Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Examined Life

Went to the Northwest Film Forum tonight to see this movie, Examined Life, which is comprised totally—of interviews with pretty well-known academic philosophers, including Cornel West, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Singer, Judith Butler, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Slavoj Zizeck, and a handful of others who aren’t well-known enough to be known by me—which isn’t really saying all that much, since I make no particular claim to being widely-read in all the various sub- and related disciplines in my discipline.

It was way funnier and more engaging than anyone had a right to expect, especially the parts with Dr. West, who pretty much stole the show with his non-stop monologue about everything from how he philosophizes in music rather than words to how the United States, while being a romantic ideal is really more like a dream predicated on the historical oppression of blacks, women, indigenous people and corporate capitalism, all the while interspersing his remarks with references to hip-hop, contemporary culture and moving between a variety of styles of discourse, academic to street and back again.

My favorite part, though, I think was the interview with Zizeck at the New York City garbage dump where he argued the ecological consciousness has become the new dogmatic conservative religion so that anytime any possible advance in technology or human experience is proposed, ecology puts a kibosh on it by noting that such advances separate man from nature—an observation I myself have expounded upon in my environmental ethics class again and again—whereas, Zizeck claims, we ought to emphasize and accelerate human separation from nature in order to see beauty in all things, including piles of trash.

The connecting thread among all the interviews was movement; all the philosophers were either walking or traveling on moving walkways, or in a rowboat, which emphasized the peripatetic nature of the practice, but which also made for deliciously funny moments as people in the background noticed or ignored the ideas passing by.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pig In a Poke

By saying this, I’ll probably jinx myself and be the first person in all of Washington state to die of it, but I’m going to take that risk anyway, so here goes:

I’m not afraid of swine flu and I don’t see what all the fuss is, pandemic be damned.


I mean it’s just the fucking flu, right? We’re not talking Ebola here, are we?

Now, I don’t mean to denigrate the obvious tragedy of the hundred and fifty or so deaths in Mexico, and sure, we all ought to take reasonable precautions, like washing our hands and trying to avoid being sneezed on by strangers, but doesn’t it seem to anyone else that the level of panic is rising a little too high?

The statistics I read said that among those who contract the disease, the death rate is between one and four percent. So, even if you get sick, the chances of croaking from the illness, at least if you’re in reasonable health, are pretty slim. I’ll take my chances that there’s got to be one or two really old and infirm greybeards who are more likely to be smitten than me, right?

As a parent, I’m naturally more concerned about my child’s health, but these kids today, they live just fine on sugar and potato chips; seems to me that any self-respecting virus would rather find a host whose diet is more salubrious; and besides, if youngsters can still continue to grow up reasonably healthy on Lunchables and Fanta, then I’m not too worried about their ability to defeat some tiny little microscopic organisms.

What I am paranoid enough to fear, however, is that this is all another drummed-up crisis to keep the public’s attention off more pressing concerns: environmental degradation, economic instability, the Boston Red Sox’s 11-game winning streak.

In the meantime, I’m relying on my physician father’s old remedy for cases like this: three fingers of single-malt, taken orally as needed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I was complaining to myself and getting all testy with my family this morning because I had to spend all my Saturday morning grading student papers, but then later, it occurred to me how lucky I am to have that be the least of my worries.

This is partly because, I think, I got to have so much fun this afternoon playing softball and drinking beer with people I know and not only that, we won both games!

Plus, right after I gave up watching the Pens on laptop TV because they were down 3-0, the same score they lost game five in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they rallied and took game six from cross-state rivals, the FLyers, 5-3, at home in the City of Brotherly Love.

So why should standing in front of a computer, in my own home, drinking coffee and reading the work of students, who are all putting themselves out there in the name of achieving some goal, be construed as a chore, anyway? What else would I have been doing? Surfing the net? Standing over the sink eating crackers? Writing this piece or one predictably like it?

If I could put things in better perspective and remember that for tens of thousands of years of human history, nearly everything I have to be annoyed about was utterly outside the experience of such beings, then I’d be a lot more patient with myself and my loves ones. I’d see more clearly how ill-equipped human beings are for solving human problems.

On the other hand, softball’s fun and all—as today’s first games of the season attest to—but it’s sure a lot more fun when you win, or at least when you play well and don’t get hurt.

One of our players, JD, slid into second and broke his ankle, his tibia, and tore up some tendons in his leg, whatever privilege that is, no luck there, although at least he was called safe.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Empirical Evidence

Not every ride has to be epic, especially if you cruise through a vast industrial wasteland on a man-made island formed initially by cargo ships discharging their ballast at anchor, and hang out in a deserted public “park” wondering whether the attendants manning the tower in the massive swinging drawbridge above really do spy on people from their overhead perches.

