Wednesday, June 30, 2010


In the philosophy for children workshop I co-facilitated recently, one of the lesson plans we worked through explored the nature of happiness. Almost all the other participants essentially equated happiness with pleasure; they gave examples of things that made them happy, like reading a good book, or enjoying a fine meal, or getting their small children to bed with only a modicum of fussing and whining.

I disagree; to me, happiness is not to be understood a feeling; rather, it is more like a state of affairs that arises as a result of living a certain way and experiencing some kind of satisfaction as a result. But it’s not really an emotional state; it’s more of a cognitive realization that you are experiencing this state of affairs.

John Stuart Mill put it much better than me. Happiness, he said, is “not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.”

Consequently, and I think this is important to our conception of what happiness is, a person can be happy whether or not he or she is experiencing pleasure, or for that matter, pain. (Much of our happiness—or maybe it’s just mine—depends on some kind of suffering, and I also know that just because I’m experiencing loads of pleasure—think of much of the early 1980s, for instance--doesn’t mean I’m happy.)

The other upshot of this conception of happiness is that a person can be mistaken about whether they are happy or not, which may seem counterintuitive at first, but which seems to me to be entirely correct.

After all, we want to be able to say a life like Sarah’s Palin’s is not a happy one, even if she’s blissful, right?

Monday, June 28, 2010

June Swoon

I don’t really believe in the claims of astrology (as an Aries with a Cancer rising and an Aquarius moon, I’m naturally skeptical), but I do think the seasons of the year may have more to do with our personalities and behavior than empirical science can tell us.

For instance, it seems like every year about this time—right after the summer solstice, when the days begin to shorten—I feel a certain unspecified sense of malaise, in spite of the fact that life is grand, the sun is shining (more or less), and last time I looked, there was still beer left in the refrigerator.

Of course, this might not be so astronomical as it is sociological: perhaps the reason I feel this way has to do with the transition from having to be always on during the school year to being able to be almost completely unbidden during the summer. Maybe I’m just crashing from the speed of fulltime employment to the slower pace of endless vacation.

Or maybe it’s my fault for reading the comments sections on online articles. Few things do more to undermine my already shaky faith in the human enterprise than perusing what anonymous writers have to say in response to news stories and editorials, and yet, I can’t seem to help myself. For some unknown reason, I’m inevitably drawn to click on the button that lets me read the hateful, confused, and often incoherent rantings of people with nothing better to do with their time than post their thoughts online for strangers to read.

Hmm…does this sound familiar?

In any case, there does seem to be a direct correlation between my general levels of happiness and satisfaction and how much time I waste on the enterprise of comment-reading. You’d think, therefore, that I would have figured out that the prudent course of action would be to avoid them altogether.

I’m sure I’ll do that, so long as comments are closed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I’m actually kind of relieved that the US lost to Ghana yesterday in the World Cup; now I can turn my attention to more pressing concerns like seeing if the water in Lake Washington is warm enough to swim in yet and more to the point, whether Tim Lincecum can overtake Ubaldo Jimenez in this year’s Cy Young Award race.

It was fun, though, to be in a bar having Guinness for breakfast and seeing how the place filled to the bursting point well before noon; I had a seat that enabled me to see five television sets simultaneously, but what was really fun to watch were the expressions on people’s faces as they stared at the screen back behind my head. Mouths would fall open and eyes would go bright and then jaws would be clenched and heads shaken. Plenty of times people even did the classic extended hands to the ears replete with hair-pulling and teeth gnashing.

It’s a shame, for sure, but I’ll bet, all things considered, the win is a way bigger deal in Ghana than it would have been here had the US pulled it out, so good for them with the hopes of a continent and all on their backs; for us, it was really more like the hopes of a lot of people who drive their kids to soccer practice in minivans, not quite the same thing, I think.

So I can go back now to rooting for Holland as is my usual practice in the World Cup; I still think their “home team” status in South Africa will serve them well, but I’m going to be pulling hard for Ghana now, too. (Probably not hard enough to get up and start drinking at 7:00 in the morning, although, it being summer and all, that’s not too difficult a sell.)

In the end, I’d rate the US’ performance this year about B-plus; not bad, but far from Tim Lincecum status.

Friday, June 25, 2010


“You don’t know what I’ve been through!” barked the angry meathead outside the Bull Pen Bar and Grill in Seatac and I had to admit I didn’t.

