Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Best" of 2009

This is the third year I’ve compiled a “best of” list for 327 Words. Talk about an oxymoronic project; it’s like putting together a “most admired” list Wall Street hedge-fund managers or something.

The good news, though, is that if I do this for another thirty years or so, it will be easy for my biographers to go through and put together an archival collection of the 327 “best” essays, merely by reading each of these year-end pieces, rather than having to sort through all ten thousand plus postings I’ll have by then. So, for the good of those graduate students in early internet studies, I offer the following:

In January, although most of my postings having something to do with the Steelers’ march towards Superbowl victory, a piece about bike-love, “It’s Alive!” wins out.

But of course, “Wow,” my account of said victory, is February’s entry.

March offers “March Madness,” a piece that had one commenter wondering whether I had unearthed some forgotten stash of LSD-25.

For April, I give you the charming and delightful, “Fuck Those Fucking Fucks.”

May’s entry has to be “A Fine Disaster,” although admittedly, I’m biased by my fond memories (those that I can remember) of the event itself.

The best of June goes to “Bicycle Belles,” but again, it’s easy when you have great material to work with.

A couple nice accounts of rides in July, but my favorite has to be the story of a Sunday pedal to the track, “In Stages.”

I think I’ll go with “Magnanimity” in August, although maybe it should have been called “Magnanimousness.”

is my choice for September, but, perhaps revealing a thematic affinity for existentialism, I also appreciate “Soulless,” too.

October comes to you with “Last Chance,” an activity, paradoxically, worth trying again and again.

I like “Tidy” for November, a fine example of TMI.

And finally, in December, it’s “All In My Head,” which pretty much characterizes every posting, every year.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Hope, said Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers; in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, though, I’d say it’s more like something that should be carrying a dart gun to shoot roofie-tipped projectiles at the best players on the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans, since in order for the playoff hopes of the Black n’ Gold to be realized, it’s going to take some serious stumbling on the part of at least two of those three teams.

But at least things are going down to the wire; even though Pittsburgh doesn’t “control their own destiny,” they will be playing a meaningful game on the last day of the season, something that the majority of NFL teams won’t be doing, meaning that their fans would have to really be fans to care, except, I think, in the case of the Seattle Seahawks, who—with their embarrassing defeat yesterday at the hands of the Green Bay Packers (48 to 10 or something like that)—hardly deserve to be cared about even by the most rabid of supporters (if there are any left.)

The Steelers have what the pundits always call “flickering” playoff hopes, which frankly, is good enough for me since, as recently as two weeks ago, it was more like they were dangling from a tree with a rope around their neck, although I should reiterate a point I made earlier, to wit: I don’t really care about pro football and it makes no difference to me whatsoever whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers make it into the post-season, even though it would make that first weekend after school starts in January just a little more palatable, that I do have to admit.

I brought out all the stops yesterday to help the boys from the Burgh prevail: picked up all the backyard dog poo, mopped the kitchen floor, drank Rolling Rock as the second half began; with hope like that, who needs feathers?

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I began getting the dreaded clicking sound with every revolution of the cranks on my Quickbeam; it emerged after a long-ish ride last weekend, which included mashing up a fairly long hill on the backside of Queen Anne (that sounds kinda nasty, doesn’t it?) and so I brought the bike down into the basement to see what I might be able to do about it.

I removed the cranks and took out the bottom bracket, re-greased everything and put it all back together. But when I rode around yesterday on a few Christmas-day errands (Oh no! We’re out of beer!) I found the noise hadn’t gone away.

So, this morning, I brought the bike back downstairs, put it back up on the stand, and redid everything I did the other day, only this time, I removed the pedals, lubed them up and also, when re-attaching the cranks, I put a little bit of grease on the square taper before tightening up the crank bolts—with which I used a “cheater bar” (an old steel seatpost) on my wrench to get really good and tight.

Now, I’m aware that opinions differ on whether one should grease the bottom bracket square tapers. I was told, in the first overhaul class I ever took, that you ought to pinch a tiny bit of slippery stuff—like just as much as you have on your fingers after working—onto them. I’ve also heard, though, that they should be left pretty dry; after all, you don’t want them slipping around; it’s supposed to be all about friction fit.

