The Golf Conundrum – A Justification

To Golf Or Not To GolfI recently went on a weekend golf trip to Arizona with a good group of guys. One might imagine that, in general, the demographic of guys who go on weekend golf trips would tend toward a bro-ish, self-absorbed, perpetual adolescence mindset. I hope that generalization’s not true, and for our group, it wasn’t.

Still, I was lamenting the fact that, for all the decency that was embodied in that group of guys, there we were spending enormous sums of money on a game, on lavish living, on material excess. I said as much to a friend back in Longmont, and the conversation pretty quickly turned to my own complicity in that excess. The eclectic in me, the revolutionary, has always frowned upon a complacent, bourgeois existence. Yet here I am, a comfortable, wealthy, middle aged white guy who golfs a lot.

The Golf Conundrum

I golfed sporadically (and spasmodically), at best, up until my late 30’s, whereupon I decided I needed a twilight sport to transition into from my beloved soccer. I was becoming the grizzled old slow guy on the soccer team, and I wanted to go out with at least a trace of dignity intact. After a knee injury and ensuing osteoarthritis in both knees, I limped through an over-40 soccer tournament in Vegas a year ago, while my team carried us to victory. Two months later, it was still hard to walk up and down the stairs – I hung up the cleats for good (?).

Golf had been my rehab after knee surgery. Golf was how I recovered from the Vegas tourney. Golf is one way I’ll stay in shape as I stroll down the proverbial back nine. I live two blocks from a short but challenging course. I walk there and walk the course a few times a week, weather (and other obligations) permitting. It’s less than $700 for an annual pass.

I golfed a lot in 2017. I keep a spreadsheet of my various jobs and projects, and golf made it to the top spot last year, comprising 383.5 hours of the almost 1600 total project hours I logged. I golfed in Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska (really!), Oregon, Wisconsin, and Florida in 2017. I spent a lot of money on golf and the trips associated with it.

To be blunt, I was golfing as Trump dismantled policies to slow climate change (he was golfing, too, apparently). I was golfing while hurricanes ripped apart Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and much of the Caribbean. I was golfing while over 30,000 Americans died from gun violence. I was golfing while women began to expose the widespread tragedy of sexual harassment and assault. I was golfing while genocide was committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar. I was golfing while over 700 million people didn’t have enough to eat in the world.

In 2014 I wrote a post called “Climbing the Totem Pole of Magnanimity,” in which I posited that I was some kind of dog-like creature around the middle of the totem pole (in other words, I had a long way to go to achieve magnanimity). My goal was to inch my way up that pole. So, in light of all this golfing I’ve been doing, one might expect that I’ve slipped down on the totem pole. But, actually, I believe I am now slightly higher on the pole; maybe I’m now in between dog-like creature and head-holding guy. How do I reconcile this?

A Justification

Golf is elitist. By this I mean that it’s expensive, it takes a lot of time, it uses a lot of land and resources.1 It’s not very accessible to most folk. But what if I’d said I’d gotten in 60 days of skiing in the mountains instead? Would that be more acceptable? Or what if it was biking, or running, or exercising, or yoga, or meditation. These are noble pursuits, right? Much more so than slapping a ball around with a glorified stick, right? Granted, some of these other pursuits are less costly or have less of an environmental footprint, but all could be equally time-intensive.2

About a decade and a half ago, I realized (while I was about 20 miles into the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge (I only finished one lap of 25 miles)) that endurance sports were not for me, so I focused most of my exercising activity on soccer. Endurance sports still aren’t for me, but I have upped my game in the workout department (last year, at age 44, I bench pressed more than I ever have). I will continue to use workouts to help stay in shape. I ski and mountain bike once or twice a year, and that’s good enough.

I don’t believe in the oversimplified idea that 10,000 hours of practice will make you a master at something (even the author of this idea thinks that’s oversimplified); if I practiced for 10,000 hours at the 100 meter dash under the tutelage of the world’s best sprinting coaches, Usain Bolt would still crush me. But golf is different from such a pure athletic sport as running. The PGA tour is like a Dr. Seuss book of characters: Long-Leggers, Bar-ba-loots, Loraxes, Sneeches, Yooks and Zooks… All body types seem to be represented – which gives a fairly average guy like me hope that I might be able to play this game, too. Maybe 10,000 hours (or preferably a lot less) of deliberate practice at golf could actually work for me (as it did for Dan of The Dan Plan before injury took him out).

At the risk of boring those of you who don’t give a rip about golf, I have to say that it presents a stimulating challenge for me. It’s an opportunity to let the eclectic blend of ideas that continually flows through my head take a back seat for a few hours – to breathe and focus on the task at hand. Robert Pirsig had his motorcycle maintenance – I have my golf. 

Besides the meditation and exercise and getting outside, I love tracking the numbers. I keep a spreadsheet of my stats, and despite how crappily I feel like I play many days, I’m getting better, albeit in fits and starts. True to my eclectic nature, I’m always tinkering, so as soon as I start to get some semblance of flow, I decide I can do better in a certain area and I regress for a while until I get that figured out – it’s chaos punctuated by brief bouts of equilibrium, but the general trend is progressive.

All of this is to say that golf, like many challenges, helps make me a happier, healthier, and (dare I say it) wiser person. There’s a lot of “self” in this, though.3 Self improvement is a huge industry in the United States: dieting, exercise, self-help, mindfulness, early retirement, lifestyle, impressing your lover in bed… All of these are supposed to make our selves happier.

But the end goal of self-help, as I see it, is other-help, which is, after all, the key to fulfillment. Self improvement can pave the way to living a more virtuous life, but we have to strap on our packs and walk down the path of righteousness for it to count. We should be continually striving to improve ourselves, and at the same time striving to make the world better for others – each of us has to find that balance.

Anybody can choose virtue, but it’s a lot easier for guys like me who dine on a cornucopia of fortune and privilege. If you’ve been around the Cottage much, you know I’m fond of the saying “From each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s need.” The fact is, my good fortune has afforded me the ability to do more for others.

So, in addition to self-improvement qua golfing, what have I done for others? Before my recent semi-retirement, my primary source of income was from painting houses. That created value, in the sense that it improved the structural and aesthetic condition of neighborhoods. Still, I would say that my wife, a public school teacher, is creating a lot more value for society.

In 2017 I had the luxury of doing less painting: according to my spreadsheet, I spent 16.5 hours painting, mostly for a neighbor. With my newfound free time, I had more time to devote to other projects, many of which I hope inched me up the aforementioned totem pole. I spent over 400 hours working on various art, video, photography, and writing projects (including this blog).4 In addition, I worked for 42 hours with my dad on The Cooperative Society Project, aimed at assessing (and facilitating) a global shift to a less conflict-oriented, more cooperation-oriented society. I put in over 50 hours experimenting with and promoting entomophagy. I added another 50 or so hours of volunteering on a project to improve our community. And I put in over 60 hours helping to coach my son’s soccer team.

So, while I golfed more in 2017 than I did in 2014, I think I also spent more time on projects that make the world a better place.

There’s a probably-not-so-funny idiom whereby the spouses of golfers are called golf widows. I know guys who neglect their families in favor of hitting the links. There are times when I probably should do something with the family in lieu of golfing. But, thanks to my flexible schedule, most of my golf time is when the kids are at school and my wife is at work. I feel like more golf has not translated into less family time – in fact, although I don’t have this on my spreadsheet, I think I spend more quality time with my family now than I did a few years ago (I’ll see if my wife can corroborate this).

So, everything is perfect and great with my golfing. It’s all good, and I should probably golf more. I am virtuous and magnanimous and all that. I rest my case.

