Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Makes You Wonder

So, the Dow goes up three hundred points or whatever today even though there isn’t a bailout agreement yet and I can’t help wondering what it’s all about anyway and whether lawmakers ought to just let the Market find its own level even if it means that a bunch of people are going to lose a bunch of money because clearly some people are making bank right now, none the least of which have got to be stockbrokers who are pulling in their commissions on all the frantic trades that are happening minute-by-minute all day long.

Of course, I’m sure this is a far too unsophisticated take on things and no doubt part of the reason that stocks went up today is that Wall Street is counting on an influx of cash from Washington, but I don’t know—and that’s probably the main thing with all of us: nobody does, I’ll warrant.

At least with the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, cooler heads could look at things and say, “hold on!” (even if those words were ignored), because it seemed pretty clear, if you listened to experts on the Middle East like Chris Hedges, that without Saddam to clamp down on things, the region would devolve into sectarian violence, but in this case, it’s much trickier because, in the first place, it’s not at all obvious who qualifies as an expert on this crisis (after all, it’s the so-called “experts” who got us into this mess in the first place,) and second, even if we could identify those experts, they’ve all got a vested interest in the outcome they predict should the bailout package be approved.

Still, it’s curious whether the need for action we’ve been told is so urgent really is so urgent; David Horsey (not my favorite cartoonist) had a this one in the paper the other day, and it seemed pretty apt to me; all this wolf-crying makes me want to cry “bullshit.”

Monday, September 29, 2008


If I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell.

I mean, it’s a beautiful day in Seattle and I didn’t see a single stockbroker leaping from a skyscraper window or anybody selling apples on the street corner.

I could sort of imagine that people in fancy cars were driving more aggressively than usual—there was a lady in a Lexus SUV who looked especially angry as she roared by me past the traffic circles in Montlake and then scowled mightily when I pulled up next to her at the light—but I might have been projecting since, after all, like lots of people, I was feeling kinda grouchy myself after seeing what the internet had to offer hour by hour in terms of stock market news.

One good thing: perhaps finally the big economic muckety-mucks can stop debating whether the country is entering a recession; now, I think, the question has to be whether we’re sliding into a full-blown 21st century version of the Great Depression.

Still, so far, everything seems pretty much the same: my checking account is still solvent; there’s food in the refrigerator; nobody is trying to repossess our car; and here I am, safe and sound at home in the house I don’t really own but which the bank isn’t yet trying to take away from me.

And I’ve yet to feel it’s necessary to sell any bikes, although I do have a sense that it might really be time to part with a couple just in the name of social responsibility—although maybe I’m going to wait until that guy whose house I pass on the Burke-Gilman trail with the four Porsches outside the garage sells one of his cars first.

What’s probably weirdest of all is that I’m probably more exercised emotionally about tonight’s Steelers game than I was about all the numbers jumping around and down in my overall net worth today. Roethisberger just threw an interception and I shouted “fuck!”—first time all day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fill It Up

Barring accident, illness, or hemlock (perhaps the only reasonable option should the Republicans retain the White House this November), I’ve probably got somewhere between thirty and fifty years of my life left to go.

On the one hand—in geological time, for instance—this is a mere drop in the chronological bucket, but on the other—say, if I were standing in line at the DMV—this is essentially an eternity; on the order of 300,000 hours, at least.

So, how am I going to fill up all this time—notwithstanding the fifteen or twenty minutes I spend most days crafting another exceptional, life-changing, 327 word essay?

Good news is, I can probably count on being asleep for about a third of the total, so apart from those moments I lie awake at 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning as my brain races trying to solve all the problems in the world, it’s probably only like about 200,000 hours I’ve really got to worry about.

Eating and excreting can be expected to take up a certain daily toll, and what with preparation and washing up, let’s say we take away another quarter of the total.

Optimistically, I’m gonna take away another one-fourth with bicycle riding and doing yoga; now I’m down to a mere 100,000 left to fill; and I can easily waste half that just poking around the internet..

Then there’s shopping, and watching DVDs, and trips to the library for books that I put on my shelf and never finish. Walking the dog occasionally has to fit in there somewhere, and watching football on TV if the Steelers are playing.

Taking all those into account leaves me, as best as I can figure, with somewhere on the order of a day and a half that isn’t already spoken for. I might use some of this to get drunk and pass out or I might just squander it altogether; clearly time’s a wasting, so I’ll wrap this up right now.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Face of America

At some level, I think, it all comes down to which guy you want to be looking at on TV for the next four years at least and if that’s the key, then there ought not to be any question whatsoever who won the debate and who ought to be our next President.

On the one hand, you’ve got John McCain, who looks more and more to me like something that crawls out from under a rotting log when the sun goes down; and on the other, Barack Obama, who reminds me more and more of Abraham Lincoln every time I see him.

