Sunday, August 31, 2008

Campaign Stop

Here’s what I think: let’s have one debate next week and hold presidential election Tuesday, September 8.

All that’s going to happen in the next two months is mud-slinging and shit-storming; both candidates and their parties will be trying to convince us of their moral and intellectual superiority by treating us all like idiots; I don’t really think more time will enable the American people to make a better, more informed choice for Commander-in-Chief; so let’s just end the misery and suspense as soon as possible and get on with the work of cleaning up the damage of the last eight years, even if that old white-haired guy ends up winning, heaven forfend.

At the very least, I’d like to see the publishing of poll data banned somehow, or at least mitigated with some sort of warning label that would say something like: poll results are almost entirely depended upon who asks the question and how; no one should take the results of this poll as particularly indicative of how people will actually vote.

Apparently, the Republicans have cancelled the opening night of their convention so as not to seem like they’re partying down while another hurricane ravages New Orleans. Good for them, but oughtn’t they to cancel the rest of their convention, too, so as not to seem like they’re having fun while American soldiers and Iraqi civilians continue to die in an unjust war?

I suppose it’s commendable of the GOP to act, as McCain put it, “as Americans, not Republicans” (a reasonable enough distinction when you think about it), but the whole thing seems creepily calculated. While the world is watching, Bush and his chums are appear like they care more about people in need than the people they need, but is this supposed to make us forget all about the last eight years of negligence and cronieism?

How about we just put a stop to all the posturing and vote now?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Death of Blogging

Blogging is like SO 2006, don’t you think?

As a fad, it’s as over as goldfish swallowing or streaking; anyone who thinks they’re being hip by writing a blog probably also believes that Members Only jackets and checkered Van’s skate shoes represent the height of current fashion.

I’m talking about me, of course (no surprise there, this IS my blog, duh.)

And yet in spite of the cornball reality of writing and posting to an internet weblog (the name itself is a cry for help, circa mid-aught decade of the 21st century), I continue to pour out my 327 words nearly every day.


Do I really believe I’m making any difference to anyone other than myself at all? Or is there really some upper limit to the reach of my narcissism?

At this point, writing a blog is kind of like being a country music fan, or a heavy metalhead, or somebody who’s never given up their love for Beanie Babies. There will always be a core group of fanatics who continue to ply their obsession with the form, but just as, say, fans of hairdo guitar bands had their moment in the sun around 1983, bloggers will forever recall the heady days of several years ago when it seemed for a moment that everyone who mattered was posting their personal reflections to the web and that this represented a cultural change which would propel the human race into a new era of literary freedom and creative self-expression never seen before (except maybe in Florence during the Renaissance or San Francisco around June of 1967.)

Additionally, for me, writing these pieces provides the same sort of satisfaction that letter-writing did for Ernest Hemingway who said of it something like, “it’s a great way to feel like you’re working without really doing any work.”

All I have to do is post my daily piece and I’m vindicated, even when the work is as moribund as this.

Friday, August 29, 2008

News Flash

Yahoo News reports today that the ranks of the ultra-wealthy continue to grow; in other words, the rich are getting richer.

In other news, the Pope is Catholic, dog bites man, and the Mariners lose.

No surprise here, of course; what would really be newsworthy would be a report that the ultra-wealthy had suddenly all decided to send me some of their loot, so I could join their ranks—at least upping the number of people whose net worth is over $20 million to 47,001.

Naturally, I realize that being a multi-millionaire wouldn’t make me happy. No less an authority than Aristotle reminds us that a life of wealth does not constitute the good life. Nevertheless, I’d be perfectly willing to lie around on my yacht being depressed, especially if I could occasionally take the helicopter to shore and ride around on my fleet of custom Rivendells, crying into my champagne.

I do wonder what it would be like to be one of those people in the upper echelons of wealth, the kind of person who goes on shopping sprees at Prada, or buys matching his and hers Patek Phillipe watches, or who doesn’t even know how many houses he owns.

I’m always taken aback when people observe a super-rich person and say with some element of surprise something like, “Boy, even with all that money, he’s a really nice guy.”


If I had $20 million dollars in the bank, I’d be the nicest, friendliest, most charming guy you ever met. Really. Just try me.

One statistic in the news story that jumped out at me is that the 47,000 people in the $20 million or more category control more wealth than the 846,000 in the $2 million to $3.5 million category. Not all that surprising, I guess, when you think about all the billionaires in that group, but still, even I have no desire to be that wealthy. $20 million would be good news enough.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Convention Speech

My fellow Democrats, Americans, and the few among you who, like me, also put jelly and mustard on our Cheddar cheese sandwiches, I come before you today, proud of our shared history, flush with hope for the future, and quite amazed that so far, no one has gotten pukey from last night’s seafood buffet.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in America, and while the GPS navigation system insists we should turn right, I’m almost positive there’s a liquor store that stays open late just down the road to the left a couple miles.

These are trying times we live in: global terrorism, international instability, fuel prices out of control, and worst of all, NFL Field Pass hasn’t workedd for Mac OS X all pre-season.

The failed policies of the current administration are evident all around: our country’s standing internationally is lower that it has ever been; why, just the other day, Lichtenstein of all places, stood on its tiptoes and was able to see that bald spot on the crown of our head.