The Verdict


I’m guilty because I haven’t really found the balance yet between leisure time that benefits my self and projects that benefit others. In fact, that balance is shifting: as I have more time and means (ability) to do more, I should be re-thinking what my responsibility is to give back.

I’m guilty because, even though I devote more time to projects that are supposed to benefit others, those projects could be more effective. If you write a blog, paint a picture, write a book, and nobody’s there to read/see it, does it have meaning, or is it the sound of one hand clapping?

I’m guilty because I could be a better empathizer, listener, advocate. I could be a better husband, father, friend.

I’m guilty, but rather than saying some Hail Marys, I’ll try a different approach – there are concrete steps I can take to adjust my focus. Forgiveness is easier if the forgiven is trying to improve.5

The 10-40 Plan

Peter Singer, in his book “The Life You Can Save,” proposes the Formula, wherein people donate 5% of gross income to charity, reduce their environmental footprint by 10% each year until they can go no further, give 5% of their time to their community, and take democratic political action at least 10 times a year.

Since I don’t have much income these days, and my wife is half time, I have a different idea. Most of our wealth is in the form of equity. I’ve set up our finances in a spreadsheet that allows me to get a decent idea of how that wealth has grown throughout the year. My idea is to donate 10% of our increase in wealth each year, so if our nest egg increases by $50,000, we will give away $5000. As time goes on, if we feel more comfortable in our retirement, we will increase this amount.

Part of effective giving is giving to effective causes. The Life You Can Save website has vetted a number of these organizations, so that’s a good start. But we’ll also donate to local causes, certain environmental groups, politicians who are fighting for a better world, and to friends who are working on worthy projects.

Regarding my time, I’d like to spend about 40% of my work/project time on causes that are making a positive change. This is a pretty nebulous concept, so I’ll just have to make that determination myself, but it could include volunteer work, activism,6 research, writing, video, or art (but not golf). Over time, I hope to devote more time to these types of projects – the idea being to incrementally shift the 10-40 plan into something like the 75-75 plan.

In my non-project life, I will continue to work on spending more quality time with my family (and actually, part of doing this may be getting my family more involved in some of my projects). I also need to improve my empathizing, listening, and just being more present with friends, family, and colleagues. And my family and I will endeavor to reduce our environmental impact through more efficiency, less gas-powered driving, less meat eating, and using renewable electricity – and offset the rest via carbon offsets.

Conundrum Solved?

So where does that leave golf? Well, I plan to continue golfing, and maybe even intensify some aspects of my game.7 But I’m also going to temper how much I play at expensive courses and how much I travel for the sole purpose of golf. I hope to play the fancy new Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin this summer, for example, but it will be in conjunction with a family vacation.

If I were a better man, I would forgo my health and happiness to devote all my time to helping others, but I don’t know how long I would last. Many people, of course, do just this, and they are the true heroes of the world. They are the wise, soaring owls at the top of the totem pole.

Cretaceous Copulation and Primate Promiscuity

Ah, it has been a long time since I’ve had occasion to write a post. I’m still plugging away on the fun but time-consuming 125-year-old house remodel – almost done with the interior, and it’s rented beginning in March. We’re already well into 2016, yet I feel like the year has barely begun. There are so many projects piling up that I want to get to. One is getting back to the blog. So many serious and important matters to attend to. But first there’s this:

Jason Dunlop/MfN Berlin

Jason Dunlop/MfN Berlin

Coitus Interruptus on Cretaceous Copulation
Harvestmen, colloquially called daddy longlegs, normally keep their penises tucked inside, a bane for arachnologists, who use penises to help identify harvestmen species. But 99 million years ago, some harvestmen were about to do the nasty when a dollop of sap produced a permanent cockblock, perfectly preserving the perpetrator’s penis in perpetuity. Based partially on this dude’s junk, researchers have placed these harvestmen in a new, extinct family. And now we have a dual meaning for the term daddy longlegs.

Primate Promiscuity
Modern humans evolved about 200,000 years ago and occasionally got busy doing it with other hominins, who were busy doing it with other hominins. Which makes our whole human lineage fairly complicated. Europeans and Asians have about 1-3% neanderthal genes, from hooking up about 50,000-65,000 years ago. Some Neanderthals, though, had also hooked up with a group of modern humans that left Africa 100,000 years ago and later died out. To complicate matters further, another group of archaic humans, the Denisovans, were hooking up with modern humans, Neanderthals, and even Homo erectus. With newer, faster DNA-sequencing techniques, the muddy, braided stream that is modern human evolution will become clearer and clearer.

Primate Proficiency
I used to be a decent dart player. In the early days of dating my now-wife, we would hit the bars on State Street in Madison and occasionally destroy some overconfident frat boys at cricket. When I was in the zone, I could aim for the individual hole at the center of the double bullseye – not that I would always hit it, but I did manage to pull out a six-bull round every so often. When I was focused, the bullseye became a bigger target. As it turns out, I was probably perceiving the bullseye as bigger than it was. A series of studies has shown that how we perceive the world is affected by our physical traits and abilities. So a softball seems bigger to a good hitter, a field goal seems smaller to a crappy kicker, wearing a heavy backpack makes hills seem steeper, and distances seem farther to obese people. Evolutionarily, you can see why seeing a bigger target would be a good trait. Now, if I could only make that golf hole look like the size of a dinner plate.


Intentional Encumbrance

scottish bridgeThe last time I wrote a post, I was getting ready to embark on an 11-day trip to Scotland to film a movie with my brother and a friend. As it turns out, shooting a feature-length film in 11 days in a foreign land is challenging. But it was also an incredible experience, which I’ll document in greater detail in a future post. Now we can look forward to months of post-production – hopefully we’ll have a viewable film sometime in 2016.

Meanwhile, back in Longmont, the casket and painting businesses, along with a plethora of other projects and ventures, have kept me busy. At the moment, I feel like I’ve got a few too many plates spinning, on top of all those irons that are overheating in the fire – maybe I can’t see because of the various hats adorning my noggin.

Here’s a synopsis of some of the projects and endeavors I’ve been involved with:

  • I sold a rental condo in Fort Collins in July. To complete a 1031 exchange, I had to have a new property picked out by mid-August. A week before the deadline, I found this place:
    atwoodAfter years of neglect, this old house (built in 1890) needs a fair amount of work. The original plan was to do a bit of cosmetic fixing up, but that quickly evolved into rewiring the whole house, replacing the furnace and adding new ducting,* redoing the bathrooms and kitchen, and ripping out a few walls – and that’s just the inside. So it looks like I’ll be busy with this for a few months. I love the place, and I hope to document some of the changes we’re making in a future post.
  • Along with a couple high school friends, I started a t-shirt biz, Cheesy or Die. We’re still in the throes of working on designs, tightening up the website, finding the correct platform for selling our schwag, marketing, and hopefully ensuring we don’t get sued or end up in jail for copyright infringement or slander or counterfeiting.**
  • A year ago, I wrote a post about practicing unhygiene, in which I posited the idea that I might spend some time taking dirt showers. Well, I did just that for a week in September, much to my wife’s chagrin.*** dirt showerAnd, to stamp some officialdom on this project, I took DNA samples of the microbiota of my pits before and after the dirt showers, as well as of the dirt I used – results will be forthcoming in the next year or so (they’re a bit backed up at the gut microbiota lab – speaking of which, my gut microbiota results are in (future post)). Preliminary results: I didn’t stink too much, my hair didn’t get greasy, I didn’t die of some strange amoebic infection or leishmaniasis.
  • In addition to those fun projects and the painting and casket businesses, my old knees are well enough that I’ve begun playing indoor soccer again, as well as helping to coach my son’s team. I’m also working to keep my cricket and mealworm farms alive in the basement for future consumption, and I’m still selling occasional Simple Brew Kits (in fact, I have to get one shipped this morning). Even the old greeting card business brought in an order for 500 cards this week.
  • In addition to this blog and post-production work on the film, I’ve had to move a few other projects to the back burner. I was hoping to get my golf game closer to bogey golf by the end of the year. Well, I haven’t been able to get out very much, and it showed when I busted out something around the mid-100s at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin last weekend (I did a little better at a much easier course in Green Bay). So next year is the year I shoot for bogey golf. I had also hoped to achieve the fairly modest goal of benching 225 by the end of the year. I’m still going to give it a rip, but considering that I haven’t lifted since pre-Scotland, it could be a dicey proposition. Maybe I need to bring the weight bench to the remodel project.