However, it seems to me, in my experience, that more than just a tiny bit of grease does contribute to the cranks running more silently. At least, in this case, it did, because while I didn’t exactly slather the stuff on, I was pretty liberal in my application.

And, when I took the bike out for a test ride, all was quiet.

For now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Heave

The Buddhists have it right: life is suffering and the cause of that is desire; if we could just overcome, eliminate, or otherwise rid ourselves of our lusts, cravings, and attachments, all would be right with the world—and afterworld, too, I suppose.

But we’re trapped in a paradox: if we desire to be desire-less, then that’s a desire, too; so basically, we’re fucked. Alas, it’s the human condition, and presumably, until we manage to get ourselves out of the ongoing cycle of death and rebirth, all we have to look forward to, like it or not.

I mention this not out of some misguided affection for Eastern religion, but rather as an observation about my own state of mind here on the last day before Christmas 2009, one I’ve been having sort of a hard time getting sufficiently excited about, even though I’ve been doing my best to keep up the steady alcoholic glow that typically inspires holiday spirit for me.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I haven’t clarified my Christmas list yet; I guess I’ve been waiting for Santa to be a tad more forthcoming with his intentions, but since he seems to have gotten sidetracked by the eggnog, I suppose I’ll just have to take the lead from children everywhere, climb up on the old guy’s lap, and let him have it.

First, of course, I’d like world peace and harmony and free health care for all people. And a new laptop would be cool, too.

I’d like to see that every child was a wanted child and that all kids everywhere had parents that loved them and took good care of them. And bring me some new cashmere socks to go with that.

Please, Santa, see to it that everyone has safe shelter with plenty of healthy food and water; and if you could manage to ensure that I win the MegaMillions lottery, that would be most appreciated as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Philip Roth

Of course I read Portnoy’s Complaint. In fact, I smuggled a copy of it into Ms. Ferrante’s seventh grade homeroom and shared some of the naughty bits with my classmates—even though I’m not sure I understood the part where Alex has sex with his family’s liver dinner, it seemed funny at the time (and still does!)

And I think I recall perusing The Great American Novel, (probably in hopes of getting some tips for my own aspirations), but it didn’t really sink in.

I’ve read Goodbye, Columbus at least twice, although I think the movie with Richard Benjamin stuck with me more forcefully.

And I’m pretty sure I made it through The Breast, but I may be confusing that with the Woody Allen adaptation of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.

So, naturally, I’m aware of Roth’s acclaim, but I don’t think I really got how great he is until just now—or make that yesterday—when I finished The Human Stain, his masterpiece about many things—identity politics, academia, love, death, sex, and war, aging, Vietnam, Viagra, and probably hope, desire, life, family, history, and politics, too.

If one of the marks of a great book is that it teaches you things without being pedantic, makes you feel powerful emotions without being maudlin, and keeps you turning the pages without relying on cheap tricks, then there’s no question that The Human Stain is a great book.

It also got inside my head in strange ways, compelling me to act out just a little bit in the admirably sociopathic manner of its main character, Coleman Silk.

The only complaint I might have about the book is the somewhat stereotypical post-traumatic stressed Vietnam vet character that Roth uses to effect the novel’s denouement, but he manages to pull it off without going all Stephen King on us.

So now, I’m reading Letting Go, and already, I can’t put it down.

Monday, December 21, 2009

All In My Head

Nature has gifted me with five charming and useful sensory receptors (although the olfactory has always seemed like something of a poor relation, especially when compared with the visual or auditory), but I sometimes wonder whether they’re not all essentially overkill, given that—like everybody else on the planet—my experience of the world is far more governed by what happens between my ears than whatever it is out there that’s actually stimulating my senses.

I live, as I assume do the vast majority of my human brothers and sisters, in a sort of fantasy world constructed out of hopes and dreams, fears and desires, memories and imagined scenarios, laden with all sorts of possibilities, most unrealized, that drive me to think and behave in response to stuff that never really happened, probably never will happen, and certainly won’t ever happen in the manner I envision when I roll the made-up motion picture in my head time and again for my viewing pleasure.

