Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Even though I engage in ritualistic behaviors that I more than halfway believe contribute to hoped-for outcomes, I’m not sure I would agree I’m superstitious.

(But maybe that’s just because it’s bad luck to be so.)

Rather, I think I would contend I’m merely being prudent or that I’m just focusing my attention by doing things in an ordered fashion, much like one prepares for physical activity by stretching.

So, when I don my lucky shirt to help the Steelers win, it’s not that I believe the garment has some totemic power (not much, anyway), it’s more that I’m simply preparing myself to more effectively strive for the result I’d like to see. People who race bikes, similarly, wear their spandex diaper pants and clingy plastic shirts; you could say that they’re being “superstitious” to do so, but a more plausible description is that the clothes actually do make them go faster.

Of course, it’s difficult to test this hypothesis because it requires exploring counterfactuals I’d prefer not to mess with. Far be it for me, for example, to not wear the aforementioned blessed blouse; what if my team did lose and it was all (or even slightly) my fault?

Critical thinkers will no doubt observe that I’m guilty of the most naked form of confirmation bias here; obviously, I only notice the data when they support my previously-held belief; I conveniently ignore all those times I wear the shirt and the Black and Gold fail to prevail: guilty as charged, but disconfirming evidence might not be statistically significant—or at least we can hope and my team goes 15 and 1 or better.

David Hume pointed out that we can never really observe causality; we only see correlations and from those, infer cause and effect. In a way then, it’s “superstitious” to claim that a billiard ball hitting another causes it to move—or hardly less superstitious than that my lucky shirt makes the Steelers win.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I think what some people—(and here, yes, I’m probably mostly talking about Tea Party and Libertarian nutjobs, not to mention conservative Republicans and the whole host of characters like the hated Tim Eyeman who consistently call for reduced taxes and “smaller” government)—is that “government” is not some monolithic enterprise voraciously sucking up every spare dollar it can for no reason whatsoever other than to feed itself; “government” such as it is when it comes to what your average citizen pays from payroll deduction, sales tax, and other fees is stuff that none of us can live (well) without: roads, schools, environmental protections, water, power, sewers, hospitals, police, fire departments, ambulances, as well as arts, culture, swimming pools, parks, and all sort of other things most of take for granted every day of our lives.

Above all, government is people doing things for other people: teaching them, caring for them, making sure that they aren’t poisoned, crushed by falling objects, or arrested for no reason (most of the time.)

Sure, there are fatcat politicians who belly up to the public trough and just glut themselves on “our” hard-earned money, but I would venture to say that most of their gluttony is paid for by so-called “special interest” groups rather solely by public funds.

And yes, there’s no doubt plenty of “waste” in government, but if my government job is any indication, not nearly as much as those anti-tax voices would have you believe. My college’s cutbacks due to the current budget crisis are tangible: we’ve lost support for service learning, for guest speakers in classes, for technology upgrades, for student services like tutoring and disability support; it’s not as if we’ve gotten more “efficient” by cutting out boondoggle junkets by faculty members to strip clubs and tropical resorts.

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society” said legendary jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes; come to think of it, the Supreme Court is part of government, too.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


The classic version of the story is where the woman loses her wedding ring while swimming in the ocean and then, years later, her husband goes deep-sea fishing and hauls in a tuna; they cut the animal open and there, believe it or not, is the long-lost jewelry. I sort of doubt that such a thing has actually happened, but it makes for a heartwarming story, in any case.

My real-life example almost as far-fetched, and hardly any less of a tear-jerker; it goes something like this:

About twenty years ago, during the ski season, Jen and I met my parents at Lake Tahoe, where my dad was giving a talk at some medical conference. While the good doctor was off conferring with his colleagues, everybody else took to the slopes. At this point in his life, the old man was no longer skiing himself, but he generously brought some old gear, so the profligate son would have something to wear. The prime item was a bright yellow White Stag brand wind shirt, perfect for warm afternoons on the treeless runs at Heavenly Valley, where we were spending the day.

I know it kind of broke his heart to loan it to me, in part because I’m sure it reminded him of the good times skiing he could no longer, due to health issues, enjoy.

Long story short: I got stoned and lost the thing and my dad, bless his heart, only shook his head and looked disappointed.

Flash forward to about a month ago: Jen and I are in Pretty Parlor, a vintage clothes storehere in Seattle. And there, I kid you not, is the shirt; I know it’s the same one because it even has a little burn hole in the front pocket from where I accidentally left the half-smoked, still lit, joint.

Needless to say, I bought it, wear it proudly, and look forward to the day I can loan it to Mimi to lose.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I’m confident that no faster paced Greenlake Race has ever been run; Daniel Featherhead had to ride a real bike and use strategy to win, ‘nuff said.