Plus, when you throw in their wives, the aesthetic divide becomes even more pronounced; the McCains strike me as a pair you’d see having a drunken red-faced argument at the table next to you in dining room of the country club; the Obamas, by contrast, have the kind of classy aura that makes them sneakily invisible; you couldn’t help noticing them at the nightclub, but you’d never stare, even though you might want to.

And to the extent that the President is, in many ways, the official spokesperson for the United States of America, isn’t it time we elected somebody who looks a lot more like a lot more of the people he is supposed to be speaking for? I mean, I’m a aging white guy, after all, but god help me if I resemble McCain more than Obama.

And if I ever think it’s a good look to comb over my last few strands of white hair and plaster them down to my scalp, go ahead and just hold a pillow over my face until I stop struggling; then shave my head, okay?

I went to a pizza place last night for a debate watch party with members of my teachers’ union; we all cheered when Obama talked about funding education; and somehow we even managed to eat when McCain come on screen.

Friday, September 26, 2008


When an evening of bicycle riding includes an interlude where somebody agrees to launch not just one, but two—(consecutively, not simultaneously) bottle rockets from his ass and it’s still not the most memorable part of the night, you have to chalk it up as a bona fide disaster (in the old sense of the word, the one that refers to the alignment of the stars, which must have been exerting a truly strange attraction on us all to result in such an odd and calamitous collection of events).

Or maybe the shortbread space cookie I had before leaving home had something to do with it.

In any case, more than once I got to feel like Walter Brennan meets Mr. Magoo as I stood slightly apart from my cycling comrades both dismayed and elated at the behaviors that swam before my eyes, which included surreal karaoke singing, random tossing of things that gosh darn it you kids, you better stop throwing, so help me, don’t make me come over there, fisticuffs, which I completely missed, thank god, the wearing of orange rubber fishing overalls, and a surprising amount of bicycle riding when you tallied it all up in the end.

And it was one of those times when, in some ways, the best part turned out to be the long solo route home, where the combination of sensory stimulations over the course of the night came together to make for an especially delightful ride, the front of my front wheel eating up the pavement slowly but surely all the way across town.

We had set out for Nickelsville, the homeless encampment near Georgtown, to bear witness to the authorities evicting the residents, but never made it past Goldies on Airport Way, which turned out to be just fine since the threatened removal didn’t take place although it did seem that, at some points, our butts were this close to being kicked out from where we were, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

(Not) My Generation

Even though I’m a man of a certain age whose daughter accuses of being an old hippie, and despite that I am counted among that great mass of American youth born between the years 1946 and 1964, I don’t consider myself a Baby Boomer.

There are any number of reasons for this, not merely that, as a matter of fact, the US birthrate began to decline in the year following my birth, 1957, so while I emerged at the crest of the boom, it was all downhill after that, at least in terms of numbers, not to mention popular music.

For instance, the Fab Four broke up before I ever bought a record album; real Baby Boomers got the Beatles and the Stones; I’m a child of the 70s; we got the Bee-Gees and Styx.

I was only 12 when Woodstock happened; I was totally grossed out by the thought (and pictures on the news) of grown-ups—you know, like 20 year-olds—dancing around naked.

I remember Kennedy’s assassination, but only because we got out of kindergarten the next day.

The Vietnam War was over before I got anywhere near draft age; in fact, I was the first year that 18 year-olds didn’t have to register for the selective service.

LSD had been illegal for years before I ever heard of it; during my deformative adolescent years, the cool kids were already emulating Fleetwood Mac rather than the Grateful Dead and doing cocaine.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when all the hippies were selling out, becoming lawyers, and getting rich, I went back to school to study philosophy.

I have never owned a Volvo.

And you’ve never seen me sporting facial hair.

The movie The Big Chill left me cold.

Dazed and Confused
, on the other hand, was close; “That 70s Show,” was even more like it.

So, if I eschew the baby boomer generation, can I—at merely 4 years older than him—claim generation Obama, instead?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The thing I like least about rushing about in the morning, getting Mimi off to school, then scooting down Jackson to catch my bus out to Cascadia, is that I spend way too much time not being where I am, but instead, am constantly reaching for the next place I’m trying to get to. Even in Savasana, I don’t relax, but only count the breaths until I can tell myself that I’m done relaxing.

Most people look pretty grouchy in their cars; this morning, Mimi and I got cut off on the tandem by some sour-faced woman smoking a cigarette; I yelled “Watch out!” as, turning right, she swung wide into our lane and then, I think she cursed us, because fifty feet on, we dropped the timing chain on the bike and had to wrestle with it to get the thing back on and the cranks more or less in phase.

