Tuesday, November 30, 2010


In an article in today’s Times, science journalist Gina Kolata says she is not alone in vowing to give up bike riding (at least initially) following a crash. “It’s not a universal response,” she writes, “but it is so common that cyclists nod their heads when they hear my reaction to my injury.”


Obviously, she’s talking with a different group of cyclists than I tend to communicate with. Most of the ones I know, following a crash, initially say something like “Could you hand me a beer, please?” Or “Don’t let that fucker drive away; I want to get his license number.”

And most eventually get back on the bike, some even before their broken bones heal, especially if they have a friend who can hook them up with a one-handed braking and shifting mechanism.

I’ve wrecked my share (I hope) of times on (or, I guess that’s off) two wheels; it sucks, especially the six to eight weeks it takes your fucking wrist to start feeling better, but so far, all I’ve wanted to do afterwards is get back on the bike as soon as possible. I’ve never broken a collarbone (knock wood) but if I did and couldn’t balance or pull up on the handlebars, I think I’d try a gimp-cycle until I healed up. But I guess that would be getting on a trike, not a bike.

Of course talking about this is probably going to jinx me; my next posting will be about how I got right-hooked by some lady in an SUV talking on her phone while drinking a latte and then maybe I’ll eat my words and become a fulltime bus-rider. One never knows.

If I gave up on all the things I fucked up or hurt myself on, I wonder what, if anything, I’d do. I wouldn’t cook; I’d never be a parent; no way I’d teach, and this would be the last 327-word essay I ever wrote.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Obviously, I should have stayed home doing chores, for no sooner did I put the vacuum cleaner away and head to a bar for the second half of today’s Steelers’ game than the Buffalo fucking Bills ran off 13 unanswered points to tie the score and then, after the teams traded field goals, send the way more exciting than it needed to be contest into overtime where the Black n’ Gold would have lost were it not for a dropped pass in the endzone by one of the opposing team’s wide receivers.

Clearly, it was one of those “pride goeth before the fall” lessons; I was set to celebrate a blowout victory, but instead had to sweat out a nailbiter against a team that Pittsburgh ought to have handled with ease. What this meant in practice was that instead of just a couple of Guinesses, I had to drink three, and as a consequence thereof, I’m sitting here on the couch playing kitten on the keys when I probably ought to be grading papers or at least prepping for the week ahead.

I wonder what the historical analogue is to my experience today; maybe if I were in ancient Rome, I would have left my home vomitorium to catch the end of the tilt between the Christians and the Lions; surprisingly, the former would have mounted a desperate comeback against their meat-eating opponents and I would have been forced to consume an additional few goblets of wine before the kings of the beasts finally prevailed.

Or, if we were to travel back in time even further, maybe I’d have left the kin group’s cave to join my fellow hunter-gatherers at the local watering hole for the wrestling competition between Og and Gog; fortunately, for fans of the favored former, his mighty bearded adversary trips over a mastodon bone and hands the contest to his adversary.

I pound one last ceramic bowl of mead and cheer like mad.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Sometimes it seems like debates are more over theory than practice. Like, for instance, in ethics, it’s not so much that people disagree about the content of what they’re saying as its theoretical underpinnings.

Take Kant (please!) for him, it’s all about intentions—not what you do, but why you’re doing it. Compare that to Mill who cares more about consequences—what you did rather than why you did it. And all of a sudden, people are arguing about what you shoulda done when they unfortunately mean something different by “shoulda.”

And then, what’s weird, is that you can even be inside a moral theory and be using it differently. Like for Kant, what has moral worth are deeds done because your realize you oughtta, not because you wanna.

But lotsa good people believe that you oughtta wanna.

I dunno; I’m just trying to avoid the gotcha.

When Bush said Brownie was doing a heckuva job, he obviously was using a different criterion for heck than your average bear. And when Led Zepplin talked about a whole lotta love, they must have been operating under their own preferred standard of measurement.

Gimme shelter, I guess; and watchoo talkin’ about Willis?

I ain’t gonna lose much sleep over whatever I dinna ken; whaddaya gotta do about it anyways?

For Aristotle, one swallow doesn’t make spring; as far as I can tell, neither do a buncha them.

