Sunday, February 26, 2012


I will continue to assert that once the baby is asleep, you can make all the noise you want; if it wakes up, that means it doesn’t want to miss the fun; you have to respect it as an autonomous rational agent at that point, age be damned.

Which is just another way of noticing that the reason we have rules is to, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, make us more free, not less so, and that in order to live a life that is not solitary, nasty, brutish, and short, we agree to give up some of our liberties, so that culture, among other benefits, becomes possible.

But none of this is meant to suggest that all the fun is forsaken; on the contrary, the whole point is to create conditions where as much nonsense as is possible is possible.

Case in point: the 2012 Fucking Hills Race, an event so perfectly pushed up against the edge of the permissible that we’re constantly reminded of what’s possible, as individuals, small group members, citizens, and human beings fully engaged in the activity of being fully human.

So many delightful snapshots: our tandem running the ferry toll booth since, after all, we did buy the Kaskadian bib; miscreants assembled on the poop deck, eventual winner Rayford Junior in his formalwear jersey holding court accidentally; and then there was the thrilling start to the contest, Derrick stating simply “Why don’t you just go?” as one after another two-wheeler bobbed into the sea of day-glo riders.

Mimi and I spent much of the time formulating alternative responses to the never-ending parade of middle-aged men who asked us what “FHR” stands for. “French Ham Rally,” “Fantastically Hip Riders,” “Free Henry Rose!” were some of the alternatives that shut people up.

And then, there we all were, in the park, on a sunny afternoon, picking prizes from a pile: that’s some Fabulously Happy Results that any baby should be glad to wake up for.

Friday, February 24, 2012


When I was in India this time last year, one of my teachers, Professor Narasimham, of the Anatha Research Institute, said that yoga is a “technology for liberation.”

The idea is that the practice is purely practical; you can set aside all the woo-woo stuff (at least as a justification) and simply observe that if you undertake the process—following all the “Eight Limbs” of the discipline—you will, over time come to experience God or bliss or Samadhi or whatever it is you want to call that sense of union with the All that we’re consistently seeking whether we realize it or not.

It’s the same idea captured in the famous quote by Ashtanga yoga’s founding guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory.”

Or, as he also put it: “Do your practice, all is coming.”

Same with drunken bike gang shenanigans.

If you assemble the elements: a bunch of people who get a kick out of pedaling two-wheelers around city streets at night, including the return of well-loved and sorely missed Brothers, Scientists, and Loudmouths, (mixed in with the usual Curmudgeons, Functioning Alcoholics, and Sentimental Cynics), add an outdoor fire, stir together with freely-flowing alcohol and other such illuminating molecules, and do so on a night for which even the waxing moon sports a charming grin, you will eventually achieve that sublime state of fretless abandon for which human beings are hard-wired to zealously embrace.

It’s overkill, of course, when the smell of teen spirit is also in the mix and you get to stand above not one, but two freight trains racing beneath your howls and bellows of wild animal humanity, but that’s just how the process works: you put the nitroglycerine and gunpowder together and shake, just like Alfred Nobel learned us how to do.

There’s yet to be one of his prizes for cycling; there is one, though, a Nobel for Chemistry; couldn’t they award it for synthesizing magic?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


It was old skool at my school today as a power failure knocked out all the classroom computers for the morning; I had to (got to) teach my Philosophical Ethics class without any technology.

I told students they were getting a class like I used to back in 1975 when I first started college except that in those days, the professors would smoke in class. Naturally, a few kids wondered aloud whether it was cigarettes or something else being puffed on; I allowed that sure, sometimes people smoked pipes, and left it at that.

Although there were a few things I would normally have done that I couldn’t—including using the computer and projector to type up questions and notes—and while I would have liked to have shown a clip from the film Saving Private Ryan as I usually do when I first introduce Virtue Ethics (our topic of the day), overall, the experience was very positive—for me, at least, and I think that, by and large, students didn’t hate it too much either.

The “aesthetic distance” between students and teacher was reduced by the lack of a screen that I controlled. Instead of occasionally directing their attention away from the center of class, I generally sat down in the middle of them and just talked about what we were talking about.

I think it made a difference in their willingness to push back at some of what we were exploring together—or maybe it’s just that Aristotle’s conception of happiness, which allows for the possibility of something feeling happy without actually being happy is simply an outlandish enough idea to most people that they just couldn’t help themselves.

In any case, I found it pretty refreshing to have nothing but text and ideas to fall back on; it’s unlikely that I’ll take to teaching all my classes all the time in this manner, but from time to time, going back in time works well.

Friday, February 17, 2012


There’s been a bunch of complaining about yoga lately, from the New York Times article about how yoga can wreck your body to, less sensationally, but certainly sufficiently exciting to burn up the internetz, news about Anusara yoga founder, John Friend’s sexual and financial peccadillos, so one wonders whether the bloom is off the rose for the bending and chanting business.

It’s okay by me if it is; I’m still going to do my practice six days a week and enjoy whatever benefits, hardships, and learning ensue from it.

Today, I’m in San Francisco with the family to celebrate the 50th birthday of my dear friend from graduate school, Neo Serafimidis, so I took the opportunity to practice at Mission Ashtanga under the watchful blue eyes of Chad Herbst, who I’ve long wanted to study with but who has either been out of town on not in the studio on days I’ve been here.