The “community” aspect of teaching at a community college twenty miles from my house is what I miss most. While I’m fond of my students and colleagues and am even true to my school, it’s just so far out of my usual orbit. Waiting at the bus stop this morning, I totally envied bike commuters who were riding into their offices or workplaces in Pioneer Square.

Sometimes I wonder why I ever stopped trying to be a writer; that’s the best job there is: you get to be by yourself all day long and then, in the evening, hang out with people, drinking, telling lies, and feeling good about yourself for all the good work you’ve done that day.

The cell phone and the internet have fundamentally changed the way human beings communicate, but I’m not sure it’s for the better. They’ve certainly made us all more impatient, greedy, and demanding.

If it weren’t for the world-wide web, the current economic meldown would never have happened; on the other hand, there’d be no 327words.blogspot.com, either.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seahurst Park

My bicycling white whale this summer has been Ed Munro Seahurst Park in Burien, a suburb, I guess, of Seattle, about 10 miles or so from downtown, past White Center where we sometimes go on .83 rides to visit a pretty good taco truck and where we used to have our south end “clubhouse” or sorts, the now-defunct Pacific Rim brewpub which, I hear, has now re-opened under some other name, or maybe the same one, I dunno.

Anyway, it’s not like the park is miles and miles away in some vast, uncharted area of the state; it’s just that, seeing in on maps and looking at the website for it, and being familiar with the ride partway there, I’ve wanted to check it out, at least since June.

But the opportunity never presented itself over the summer, or I never availed myself of it, until yesterday, with but thirty-six or so hours left until I begin teaching again, on the first real wet and miserable day of fall, I finally made the ride over there, and I’m glad I did.

There’s a great downhill into Seahurst, as is typically the case with such local parks that sit on the Puget Sound and you get a great view of the water once you’re there. A big shelter with a barbecue grill sits at the north end of the place and I imagined the sorts of fire-stoked stupidity that could go on there were the bike gang to disobey the 7:30 park closing time and show up there some night in the dead of winter.

What I liked best, though, was the route back up from the water, which wound through the woods on a hard-packed gravel service road. It was a climb to be sure, but with ample switchbacks and no traffic whatsoever, it was far better than retracing the route I came in on whose downhill enjoyment was tempered by the thought of slogging back up.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bail Me Out

What’s the old line? “You owe the bank a ten thousand dollars, the bank owns you; you owe the bank ten million dollars, you own the bank.”

I guess we just change the million to a billion and change bank to the government and there were have the story of the current financial crisis.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the government stepping in to shore up the economy before the country sinks into a full-scale Depression (are people still debating whether we’re actually in a recession?), but it is terribly ironic, isn’t it—as others have pointed out—that all these proponents of free-market capitalism are so quick to embrace socialism when it serves them.

The cheesy thing, of course, is that average homeowners who overextend themselves and can’t pay their mortgages lose their homes, while giant insurance companies or investment banks that overextend themselves on thousands of mortgages get to stay in business thanks to the largesse of American taxpayers—and, I guess, foreign investors in China, Russia, Europe, and wherever.

I’ve always heard economics referred to as the “dismal science,” and dismal seems a pretty good adjective to describe how the economy looks these days. It almost feels like the entire superstructure of assumptions and agreements upon which the monetary system is based is at risk; like we’re all waking up simultaneously to the realization that little pieces of paper with numbers printed on them have no intrinsic value so why should we all keep pretending that they do?

The upside of all this—if there is one—might be that individuals and society as a whole come to re-evaluate what we really value, so that instead of glamorizing hedge-fund brokers who pull in multi-million dollar salaries for just moving numbers around, we instead hold people who actually do things—like plumbers, teachers, machinists, bike mechanics, and community organizers—in higher regard.

And let us not, by any means, underestimate the invaluable contributions of 327-word essayists.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bad Sports

It’s a lousy time to be a sports fan in Seattle.

The Mariners have the worst record in baseball; the Seahawks, once the only hope in the long, dark winter ahead, are already 0-2 and looking worse; the Huskies have lost their first three games with a defense more porous than John McCain’s gray matter; across the Cascades, the Washington State Cougars, also at 0-3, may have to change their name to the Pussycats; and even the Seattle Storm, in second place in their division and headed to the WNBA playoffs are without their star forward/center, Lauren Jackson, and so appear poised for an early exit from the post-season.

Still, you couldn’t pay me to live in any of the places with top major league baseball teams: Philadelphia? To paraphrase W.C. Fields, “On the whole, I’d rather be dead.” Los Angeles? The real LA is bad enough, but fucking Anaheim? Boston? Insufferable. And Tampa Bay? Just shoot me.