If I wuz one of them guys who always hadda be right; then how couldja tell?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s no biggee when it comes to whatcher feeling as compared to whatchyoov dun; as long as it all ends up as intended, why not just fuggetaboutit?

I woulda if I coulda, but I’m not sure I shoulda.

You get a coupla philosophers in the same room and maybe we’ll just agree to disagree; or maybe it’s not even a matter of agreement; maybe you just gotta do whatchoo gotta do.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I didn’t quite succeed in the Buy-Nothing Day effort; I spent money on some hand lotion, a tube of superglue, and a cup of coffee; however, I did manage to make it all the way through the afternoon without driving my SUV to the mall to stock up on flat-screen televisions and portable DVD players.

Sorry, economy, I realize I’m not doing my part; maybe if Wal-Mart starts putting lugged steel-frame bikes on deep discount, I’ll get up at 4:00 in the morning to start shopping by 5:00. The good news anyway, is that at least no one, as far as I know, got stampeded to death yet this year; perhaps that’s a sign that human nature, if not consumer confidence, is improving.

I did roll around downtown and through Capitol Hill just for fun and maybe with half a thought to burn off a few of yesterday’s mashed potatoes and I can’t say that it seemed very zooey; people were carrying shopping bags to be sure, but I didn’t get a sense of any real consumerist frenzy; granted, I dared not venture into H&M, for example, although pedaling past, I could tell that it wasn’t all sardines inside.

It’s a tragedy, of course, that so many people’s jobs and livelihoods depend on an endless cycle of so many other people being engaged in an endless cycle of supercharged consumption; Annie Leonard, among others, has pointed out that in addition to destroying the planet, it’s not really making us happier, either. What’s weird is that, at some level, everyone knows this, but it doesn’t stop people from getting on the treadmill, anyway.

And I guess I shouldn’t talk; I’d love me a brand-new iPad, if I could more easily afford one.

Still, it’s not as if my continued happiness depends upon my ability to purchase something new; I’m reasonably satisfied with all the stuff I already own and still have half a six-pack left over from yesterday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Of course, there is no end of things I could do, from grading the random straggler’s paper to taking out the trash, but instead, here I am, fulfilling my designated gender role on Thanksgiving by sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching football while the distaff side of the household prepares dinner.

The holiday reminds me to be grateful for all the good fortune I experience in my life and to remember that all of my problems are privileges, really, but also compels me to notice that, more and more, I’d probably be just as happy doing less and less.

I’ve never thought of myself as a lazy person, but maybe that’s because it’s too much effort to notice. Perhaps if I just took a bit more initiative, I’d realize what a slug I’m willing to be.

(By the way, I think I’ve written on this theme before, but I’m too lazy to think of something new and far too enervated to even search back to check.)

A person has to consider his legacy, of course; you want to have done something meaningful and to have left your mark on history; but why can’t that be nothing more than a dent in the mattress? Why not be satisfied with simply having lived and breathed? Maybe one isn’t required to have changed the world; perhaps it’s sufficient to have, at least, changed one’s socks.

No doubt the fellows in spandex on television think what they’re doing is important and meaningful and certainly those watching the game with more energy and interest than me do as well, but isn’t the attention paid to such nonsense a perfect illustration of how so much of what we all get so exercised about so much of the time is nothing more than froth on flimsiest of life’s illusions?

And speaking of froth, and even given how lazy I am, I nevertheless conclude it’s worthwhile to get up and get another beer.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I took the first snow day as a sort of reward (for what I’m not exactly sure—maybe that I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday grading papers?); today’s second straight unexpected day off is purely a gift. I pay obeisance to nature’s grace—thanks Mom!—for the extra-long holiday and promise to plant a tree or something in thanks when spring comes around.

Snide jokes are certainly in order when it comes to our town’s response to a bit of snow, but I’ll take ‘em; I’m glad we’re pussies and I get another day to poke around town on two wheels buying food for Thanksgiving and laughing at stuck cars.