But clearly it had something to do with why he was getting so worked up about the bike pile, which, truth be told, we were in the process of disassembling anyway. And maybe it was the arrival of the cops, but somehow, we got out of there without anybody getting punched in the face, an outcome that was probably too much to hope for given how the night unfolded, what with mechanicals galore, bike routes chained closed, and hibachis eventually ejecting their grills beneath moving cars that just kept going despite all the sparks.

The so-called “problem of other minds” reminds us that nobody really knows what anybody’s been through, but at least we were in it together for as long as the near-solstice light lasted, and even after we broke into groups, there were still enough perspectives to be a problem, apparently.

And yet they all happened under the same spectacular nearly-full moon on this same insignificant dust mote in a sunbeam we inhabit together and the mere fact that strangers can get surprisingly exercised over more or less that same thing proves that maybe our experiences aren’t so different after all.

I do know this: if that guy had been through what I’d been through—a ride on which even the long uphill doesn’t seem nearly so long when it’s still light out and where the descent through the woods on the unopened bike trail goes on forever, and which includes an opportunity to stand beside the Puget Sound on the longest Thursday of the year drinking beer and eating Cheez-Its—he wouldn’t have been nearly so pissed-off.

In the end, what are we but our experiences—what we’ve been through, known or not—anyway? And to paraphrase that old saying, with experiences like this, who needs enemies?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Holy War

Consider your classic holy wars: Mac vs. PC, Campy vs. Shimano, or even the original model, Christians vs. Heathens; they all pale in comparison, of course, to the most contentious of all: bicycle helmets vs. helmetless, a controversy that rages unchecked all around the world every day especially on the internetz, where it inevitably proves the veracity of Godwin’s Law sooner rather than later.

I myself fall into the helmet-wearing camp; soon after I got back into bike-riding around 1990, when we were living in Minneapolis, I happened upon a couple of newspaper stories and a television news spot about head injuries; the way I saw it, the Universe was trying to tell me something, and since wearing a Styrofoam bowling ball on my head seemed like a reasonable trade-off against the possibility (slim as it might be) of cracking my skull and spending the rest of my days drooling into a bedpan, I opted for it, and took to almost always wearing a “brain bucket” while riding, even to this day.

It occurred to me, though, as I rode home from school yesterday in the bright sunlight, that if you were to examine the actuarial tables, I’ll bet you’d discover that, all things considered, it’s better for you to wear a hat than a helmet; after all, the likelihood of contracting skin cancer is probably way higher than that of a catastrophic head-injuring crash.

Here’s an example, I think, of what they call the “availability heuristic;” it’s the cognitive bias that leads us to fear shark attacks more than asthma, for instance, based on how much easier it is to call to mind the striking event than the commonplace one.

Now I’m not saying we should give up bike helmets in favor of hats, but maybe there’s a market to be tapped here: if you made a cap that had an unbreakable brim, you’d probably prevent most head injuries and melanoma simultaneously—without the holy war.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Now I get it.

It’s not about victory, it’s about accepting one frustration after another, having your hopes lifted and dashed time and again until finally, you get to that place where, after giving up hoping, hope somehow endures.

“Extra time” is a wonderful concept: the game is over but the game goes on.

And in that extra time, just what you wanted to happen finally happens; it’s like hitting the snooze alarm for forty more winks and that’s when you dream the dream that comes true.

I’m waxing rhapsodic here, I admit it, but fuckin’ A, the US’ victory today over Algeria in what Tiddlefitz has lovingly termed “the soccer ball world championship” was a pretty great sporting event, right up there with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ win over the Baltimore Orioles in game 7 of the 1979 World Series, or the Steelers’ prevailing in last few seconds of Superbowl XLIII, or even the Guttersnipes’ 17-3 mauling of the tough kids from East Liberty on the Caddygrounds field in Highland Park, circa 1971.

Of course it helped to be in a crowded bar with a bunch of your friends at 7:30 in the morning, and a couple of beers for breakfast didn’t hurt, either, but even so, a guy could get used to this sort of thing, even if his liver couldn’t.

Soccer pundits have been forecasting for years that the game would eventually catch on in America and you could see why, after a match like this, why they’d predict it. When Landon Donovan booted the ball into the back of the net at 90-plus minutes into the contest, the entire place erupted. People were screaming and shouting and hugging and kissing and jumping up and down like crazy; you’d have thought the Mariners had just won the World Series if you didn’t know better.

Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll take this; pretty great, but I’m still not ready to call the game “football.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


As of today, I am the father of a teenage girl.

Everyone tells me I’d better hold on for the ride.

If there’s anything like karma, things won’t really start heating up for another couple of years; I gave my parents the hardest time between the ages of 15 and 17, so maybe I have a slight grace period ahead.

But girls are different, they say. We shall see.

I recall my own thirteenth birthday pretty well. I wanted to go to Pittsburgh’s hippie neighborhood, Shadyside, and hang out at a pizza place we used to frequent, wearing a sign that said, “Today I’m thirteen.” Cooler heads prevailed and while my friends and I did walk over there (it was Good Friday, so no school), I refrained from broadcasting my new status in print.

That night, I had a birthday party—with girls—the high point of which was playing “Pass the Orange,” with frozen fruit. I got some decent loot, including thirteen whole dollars (crisp, numbered consecutively, in a bank envelope) from my dad, and two albums: Led Zepplin II and Jimi Hendrix “Band of Gypsys,” which Wikipedia tells me had just been released two days earlier.

My grade school was K-8, so during my thirteenth year, as eighth graders, we ruled the place; that attitude carried over to lots of things, making me feel way more grown up than I was—and certainly more adult than I’m ready to stand my own 13 year-old being.

At that age, I rode the bus all over town, and took part in events like the last game played at Forbes Field, where my friends and I gathered up a bunch of souvenirs, including a metal chair from the stadium’s box seats, that collected dust in my family’s basement for years.

I didn’t have a bar mitzvah, but my dad did give me a fountain pen. My kid didn’t get one, but we did buy her a fancy knife.

Monday, June 21, 2010

God Help Us

Apparently, Sarah Palin has determined that human beings’ efforts to stem the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are futile and that, according to her Twitter feed, the “Gulf disaster needs divine intervention.”


God should certainly get right on that and while He’s at it, I’d appreciate if He’d also do something about the Mariners’ hitting woes, global climate change, and all the war, pestilence, famine, and bad reality television shows in the world, as well.

It would be grand, for sure, if a supreme being could raise up a mighty hand and stick a finger in the gusher a la the Dutch boy in the dike, but I fear it’s not going to happen that way. Human activity got us into this mess; I’m afraid only human activity will get us out of it.

Ironically, it’s catastrophes like the oil rig explosion that have traditionally led people to conclude that an all-powerful, perfectly good, creator of the universe does not exist, as to do so would be incompatible with such evil; this seems to me a sound argument against the traditional conception of the Judeo-Christian god, but might leave open the door to one who isn’t so good or perhaps something of a slacker.

And if that’s the case, will praying to Him really help? Maybe God is just as stumped by the problem of how to stop the leak as is BP. Maybe He’s tried his own “top kill” and failed. Maybe He wants his life back, too, just like Tony Hayward.

I appreciate the sentiment that encourages people to pray for help and it probably can’t hurt to do so. We certainly need guidance here and insofar as propitiating the divine emphasizes human fallibility and encourages humility, it strikes me as a good thing.

But I do fear that believing somehow only God can save us here is a mistake; if He were in to helping, wouldn’t He have started already by disabling Palin’s Twitter?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nine to Five

I took a non-traditional approach to Go Means Go’s second annual Nine-to-Five All Night Bicycle Solstice Scavenger Hunt.

Instead of riding around all night, I pedaled home from the Gasworks Park send-off at sunset—9:11PM—and enlisted the family in rounding up items on the list. Then, I took a nap and set my alarm clock in order to be back at the park in time for the sunrise finish—5:11AM—where I met up with my team (Team Creepy Baby) so we could gather together our stuff and tally up our points.

Much of what I brought they already had—including some oddball items like a flattened souvenir coin and five pinto beans—but I was able to contribute a few gems like a wedding veil, a holiday-themed plate, the creepy baby doll that gave rise to our squad’s name, and a concrete block (worth 5 whole points!) that I serendipitously found the roadside on my early-morning return, so even though I didn’t hang in the whole night, I got to feel like I was part of the overall effort.

And indeed, without my additions, Team Creepy Baby wouldn’t have reached the rarified total of 316 points, an effort that landed us on the podium, in third place, just 2 above the fourth-place finisher.