Joe the inventor showed up in a recumbent and regaled me with facts and figures about the fastest human-powered vehicles ever and all this portended to me the high quality of the challenge; I believed that a man who can fly would still win, but when Joe took off like a bullet at the start, and even before I turned back from the race to be there for the finish, I began to believe that technology—even of the most admirable sort—would prevail.

But lo’ and behold the finish: Daniel Featherhead like a hurricane-chased raindrop across the line in the blink of an eye, with the HPV, now coasting, a few seconds behind, both, though, several minutes ahead of the unusually fast pack.

No actual records were kept, but the 1-2 times were well under the 11 minutes I drunkenly reckoned from start to end by my watch; I think Joe said his computer registered an average speed of 26 miles per hour which my bad math would tell me they’d have covered the oval in no more than 8 minutes; I believe that’s perfectly possible given that I’d hardly had time to turn around from when the lights of the last rider ahead of me disappeared in the distance and I got back to the starting point.

And to think I almost didn’t go out!

But one look at the moon on a perfectly clear night and fortified by a pitcher from Rayford Jr. (shared with Senior) at the Summit, and pizza courtesy of the long-lost Mexican convinced me that there was nothing I’d rather do than pedal out to the grandstand.

Talk about fucking lucky good timing.

Turns out this was my first Greenlake Race of the year; I sure picked the right one to wait for.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Of an evening featuring last looks at people I may never see again—or at least, not for a while—I got to examine a place I’ve never spied before on a Thursday night ride and enjoy one last glimpse of summer in spite of fall having arrived half a day earlier, as we rambled south to the beach with Beach in its name and then discovered a short, sweet trail through the woods past the park with Beer in its handle, before following the power line trail up the side of the ridge and finally bombing down the freeway adjacent off-ramp to arrive at last at the practically natural environment for the faces I’ll have to hold in my mind’s eye from now on—for some months anyway, if not for all time.

Usually, I’m already too disoriented by 7:30 at Westlake Center to provide leadership or direction, but a long-running meeting at school meant I arrived with my faculties more or less intact so I got to feel first like the Angry Hippy with the contrarian suggestion—really, more of a demand—for the route, then like Lee Williams himself (sans bag) as I uncharacteristically headed the pack to our supply stop, and even channeled a bit of Joeball in offering up an unfamiliar destination complete with water and wooded pathway, (albeit no fire).

It was all birthdays and bon voyages at the sing-along and even though I shoulda known better than to assay a number I’ve triumphed with before, others performed soundtracks so infectious that feet couldn’t stop moving, a much-preferred outcome from a bourbon and beer consumption perspective anyway.

Eventually, it was time to say goodbye and I think, in my haste to climb towards home rather than pedal for a nightcap, I never ended up giving my regards to any of the incipient emigrants, which I’m glad about, actually, since now I can deny that they’ve ever gone until we meet again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I want to live for a long, long time. Only half in jest do I say that I hope (and expect) to live to be 112; the good news about that is that I’m not even quite yet middle-aged, even though in calendar years (not to mention dog-years) I’m well on the way towards my dotage.

Nonetheless, and perhaps informed by Albert Camus famous (or infamous) claim that the only serious philosophical question is whether to kill oneself or not, I do, along with, I would suppose most thoughtful people, occasionally entertain thoughts of suicide—although that might be to overstate it; it’s more like I sometimes think about thinking about suicide.

It happens most frequently as I ride home from school, usually when it’s been a day, like today, when administrative duties incline me to forget what I’m actually doing as a teacher—teaching students!—and as I pedal along, even if, again, like today, the weather is lovely and the trail pretty much all my own, the inevitable observation of Buddhism’s first noble truth that life is suffering overtakes me and I can begin to imagine what it would be like to have just a little less dopamine coursing through my brain or something and can sort of conceptualize what it would feel like to take more seriously the idle thoughts running through my head about ending it all with a dive from a bridge, or muzzle in the mouth, or more likely, a handful of barbiturates and a bag over my head.

Wittgenstein observed that death is not an event in life and so I guess the same would go for suicide; people who kill themselves are not committing an act that takes place in their lives, which is odd, in a way, because that’s where it starts.

I’m way too curious about what’s going to happen to ever serious consider doing myself in; although maybe by the time I’m 112, I’ll feel differently.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Went to see the author Jonathan Safran Foer read from and talk about his latest book, Eating Animals last night at Town Hall Seattle. In spite of the event being overrun by earnest young men wearing hipster beards and serious middle-aged women attired in boiled wool, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half and while I didn’t learn anything new, really, I found the author to be an intelligent, funny, and surprisingly humble personality, one who, in another life, probably would have been a rabbi, or at least someone’s kindly Jewish uncle who owned a restaurant supply house.