I took my first weather-related spill of the year last night; I blame it on the fifty pounds or so of groceries I had in my panniers and the half a dozen drinks I had under my belt: at one moment, I was riding slowly along having a conversation with Jen and Beth, who had walked on their errands, the next moment, I was seeing stars as my jaw grazed the bumper of a parked car. Just a scratch and no real lasting damage, but it does hurt to chew toast this morning.

Despite my tumble though, I do believe the Hunqapiller is the preferred rig for these conditions; its super-wide tires give me an extra millisecond or two to correct a skid before it becomes a slide and then a fall and sitting as upright as I do on it enables me to keep a better eye on cars all around.

Yesterday afternoon, as I pedaled down a sidestreet covered with snow and ice, some lady in a minivan started honking at me to speed the fuck up, I guess; was she really on my ass to ride into the crunchy drifts just so she could get to the stopsign an instant sooner? Since I didn’t pull over, we’ll never know, will we?

Monday, November 22, 2010


Our town has had a light dusting of snow and so predictably, everybody is freaking the fuck out what with weather people on TV issuing dire forecasts for an asteroid hitting the planet—er, a difficult commute tomorrow morning—and my school closing down at 3:30 in the afternoon so the kiddies can drive away before it gets all dark and slippery outside.

Just as predictably, I’m feeling all smug and self-satisfied for riding my bike home and not just because it allows me to halfway pretend I’m a goddamn fucking badass, but also because even though it took me a good half an hour longer than usual, I’m pretty sure I got home faster on two wheels than I would have had I taken the bus which, if reports are to be believed, languished on I-5 in traffic for at least an hour this afternoon.

The thing is, if truth be told, the ride home wasn’t really all that intense; while an inch or so of snow covered the Burke-Gilman trail in some places, mostly it was just wet and crunchy with incipient ice; the two-and-a-quarter-inch wide tires on the Hunqapiller hardly slipped at all, even while climbing. In fact, the main difficulty I faced was when sleet would build up between my tires and fenders, effectively braking my wheels, until I wheelied up and down to get them spinning freely again.

Also, while my body stayed warm beneath my wool undershirt and several layers on top, my little fingers, ears, and toes were freezing by the time I got home, but just enough to make me feel like I was having a real adventure, not enough to send me to the emergency room with frostbite or anything.

Tomorrow, of course, is going to be the real challenge; when the wet turns to black ice overnight, the roads are going to be skating rinks.

Fingers crossed for this year’s first snow day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


As expected, as soon as I started vacuuming, the Steelers ran off 35 unanswered points to cream the Oakland Raiders in today’s game at Heinz Field, but I think the real reason the Black and Gold so successfully demolished their opponent had more to do with honoring one of their loyal fans, Dr. Alvin Philip Shapiro, who passed away exactly twelve short years ago and is still missed every single day by those he loved way more than a silly football team, although there were times, I’m sure—notably during my adolescence—when he probably would have preferred an afternoon with his favorite gridiron squad to one with his prodigal son, yours truly.

Or probably not.

In spite of whatever grief I ever caused the man, I never had any doubt about my place in his heart nor any worry that his frustration with me would last longer than the amount of time I was being frustrating, nor any concern that I wouldn’t eventually return to his good graces, just as the Steelers today returned to their winning ways after last weekend’s stumble against the New England Patriots.

And in spite of taking a bit more pleasure in today’s victory than is becoming in one of my advanced years, I would gladly have traded a loss this game—and for every other one all season long for as long as it takes—for a moment to spend with my dad, although knowing him and his pragmatic ways, he’d probably have tried to convince me otherwise.

I can still see him in his long black ski parka, rumpled hat on head, navigating the stairway down to our seats in Three Rivers Stadium; there was a group of season ticket holders from all walks of Pittsburgh life who we sat with for years; they all called him “Doc” and passed down beer and hotdogs from the vendors; what I wouldn’t give to have been there today with them all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Honestly, showing up at the first annual Cranksgiving bike ride/food drive/alleycat race with the Haulin’ Colin trailer was like the Pittsburgh Steelers coming out to play a Pop Warner team: it was obvious before the event even began that there was no way anybody was going to carry more cans of soup, beans, vegetable, and fruit or bags of pasta and rice than me.

And that’s just how it turned out.