I forget the name of the winning group, but suffice it to say, they smoked the field, with a score of something like 453, augmented by a truly impressive example of the hard-to-find front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: the moon landing edition from 1969.

Ryan from Go Means Go put on a class event as usual: a whole bunch of people showed up and there was plenty of delicious breakfast to go around for all the riders at the finish line.

As I rode home, I saw the opposite of such good planning: a middle-aged guy in just his underpants and full body paint, hobbling home from a different solstice event.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sugarplum Elves

The Haulin’ Colin is now, in addition to being the world’s best-loved bicycle trailer, also the world’s proudest.

Having had the opportunity to “do sound” for Seattle’s Sugarplum Elves in today’s Fremont Solstice Parade, it blushes brighter than its own original fire-engine red at having been honored with such an important task.

Tiddlefitz even said that the Elves wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Nice thought, and one certainly to be emphasized in the marketing plan, but it weren’t the trailers, nice as they are.

What it was was commitment to a project: showing up and doing it, whatever that was.

Including, therefore, the chicken.

But mainly Seattle’s Sugarplum Elves, who never stopped, not once, really, the entire length of the parade route. I’ll bet I heard “Singing in the Rain” thirty-seven times.

And yet every single time, they did the routine, sold it to the crowd, made authentic connections, even art.

The Haulin’ Colin carried the sound system strapped to some upside-down plastic buckets; it was loud enough, but for next year, I’d like to see how loud and clear you could install; way more weight could easily have been carried.

It turns out the Fremont Solstice Parade is a different kind of fun when you do it than when you watch it. For one thing, you’re trapped, an experience there’s probably all too little of these days.

But more to the point, you’re on the inside looking out, and from the trailer’s perspective, it was a blooming of Elves all around—pretty spectacular on numerous occasions and always meriting great applause.

I enjoyed the role of teamster and saw great promise in the prospect of expanding bike trailer support for events like this.

Mainly, though, it were the trailers themselves done most proud. What wouldn’t absolutely burst with it for an opportunity like this: the sounds on your back, lifting umbrellas aloft, in the middle of Sugarplum Elves doing antics and the crowd going wild?

Friday, June 18, 2010


The private security guard announced upon arrival, “There’s no partying in this park.” (PAUSE) “Without me!”

That’s when it became patently obvious that while the gray-haired dude is a reasonable first-line of defense against the authorities, the smiling blonde girl celebrating her birthday out-of-doors does a far superior job of melting any official chilliness.

Case in point: our new best friend, Romeo, subsequently hung out all through the piñata bashing, politely leaving lit his roof-mounted searchlights so we could see the ultimate destruction of the strangely familiar-looking paper maché homunculus that much better.

And even when the real-live city of Seattle cop showed up quietly a bit later, all he did was wonder aloud about the luminescent drops of glowstick juice before simply counseling that we depart without his being called back, a suggestion perfectly in tune with the natural order of things as they unfolded on the last Thursday of this year’s cool and cloudy spring.

The ride clattered forward by fits and starts right from the beginning, but only because it seemed like the whole world was celebrating the occasion; the birthday girls wore balloons which were soon dispersed and eventually popped, just like the kickball ball, but no one really seemed to mind especially after Specialist Sean’s single-malt went passing around; even the sun didn’t want to set, but remained aglow in the west all through the festivities.

Julia Goolia stood on the wall above a crowd and announced over and over how much she loves the bike gang and really, who doesn’t?

Joeball told a story about coming across a ball of snakes in the woods; he kept looking at the coiling sphere but couldn’t figure out what it was; that’s kind of how it was for me standing back and watching the evening’s proceedings: so much intertwining, it’s all one thing, but when you get closer, it wriggles apart just like that, the one become many—joyful expressions of the perfect whole.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bertie Knows Best

As befits a fellow facing approximately 90 straight days of relative leisure, I’ve been filling my idle hours with a good deal of recreational reading. And to my way of thinking nothing is more recreational than P.G. Wodehouse’s accounts of the exploits of old Bertie Wooster and his clever manservant, Jeeves, of which I’ve written lovingly about before.