I will never forget a man (or was it a group of schoolgirls?) I met on the campaign trail, old Whathisname, who told me that after 37 years of working for the same company, he was suddenly laid off—with no pension—when it was discovered the place had gone out of business 38 years ago.

According to the Republicans, and I quote, this is just “hard cheese,” but I believe we can do better than that—a Brie in every pot, crème fraiche on Sundays.

Back when I was a little boy, my father always said to me, “Son, get me a beer, would you?” And while he often had to get up an hour early in the morning just to beat Mom to the last one, those words have inspired this promise I make to you:

As your President, I will never fail to get you a beer. As long as I’m up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


You know that old defining example of chutzpah? The one where the kid kills both his parents for the inheritance, gets caught, and then, when he comes before the court for sentencing, asks the judge to go easy on him because he’s an orphan?

Well, in today’s Seattle paper, we’ve got an example that’s nearly as good: As the paper reports: “Seattle City Councilman Richard McIver used city money to pay a $1,000 fine levied by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission last month after finding that he had given the appearance of favoritism in awarding city contracts to a longtime friend.”

That’s chutzpah.

Next time I get a parking ticket, I’m going to ask the city to deduct the fine from my monthly utility bill; that seems to me about what McIver is doing here.

But maybe not.

He’s got a justification—of sorts. Here’s how it’s described: “In a brief response Tuesday, McIver said he and the law department believe the Municipal Code allows the city's judgment claims fund to pay the fine, because the violation happened during the course of his work as a city councilman.”

I love that!

If you commit ethics violations on the job—much the best place to do so, after all (where else are you going to have the opportunity to practice nepotism in hiring, favoritism in the awarding of contracts, or workplace sexual harassment?)—then since you’re on the job, it’s up to the city to cover for you.

Makes sense.

So, in my case, it seems to me that as long as I get a parking ticket while I’m doing something in my role as citizen of Seattle, then I ought to be off the hook. And certainly, if I’m buying anything, and paying sales tax that supports city services, it’s only fair that my fine be covered, right?

And if it doesn’t work, I can always throw myself on the court’s mercy. After all, I am an orphan, right?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good News

The BBC reports that “Canadian police have arrested one of the world's most prolific bicycle thieves after discovering almost 3,000 bikes in his possession.”

At last, a glimmer of hopeful news amidst the usual accounts of war, famine, environmental destruction, murder, rape, and celebrity meltdowns.

Especially heartwarming is the fact that more than 400 bikes have been reclaimed by their owners. That’s 400 days brightened considerably and many more just from the news of it.

Last week, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that items from a notorious pawn shop/stolen property fence, Liberty Loans, were being returned to their owners now that the trial convicting the store’s owner had been completed. A phone number was provided for people to call who thought their property might be among the loot. I contacted it and had a glimmer of hope for the long-lost Rambouillet when the police detective I spoke with said that there was a bike in the mix. But alas, as soon as I began to describe it, he said it wasn’t the one.

Still, I’m delighted for all those cyclists in Toronto who’ve been reunited with their bikes and it’s too bad the thief wasn’t in Vancouver so I could entertain the fantasy that my old friend might be in that evidence warehouse.

What’s most troubling to me about the thefts is that they were masterminded by a bike shop owner. I sort of want to believe that anyone so closely involved with bicycles wouldn’t be such a scoundrel, that he would understand how bad it feels to have a bike stolen and wouldn’t want to subject a fellow cyclist to that pain.

But fortunately, I guess, cycling is a big enough tent to include even thieving assholes who prey upon people’s misfortune just to make a buck. That’s kind of like a political party, when you think about it, although I’m betting Mr. Igor Kenk is probably registered as whatever counts as the Canadian equivalent of Republican.

Monday, August 25, 2008

New Guru

For the past ten years, I’ve been a yoga student of David and Satya Garrigues, founders of the now-defunct Seattle Ashtanga Yoga School. While during that time, I’ve taken workshops from Ashtanga’s founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, as well as from influential teachers including Manju Jois, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, and David Williams, my main conduit for the lessons of Ashtanga have come to me through the co-founders of AYS, especially David, although certainly some of the more subtle teachings have come to me through Satya’s influence.

Now, though, they have embarked upon their own differing courses in life’s journey and I’ve been compelled to find someone new to be my teacher.

Of late, therefore, I’ve been going to the studio of Troy Lucero and after a week sampling a number of his different classes, I’m gonna stick around for a while.

What’s most interesting to me is having to do poses in new ways or being pushed to do poses that I usually don’t. I realize that over the past decade, I’ve gotten pretty set in my ways. On the one hand, this is a good thing, I think, because it allows me to move beyond the physical practice to something more introspective or spiritual (in Robert Solomon’s sense of spiritual as being “a thoughtful love for life.”) On the other hand, it’s made me somewhat lazy and dogmatic; since I don’t have to think too much about the poses, I don’t, and end up just repeating the same mistakes over and over.

For instance, in Parivritta Trikonasa, Troy has counseled me to try sinking my weight back as in Parsvottanasa; it makes the twist much more difficult for me, but it seems like I’m getting a better stretch in my pelvis and hamstrings.