I won the prize for most carried by a mile and hardly even scratched the surface of how much I could have hauled; I only halfway filled the trailer’s 18 gallon bin with stuff but it was plenty to wow the worker at the Rainer Valley Food Bank who remarked that it was as if I were unloading a bottomless pit of groceries for the needy, but she also assured me it all would get eaten, even the random can of beets I rescued from the back of our cupboard pantry when I stopped in at home for a moment along the course route.

The route was reminiscent of a Sunday shopping trip what with a stop at Madison Market, another at the Grocery Outlet, still another at Uwajimaya, and then had the flavor several southern .83 sojourns what with darting into the Beacon Hill Red Apple for supplies.

The final pick-up was McPherson’s fruit and vegetable stand where I was subjected to a tirade against the homeless by Mr. McPh. himself when I asked if he’d be willing to contribute a few goods to our cause. “I’m out here all day long,” he growled, “they can get a job just like me.”

I hardly knew how to respond to that so I shook his hand and headed to the strange Seattle Super Market at Columbia and Beacon, where I pretty much cleaned the place out of canned corn and mixed vegetables before heading downhill to collect my prize of two free “Yoga for Cyclists” classes.

Friday, November 19, 2010


There are few things I like better on a Thursday night in November than entering into a slightly non-ordinary state of consciousness and riding my bicycle around admiring the great out-of-doors in all its chilly autumn splendor; if I can do that with a group of similarly deranged fellow cyclists and augment the pedaling with the quaffing of alcoholic beverages and the standing around an outdoor fire, so much the better. But even if those latter features do not, as philosophers say, “obtain,” it can still be a delightful way to spend a couple of hours, especially if the weather stays dry, the moon remains glowing behind smudged clouds, and I get to take the long way home so I can keep looking at stuff illuminated by the square of light from my bicycle’s headlamp, from scared rats darting across the trail in front of me, to spooky naked tree limbs waving their spindly arms over Lake Washington, to staggering drunk fratboys exiting bars on the Ave, deep in celebration over their alma mater’s victory in its nationally-televised game earlier that evening.

While it would have been what been what humorist S.J. Perelman would have called a “lagniappe” to have run into the .83 ride last night, I still got to enjoy what he would also probably have termed a little “frisson” of pleasure with the half-formed expectation that I might, and even though that didn’t come to pass, I nevertheless was able to experience a kind of simulation of what it might have been like had I joined up with the gang: there was some beer-drinking beforehand with people I know, then the usual pre-ride safety meeting, and then a nice chunk of miles covered on two wheels, including a route I rarely take and familiar paths that looked strange.

And while I miss awakening this AM smelling of wood smoke and topsoil, it’s not so bad to feel relatively chipper on a November Friday morning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I’m reading a book called Yoga Body: The Origins of the Modern Posture Practice by a guy named Mark Singleton, who, in addition to teaching Eastern religion at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, is an advanced practitioner of several forms of yoga, including Ashtanga and Iyengar; so I’d say he probably knows pretty well of what he speaks.

And what he speaks of, essentially, is that the well-known asana (or posture) practice that most people think of when they think of yoga isn’t, after all, twenty-five hundred or even ten-thousand years old, as many yoga teachers and aficionados claim, but rather, was developed in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century as an outgrowth of a nationalist movement in India to promote health and “physical culture” among the country’s citizenry.

Consequently, all the bending and stretching we do in our yoga practice isn’t so much connecting us to an ancient esoteric tradition as it is to something like a modern system of calisthenics. Even the series taught by my guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, was his own 20th century innovation designed specifically for teaching large classes of young boys in a gymnasium-like setting.

Of course, this makes the entire endeavor of getting up every morning to bend and jump around even more absurd; not only is it no longer the favored path to enlightenment of Lord Krishna or whomever; it’s now something more akin to the daily exercise regimen of Jack LaLanne!

Can testimonials from Juice Daddy be far behind?

