Between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender…

In 1976, when Jackson Browne’s song The Pretender came out, I was 18 with a bullet.

That is to say, I thought I could do any and everything (except, because I had had diabetes since I was 13, be an astronaut). I spent the summer working in a factory. Not the worst job I’ve ever had, but not exactly what I wanted.

That autumn, I entered the University of Minnesota, ultimately graduating with a BA in sociology. From there, I went in 1981 to the University of Chicago, where I earned an MA in sociology and advanced well on toward my PhD in the same, met and married T, and we had our first child. We moved to upstate New York, where we began teaching and I discovered that I might not be cut out to be an academic. I became a software engineer instead, a cowboy riding the range of the early World Wide Web before Windows 95. When the company was sold, and most of my department laid off (I was one of the survivors) I left with my family to celebrate the end of the millennium in Wisconsin, where I continued to do software work. Then that company was sold, and I decided to go to law school, dragging my family back to the East Coast.

I graduated.

I went to work as a legal assistant.

I passed the bar.

I kept working as a legal assistant.

I hated my job.

I finally quit.

I’m happy.  Relatively poor, but happy.

The impetus for this whole post comes from some Ted Talks and commentary I was listening to this afternoon on NPR. One of the commentators was pointing out that it wasn’t until the advent of the factory as a model of production that we began to believe that people were solely motivated to work by money.

I am now in the midst of my third or fourth or fifth career, depending on how you want to count. I don’t work in a factory any more. And I don’t work as a legal assistant.
I am an attorney at the beginning of my career, an experienced mediator, a sometime website builder and maintainer, a freelance bicycle mechanic and photographer, a musician, a philosopher and blogger.

Karl Mark once observed that an ideal society would be one which

makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

I have a secret for you. We live in that world today. No, it’s not a way to get rich. But I do think that we live in a world where it’s possible to pursue the longing for love, and spurn the struggle for the legal tender.

Dirty Harry once asked a punk if he “felt lucky.” Yeah. I do.

It’s not about the money.

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I really sloughed off on this blog, and I couldn’t figure out why. I think I know now. Too many people thought of it as “just” a bicycle blog.  And “lawschoolissoover” was becoming a bit, um, unwieldy.

So, time for changes.  This blog will continue to cover matters relating to cycling, but those will likely be an increasingly diminshed part. Hence the new name–

Inter alia is an expression much-beloved of lawyers and judges. It’s a Latin phrase meaning “among other things.” What I want to emphasize here is that I’ll be using this site to sort of spout off on whatever is on my mind.

And bicycles.

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Let me tell you about my Dad.

It’s Father’s Day today, so let me tell you about my dad. Like most people who have lived to my age, there’s a lot I don’t remember before I was 4 or 5, and there’s a lot of things I get confused over as to exactly when they happened. I don’t know if that’s universal, but it’s something I’ve noticed in myself. So please forgive me if things seem strange or I ramble.

My Dad. One of the first things that comes to mind is going to something that was called “Indian Guides” in a neighbor’s basement. This was something for kids who weren’t even old enough yet to be Cub Scouts. We wore headbands and did cool things like wood burning, and it was (as you can see from the badge to the left) specifically designed for fathers and sons. Each of us took an “Indian” name. I think (though I’m not sure, and I did check with my brother, who was also there, on this) that one of us was White Eagle and the other was Black Eagle. What I do feel reasonably sure about was that my dad was Bald Eagle. If you ever met my dad, who now well into his 80s, still has his hair, you’d get the joke. But I digress.

The next thing I remember is going to Cub Scouts, which seemed to me less about learning to do things and more about holding an endless stream of “Derby” events. There was the Pinewood Derby (of course); the Space Derby (for which we built propeller-powered rockets that zipped along a wire stretched across the school gymnasium) and the something-or-other regatta. I remember the Space Derby best (because rockets?); Dad worked, at my direction, to fashion the rocket out of what was, essentially, a pointy balsawood tube. In those days (as it is still) fathers did most of the cutting and shaping. And painting! My rocket had the coolest cockpit windows! But I also remember that Dad, who loved the water, knew that there had to come a time when I learned to do things for myself, and so he let me shape my own balsa boat for the Regatta (he advised, but I shaped it against his advice, and he let me).

