Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer's End

Officially, we’ve still got three weeks left and I don’t start back to work for another fortnight, but as of today—even before Labor Day—it really feels like summer is over.

The kid went back to school today; it’s raining; and the sports section in the paper is all about football, with baseball scores (admittedly, Mariners’ news hardly merits the front page) relegated to an afterthought; fall is upon us, de facto, if not de jure.

Consequently, I can’t help looking back over the last three months and wondering what the hell I’ve been doing with my life and whether I’ve made a meaningful contribution to the world, my town, my family, or even myself. Probably not, but some of the things I’ve accomplished include:

• Starting a small business marketing the world’s best-loved bicycle trailers and managing, already, to have sold two to (I hope) reasonably satisfied customers

• Making it all the way through Thomas Pynchon’s masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow, even though the last hundred or so pages were really little more than flipping through and looking at the words

• Writing and posting a 327-word essay nearly every day

• Co-teaching a 2-day Philosophy for Children workshop for elementary and middle-school classroom teachers

• Participating in a 3-day Philosophy Camp with about 20 other philosophy nerds

• Riding my bike to Vancouver, Canada with about half a dozen other bike nerds

• Learning to play most of the Ian Anderson flute lead in the Jethro Tull version of Bach’s Bourée in E Minor

• Managing (so far) to make it home in one piece on each of the Thursday night .83 rides I’ve been on

• Growing a small garden and mowing the back lawn frequently enough that the dandelions have not taken over

• Treating myself to an afternoon nap with great regularity

It’s not a particularly impressive list, I realize, but at least I didn’t spill 5 million barrels of oil.

Monday, August 30, 2010


My own philosophical training is squarely within the Anglo-American analytic tradition; perhaps the perspective that best informs it is the quote by the 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

The philosophical project most familiar to me is the one proposed by Wittgenstein’s colleague, A.J. Ayer, who wrote, in his most famous work, Language, Truth, and Logic, “The traditional disputes of philosophers are as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question the purpose and method of philosophical enquiry.”

Consequently, I’ve tended to not read a lot of what people think of as “philosophy,” all that really dense stuff by philosophers like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, or more contemporary “Continental” philosophy from writers like Derrida, Foucault, and even Zizek.

This weekend, though, at Philosophy Camp, I had a chance to be reminded of how absolutely mysterious and mind-expanding philosophy can be when you’re grappling with texts that seem to be pushing the limits of language beyond their borders in the attempt to get a handle on the nature of reality, the self, and what it means to be human.

Take this bit from Kierkegaard: “The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.” WTF?

Or check out Heidegger: “Once we are so related and drawn to what withdraws, we are drawing into what withdraws, the enigmatic and therefore mutable nearness of its appeal.”

I’m not sure I have any real idea of what either of these quotes mean, but I do know that when I’m sitting around with other people and we're trading ideas back and forth about what they might mean, that philosophy is taking place.

Even Wittgenstein, who said, “philosophy is not theory, but an activity,” would agree.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Tomorrow marks the start of the fourth annual Camp Zero, the philosophy camp that my friend and colleague, Stuart Smithers, from the University of Puget Sound organizes at his farm outside Arlington, Washington for former students, friends, and fellow philosophers, like me, among others.

In years past, we’ve explored concepts such as what it means to do nothing, or conceptions of the good life, or the value of different ways of knowing; all have provided excellent fodder for thoughtful reflection and have helped me to think about old ideas in new ways and vice-versa. This year, our broad theme is personal identity; we plan to take on a number of readings that explore what the self is and whether it makes sense to talk about it as an entity rather than as a process or merely a way of speaking.

We also do some sitting meditation and practice some yoga, in addition to eating great food and napping in the out-of-doors from time to time.

It seems to me that this is how philosophy is meant to be done; not that one can’t have great conversations even in windowless classrooms, but there’s just something about creating a community of inquiry in a pastoral setting that makes the discussion flow especially well.

Or perhaps it’s just the absence of grading that’s going on.

There is indeed something inimical to the philosophical enterprise to have it tied to evaluative assessments; I think the fact that the Philosophy for Children class I teach at the University of Washington is credit/no credit is a big part of why it’s consistently so successful.

Of course, one could argue that Socrates “graded” his interlocutors; he certainly assessed their answers and responded to them with constructive (and sometimes destructive) criticism; he wasn’t in the business, however of assigning letter grades or points to the answers others gave him.