Whenever I get advice, I find myself recoiling a bit at first, as my ego rises up; then I try to breathe and listen to what my new guru has to say.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summits of Bothell

I was determined to do this ride today, to pedal uphill and finally see more of Bothell, the area I have worked in for six years now but hardly know at all, even though last night found me at 8:58 PM waiting outside a darkened bus station in Yakima, Washington with not a Greyhound nor other passenger in sight.

Jen, Mimi, and I had driven to Tieton—about twenty five miles away—for the town’s community day event and to visit our friend Lori and her family on their little place up there and had had a fine afternoon of horse-dancing, stump-tossing, and eating killer dip. We even fit in a tour of the Mighty Tieton lofts.

And now my wife and daughter were waiting in the car as I walked around the building trying to resolve myself to what seemed painfully clear: no bus, no ride.

But at the stroke of 9:00, out of nowhere, a Greyhound arrives, sign reading “Spokane.” Doors open, driver emerges, and I inquire: “Supposed to be a bus to Seattle at 9:00?”

“That’s me.”

So I make it to Seattle by midnight, a relatively easy ride in spite of being prohibited from buying beer by the cashier at the gas station in Ellensburg, and am asleep in bed in time to be up for my ride out to the starting line at the UW Bothell just after sunrise.

Totally worth it.

The S.O.B. course traced a painstakingly marked route up and down eight of the biggest hills around Bothell, each of which had its own distinct character, like Westhill, so lovely it could have been heavenly parody, or Finn and Norway hills—like travelogues for their namesake Scandinavias—or Brickyard Road Hill, which made me laugh out loud at its endlessness.

And once I’d survived the seemingly-vertical ascent of 240th St. on the ride’s second hill, Bloomberg, it was like being welcomed into the landscape; I knew I would make it, struggle or not.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day Trip

When I read the news or listen to the radio or just stop and think about it, I can get myself all worked up over the imminent demise of the world as we know it. Oil and water will run out, terrorists will stage nuclear attacks, and Dr. Phil will team up with Celine Dion to broadcast 24 hours a day on every channel.

We’re all gonna die or at least want to.

By contrast, if I ride my bike around tree-lined streets as I’m doing today in Portland, (where I’ve come for just a quick trip to practice one morning’s worth of yoga with my longtime teacher, David Garrigues, who’s no longer, as of this summer, based in Seattle), I come to believe that everything’s going to be fine. Even if national governments crumble and international accords fall apart, we’ll still have lovely, cohesive neighborhoods in cities that work and charming late-summer mornings like this where dappled sunshine filters through the leaves of noble trees by solid homes populated with caring people who always strap their toddlers in Volvo’s car seats, even if there won’t be any gas to drive it around.

Change is hard; that’s just the way it is. I talked with David a bit about what is transpiring in Mysore and throughout the “ashtanga community” as our spiritual leader, our Guruji, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, continues to transition from this world to some other place, slackening his grip on the reins of his organization (such as it is), the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.

David surmised that it’s going to be a mess when Guruji is gone; things will get worse before they get better as folks wrangle for authority and/or control over their own and others’ practices and yoga fiefdoms.

If I think about that and imagine the future, I can get myself all worked up; on the other hand, if I just get on my mat and practice, all is well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Place Like Home

McCain and Obama are getting into a little tiff about who’s richer and more out-of-touch with the economic realities of your average American, this one highlighted by McCain’s professed inability to remember just how many houses he owns. So now it looks like it’s going to become something of an asset on the campaign trail to be poorer than the other guy.

If that’s the case, then Obama should pick me for Vice-President; I’m sure I have way less money than anyone he’s going to find in the Senate, a state governor’s mansion, and probably even in his Rolodex, too. And if it helps, I could be even more broke, too—just say the word and I can easily get rid of any extra dollars in my wallet or bank account.

I do hope, in any case, that the Democrats get some traction out of McCain’s admission; there is something pretty clueless in being unable to say how many homes one owns. Now, I’ll admit I sometimes get confused by the number of bicycles I have—it’s a matter of whether you count the tandem, really, and then whether it should be construed as one or two—but houses are another thing altogether; I wonder if he knows how many cars he has, as well. Or Rolexes. Or gold-plated toilet seats.

Of course, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having more than one home—although I always thought it would be a drag to have to shop for all the requisite towels, silverware, and cleaning supplies, and as someone who spends inordinate amounts of time tearing around just one house looking for his misplaced keys, the thought of having to do so in four or seven abodes seems hopeless. Still, after the apartments in Paris and Manhattan, the beach house in Malibu, the ranch in New Mexico, and the renovated Craftsman bungalow in Seattle, what else do you need?

And that’s only five houses, but really, who’s counting?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blind Pilot

In the land of the sightless, the four-eyed man, the one eating shortbread space cookies, is—not king, but can at least unlock his bike, untangle its spokes from the other bike’s SPDs and make it home, wet, but none too worse for wear, all told.

The band we went to see was called Blind Pilot; the theme on this rainy late-summer Tuesday was blind drunk.