I suppose this knowledge could make me less excited about my planned trip to India in January, but, surprisingly, it doesn’t. I’ve always been skeptical about the metaphysics that go along with yoga practice. My dedication to it hasn’t depended upon its liberating me from the otherwise endless cycle of death and rebirth; rather, I do it because it feels right in this life now. And even a 100 year-old tradition can do that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


If you’re like me, you probably get tired of people saying stuff like “We need to make a data-driven decision here.” (Of course, if you’re like me, you probably also eat cheese sandwiches with mustard and jelly, but that’s a different 327 words.)

Point being: there’s entirely too much reliance by decision-makers on that third type of misinformation (after lies and damn lies), statistics. Numbers aren’t the only reliable way to set policy or plan for the future and they may not even be the best. Give me a good story any day and see if I don’t come to just as good, if not a better, outcome to any course of action I undertake.

Your everyday qualitative data, in other words, is sorely undervalued. I realize, of course, that it’s considered a paradigmatic case of irrationality to rely more heavily on what your cousin Fred says about what a lemon is his Toyota compared to the reams of data published in Consumer Reports about how reliable his model of car is, but still, I’ll bet that I’d be just as happy ignoring both data sets and just buying a new bike, so there.

How come narrative isn’t considered “data” anyway? Hasn’t most of human history and culture proceeded by the small sample fallacy? What has historically defined us as individuals and societies isn’t number-crunching, it’s story-telling. The big time biblical story, for example isn’t the statistical improbability of virgin birth; rather it’s that one crazy account of immaculate conception that gets the whole thing rolling.

Perhaps, though, this example is the perfect illustration of how relying on the qualitative rather than the quantitative can get us into trouble. Maybe if our traditions were more in the habit of making “data-driven” decisions, there wouldn’t be such strife and warfare in the world.

Somehow, however, I can’t see it: if an all-powerful, all-knowing, creator of the universe based decisions on survey data, I’m sure they’d be no better.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Today was the first day I first made manifest the “company car” I had in mind when I bought the Hunqapiller. This morning, after coffee, I hooked up the Haulin’ Colin to the hitch I finally installed last night and carried a full load of stuff to Goodwill: three bags of old clothes, a couple boxes of knick-knacks and stuffed animals, an old lawn chair, and a bunch of picture frames. I’m sure it would have been all bittersweet had I had to have driven, what with donating these fondly-remembered aspects of my daughter’s younger childhood, but, as it was, pulling the load along via human power, I had nothing but a good time.

The bike performed just as I imagined it would under heavy weight; built for comfort rather than speed, it can poke along in my stump-pulling low gear at just over walking rate up any hill, secure on my 2.25”-wide tires that I’ll remain upright even moving so slowly.

After dropping off the stuff, I pedaled around town a bit, stopping for a couple of Guinesses and some football at my favorite Sunday morning watering hole. I locked up next to a brand-new Mercedes Benz, and although, of course, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for any bike ride for any automobile drive, I had to admit that our two rigs looked like kindred spirits in terms of quality, durability, and style.

I thus remain confident that there will come a day when the market for Haulin’ Colin trailers (perhaps combined with Rivendell bicycles) will be as robust as the current market for fancy automobiles. It will take, no doubt, a major change in available resources to get people’s tastes to change, but I believe it will happen quite quickly when it does.

The time will arrive when many more people will consider a day like mine today a really good time; trailers may not sell hotcakes then, but like luxury cars would be just fine.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Never let it be said that procrastination doesn’t work; or at least never let it be said right now. Let’s wait a week or so and see how things pan out before we come to any decisions.

I make this claim about the value of deferred action not a priori; rather, I have several piece of empirical evidence from the last week. I’ll get around to sharing them; just give me a moment.

For instance, a few months ago, a student asked me to write a recommendation for her. It was due later this month and I’d been putting it off and off, knowing that I ought to get around to it and berating myself for failing to do so. Last week, I was almost ready to get started on it when, lo and behold, I got an email from the student telling me she’d decided not to apply, after all, to the program she was going to. Hooray! No need to write anything. Had I been more on top of things, though, I’d have spent a good couple of hours crafting the thing when I could have been doing other things, like looking at bike porn on the internet or even taking a nap.