He managed not to come off preachy at all in making his case for vegetarianism, one based primarily, as I came to understand it, on the kind of broadly Utilitarian arguments against factory farming that Peter Singer pioneered in Animal Liberation. His unique spin on it, I thought, was the claim that, as he sees things, the issue is not really a contentious one. He pointed out that something like 96% of American people think animals should be treated humanely and that therefore, nobody is really in favor of factory farming; anybody who is aware of the practices thinks they are unacceptable from an ethical standpoint; pretty much everyone would agree that an activity which is so awful for animals and so potentially detrimental to human health is something to be avoided.

My favorite point he made was in response to a question from a guy who said he was trying to be a vegetarian, but kept failing, because he kept backsliding and eating meat. That shouldn’t, responded Foer, mean that the guy ought to give up the attempt altogether; if we occasionally tell a little “white” lie, that doesn’t incline us to stop telling the truth altogether; it’s only when it comes to being ethical vegetarians that people take the all-or-nothing approach.

Some truth is better than none; less meat is better than more.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I don’t believe “things happen for a reason.”

The Universe, in my view, has no normative intention; there’s no God out there who “has a plan” for people; it’s all just amoral functioning without some intrinsic way things ought to be.

This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about beings or species or even systems having a kind of telos or end; certainly, the tree “wants” to grow; the sexes are “meant” to reproduce; it even makes sense to talk as if there are better and worse ways for organisms to thrive; but the idea that what I do or don’t do makes any difference at all to the internal workings of the Cosmos just seems unsupportable to me.

Shit happens, and then human beings try to make sense of it, evaluating actions and behaviors and even sharing what we can understand as a kind of “quasi-realistic” “intersubjectively objective” perspective on what’s happened, but it’s not as if the underlying fabric of things makes any sort of judgment on what’s gone down; what goes around may come around, but only because of coincidence, self-fulfilling prophecy, or cognitive biases.

Consequently, it’s surprising to me when it seems like I’m getting “paid back” by present events for something I shouldn’t have done in the past.

Case in point: about a year ago, I ordered a wool Polo shirt from Ibexwear. About two weeks later, I received my purchase, and then about a week later, I got another one, for which I wasn’t charged. I knew I ought to send it back, but I figured “finders keepers.”

Not a week or so later, I spilled salad dressing on one of the shirts, pretty much ruining it, but I thought, “No problem; I’ve got the other one.”

Today, I was trying to cut a loose thread off the good one, though, and accidently cut an ugly hole right in the chest, rendering it unwearable, at least in public.

Serves me right, right?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I’m a product of my environment and time; the effect of which—among other things—is that I remain, somewhat abashedly, a professional football fan, although when it comes to cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m superstitious, silly, and embarrassingly willing to invest way more energy in rooting for them than is becoming of a man my age, education, and pretensions.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon to find me, of a Sunday morning in fall, listening to sports radio, or more precisely, internet feeds of the Steelers radio network broadcast of the pre-game, game, and post-game shows. During these events, you hear lots of talk by mostly meathead jocks about the various ins and out of the event, serious discussion, as if it really mattered; and while I’m not the sort of guy who calls in to dispute the opinions expressed, I do find myself thinking about what’s said with way more interest than the material actually warrants.

I’m sure I’ve wondered and written about this before; if I were a better, more evolved sort of person, I’d spend my weekends doing things that would do more to make the world a better place; alas, however, I am what I am and that means that, instead of listening to TED talks or C-SPAN feeds, I fill my ears with the sounds of huge men in spandex pajamas running into each other while pudgy guys wearing pleated pants expound upon their actions.

Of course, it could be worse: I could be a dyed-in-the-wool hockey fan.

In France, intellectuals craft weighty tomes about soccer; in India, I hear, you get serious, thoughtful writing on the subject of cricket; there’s a tradition, even here in the US of A, for smart people to hold forth on baseball and golf; traditionally, though, you don’t find a lot of intelligent prose about the gridiron sport; a product of my environment and time, I’m keeping up that tradition.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We’re approaching the time of year when it’s not uncommon for all of one’s bike-riding to be done in the rain; it’s not always the heavy, soaking kind, but it is the sort that inevitably creeps between the links in your chain and leads to a greasy coating of road grime all over your rims, tires, and front fork.

I try to remain reasonably on top of dealing with this; I’ll do my best to clean and lubricate my chain before it gets too gritty and squeaky, and with slightly less frequency, I make it a point to clean off my rims and brake pads so the grit doesn’t sandpaper their surfaces away, and I wipe down my tires with Simple Green so the chemicals in the dirt don’t eat away at the rubber I’m riding on so quickly.

At this point in the season, I’m still enjoying this—I just spent half an hour or so tidying up after Thursday’s rainy riding—but I’m pretty sure that by February, I won’t be so sanguine about the process.

Thing is, though, and this in another feature of cycling I admire, it doesn’t matter all that much whether you’re as anal as I am about all this. Even if you do little more than keep your tires pumped up (and riding around looking at other folks on their bikes, you’ll notice that even this isn’t entirely critical), your bike will loyally carry you around all winter long. Sure, you’ll be one of those annoying riders squeaking noisily along, and yes, your components won’t last as long as they would otherwise, but unlike a car, which will catastrophically fail if you neglect to do stuff like change the oil or fill it up with gas, your two-wheeler will persevere, pretty much until it completely seizes up with rust.