Problem—or make that opportunity—was: there were at least 45 minutes between the time we arrived at the High Dive in Fremont to meet up with the band, (whose claim to fame, apart from their musicianship, is that some of them—the bass player with his custom trailer for sure, the guitarist, and I think either the banjo and dulcimer-strumming female vocalist or the drummer or both—tour via bicycle), and when they were to start playing.

Meanwhile, by this time, our little August monsoon was in full swing and so the reasonable course of action seemed to hit the nearby Nickerson Street Saloon for their five dollar “dirty birds,” a shot of Wild Turkey with a PBR chaser.

I myself did not indulge, (already being adequately taken care of by the aforementioned baked goods) but I marveled at the alacrity with which my colleagues, Derek and Ben, went through a trio each.

And so, it was a swift half-mile ride back across the bridge to the venue, and another two-drink wait for the band to go on

I’d say it was worth it, Blind Pilot, led by their really quite good singer/guitarist, Israel, sounding to my ears very reminiscent of fellow-Portlanders, The Decemberists, winning over the crowd and casting a musical spell that kept drunken hijinks to a minimum during their set.

I left soon after they finished playing and so, in all likelihood, missed the inevitable storm a’ brewin; instead, I took on the steady deluge outside, which fortunately, was warm enough so the ride home while sodden, was fine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

See No Evil

You know what strikes me as pure nonsense and superstition?

(No, not the claim that wearing my lucky shirt helps the Steelers win; that’s been proved empirically.)

No, what seems to me to be one of the silliest, but most pervasive ideas around is the one alluded to today in William Kristol’s column in the Times: the notion that something called “evil” exists, and that—even less coherently—it can be defeated.

Evil isn’t a thing or a force—it’s not like French toast or gravity—it’s a term that refers to certain actions or outcomes we judge to be morally wrong. I don’t even think it should be a noun; the term “evil” is better understood as an adjective that modifies agents, behaviors, and states of affairs, like an “evil twin,” or an “evil smirk,” or an “evil dinner party.”

I get the impression from Kristol that someone like McCain construes evil as something like a virus that can infect people and if we could just find a way to kill off the virus, then nobody would ever do bad things anymore. (I guess I would buy this if the root cause of the “virus” is poverty, hopelessness, dogmatism, and so on; if we could eradicate those things, then probably fewer people would be “evil.”)

My assumption is that this misapprehension about the ontological status of evil has its roots in theology; religions that ascribe evil to an entity like the Devil would naturally tend to see it as something with an independent existence.

But the problem with this is that then, evil acts are no longer necessarily the responsibility of the person who commits them. If we think of evil as something that sort of moves around on its own, something that can be stamped out like smallpox or whatever, then we’re going to spending a lot of energy fighting something that isn’t there and so fail to defeat actually evil things—like evil 43rd Presidents of the United States.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Conference Bike Pedicab

I took the Conference Bike to the area around Qwest Field yesterday afternoon with the plan of trying it out as a kind of pedicab service for the Seahawks game. It worked, more or less, although if I were to do it again—and I may—I would definitely make sure I had a partner with me.

There was a lot of hustling involved; I rode around exhorting people to hop on and ride, mostly unsuccessfully. Plenty of folks expressed their admiration for the bike: “That is the most amazing contraption I’ve ever seen!” “Awesome!” But then, for one reason or another—or not at all—they would decline to ride.

High points included:

• Ferrying around a woman campaigning for judge with her campaign workers and so many balloons, I could hardly see where I was going.

• Picking up a group of six tipsy football fans at a bar and riding to the stadium several blocks away—this, in fact, was what I had thought most of the rides would be like.

• Circling Pioneer Square with an economics professor from Claremont-McKenna college and her two friends, one of whom kept saying, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

• Inviting four homeless—or at least down and out—people to help me pedal around a bit and being surprised at how well this one guy, Alton, got the whole concept of CoBi as metaphor for societal cooperation.

• Oh, and it was fun piloting those three strippers who were passing out flyers for Fantasy Football for a couple blocks, too.

Funniest moment:

• I’m riding beside these two football player types encouraging them to hop on; they say maybe, I should check with their alpha male, the neckless “Big Dan,” a few paces ahead. Whattaya say, Dan? All ‘roid-raged up, Dan swivels his chest and says, “That is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen; you should pay me not to knock your ass offa it.”

Whatever, dude; unsure about your masculinity much?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Less is More

When I was spec’ing out the Tournesol, I originally went with 27 speeds.

It just seemed right somehow, and in keeping with the 327 theme; you know, three chainrings, nine speeds each, twenty-seven gears in all. Also, in my only-the-best design mode, I saw no point in saving a few bucks by going with a less fancy drive train, so Dura-Ace nine-speed it was.

Also, I wanted a wide-range cassette, and I was under the impression that to get the 11-32 range, nine it had to be.

So, for the several months I’ve had the bike, that’s what I’ve been running—and it’s fine and all, but with downtube friction shifters, it’s a bit finicky. When, for instance, I shift into a lower gear as I climb, I have to be very gentle on the shifter, holding it just so in order to make sure the chain rises to just the cog I’m looking for.

And sometimes, even when I get set with my choice, especially when I’m standing and mashing the pedals and rocking my bike side to side for leverage, I’ll get the dreaded auto-shift, my derailer dropping me down a cog, or even worse, sliding the chain between two so my cranks just spin freely.