Or the other day, I got an email from one of the higher ups at my school asking me call right away to talk about some sort of emerging crisis that needed to be dealt with immediately. But Jen and I had been out to lunch all afternoon and the message had languished in my in-box for almost four hours. I took another 45 minutes drinking coffee to get my head back on straight and then made the call. Guess what? The storm had passed without my involvement, and I still got to get kudos for checking in.

I’m sure I have some other examples I could write about; I’ll get around to that soon. But first, let me think about it.

Friday, November 12, 2010


It was a night I thought would get crazy sooner and probably did later but in the middle, it all stayed as upright as the Imapakt Sidehack of tall Fred: careening around, contents almost spilled out and there were moments when the brakes weren’t quite up to the task, but even with Derrick passing around and pounding the soon-to-be-banned caffeinated malt beverage, nobody ate shit or even got punched by guys in trucks who cracked dumb jokes about our supposed search for the Tour de France, and which also, no doubt, was partly a function, at least for those who eschewed the carbonated poison, of how low the ratio of miles to alcohol consumed was during that aforementioned center phase.

Those motivational posters say “The journey is its own destination;” for me, it was a matter of the destination being its own journey: as soon as we got to where we’d been heading all evening and had gotten the fire lit, the heavens opened up, sending those who were staying to seek cover and flame beneath the shelter and compelling me, at that point, to call it a night—although a good chunk of wet miles still lay before my rain-spattered and streetlight-kaleidoscoping spectacles.

I’m glad I didn’t indulge in the themed beverage; the ride home was exotic enough with lakes around clogged storm drains and a bike lane more like a river channel than a pathway, but I do appreciate any drink that gets a score of cyclists riding up Aurora Boulevard on a dark and stormy night and inspires several of their number to stock up on dozens of fast food tacos for sharing and throwing at one another.

And you’ve got to admire a product that even works indirectly; although but a single sip of its saccharine nastiness passed through my lips, I can’t quite recall our route to Shoreline; that’s it, I guess: while beginnings and endings fall up, the middle just wobbles.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The farther I get away from my adolescence (now barely visible except through the Hubble telescope), the more I realize that pretty much all human interactions are merely a mirror of what went on in high school.

The same petty jealousies, internecine competitions, and vain self-aggrandizement that characterized ninth through twelfth grade, merely repeated by folks with gray hair and wrinkles as opposed to braces and pimples, all over again.

We see this at the highest level of government, where the imagined slights of one world leader at the hands of another probably have more to do with geopolitical tensions and strife than economics or the military balance of power than any of us e really realize.

I witness it in the halls of academia where, as some wag famously put it, the conflicts are so intense because so little is at stake.

And I’m fully aware of it in the non-profit sector, where we’re all being treated, courtesy of the Cascade Bike Club (of which I’ve been a member since I first came to Seattle back in 1994) to a perfectly delightful example of teenage backbiting in the form of a Board of Directors at odds with a President (shades of the Student Council vs. the Prom Queen) and a loose cannon Advocacy Director pissing off the administration (just like when the head of the Drama Club upset all the members of the Cheerleading Squad!)

It’s great fun to see all these serious cyclists getting their spandex diapers in a twist over different perspectives on what the club is supposed to be; it reminds me exactly of how the Ski Club imploded in tenth grade when the Freaks and Greasers split up on the question of whether we’d ride the lifts Friday nights at Seven Springs or Saturday mornings at Hidden Valley.

Of course, like everything else in high school, this controversy will eventually blow over—soon as we meet for a kegger in the woods.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I love me a good coming-of-age novel. Whether it’s Catcher in the Rye, Black Swan Green, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or the first of the genre I fell for James Collier’s children’s classic, The Teddy Bear Habit, I’m a total sucker for a story about a youngster learning about himself and the world through a series of adventures and/or misadventures and in the process passing over the brutal edge of adolescence into something approaching adulthood.

Maybe it’s because that time in my own life was so profound, or perhaps it’s a result of, at some level, consistently finding myself moving through something similar on my own path to a fuller understanding of things, or maybe it’s just a kind of simple-minded nostalgia, but whatever, I’m drawn again and again to books with this theme, the latest of which has been Colson Whitehead’s poignant, funny, wise, and beautifully-written Sag Harbor, which I just finished last week. While the story itself isn’t really anything we haven’t heard before (except maybe the particular setting among an middle and upper-middle class Black community in a summer resort on Long Island , the narrative voice is unique and delightful. Nothing like a teenage kid whose wise beyond his years to win me over.