Which is why, of course, you should always have a couple “extra” bicycles in your stable, so you never miss a day.

Friday, September 17, 2010


My fondest memory of the Buckaroo Tavern was on my maiden voyage to the Greenlake Midnight Race; after an evening bar-hopping following Critical Mass, me and Happy Stick Person showed up about 11:00 or so to kill some time before the witching hour competition.

There were about half a dozen regulars in the bar, and they weren’t particularly friendly; still nobody really bothered us more seriously than giving sidelong looks and snickering because I pronounced—in my relative newness at the time to Pacific Northwest drinking—my beer choice “Ra-NEER” rather than the preferred “RAIN-ear;” mainly, it was a quiet, surly watering hole, the sort of joint that Nick the bartender in Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” describes as serving “hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere;” so last night, as we arrived there after a bit of up and down from Westlake Center, through Queen Anne, it was pretty strange to see the place packed with hoards of fresh-faced and healthy-looking youngsters, who probably heard—via the Twitternetz or whatever—that it was closing for good one night hence.

I toasted the place with a final drink, and then got the hell outta there, riding through the heavy mist to the Pacific Inn Pub, where, after another beer and some fries, the reminder of the ride showed up for far more efficient alcohol consumption than had been possible at the previous, overcrowded spot.

So, even though vast miles were not pedaled, and in spite of the fact that you can’t go home again (if your home is a dive bar on its penultimate night), we still enjoyed some old skool pleasures, like circumnavigating the GhettoDrome, climbing through the rich part of the rich part of town, and enjoying the view from the east tip of Queen Anne, under the watchful eye of a real-live Barred Owl; what a hoot!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Jen and I (along with our friends Beth and Julie) went to see the beloved glam-rock dance band Scissor Sisters at the hated Showbox Sodo last night. It was a great time and I’ve hardly danced as much nor had as swell a time at a concert since see the Talking Heads live at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, CA, in it must have been about 1983 or so.

The signature event of the evening was all about scissoring: right before the band went on, I thought I would be a hero by heading to the crowded bar to bring the girls (and me) some drinks. But the line was ridiculously long and slow, so by the time I had the beers in hand, the show had started, and a seething mass of humanity was crushed up against the stage, completely blocking any egress to my peeps; I was (scissor metaphor here) completely cut off.

For a while, I wandered about, sipping my beer, trying to catch a glimpse of Jen et al.; amidst the forest of tall bodies, though, I couldn’t see them anywhere. At some point, after three or four songs of this, I pretty much despaired of ever hooking up with my party again; I had visions of spending the entire concert, holding two beers, sort of enjoying the music, but mostly cursing myself for having gotten separated.

But finally, after having chased down at least two or three other groups of females who momentarily resembled those I was looking for, Jen and Beth emerged from the throng. Immediately, I was upon them, never letting them out of sight for the remainder of the show, which—from that point on—was incredible, sweaty, and a real source of what the band’s female singer called “man broth” stewing up in the crowd.

Scissor Sisters played all their hits, including the Pink Floyd Cover, “Comfortably Numb.” That’s sort of how I felt this morning; totally worth it!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


As of this morning, I’m once again a loyal and trustworthy employee of the state of Washington, committed to helping students achieve their educational goals and succeed in the increasingly competitive global marketplace of the 21st century.

Bully for me.

In all seriousness, I’m okay with being back; it’s time, I think, that I once again assume the mantel of being a reasonably responsible and contributing member of society. And although when Jen asked me “why?” I didn’t have a ready answer, it’s pretty clear that I can’t continue to spend all my time navel-gazing and napping before I just melt into a pile of self-referential mush. (Besides, I’ve got all of my sabbatical from this January to June for that!)

One of the books I read this summer was Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, which tells the story of a young American man, Larry Darrell, who returns from World War II, so affected by seeing the death of his good friend in combat that he decides to reject the pursuit of money and success expected of him and just “loaf” (he says), travelling around the world, first to Paris, and then to India to seek meaning and happiness in life. All of the people in his social circle think he’s crazy or just a loser and try to convince him, unsuccessfully, to stop throwing away his life.

As Maugham seems to make apparent in the novel, Darrell’s on to something; I could see spending the rest of my days “loafing,” too, although I’m not sure that I’d be seeking enlightenment, or even happiness. Rather, I’d probably be ensuring myself I get the afternoon nap.

One of the more salient features of being back on the job was noticing, in savasana today, that my internal clock was ticking away; I’m aware now of being on a schedule that isn’t mine.

I also made a rookie error on my commute: didn’t pack the raingear; got soaked coming home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


We’re having a little insulation work done to our house in the basement, which has required me to move some stuff around and partially confront the trash heap that is my downstairs bike repair shop.