Football’s a little better; at least I could return to my hometown and cheer the Steelers on to victory at Heinz Field, but places like Tennessee or Carolina, or worst of all, Arizona—I wouldn’t move there even if it meant ten straight years of Superbowl victories.

If you listen to sports radio—and I admit it, I do, when I’m doing the dishes or mopping the floor—you’d think that having losing teams in your town was tantamount to being devastated by Hurricane Ike or something. Granted, it kind of sucks for sports bar owners and hot dog vendors at the stadiums when the home team is languishing in the cellar and the stands are empty of fans, but at least our downtown isn’t under water.

If I were a better person, I wouldn’t care about sports at all, (but then, if I were a better person, I’d be doing something more worthwhile than writing 327 word essays); the good news is, at least Mimi’s soccer team is undefeated.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I’m a small-time investor; my portfolio includes a handful of stock in companies I admire, like 3M, Apple, and Schnitzer steel; I have some mutual funds I inherited from my parents; and I made a few investments in local companies—a really bad one in Jones Soda, and a not-so-good one in Weyerhaeuser. It’s never been enough to retire on, but it’s been a small comfort over the years to check my brokerage account and see that while I’m not getting rich, I have, over time, slowly increased my family’s net worth so that perhaps someday, I’ll be able to sit out in my backyard and drink domestic beer without having to worry where my next Rolling Rock is coming from.

Until these last few weeks.


I’m trying to take the long view and not panic; I do believe that by and large, investments in the securities of solid companies do pay off, and like my broker said, if you need the money you have in the market right now, you probably shouldn’t have it in the market.


It’s extremely unsettling to see those numbers in your online portfolio continue to get smaller and smaller. You can’t help thinking of all the things you could have had or done if you’d only made those numbers smaller with purchases rather than mere evaporation. It’s not like I could have bought a house or anything, but you know, a nice wool shirt or even a Conference Bike would have been nice to own.

I’ve always been intrigued by stories of people who were wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929 or even more, of folks who had the foresight to get out when the getting was good. Right now, it’s probably too late to be one of the latter, so I suppose I’m teetering on the edge of the former.

But at least I’ll have good tales to tell my grandkids about surviving the Depression.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stoner Idea

Here’s how we can help the economy, curb illegal drug use, assist the American farmer, contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases, provide meaningful employment to skilled and unskilled workers alike, and increase sales of sugar, spice, and everything nice in corner stores and supermarkets across the nation: legalize cannabis butter!

It would be way simpler than decriminalizing marijuana outright; the policy here would be that, as long as the THC is embedded in butter—and I want to say not margarine, let’s stick to real dairy products—then it would be legal to sell, transport, and possess. People could then use the product—whose strength could easily be determined and regulated just like alcohol content in distilled spirits—as they see fit, in cookies, shortbread, fried eggs or whatever.

Moreover, for those who prefer not to do their own cooking, big food-producing companies like Kraft and General Mills, (and smaller ones like local bakeries and sweet shops) could create snack foods that could be consumed to feed the very food cravings that they create! Talk about effective brand marketing.

I see a couple additional advantages to this strategy, too.

First, legalizing bud butter would likely reduce the incidence of public marijuana smoking, arguably the least socially-acceptable aspect of cannabis use. Instead of wannabe gang-bangers hanging out the windows of their Escalades with blunts dangling from their lips, you’d be more likely to see them turned out in aprons in their kitchens, comparing recipes for Rice Krispy squares and snickerdoodles.

Second, since pot to be turned into butter doesn’t need to be as strong as dope intended to be smoked, legalizing bud butter would reduce the need for high-tech grow houses with all their attendant social and environmental problems.

Third, my dad’s biggest complaint about pot would be addressed. He preferred alcohol to marijuana because, he said, a person could drink simply because s/he enjoyed the taste, not for the effect; those who love brownies and shortbread could argue likewise.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

End of Summer Again

After almost 100 days without having to go to work regularly, I start again tomorrow.

Not really looking for sympathy—and certainly not expecting any from anyone with any sort of regular job—I only make note of this as a way to begin getting my head back in the game, something I’ll need to do double-time to be readyfor teaching again in a week.

It’s been a remarkable summer; the high point, of course, our trip to Europe, but lots of simple day-to-day stuff—spending more time with Mimi, riding the tandem with Jen, doing an overnight bike trip with .83, perfecting (or at least improving) my recipe for bud-butter shortbread cookies—has also been wonderful. Three months off from work is, I would argue, just about what one needs to get oneself revitalized for another venture into the fray.

Although, as usual, I have my pre-school doubts about whether or not I still know how to teach, or if I know anything about philosophy at all, I’m no doubt ready to begin doing what’s necessary to start doing my best to engage young minds in the philosophical enterprise—or at least successfully jump through this next hoop in their college careers.