So even though we almost certainly rode fewer miles than we drank pitchers of beer, I, for one, had no complaints—other than, early in the night, as we rolled down Second Avenue when, just as three or four of us were sidling along a few cars as we closed the gap to the back of the pack, this fucker in his Mini Cooper Clubman lawnmower swerved right at me, so suddenly and blatantly I had to chalk it up to stupidity and cluelessness rather than anger and maliciousness else I’d lose all faith in humanity, even those who lock themselves in metal boxes on such a lovely spring evening.

But every ride has to have a moment, like this, when we proved that yes, the bridge attendants are watching, and here’s how: at the bottom of the bikeway leading across to West Seattle, the gang pulls apart, one contingent wanting to take the direct way to Georgetown, the other looking to add a few miles the long way around over the Duwamish. The latter pack forms raggedly, trying to convince the former to follow with cries of “Nine Pound Hammer!” the destination all are in serious agreement about.

As we’re climbing the initial rise, heads turned, urging our fellows to follow, the bridge attendants must be taking it all in because at the very second the first of our group is about to cross onto the center section of the drawbridge, the gates come down, blocking our way.

At that moment, the attendants had to be laughing at us, but not as much as we were.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pump It Up

It’s probably just that with the nice weather we’ve been having, folks are dragging their bikes out of the basement and getting on them for the first time this season, but even so, it’s striking how many cyclists you come across who are riding around with saggy tires.

You see them pedaling down the Burke-Gilman trail, their rims bouncing up and down ever so slightly, just a little divot or pothole away from a pinch flat or even worse, a bent rim. Or, there they are, pedaling through traffic downtown, their tires making that muffin-top connection to the pavement, a sure sign that they haven’t paid proper care to the feeding of their inner tubes.

No doubt lots of these riders think that the cushy feel of the road is how it’s supposed to be; and I’ll bet that even among those who’d like to be cruising with less rolling resistance, there’s a contingent who simply don’t have pumps and are too busy or lazy to drop by the bike shop for air.

But still.

Making sure that your tires are all pumped is pretty much the first toe in the water of bicycle maintenance. I remember my dad showing me how to do it with this old turquoise metal pump we had and even more, I recall the satisfaction it gave me to see my Schwinn’s whitewalls all nice and solid before I took to the road.

I realize, of course, that I sound like a crank here; after all, if somebody wants to ride around with insufficient air between their rims and the road, that’s their business. It’s not even like cyclists who fail to lube their chains and go clanking around for all to hear; in this case, the lack of proper maintenance is, at least, silent.

But I can’t help feeling just a tiny bit annoyed or maybe just sad; as long as there’s still air to be had, people should use it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Filmed By Bike 2009

The only downside of the whole weekend is that Mimi didn’t get to see our animated film, The Tortoise and the Hare, play on the big screen at the Clinton Theater, but I did manage to take a low quality video of the 9:00 show on Friday so she could see how the audience reacted favorably, especially to her joke in the final frame.

Other than that, though, I would hardly change a thing—the weather’s been just lovely again and did nothing but make us fall head over heels once more with Portland’s charms as we pedaled around town yesterday, stopping in to vintage stores and bars for browsing and bloody maries respectively.

And again, as in 2008, the experience has inspired us to start thinking about next year’s entry, which—at this point, anyway—we’re imagining as something in the horror movie genre, perhaps a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as played by bicycles, but we’ll see, as the deadline in February comes nearer.

The general consensus seems to be that this year’s crop of movies in FBB continues to raise the bar in terms of professionalism and technical expertise but that maybe, just maybe, something might have been missing when it comes to comparing story and passion with year’s past, but that, in any case, our little movie holds up really well overall.

The organizers of the festival totally outdid themselves, though, in the party department; I loved how the entire block around the theater was taken over Friday night for the festivities. I hung around basking in the celebration until one in the morning but somehow, unfortunately, managed to miss the late night ride leaving around then.

Still, I enjoyed my usual post-festival ride home across the river to our hotel; the streets were all but empty of cars as I pedaled across the Willamette and even though I was alone, it felt like fellow cyclists were out there, almost everywhere.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I’m naïve enough to believe that the bicycle could just about save the world. If more people—in the USA, at least—rode bikes to get where they were going more of the time, at least three of our country’s biggest problems would be ameliorated, if not solved completely.