What I’m particularly enjoying this go-round is just how unabashedly lazy Bertie is. His days are filled with nothing of any consequence: he rises late, putters about, goes to his club for a couple of drinks and a bite to eat, then spends the evening dozing in a chair, or occasionally, if his nephews are in town or an old friend from school is visiting, puts on his evening clothes and makes the rounds of nightclubs until the wee hours. Next morning, fortified by Jeeves’ miracle hangover concoction, he starts the cycle all over again.

And bless his heart, Bertie feels not a shred of remorse over any of this; in fact, he does pretty much whatever he can to avoid getting roped into doing anything at all worthwhile. One of the low points of his existence, for example, is when he is almost married to Honoria Glossop, a particularly formidable female with a loud, braying laugh, who is bent on improving him at every turn. Fortunately, as usual, Jeeves saves the day: simply by dropping hints that Bertie is a madman, he gets Honoria’s father, Sir Roderick Glossop, to call off the engagement. At first, Bertie is a bit miffed that all of London thinks he’s off his rocker, but upon reflection, and balancing his freedom against his reputation, he gladly accepts the trade-off.

I myself am not so sanguine about either my lack of ambition or my standing in the eyes of others as is our hero; I’ve got a couple months ahead of me, though, to emulate Bertie’s demeanor; if but I had Jeeves to assist.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Future Generations

If you went back in time and killed somebody, you could be found guilty of murder.

And it doesn’t even have to be a science-fiction scenario; had you acted differently in your own life on some occasion—for instance, that time you decided NOT to strangle the fucker who stole your girlfriend—you could be in jail right now, serving time for an act that happened years in the past.

Oddly, however, it doesn’t seem to work this way going forward. That is, if you are responsible for the death of someone in the future, then you’re not held accountable, even if it’s your fault.

I conclude this because, apparently, those of us living a 21st century Western civilization fossil fuel-based lifestyle are getting way with killing off our descendents some small number (perhaps only 1 or 2) generations in the future.

I heard a Peter Douglas Ward, a University of Washington paleontologist, who studies, among other things, mass extinctions, on the radio today saying that the “best case scenario” has the world’s oceans rising three feet by the end of this century. The main reason for the global temperature increase that will precipitate this scenario is human-induced climate change; it’s all the carbon dioxide we’re releasing into the atmosphere by driving cars, heating our homes, flying airplane, using petroleum-based fertilizers, etc.

And since such a rise in sea levels will ultimately result in deaths of millions, if not billions, of people, it seems clear to me that—since we’re the ones responsible for the conditions that will bring this about—we could all be held accountable for these killings, even though they’re many (but perhaps not too many) years off.

So when it’s argued that limits on carbon emissions are unfair constraints upon people’s choices, perhaps the correct response would be to point out that, usually, when you’re guilty of unjustly killing somebody, constraints follow.

Paying a carbon tax is better than going to jail, no?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Times reports that oil executives have told a House panel investigating the Deepwater Horizon spill that the disaster is an aberration—“a rare event their companies are not likely to repeat.”

They actually said that? No way. Why wouldn’t they tell Congress that such accidents are inevitable and that no one can possibly predict when another one will occur?

(Later, behind closed doors, I’m sure the executives also admitted that their companies are devoted to high profits and they routinely trade off safety considerations in order to squeeze every possible dollar out of drilling operations whenever possible.)

Why does the government even hold these hearings? It’s not like some new information is going to emerge whereby these guys are going to come clean on all the corners they cut and the myriad ways in which our environment has been and will be further devastated by their actions and inactions.

I suppose the public flogging is a good thing; it’s fun to see sleazebags in expensive suits squirm a bit, but it seems to me that time and effort would be better spent in having the executives out there in hazmats suits scooping up tar balls.

Then, when they got nice and sticky, we could cover them in feathers and ride them out of town on a rail.

I guess I’m just getting cynical about the progress of things; by now, you’d think that the oil leak would have been plugged and the overall focus could be on the clean-up. Consequently, here’s my thought of the day: how about we start by jamming Tony Hayward into the hole; if that doesn’t work, we just go ahead and continuing inserting one BP executive after another into the gusher is capped. Of course, we’ll do it humanely: every oil baron who is used, will have just as much a chance of survival as the nearby marine life.

And if any don’t make it, no worries: it’s just an aberration.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Grammar Break

I’m kinda bit into the World Cup this summer; I’m not going to paint my face or anything, but I’ll probably get up early some mornings to watch soccer and drink beer before 8:00 AM; (I’d like to see the US or Holland win or it would be cool if an African nation like Ghana goes deep in the tournament.)

