Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding Pablo

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is hosting an exhibit from the Picasso Museum in Paris. I was able to check it out this morning as a chaperone of the Islander Middle School Art Class. Ten years ago Melony, Sam and I visited the Museum while on vacation in Paris, here are my thoughts at the time:

From Notre Dame we continued across the Seine, past the many statued Hotel de Ville and up the shop lined alleys towards the Musee Picasso. We were in no hurry and so we wondered through back streets filled with chain smoking art students. We had already seen the Muse D’Orsay and the Louvre where for lack of a better term what hung on the walls resembled the actual world. Now I wanted to visit the Picasso Museum in order to see the work of the quintessential abstractionist.

Picasso claimed to be the greatest collector of Picasso and the Museum in Paris houses the artist’s personal collection of his own work. The Musee Picasso contains an eclectic collection of paintings, line drawings, ceramics and sculptures, the largest single collection of the world. I confess that I don’t understand abstract art, and have difficulty seeing Picasso’s work as anything other than childish scribbles. Secretly I hoped that surrounding myself with Picassos would switch on the light – oh now I get it.

Unfortunately our visit to the Musee Picasso only served to convince myself that much of what the guy created was little more than a big con. I’m convinced that if I would have brought in six paintings from this collection to the art gallery that displayed my photography I would have been laughed out the door. Maybe I’m too shallow for abstract art, but the bottom line is that I neither understood nor enjoyed the work of Picasso. The best I could say about the collection was that there were a few inspired pieces scattered among a bunch of crap. I would think that many artists would become disheartened after touring the museum because it convincingly demonstrates the fickle nature of the art market.

What a bunch of cynical dribble. Good thing I’ve grown up since then. I find that when it comes to art a little explanation goes a long way. Today a SAM volunteer explained a half dozen of the more important works in the exhibit and things made one heck of a lot more sense. Picasso was that once in a century type of artist who takes the status quo, cuts it up into tiny pieces, shuffles it up and presents an entirely different view. He literally redefined art.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Badass

When you live in one place too long it becomes easy to think that the entire world lives, and thereby thinks, like you do. This is why travel and literature are so important. Travel, I don’t mean tour bus sightseeing, but true travel – wherein you meet, interact, and hopefully to some small extent live like the locals opens your eyes to the fact that many of the things we consider to be “normal” are completely crazy to people who weren’t raised in the same society as you were. Toilets are a good example.

When I worked in Japan the company had a Western style sit down toilet installed in the company bathroom. That stall became my private throne room as nobody else in the office wanted to put their bare butt where someone else had just plopped their fat ass. The Japanese toilet looks like a porcelain baby bassinet set into the floor, you don’t sit you squat. To me squatting was a bit weird, to them using a Western toilet was just plain unsanitary.

When I worked at Boeing I worked on the lavatories and we kept getting complaints from Middle Eastern and Asian airlines that their toilet seats were breaking. After some investigation we discovered that instead of sitting on the toilet seats the passengers were actually standing on them. We hadn’t designed for this and consequently the plastic seats were breaking. I think that once you realize that the vast majority of the world’s population views your toilet habits as nasty and gross you start to realize that not everybody wants what we think they want.

You may be asking “what the heck do I care about how people use the bathroom?” Well it’s not really about bathroom habits it’s about understanding the world, what motivates people what makes them tick. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney could have used a little more of this “worldliness” when they misused their extraordinary power to declare war at their discretion. Both men lived sell-out lives: was George Bush among the top applicants to Yale or Harvard, no, but he took advantage of the fact that his people knew their people, and undeservingly he walked on through the hallowed doors. Was Dick Cheney, a lifetime politician, the best business mind that Haliburton could find? No, but he had a thick Rolodex and he parlayed that into a multimillion dollar a year salary. When you look at it in these terms it’s no wonder that the post invasion behavior of the Iraqis is, to Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, a complete mystery.