We built lots of stuff together. While go-carts (strictly gravity-powered, usually with far too many nail points poking into the interior) were the province of my brother and I once we learned to use a hammer, everything else I learned from my dad. Together we built rockets (the first ones launched with a piece of fuse—very spectacular), airplanes (the one that sticks in my mind is Lancer—a balsa frame covered in tissue paper, later treated with dope. The construction was so light that a rubber band could make it go just about forever).  He taught me to solder and bolt and screw things together, to hammer (see above) and saw.  I watched him fix pipes in our basement, and from that gained the confidence (perhaps foolishly) to do some of my own black-pipe work.  He had this wonderful book of “projects for boys” that my brother and I were totally in awe of.  I don’t think we ever even contemplated building any of those projects, but they had inspired him, and they inspired us.

My dad bought me The Model Rocketeer’s Handbook. He bought me bikes—the blue Schwinn, the gold Columbia, the brown Schwinn and—finally and most memorably—the blue Raleigh that carried me through college and into adulthood. He supported my ham radio hobby, not only buying me gear that—in retrospect—was scandalously expensive, but in helping to put up not only wires across the side yard but a massive 40-foot wide beam antenna on a ten-foot tower on top of our house. He put up with me abandoning classic music for rock, and paid for a number of my guitars. I remember going to B Sharp with him around ’79 when he bought me a 50-watt Peavey amp.

He bought me lots of stuff. That amp, the ham radio gear, my first computer, a car. I’ve been embarrassed many times about how much I owe to my dad financially, and the sacrifices he and Mom have made on my behalf. But I will not deny that Dad has made my life much, much easier than it would otherwise have been.

When I decided to change religions in high school, he was angry and hurt, but he didn’t turn away from me. He let me learn and make (many) of my own mistakes. And he watched out for me when I did stupid stuff. Sometimes, being watched-out-for was embarrassing, but I’m glad he was there.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1971, it was thanks to him and my mom that I didn’t wind up in a hospital, like so many. They recognized what was happening to me, and got me taken care of. Because in those days the regime was to mix short- and long-acting insulin and adjust the dose based on that mixture (typically a 30/70 mix), he found a source for sealed ampules so that I could mix my insulin a week at a time, instead of having to mix it in the syringe each time I took a shot.

My folks drove me down to Chicago for graduate school, and I remember the look of concern on Dad’s face as we drove east along 63rd street, looking at the desolation. I remember him helping me move into my room in International House—I had brought zillions and zillions of books, and he helped get those up to the 7th floor and shelve them.

Dad was and is a great photographer. The walls of the house I share with my spouse and youngest child are covered with beautiful prints of some of his finest work. And there are a few of mine there, too, because my dad presented me, on (if I recall correctly) my 22nd birthday with a gorgeous, compact, Rollei 35 camera. I never developed his eye, but I had a lot of fun with that camera before it was stolen a little over a year later. Dad went with me to pick out its replacement, an all-manual Nikon. But it was Dad and that Rollei that taught me to love photography.

My dad, like all dads, likes to give advice. Is it always good? Nope. But on balance, on the whole it’s been good and comforting. It’s nice to know there’s someone out there ahead of you who has Gone Through Things before.

We haven’t always gotten along. Like (I suspect) most fathers and sons, we have fought like cats and dogs. Over religion, politics (though we’re reasonably aligned there), his stupidity, my stupidity, the best way to do things. But my dad gave me the confidence to know that I could do things, that I could change the world and not merely be changed by the world. From Penrod to Jules Verne. We watched Sesame Street and the Watergate hearings together.

So many memories. So very many. And of course, I haven’t scratched more than the surface here. Fireworks, camping the cross-country family death march, resident fish, trips to Gettysburg and Seattle, our cat, exploring France and Italy and sharing Calvados and Raclette…

Some people aren’t fortunate enough to have fathers in more than a biological sense. Others are estranged, or have lost theirs to time or illness or misfortune. I’m happy to say that I still have mine, and while I cannot thank him enough for all he has done for me and for my family, I hope that I can live in a way that honors him, today, and into the future.

So I’d like to hark back to that basement, more than half a century ago, and thank my dad. I’m old now, a father and grandfather myself. And I love my dad, and I’d like to think that—in spite of all the arguments and conflicts we’ve had over the years—the motto of the Indian Guides still rings true:

 “Father and Son, pals forever.”

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A False Concept of Value

Just a quickie today.

I love to browse Craigslist for musical instrument.  OK, guitars.  I’ve bought several over the years–it’s a nice way to try things out to see if you like an instrument.  My Craviola was a CL purchase, and I’m very glad to own it.

This morning I was on CL looking at guitars (not to buy; I’m full up at the moment) and this line caught my eye:

“Given their limited run, these guitars are very rare and are likely to increase in value going forward.”

You know what?  That’s a really bad reason to buy a guitar.