To a certain degree, I’ve fallen victim to one of the pitfalls of eclecticism: the triage protocol is in effect, and this blog was one of the casualties (but maybe a few pounds on the chest can get its heart ticking again).**** I like being busy, but when one suddenly realizes one has forgotten to breathe for a while, one may need to slow it down a bit. Eclectics have a tendency to intentionally encumber ourselves, but it’s important to find some balance in how many projects we take on. Yes, this is absolutely a Rich Person Problem – I’m grateful that I have all these opportunities available to me.

Still, I’d like to have less plates spinning next year. I’d like 2016 to be the year of the rose, where I’ll have enough time to smell those proverbial flowers. Of course, too much time among the flowers can have an opiate effect; there’s still shit to be done, hopefully just less of it. Maybe 2016 can be the year of the rose, and some shit. In 2016, I can tie up some loose ends on the homefront, smell the roses, finish the film project, smell some more roses, write more posts, roses, focus on a few art projects, roses, think a little more globally, and of course spend more time with my family.*****


*None of the bedrooms have heat – apparently back in the old days, people shivered themselves to sleep.

**Part of our marketing strategy involved getting a group of Madison East Class of 90 brothers to join us at Lambeau to watch the Packers take on the Rams – we enlisted our fellow Purgolders (yes, I know, it was a pretty lame mascot) to wear our shirts and make it rain by passing out Packer Bucks:
Packer Buck




***I think I’m going to make a post category called “Much To My Wife’s Chagrin.” Then again, pretty much every post would be in it.

****In fact, the blog has been in an induced coma. I’ve still been feeding it new info for future posts – it just hasn’t had any outward signs of life.

*****Speaking of family, it turns out my daughter is a burgeoning eclectic herself. She has projects scattered about the house. And she even wanted to build a playhouse the other day – I told her she couldn’t even put the damn tent together (she left it strewn across the basement for me to clean up), so she’s got some work to do before she’s ready to start building a playhouse. I did teach her how to use the dremel, though, and she’s been busy carving things in wood. She is currently clandestinely filming me writing this post.

More Tracking

wearing many hats

This was my camping/fishing/hiking 14ers hat – I lost it and I want a new one

As an eclectic, I wear many hats. So I’ve found it useful to keep track of how much time I put into my many projects in a spreadsheet. Some of these projects make me money and some don’t. It’s nice to have an idea of whether I might be devoting too much time, or not enough, to certain projects, especially if we need a little more dough; in which case, it might behoove me to pick up a painting job for a friend or put a little more into the advertising coffers of the coffin biz.

In 2014 I put about 1400 hours into my tracked projects. Broken down by months, I worked the most in September and June (bracketing my vacation-laden summer). I worked the least in January and February (it was cold). More than half my project time was fairly equally divided among painting (= money), casketry (= money), golf* (= spending money), and, wait for it, Poppa’s Cottage (= no money), all at 250-270 hours. Next up, at around 150 hours, was the new addition to my business portfolio, Simple Brew Kits, a business I started in one day** that didn’t get much action until someone promoted it. Next up, at about 100 hours, was property management of my rental properties (these happen to be my primary source of income at this point). I had about 50 hours putting the finishing touches on the addition to my own home. And rounding things out, I put about 25 hours into wrapping things up with an electric vehicle business (my old business partner, Paul, continues to provide excellent hybrid service), 25 hours into art and photography, 23 hours finishing and getting a research paper published,*** and a mere 7.25 hours on my mostly-dormant greeting card company, Recycled Greeting Cards.

The 2015 spreadsheet is coming along nicely, with a few new businesses and projects in the works. You can download the project spreadsheet here, and of course populate it with your own projects.


*I’m tracking this because I want to see how much time I have to put in before I get decent (say, 10-12 handicap – it’s going to be awhile, I’ll get back to you). This was partly inspired by The Dan Plan, partly to disprove the 10,000 hours maxim (I may need 20,000), partly to do something to stay in shape now that my old body can’t take much soccer, but mostly so I don’t look like a complete a-hole when I join my high school buddies for golf on our annual pilgrimage to watch the Packers at Lambeau. And, yes, I’m tracking my golf progress in yet another spreadsheet, which I may share some day if it’s not too embarrassing.

**Post forthcoming.

***More on this in a future post. Entomophagy, or insect eating, will play an increasing role in our food production as we strive to feed 9 billion people in a sustainable way.

Check Yourself

good mood

I’m outside, I’m with my brother, I’m drinking booze, it’s evening: I must be Happy!

2014 was the year of self-tracking for me. I created a mood tracking spreadsheet (download it for free), to which I also added my data from MyFitnessPal. Now the results are in, and what they reveal will shock you (not so much).

The primary purpose of building my mood tracking contraption was to see which variables in my life have the largest effect on my mood, happiness, energy, creativity, stress, grumpiness, day-to-day satisfaction, and life satisfaction (we’ll call these the affects, in the psychological sense). Some of the variables I looked at were food, booze, sleep, activity, time outside, weather, season, money stress, and family time.

There was a time when I used to be able to do some simple statistical analyses, but those days are (thankfully) gone.* So in this case, I plotted some of my variables versus certain affects and looked at the trendlines for simple correlations.

Happiness, day-to-day satisfaction, and mood were strongly correlated, possibly because I didn’t do a very good job of distinguishing between them. Thus, the results were similar for all three, so I lumped them together under “mood” below. Note that all results are correlations, so the variables aren’t necessarily causal – although they could be.

  • my mood (and happiness and day-to-day satisfaction) gets slightly worse the more I weigh (I fluctuated from the low 160s to the low 180s), with more tv, and with more driving
  • my mood is worse with more sleep and more stress (go figure)
  • my mood is not changed with strength training, on vacation, and with different forms of work
  • my mood improves slightly with more family time, new activities, and more booze
  • my mood improves with more cardio exercise, golf, more time outside, and more food
  • my mood gets better as the day goes on
  • my mood is best in the spring and fall, and worst in the winter
  • my creativity decreases with booze, time spent outside, more driving time, and more tv time
  • my creativity increases slightly with more sleep and more calories
  • I’m most creative in the winter
  • I have slightly less energy with more calories
  • I have less energy the more I weigh and the more tv I watch (or, more likely, I watch more tv when I have less energy)
  • I have more energy in the spring and fall
  • I had 10 moments of feeling bliss/euphoria over the course of the year
  • My life satisfaction was very steady

The design of my mood tracking spreadsheet is pretty rudimentary, and there are endless areas for improvement (go ahead and add your own tweaks to make it better, and share it with the group). Nonetheless, it was a good tool for me to learn more about how I operate.

Over the years, in conjunction with less valleys, the peaks in my mood aren’t as lofty, kind of like an attenuating sine wave:

attenuating sine wave





Maybe in exchange for more stability, one sacrifices the intensity of one’s moods, both on the down- and upsides. Maybe in my more volatile days I felt a greater sense of relief after being in those deeper valleys, resulting in a more intense joy and excitement about having left the valley.

So what did I learn from The Year of Tracking?