And I appreciate that the world’s most popular sport has come to America and all, but I’ve got to draw the line at calling it “football,” since, as we know, that term refers to a sport where people get to use their God-given arms as well as their legs, even though there is a lot of standing around, mostly so television advertisers can get their opportunities to try and sell you razor blades, beer, automobiles, pizza, tacos, and free credit reports.

But of course, the worst thing about the rise in popularity of “the beautiful game” is the danger it presents not to the American way of life, but rather, to the American way of speaking, in particular, when it comes to the proper use of plurals in the reporting of sports.

All right thinking people know that the team is a single entity and that therefore, any verb associated with it should use the third-person singular conjugation; thus, for instance, “England HAS not won a World Cup since 1966,” as opposed to the pluralized construction “England HAVE consistently underperformed in the World Cup.”

It would be bad enough if it were only that this latter way of speaking is so inimical to the spirit of shared responsibility upon which success in team sports is predicated, but to make matters worse, the locution is beginning to be employed by speakers here at home—at least among self-styled hardcore “football” fans.

I’d hate to see this trend bleed into our homegrown sports; when I’m cheering against the Yankees, for instance, I want to keep yelling “New York sucks!”

Friday, June 11, 2010


Any long-standing organization or enterprise is going to experience what they call “mission creep.”

You know, there’s where the entity’s original mission, vision, and/or values get off track somehow. Like when Coca-Cola went all whacky with New Coke or how the Obama administration is getting all bogged down putting out fires while the core message of hope and change falls by the wayside, or it’s how a drinking club with a cycling problem can find itself turning into a group that camps and roller skates and even milks goats or whatever you do with farm animals beside eat or avoid them altogether.

So, it’s good to see that when the elements return to their elemental state that pretty soon, the rest of the world follows suit and the old ways re-emerge, as naturally and organically ever, in spite of how contemporary practices may have veered from an original starting point by slow, incremental degrees.

Case in point: a characteristically rainy evening in Seattle’s June led to a short ride (although longer than the legendary eponymous .83 miles) but then a goodly amount of libating under cover by Fremont’s troll—a local landmark I’ve mostly managed to overlook in my decade and a half here—although by the looks of it last evening tourist groups of fresh-faced students can’t seem to get enough of it.

Continuing rain was then met with another traditional response: an even shorter ride and an even longer period of drinking.

And then finally, even though the deluge had turned into little more than mist, the ensuing pedaling was hardly more than a short spin to another watering hole, this one, a longtime favorite that apparently, is soon to no longer be.

Thus, we see the sort of recommitment to basic values so vital to the ongoing existence of deeply-cherished institutions; in the end, it’s heartwarming to observe that really, the only mission creeps to worry about are those with beers in our hands.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Time and Motion

Monday, I rode all over hell and creation: from home to school, then from school to West Seattle, then from West Seattle back home—altogether about 60 miles. In the end, it took me about 5 hours total, including a stop for food (in the morning on the way to school), one for beer (after school, before heading to my friend’s house in West Seattle), and a couple to pee by the side of the rode (on the way home after sharing that six pack.)

Had I driven, my total travel time would probably have been more like two and a half hours, so basically, I spent twice as much time on the bike as I would have in a car—but as far as I’m concerned, it was time well spent.

What would I have done with the two-plus hours anyhow? Probably dithered around on the computer, maybe done a little reading, certainly eaten more. Instead, I got to enjoy a mostly lovely ride, there and back along Lake Washington, later over the Duwamish, and finally, through the quiet streets in the early evening of Pioneer Square and environs. I saw three of my bike gang buddies, two on two-wheelers, and one, to whom I gave the finger, of course, in his beat-up piece of shit car. Had I been in an automobile, I would have missed all that, and more to the point, would have considered all the travel time nothing but a waste. So, if you sum it all up, subtracting the wasted time from the time saved, it turns out to be a complete wash—no more timely to drive than cycle at all.

I was talking to students on Monday who justified their driving habits in the name of efficiency, but we need to interrogate further what we mean by “efficient.” If we take it from the Latin, efficiere, meaning “to accomplish,” then it’s certain we accomplish a lot more by cycling.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

How About This?