I’m hoping to improve my ability to create meaningful learning experiences this year; the election this fall offers particular opportunities to help students connect what their learning to “real-life.” Of course, the challenge will be not to use my bully pulpit to indoctrinate them in the only views any reasonable person could possibly hold—mine, that is.

Naturally, there are any number of things I hope to accomplish this summer that I didn’t—I never spent any time trying to write my book about doing philosophy with kids; I didn’t ride my bike to Cle Elum; I failed in my desire to find a weekend to take the family to San Francisco. And I never really waked and baked, although I did eat space cookies before two long bike rides.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This Week's Picks

I had pretty good luck with a parlay last weekend, winning $30.00 on a $5.00 bet with Chicago, the New York Giants, and the Steelers, all covering the spread in their games; by contrast, all the straight wagers I did on single games—Minnesota, the 49ers, and the Cleveland Browns—lost. So, I’ve decided this week, that the safe bet isn’t really safe at all and am going with three different three-team parlays, figuring that, even if only one hits, I’ll pay for my other wagers whether they pan out or not.

In the first of the three, I’m going with the Broncos -1 at home against the Chargers, the Rams +8.5 at home against the Giants, and the Jets -1 against the Patriots in New York. Of the three, I’m thinking the third is the sketchiest, but with Favre for New York and no Brady for the Pats, I’ll take it.

The second parlay features the Seahawks -6.5 against San Francisco, Carolina -3 at home vs. the Bears, and Arizona -6.5 against the Dolphins. Again, it’s the third of those three that I’m must unsure of; I think Seattle with run up the score against the 49ers, the Bears aren’t I think, as good as they looked against Indianapolis, but the Dolphins might surprise the Couch Slouch’s perennial team of destiny, the Cardinals. But, we’ll see.

Parlay number three, is Indianapolis -1.5 against the Vikes, Detroit +3 vs. the Pack, and the Bengals -1 against the Titans. In this case, I’m surest only of the third; in fact, I may go back and place another version of this same parlay with the Vikings beating the spread against the Colts.

Finally, just for fun, and contrary to my usual rule against betting on my Boyz, I’ve got the Steelers and Browns under 44.5, but Pittsburgh alone over 25.5.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Is this a great fucking country or what?

Where else could some three dozen idiots ride bikes from a downtown meet-up, where already park rangers were on to them and their open containers, to an inner-ring suburban shopping mall for a takover of a “family” restaurant in order to stage a French (call that “freedom”) fried potato-eating contest that would result in some among their number regurgitating publicly, and then to top off the evening, pedal furiously down shuttered freeway express lanes only to be stopped, upon exiting to city streets, by a phalanx of law enforcement vehicles, some State Patrol, some Seattle’s Finest, and still manage to walk (or more accurately, ride) away from arrest, imprisonment, and even water-boarding?

Fuck you Osama Bin Laden, the terrorists have not won, not so long as such adventures remain in the realm of possibility, although thankfully for people’s intestines and police records they only come once a year.

The second annual .83 9/11 Never Forget (How Fat You Really Are) Bike Ride and Freedom Fry Eating Contest went off last night in fine form, which is more than can be said this morning of the competitors’ distended bellies.

And while, as has been noted, one might interpret the event as disrespectful of the tragic events that marked the date back in 2001, a more accurate reading—and I would argue more consistent with the true spirit of the night—would see such inspired stupidity as a celebration of the liberties upon which the American Dream is founded.

Moreover, I would bet that if only we might have gotten those misguided fanatics away from flight school back in 2000 and onto bicycles, they never would have carried out their fateful mission, but instead, would have been right there with us, singing “God Bless America” and gorging on deep-fried starch, feeling nothing but pride (and maybe a bit of dyspepsia) to be in the land of the fry, home of the brave.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I went to see the philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, at Seattle Town Hall Monday night. The place was packed; must have been three hundred people at least, all there to see this guy, kind of a nut, rant about fundamentalism, civility, radical nationalism, and unwritten societal rules, all the while he sweated, sniffled, and tugged on his beard; it was kind of like having an audience with an Asberger syndrome kid with logorrhea; lots of times he was funny, though, and much of what he had to say—at least what I could make sense of—I agreed with.

What I recall best was an extended riff on the unwritten rules by which society functions. He pointed out that you don’t just have to know the rules, you also have to know the other set of unwritten rules that tell you how and when to follow that first set. For example, he said, people who wanted to move into society used to take these courses to learn the rules of etiquette, but then, when they would try to assimilate, they’d be ostracized because they followed the rules blindly, not knowing, essentially, the secret code that said when to break the rules.