Whenever we do stuff like this—which thankfully, is pretty rarely—I’m reminded how much I fear change. Or perhaps it’s not “change” exactly; it’s more a matter of disruption; I don’t do well with things being all torn apart, especially when there remains the prospect of having to put them all back together again.

Humpty-Dumpty, fuck him; had he fallen on my watch, I’d have just left him there.

I realize that you’ve got to occasionally undertake projects that shake things up a bit; we’ll save money in the long run with this one and even get a little tax credit for energy efficiency, but I keep thinking, as I peek downstairs at all the commotion, that I’d have been just as happy to leave things as they were.

My parents were pretty good about home repair and maintenance; I know they put a new roof on the house at some point, and my mom was forever paying to have the gutters cleaned or whatever. Me? Not so good. I’ll probably end up one of those scary old people living in a moss-covered shack that all the neighborhood kids are afraid of and which their parents would like to see razed.

How do people whose homes are damaged in floods or fires do it? If my basement were filled up with mud, I’d just walk away; if I had to pick through the smoldering remains of picture albums and mementos, I’d bail.

Sometimes I fantasize that it would be cool if an earthquake swallowed up our entire house and we could just start over; then I wouldn’t have to worry about putting my messy bike shop back together again. I’d just buy the Park Master Mechanic kit and begin afresh.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Stories like this one, downplaying the ecological impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have begun to appear, even on “respectable” news sites like the New York Times.

I’m like, sure.

I wonder how much British Petroleum is forking out for journalists’ expense accounts and scientists’ laboratory budgets in support of these findings; not that I doubt the legitimacy of the reported results, it’s just that the timing seems as predictable as BP’s inevitable stock price recovery. It’s only a matter of time before we hear how the oil spill actually improved the health and flavor of the local seafood: “Louisiana Gumbo—now with built-in lubrication! Gulf Coast shrimp and crawdad, the master baisters!”


You can also be sure that Conservative pundits and corporate apologists will seize upon this opportunity to claim that environmentalists are hysterical and that, see? We ought to expand offshore drilling since even “disasters” aren’t all that bad. The real disaster, of course, is just that attitude, since it means that we’ll surely experience similar catastrophes, which will similarly be downplayed by the parties most responsible for them.

Over the course of my long and storied career, I’ve found that, generally, things are never so bad as you’d feared (nor as good as you’d hoped), so in some ways, this story just reads as a kind of tautology: “Things could be worse!”

Right. Tell that to the guy spooning up tar balls off the beach in Florida: “You know, it might have been an asteroid instead of an oil spill. Then we’d all really be fucked. So, lighten up!”

I suppose that, for the most part, it’s good to be optimistic and look on the bright side of things. In a hundred thousand years, the effect of the Deepwater Horizon spill will be negligible, at most; in fact, if there’s any oil still left over, it will be a good thing: our silicone-based descendents can use it to baste their plastic shrimp.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


The original meaning of the term “symposium” is a drinking party, and while there were signs that last night’s festivities at the Second Annual “Smoke Farm Symposium included free-flowing libations, I didn’t really see anyone quaffing alcohol this morning, and because I had (shudder) driven up there instead of riding my bike as I usually do, I was tea totaling; however, both talks I saw were intriguing and thought-provoking, even without the aid of the sort of intoxicants that made for such vivid symposia in Plato’s time.

The first presentation was by designer and artist Corianton Hale, who talked about “Calculating Cool,” and shared with us seven irrefutable, time-tested, and sure-fire criteria for something’s being cool. These included, timeliness, uniqueness, relevance, and authenticity, although it seemed clear from his talk that if you could fake sincerity, that would be just as good. He was witty, wry, and—in keeping with one of his seven desiderata—humble, too and I learned more about Pantone colors in his 45 minutes that I had so far during the entire course of my lifetime.

The second session was by Clark Martin, a retired (I think) psychologist and chemist who talked about his experience with a high-dose of psilocybin administered in a study at Johns Hopkins University to use psychedelics in helping cancer patients to deal with depression. His main observations had to do with insights into how the brain “lays down” identity and how our perception of reality is essentially a construct utilized by the mind to make sense of the world. He also talked at length about how he’s come to believe, as a result of his experience, that the most important quality in human relationships is what he called “presence,” which I took to mean essentially showing up for another person without expectations or an agenda in your interactions with them.

In spite of failing to cycle, I’m glad I went, even though it meant missing today’s Steelers victory.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


The part I fear most about starting up school next week is having to get dressed everyday.

Not that I’ve spent the summer lounging around in my skivvies or anything, it’s just that for the last ninety days or so, I’ve been able to wear pretty much whatever I want without having to worry about whether these are the same jeans I’ve sported every day for a week or if my neck is too old and wrinkled not to cover up with a collared shirt.