The kicker was last week as I rode up from the University Bridge under I-5; my chain skipped off as I was standing and only dumb luck enabled me to avoid smashing my nuts on the top tube.

So last week I ordered an eight-speed cassette from 2020 (Sram, it turns out, makes an 11-32) and today I installed it, along with a new chain on the bike.

Much better.

Shifts just feel way more solid and forgiving; I did a test ride around the steepest hills in the neighborhood and didn’t mis-shift once.

I have one fewer gear, which I suppose, technologically, is a step down, but from a rideability standpoint, it’s a step up.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Preseason Football

Given the sorry state of the world today—murder, mayhem, and warfare all over the globe, and then, even worse, Dr. Phil on TV all the time—it’s certainly inappropriate at best to get excited by sporting events, even the Olympics, even when Michael Phelps (who he?) is swimming, right?

And if that’s so, then it’s even more despicable to be interested in sporting events that don’t mean anything, to wit, preseason football.

So, I admit it: I suck, because like it or not, I can’t help myself, I’m intrigued to follow this evening’s Steelers game, although I well know my time would be far better spent raising money for Obama’s election or planting trees to offset global warming, or even picking up dog poo in my backyard.

But instead, I’m sitting or standing in front of my computer, “watching” the game on, trying to get a sense from it whether Pittsburgh has any chance of being any good this year.

Roethlisberger looks sharp, and Parker is apparently all recovered from his broken leg and Santonio Holmes has already caught a touchdown pass; so frankly, I’m not terribly worried about the offense. Defense will probably, in keeping with tradition, be reasonably strong against the run, but will frustrate by allowing big plays, especially on third down.

I think it’s special teams play that will kill us—and that’s already been illustrated in tonight’s game, the Black and Gold having given up a 95-yard runback for touchdown on a kickoff—just the sort of play that has me hurling the remote across the room during the regular season.

If I were a better person, I’d commit right now to ignoring the NFL altogether and would spend my fall Sundays making the world a better place. Instead, though, weakling that I am, I’m sure I’ll be gnashing my teeth and pulling my hair out whenever Pittsburgh plays—and with any luck, that will be all the way through to February 1, 2009.

Enough Already?

In all the news coverage of Michael Phelps—his gold medal chase makes the front page, while the conflict in Georgia is relegated to page 2—the one thing I’ve seen no one talk or write about is the ethical question: just because he COULD win nine gold medals, SHOULD he?

I mean, it’s cool and all, and heck, 25K per gold from the US Olympic Committee is nothing to sneeze at, but does anybody but me think maybe, just maybe, the dude is being just a little bit greedy? Couldn’t he give somebody else a chance?

I realize I’m treading dangerously close to Harrison Bergeron territory, that weird story by Kurt Vonnegut where, in the future, all the smartest, prettiest, and most athletic people have to wear handicaps so that everyone is made equal, but at the same time, there’s part of me that can’t help thinking about 8th grade gym class: there was this one kid, whose name escapes me, but I can still see him dressed in a white turtleneck and brown blazer in our elementary school graduation photo, who was far and away the best athlete in our school: he was the fastest runner, the surest shooter, the strongest wrestler, and a demon at dodge ball. Basically, he won every competition that was held.

So at some point, our teacher asked him to sit out a few games so somebody else could experience coming in first. And while I suppose this is something of a triumph of mediocrity, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing—especially when it enabled me to, for the first time ever, to be among the top three finishers in the 600 yard run.

Of course, I know that the Olympic ideal is to celebrate the highest level of excellence in sporting achievement; if Phelps is the best there is at all nine, why not?

But what if by stepping aside, he were exhibiting an Olympic level of generosity?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Man on Wire

Jen, Mimi, and I rode bikes up to the Egyptian Theater last night to catch the new documentary Man on Wire, the thrilling account of aerialist Philipe Petit’s epic high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974.

It was an amazing film about an even more amazing adventure, one so unbelievable that were it fiction, you wouldn’t believe it possible.

And of course, as most of the reviews I’ve read have pointed out, it’s all the more poignant given the events of September 11, 2001, which, also poignantly, are never once mentioned during the film.

You couldn’t help thinking how much simpler the world seemed thirty years ago—with handmade pasted-up security badges that could fool inattentive guards. (I was reminded how I used White-Out and a typewriter to modify the birthdate on my driver’s license—and it worked!)

I have a vague but oddly clear memory of Petit’s walk—or at least the reporting of it.

My family was at the New Jersey shore, sharing a beach house with our parent’s good friends, Mary and Harold Corsini. My own friend, Michael, had come with us and he and I were amusing ourselves that week by getting up as early as we could to take acid and walk along the waves.

What I recall best was looking at the photo on the front page of the New York Times the next day as we were coming down from the morning’s adventure and then going outside to draw lines in the wet sand near the surf and try unsuccessfully to walk along them without falling.

This was soon after hearing that Nixon had just resigned the presidency, so—even to my 17 year-old perspective—the world seemed particularly topsy-turvy.