There is no doubt that if the Iraqis would have just played ball with us they would have, right now, a much more pleasant lifestyle. If they would have just sat back and let us install a government, rebuild what we bombed, pump their oil they’d, for the most part, be living a much easier life: no roving death squads, no power outages, no militants wanting to drag them back into the middle ages. I’m sure at one time or another Bush said to Cheney “heck Dick we’ve been puppets all our lives and look how good we have it, why won’t they just play ball?” What they didn’t understand was the mentality of the badass.

The badass is that guy who refuses to be told what to do, despite the fact that if he does what he’s told to do his life would be much easier. Cool Hand Luke was a badass. The North Vietnamese were badasses. The Iraqi’s are badasses. They ain’t gonna play our game, as a matter of fact their game is going to be whatever our game isn’t. When you understand the mentality of the badass you start to understand why Iraq is moving toward Iran. Iran and Iraq are blood enemies, but our game is to keep them separated so their game becomes one of developing close ties. This why we failed in Vietnam and this is why we are destined to fail in Iraq. No matter how much good we do they are going to hate us for it, it’s jujitsu, the more power we exert the more powerful our opposition becomes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dad Tales

My dad was a civil engineer and was a “true” engineer in that he knew how things worked, why they failed and consequently how to fix them. I would equate him to a ship’s engineer – the guy responsible for keeping the boat afloat. If he didn’t know how to do something he knew where to get the information required to figure it out. As our American lives become increasingly surrounded by disposable crap; mechanical devises designed to be thrown away instead of repaired, I’m reminded of two “dad stories.”

John T. lived across the street and he drove around in this big ole’ Chevy Impala. My dad had a soft spot for Detroit iron and when that car didn’t move for two months he started to hatch a plan. On a summer Sunday morning he crossed Lawnwoods Drive with two twenties and a ten in his pocket and laid them on the table. “I gotta tell ya Mr. McGuffin,” John said “that car don’t run.”

Thirty minutes later dad and my brother Donald had that car running and were backing it out of the driveway. I wonder what John thought when he heard that V-8 kick over. I think Donald drove that car for another two years before it finally crapped out for good.

Dad was a good mechanic and consequently many of my stories about him concern cars, this second story is no exception. Back when he was in college my brother Mark had a girlfriend who owned a late seventies model Honda Accord. One day while my brother was puttering around in it the engine seized up, probably due to a lack of oil. Somehow dad and Mark got that car into our driveway where they pulled out the ruined engine and replaced it with one they picked up at Sam’s Riverside Auto – our second favorite junkyard after Easy Eddie’s Trails End Salvage. In a single afternoon they were able to pull and replace that engine. “It started on the first turn,” dad later told me.

“I can’t believe it,” dad said, “that engine was sitting on its pan in the mud, we didn’t even change the oil.” From that day forward dad bought only Hondas.

When people ask me how I know how to do things I always give credit to my father. He taught me a lot about woodworking and engines, but more importantly he taught me how to roll up my sleeves and just get in there and do it. Just getting started is nine tenths of the battle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Just finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and am now starting Freedom. I must admit that I kind of enjoyed the fact that Franzen rejected Oprah when she wanted to include The Corrections in her book club. Oprah’s a fine gal, but we all need a little rejection in order to keep our feet on the ground. I now see that Franzen relented with Freedom as it is now officially christened an “Oprah book.”

For me reading Franzen really stinks as he continually shows me just how high the bar is set and how low I can jump. He is just so dang good. Reading schmaltzy books like Eat Pray Love or The Pilot’s Wife gives me hope because these are more works of perseverance than innate talent: anyone can persevere, but only a select few have the talent.

The first sixty pages of Freedom has lived up to the hype; perhaps by the time I’ve finished it a little of the author’s talent will have rubbed off.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in 2002 I went to the Himalaya to climb one of the least, if not the least, known eight thousand meter peaks: Manaslu. The trek to high camp was eight days of unspoiled culture immersion, meaning that there had been very little Westernization and we witnessed a way of life that has progressed with little change for hundreds of years. Our trek ended at the eleven thousand foot town on Sama, very near the Nepal/Tibet border. Sama is home to a large Buddhist temple and our team was invited to join in for what I can only describe as a good luck ceremony.