  1. Tracking oneself is onerous. Overmonitoring and spending too much time trying to be perfect can also cause stress. It’s been a few months since I stopped tracking stuff, and now that I’m just L-I-V-I-N,** I generally feel more relaxed and, well, happy – albeit fatter…
  2. Tracking my food intake does help me lose weight. Tracking can help one be more disciplined.
  3. Tracking teaches one certain things that can be carried beyond tracking. Because I’m more attuned to many of the variables that affect my mood, I probably do a better job now of avoiding negative actions and doing more positive things (without obsessing about them).
  4. Overmonitoring oneself and obsessing about one’s every action can be somewhat self-centered. Worrying about tiny fluctuations in one’s mood is a Rich Person Problem. Self-improvement is fine, as long as it’s a vehicle for virtue.
  5. Stress can be a good thing. Some of the day-to-day stress I experience (solving a difficult work problem, putting in a physically exhausting day, cleaning roots and shit out of a tenant’s backed up sewer, writing a time-consuming post) leads to highly rewarding feelings (and higher peaks on the old sine curve).
  6. Although not having enough food or sleep affects my mood, stressors like money, conflict, and other real-life issues ultimately have a more pronounced and lasting impact on my mood.***

In fact, a 2010 paper by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton indicates that the less one’s household income is, below about $75,000/year, the more money stress exacerbates other issues, and affects one’s happiness (or emotional well-being, as the authors call it). Above the $75,000 threshold, people generally don’t experience greater happiness. But people’s life evaluation (similar to what I call life satisfaction here and fulfillment in other posts), continues to rise with household incomes above $75,000. Certainly this varies with different circumstances in different households, but it’s an indication that money woes may be one of the primary issues affecting people’s happiness.

So it’s as simple as making $75,000 a year to be happy, right? Or maybe it’s about learning to live a more frugal and less consumer lifestyle to avoid the stress associated with living on less than $75,000 (this guy did it on $7000 a year). Probably it’s some of both: paying people a living wage while simultaneously working toward a less consumerist society.

Beyond the obvious stresses associated with money, doing a little tracking to figure out which variables most affect your mood can be a growth exercise. Download the spreadsheet, tweak it to fit your needs, and let us know what you come up with.


*If there’s somebody out there who loves to play around with SAS and wants to do a real analysis of my data, let me know.

**This is Wooderson’s sage advice, coming from a twentysomething-year-old guy who still hangs out with high schoolers (“I get older, they stay the same age”). If the sequel to Dazed and ConfusedDallas Buyers Club, is any indication, Wooderson’s advice didn’t pan out too well (Leto’s really good as Slater, though).

***And of course genetics plays a role in our moods, too.

2015 Resolutions

Poppa's Basement

Basement Before: A 2015 Project

For eclectics, the new year is generally an uplifting time. It’s an excuse to take stock of one’s life and reset the switch. Eclectics revel in change and new things, so a whole new year holds a lot of promise and potential energy. Many of us use the new year to resolve to make certain things better in our lives.

For over a decade, in addition to more serious initiatives, I’ve been setting at least one quirky New Year Goal for myself, often but not always fitness related. Although somewhat frivolous on the surface, most of these goals serve a broader function of teaching me something new or improving my overall health. I spend most of the year not doing anything about the goal, until I realize it’s crunch time, whereupon a quixotic series of events unfolds as I try to realize my goal. The result, in most cases, is that I succeed in reaching some semblance of my original goal, albeit in quarter-assed fashion.

Here are a few of my more memorable endeavors:

1999 – This may have been my very first quixotic resolution. The goal was to run up Boulder Canyon from Boulder to Nederland. I was a somewhat spry 27-year-old then and I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t just jog as far as I wanted. This is about a 16 mile route, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain. The average Boulderite does this run a couple times a day, with a backpack full of rocks, but I’m not really a runner.

On about December 20, 1999, it dawned on me that I should probably start training for my goal. I happened to be on a cruise ship in the Caribbean with my extended family. In between hanging out with the family, beers, blackjack, and mousse-filled chocolate tulips, I was able to get a mile or so in on the top deck track. I had a few days to go when we arrived back in Colorado.

On December 31, my cousin Jacob (who had also been on the cruise) and I set out to do our run. We had revised the plan, opting instead to jog up Lefthand Canyon from the Greenbriar restaurant to Ward. Boulder Canyon was too busy, and the new route, while about the same distance, would actually add 1000 feet in elevation gain. About two miles in I remembered that my IT band would really tighten up when I was road jogging – we were moving along at the tortoise-like pace of 12-minute miles. By about mile ten, the IT band was screaming at me and I had to walk. Jacob, meanwhile, was like a little puppy, running up ahead and then running back to check on me (he peed a little bit when I scratched behind his ears). For the next six or so miles, we walked, with occasional short stretches of jogging. When we came around the corner and saw that first abandoned vehicle on the side of the road, we knew Ward was at hand – this could be the first time anybody’s felt such relief at arriving in Ward. Result: Mission (Kind Of) Accomplished

2000 – As a kid in Madison, Wisconsin, we lived near the Eagles Club, which had an old bowling alley. My dad would take us there occasionally. In high school I continued to bowl a few times a year – I never got very good, but I probably averaged in the 150s, with a high score in the 180s. After high school I bowled about once a year on average. In 2000, my goal was to bowl over 200.

I bowled a few times during the year (without coming close to a 200), but it wasn’t until I returned to Madison for the holidays that I got serious. A few days before Christmas, I went out with some friends and bowled a few games but couldn’t break 200. So after Christmas, I enlisted my brother Zac to join me and we drove out to the fancy new Bowl-A-Vard. I was putting strikes together and finishing spares, but I’d end up leaving a crucial pin standing in some of the middle frames. Five games in and I was getting a little discouraged, but I felt like I was still dialing it in. Zac, being a good sport, acquiesced to playing a sixth game. I didn’t put together a lot of strikes, but I think I only left one or two pins standing that game, to finish with a 208. Result: Success

(Zac bowled over 200 a few weeks later.)

2002 – What would you do if you were stuck in the cold in the wild without any matches? I would simply make a little bow and start my own fire.* In 2002, I decided it was important to learn this critical skill. In keeping with my usual procrastinatory schedule, I set out to accomplish my goal on December 31. Once again I was in Madison for the holidays, and once again I enlisted Zac to help me out (he already knew how to do this). With my wife reluctantly in tow, we found a hardware store that was still open and bought the necessary ingredients (I know, there generally aren’t hardware stores available when you’re lost in the wild).

It was cold outside, so we went down to Zac’s basement. I made a little bow with some string and a dowel, whittled a wispy pile of shavings, looped the string around another dowel, and used the bow to spin it back and forth on another piece of wood. Within minutes, voilà… well, nothing really, except a few puffs of smoke. Twenty minutes later, my wife migrated upstairs. Another fifteen minutes and Zac decided to head up, leaving me with a few words of encouragement. Sometime in the next hour or so I saw the light – literally, as a small flame burst forth from our little pile of shavings. I let it go long enough to smoke up the basement and probably alarm the neighbors, doused it, and walked triumphantly upstairs. As silly as my attempt at this goal was, there’s something viscerally enlightening about making fire. Result: Pseudosuccess

2013 – Somewhere in the last decade I may have gained a little more discipline. I had been kind of working out for a couple years, and had gone from one to two pull ups to over ten. In 2013, I resolved to do 20 pull ups. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to magically do 20 pull ups on December 31, so in addition to my irregular workout schedule, I began dieting and doing extra pull up sessions sometime in the fall. I figured that less weight around my belly would make it easier to do more pull ups, and I ended up dropping about 15 pounds in three months.