Somehow, though, Petit’s feat made balance believable, and while we fell to the sand again and again, laughing crazily simply because we weren’t plummeting, it seemed, after all, that a few steps forward would still be possible.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Don't Get It

It’s awful what’s happening in the so-called “breakaway republic” of Georgia. Innocent people are dying, a sovereign state is being attacked, and, apparently, even cyberspace isn’t safe. Violent action of this sort is rarely, if ever, justified, and certainly not in this case, which seems like a particularly naked act of aggression on the part of the Russian government.

And yet, I have to say that I don’t entirely understand all the sanctimonious hand-wringing on the part of US government officials as they decry Vladimir Putin’s invasion, especially when seeing it as an attempt to gain control over a territory with strategic value in the global petrochemical marketplace, in part due, as I understand it, to the The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Because, after all, isn’t this pretty much what the US did when invading Iraq?

Sure, it was all about spreading freedom and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, but Russia has similarly justified their military action in the name of protecting Russian citizens and ensuring against genocide.

Of course, disinterested observers know that the rhetoric is all a bunch of hooey and what’s really at stake are resources—and perhaps revenge or maybe a kind of geopolitical chest-pumping—which again, strikes me as one of the more likely interpretations of Bush’s decision to bomb and occupy Baghdad.

Now, I’m not saying in this case that two wrongs make a right (although I do think in some instances—like maybe when a batter storms the mound after a brushback pitch); I just think it’s ironic to hear Dubya (and even moreso, McCain) going on about how unjustified Russia’s actions are—(and I’m not saying they’re not; they’re completely wrong)—when, as far as I can tell, they’re no different (except way smaller in terms of death and destruction) than what the US did in Iraq.

But then again, with this administration we’ve seem time and again that while consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, inconsistency is the hallmark of tiny brains.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Expressing the Inexpressible

I think I’m some sort of closet Wittgensteinian, Ludwig W. having famously closed his Tractatus Logic-Philosophicus with the words, “Where (or of what) we cannot speak, we must remain silent.”

I don’t think he meant this as a tautology—although in one sense (maybe like when we have a mouth full of food) it is—or even as an admonition—although in another sense, it’s probably good advice, especially for people on cell phones in public. I think rather that he meant it mainly as an observation: about things—experiences, concepts, dreams, what have you—we cannot put into words, we can’t really communicate (although I’ve been in lots of conversations in which people have tried, usually after more than a few recreational stimulants).

As a digression, it always bugs me when people say “Words cannot express…(insert topic here)” because I’ve long wondered whether if they can’t, then what is there to express anyway?

(And also, it seems like a cop out because clearly, words CAN express—just so long as you’re Shakespeare, Ken Kesey, or Rainier Maria Rilke on a good day.)

Yesterday afternoon, the most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen arched across the sky above the river valley here; is it true that words cannot express its beauty? Maybe it’s only my words that can’t, especially when I’ve only got 327 to spend.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that some things are much harder to express than others. For instance, I have no trouble using the English language to communicate that I’d like another cup of coffee. By contrast, it’s extremely difficult to put into words the feeling of joy and relief that accompanies that first cup in the morning. And even harder, the feeling of despair and panic that follows from discovering that there are no beans left in the bag.

But then, maybe that insufferable bore, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner said it best: De doo doo doo, De da da da, is all I’ve got to say to you.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Philosophy Camp 2008

I’m here at Philosophy Camp II and we’re doing Buddhist meditation and reading Marcus Aurelius and the theme that emerges is freedom from desire or at least—as I get Marcus, anyway—equanimity in the face of unrealized desire.

And I guess I agree; after all, no sense in getting all exercised about what’s impossible. And in the grand scheme of things we are just, in Marcus’ words, “as smoke and nothing at all.”

But then, on the other hand, this life is all we’ve got and if it weren’t for my desires, then who would I be?

Seems to me that all the things I want and wish or and strive to do (if you can call getting up at 10:00 and then napping all afternoon “striving”) are what makes up the person I am. Different desires, different Dave. (Like if what I really wanted was to be rich narcissist who thinks he can get away with whatever he wants as long as he goes on TV to apologize, then I’d be Dave “John” Edwards.)

And yes, I understand that all my suffering (if you can call having to occasionally drink yesterday’s coffee in the morning “suffering”) is a direct result of my desires and were I free of them I would be free of suffering; but then what would I be? A mushroom?

And if my desires are the foundation of whom I am, then complaining about them would be a complaint about me; and if that’s the case, then I’m clearly exhibiting a desire to change the way things are, or at least, how I am in my perception of them.

Even the desire to be desire-free is a desire, after all.

In any case, it seems untoward to worrying about it in a place of such sylvan beauty.

Here’s how Marcus puts it: “Imagine every man who is grieved at anything or discontented to be like a pig which I sacrificed and kicks and screams.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Izzit just me, or has the zeitgeist shifted of late to swing around full-circle back to the mid-1970s or so—at least when it comes to the topic of tetrahydrocannabinol—such that everywhere you look now, it seems like dope is dope once again, only this time, at least, unlike back thirty years or so, you don’t have to wear bell-bottoms to smoke it, thankfully.