First, our reliance on the dreaded “foreign oil,” with all the attendant foreign policy implications would be reduced. No longer would we be held so tightly in hostage to the corrupt leadership of foreign lands who have the misfortune of having “our” oil under their soil and the avaricious appetites of corporations who procure it.

Second, the environmental impact of transportation, including its contribution to human-induced global climate change would be mitigated. Car traffic on our roads and highways wouldn’t be so heavy and that couldn’t help but improve people’s psychology as well as their surrounding environment.

Third, the obesity epidemic would be stemmed. Health care costs would be reduced as fewer people would need to be treated for diseases that are caused, at least in part, by being overweight.

And, of course, there would be all sorts of additional benefits: life would be quieter, somewhat slower, fewer people would die in flaming auto wrecks, and chances are, bicycle fashions would improve, as well.

The chances of this coming about—in my lifetime, at least—seem pretty slim, and I guess I’m somewhat ambivalent about the prospect, anyway. Clearly, one of the things I like about being a cyclist is that it’s slightly out of the mainstream; if everyone commuted on two wheels, I’d just be one of the herd, instead of being able to imagine—rightly or wrongly—that I’m special.

Still, I think I’d take a better world for all even if it meant there would be aspects slightly more annoying for me. Besides, if I still wanted to rebel, I could always do something really radical, like, I don’t know, maybe riding the city bus.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I was talking to my friend, Alex Kostelnik, owner of 2020 Cycle, and going on about how anal I can be about my bikes are running and how I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, and he reassured me by pointing at that, what the hell, bikes are relatively simple machines and so it’s understandable that a person might try to get them running more or less perfectly since, as a matter of fact, that’s essentially do-able.

So even though my fussiness about my two-wheelers may be somewhat fussy to say that least, at least it’s not futile; on the other hand, it does make for a certain share of frustrations, although they must be frustrations I enjoy, or at least puzzles I’m interested in solving.

For instance, now that I’ve gotten the Saluki’s crank all quieted down and basically, the bike is running like a dream, I’m noticing—or at least I did on today’s ride home—the occasional chirping sound emanating somewhere in the vicinity of the back wheel. I thought maybe it was an out-of-true wheel rubbing sometimes against the fender or brake blocks, but it’s not consistent enough and besides, when I stopped and spun it, the sound didn’t reproduce.

The source could be the spokes, but having squeezed them, I don’t think so. Currently, my conjecture is that it’s something to do with the rear rack; I was able to get something like what I was hearing by jiggling it, so I tightened up all the bolts and we’ll see tomorrow.

The thing is, I realize that even if I solve this minor annoyance, there’ll always be another one; I’ll start thinking that the tires are running too loudly on the asphalt or something.

It kind of make me envy those people I run across on the trail whose bikes are all rattling and squeaking and clanking; they seem to have achieved the perfect balance between noise and tolerance for it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maybe, Sorta, I Hope

I had almost resolved to live with that infernal clicking sound coming from my Saluki somewhere as I turned the non-drive side crank just past about seven o’ clock; or I was thinking I’d fucking sell the bike if I could stand it no longer.

As evidence of my frustration, I sought help, stopping in at Counterbalance Cycles and having my friend and master mechanic, Dan Boxer take a look and a test ride to see if he could find the source of the noise. Naturally, when he went for a spin, the clicking stopped—and even when I pedaled home that night, it seemed to be gone for a while.

Dan did point out that my chain was stretched and that the middle chainring on my crankset was all sharkfinned; he also agreed that my suspicion that it might have something to do with the one centimeter spacer on the drive-side bottom bracket might have something to do with it.

So, anyway, in a last-ditch effort to resolve things, I bought a brand-new Velo-Orange bottom bracket which at 122mm was just long enough not to need a spacer. I also sprung for a new chain and a new cassette and most extravagant of all, a fresh TA Specialties middle chainring which—at $56.00—was half as dear as the whole Sugino PX crankset cost in the first place.

It was quite an effort to loosen all the seized up bolts on the crank; I came this close to rounding out the hex heads, but patience and WD40 saved the day and eventually, the new ring was installed.

But huzzah! (So far, and knock wood.) With all the new stuff greased up and installed, I’ve yet to hear any clicking even after fifty-some miles.

Total cost: about $150 bucks but compare that to thousands for a whole new automobile transmission and drive train.

And probably ten times that for therapy if the clicking really drove me nuts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Like, Like It

One of my favorite things to see is a bunch of bikes piled up outside a bar; it gives me hope for the human race.