The so-called “problem of other minds,” the philosophical puzzle that has us pondering how we can possibly know that other human beings are not just really sophisticated robots is supposedly solved by analogy: I know I have a mind and behave certain ways; other people’s behavior is relevantly similar, so they must have minds, too—but even so, I don’t think any of us can really assert that we know what’s going on inside someone else’s head; in fact, it’s probably a stretch to say with certainty what’s going on inside of our own—at least it is for me.

I think.

I know how easily it is to be emotionally moved by fiction—heck, I even cry at animated movies—and so it’s probably no surprise that my feelings are so easily tossed to and fro by stuff that I make up, but you’d think that, as the maker-upper, I’d have a better perspective on it.

But, of course, that’s just my fantasy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christpocalypse

It sure was nice of God to do His immaculate conceiving in springtime so that His human form son would be born in winter, thereby assuring that 2109 years later, in the darkest days of December, we’d all have reason to celebrate, and the end result would be another fine Christmas disaster, complete with muddy nighttime bike racing, hot toddies, and baby powder right in the face, blinding you, but making everyone smell so clean and fresh that you’d want to wrap the whole evening up in a warm blanket and cuddle all the way through the holidays if it weren’t for the fact that there were still two or three more thrilling and dangerous events to survive before settling in for gift-giving and soul-baring and all this before eight o’ clock on Saturday night.

All I want for Christmas is the video recording implant, so I can play back on the insides of my eyelids a few of the visions dancing like sugarplum fairies in my head: the snaking line of red taillights bouncing through the sex trails at Volunteer Park; the meandering but quickly accelerating descent through Interlachen and down to the soggy Montlake playfield; bikes slipping sideways in the muddy soup of the oval track while I took fourth place by cutting across the grass.

I’d like to review the tapes of the gift exchange, too, so I could see how I lost the Ahearn flask and holder and ended up with some sort of weird kitchen or bar contraption that will, I promise, find its way back into the mix for someone else’s comfort and joy next year.

Minor catastrophe, success: we didn’t exactly get kicked out of the bar, but we were asked to leave so cleaner people in uglier sweaters could have their room, which frankly, was a gift, since it resulted in one more bike ride, to a place beyond disaster, where the stars always line up and twinkle catastrophically.

Friday, December 18, 2009


The comforting thing about the holidays is their predictability: you know you’ll have at least one opportunity to get a bit tipsy on a weekday afternoon while half-heartedly gift shopping; you can be assured that a big box of Deb’s cookies will come in the mail; and you can sleep well knowing that on the last Thursday or so before Christmas, there will be a roaring clusterfuck of a bicycle race around Greenlake hosted by a drunken loudmouth who will crack you up with awkward and hilariously inappropriate observations about participants and attendees, which will culminate in a perfectly unreasonable amount of alcohol abuse and, of course, another win for now three-time Race of Champion winner, Padraig Patrick, who once again prevailed—although admittedly, without having to compete against the absent and magical Daniel Featherhead.

Conditions this year, unlike in last year’s Snowpocalypse, were perfectly ideal for riding; imagine a mid-December evening in Seattle where one doesn’t even get rained on! And while I didn’t, as I’d hoped, make it to the Westlake meet-up, there was something fitting about catching up to the ride mid-stride, as I’ve done this year all quarter long.

As it was, I arrived just in time to take off with the start of the December race-in heat, in which I rode just long enough to finish the traditional racetime victory cigar which, as usual, did little to propel me to victory, but which did alleviate any pangs of conscience I might otherwise have felt about bailing on the competition so early—without even trying to reprise my Rosie Ruiz schtick from last year.

As for the human drama of athletic competition, I’d have to say the high point of the evening was the footdown competition, in which the Angry Hippy once again demonstrated the old adage that “age and treachery will always triumph over youth and enthusiasm,” a message no less apt for being obvious, nor any less welcome for being traditional.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Seems like people have forgotten how to come to agreement about anything anymore.

Two of the most important issues facing all of us, nationally and internationally—heath care reform and human-induced global climate change—have so far stymied all attempts by allegedly reasonable people to arrive at some sort of plans or programs that are generally acceptable to all.