And there’s also that difficult matter of what to wear on one’s feet: in the summer, I can pull on a pair of Smartwool cycling socks, jam them into my crustiest old Chuck Taylors and I’m set. Once I have to be a responsible member of a classroom and college community, it’s not so easy—sometimes I even have to put on shoes made out of leather!

It’s not that I don’t care how I look; I’m no less vain than any 13 year-old girl spending hours in front of the mirror trying to get her shirt to wrinkle just right; it’s simply a matter of finding the thing that works and sticking with it and if I felt comfortable and more or less presentable in those Levis and my Dead Baby Downhill XIII t-shirt yesterday, why not put them on again today—and tomorrow and the next day if they’re not too gross?

Einstein allegedly (and probably apocryphally) had five versions of the identical suit so he never had to think about to wear; Ludwig Wittgenstein (apparently actually) wore essentially the same outfit day after day, so perhaps I’m in reasonably good company when it comes to my sartorial preferences. Unlike either of those two, though, I can’t blame my wardrobe shortcomings on being one of the greatest minds of all time.

They get to be absent-minded geniuses in rumpled suits; me, I’m just a lazy slob in a dirty tee.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Fortunately, America is still a country ruled by law, so when disagreements arise, we can refer to founding documents; consequently, even though just about everyone thought that little Nick still had one more round of fries to go to catch n00b Chris B., the Angry Hippy’s official scorecard told another tale.

And, so, with just a single fry into his 15th basket, the slow and steady dark horse came from behind to claim the title of Lord of the Fries in this year’s 4th Annual Never Forget (How Fat You Really Are) Point83 Freedom Fries Eating Contest honoring not only those brave Americans who lost their lives in the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but also the true spirit of this great country: excess, stupidity, and the enduring bond of camaraderie that comes only from embracing the absurdity of the human condition while seeing just who among your circle can consume the greatest amount of fried potatoes, many of which have been flavored with hot sauce, tequila, and even—in a nod to our allies around the globe—wasabi mixed with pica de gallo.

Moreover, lest anyone think for a moment that the results remained inconclusive, they need only refer to the Herculean amount of mashed tubers the winner regurgitated after accepting his prize; consider that the tie-breaker, and the ruling on the field stands.

Disgusting, no doubt, and yet, I felt no disgust, only awe at the resolve of the resolute competitors, notably Archivist Jeni, who creamed the competition in the Distaff Division and very nearly won it all in the most valiant attempt among all competitors to ascertain the personal limits of consumption; Ryan H. who attracted lots of smart money in support of bettering last year’s third-place finish, and Hipster>) Tall Fred, who finally surrendered, his face etched with pain, after 13 baskets.

Nick paid 14 to 1 on the nose and took home the Golden Potato trophy; in this America, though, everyone’s a winner.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


It looks like the state of Washington is going to execute somebody for the first time since 2001. I was already bummed we have the most regressive tax structure in the nation, but now I feel even sadder about my Evergreen home.

I’m not disputing that the guy, Cal Colburn Brown is a bad dude; he raped, tortured, and murdered a 22 year-old girl; if anyone deserves to die at the hands of government, Brown certainly qualifies. But it’s that “if” and those two subsequent considerations, which have me troubled.

First, I’m not convinced that even as sick a fuck as this guy “deserves” to be put to death. The right to life is supposed to be inalienable, blah-blah-blah, but seriously, can I really forfeit a right that can’t be taken away from me?

Plus, everybody knows that capital punishment is applied too randomly—Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer of more than 50 women gets life imprisonment; (hell, George W. Bush, who ordered the mass murder of thousands of Iraqis goes scott free!)—while Mr. Brown, with but one murder (albeit a horrible one) gets lethal injection.

Moreover, there’s solid evidence that the guy is mentally ill, and unless you’re George mercifully shooting poor retarded Lennie in Of Mice and Men, we generally try to avoid killing those not fully responsible for their actions.

Most problematic of all, though, is that it’s the government doing the killing here. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about state-sponsored executions that sort of bugs me. Just a little too much Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot for my taste. I kind of prefer my elected authorities to be more in the business of roads, or schools, or environmental protections and such than in putting people to death. You don’t want them to get an appetite for it, you know?

It’s still possible Brown might get a reprieve; about as likely we’ll finally get a state income tax.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Yesterday, I got my airline tickets for India in January, meaning I’ve taken the first real step towards my sabbatical journey there next winter. The main thing I feel, apart from excitement and trepidation, is envy towards my future self, that lucky stiff who gets to go to Mysore and study yoga at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute for almost two months.

It’s funny to have an emotion for someone who doesn’t even exist yet, even if that person will eventually be oneself. But perhaps it’s not much different than having feelings for someone who no longer exists; for instance, I still love my parents even though they’re dead or I can look back at the young man I once was and feel a kind of wistfulness that I’m no longer him.