That said, there’s no doubt the citizens of Athens failed when they voted to execute him.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


On Mimi’s birthday in June, I ended up taking her to the gun shooting range in Bellevue; the experience was a pretty unqualified success: she got to fire several hundred rounds of bullets from a Walther P22 pistol at a zombie-themed target under the helpful hand of a former student of mine who said that his job at the range afforded him the one place to use his skills acquired in the Army and who threatened, after assisting the kid, that he would make a Republican out of me yet; consequently, all the kids in the neighborhood want a similar celebration and, as a result, I ended up spending all day yesterday at a much more involved version of the event in honor of her friend’s birthday at the Tacoma Rifle and Revolver Club, a members-only facility to the south of Seattle where, in a park-like setting, folks can blast away at targets to their hearts’ content.

The kid and the birthday boy got an all-day long lesson in marksmanship, starting with air rifles and progressing up through .22 caliber firearms and culminating in something bigger and louder that I didn’t get all that close a look at since I wasn’t wearing the requisite ear protection for standing nearby.

I amused myself during the four-plus hours mainly by reading the last half or so of Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion, which struck me as a kind of amusing juxtaposition to what was taking place all around me; there I was enjoying the mannered machinations of 19th century British society members, my daughter was firing bullets from an arsenal of guns provided to her by a guy with an NRA sticker on his truck and a vanity license plate that read “SYCOGZR,” (which took us all a little while to translate into Psycho Geezer.)

I’m glad the kid had the opportunity, though; back in Jane Austen’s time, the only weapon available to her would have been wit and manners.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


It turns out it’s not just muscular athletic guys who run bicycle frame companies who can use a Haulin’ Colin trailer; it turns out that small female musicians who are scientists in their day jobs also can do amazing things with one.

At least that’s what I learned today in my second sale, this one to Dayna Loeffler, vocalist and pedal steel guitar player for the dreamy psychedelic rock band, Half Light, (among other things) who plans to use the trailer to haul around her musical gear to gigs and rehearsals, (among other things.)

I had a great time doing trailer business with her today, in no small part because it hardly felt like business; what a great “job” where you get to ride your bike someplace with a trailer attached, then, after sharing with someone the wonder that is the Haulin’ Colin, riding home without the trailer and a big fat check in your pocket instead!

Dayna was totally game for testing whether she was really up for becoming a fully human-powered band roadie. We loaded her amp, bass guitar, pedal steel guitar case (sans actual instrument), and folding stool into the trailer and took off for her nearby rehearsal space in order to see whether it was actually feasible to do so. Even with (I’d estimate) about a hundred pounds of gear and a decent uphill to navigate, musician and trailer made it no problem.

Granted, the weather was cooperating and we wondered what it would be like in the inevitable drenching rains of winter, but so far, so good. Braking will probably be more of a challenge than climbing, but for those of us who appreciate the slow and steady pace, I don’t imagine it will be too much of a problem.

I can’t believe I’ve now sold two trailers in just three days; at this rate, they’ll all be gone before the end of September; better get yours today, while there’s still time!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I am now officially a capitalist running-dog small business owner—but not yet Republican—as I celebrate my very first sale as exclusive representative for production models of the Haulin’ Colin trailer which, I continue to allege, will save the world, or at least some small part of some small part of it.

I am deeply honored that my first customer is in the bike business himself, Geoff Casey, founder of Seattle’s Baron Bicycles, makers of some of the finest production (and custom) frames in the business. Geoff broke in his trailer a few weeks ago with a 40-mile car-free carry of a trio of his frames to the Sound-to-Mountains Bike Fest, an impressive feat that he chronicles here.

I was all but moved to tears in conversation with him to hear how well he gets the gospel of the trailer; he was talking about how having the ability to carry so much stuff so easily—especially, in his case, complete bikes—completely changes a person’s mindset; no longer do you think that you’ve got to take the car just because you’ve got a load to haul; and what’s best of all, is that you get another free bike ride instead of being cooped up in a cage.

Selling stuff is a little strange for me; I’m used to trading my services rather than goods for money. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m getting away with something to be paid just for providing this thing to someone. On the other hand, I have no qualms about the intrinsic (not to mention instrumental) value of the Haulin’ Colin trailer; it would still be a bargain at twice the price.

So now, I’ve got eighteen more from the initial run; if I keep up the same pace I’m on, given that it’s only been 10 days since I picked up the first finished ones, they should be all gone in six months.

Better order now!

Friday, August 20, 2010


The word “morbid” comes from the Latin word “morbus” meaning “diseased” and someone could argue that the idea to stage a pre-emptive funeral ride for a couple of brothers with a morbid fascination for getting hit by cars is clearly the product of a diseased imagination, but if so, you have to appreciate the irony a death-themed occasion giving rise to such a life-affirming experience, one to be fondly remembered for all this lifetime and perhaps even beyond the beyond.