So, I was a bit sad this evening when I rode over to the Elysian and there weren’t any cycles there; that is, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, nobody was there, it was too crowded.

Now, I’m not saying that folks who don’t ride bikes to their destinations are any less cool than those who do; I’m just trying to communicate that, for me, if you show up on a bike—even if it’s a Magna from Costco or wherever, you’re got the inside track to being my friend.

I have this idea about a party I want to throw: it would be out in the woods, or at least some location somewhat removed from most other places, and anybody who came there on two wheels would be invited. Basically, this is the way .83 works; not that newcomers are always welcomed with open arms (well, not if they’re boys, anyway), but a person can pretty much count on the fact that if he keeps appearing, keeps riding, and isn’t too inept about fixing his own flats, then he’ll be tolerated, at least.

I myself have been doing this for almost three years and even though I’m this weird old guy whose taste in recreational stimulants skews more towards the smokeable than the drinkable as compared to the majority of the group, I’m only rarely ostracized, and usually that’s more in my head than reality.

Someday, I hope, I’m going to write this book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned In My Bike Gang, and it will talk about how lots of the things about life that I’ll want to recall on my deathbed will have happened on Thursday nights while out on two wheels.

In the meantime, though, I’m going to keep pedaling around looking for bars with bike piles outside.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Drink It In

The main thing for me tonight was experience and the way it looked.

First time I noticed was in the parking lot of the liquor store on 4th, I guess, when a shaft of sunlight opened up a blade in the sky; Bob Hall lamented that we were not in Myrtle Edwards Park and while I shared his aspiration, I had no complaints; in any case, we both agreed that Seattle goes easy on the eyes.

Then, it was all about noticing how the drawbridge opening brought us all together; that gave me the courage to ride figure-eights on the bridge (why the fuck not, there’s nothing coming in the other lane) passing the time pleasurably.

Next, as we rolled down towards the 7-11, I seem to recall me and Shannon noticing how ironic was the loveliness of what we were seeing combined with the knowledge that those waters aren’t as lovely as the look.

But eventually, it was the colors of hotdogs before discovering Jack Block park, where Daniel Featherhead flew and I first got punched in the nuts by Derrick.

That place is magical. The view it commands and the time it would take to get to you make me feel safe, even though I know escape would the problem.

Visually, the cartoon panorama of lights from Magnolia way past SODO sticks hardest.

Emotionally—when all was well—was when Ben got high, at least for me, and later, when the prone Stick Man said his name.

On our way to karaoke, a bunch of us hung out in a spot would we never have been in were it not for bikes; a freeway underpass is an environment worth looking at.

A Goldie’s, I enjoyed seeing others sing so much I wanted to try it myself.

And because I’ve actually given some thought to this, I sang Whip It.

That was fun, right up there with the ride home, yet another feast for the eyes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

David Suzuki

Jen and I went to Seattle Town Hall last night to hear the well-known biologist, environmentalist, and television personality (and, apparently, according to some poll, 5th Greatest Canadian ever), David Suzuki, talk about his new book, The Big Picture, in which he draws upon essays he’s written over the last few decades to continue making his case about the interconnectedness of all things in nature, including humans, and how contemporary industrial and social practices have deranged the delicate balance among all things in the natural world.

His talk was both incredibly inspiring and deeply depressing; I found myself alternating between feelings of hope and wonder at mystery and beauty of natural processes and disgust and horror at the ways in which mankind has made such a total fucking mess of things, especially in the last century or so.

Dr. Suzuki wasn’t preachy at all, but he minced no words in holding us accountable for the myriad ways in which the choices we make negatively affect the very systems that sustain all life on the planet.

One example that struck me had to do with our shared hunger for gadgetry. He pointed out that a person could turn off his or her DVD player, cellphone, high-speed internet connection, color laptop computer, and MP3 player and at that point, be living a perfectly modern, up-to-date lifestyle circa 1995. All of these gadgets, in other words, that so many people consider so vital to their lives today have been around barely over a decade; it’s no wonder that a crabby old grouch like me resists them.

But more to the point, as he reminded us, is that all of these, and in the obsolescence to which they consign other gadgets (and to which they will soon be consigned themselves), contribute not just to environmental destruction, but to the misguided idea that more stuff and more technology will make us happier.

So, stop reading this immediately, and go outside and play.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Enough Already

Okay, I get it. People are suffering; mental illness abounds; guns are too easily available to men who are deranged.