In the last couple weeks before the new year, I started working on max reps. Sixteen, then 17, then, I realized, it wasn’t going to happen. So, in keeping with tradition, I revised my goal to make it more accessible. I would now shoot for 20 chin ups, which are easier for me. On December 29, with considerable expenditure, I did 18-and-maybe-a-half chin ups. The cost was that I couldn’t attempt it again that day, and I decided to take the next day off, too, to give myself the best chance. On December 31 (again), I woke up in the morning, skipped breakfast (excess weight), stripped to my underwear (maybe I should’ve taken that off, too), and proceeded, with superhuman effort, to get 19 1/2 chin ups – I couldn’t even hold the bar at the end, try as I might. That was it, I had failed, but I immediately began equivocating – I had given it the old college try.

Then a New Year’s Eve miracle occurred. I had just settled down to a long winter’s nap, when inside my brain I felt a thunderous clap. So I sprang from my chair with a flash, and jumped on the pull up bar with a crash. Up and down I went, 20 times, and one more for good measure – 21 chin ups. Did I cheat a little by not fully extending on a few of those, and by kicking my knees up on the last five or so? Yes, yes I did. Result: Failure (but it felt pretty good)

Last year I had a pretty wimpy handstand goal that I sort of achieved (on December 31, of course), as well as a golf goal that I didn’t quite meet. In 2015, my fitness-y goals are to bench 225, get my golf handicap to 15, and, more vaguely, limit the amount of junk I ingest or imbibe (I know, these are kind of boring compared to some of my previous goals – maybe I should try to rip a license plate in half or pull a Boeing 747 with my teeth). Artistically, I plan to make a movie with Zac in Scotland, I have an illustrated book I want to finish and self-publish, and I’d like to be able to play the first part of Fur Elise on the keyboard with some semblance of competence (now this is a quixotic goal, since my musical ability is nil). Vocationally, I hope to increase sales for a couple of my businesses and start a new business with a couple friends. On the home front, I plan to dig out part of our basement and make it into a fitness area/mad science lab (video forthcoming), and I want to grow some good veggies. Acting locally, I want to do more exciting projects with my wife, kids, family, friends, and community. Thinking globally, I want to follow up on some work I’ve done looking at hunger and get more involved in climate change mitigation efforts.

I’ll give you a full report in a year. What are your 2015 goals?


*Actually I’d probably die of hypothermia in a Jack Londonesque comedy of errors.



Sugar: The New Yayo

sugar mountain

First, you get the sugar…

Robert Lustig has been espousing the view for years that sugar is the new cocaine. I’ve only done cocaine once, and I can safely say that it had a little bit more of an effect on me than sugar does. But the cumulative effects of all the sugar inundating our society are no doubt more harmful than the fringe effects of cocaine. I once wrote a play wherein sugar had been outlawed and the results were similarly nightmarish to our current war on drugs.*

According to Lustig, sugar is addictive, and it changes your physiology so that you crave it more. Simply put, when you eat sugar you raise your insulin levels, and when you have too much insulin in your system it blocks the leptin signal that allows you to effectively regulate body fat. When fat became the bogeyman associated with obesity, fat was often replaced in processed foods with sugars (or simple carbs), and, bingo bango, we all started getting even fatter. In the U.S., per capita fructose consumption has doubled in the past 30 years. Lustig doesn’t advocate banning sugar outright, but he believes we should institute more policies that dissuade its consumption.

Right there with Lustig, the researchers James DiNicolantonio and Sean Lucan, in a recent NY Times article, summarize their findings that sugar is physically addictive. Sugar, they say, contributes to cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease.** They prescribe, somewhat tamely, that what we ought to do is promote the consumption of more whole foods.***

Sugar is a scourge. And sugar is delicious. The other night, I ate about six peanut butter blossom cookies, three turtles, two pretzel turtles, a handful of Chex puppy chow, and a few chocolate covered pecans (and a partridge in a pear tree). The next day I felt a little sluggish, but this kind of excess is rare for me these days. In high school, I would think nothing of downing a family-size bag of M&Ms along with a Big Gulp of a Coke/Lemonade mixture (this may have had something to do with how much Clearasil I went through). Soda is an insane substance – one can of soda may have more sugar than our ancestors used to consume in a whole year. I almost never drink soda (or even juice) these days. And, especially following my experiments with low-carb diets, I eat a lot less sugar (and simple carbs) in general, and the results have been pretty good.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that a low glycemic diet is the way to go if you want to be healthier – and that includes a hell of a lot less sugar than we’ve grown accustomed to. The moral of the story: sure you had a tiger and a hot tub with a tv and you married Michelle Pfeiffer, and it was good for a while, but if you don’t want to kill your best friend and go out in a hail of gunfire, quit huffing that mountain of white powder society keeps putting on your desk. All you have in this world is your health and your word – don’t break ’em for nobody. The world is yours, meng, you are the boss. Who do you trust? You, that’s who.


Incidentally, it being New Year’s Eve and all, I’m going to perpetrate some Dionysian excess tonight, which, in addition to a fair amount of imbibing, will almost certainly involve lots of sugar intake. I’m a firm believer in punctuated equilibrium (a.k.a. occasional gluttony). I will, however, stay far away from both kinds of coke.

*I sent a query to Harper’s Magazine about publishing my play, and I received a snobby response from a pimply-faced, Ivy League intern about how Harper’s wouldn’t deign to publish such a silly thing as a satirical play – a few issues later, they published a satirical play (admittedly, one much better than mine).

**Much of that falls under what my college adviser called the O-test, for obvious.

***As with many grotesques, the sugar-is-the-source-of-all-ills crusaders may not have the whole story. Our good friend Martin Blaser argues that the high-carb, low-fat diet we’ve been on for the past 40-some years doesn’t fully explain the obesity epidemic – for that, he explains, we need to look at how we’ve changed our gut microbiota as well. Say hello to your little friends.

Five Ways to Improve the World Cup

Back in the heady summer of 2002, I spent many late nights and early mornings chasing World Cup soccer games around Boulder County – the Cup was in South Korea and Japan that year. I found games at beerless bars and at various friends’ houses. I joined a gaggle of bleary-eyed soccer fans at a bar in south Boulder to watch the U.S. defeat Mexico in the knockout stage. In the next round, at a friend’s house, we watched as the U.S. outplayed Germany but lost 1-0. What might’ve been the equalizing goal on a U.S. header was saved with a hand ball by a German defender, but the ref didn’t see it.

In 2006, the U.S. didn’t make it out of the Group Stage. Ghana was awarded a penalty kick on a phantom foul that gave them a 2-1 victory (the U.S. would’ve needed a win to advance). In the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal, the U.S. withstood a bogus red card and penalty, and excessive time-wasting at the end of extra time by Brazil, to force a shootout, which the U.S. won.

I root for the U.S. teams, so I have retained some bitterness about the aforementioned transgressions, but U.S. teams aren’t particularly aggrieved by bad calls. Perhaps the most infamous no-call involved Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in which he punched the ball into the goal in the 1986 World Cup, giving Argentina a 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinal.* In the current World Cup, the Netherlands were awarded a penalty kick on a ticky-tack call against the great Mexican sweeper Rafael Marquez in stoppage time, which knocked Mexico out of the tournament.