My heart swelled with pride to see two Haulin’ Colin trailers transformed into bicycle hearses and my eyes went wide in awe to witness not only the cycling prowess of tehSchott and Tall Fred in pulling their human cargo but also the intestinal fortitude of Wreyfords Junior and Senior who consented to be pulled in makeshift coffins all the way crosstown like corpses—albeit ones who could eat and drink on the way.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain’s hero gets to attend his own funeral and hear all the townspeople waxing rhapsodic about his life and how badly he’ll be missed now that he’s drowned; last night our fraternal heroes got to enjoy that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity themselves as—not an entire town, but at least two or three drunken sots—sang their praises, accompanied by Seattle’s own best impression of a New Orleans funeral band.

I burned in effigy the custom mini coffin that the darling daughter fashioned from duct tape and cardboard for me in hopes of exorcising the demons that keep making cars run into the Brothers W. and apparently it’s worked so far as—unlike on so many past Friday mornings—the internetz yield no reports of Wreyford crashes (although admittedly, they did ride home in cars.)

Statistically speaking, yours truly, with more than two decades on the boys, is likely to beat them both to the grave; now when it’s my turn for real, I want a wake just like theirs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Gail Collins writes today about this billionaire Florida, Jeff Greene, who’s running for Senate; California’s got megabucks Meg Whitman, who wants to be governor; there’s the fabulously wealthy Michael Bloomberg in New York City, of course, not to mention the tradition that includes such deep-pockets politicos as Rockefellers, Mellons, and even George Washington, I guess, who wasn’t exactly impoverished.

I don’t get it. Why in the world would somebody with all the money in the world want to be a public servant?

If I were a billionaire, you sure wouldn’t catch me hankering after a job that requires you to work so hard and spend so much time in fluorescent-lit community centers early in the morning shaking hands with strangers and worst of all, having breakfast meetings!

I’d be traveling the world, going to yoga retreats, riding expensive hand-made bicycles, and, in general, avoiding my responsibilities altogether.

Aristotle argues in the Nichomachean Ethics that the three types of life that most people take to be the good life—pleasure, wealth, and power—are not proper conceptions of happiness. Pleasure is fleeting; wealth is merely a means to something else; and power depends too heavily on the whims of others—if your followers no longer follow you, then you’re out of luck.

It seems to me that these rich folks who aspire to public office may understand Aristotle’s point about pleasure and wealth, but they’re missing it when it comes to power. Why else would they so busily seek the approval of voters?

The cynic in me conjectures that it’s just a way for most of them to expand their empires; what better way to get richer than be involved in writing the rules that allow for more and more wealth to be acquired?

It’s easier, they say, for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to get into heaven; apparently, it’s a lot easier for them to get into Congress.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Twice in the last week, I’ve ridden my bike through a red light right in front of a cop; both times, they followed me through the intersection, flashed their lights at me and told me that I should do a better job of obeying the rules of the road.

In each of the cases, I admitted my mistake and said that I usually don’t run lights (amazing but true!) and, after looking penitent enough, I guess, was allowed to ride away. I’m sure this has plenty to do with the fact that I’m an older white guy and that I so easily kowtowed to their authority, and I’m grateful I wasn’t ticketed, but at the same time, in both cases, I do think it’s pretty silly that I had to wait for the light at all.

Case one was about 11:00 at night on a Monday; I was turning left at an intersection; climbing a hill; no cars were coming from either the right or the left. Granted, as a vehicle on the road, I should probably abide by the traffic signals, but clearly, no harm could come to anyone from my running the light. The officer who pulled me over said that if I was going to ignore the red, I probably shouldn’t do so right in front of him; that’s a piece of advice I will take to heart.

Case two was even lamer: it was around 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday, at a deserted intersection just a couple blocks from my home. I’m pretty sure the reason the cop stopped me in this case was that there were two officers in the car; my guess is that the driver didn’t want to set a bad example for his partner of overlooking scofflaws, and again, I guess I understand that.

In the future, I’ll try to do better, I promise; no more running red lights—at least not in front of cop cars.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I went to a little get-together in celebration of my friend earning his Ph.D. (in phucking physics!) and then attended a nightclub show of two pretty smart bands with kinda dumb names, first, the Free-Lance Whales and then, Tokyo Police Club, who I especially liked.

It’s the first time all summer I’ve gone out to hear music, a state of affairs that can aptly be termed a revolting development, and one I should try to remedy in the remaining few weeks of vacation. It’s unlikely, though, I’ll run across another band I enjoyed as much as I did Tokyo Police Club, in particular, their charming bass-player singer, Dave Monks, who reminded me, alternately, of a young (and sober) Evan Dando, of bassist Tommy Stinson when I first saw the Replacements in 1983, and of my end-of-year school picture from 9th grade.