I see the same sort of thing in lots of places.  It’s fairly rare with respect to electronic devices (because, you know, electronics) but common with musical instruments, bicycles, artwork (especially).  That’s the notion that whatever it is you’re buying, it’s an investment.

That’s one kind of value.  It’s based on the notion of owning now, selling later.  But I think it’s a poor one, and not only because it’s speculative (nobody knows what the future will bring).

Another kind of value is use value.  That’s the notion that the value of something is what it imparts to you while you own/use it, not in some future transaction.

Obviously, I prefer the latter notion of value.

It militates against buying things for their investment potential, and against buying things that we don’t need or really want.

I suppose that if I was a stockbroker I might feel differently…but what good is a bicycle that I don’t ride?

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Confidence, Justice, and Judgment

A friend of mine was recently telling me, over breakfast, some details of a problem that had recently occurred at his institution.

She shared with me only outlines, as I thought was appropriate, and we discussed more generally the cultural implications of what had had happened.  Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing salacious, nothing that wasn’t already in the public domain.

Then she said something interesting:  “I’m telling you all of this in confidence, of course.”

I smiled and told her that if she gave me a penny, I’d be her lawyer.

We then joked around about confidentiality for a moment–she’s a minister, and so she and I (as an attorney) share some special legal privileges.  And then we went on talking.

The thing that struck me as interesting here was this:  Nobody should ever have to say that!

Knowledge is pretty much either public or private, and it’s generally pretty apparent when it falls into one domain or the other.  There are certain bits of information that toe the line, but context matters.  Exchanges between friends about someone removed from the situation generally fall into the edge category, but it’s pretty clear that context moves them into the private column.

Indeed, it is precisely this sort of thing that, when the designation is flipped to public, constitutes what we call gossip.

Herein lies the difference as well between justice  and judgment.  Justice tells you that if you have a certain legal status or relationship, then under the law (e.g., attorney-client) then certain things are definitely private.  Judgment, by contrast, tells you that if you stand in a certain relationship to someone else (e.g., friendship) , then certain things are definitely private, regardless of statute.

Justice requires the law to back it up; judgment does not.

So my friend should never have had to ask, and I shouldn’t have made that stupid joke.

This would be a far, far better world if more of us exercised judgment instead of relying on justice.  Just a thought for the morning.

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When I was a Hippie.

According to one dictionary, a hippie is

: a usually young person who rejects established social customs (such as by dressing in an unusual way or living in a commune) and who opposes violence and war; especially : a young person of this kind in the 1960s and 1970s

 I was on the tail end, starting college in the late ‘70s, but here’s what I recall about being a hippie, in a sort of stream of consciousness version:

Sandals; tiny rooms reached by ladders; the New Riverside Café; a guy who had a tiny music shop and sold (probably stolen) guitars next to the barber shop where my dad used to go. KQRS and KFAI (“Fresh Air) radio. Typewriters. Dinged up wooden tables and making wedding candelabras from 2x4s.

My girlfriend and I swaying at at a Bonnie Raitt concert, hands in each others’ back pockets. Laundromats. Bikes with suicide levers and toe clips. D’gadband. The Coffee House Extempore. The 400. Al’s Breakfast (still around).

Palmer’s bar and the VVAW upstairs playing pool.

Surdyk’s.  A blue hoodie.

Sandalwood incense.

Magnificent libraries. Not one, but two original copies of Bentham’s Works. On the open shelves.

Learning about oral sex from watching Coming Home.

Cedar Square West. The West Bank People Center. Drinking Retsina, because it was dirt cheap and came in big bottles. RHPS parties (and the Uptown). Watching The Jimmy Hendrix Movie while joints passed up and down the aisles.

Beer. Long hair and beards, L, G, J and many other friends. Midwest Mountaineering. Charlie Hoffman’s Guitars. Bellville’s guitar shop and Koa OO.

Stuffing flowers in the barrel of a tank’s cannon.  OK, the tank was a monument, but still.

The silver, tubular hall in Coffman Union.

Hearing Richard Thompson for the first time on Live, More or Less.

Records. There was a shop called “The Wax Museum” that I used to raid for used albums. Cutouts were the best.


35mm cameras.

Ragstock. Down parkas. Books, books everywhere.

All of the co-op stores; the co-op grocery (and later drug store); 2001 Riverside, where I bought guitar strings. The Sandwich Shop next to North Country hardware.


Too many things to remember. It was a pretty good time.

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Nothing You Do Matters.

The more I read it, the angrier I get. I had not read it until a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, but there’s a 2009 article in Orion Magazine by Derrick Jensen entitled “Forget Shorter Showers,” and it begins with this paragraph:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Silly environmentalists, thinking they could stop Adolf Hitler by dumpster diving!