Another example takes place on the level of international geopolitics. During the later Cold War era, for instance, the US tacitly agreed to treat Russia as a superpower, but only if Russia tacitly agreed not to act like one. Zizek said that the current crisis in Georgia can be traced to Russia’s desire to violate those unspoken norms and actually flex its superpower muscles.

He ended his speech with a sort of disjointed analysis of the Presidential campaign and pointed out that the Republicans have perfected the skill of saying that they stand for exactly the opposite—fiscal responsibility, smaller government, individual freedom, and so on—than what their policies promote.

It was a fairly commonplace observation, but somehow, coming from a sweaty Slovenian philosopher, it sounded especially profound.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Thanks in part to the recommendation of .83 rider, SurlyKat, who’s gone on record as saying she likes “all things Buffy,” my family has, over the last few months, been working our way through seasons one, two, and now three of the much-beloved and Emmy award-winning television program, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It’s the perfect thing to watch right before bedtime since, not only is it exciting and creepy, but almost always leaves you hanging so that typically, we also get to have another little argument about whether we should watch just one more before lights out.

Still, I can hardly think of a better program to present role-models for my pre-adolescent child to emulate. Although naturally, as a parent, I hope the kid turns out most like Willow—supersmart, funny, loyal, and at least so far, chaste—there’s not one of the main teenage characters—even the snooty cheerleader-type Cordelia—who doesn’t have qualities of which a dad wouldn’t be proud.

My introduction to the series came last year, when I was preparing to team-teach a course combining physics and philosophy; I read the book The Physics of the Buffyverse, thinking that there might be some fun stuff to explore in our class. It turned out the class got canceled for lack of interest (imagine that!), but I remained intrigued enough by some of the episodes described in the book that I was eager to see what the show was like.

It’s certainly one of the better things I’ve seen on TV—especially on DVD without commercials—and while there is some variation in the quality of episodes—the ones written by show creator Josh Whedon or staff writer Marti Noxon strike me as the strongest—most of them are pretty much worth watching, even though it’s often my habit to leave during the middle and finish up the dishes before returning for the thrilling finale.

We’ve got three-plus more seasons to go; after that, I guess it’s on to Battlestar Gallactica.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Problem With Having a Job

The problem with having a job is that it makes you not want to do anything—that is, it makes you want to not do anything—when you’re not working.

Any time not spent on fulfilling one’s responsibilities as an employee immediately becomes play time, so it’s particularly difficult to do those many things that would, a small way, at least, make the world an incrementally better place: starting a small business or organization that would meet an unmet need in one’s community; writing a thrilling detective story featuring a character based on one’s own mother, may she rest in peace; planting a garden and tending it regularly.

Now that I only have three days left of summer vacation, all I really want to do is vacate in the fullest sense: overconsume, overindulge, and oversleep. Although there’s no question that it’s time I returned to being a more fully-fledged contributing member of society, I’m awfully inclined, as summertime runs down, to gorge myself on freedom over the next 72 hours, when really—by all rights—I ought to be buckling down and drying out.

Instead, I’m poking around the internetz looking at old Humble Pie, Small Faces, and the Osmond Brothersvideos. Certainly, no good can come of any of this.

It’s a lovely evening for a bicycle ride, however, and that’s not to be missed, no matter how hard-working of an employee one is.

Which reminds me, here comes Lance Armstrong back to cycling, apparently, which makes me doubly glad that this was the summer we saw the Tour; if he’s there next year, I’m sure it’s be even more of a circus it was this time around.

The point is, see, even he feels the way I’ve been referring to; the reason Lance is coming back to bike racing is so when he’s not busy with his chosen profession, he can lay around and eat tacos; when he isn’t though, he has to be much better all the time.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Know Taxes, Gnu?

Both presidential candidates are falling all over themselves promising that they won’t raise taxes, ensuring us that their opponent will, and in general, demonizing the very idea that the government has any right to take some of an individual’s hard-earned money to spend it on projects and policies intended to benefit all.

I don’t get it. What’s so bad about taxes, anyway?

The Conservative line, as I understand it, is that allowing individuals to keep more of their paychecks stimulates the marketplace and improves economic conditions for everyone in the country. For real?

When most people, (at least if I myself count as one of those most) have a little bit more disposable income, they dispose it on stuff they don’t really need, lots of it from China and abroad; so it’s unclear to me how this really helps the US economy.

On the other hand, when the government withholds a few dollars more of our paychecks and uses that money to provide stuff like better schools, better roads, and better programs to help lift people out of poverty, then it’s not just the economy that is stimulated, people’s quality of life improves.