Having been totally unfamiliar with the Canadian indie rockers before the show, I count myself as a fan now, an odd role to play in relation to musicians who were born when you were thirty. On the other hand, if they were classical music prodigies, it wouldn’t seem so weird.

I’d characterize their sound as the kind of power-pop I’m typically drawn to: good songwriting, clever hooks, and, perhaps most importantly, Dave Monk's hair, which fell in his eyes and over his face in fine teen idol style all night long.

The crowd—lots of bright-eyed youngsters, most of whom, I’ll bet, attended college at some point in their lives (maybe currently)—were totally into the show, and I don’t blame them at all: the group played loud, got good and sweaty, and seemed to be having a swell time. No pyrotechnics or staged antics, just boys in t-shirts and jeans making a racket on their instruments.

Strangely, they didn’t seem to have a schwagg table laid out, or else I just couldn’t find it; probably a good thing; how embarrassing to have bought a shirt!

Monday, August 16, 2010


To my way of thinking, one of the keys to happiness is setting your sights low.

For instance, if I aspired to be a successful rocket scientist, I’d be horribly depressed since I can hardly keep up with my daughter’s seventh-grade math.

Or, if my dream was to create world peace, I’d want to poke my eyes out with a pencil given all the pain and suffering that takes place daily.

For that matter, even if all I hoped to achieve was painting a few of the outside windowsills that have cracked and peeled in our summer sun, I’d be depressed since, as usual, I’ve found other ways to be distracted from doing chores I oughtta.

My own “big” summer project these last few weeks has simply been to make it through the reclusive author Thomas Pynchon’s masterpiece, Gravity’s Rainbow, and with a superhuman effort last evening involving several hundred pages, I finally succeeded! Woo-hoo. Too bad I’m not acquainted with the author Larry McMurtry; now he could say he knows three people who have claimed to have read it.

Having completed it, I can’t say I really know what it was about. It was more like the experience of listening to music than of reading a novel. Reading worked best for me when I just gave myself over to Pynchon’s prose; when I liked it least was when I felt I was being verbally assaulted by some crazy person with loggorhea who wouldn’t or couldn’t stop talking about his teenage boy Penthouse magazine Forum orgy fantasy.

The only insight I can offer is that my own reading experience had the parabolic shape associated with the title and (one of the) underlying theme(s) of the book: it was extremely slow in starting but gradually gained speed; an instant, at the top of the arc, where everything came to a standstill, but then the end in a rush, culminating in a conclusion I wasn’t didn’t notice until afterwards.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Thanks to the generous assistance two .83 cronies (but lest you imagine they are booze-sodden dirtbags, keep in mind that one is a Ph.D. candidate in neurobiology and the other an expert in the manly art of software engineering), I managed to pull off the first of several scheduled trailer “migrations,” whereby we use human power to transport the rigs from Haulin’ Colin’s shop to my storage unit, and in at least one case, a Distributed Storage location in Seattle’s tony Sand Point neighborhood.

It worked great; each rider hauled a trailer with another trailer stacked on top. As Colin put it, “As long as you’re pulling a trailer, you may as well load it,” and how right he was: all three performed beautifully, cradling second unit above, zip-tied for security and padded to protect the brand-new shiny powdercoat.

It was a beautiful sight as the three of us rode through SODO, Chinatown, and the Central District bringing our precious cargo home. We had a friggin’ convoy, good buddy, and cars—and even trucks and busses—gave us all due respect when we took a lane at necessary moments.

As usual, people stopped at stared at the things of beauty and wanted to know what they were and where they could get one for themselves. I still have to figure out how to translate this interest into trailer sales but it makes me confident that there’s a market out there and that my first run of rigs will eventually find their places in people’s lives sooner rather than later.

One important learning did emerge from the event: the trailer hitch’s hitch-pin should always stay with the trailer itself; I left home with my own trailer’s pin in my hitch; I accidentally left it, then, at the storage unit and so, when it came time to hook my home unit up later in the evening, it wasn’t there.

Good thing the storage unit is only three blocks away.

Friday, August 13, 2010


It’s right up there with this as winner of most annoying song in history, but it sure inspires an excellent bike ride, as the Combination Pizza Hit and Taco Bell drew us way across the lake and through a maze of suburban neighborhoods, before appearing, in all its shiny plastic glory miles and miles away from our start—but still less than half of the way we would eventually ride on a summer night so soft and lovely on planet Earth that rocks were falling from the heavens in hopes of joining the fun.

I only saw one meteor streak across the sky, but I guess that was enough given all the other stellar delights I got to enjoy, including a forest trail ride on what I assume was—strangely juxtaposed—a campus of the evil computer software empire.