First, pardon me for being more than a little skeptical of any article that begins with a mention of Nazis. I’ve been on the internet far too long. But second, this is so clearly a straw horse as to be almost invisible.

No sane person would think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler because no sane person could see any connection between them. No sane person would think dancing naked around a fire could help pass the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act.

The one has nothing to do with the other.

So when Jensen gets to the paragraph’s ultimate sentence, the one where he’s supposed to make his point? Be very suspicious. Because what he’s about to say is that your personal solutions have no impact on anything, ever.

Jenkins’s next paragraph is telling:

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

(Emphasis added).

Let’s stipulate to a couple of things. Let’s accept the section I’ve emphasized in its entirety. Further, let’s assume that the impact of reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 22% on world emissions would be only 5%. That’s a far cry from 75%.

Now, suppose that you’re shopping for a new car, and you get a phone call telling you that you have just been granted the gift of 5% off any car you want. You’d say “sorry, that’s too trivial to bother with,” and hang up. Right?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d think “5% of $15,000 (sorry, I know most new cars cost considerably more than this, but I’ve never owned one that cost more than $12,000 new) is $750! Wow!”

So why is a 5% reduction in emissions something that we should ignore?

To be fair, Jensen’s point is actually not that we should all take hot showers until the water runs out. His point is that short showers aren’t enough, and that it will take concerted political action and sacrifice to get to where we need to be.

….At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one — if we avidly participate in the industrial economy — we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world — none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

(Emphases added again). So what Jenkins is really saying is that we need to completely change the world. That’s fine. That’s good. He and I agree, to a point.

What he and I disagree on is whether what he calls “simple living,” and what I would call sensible living, is effective. Because he believes that 5% is roughly equal to nothing, Jenkins concludes that sensible living is totally ineffective (I am reminded of the H2G2 conclusion that the Universe is unpopulated (retried from

it is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. however, not every one of them is inhabited. therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the universe can be said to be zero. from this it follows that the population of the whole universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are the products of a deranged imagination.

In other words, Jenkins sounds a lot like an economist. But this is no time for mere insults. Jenkins reminds me of the bird in an S. Mueller cartoon (which, alas, the Internet has thus far been unable to retrieve from the depths of the 1980s: a monstrous parrot shouting “Polly wants it all!”).

Yes, we need concerted political action. We need to change to world. A professor of mine back in college once told me how disappointed he was when the Beatles essentially came out against revolution (“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”). I do not want to tell you to put down the posters, or more specifically, to stop taking political action. What I want is for you to read the following paragraph from Jenkin’s piece:

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

…and shout “BULLSHIT! “ when he gets to the last line. Because that’s what it is. Bullshit. Social change has never come about without personal change. And while I don’t buy into the notion that the capitalist system is an unmitigated good, I think that there are ways that personal change can send a message to the military-industrial-political complex that will lead to it changing. And you know what? So does Jenkins. His ultimate paragraph says as much:

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned — Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States — who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Let’s go back to the first paragraph. What caused the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pass? Partly, it was Lindon Johnson, waving the bloody flag of a dead President. But the act never would have been written if those brave people of who Jenkins ultimately writes hadn’t been willing to engage not only in political action, but in inconvenient personal action. Like walking instead of taking the bus.*

The real danger with Jenkin’s perspective is that it tells people that the tiny effects they make by changing their lives are unimportant—it equates small with null. Because if you convince people of that, two things happen: the first is that they stop making those small changes, and those small (not null) effects go away. We lose (among other things) that 5% reduction in carbon emissions. The second is that because they believe they can have no effect, people tend to give up altogether. They become disempowered. Being told that they can’t fight city hall, they stop trying.

We need massive change, but we also need personal change. Indeed, I don’t think you can have the former without the latter.

Well, I suppose that if you bombed every automobile factory in the world, you might effect massive social change without personal change. It wouldn’t last. Or you could impose a Stalinist system (sorry, I have violated a corollary to Godwin’s law) and we’d all drive some kind of Prius/Trabant hybrid.

But if we all stopped buying gas guzzling monsters, and when our current vehicles were beyond repair, replaced them with small, efficient gas/hybrid/electric vehicles, you know what would happen? Manufacturers would start to build small, efficient, gas/hybrid/electric vehicles. Initially in smaller numbers, but over time, in larger numbers. But the onus would be on us to maintain that approach. Hmmm. Could the political be personal?

*I should point out that walking instead of taking the bus wouldn’t have stopped Hitler, either.

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