None of this is to say that soccer referees are necessarily bad at what they do. It’s just inevitable that one person (or three if you count the linesmen) is going to miss things. The goal is to encourage the beauty and diminish the ugliness of the beautiful game. Diving, wasting time, feigning injury, and even shootouts take away from the spirit of the game. As good as it is, the World Cup could be better. Here are my proposals.**

1. Institute Instant Replay: Follow the lead of the NFL and allow up to three coach’s challenges per game. If a coach gets his first two challenges correct, he is awarded a third challenge. Potential scoring plays, fouls, and cards could all be challenged. In soccer, perhaps more than any other sport, one score has enormous implications. Beginning with the 2014 World Cup, FIFA instituted goal-line technology to definitively indicate whether or not a goal has been scored. That’s a huge improvement – why leave this up to the fallibility of humans when we can now tell within millimeters whether the ball has fully crossed the line? A red card, a dive, a penalty kick, or a missed call can have similarly dire consequences for a team – why not ensure that these are accurately called? With a coach’s challenge, the outcomes of the above games may have been quite different. Some may say that having coach’s challenges will impede the flow of the game; a challenge could have a limit of one minute, hardly much time out of the already-large amount of stoppage that occurs in games (see #4 below).

2. Discourage Dives: Nobody likes dives (or “simulations” as FIFA calls them) – when players, often comically, invent or exaggerate fouls. Even some of the worst offenders admit that diving is stupid (see Arjen Robben’s statement after the Dutch played Mexico this World Cup), but the reward is greater than the risk, so diving flourishes. One study examined 169 dives throughout European professional leagues – none of these dives resulted in punishment. Again, refs are fallible, they can’t see everything that happens. We get the benefit of slo-mo as we watch a forward who wasn’t touched go down, writhing in pain, with what seems to be an agonizing head injury.***

The simple way to discourage dives is to make the risk greater than the reward. One way to do this is to review every game and issue yellow cards to anyone who’s deemed guilty of a dive. This would add to one’s cumulative card total and result in possible missed games. A second way is through #1 above, wherein a coach is allowed to challenge whether a player was fouled – if it happens that there was a dive, that player is given a yellow and the free kick is awarded to the other team. If the dive occurs in the opposing team’s penalty area, the player is given a red card.

3. Discourage Feigned Injuries: Contrary to the American perception that soccer players are wusses (flopping around on the turf like fish on a dock at the slightest provocation), all this caterwauling and lugubriousness can actually be attributed to the same risk/reward analysis that goes into diving – we are simply animals responding to stimuli. Soccer’s current rules reward wolf-criers.

Players feign injuries for several reasons: to increase the severity of punishment during a foul, as part of a dive, to waste time, or simply to take a rest. While it’s impossible to eliminate thespianism when it comes to the post-foul stage, there are measures that can clip the wings of these erstwhile deceivers.

When it comes to exaggerating the egregiousness of a true foul, or inventing one, the post-game review with yellow cards meted out for the worst offenses should have some positive effects, as in #2. Likewise, if the coach can challenge what was in hindsight an overzealous yellow or red card, this could mitigate some of the histrionics.

Regarding the time-wasting or resting injury-feigning, FIFA could use time limits, stoppage time, and hockey-style penalties to dissuade this behavior. If a player goes down and play stops, the player has 10 seconds to get back up and resume playing. If the player can’t get up in 10 seconds, and/or the trainers have to attend to the player on the field (usually just by spraying some ostensibly magic water onto the wounded area), then the player must sit off for two minutes. All injury time should be added to stoppage time, thus rendering any time-wasting strategy moot. In addition to curbing the incidence of feigned injuries, these measures have the added benefit of revealing when a player is actually injured.

4. Codify Stoppage Time: I timed all stoppage time (all time when the ball wasn’t in actual play) in the second half of the Netherlands-Costa Rica game last week. All told, in the 45 minutes of regulation play, the ball was not in play for 20.5 of those minutes – almost half the time. In that game, the referee added five minutes of stoppage time. I’m not suggesting that every second that the ball isn’t in play should be added to stoppage, rather that there should be time limits for each type of stoppage, beyond which stoppage time accumulates. There is an average of 23 throw-ins, 12 free kicks, 6 corners, and 6 goal kicks in a half of professional soccer.

If FIFA allotted five seconds for a throw-in, 20 seconds for a free kick, 20 seconds for a corner kick, and 10 seconds for a goal kick, this would be an average of 9 minutes per half of sanctioned stoppage (additionally, penalty kicks and goals could have a set stoppage of 30 seconds). This time would not be added to stoppage time. Anything above the set time for each stoppage would be added to stoppage time. So, if a team takes 8 seconds for a throw-in, 3 seconds would be added to stoppage time. Any injury time or substitution time above the set time for the stoppage that may have precipitated the injury or substitution would be added to stoppage time. So if a player is fouled, the team is awarded a free kick, and after 20 seconds runs off the clock, if the player is still being attended to for another 33 seconds before the free kick is taken, that 33 seconds is added to stoppage time (and the player has to go take a two-minute break, according to #3 above).

Each game should have an official timekeeper that tracks all stoppage time, thus relieving the head ref of a burdensome responsibility. Once stoppage time is determined (to the second), a countdown clock would be initiated, which would automatically stop for additional periods of non-sanctioned stoppage. For example, if stoppage time is 5:33 at the end of the second half, a clock will begin counting down from 5:33 at 90 minutes of play, the clock will continue to run for 5 seconds for a throw-in (or 10 seconds for a goal kick, etc.), then stop until the throw-in is completed. This codification has the effect of dissuading time-wasting, which would improve the flow of the game (no reason to waste time, might as well play soccer), as well as removing subjectivity from the referee – and knowing exactly when a game will end would add some last-second excitement as players try to hit buzzer-beating shots. (It wouldn’t keep players from wasting time while the ball is in play, by, for example, dribbling to a corner flag and holding the ball, or passing back to the keeper who then keeps the ball until challenged, but at least the other team has some control over this kind of time-wasting.)

5. Eliminate Penalty Kick Shootouts: As exciting as shootouts can be, they have very little to do with which is the better team. On the other hand, if a game goes on too long, the game may not have much semblance of actual soccer as the players become more and more exhausted. Instead of 30 minutes of extra time followed immediately by a shootout, why not have overtimes with rules that make it successively easier to score? This would be more likely to lead to a win by the team with the best complete soccer skills, rather than narrowing it down to only shooting, goalkeeping, and luck.

One idea is to have three overtimes of 10 minutes each. In the first overtime, no rules change, and if at the end one team is ahead, they win (no golden goal). In the second overtime, three players are removed (coach’s choice), which should lead to more scoring opportunities. If the score is still tied, the goalies are pulled for the third overtime – a player can still remain in goal, but cannot use hands. Finally, if the game is still tied after all three overtimes, each team could have five set plays (corner kicks or free kicks outside the penalty area) with the full team (including keepers) back on the field – as with penalty shootouts, the team with the most goals out of five wins, and if it’s tied after five, it goes to the first team to score when the other team misses.

There are, of course, numerous other ways to increase the odds of scoring that could be incorporated into extra time: eliminate offside, limit the number of players allowed in their own half or in their penalty area, prohibit the goalkeeper from entering the goal box, etc. The point is to come up with the best way to break a tie that generally benefits the team with the most complete soccer skills.

I‘d like to see a few other changes, as well. Yellow and red cards are far too subjective; should arguing with the ref really have the same consequences as a dangerous foul? Half the time something that merits a card in one instance doesn’t in another. Perhaps there should be some objective review after each game to determine whether cards should or shouldn’t have been given in specific instances (of course, objectivity is the hard part). The coach’s challenge would help here, but more could be done. And a suspension for two yellow cards over five games seems excessive. Maybe there should be a suspension for two cumulative yellow cards in the Group Stage, then a clean slate for the Second Stage, with another suspension if two cumulative yellows are received in the first two games of the Second Stage.

There will always be some ambiguity and uncertainty in any sport. These measures don’t propose to end this, only to curtail it. The beautiful game is one with flow, amazing passing, ridiculous individual skills, uncanny team communication, tight marking, hard tackling, acrobatic goalkeeping, brilliant tactics, and of course, stunning shots and goals. The best team doesn’t always win in soccer,**** but they should at least have that opportunity without leaving so much to chance or cheating.