And besides, how could a person want anything more when he gets to hang out and drink beer in the middle of the night at a huge concrete bowl devoted specifically to bicycle racing and even has the opportunity to savor the combination thrill of victory and agony of defeat when both wagering on and participating in two-wheeled suds-fueled competitions himself?

Destinations are commonly shouted out as the bike gang leaves a place—“The Knarr! Goldies! Harborview!” but I never before remember one called for (and reached!) something like 18 miles and more than an hour away, and yet I arrived at the College Inn Pub just as last call was announced from within as I locked up outside and even in time for a nightcap, another combination of luck and good timing on an evening of such unusual alliances.

Just think of all the world’s dynamic duos: Batman and Robin, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, King Kong vs. Godzilla, even Combination fucking Pizza Hut and Taco Bell; worthy candidates all, but in my book, pale when compared to the best pairing of all: you and your bike.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


You know how in yoga class, there’s often this shirtless, hairy guy who struggles through the poses, breathes really loudly, and drips sweat all over the place?

That’s me!

Of late, especially when I practice in what they call a “led” class (as opposed to the self-paced “Mysore style” practice I usually do), I’m all wet and dripping before the first set of Sun Salutations is over and done with.

It sort of freaks me out a bit, but I kind of like it, too, not only because I’m “eliminating toxins” as the yoga-types would have you believe (I myself am a bit skeptical about this; are “toxins” really sweat out from one’s body? And what is a “toxin” anyway? No doubt I perspire some beer molecules from time to time, but am I actually exuding poisonous substances through my pores? I find this kind of difficult to make sense of, but anyway…) but also because it helps slap my ego in the face a little bit; any idea I might have that my asana practice is highly-skilled gushes from me as easily and profusely as does salt water.

It’s a little embarrassing, of course; all around me, you’ve got these lithe young women who are barely glistening; how did they put it in Tennessee Williams’ plays? “Glowing.” They’re “glowing.”

Meanwhile, I’m sweating like a pig—which is another misnomer, I think; do pigs even sweat? It’s more like I’m sweating like a WWF wrestler or maybe one of those athletes on a Gatorade commercial.

Today was one of the most soaked I’ve ever gotten; the room was packed; the heater was on, and the practice was really vigorous. I kind of even grossed-out myself. But you know what? Fuck it. If I had been at a swimming pool or the lake, no one would even have noticed.

In the end, it wasn’t so bad; the girls next to me left lots of space between our mats.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


My life is moving pretty slowly these days, (the main project I’m working on is trying to read Thomas Pynchon’s masterpiece, Gravity’s Rainbow) so since I’ve got little content to draw upon, I guess I’ll weigh in on Steven Sender, the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out a passenger on the intercom and then departed by the emergency chute.

Like pretty much anyone else I’ve talked to, I mostly applaud the guy, especially the part where he grabbed two beers before exiting the plane; I guess I’m a little off-put about his lack of concern over the danger (and cost) of dropping the emergency chute, but what the hell; if you’re going to go out in a blaze of glory, you may as well throw caution to the wind altogether.

Obviously, whats captured the public’s attention about the event is how Sender’s actions represent a fantasy that lots of people have—the ultimate “you can’t fire me, I quit!” moment many folks dream about.

In my own job, as a college teacher, I’ve yet to achieve the level of frustration that pushed Sender over the edge, but I could sort of imagine what it might be like.

It would probably occur around the seventh week of the quarter, that time of the year when everyone, students, instructors, and administrators alike are all exhausted and stressed-out; it would probably be winter and have been raining for like two weeks straight; I’d be talking about some philosopher I admire, maybe John Stuart Mill; students wouldn’t have done the reading, and would be sitting there all bored-looking and blank-staring; the final straw would be something like a couple kids hiding behind their laptops updating their Facebook pages or watching a YouTube video, and suddenly, I’d snap!

I might not swear at the class, but I could imagine getting pretty snarky and mean; unfortunately, our classrooms don’t have emergency escape slides, but perhaps I could pull the fire alarm, at least.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I’ve always admired the syndicated daily newspaper comic strip creator—except for Bil Keane, of “Family Circus” fame.

And I think that, in some ways, my haphazard attempt to post a 327-word essay more or less every day is an homage to those folks (again, except Bil Keane) who manage to publish a daily piece, seven days a week, with a significantly longer one on Sundays.

I wonder how they do it. Does Gary Trudeau, for instance, sit down every day and work up the next strip in sequence, and then, having completed it, like me, calls his work done and gets down to the serious business of reading and napping? Or does he work for a longer period until he gets a number of pieces “in the can,” then allows himself a longer stint of vacation?