It made me think that 15 year-old boys tend to get a bad rap these days; they’re represented in popular culture as clueless and heartless; Benjy, the protagonist of Whitehead’s novel, however, reminded me what it felt like to be that age and care so much about so little while simultaneously always be second-guessing oneself about things you can’t stop thinking about.

It also became apparent to me that I ought to write my own bildungsroman; all I’d have to do is recall those heady days in the early 1970s when my gang had the run of the city of Pittsburgh; in the time before computers and cellphones, when 10 speed bikes were king and so were we.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Thanks to the return of Western Standard Time, this evening was my first regularly-scheduled completely dark ride home from school this year. (Not that I haven’t pedaled home after sunset so far; it’s just that today was the initial instance of its being a standard feature of my daily commute).

I didn’t really mind it; there’s something satisfying about having to only make it as far forward as your light can shine, and if it wasn’t for being compelled to feel a little bit guilty by people coming the other direction who shielded their lights from me, I would have completely enjoyed the experience, especially since in the time it took me to get from about Lake Forest Park to the UW, the Pittsburgh Steelers had gone up on the hated Cincinnati Bungles 10-0 in the first quarter according to the Monday Night Football broadcast I was listening to on my transistor radio.

Before the game was over, though, a couple hours and some 10 or so miles later, they’d almost managed to blow a twenty point lead in the fourth quarter, prompting me to seriously question, as is my wont, why I even consider it enjoyable to pay attention to such meaningless and stupid phenomena as professional football and wonder whether I wouldn’t be a happier, more fulfilled, and indeed more respectable human being to give up the practice of paying attention to the sport altogether.

The amount of pleasure one takes in the success of the teams one roots for hardly seems to outweigh the annoyance one feels when they fail; plus, when you feel bad after “your” team loses, you also experience the cringe-worthy sentiment of noticing that you’re the sort of person who cares about such drivel.

I continue to blame this character flaw on my upbringing, but there probably comes a point when I should move on; not yet, though; it’s dark outside and my boys are tied for the division lead.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Think of all the things I could do with an extra sixty minutes a day.

Choose one or two of the following: write another 327-word essay; rake the lawn; finish a few more chapters of the book I’m reading (Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem—delightful and mesmerizing, but teetering on the edge of the self-indulgence that always tends to get me about his writing); take the dog for a walk; do some grocery shopping; scrub the bathroom, or at least wipe down the sink with Windex; get my passport photo for my visa to India; practice part of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga; finish digging up the vegetable garden that’s now, in the fall, turning into a moldy mess along the side of the house; fill out the recommendation form for a student who’s asked me to do so for her admission to the University of Washington; perform some routine maintenance on one or more of my bikes; clean the gutters; make a phone call to a long-lost friend; get my hair cut; sleep in a bit; do the laundry and fold some clothes; learn a foreign language; produce and direct a full-length feature movie starring Jodie Foster, Robert Di Niro, and Claire Daines that would win next year’s Academy Award, secure peace and justice in the mid-East; build a rocket and fly it to the moon; start a company that turns radioactive waste into edible grains to feed the hungry and house the homeless; provide sure-handed management to the federal economy, thus ensuring living-wage jobs for the unemployed throughout the country; rectify environmental injustice at home and abroad; and, of course, prevent a giant asteroid from striking planet earth wiping us all out just like one did to the dinosaurs all those millions of years ago.

But instead, what’s my plan? Apparently, to sit on the couch and haphazardly watch parts of a football game I don’t even really care about.

Hooray for Western Standard Time!

Friday, November 05, 2010


Philosophy Talk is a weekly radio show hosted by Stanford University philosophers John Perry and Ken Taylor; its tagline is, “The program that questions everything…except your intelligence.”