I mean, you’ve got the brand-new “stoner comedy” Pineapple Express that’s just come out (can’t wait to see it, but probably will, for the DVD); Cheech and fucking Chong, putting aside their long-term creative difference, are firing up the bong for a reunion tour; the New Yorker publishes a 3000-word essay about pot-growers in California; and even politicians are getting into the act, with Congressman Barney Frank holding a press conference to discuss legislation removing criminal penalties for marijuana for personal use.


Maybe the sea-change that I expected all through tenth and eleventh grade is finally coming about and I’ll live to see the day where I don’t have to be a criminal to engage in what seems to me to be a relatively benign practice of cognitive freedom.

On the other hand, I’m sure I’ll also complain about the “good old days” if pot goes totally mainstream. The day you can get a Vente hit of freshly-dried kush to go with your Frappaccino at Starbucks is the day I switch completely over to whiskey…or maybe not, at least if I can get the same thing at Stumptown, dried locally.

I do think, by the way, that if I were Howard Schulz, I’d be all over legalization. Seems to me that Starbucks has everything in place to be a major retailer of cannabis should the laws ever change. They’ve got the stores, the distribution network, the warehouses to store organic material, and plenty of baristas who know lots about the product.

They’ll just have to upgrade their pastries, though; that’s a must.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lake Swimming

On the ride home from Matthews Beach this afternoon, Mimi asked me which I liked better, swimming in a lake or in the ocean.

Ever the conciliator, I replied that I enjoyed both, just differently. Lake swimming is more about swimming; ocean swimming is more about body-surfing.

Naturally, that’s just the sort of mealy-mouthed answer she didn’t want to hear, so I was forced to consider a thought experiment wherein I had just one day left in my life to swim, in a lake or in the ocean, assuming in both cases, the weather was fine and the water warm.

In that case, the ocean would win out, but only barely. As much as I like bobbing in the waves and paddling furiously to try and catch them, I also love the lazy summer attitude that’s spelled out by dozing on the lakefront then staggering up and out into the shocking cold that then turns reasonably comfortable as you wake up once you put your head under.

Plus, I like how lakes aren’t at all exotic; it’s the ol’ swimmin’ hole thing; when I’m in Lake Washington, I really feel like a truant; when I’m in the ocean, I feel like a jet-setter—not a bad thing, but not what I want to be every day.

Also, lakes are where you skinny dip in the middle of the night (well, in Pittsburgh, reservoirs, too) and although there was certainly none of that mid-day today, a residue of that (figuratively, not literally, ewww) remains.

I didn’t always feel this way; the first lake I remember swimming in was somewhere in northwestern Pennsylvania where I stayed in a cabin belonging to some patient of my dad’s when I was about 10. The bottom was covered in soft mud that seemed to suck your feet into it when you touched; and even worse was when you swam farther out and couldn’t reach down through the murk to touch anything at all.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

South Seattle No-Belly Diet

You’ve probably heard of the South Beach or the Flat-Belly diets, both of which promise to rid you of your unsightly gut in just 30 days of healthy eating and moderate exercise.

Well sure; anybody can lose weight THAT way.

What most people are looking for, though, is a way to get back down their fighting weight while still eating junk food and lying around on the couch at all hours of the day and night.

Thankfully, therefore, I’m introducing the South Seattle No-Belly Diet, a breakthrough diet plan that allows you to eat whatever you want whenever you want, and not only never gain an ounce, but actually lose weight every day.

Here’s how it works, via a sample menu

For Breakfast:
• 3 cups of black coffee, no sugar
• the leftover crusts from your daughter and/or wife’s toast
• cold pizza if you can rustle up a piece
• all the nuts or granola you want, provided you eat quickly standing up over the sink

For Lunch:
• 2 cups of cold black coffee, sugar, with soda water
• a loaf of bread, eaten over the course of an hour or two, continually promising yourself this is the last piece
• beer, but you have to chug it and hide the can in the recycling

For Dinner:
• at 4:20, indulge yourself with what the kids today call “420.” This will take way your appetite for a while but then have you downing an entire bunch of purple grapes, some dipped in hot mustard just to see how it tastes
• more beer, but only the first three slugs from any bottle before mislaying it somewhere while wandering about

Following this simple plan will have the pounds all but “melting off;” and if they don’t, then simply fire up a propane torch and apply it liberally to the waist and hips.

Be sure to catch the drippings!

That’s real good eatin’ all day long.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Success, I Guess

Well, it’s come to this: a full day for me is one on which I eat lunch, wash a few windows, and write a blog entry.

I’m not sure whether this is commendable or pathetic, or both. I do know that I’m deeply into the dog days of summer mode: this is the point where it’s hard for me to see the point of doing anything, much less making a special point of doing it.

Naturally, there are plenty of things I could do and probably even more that I should. But why? The sun is going to burn out in a few billion years; even humanity’s greatest achievements—the rule of law, pneumatic tires, that giant-sized Pez dispenser—will be obliterated, so what’s the point in working on my little projects (or even that big one involving Cirque du Soleil contortionists and an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of vegetarian Jello)?