And I suppose we can even take it farther, into fictional realms. I can be—and have been—angry at characters in a book or a movie and many is the time been moved to tears by films, even animated ones. So maybe it’s not so odd to overflow with feeling at no longer or yet-to-be extant beings given how common it is to be so moved by people (or even animals) who never were nor will ever be.

I wonder why human beings (or me, anyway) have such a surfeit of emotion; seems like it would be a lot more efficient for us to only have feelings about things that for which having feelings about might make a practical difference. After all, back in 8th grade, when I was jealous of my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, I was able to confront him and get punched in the nose for my trouble; now, though, when I feel grateful for taking the skank off my hands, I can’t possibly give him the high-five he deserves.

In the end, feelings just feel weird sometimes; I’m hoping the person I’ll be in March will have some insight I don’t.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Of all the inconsistencies associated with claims about an all-powerful, all-knowing perfectly-good, embodied creator of the Universe who also made humans beings in His image, the one that’s hardest to get my mind around is the claim He cares deeply about such mundane and trivial stuff as what humans eat, whom they have sex with, and how they are supposed to worship Him.

I mean, really, if I could make the world in just six days, do I really give a damn about whether or not you have a glass of milk with your roast beef sandwich or prefer playing with genitals that look like your own?

I’m thinking of this nutcase preacher in Florida who plans to memorialize September 11 with a bonfire of Korans; if he really wants to do things right, he ought to have a Freedom Fry Eat-Off instead.

(All you really need to know about the guy is captured in this quote: “Asked about his knowledge of the Koran, he said plainly: ‘I have no experience with it whatsoever. I only know what the Bible says.’”)

Does he really, though?

Particularly oxymoronic (with an emphasis on those last two syllables) is that folks who claim to know what God’s opinions on very granular policy matters typically also want to maintain that the Lord works in mysterious ways. What’s mysterious to me is how someone can simultaneously be so certain about some aspects of God’s preferences and so clueless about others.

(Of course, ascribing any intentions whatsoever to God is puzzling to say the least; as multiple observers over the last 2500 or so years have observed, it’s hard to see how a perfect being could have any desires, for to do so would be to imply a lack, something that, obviously, a perfect being could not have.)

Half the time (and regular readers will contend way more than that) I don’t even know what I’m talking about; God’s words? Ya got me.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Yesterday was our annual “Father’s Day at the Track,” albeit a couple months late. As usual, I rode my bike down to Emerald Downs and the family came in the car a bit later, providing me with a ride back, thereby saving me from the inevitable headwinds along Airport Way coming northward.

It turned out to be a reasonably successful day from a wagering standpoint; I picked a couple of winners and even made out okay on an exacta. Truth be told: I didn’t come home ahead, but the amount behind I ended up was more than worth it from an entertainment standpoint.

I experienced my typical self-delusion around pari-mutual thoroughbred racing: after hitting the exacta in the second race, I convinced myself I was a handicapping expert and began fantasizing how I would embark on my new career as a fulltime railbird; fortunately, my complete lack of success in race number three reminded me that the only way I’ll ever end up with a million dollars as a horse-player is to start with two million, budabump-crash!

As someone concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, I realize I should probably not support the horseracing industry; no doubt thoroughbreds have a less-than-fully equine sort of life: they’re hopped up with all sorts drugs and blood-thinners and I have no real idea how they’re disposed of once their “useful” lives are over. By patronizing the track, I’m no doubt supporting an industry that uses and abuses animals for human beings’ pleasure; since avoiding such cruelty is one of the reasons I don’t eat meat, if I’m going to be morally consistent, I should probably, therefore, eschew the track.

But maybe I can appeal to Utilitarian considerations: even considering the horses’ pains and pleasures as morally equivalent to humans, one might be able to sum things up and come to the conclusion that Utility is maximized by allowing the sport to exist.

At least when I hit the exacta.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Ever since I can remember, I’ve had what I will call an “interactive” relationship with rules. I’m not opposed to toeing the line, but I’m also comfortable playing relatively fast and loose with what the guidelines specify.

I wasn’t convinced, even as a little kid, there weren’t exceptions to the stricture about not lying to your parents, (at least if they didn’t find out,) and by the time I was an adolescent, I was already cherry-picking among the rules—especially those pertaining to cognitive liberties—that school and society had lain down.

One might accuse me of believing that the rules for everyone else don’t apply to me, and yes, I do think so about some of them. I’ve also been, at times, a line-cutter, an appetizer-swiper, and a loudmouth, case closed.

But that’s only because I want there to be a reason for what I do or don’t do, one that doesn’t necessarily rely entirely on Kantian kinds of considerations; the question “What if everyone did what you did?” can sometimes be answered with, “But they aren’t!”

Take that stoplight on the Burke-Gilman trail in Kenmore, the one with the over-determined sign next to it that reads “Obey crosswalk signal.” I will usually comply with the red, but I see nothing wrong with behaving contrary to the sign in cases where no cars are around or even if, like today, it’s safe to cross and I’ve got momentum.