It’s easy for me: I’m in reasonably good health; I have a job I can get to by bike (and most of the way on an off-road trail), and my wife drives my kid to school most days.

But still.

I could drive a car way more than I do.

But I don’t, for a number of reasons, including the health benefits, the sheer joy of bike-riding, and the delightfully smug feeling I get to experience at seeing drivers stuck in traffic.

And also, because it’s the right thing to do for the environment.

(If you need any incentive for weaning yourself off the petroleum habit, just check out these pictures from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)

So, here’s my commitment:

I promise to try as hard as I can to not drive alone in my car until the Deepwater Horizon spill is capped.

And I’m committed to continuing to endeavor to never drive by myself for as long as possible after that.

You could do it, most any of you, most of the time. Unless you are physically-disabled, or have a bunch of kids you’ve got to ferry from one place to another, or are just a lazy self-centered free-rider who doesn’t care about people living along the Louisiana coast, or animals and habitats threatened by global climate change, or future generations of people who will have to live in a desolate planet ruined by your own selfish ways, then you, too, could refrain from driving alone in your car most of the time.

You could.

Imagine if a whole bunch of people took this challenge seriously. Imagine how much less gas would be burned up every day? Imagine how much longer we could go as a society without have to drill miles down in the ocean to feed our ongoing addiction to oil.

Imagine how our descendants would look back on us with gratitude instead of scorn.

And don’t just imagine; do.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Enough Already

The environmentalist, Bill McKibben, wrote this essay called “Enoughness” in which he expounds upon the value of not desiring more than you already have. It’s especially the case, he says, when it comes to the experience of nature: generally, he maintains, when we’re out in the wild, we don’t look around and say, “I wish those flowers were more beautiful or that the sky was grander or that the vastness all around were more awesome.” Usually, when it comes to the way we look at the world, enough is enough—in contrast to how we tend to think about consumer goods, where it’s all about bigger, faster, more, more, more.

I think McKibben is mostly right on (although I myself have found myself sometimes wishing that Mother Nature would make minor improvements, anyway: no mosquitoes, for instance), and I also think the experience of “enoughness” becomes more common as we get a little bit older—or, in my case, a lot older.

So, for instance, yesterday evening, it turned out to pretty much be all I needed to have a lovely, leisurely and slightly inebriated bike ride back from Cascadia to downtown and then a glass of beer with some of the usual suspects on a Thursday night. I didn’t really have to engage in the full shenanigans and debauchery that were available to be enjoyed by all who wanted a bit more and so, in relatively short measure, found myself pedaling home and while I did consider stopping off somewhere for a nightcap, ultimately came to the conclusion that I’d sampled all I really needed of the proffered festivities, and called it a night.

Besides, there’s only so much of the Shirts-Off Crew a fellow can take; while nature, as McKibben says, provides us with a sense of “enoughness,” there are other things (of which we shall not speak) that by their very existence, provide us—me anyway—with an immediate feeling of way too much.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


In the environmental ethics class, we talk a lot about how to induce people to change their current behaviors to ones that are arguably more environmentally sustainable, to drive less, eat food that’s sourced locally, buy less disposable junk made out of and packaged in plastic, and so on. Often, the challenge of doing so is seen as a great big collective action problem, a state of affairs where everyone knows that everyone would do better if everyone cooperated on sustainable solutions, but everyone also realizes that the best thing to do, from a self-interested standpoint, is get everyone else to cooperate, then reap the benefits by not cooperating oneself.

Another way of putting it is that it’s what Garrett Hardin referred to as a “commons problem,” one in which we share a common resource—the earth, in this case—and since there’s really no penalty for abusing it, we will. Hardin himself argues for mutual coercion, mutually agreed-upon as the solution to such problems—taxes and fines and the like—but it seems clear that folks tend to be much more effectively motivated by benefits than costs, so, in class, we’re constantly wondering about how to make it better for people to make better choices rather than punishing them for making worse ones.

All of which is to remind me that the reason I never drive to work, but instead only bike and bus, is only indirectly related to my desire to make choices that arguably reduce my carbon footprint. More to the point is that I prefer my transportation options and would be hard-pressed to change solely on the grounds that some other mode was more sustainable.

After all, I never have to sit in traffic, I get some exercise everyday in spite of myself, I enjoy a little adventure as I pedal, and on days like today, in spite of the headwind, I get to ride a bike—for which I need no incentive