This isn’t to say I’m a complete slug; I did, after all, manage to mop the floor after spilling the entire contents of the coffee pot on it, and no one can deny how awesome it was of me to sew that button back on my shirt; still, today is a far cry from back in December, when I was known to grade several hundred student papers, design a superior form of representative democracy, and mail out an entire shipping crate of flyers announcing my new Las Vegas philosophy show, all before noon.

I try not to feel bad about my lack of productivity, and all in all, I manage pretty well, especially by comparing myself to trust fund babies, freight-hopping hoboes, and unfortunate folks in a permanent vegetative state.

Also, I console myself with the thought that I’ve earned my respite; all those years swabbing the foredeck and reefing the mizzenast (whatever that means) have to count for something.

And if they don’t?

I’m not going to worry about it; that’s just too much work.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Conference Bike at the Fat

Continuing my research into the sociology and anthropology of the Conference Bike, I took the CoBi to the Tour de Fat yesterday.

Mimi and I, along with a couple of volunteers—PJ Diddy and Joey—we picked up on the way, rode the bike from Ballard to Gasworks Park for the event, then cruised around the park, offering rides to whoever wanted to climb on.

What surprised me most was how reticent people are to hop on as the bike passes by. Time and again, as we pedaled through Fremont, we’d invite walkers to join us and cruise along comfortably. Except for a couple of high school kids, though, everyone declined, even when it was obvious we were headed in their direction and reasonably faster and easier.

So much for my idea of using the CoBi as a shuttle taxi service.

It’s not clear to me whether people are intimidated by the social aspect of it—joining a group of strangers on a strange-looking contraption—or by the physical piece—a couple women looked like they wanted to but seemed shy about the pedaling, and another guy was all over it, but said he’d just been released yesterday from the hospital.

Typically, what people like to do is ogle the bike a bit as it passes by or climb all over it while it’s sitting, then, with a group of friends, all climb on at once. This suggests a better business model (if you will) is the organized tour kind of thing, or alternately, Conference Bike drinking parties.

I’m currently thinking that what might make the most sense would be to create a non-profit “Conference Bike Saves the World” organization, and then offer free rides to groups of people who want to (or perhaps are being forced to) effect some sort of reconciliation or rapprochement among themselves.

One thing’s for certain: anybody who rides the thing can’t help feel good about their fellow riders and the world as a whole

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dead Baby Conference Bike

Took the Conference Bike on the Dead Baby Downhill last night; six of us—would have been the full complement of seven but one rider mysteriously vanished at the start—rocked the course in circular splendor. More than a thousand pounds of bike and riders made for a thrillingly fast descent, and although lots of bikes passed us on the course’s flat section, we finished far from DFL, ahead, I’m pretty sure of at least one of the two Santas in the race.

The experience has done nothing to dissuade me from my belief that the Conference Bike saves the world, or at least repairs a few cracks wherever it goes.

As we pedaled up 8th Ave. NW on our way to the starting point in Greenwood, people invariably smiled, gawked, and shot camera phone pictures of us wherever we went. “What is that?” was the most common question. “The future!” I would reply heartily.

I was pleased by how rideable the contraption really is, with seven riders pedaling together. We were definitely working, ascending the gradual rise from Ballard to Crown Hill, but our progress was consistent, albeit none too quick.

And when the hill got too steep, as it did the last block of 73rd heading east to Greenwood Ave., two riders hopped off and pushed; again, we were moving pretty slow, but moving we were.

At the end-of-race party, Mimi and I circled the block a dozen or so times, taking on different groups of riders each time, all of whom, from middle-aged mom to tough-looking biker dude, to several members of the Portland bike-dance troupe, the Sprockettes, got that goofy grin you can’t help but get when you ride the thing.

Eventually, I let Mimi drive which was especially hilarious but probably safer in the long run, she being, in spite of her youth, in all likelihood the safest pilot among us—certainly the only one likely to pass the field sobriety test.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Happy Old Men

A new survey of Americans described on concludes that “Less able to achieve their life goals, women end up unhappier than men later in life, even though they start out happier.”

No real surprise there when you think about it, but I’ll bet it has less to do with achieving life goals than it does with facts of history: most old men, (me, for example) get to putter around the house, tinkering with stuff and leaving messes in their wake; lots of old women, by contrast, have spent their entire lives putting up with the jerk and now, to boot, he’s underfoot all the time, messing up the sewing kit and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Or maybe that’s just the stereotype I picked up from reading the unfunny comic “Drabble.”

Another explanation might have something to do with the cultural expectations around appearance laid on women as opposed to men: after all, an old guy can look like a broiled chicken in a polyester pantsuit and still be considered presentable just as long as he cleans the food out of his beard and changes his underwear occasionally. An older woman, on the other hand, is expected to be some smoking hot MILF until the day she finally gives up the ghost—and even then, better leave a beautiful corpse.

Frankly, I’m skeptical of these kind of surveys, anyway. Maybe old men just lie to researchers more (or better) than old women; or maybe they’re just not as introspective and so fail to notice how unhappy they are.

Around our house, it’s not entirely clear whether the old men are happier than the old women; one thing is for sure, though: any reference to “old women” from the old man will certainly result in a reduction of his happiness.

Ideally, we should all be happier the older we get; in any case, I’m sure that if I make it, as hoped, to 112, I’ll be delirious.