This week, they came to the University of Washington for a show about the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children, the activity I’ve been involved with as Education Director for the past decade and a half or so. Two classes of students from John Muir Elementary, where my colleague, Jana Mohr, and I have been doing philosophy lessons with fourth graders this quarter, rode a bus to campus to take part in the event, as did a number of college students from the course we’re teaching in doing philosophy with pre-college students, along with a handful of students from Nova High School where teacher Terrence McKittrick is leading a class of high-schoolers who are learning to create philosophy lessons for younger kids; point being, as I look back upon it now was that there were people from ages 10 to about 70, in a room, at a major Research One university, wondering together about questions like, “What makes me me?”, “Is my brain the same as my mind?” and “What is happiness?”

While I’ve been doing philosophy with children now for almost twice as long as these kids are old, and have been instrumental in keeping the enterprise at the UW alive, I was sort of peripheral to the event; my main role was to meet the arriving schoolbus and pass out juiceboxes and granola bars, a task I performed with great aplomb, if I do say so myself.

The classroom of students I’m working with this quarter sort of go left out, too; they were sat in the back of the audience and didn’t get to answer any of the questions asked by the hosts; it didn’t seem quite right; what’s great, though, is that we’ll have the perfect foundation for wondering together next time about, “Is life fair?”

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


It was Winston Churchill, I think, (I’m sure I could look it up), who said something like, “Democracy is the worst form of government there is…except all the others.”

After last night, I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

Give me a good old-fashioned benevolent dictatorship—and better yet, install me as dictator—and I think government could be far superior to what we’re getting by letting the citizenry express their own preferences.

I say this not as the fascist I’m sure I sound like, but rather, in compassionate appreciation of the human condition: homo sapiens in the 21st century simply don’t know what’s good for them and would do better in getting what they really want by having some kind soul—me, for instance—tell them what they actually desire.

Take, for instance, the failure of Proposition 1098, which would have created an income tax in our state for people making way more money than they can easily spend in a month (unless, of course, they shop magnificently for their favorite writer of 327-word essays); it lost by an almost 2 to 1 margin because, apparently, many people who make way less than that are of the opinion that they’re going to win the lottery someday and want to avoid the associated tax burden should they do so.

But, of course, what they really want is to live in communities that are safe, have good schools, and which provide desired services like roads, fire and police departments, and maybe even a public library or two. Unfortunately, these might require resident billionaires to pony up a slightly larger share of their eminently disposable income than they do currently, a fact that, even more unfortunately, was overlooked by the bulk of the electorate.

A benevolent dictator or philosopher-king (I’m right here!), however, could see this quite clearly and simply pass a decree that would fill state coffers with all the necessary funds, making everyone—even billionaires—much happier.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I’m sitting here cross-legged on the couch scanning the internetz for election results. Maybe it won’t make much difference in my life that Christine O’Donnell didn’t win in Delaware (whew!) or that Rand Paul has apparently prevailed in Kentucky (ugh!) but I’m nevertheless fascinated to see how this all comes out.

I’m pulling hard for Senator Patty Murray to get re-elected in the great state of Washington; in fact, I would even have traded last night’s victory by Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants in the World Series for her to finish ahead of the scary Dino Rossi; unlike that game, though, I fully expect this race to go into extra innings: it seems more than likely there will be a close vote and a recount we’ll be hearing about for weeks if not months to come. But who knows?

Mainly, though, I’m on the edge of my seat (not literally; in fact, I’m leaning back) about several ballot initiatives before the voters here in the Evergreen state. The most important one would create an income tax on people making over a quarter of a million dollars a year; it’s supported, perhaps surprisingly, by Bill Gates, Senior, and opposed, predictably, by Amazon founder and billionaire, Jeff Bezos, as well as by plutocrat Paul Allen, who apparently isn’t fucking rich enough, either.

Whatever happens, it will be a relief to no longer have my sporting events polluted with political ads; the main thing I’ve observed is how desperately they try to get folks to vote against their own best interests. For example, we’ve got this incredibly misguided initiative on tap that would require a 2/3rds majority vote in the legislature for any tax increases. This is being spun as a way for the average citizen to “hold politicians accountable,” when, in fact, it’s a strategy for whackos to hold state government hostage.

Hopefully, things will turn out okay; if not, at least let California Prop 19 pass.