It appears to me that everyone’s forgotten that if anyone’s going to get anything they want, they’re going to not get everything they want. Sharing is caring, remember, kids? And successful negotiations, as I’ve always understood them, mean that everyone ends up equally dissatisfied.

Republicans are apparently prepared to totally scuttle any chance at comprehensive health care reform just because—I’m not sure why: something to do with being big babies?

And the US and China seemed determined to fail to reach some sort of accord on reducing greenhouse gasses, because—and I’m clutching at straw here—I dunno: we want to keep driving big cars and they’d like to continue manufacturing more and more plastic shit?

I’m not saying that there aren’t causes worth fighting for—no one, for instance would ever get me to compromise on the all-important issue of headless vs. threaded headsets on bicycles—but most of the time, it’s more prudent to just live with something that’s imperfect rather than getting nothing because your ideals are too high.

At least that’s what I keep telling my wife, bada-boom, bada-bing!

Of course, I blame the internet, which allows everyone to too easily talk and listen only to people who have the same views they do; climate change deniers can go the rest of their pathetic little lives never having to read or listen to a single sensible word on the subject of anthropogenic climate change; it’s no wonder, therefore, that they won’t budge an inch, even as the planet crumbles around them.

Frankly, I don’t get it; it’s not like they’re arguing over headsets.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


At my age, I’m supposed to go to the doctor for regular health check-ups, where the physician palpates and pokes me here and there and draws blood and other fluids to make sure I’m not dying of some rare disease that can only be cured by surgically removing my savings account and most of any retirement plans I’ve set up so far.

While I’m sure doing so would have improve the health of Dr. Heidi Powell’s bank balance, I’m disinclined to subject myself to such ministrations; I can’t see the point on two grounds: first, why go to the doctor when I’m not experiencing any symptoms, and second, why go when the only possible outcome would be to find out about something I have no desire to know about anyway?

Ignorance may not be bliss, exactly, but it’s certainly more enjoyable than lying in bed staring at the ceiling all night long worrying about the test results.

I don’t mind going to the dentist for a check-up, because there, I get a teeth cleaning in the process. The doctor, by contrast, is not going to soap me up and rub me with a loofa, so what’s the point? Maybe if she’d consent to going over me with a pressure washer, I’d be game, but only if the water were scented with mint.

One of the good things about having a regular physical practice—be it yoga or bike-riding or even power-napping in the afternoon—is that you get to see pretty quickly to degree to which you’re falling apart. And so, while it’s obvious to me that I’m no longer in the physical shape I was when I was a young man of just 50, I can tell that I’m not really dying, even though the after effects of last night’s holiday party at Bill’s Off-Broadway are making me feel a bit of like death warmed over, and I don’t need a doctor to tell me that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

J.S. Mill

When students ask me who my favorite philosopher is, I’m usually willing to answer, John Stuart Mill, just as surely as I’ll observe that his name is “Mill,” not “Mills,” and if you call him “Mills” in a paper, I will fail you for it, just kidding, of course, but seriously, it’s “Mill,” not “Mills.”

Mill’s command (it’s that we always refer to his work with the possessive, I think, that has people calling “Mill” “Mills”) of the English language makes me sit up and listen to what he is saying; I’m made better by reading his prose, or at least have the opportunity to experience the higher quality pleasures that Mill argues would make any of us prefer to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

But as I move slowly through the first day of winter break (more or less), I’m questioning Mill’s contention that these higher quality pleasures available to humans will uncontentiously trump the lower quality ones available more widely, including, as Mill points out, to pigs—over whose satisfaction, even a fool would prefer to be dissatisfied.

I suppose the difference is that there’s rarer pleasure to be taken in the recognition that one is experiencing pleasure; pigs, do, I think, smile, but I’d don’t think a thought like, “What a joy to be able to experience such pleasure, better enjoy it while I can!” enters their twirly little heads.

Mine, however, is filled with something like gratitude and awe that fall quarter is all but successfully behind me and that on this first Monday in a while and for a bit that I don’t have to rush off and behave immediately, I can enjoy some simple pleasures like bike-riding while it’s still light outside

Mill says that the foundation of happiness, properly understood, is not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing; I agree.