*Soon after the “Hand of God,” Maradona went on to score a real goal, one of the best of all time.

**You traditionalists out there may object to these proposed changes – then again, maybe your great-great-grandparents also objected when the forward pass became legal in the 1860’s.

***The NBA is also experiencing a scourge of ridiculous flops. Maybe they should enact some of these proposed changes themselves.

****This is another discussion altogether. Because of soccer’s low scoring, the winning team can often be the one with far less possession and scoring opportunities (as would have been the case if the U.S. had scored in stoppage time against Belgium at this World Cup). Whether this detracts from the game or adds to its excitement is another question. A boxer can take body blows for most of a fight, but one knockout punch can end it in his favor.



How Not to Drive: The Top 15 Dick Driving Moves

This is how to drive: an electric Geo Metro that I helped convert

What we should be driving: an electric Geo Metro that I helped convert

Americans drive an average of over 9000 miles a year per capita, or 25 miles per day.* I used to be closer to the national average when I had a painting company – some of the guys that worked with me even called me Sir Drivesalot. These days, because most of my work and projects are at or near my home, I’m probably closer to a third of the national average (and most of my mileage comes from road trips).

What a strange thing it is to hurtle ourselves across the land in giant tin cans going faster than any animal was meant to go. But I appreciate the freedom, the vast possibilities, that vehicles provide us with. My family will be hurtling ourselves out of Colorado, balling the jack through Nebraska and Iowa, and coasting into Wisconsin to visit friends and family in a few weeks.

Road trips can often be pleasurable experiences (kids screaming in the back notwithstanding). But most of those 9000 miles for most of us are spent slogging back and forth to work, often in miasmatic clouds of traffic. People are in a rush, people are unhappy, people are stressed, and nobody wants to be there. Our vehicles become menacing, impersonal machines that separate us from humanity. We find ourselves feeling and acting out of a baseness that rarely rears its head in more personal, face-to-face situations. Horns honking, birds flying, brights flashing, profanities erupting, and occasional fenders bending. Our Hydes come out once we enter the vehicle, leaving our Jekylls at the curb.

I spent many years finding myself enraged when I felt that people weren’t following proper driving etiquette, and righteously feeling I had to apprise the offender of his transgression. I was a traffic vigilante, but it mostly bought me lots of birds, occasional yelling, a baseball bat waving out a window, a gang sign followed by a bird, and a general increase in stress. I’ve since mellowed with age, and I’m less likely to fly off the handle. Still, I’ve accumulated a list of the Top 15 Dick Driving Moves in hopes that the perpetrators of said moves may recognize and thus repent for their actions.

Top 15 Dick Driving Moves
(In no particular order)

  1. Passing in the Merge Lane: This may be more than just a Dick Move – this could indicate that we’re dealing with an actual Asshole. For some reason, this person feels that his** business is more important than that of all the other people patiently waiting their turn. And what does he get out of it? He’s now 10 cars further up than he would have been if he had just been a nice guy (and the people in those 10 cars are hoping he crashes).
  2. Lane Weaving: Like the Merge-Lane-Passer, this guy thinks he’s more important than everybody else. He often doesn’t use his blinker as he weaves in and out of lanes, cutting people off and leaving a wake of bitter mumbling.
  3. Tailgating: A bit of a nudge (figurative, not literal) is acceptable if someone is driving slowly in the left lane. But the people who ride a car’s ass while on a two-lane road or in a line of vehicles are Incorrigible Dicks. Not only is this dangerous, it’s not going to get you there any faster. Relax, ease up on the throttle.
  4. Running a Red When Someone’s Waiting to Turn: It’s legal to finish a left turn after the light turns red, as long as you’re in the intersection before it turns red; it’s not legal to go straight through an intersection if the light turns red before you get through. If you see someone waiting to turn and the light’s yellow, stop and let them turn. You’re screwing them up, as well as the people in cross traffic who now have to wait while the intersection is cleared.
  5. Cheating at 4-Way Stop Signs: There are some subcategories here. There’s the guy that stops short when he sees you’re going to get there first – he’s a few feet short of where he’s supposed to stop, but since he stopped first, he gets to go first. Then there’s the guy that coasts through without really stopping – not a terrible thing if he was actually going to get there first and he’s just trying to keep the flow going. Most egregious is of course the guy who just doesn’t wait his turn. And, finally, there’s the guy who doesn’t let pedestrians cross – pedestrians always have the right-of-way at a 4-way stop, regardless of when they arrived.
  6. Insensitivity to Bikers and Pedestrians: Pedestrians and bikers (I’ll include bicycles as well as motorcycles here) generally don’t kill people in cars when they crash – the reverse is far more likely. When you’re in a one-ton piece of equipment, you have a responsibility not to kill or maim people with it. Watch for peds and give them some leeway. Don’t zip through residential neighborhoods, where little guys like my son are still iffy on the whole look-both-ways thing. Give bikes a nice berth when passing. Don’t hammer it around bikers, only to turn right in front of them – you really needed to make that turn one second earlier than if you had just waited for the bike? And, obviously, don’t do shit like this.***
  7. Hitching a Ride: I mean this in the sense of following a faster driver on the highway, presumably to let them get the speeding ticket. I actually did this once in my younger, more Dickish days. Unless you have a really cool lead car, most people aren’t too jubilant about you getting in their space on the open road, especially at night when constant headlights in the rearview is annoying.
  8. Driving Too Fast for the Weather: In the Colorado mountains, it’s common for people to show how manly they are by continuing to speed, even in adverse conditions. I’m all for going a little over the speed limit in regular conditions, especially on longer drives (I generally keep it at about 5 over), but guys need to tamp down the testosterone when the roads get slick or icy.
  9. Not Giving the Wave: I just let you in; it follows that you now do me the courtesy of giving me the wave, acknowledging my benevolence.
  10. Not Using Signals: Often this is the same guy as the Lane Weaver. Using your blinker while shifting lanes is like saying “Pardon me.” Not using it is like crop dusting in a crowd. But the bigger Dick Move is not using your turn signal when it’s necessary to show your intentions: “Why is this guy stopping in the middle of the road right in front of me? Oh, he’s turning into a driveway. Dick!”
  11. Environmental Dickishness: This is where Local Dickishness becomes Global Dickishness. Passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Driving less is the best move: bust out the bike or the legs, move closer to work, move work closer to you, use public transportation. When you must drive: find a car (or motorcycle) that gets 40+ mpg, get an electric vehicle or hybrid, carpool. And no matter what you drive, you can drive more efficiently: don’t warm up your car by letting it idle; don’t idle at banks, when talking with friends, while running into the post office; ease into your accelerations; pick routes that involve less starting and stopping; hypermile (without tailgating, of course). Not only do vehicle emissions contribute to climate change, they also contribute to local air pollution, leading to more early deaths than car crashes do each year. The added bonus to helping save the world by driving less (or more efficiently) is that it also saves you Money. Yes, you have the right to commute 100 miles alone each day in your F250, but that’s a big stinky fart in our global elevator.
  12. Distracted Driving: Cars are lethal weapons. Maybe we should adopt the Cooper Color Code for driving awareness. According to this code, generally used for combat awareness, White is a condition of dangerous unawareness, while Yellow is being aware of the threats around us. Most of us have become so accustomed to driving that we’re closer to the White end of the spectrum – texting, talking on the phone, spacing out, shaving, watching a movie, shaving while talking on the phone and watching a movie. We need to be closer to the Yellow condition, alert to what’s going on around us, so we’re prepared to shift into Orange (recognizing a specific and possibly imminent threat) or Red (taking action to avoid that threat).****
  13. Passivity: I’m not sure if this is really a Dick Move. It has more to do with an abundance of caution, but it can reach a level of annoyance that becomes Dickish. This is the person that won’t turn right on red, even if there are no cars, or won’t make that left turn when the light turns yellow, or drives so painfully slow that you could walk past them. Can a sweet, little old lady be a Dick? Yes, but let’s not come down too hard on them.
  14. Left-Lane Driving: This person spends much of his time in the left lane, regardless of whether he’s passing, and invariably screws up traffic by getting stuck next to a vehicle that’s going the same speed. A subcategory of this Dick Move is the guy that pulls out to pass in front of you when you’re clearly going at a faster clip. Often this has to do with a crappy sense of spatial awareness. People with good spatial awareness see the patterns of traffic: whether other vehicles are going faster or slower and how this will affect the immediate future. Good drivers adjust their speed or position in order to help, rather than hinder, the flow of traffic.
  15. Vigilantism: This was my old affliction. This involves taking matters into your own hands when you see one of the above Dick Moves being perpetrated. This can often go awry, though, resulting in an escalation of the overall Dickishness on the road. If a car cuts you off while you’re driving with your family and you feel you must correct this foolishness by driving within an inch of his bumper, honking and yelling, you have put yourself and your family in danger. A better way to assuage your vigilantic tendencies might be to write a blog post lambasting people for Dick Driving Moves.