I blame my attitude on my dad: he was a guy always looking for the angles, and was sharp enough—as I aspire to me—to be able to find them and get away with it.

Family legend has him once famously hoist by his own petard, though: he exploited a technicality, as ranking medical officer on an airbase in Alaska after V-J Day, to get discharged early; officially, however, this made him eligible for duty when the Korean War broke out.

Somehow, though, he angled out of that rule, too.

Friday, September 03, 2010


I do the same exact yoga practice every day, eat the identical breakfast each morning, and haven’t really changed my haircut in twenty years, so it’s kind of odd I’d recoil even a little bit from the possibility of cycling over paths I’ve been on before to a location I’ve gone to within the last 12 months, but that’s how I was—for a second, at first—as the ride lumbered forth from Westlake heading generally westward under pastel skies, smudged pink, then fuchsia, in the slowly gathering dusk.

Because after all, there’s something so comforting about well-trodden paths and re-experienced experiences: Kyleen crashing, Sketchy drinking, Ben getting another flat and grouching around as the peanut gallery kibitzes his roadside repair skills; when I’m on my deathbed looking back upon my life, I’m sure all the times I’ve seen these happen will blend a single fond memory encompassing every one.

And, of course, I should talk: nor was this the first (and probably not the last, either) time yours truly ate the whole cookie and spent far too much of the evening wandering about, alternately finding, then losing, then finding again his bicycle, even though it remained in the same spot all along.

Besides, there are nuances which make every instant, even of the same thing, unique: for example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that old chestnut of leaving the full beer can in the fire to explode have the can explode twice, and as far as I know, this could be the first time mass departure from Carkeek didn’t result in at least one major mechanical or memorable road rash.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus famously claimed “You can’t step into the same river twice,” reminding us that the universe and everything in it is in a constant state of flux: all is change, and even if we’ve been there before, it’s totally different every time.

Except the crashing, drinking, and grouching; that’s just the same.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


I caught my reflection in a store window the other day and staring back at me was the face of my grandmother.

Granted, I was wearing a cycling cap, so my luxurious salt n’ pepper locks were hidden from sight, but cripes, there she was, all jowls and wrinkles, eyes like two raisins pressed into a sticky bun, neck looking like beef jerky stretched over a water balloon.

Could this really be me, the same young man who only moments ago had a jawline so sharp you could slice tomatoes with it?

I don’t believe in an immortal soul, but if I did, the disparity between the person I am on the inside and the external image I present to the world would be a serious point in favor of it.

You always hear old folks—ones even more ancient than me—say stuff like, “I still feel like I’m 24,” and though I’d peg it more like 27 and a half, it’s true: while my mortal coil has lost some spring, the kinetic energy contained within seems just as random and scatterbrained as ever.

And yet, it’s obvious that we are our bodies, in spite of it feeling, from time to time, as if we’re looking at things from within a tumble-down cottage that was all shiny and new just yesterday.

In the Phaedrus, Plato argues that beauty is the one aspect of true reality which we can perceive; it sparkles with particular clarity since the keenest kind of perception comes through seeing; it is only beauty, he says, that is especially visible and especially lovable. Unfortunately, that face reflected back at me has lost its shine; the eyes may still twinkle a little—but that could just be sunlight bouncing off my glasses.

Of course, there’s nothing older than complaining about being old; the obvious solution to this state of affairs is to refrain from looking at one’s reflection.

And probably, to avoid cycling caps.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


I’m glad to hear that the war in Iraq is finally over, but the question, I guess, is why did it ever start?

The whole thing reminds me of when, at age 11, I tried to fix the slightly skipping chain on my bike. Before I was done, I had completely destroyed my rear derailleur with a screwdriver and bent the derailleur hangar with a hammer. I had to take it—in Mom’s car—to the bike shop, where they put everything back together so I could ride it home…with a slightly skipping chain.

Obama is to be commended, I think, for sticking to the troop withdrawal timetable, although I’d like to see a time when there aren’t any American military forces abroad, even in advisory roles. This is probably where the opposite ends of the political spectrum could come together: I’ll bet you could get both Lyndon Larouche-style Libertarians and Noam Chomsky-fueled anarchists to agree on this one.

I suppose I’m terribly naïve when it comes to international geopolitics, but it sure seems to me that that the best way to reduce the number of American casualties in foreign lands would be to bring those troops back home. And I bet a lot fewer of them would be injured in non-conflict accidents if they were doing stuff like repairing bridges and roads in their home towns.

According to the Times, when someone asked Secretary of Defense Gates if the war had been worth it, he replied, “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run.”

With all due respect, I’m going to disagree; I think the perspective of a mother who lost a so or daughter in combat or a child who was left homeless by the bombing could make a pretty good assessment, too, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a particularly positive one.

But hey, at least this one is over, unless, of course, it isn’t.