But it’s an especially high-quality pleasure to appreciate how capable it actually is.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mind Yer Own

Here’s me weighing in on the Tiger Woods “scandal”:

How ‘bout them Steelers, huh?

Oh. I’m supposed to have some opinion on his extra-marital affairs and his unwillingness to come perfectly clean about what happened that night he wrecked his luxury SUV outside his palatial mansion?

Okay: None of my business.

I mean, really, how in the world is it supposed to be any concern to me what he does in his free time—especially when I don’t even really care what he does on the golf course?

And I guarantee you the guy doesn’t owe me, as a member of the public, an apology; maybe he does to his wife, but I’m not even sure about that as I’m not privy to their private domestic agreements; nor do I even want to be.

You want to talk about scandals, that’s fine, but then let’s discuss some dillies, like the Boeing Corporation’s naked attempt at union-busting in their decision to move the Dreamliner assembly to South Carolina or Senator Max Baucus giving his girlfriend a $14,000 raise after they became romantically involved last year.

Athletes are not role models; haven’t Mark McGwire, Michael Vick, Babe Ruth, and no doubt the very first naked discuss thrower in Ancient Greece who ended up still in his competition outfit with one or more of the plebiscite, made this abundantly clear?

Fans of golf, it seems to me, have a right to be upset if the guy cheats on the back nine, but if he uses a mashee when he ought to have been pulling out a niblick in the bedroom, they ought to keep their putters silent, no?

Besides, what do you expect of a guy who all day long at work hears thousands of people yelling at him: “Put it in the hole, Tiger! Put it in the hole!”


But seriously folks, this is no laughing matter; in fact, it’s no matter at all to any of us.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't Be a Baby

I knew last night when the Steelers succumbed to the hated Browns that the lesson before me was something like, “count your blessings,” or “at least you have your health” because it certainly couldn’t be anything like “it all works out in the end,” or “this is indeed the best of all possible worlds.”

Another way of putting this is simply, “suck it up and deal,” or “it is what it is,” or, as had been offered as counsel online: “Don’t be a fucking baby.”

The problem, though, of course, is that it’s hard to say anything that doesn’t come off as complaining even when you’re merely stating the obvious, which is why, I guess, everyone tends to get along better when we’re pedaling our legs than flapping our gums—not that the latter doesn’t have its ample charms, as well.

I managed to not only locate the bike gang last night but also to arrive at the de facto clubhouse south before many of the wayward riders and was rewarded for my alacrity by getting a selection onto the karaoke dance card, which resulted in a spirited, albeit pathetic, rendition of the Joan Jett classic, “I Love Rock and Roll,” a tune, I belatedly came to see, has a lot more lyrics than one might imagine—especially if that imaginer is yours truly.

Nevertheless, I’m not crying about it—nor the extinguishing of the Steelers’ flickering playoff hopes—because to do so would be nothing more than another round of banging my spoon on the high chair, an enterprise as degrading as it is fruitless, and one which, in the spirit of last night’s theme, I hereby eschew.

And besides, even though it was chilly, the night, clear and dry, could hardly have been better for a December bike ride, and even I’m not a big enough baby to cry that just because things could be better, that they’re not perfectly delightful just as they are.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Denial Decade

Apparently, consensus has not been achieved on what to call the past ten years.

While I, myself, sort of like the “Naughty Aughties,” I can see why it hasn’t captured the public’s imagination; for one thing, it sounds too much like something out an old-time melodrama, and who wants such a big chunk of history depending for its identity on the availability of a guy in a top hat and handlebar moustache, right?

I’d like to suggest, therefore, that the moniker given to the time span from January 1, 2000 (or 2001, if you want to be a stickler about it) to December 31, 2009 be the Denial Decade.

Or not. I never said that. The press has misquoted me. Mistakes were made, but I take full responsibility for my role, although it’s not what you think, and you are doing a heckuva job there, Brownie.