I appreciate that comic strip artists (writers? columnists? creators?) step up to the plate, day after day, and take their hacks, whether or not the day’s effort is successful or not. Ninety-nine times out of hundred, for example, “Blondie” is stupid, vaguely misogynistic, and entirely predictable. But a couple times a year, it actually elicits a chuckle; what more can anyone really hope for as a content creator? If I can produce three or four essays a year that don’t entirely suck, then I count my efforts a success. (In fact, I don’t even set my standards that high; merely completing the pieces is sufficient for me; I leave the assessment component to my biographers.)

I grew up reading “Peanuts” cartoons; we had a bunch of paperback collections of Charlie Brown and friends archived strips; even as a little kid, I found it fascinating to see how Charles Schultz’s writing and drawing improved (or at least got more standardized and confident over the years.)

I suppose I retain some hope that the same thing may happen with me; someday, this piece will look as archaic as the Linus of 1952.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Interesting and rather ironic article in today’s Times by artificial intelligence pioneer Jared Lanier in which he argues, essentially, that we ought not to ascribe consciousness to computers since doing so devalues the real complexity and—dare I say—magic that is human consciousness and also, more to the point, mixes metaphysical and even theistic claims into an area (computers) that they don’t really fit, thereby threatening to exacerbate tensions between religion and modernity and, in doing so, contribute to the dangerous trend whereby we avoid accountability by “pretending that machines can take on more and more human responsibility.”

Funny, I was thinking something quite similar myself as I rode around yesterday afternoon, having dosed myself with coffee, cannabis, and several chapters of Gravity’s Rainbow.

The way it came to me, though, was to wonder whether, in the not-too-distant-future, as, thanks to technology, human beings become more and more focused on the internal constructions of their very own virtual worlds, whether it might be possible for people to create a kind of “second life” that’s more real than their “first” one and that, in doing so, they would essentially take on the role of God in that world such that traditional notions of a supreme being would become entirely mundane and trivial given that, for all intents and purposes, everyone—at least those lost in their self-created virtual worlds—would be a god if not God Himself.

At least that would “solve” the problem of evil, albeit at the cost of these “Gods’” omnibenevolence; it’s clear that, while as the all-powerful creator of my very own universe, I’d be unconstrained from doing whatever I felt like, I’d still be the same sort of moral fuck-up I currently am; consequently, even though I’d be able to eliminate strife and prejudice from my creation, there would be plenty of times I’d be too busy, angry, and/or lazy to want to.

Even the artificial computer-world God would have my real flaws.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy who tries not to get overly exercised at people’s ignorance and stupidity. “Live and let live,” that’s my motto, especially if those other livers are living somewhere far enough away that I don’t have to engage with them, say like Murfreesboro, Tennessee or Temucula, California.

But I’m just about ready to burst and go all postal-meets-Mel-Gibson on the small-minded (and no doubt among the males, punily-endowed) citizens of those two locales who have nothing better to do with their miserable excuse for lives than to protest plans to open and/or construct mosques in their communities.

Don’t these fools realize that their jingoistic intolerance in the name of “American values” represents a direct attack on the very values upon which our country was founded?

“Hey! Let’s be intolerant in the name of a nation based on religious tolerance! Then, we can drive our SUVs around to save gas and dine at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Chili’s to lose weight!”

“Grrr”, I say; “Grrr.”

I know I should try to put myself in those people’s shoes—although no doubt many of them are (shudder) Crocs or something even worse from the sale shelf at Wal-Mart—but it would take too many years of huffing glue to get myself into a mindset where I might find their ideas compelling.

I’m sure many of them are perfectly nice people who may have even stopped beating their children by now, but the effort required to seriously consider their misguided position is frankly beyond me; I’d rather get in a discussion with a meth-head over whether bicycle helmets should be worn for all the intellectual challenge it would offer.

The Times quotes this grandmother who is worried that “we” will be taken over by Islam in the next 20 years; as a “mother and grandmother” she’s worried; my conjecture is that she wouldn’t be nearly as worried if she weren’t mother and grandmother to the same person.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


The fact that there were two starting points for last night’s 14th Annual Dead Baby Downhill and Messenger Challenge didn’t seem to undermine the quality and scope of the after-party and, in fact, for me, having the south end option, departing from the Barrel Tavern in Burien, made the whole event that much more random and spectacular than usual; I got to do the truly bomb bomb down First Avenue into Georgetown, not only arriving well before the main contingent rolled earthward from Capitol Hill, but also, in a personally unprecedented experience, managed to stay almost within sight of the winning rider of my heat.

Apparently, I was the only person who read all the directions for the special Dead Baby Metro Shuttle from the Tukwila/International Boulevard light rail station; when I arrived at 5:00, there was just a single person waiting, and that was none other than Dead Baby Dookie himself, designer and author of the picture-perfect mock-Metro schedule brochure.