And I’m not even sure that higher—or at least, not lowered—taxes do improve people’s economic status. For example, say I save a few bucks come April 15th, but as a result of that, roads are crummier and schools are worse. Now, I’ve got to spend more on car and bike repair—tires and suspension—and fork over big bucks for a new security system for my house since all these dropout youths have turned to crime.

My real concern—and I’ll bet a lot of people share this feeling—is not how much I pay in taxes, but how my tax dollars are spent. It doesn’t bother me to pay taxes if they’re used to support education and social programs and even reasonable military expenditures. Taxes to support unjust, unprovoked wars, though; that I find very taxing.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Auspicious Start

The Steelers stuck it to the Houston Texans today at Heinz Field 38-17 and it wasn’t even that close; all but 3 of the visitors points were scored in garbage time and hardly any of the home team starters played at all in the fourth quarter.

So, so far, so good, and even though nobody is likely to accuse the Texans of being a Superbowl-quality opponent, you have to hand it to the Black and Gold for getting the job done. You’ve got to win the games you’re supposed to if you’re going to do anything in the NFL.

Best of all, my boys beat the spread, so now, since the Giants also covered their points against the Redskins, all I need is for Bears to not lose to Indianapolis by more than a 9 points and I’ll win my first parlay of the season.

The other bets I made were on the Browns to prevail with +6.5 against the Cowboys (not looking so good in the second quarter, down by two touchdowns) and the Vikings +2.5 against the Favre-less Packers in Green Bay.

As usual, I’m experiencing my typical ambivalence over caring a whit about such a banal and pointless enterprise as professional football given the many far more pressing concerns facing the world today, but I figure since I finally took care of the one home improvement project I promised myself I would take on this summer—painting the outside molding on the back windows of the house—I’ve earned at least one day’s respite from the trials and tribulations facing us all, and even if I haven’t, too bad, I’m taking it anyway.

I suppose the background question is: how good does a person have to be, anyway? It can’t possibly be incumbent upon us to avail ourselves of every single occasion to make the world a better place; sometimes, I think, it’s enough to simply crash on the couch and refrain from making anything worse.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

God Knows

Sarah Palin’s been quoted as saying that she needs her supporters help to make sure that “God’s will” be done.

So help me God, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.

If God has a will, why would He—the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator of the Universe—need any assistance from people to get it done? Couldn’t He just do it himself with a simple snap of his omnipotent fingers?

But even more confusing to me is the idea that God could even have a will. It’s an old question to be sure, but has anyone answered the one about how an absolutely perfect being could have any desires or preferences? Especially ones that aren’t realized?

Doesn’t having a desire for something indicate incompleteness? For instance, my wish to lose a few pounds demonstrates that I’m not in a state of idea body image. But if I were perfect, I’d be back down to my preferred fighting weight and so, wouldn’t have that desire. So God, being perfect, can’t have desires, otherwise, He wouldn’t be perfect. Right?

But maybe my confusion stems from not really grasping who or what this God being is supposed to be anyway. I continue not to understand what could possibly exist outside of all that is that would, in some way, be responsible for all of it.

I realize that the idea of God gives comfort to many millions of people, many of whom are way smarter and better educated than me. But, from my perspective, a Universe without purpose or design is a far more comforting place. I get the willies from thinking that there might be something out there that has a plan for me that I can’t possibly understand and that I might piss off by behaving in some way that it doesn’t want me to.

It just seems like a lot safer to live in a place where the only wills we try to get done are each others’.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fundamentally Lazy

As I cling as tightly to the last few days of summer vacation as a conservative Republican does to tax breaks for the wealthy, it occurs to me that when all is said and done, I’m fundamentally a lazy person.

Oh sure, I’m up every day at 5:21 for two hours of yoga and a bike ride before breakfast, then it’s eaons of in-depth research into the very arcana of the universe and, of course, laboring diligently over another insightful, funny, and poignant essay offering solace and comfort to countless (can’t count to zero, can you?) individuals in all four corners of the globe, before fixing my family a gourmet meal gathered from my very own garden and boxes of macaroni and cheese harvested from the local Safeway, but in spite of all this and more (oversleeping, superficial friendships, recreational drug abuse), I’m still basically that same guy who—given half a chance—prefers to do nothing more than nothing or maybe augment that just a bit with a bike ride, a cup of coffee, and a few chapters of a cheesy novel or maybe a bicycle magazine.

So, I remain duly impressed with all these folks in Washington, and for that matter, Chicago and even Alaska, who seem so busy and driven, even if where they’re driving is no place I’d ever like to go.

I’m glad there are so many people who want to work so hard, because somebody’s got to pick up my slack, and there’s plenty of it.

Oh, I know once school starts, I’ll give over sleeping, and take to eating only fast food while riding my bike in order to ensure that I craft only the most meaningful and moving educational experiences for all my students (except that one kid who can’t stop playing with his cell phone), but for right now, I give free rein to my truer self, the one who’s so lazy that, when writing, he can’t even complete

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wake Me Up When It's Over

I’m weak; I admit it.