He gave me a couple of subtle but helpful adjustments, reminding me without words that it’s not all about gritting your teeth and trying to get as deep into each stretch as possible, breath be damned. In particular, I got some advice on upward-facing dog that enabled me, I think, to open my chest a little more and made me feel—just for a second—that I was doing like one of Guruji’s students from the 1970s.

Mainly, though, as usual, the experience was humbling and centering; it did occur to me, as I lay in Savasana at the end of practice, that one magical component of the practice is that I’m just as rested after ninety minutes of yoga in the morning as I am if I sleep an extra hour and a half.

This being San Francisco, there was some oddness, too: there was a woman at the far side of the studio who had brought her small dog; it wandered about her mat as she practiced; what would Guruji say?

Friday, February 10, 2012


This year’s official .83 spoke card, deftly executed by the Drainman Ian and selected unanimously by Derrick in a “vote” that would have done your average Central American Banana Republic President-for-Life proud, features Boy Scout-style merit badges depicting activities associated with shenanigans familiar to anyone who’s been out on a Thursday night ride, including red-light running, beer-drinking, tent-camping, first-aid, swimming, photography, and more.

And while there were no aquatic activities and—to the best of my knowledge—nobody put down a bedroll on the abandoned road at which we conflagrated, most of the other badges could have been earned last night on what turned out to be a model for the old-fashioned theme-less nighttime outdoor two-wheeled adventure for which this group of cycling miscreants has long been passing out cards—or just passing out, as the case may be.

Back when I was a wee lad in the decade known (to someone, I’m sure) as the “Naughty Oughtties” the rule for getting issued a spoke card was three rides and a race, and I’ll never forget how my trembling hands clutched at the precious laminated square with the arcane message “FTBC” after midnight at Greenlake some two or three months into my tenure as a bike gang newbie.

How special I felt! How I’d arrived, I thought, only to discover, in subsequent years, that what I thought was a destination was but a starting point for untold hours in the saddle, around the fire, on the bar stool, and occasionally flat on my back looking up at the stars or raindrops such as the case may be.

But it never gets old—even as I do—as here, into yet another (seventh?) spoke card there’s still new fires to ride to and even though I can’t count the number of instances I’ve witnessed Derrick’s trick of firecrackers in the coals, this was the first time I ever saw Joeball go all Chuck Norris on him for it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


I’m sitting on my couch typing this on a laptop and assuming it’s being read by someone other than me, that person is presumably reading it on a computer screen, so I don’t know what I have to complain about, but I’m going to complain nonetheless.

And it’s an old complaint, so I’ll even complain a bit about the complaint. Lame as it is, it’s this:

When I stopped into the coffee shop for an afternoon cappuccino (yes, I’m a sissy) and looked around at the assembled dozen or so patrons, each and every one had a laptop open at his or her table. Every single person there was there alone and every single one of them had the computer security blanket propped up in front of their face.

Nobody but me was reading a book and nobody was talking to anyone made of flesh and bone.

Is this where technology has brought us? Apparently so.

In Philosophy class today, we were talking about the response to the so-called “Problem of Free Will” known as deep self-compatibilism. According to this form of “soft determinism,” we can say that a choice is free (even if the universe behaves deterministically) just as long as an agent is making an uncompelled choice that springs from his or her authentic desires.

Of course, this gives rise to the question of what qualifies as an authentic desire. How many of those coffee shop patrons, in other words, have really chosen to desire sitting in front of a computer screen? Would they really desire to have that desire if it weren’t for all the societal forces acting upon them to create that desire?

I wonder how many of those screen-starers were staring at pages that were trying to make them want something they were staring at.

It’s hard to tell for sure whether we really do want what we want; I’m pretty sure, though, that I didn’t want to want any of that.

Friday, February 03, 2012


The theme, if there was one, in honor of the day—Groundhog—and the classic film it inspired, (arguably, the greatest cinematic achievement ever, and certainly, Bill Murray’s finest hour) was doing the same thing over and over until you get it right.

And, as Joeball pointed out earlier in the day, the bike gang is pretty much like the movie: people, places, and events recur again and again, slightly differently, but essentially similar. You can almost predict what’s going to unfold, but then there’s a twist.

The Angry Hippie has a flat, for instance, but repairs it with nary an Anglo-Saxon epithet and unkibbitzed at by the typical peanut gallery.

Or we wend our way, as usual, to (a newly-refurbished!) Hop In grocery, but through fancy neighborhoods on steep surface streets never once taken before.

Or, there’s a route through the woods to what I’m pretty sure was my first Point83 swimming hole half a decade ago, but this time, no one goes in the water and the University Police never even show up to shoo us away.

There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Phil Conners laments the day he’s been condemned to repeat: “I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day,” he says, “Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over.”

And although the dozens of Thursday night bike rides I’ve taken part in over the years have never once (thankfully) featured any of Phil’s sea otter hijinks, I don’t lament for a moment the continual sense of déjà vu all over again.

In Nietzsche’s writings we encounter the idea of eternal recurrence: Ask yourself what life would you live if you had to live this life over and over again for all eternity?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure there’d be ride bikes on Thursdays.