So we rode in high style up and over the high to Beverly Park where eventually, the Barrel filled up with the couple dozen or so riders who had also opted for the south end race.

I had ridden the descent one other time, but that was at night and under more of the influence, so I didn’t really realize what a stupendous route it is back towards Seattle from what they call “Top Hat, Washington.” I was down the hill and across the First Avenue bridge before the joint I lit at the starting gun was even gone.

The post-race celebration was, as always, the greatest party in the history of the universe; I saw almost everybody I know in the world there and almost everybody there was someone I knew; perhaps most heartwarming of all was to run across folks who disappeared on Thursday night’s ride and see that they were still alive and in more or less one piece.

No schism there, either.

Friday, August 06, 2010


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that combining fifty or so bicycle-riding troublemakers with five handles of whiskey, enough gallons of lemonade to disguise its taste, a city park that just happens to have an outdoor water spigot hookup, a fully-functional Wham-O Slip N Slide Double Rider, and a box full of handheld multi-colored laser pens is going to result in an unforgettable evening of hilarity and nonsense, but it does, I think, require some kind of twisted genius to come up with the idea in the first place.

And then, you’ve got to be committed enough to the cause that you’re willing to haul all the shit out there in your bike basket and panniers, including a fifty foot length of garden hose, but in the end, it’s got to be all worthwhile when you see heat after heat of sodden revelers throw themselves down the plastic raceway in an effort to snag the winning flag, with amazingly, not a single broken neck nor dislocated shoulder.

All most of us had to do, thanks again to tehJobies annual largesse on the eve of the Dead Baby Downhill, was just show up and ride (and drink, of course), and although I regret slightly not partaking of the slipping and sliding myself, I’m glad there were plenty of others more willing to risk life and limb in the pursuit of pleasure than me to provide so many lolz.

My favorite image of the night was a shirtless, back-lit Miles spraying racers with the garden hose as they streamed down the track; he could have been a bronze statue in the Bizarro-world version of the Trevi fountain in Rome; then somebody else (maybe Kevin?) took over and the way he held it was, by contrast, all Manneken Pis.

Still, each was perfect in its own way, which is pretty much my assessment of the evening overall, as well; distinctive brilliance is required for such manifest stupidity.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


It’s Blue Angels time again in Seattle and man, those fuckers are loud!

Of course, I don’t mind since that’s the sound of freedom, don’t you forget it!

Still, it does occur to me, sitting here in my basement, while jet-powered war planes roar overhead barely a football field above the roof of my house, that all of us in the modern world are forced to put up with a helluva lot of racket everyday, pretty much no matter where we go.

Last week, for instance, the guy who owns the duplex across the street from me spent all day, for three days in a row, power-washing and sanding his house from the deck of a cherry-picker that never stopped issuing the “back-up beep” warning the whole time. It all but drove me crazy, and probably would have had I not run screaming from my home in search of quieter pastures—which, by the way, were almost impossible to find.

I rode my bike downtown to sit in a coffee shop, but not surprisingly, they were doing roadwork outside of it, jack-hammering away so loudly it would have curdled the cream in my coffee did I not take it black.

So I headed over to Cal Anderson Park for some relative peace, but that was shattered by the pounding of the pounder machine they’re using to build the light rail station.

And even my usual relatively quiet bar wasn’t so quiet; there was an office party or something going on and all twelve or so members of the group were shouting at each other at the tops of their lungs.

It gets so a guy can’t hear himself think, but maybe that’s the point: if all I’m thinking is that it’s too damn loud around here, perhaps I might just as well not be able to access those thoughts.

Or give me an iPod with earbuds on high; then, at least, I can be deafened by choice.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


I believe if I believe things are going to work out, then there’s a better chance that they will. I realize that this is mere superstition, but it’s a superstition I cleave to, even if it’s merely superstitious to do so.

Case in point: locating storage for the first run of Haulin’ Colin trailers has been a challenge; I’d all but given up on finding a place, but at the same time, I decided not to lose sleep over it. I had a couple of options—one of which was to distribute trailers around town at various people’s homes (an idea I haven’t completely forsaken)—but my best hope was for a garage down the street that I saw for rent a few weeks ago. I had tried to contact the owner without success and just today, was set to throw away the phone number that had been sitting on my desk all this time.

But lo and behold, when I checked my messages this afternoon, there was one from the women who owned the space, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner and informing me that yes, the unit was available and would I like to come by this afternoon and check it out.

I did and it’s perfect and now I’ve rented it and all will work out swimmingly.

I could have been freaking (since Haulin’ Colin is almost ready to get the first batch out of his shop) but, for some reason, I’ve been able to hold onto the thought that something would come up and I guess I’m enough of a hippie still to imagine that, in some small way, my belief that things would come together the way I hoped they would contributed to them doing so.