One of the more tragicomic aspects of many of these Dick Moves is that they’re not really getting people to their destinations much faster. Because of traffic queuing algorithms, a speeding, aggressive driver will often arrive at his destination at the same time as or only slightly before the nice, relaxed drivers he so rudely harried on their way to work. Traffic lights, and even traffic itself, tend to even things out. For example, if someone drives 90 in a 55, but still ends up at the same stop lights as the guy that’s going 55, he has saved no time. If he happens to catch one or two more stop lights than the non-speeder, he’s still only one or two stop lights ahead, which is at most a few minutes on a 30-minute commute – was that worth endangering yourself and all those other people? Remember Focker trying to race DeNiro home in Meet the Parents? Likewise, traffic itself has a dampening effect on one’s speed. Lane Weaver will likely move only a few cars further up the queue by the time he arrives, sweating and angry, at his presumably awesome job.

One way that I’ve been able to attenuate my vigilantism and increase my peace of mind while driving (aside from driving less), is to recognize that most Dick Driving Moves were done more out of ignorance than malice. These people may have committed a Dick Move, but generally they’re not actual Dicks. This makes it easier to let it slide. By being nice, courteous drivers, we can reclaim some of the humanity that was lost when we stepped into our vehicles. Nobody wants to end up like this:


*This number has gone down for nine straight years now, reflecting changing demographics, the economic downturn, higher gas prices, and possibly more people working from home. And, if I can be naively optimistic, maybe it also reflects a growing awareness of our impact on climate change.

**The vast majority of Dick Drivers are men, so I’ll use the male pronoun here. Not that women are exempt – there are plenty of Dick Women Drivers, too.

***This Asshole Driver is actually from my town, Longmont. In the 15 years I’ve lived here, Longmont has become much more biker-friendly, thanks in part to Bike Night, some weekly rides organized by a friend of mine, but this guy didn’t get the memo.

****Lest we get too stressed out about how dangerous vehicles are, vehicles killed less than one-tenth as many people (~34,000) as either cigarettes or obesity-related causes in 2012 – that’s a little over one fatality per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. So maybe we should also practice a little more of the Yellow mindset when it comes to things like eating carbs.


Climbing the Totem Pole of Magnanimity



Call me crazy, but I have this theory that being a good person is a big part of what makes people happy. And that’s really what this blog is about: abolishing the pusillanimity of a wholly self-serving life and incrementally replacing it with the radiance of magnanimity (or something like that.) Magnanimity is a great word – it conjures up images of a person glowing with good-ness. This is a confident, humble, wise, fulfilled person that others tend to gravitate toward. Magnanimity is the pinnacle of goodness – it is the wisdom, strength, courage to act rightly. But it isn’t simply altruistic. With no self-serving motivations, the magnanimous person nonetheless recoups much in the form of self-esteem, even self-actualization.

Magnanimity is available to anyone, anywhere, any time to dignify their existence – with relatively little effort, you can choose to be the Wise Owl at the top of the totem pole. In other words, no matter where you are on the hierarchy of needs – trying to meet your basic needs of thirst and hunger, securing your safety, working on self-esteem – you can (and should) reach for good-ness. It’s harder to think about others when one is starving, but that may be when the highest manifestation of magnanimity is expressed.

Of course, one act of magnanimity does not a magnanimous person make. So, while it’s easy to be the Wise Owl in one instance, the goal is to string together enough of these instances in your lifetime that when people look back on you, they think of you as the Wise Owl. Most of us will have moments of weakness when we’re the Squished Frog or the Upside Down Guy at the bottom of the totem pole. We can forgive ourselves some of these moments of weakness, as long as we’re striving to be better.

This is all very platitudinous of you, Poppa, I hear you saying. Where’s the pragmatic beef? Well, here’s another platitude instead: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”* A person with nothing can still give in the form of being good to others.** A person with plenty (Bill Gates comes to mind) should give a lot (say, by starting a foundation that helps to alleviate suffering around the world). So while you may feel you’ve gotten the short end of the stick, knowing you are a good person can make it a crutch in hard times, a pole vault in better times.

We can start by being good people at home, and let it radiate out from there. Simple courtesies with one’s spouse and children and friends go a long way. We should acknowledge, listen to, empathize with, and actively help those around us. Dale Carnegie, the self-help guru, somewhat cynically employed these techniques to win friends and influence people. But, if not used disingenuously, these are simple steps in climbing the magnanimity totem pole.

Beyond achieving magnanimity toward one’s family and friends, one can become more involved with improving the community, or even with national or global causes (again, according to one’s means or abilities).

How am I doing in this department? Somewhat suckily, considering all that I’ve been given in my life. (Incidentally, though, having a couple kids has forced my hand, at least locally: I’d say that wiping other people’s butts is pretty magnanimous, depending on the context.) On the magnanimity totem pole, I may be one of the dog-like animals near the middle. One of my weaknesses has been my inability to focus on the present, which often leads to poor listening; my mind is often meandering through all the fields of possibility for my ideas and projects, which can diminish the importance of your ideas or thoughts or feelings.

To work on this problem, I’ve instituted an experiment in which I’m trying to be more conscious of listening to others, not using “I” as much in conversation, trying to be genuinely nice to others, and generally being more in the present. More globally, over the past few years I’ve had the luxury of more time to work on projects that I hope will have beneficial impacts. I’ll discuss some of these projects in more detail in future posts – some may even have some collaborative elements for anyone interested.

If you’d like some magnanimity inspiration, one hero who shot himself straight up the totem pole is Anjan Sundaram, who graduated from Yale and turned down a lucrative job at Goldman Sachs to move to the Congo so he could help bring attention to the millions of people who were dying there in an ongoing war. If we could all foster just a small fraction of Sundaram’s magnanimity, the world would be a better place.

Peter Singer encourages our magnanimous side by asking us to spend a little more time helping to alleviate poverty worldwide in his book “The Life You Can Save.” And if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of magnanimity, you can check out Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I’m slogging through that at the moment, so there may be a summary post in the near future.

Be Good,


*A phrase popularized by Karl Marx, interestingly with possible biblical origins. Ayn Rand didn’t like the idiom, so it must be good.

**This is not some don’t-worry-be-happy crap. I realize you can’t eat magnanimity if you’re starving – it is certainly lacking in some of the essential amino acids. Being a nice person doesn’t preclude working on other measures to alleviate suffering; and, lo, contrary to what Ayn Rand might think, other measures are exactly what those with more means should be working on.