Think about all the stuff people have studiously managed to overlooke since the end of the Nineties:

Try to find someone, for instance, who’ll admit being taken in by the whole Y2K hysteria. From there, it’s just one thing after another people have tried to rebuff: any connection between American foreign policy and the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001; any lines drawn from the cronyism of the Bush administration to the debacle of Katrina’s aftermath; any relationship between the failed war on drugs and the economic might of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And this doesn’t even include some of the more notorious society-wide denials: that our petroleum-based economy is doomed; that the vast national deficit we’re running is unsustainable; that our consumerist lifestyle depends on economic and environmental injustice; that in spite of some progress, the U.S. remains a fundamentally racist and sexist society; that healthcare is a basic human right; or that many organized religions are oppressive, divisive, and even unhinged.

Conclusion: it’s hard to deny that this has been the Denial Decade; but, believe me, we can and we will.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Everything in the Universe is under the same warranty.

That’s the only explanation I can fathom for why everything seems to break at the same time, whether it’s the heater in the bedroom, the modem in the basement, or the lamp that’s been sitting in the living room for over a decade, doing its job uncomplainingly until now.

Plus, a number of aches and pains emerge simultaneously—a sore shoulder, a hip that annoys, wrists that bear less weight than typically—although these might be more easily ascribed to a couple of bike crashes last weekend on invisible ice rather than some strange cosmological phenomena.

And while all these little annoyances are annoying, what’s really bothersome is how they give rise to an observation I’ve observed before, to wit: I’m a terrible lightweight when it comes to dealing with adversity; even the most minor of troubles troubles me far more than it should, should I have any interest whatsoever in imagining myself as someone who can suck up and deal with whatever life deals me, I’m fooling myself, fool that I am.

I don’t know how people who get flooded out, or whose homes catch fire, or who drunkenly drive their cars through living room windows manage; I can hardly manage it when I spill wet coffee grounds on the counter, but in my defense, that’s usually in the morning before I’ve had my coffee, and you can be sure that if I knew the river was rising, I’d get way caffeinated beforehand.

At least that’s what I say; one of the main difficulties with things falling apart is that they do so unannounced; if the Universe had given me a heads-up that the heater was going to croak, I could have made arrangements to mitigate things—an extra blanket, maybe.

The broken internet, though; that’s different: you shoulda seen Mimi’s face when when I said, in the meantime, we might have to talk to each other.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Over It

It used to be kinda fun to be a football fan.

There was a certain level of irony about it that appealed to me, as in something like, “Well, you see, I’m so post-modern in my fandom, that that any fandom I might some be accused of cycles back upon itself to undermine the familiar tropes and emerge as something that is virtually indistinguishable from the very tropes that anti-fandom arises against in the first place.

Like drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, almost, or wearing John Deere caps.

But the problem is, the irony only lasts so long and before you know it, you find yourself not just being a “football fan” in quotes, but having actually become one, and then, there you are, on a lovely but cold Sunday afternoon, getting all worked up over some voices on the radio and some pixels on a screen that together, tell the story of your beloved hometown football team succumbing to a third-rate squad from a place you’d never want to live unless you came back to life next time around as a broken down soft-drink machine or industrial refrigerator.

Which is why, frankly, I’ve had it. Following the Steelers’ devastating loss yesterday in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to the Oakland-No, LA-no, Oakland Raiders, I’ve decided that it’s just not worth it. Whatever small pleasure I take out of seeing and/or hearing the Black n’ Gold win is far outweighed by the annoyance and self-loathing (for having wasted three hours) I feel when they lose.

I could have taken a bike ride, or read a book, or even cleaned more of the house than those parts of it I tidied up in an unsuccessful propitiation of the football gods to secure an end to Pittsburgh’s three (now four) game losing streak.

I’m done wasting my Sundays on hoping the Steelers somehow hold on to fourth-quarter lead. Done!

Good thing they play this week on Thursday.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Backyard Barbecue

Joeball has gone on record as saying he sometimes feels a little guilty when he advocates that the ride head for somewhere on his side of the West Seattle Bridge; his consciences troubles him a bit to be seen as pushing for a destination close to his home when he knows that may be a long haul back for most everyone else.