This is nonsense, I’m sure, but so what? The American Pragmatists defined truth, broadly, as “what works;” since it’s seemed to work to have this nonsensical belief, can’t I just say that it’s true?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I’ve seen the movie “The Wizard of Oz” probably twenty times in my life and I’ve never failed to cry at that moment as Dorothy prepares to climb into the balloon that will carry her and the Wizard himself back to Kansas (but which, of course, leaves without her) when she goes up to the Scarecrow and says, “I think I will miss you most of all” (or something to that effect) and it’s not simply because the misty eyes of Judy Garland get to you so powerfully; it’s also because of the mixed feelings that emerge as you get ready to depart from a foreign place in which you’ve had great adventures for the (perhaps not quite so thrilling) location you call home, so it’s no wonder I feel a bit melancholy, but ultimately mostly happy and at peace to be back in Seattle after the last five days of roaming around points north, notably our Canadian sister city, Vancouver, including its charming neighborhoods and lovely in-city beaches.

Canada’s cool and all--so much so that it’s almost like being in another country, but when all is said and done, I prefer the delights my hometown has to offer, none the least of which is the opportunity to sit on my own couch, drinking a beer from my very own refrigerator, reading books from my very own bookshelf, and falling asleep in my very own bed.

Additionally, it’s tough to overstate the natural beauty of this place which, while it may not be quite as spectacular as Vancouver’s, somehow just strikes my own aesthetic as slightly more accessible and hence, more appealing.

None of this is to say that we didn’t have a grand time up there nor that we won’t go back at some point in the future when our bank balance rebounds from the subterranean environment even a short vacation invites it into.

Especially when it comes to money, there’s no place like home.

Monday, August 02, 2010


In the fall of 1975, I dropped out of college after a month and got it into my head to hitchhike west across Canada from Toronto; I got the luckiest ride in history (especially for a kid who hadn’t figured it would be snowing in October on the plains of Alberta and only had a Levis jacket as his warmest coat) which took me from just outside my starting city all the way to a town in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia called Revelstoke, and finally ended up in Vancouver, where I spent a week at the youth hostel before heading south to San Francisco, which became my home for ten months prior to my first bout of college in Portland, Oregon the following September.

I remember sitting on an outcropping of rocks somewhere near the University of British Columbia, looking at the mountains to the north and deciding that this is where I wanted to live, and although that’s not what ended up transpiring, it’s amusing to imagine what my life might be like had I been somewhat more persistent in following my plans at the time(or perhaps less easily distracted by whatever mind-altering substances I happened to be ingesting that week).

Being here, observing those same landscapes that so enticed me three and half decades ago, I can pretend that I stayed here, eventually went to UBC and became, as was my vague notion at the time, a botanist. I would have, after graduation, eventually purchased a big, old house in the Kitsilano neighborhood and by this time, have three grown children and at least one ex-wife.

Would I be a better, happier person? Probably not, but there’s a good chance I’d be Canadian, and I suppose that’s almost the same thing. I might even be a Canucks hockey fan, but I’m going to insist I still wouldn’t be one of the ubiquitous local socks n’ sandals guys who wears khaki shorts at night.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


You CAN just get on your bike and ride from Seattle to Vancouver.

It takes about two days, but all you have to do is keep pedaling, and then eventually, there you are.

This morning, I woke up in Bellingham and it seemed like there was an uphill, but then, there we were, on a farmland plateau, complete with tailwinds all the way to the funny little simulacrum of a Dutch town, complete with a windmill on every other corner.

Then, after breakfast, I seem to recall a series of rollers through farmland right out of central casting until we got to the orchard where I had envisioned we’d be met by a farmer’s wife, in a gingham apron emerging from her clapboard home carrying a still steaming pie, but which turned out, instead, to be a major corporate enterprise, but even so, the pie—in my case, a fresh blueberry shortcake—was absolutely transcendent. I kept meaning to offer some to somebody, but every bite made that less and less likely, until it all was gone.

When I shared some of my own shortbread afterwards, Matt said that the timing was just right, and at first, it seemed like that meant an hour later when we were passing through the little town of Fort Langley, whose charm was such that the whole place seemed like scale models in an HO train set, but, as it turned out, the really peak moment was crossing a suspension bridge about 45 minutes later, when we pedaled into the sky and the animated shadows flickered like hummingbirds along the railings.

None of the 150 or so miles actually sucked; even the worst part, riding along a suburban hell highway with no shoulder wasn’t so bad, and was mercifully short.

And then, tonight, in the city, we got the world-class fireworks display; I was mesmerized, sure, but even the grand finale wasn’t as beautiful as that fast downhill coming into town.