Some members of our team turned up their noses at the invitation, but my buddy Brian and I hustled up the hill so as not to be late. The ceremony was a mixture of chanting and incense burning and it gave me an opportunity to think about things. Now Buddhists don’t worship some singular deity, some omnipresent, omniscient being, so I had to ask myself “who are they praying to.” In Western Christianity you pray for the protection of an overseeing God, and if you don’t die you say “thank God,” and if you do die your family says “well I guess God had other plans.” Simple enough, but what about these Buddhist fellas.

I came to the conclusion that the monks were, in essence, giving us their sincere good wishes. We, like them, are travelers on a road, and if in our case that road contains a really high mountain, well then so be it. I’d bet that most, if not all, of those monks saw nothing but futility in our quest, but they accepted that this was the task we had chosen for ourselves, and so they said good luck, hope you make it out alive. In hindsight I don’t think that I could have asked for anything more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Live Honest Die Happy

A little something I wrote in response to an email I received giving examples of how God destroys anyone who mocks him.

That kooky God of Vengeance stuff always splits my mind: on the one hand I’m tempted to ask “so while some nameless guy was being fed his severed fingers in some concrete-walled torture chamber in Cambodia and praying for a quick death, God was too busy to listen to him because he was out knocking off Bon “Highway to Hell” Scott, or while that mother in Sudan was lying on the floor of her hut praying do die so she wouldn’t have to watch a hoard gang rape her ten-year old daughter God was a little preoccupied killing John “we’re more popular than God” Lennon, how do you explain that.” The answer invariably is “well God works in mysterious ways,” well he wasn’t so mysterious a minute ago when you were preaching about all the death and destruction He’s caused, he was pretty damn un-mysterious then. On the other hand if some prick doesn’t abduct that girl because he’s afraid of God’s vengeance, or that drunk doesn’t drain a sixth gin and tonic and bloody his wife because he fears divine retribution, well I guess that’s one less pedophile and one less wife beater.

Personally I side with Jefferson and Franklin when I say “I don’t know.” This is the only honest answer anyone can give when it comes to the existence of some godlike entity. One thing I’m certain of, the one conclusion supported by overwhelming evidence, is that if there is a God he/she/it plays no role whatsoever in the day to day workings of this planet. What kind of God brings an idiot who broke his neck while flipping his ATV back to life while sitting idly by while the son of a Liberian fisherman has to watch his dad get his hands cut off before being forced to put the final bullet into his father’s brain. As Desie would say to Lucy “he’s got some ‘splaining to do.”

My plan, and the plan I pass down to my kids, is to live life in a descent way, and in the moment before death reflect back on a life well-lived. I believe that when you just let go of the mumbo jumbo and simply accept the fact that there is no divine intervention; that God suffers as we suffer, you free yourself. Sadly most folks are not willing to be free, they would rather harbor dreams of being “born again” having their sins “washed away.” Sorry sucker you are who you are so think twice. Same story with the bible – a valley was flooded, a farmer along with a goat and a cow floated to safety and over the generations the story grew to the entire earth being flooded and a giant ark with every living animal aboard. The bible was written by folks with a very limited world view: to the author of the great flood story the entire world was that valley. The bible is basically metaphors and rules for how to behave in a lawless world. When you accept it as the work of fallible humans you free yourself from all the denials, conspiracy theories and circuitous logic required by the creationist crowd.

The sad truth is is that most folks would rather be led around by the nose than to truly think and be held accountable for their actions. They want to blame someone else for their poor miserable lives: it ain’t my fault that my marriage failed: it’s because of that homosexual over there. This is why the God of Vengeance theology needs an enemy – someone to slaughter as a scapegoat. Is it any wonder now that the homosexual card is becoming played out that churches are beginning to take aim at Islam.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Just In Time

Two weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for two years: I shut off my cable TV. I’m not one of those folks who like to claim that television sucks, because I don’t think that it does. I have no problem with entertainment – all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – and television offers some good entertainment.