I, on the other hand, being not nearly so considerate, experience no such misgivings about stumping for a spot in the general vicinity of home and hearth, and so it’s certain that from now on, my default vote will be for the newly-discovered (or, at least, newly-ignited) tumbledown chimney we congregated around last night, a hilltop hideaway so close to my house that I was able to take the unprecedented step of stopping off chez moi halfway through the evening for a change of socks and a bottle of beer from the fridge, much to the surprise—and even consternation—of the wife and kid, who never expect to see me around at times for which I’ve secured a hall pass.

Remarkably, I first arrived at the abandoned barbecue all the way from Bothell before anyone else got there just from Westlake, but the only explanation I could initially figure was that it must have been decided the place was too exposed and that some alternative destination had been set out for; yet when I came back from home half an hour later to cavort with the assembled, I was pretty surprised to see how secluded the place turns out to be, its only downside being an inability to ring the fire, although it is sort of fun to stand above and toss logs into the chimney.

The moon sat over Lake Washington through spindly, leafless branches, giving things a charming Nightmare Before Christmas kind of feel; teh Jobies delivered Chinese; I’ll have no qualms at all about campaigning to go back time and again.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Man, a Plan, Afghanistan

I’m probably going to sound all Libertarian here—and frankly, I’d be more sympathetic to some of their perspectives on personal liberty and societal freedom if they weren’t all so conspiracy-theory happy and if those kids who man their information booths had better complexions—but so be it: I really do think that a better way to end the war in Afghanistan (or at least, an alternate strategy) than sending 30,000 additional American troops over there (at a minimum cost, if we figure a million bucks a year per soldier of something like thirty billion dollars) would be to legalize heroin and make it available on the model of prescription drugs if not—and this, I think would be the preferred way—in the same way that alcohol is sold: only to people over 21 and with lots of taxes to pay for prevention and treatment programs for people who get hooked on it.

I can’t believe that much of the strife in Afghanistan isn’t over resources and money; from everything I’ve come to understand, the terrorists get a major part of their funding from the opium poppy trade. I, for one, would rather have giant multinational pharmaceutical companies making the money off heroin than scary multinational terrorist organizations.

If the trade in opium poppies were legal, then the destabilizing forces that result from local warlords controlling things would be, I think, alleviated and the chances for a secure government and a successful economy would be enhanced. Instead of 30,000 additional American troops, we might find instead a whole bunch of pharmaceutical salespeople and physicians supported by them.

Admittedly, my proposal would lead to some increased use and abuse of heroin in this country. But I contend that the social ills that would result from more addicts and overdoses are outweighed by the social benefits of not fighting another unwinnable war and not having beloved sons and daughters die in battle overseas.

But maybe I’m just high.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Gotta Ride

Sometimes, it’s just so beautiful outside that you have what seems like a moral obligation to ride.

To whom that obligation is owed is unclear—yourself? Mother Nature? The Burke-Gilman trail?—but one feels a powerful normative “oomph” to get out there and ride, even if you’re not initially inclined to.

Like last night, a Tuesday—a day on which, these days, I usually ride about a quarter of the way home after my evening class then, tired and worn out after a long day of opening minds and negotiating bureaucracies, catch the bus the rest of the way—a brilliant full moon shone over Lake Washington so brightly only three stars (and I’m pretty sure at least two of those were planets) were visible in the strikingly clear December sky, and the loveliness of it all, coupled with the knowledge that such ideal weather for riding is going to be at a premium for the next five months or so, compelled me, against my initial desires, to do so.

In short, I’d have been a fool to pass up the opportunity and so, (although I’m a fool for all sorts of other reasons) I had no choice but to keep pedaling.

And indeed I was rewarded by a never-before-seen (by me) sight of back-lit low clouds crawling over Medina like some sort of blobby ghost, a vision so strange and other-wordly, I stared at it for miles and miles without ever really being able to resolve it or make sense of what I was seeing—which allowed me to believe, for at least a while, that I was witnessing some sort of alien invasion or at least once-in-a-lifetime meteorological anomaly.

Good times.

Or today, even though it’s colder than it’s been all season and my feet are already freezing before I’ve even gone out, I clearly owe it to the bright but brittle sunshine trying so hard to warm things up to get on the bike.