I’m not the kind of guy who enjoys rubbernecking car crashes, or staring at train wrecks, or who takes a great deal of pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

I never can put up with watching Cops, for example.

So I don’t think I’m going to be able to stomach the next few months as the campaign for U.S. President gets uglier, with each side’s attack dogs—one, for the Democratic party, something of a pit bull, the other, for the Republicans, like a angry little Pomeranian—go at it, while the media gleefully whip us all into a frothing frenzy like the crowd on the playground in fifth grade when two kids started to fight and we all stood around in a circle, chanting “ooh-ooh-ooh, fight, fight fight!”

Enough, already.

I keep wanting to have faith in my fellow citizens that the American people won’t be snowed this time around by appeals to fear and pity, buttressed by snarky asides, all made possible by the deep-seeded racism lurking in the background, but every time I tune into to the RNC or listen to right-leaning commentators, or for that matter, simply surf to Yahoo.com as a starting place for web searches, I lose my will—and practically my lunch, too.

You know that Who song: Won’t Get Fooled Again? Me, too, I get down on my knees and pray we won’t again, but I’m really afraid we will.

Rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beat paper, fear beats hope.

My inclination, therefore, is to bury my head under the pillow and not to look up until November 5th. At that point then, I can decide whether to move my family to where? Canada? New Zealand? Mars? Or plant a winter garden and stay put.

Of course, we won’t really move, we’ll just become more disenfranchised and disillusioned.

In the meantime, much as it hurts, I’ll try to keep my eyes at least half-open.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Day of School

As we’ve done the last few years, our family commemorated the unofficial end of summer by riding bikes—me and Mimi on the tandem and Jen on her bike—to Mimi’s school, this year, no longer the Giddens School (né Happy Medium), instead the far more impressively-named Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The ride is a little farther, the hill a good deal steeper, as befits the step up in class that moving from elementary to middle school augers.

I’ve now got a kid in sixth grade, hard as that is to believe (at least for me, for her, I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet, although having to get up at 7:00 AM rather than sleeping until 10:30, did a lot to get her attention.)

It’s hard for me to recall my own sixth grade because it sort of blends together with seventh and even eighth.

My homeroom teacher was Ms. Ferrante, who also taught English, although I can’t for the life of me recall anything we did in that class or anything we might have read.

This would have been 1968-1969; our family returned to Pittsburgh from six months in Europe in October or early November, so I had missed the first month or so of classes; I didn’t have too much trouble fitting back in, although I must have been a little freaked out because that was the year I got suspended one day for sitting in Math class and saying “Mugwump, mugwump, mugwump” until my teacher put me in a headlock and dragged me from the room. (Ah, the days before corporeal punishment was banned in public education.)

I spent a lot of time that year hanging around with my friend Benny Platt; we liked to play football in the house, causing my mom to coin her famous phrase “A house is not a gym.”

We also watched Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and cracked up whenever they said “Funk and Wagnalls.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Judging Judgment

Two of the big stories associated with the GOP convention—first, the cancellation of opening night due to concerns about Hurricane Gustav, and second, details emerging about Governor Palin’s life (her daughter’s pregnancy, her husband’s old DUI, her involvement with the Alaska Independence Party) that have given rise to concerns about the candidate vetting process—illustrate to me a characteristic of this bunch of Republicans that I hadn’t noticed before, or that I had overlooked while ascribing much more nefarious traits to President Bush and his cronies.

It’s this: it seems to me that the Republican leadership, at least as evinced by McCain et al., is well-meaning, but incompetent. They’re not actually this terrifying cabal of evil geniuses; as a matter of fact, they’re more like a pathetic gang of bumbling doofuses.

They overreacted to the threat of Gustav, closing up shop when it wasn’t really necessary. And they didn’t really do their homework with Governor Palin, ending up with egg on their collective faces and having to make an omelette of it.

This goes right to the “judgment” issue and indicates a certain lack of that quality.

Now, of course, someone could respond that it’s not fair to point fingers in this case, because no one could have predicted Gustav’s impact and that better safe than sorry, nor could anyone have known everything that might emerge about a candidate until the media started digging, but that’s just my point.

Good judgment requires us to make assessments in light of the information we have, even if it’s incomplete, and come up with predictions for how we should act. And unfortunately, it’s often only after the fact when we discover whether our judgment was indeed good or not.

I admire the Republicans for proceeding cautiously in these cases, especially regarding Gustav, but solving the problems our country faces will require more than just a measured approach; it’s going to call for much better judgment than I’ve seen from the GOP.