The now cancelled show of Deadwood is Shakespearean in it’s intriguing dialog, it’s complex characters and it’s interwoven themes of myopic greed, redemption, human fallibility and petty jealously just to name a few. Currently my family and I are watching Lost, and though it’s gotten a bit longwinded and what appears to be unnecessarily weird, it’s good fun and during dinner we like to speculate on what’s going to happen next. And don’t forget The Office, when Andy tore his scrotum, I’m laughing right now just thinking about it. Who thinks up that stuff?

Luckily we can now watch the shows we want to see without having to wade through the sewer dodging turds like Jersey Shore and Desperate Housewives as they float by. I’ve never seen either show and will die a happy man if I never do. Unfortunately TV executives must have fallen asleep early in their college drama classes. Yes drama needs conflict, but conflict alone isn’t drama it’s voyeurism. The reality show formula is to put a bunch of weak people together and incite a conflict. Watching two chicks catfight over a bum pretending to be a millionaire might be fun for a minute, but then it just gets sad. Really sad.

Shutting off the TV in October was just in time as we have totally avoided the political lies, I mean the political ads.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's the Economy Stupid

The entire Seattle region is gridlocked, and despite having a newly elected bike friendly mayor there still hasn’t been a serious, or even a non-serious, discussion about making the city more accessible and safer for cyclists. It’s taken me a while to understand the reason, but I’ve finally realized that it can be summed up in three letters: GDP.

Everyone seems to be talking about the economy lately; what they are really talking about is the Gross Domestic Product – the total of all goods and services produced in the U.S, and let’s face it cars are good for the economy and bikes aren’t. Bikes reduce pollution- bad for the economy (nothing to clean up). Bikes promote good health – bad for the economy (no more oxygen tanks for emphysema sufferers to lug around). Riding a bike makes you happier – bad for the economy (the U.S. leads the world in antidepressant drugs). Riding a bike doesn’t burn fossil fuels – bad for the economy (no more massive profits for oil companies). Riding a bike doesn’t require massive road building projects – bad for the economy ( no more Senatorial pet building projects). People in the know know that cars contribute to the economy whereas bikers, well they’re just freeloaders.

We assume that a roaring economy is a good thing, but why do we assume that? Robert. Kennedy put down some very insightful words on the matter:

Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Study after study show that once folks rise above abject poverty wealth and happiness have no correlation. Money can’t buy happiness, but a lack of it sure can buy misery. I wish that I was living the monastic life, free of material wants, but it would only take a minute for me to lay out exactly what two new bikes I need and what new camera will be the “last camera I ever own.” At least I’m starting to realize that the satisfaction is more in the acquisition than in the possession.

When we talk of the economy it’s worthwhile to realize that it’s much better to be overweight, depressed, divorced and behind the wheel of a Hummer than it is to raise a garden, get another year out of your car and only purchase that which you can afford.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finding a Good Fit

10-10-10 a good date for a blog post. I really need to get on the stick and post everyday.

Kris and I took a step closer towards making our bike racing dreams a reality yesterday by joining up with the Blue Rooster team meet and greet. Blue Rooster is a Seattle-based bike team and I was impressed with the turn-out and enthusiasm of the team members. Once I decide to do something I want to have done it yesterday, and so I’m a bit impatient with regards to finding a team and getting all decked out in the kit colors. Normally I’d just go with the first team I was exposed to, but now that I’m older and, hopefully, a little wiser I’d like to take my time on this decision and find a team wherein I’d be a good fit. Next week I’ll ride with Cycle U and the week after that I’ll hit Motofish.

Triathlon biking is a lot different than team riding mainly because in triathlon you’re penalized for riding in a group wherein during a bike race group riding is not only encouraged it’s nearly mandatory. Most of my Ironman training rides were either solo, or with a few friends whose rear tires I normally kept at a safe distance. If you’re going to ride in aero (i.e. unstable and without quick access to brakes) you can’t ride tight. This is what I’m used to. Riding with a group of thirty was completely new to me, but I must say it didn’t seem all that stressful. I have to confess however I don’t think that the team was pushing the pace very hard. My bike handling skills are above average, and so long as I don’t fall into too much daydreaming I think I’ll be just fine.