I been mopping the floor at the time, the outcome would have been better, anyway.