Now can we stop having another story a day in the news about some crazy male who shoots a bunch of strangers and/or his family before turning the gun on himself? Or is there some way to ensure that all these murder/suicides take the advice of Stranger columnist David Schmader and make sure the guy does the suicide first?

Friday, fourteen people are shot to death by an angry, crazy man in Binghampton, New York. Saturday morning, three cops are killed by an angry, crazy man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the quiet neighborhood of Stanton Heights, where I used to ride my bike to feel up my first girlfriend while we made out on her parents’ couch when they were away. Last night, an angry, crazy man in Graham, Washington, just a few miles down the road from where I live now shot and killed his five kids, aged 6 to 15, before putting a bullet in his own head.

Fuck. Enough already.

I have no idea how to prevent such tragedies, but here’s an idea: don’t let men have guns. How about that one?

Oddly enough, you hardly ever (have you ever?) hear about some angry, crazy woman flipping out and going postal with a cache of automatic weapons; it’s always some dude. Apparently, girls are just more responsible with guns than boys, so maybe we should stop letting anyone with the Y chromosome be allowed to play with them.

No doubt lots of fellows will be opposed to this, especially those who want their own arsenal in order to protect themselves from the government or whomever, but they can rest assured that they’ll be safe just so long as they’ve got a female friend or companion whose stockpiled her own munitions.

I’m not saying this will solve everything, but it’s worth—pun intended—a shot.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Fuck Those Fucking Fucks

Sometimes I feel sorry for them, I really do: trapped in their metal cages, stacked up in endless lines of the similarly imprisoned, getting fatter and stupider with each passing mile; that’s when my heart goes out at the mindless conformity and desperate lack of imagination that brainwashes people to believe that their only option for getting around is to climb behind the wheel of some overpriced, inefficient, and fundamentally ugly contraption and be carried around like the proverbial Spam in a can with nothing else to do other than eat, talk on cell phones, and pick their noses until they arrive, fatter and stupider, at their destinations.

But other days, like today (maybe it’s because I didn’t get my usual Thursday night bike gang ride, perhaps it’s due to that extra shot of Blanton’s I had before retiring, or it could just be the phase of the moon), my gorge rises, and I feel mainly contempt for and disgust at drivers and their gas-guzzling planet-destroying vehicles.

I’m appalled at the selfishness and laziness of anyone who thinks that their own little need to get somewhere just a tiny bit faster or drier warrants completely disregarding the effect their actions are having on my planet and the world I hope to leave to my daughter and future generations.

I look at those smug fuckers in their fancy status symbols showing off like monkeys baring their teeth at rivals, or those fat-assed morons in extra large boxes whose irrational fears compel them to ceaselessly rationalize the essential immorality of their actions in the name of convenience and perceived comfort, and I’m enraged, calmed mainly by the satisfaction of turning my pedals and self-propelling myself onwards.

Am I an asshole for being so judgmental of my fellow citizens? Okay, sure, but then so were abolitionists and freedom fighters; right is right as history—if we can get those fuckers to stop driving and the human race survives—will show.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I finally have a reason to buy a cell phone—an Apple iPhone, of course, since, once again, Steve Jobs, in his infinite wisdom, has created a platform upon which to serve up all sorts of delicacies that even resistant consumers like me can’t resist.

I speak, of course, about today’s newly announced iPhone app, iShift, which, in conjunction with Shimano’s new Di2 electronic shifting system, allows a rider to seamlessly change gears on his bicycle, directly from the iPhone, via touchscreen, voice, or even remote access.

In the case of touchscreen, a scrollable menu of gear choices appears right on the iPhone display, and you simply tap the gear you’d like to shift into; tapping once shifts down, tapping twice, up; or you can scroll through your gears with a mere brush of the fingertip.

The voice-activated shifting is even cooler; you just dial the IP address of your derailer and tell it which gear you’d like to change to; currently, a graphic of your cogset is displayed on the iPhone; future versions promise to use the device’s built-in camera for realtime display.

In my test, it worked perfectly, except when I received another call; at this point, apparently, my derailer automatically withdrew $300 from my bank account and wired it directly to Jobs’ Paypal account; developers assure me that this is just a bug in the beta version of the software and that, at the very least, all components will have a $100 limit on any purchases they make.

The remote access feature may have the coolest upside potential. While I was riding along, developers, accessing another iPhone app, iMonitor, that records my heartbeat and skin temperature, were able to shift gears for me, before I even knew I needed to.

At first, it was disconcerting to feel like a character in someone’s video game, but I eventually got used to it, and had my derailer send another $300 to Steve Jobs for the privilege.