You know you like statistics when…

… you contemplate the Seattle skyline from across Elliott Bay – and want to fit a line (or very gentle polynomial curve) through points suggested by tops of buildings.

The Space Needle is a meddlesome outlier!


Be like a duck

You’ve gotta walk the walk,
You’ve gotta talk the talk,
And if you wanna fly,
You gotta take to the sky.

And then there’s:

Please can I keep it!
It’s thumping its tail!
It has such a lovable whine….
Please can I keep it,
Just look at those eyes….
I think it would love to be mine.

We’ve had a few Philadelphia Chickens earworms going round and round today.

We hope you like…..

Alene mentioned yesterday that this was the soundtrack to her life for about three years while she worked at Magic Mouse Toys. It wasn’t playing all the time — but it sure seemed like it. As we remember, it once played on a repeat loop for six (or was it sixteen) consecutive days — which is probably an unbroken store record. One reason is that the CD played on a boom box that was chained to the top shelf of a display — and while it was possible to push the Play button without going for a step stool (especially with use of a stick), changing the CD did require even the tallest staff member to get the step stool — so it usually went unchanged, unless a customer requested to hear something else.

Bing bong!

As it happens, the staff rarely got tired of the Philadelphia Chickens — although six (sixteen) days eventually prompted someone to get the step stool and change the CD — only for a customer to come by about an hour later and ask to hear the Philadelphia Chickens.

It’s pajama time….

“Decolonize your mind…”

…was amongst the many thought-provoking signs at the Black Lives Matter (not Black Friday) protest in Seattle.

I’ve never attended a protest march before, but Mark has seen his fair share, usually as an onlooker, but sometimes as a participant – in London, Paris, and Berlin. And in the 1960/70s, he took part in anti-fox-hunting demonstrations in rural England. These could be particularly vicious and nasty, because aside from the animal rights considerations, there was a strong measure of class warfare combined with the clash of traditional rural and modern urban sensibilities. On top of that, demonstrators contended with opponents on horseback carrying whips, or driving Land Rovers and carrying shotguns — and dozens of excited barking dogs! And, this often took place in mud under pouring rain. Mark says it was like Glastonbury meets WTO.

It was Mark’s idea to attend the Black Friday protest. He figured we might get away with being in the same place at the same time if we were in a large enough crowd. I belong to a White Allyship group at work and wondered if anyone else might go — but Mark suggested I go alone and experience it in my own way.

Mark managed to keep a safe distance from me all day. He rode downtown on an earlier bus and kicked his heels at a coffee shop in Belltown. I ended up having coffee in Pioneer Square, at the Cherry Street Coffee House that’s actually on Cherry Street. Before heading over to Westlake Park, Mark suggested I just have a quick wander through Magic Mouse Toys — where I worked many years ago. The Philadelphia Chickens (the soundtrack to my life for three years) were playing in the book room — and the Intermission Song by Aaaardvarks brought back a flood of memories. For the day after Thanksgiving, the store was awfully subdued — and it was hard not to feel a bit sad — looking back on the mad and magic part of my life. But I would soon forget all of that and return promptly to 2015.

I’m not a good shouter. My voice is rather weak. But protests are about numbers as much as anything — and I enjoyed just being another person, another white person, in the crowd. I quickly realized how easy it is to lose your bearings and become disoriented — even on city streets that are very familiar. All the usual landmarks at ground height are hidden by people — including street signs — and you have to look at the upper parts of buildings to know where you are. No wonder a crowd is easily panicked when there’s tear gas.

“Fun” is not the right word to describe the experience. Neither is “enjoyable.” But I do remember feeling happy — not the kind of happy that’s about having a good time — but the kind of happy that’s about being glad to be where you are.

We were told that going into Macy’s (and other stores) was voluntary — we could just stay outside and make noise if we preferred. I elected to stay outside, but Mark went into Macy’s. (I was near the front of the march and he was further back.) He said it went fine, with shoppers and staff largely taking it in stride. I stayed with the march past the standoff outside Westlake Center and then the attempt to enter Pacific Place. By this time, I was feeling distinctly overstimulated — and decided to call it a day, although I continued to follow the events on Twitter. As I walked back to Third Avenue to get a bus home, I checked the time and was surprised to see how early it was still — it had been less than three hours — but had seemed a lot longer.

“Decolonize your mind” struck me as a rather apt description of what Mark and I have been struggling with. We’re not only white folks, we’re English white folks — and so we have a lot more history to drag around — and a lot of that history, we never really understood — or even knew!

When I started high school at age eleven (as we did then), my history studies began with the Norman Conquest of 1066 — and the proceeded chronologically through the Middle Ages to the Tudors and the Stuarts, arriving at the English Civil War and Cromwell by the time I was fourteen. Then we fast-forwarded to Napoleon and Waterloo — and then Peterloo and the Great Reform Bill and on to the Chartists.

And that was about all the history I learned. Nothing of British Colonialism. Nothing of the Twentieth Century. Of course, we knew about the British Empire — but to us, it was just territory on a map that once was ours — and the people who lived there were just people we once ruled — and we never questioned it growing up — because you can’t question what you don’t know about. And your vision of the world ends up being very limited by this colonial mindset.

Time to go looking for some more podcasts!

Small world

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 6.07.22 PM

Google Earth has been a godsend for Alene. Unlike me, she doesn’t travel well — and even if she did — when she has the time, she doesn’t have the money — and when she doesn’t have the time, she still doesn’t have the money. But she does have a PhD in geography — and Google Earth is the ultimate time waster for a geographer.

In Our Time History Archive listening today took us through the Byzantine Empire to the Silk Road. Ah, the very mention of the Silk Road makes us misty-eyed — even though neither of us has traveled in central Asia. The Google Earth screenshot captures the heart of the region crossed by the Silk Road and its branches — and also several little pieces of Alene’s life.

The mountains to the south of the Caspian Sea are home to Zanda, Alene’s most beloved fictional character of her own creation. To the northeast, lies the remnants of the Aral Sea. In the 1990s, as a graduate student and then a professor Alene learned and taught of the ecological disaster in the making — the disaster that has now been realized. Farther east, the Tian Shan Mountains were her favorite Google Earth destination about five years ago — and we were very disappointed that Almaty lost its bid (to Beijing!) to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. At the heart of it all is Samarkand — the very name of which suggests adventure.

“The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time” — so said James Hutton, as he contemplated the geologic formation at Siccar Point in Scotland. Alene felt it as she looked into the Grand Canyon. And we feel it as we look at maps.

Seattle was founded in 1851, when the first permanent white settlers landed at Alki. That was just yesterday. Yes, a lot as happened since then. But right now it feels like yesterday. Alene and I have spent the last few days absorbed in pre-Roman and Roman British history. And now the Silk Road beckons — and the world feels smaller in both time and space.

Yesterday evening, we each took a walk in the gale that blew into Seattle from the north. It was just after sunset. And perhaps we could have just turned in for the evening, but we were restless — and Alene had been sitting at a desk all day. And we thought of Patagonia — and all the windy walks I took with Allen. It’s spring there now. Meanwhile, Henry Worsley is crossing Antarctica alone. You can follow his progress at

Help yourself

Onward with the In Our Time History Archive!  We continue with the unapologetically English theme — but the British Isles have a very old culture and a very long history — and you can’t understand the appalling modern history without some examination of how the English came by the mindset.

Alene was busy today with iPod-friendly work — so we heard about the dissolution of the monasteries, Hadrian’s Wall, Druids, the Divine Right of Kings, the enclosures of the commons, the Magna Carta, and the Roman Occupation — somewhat in that order.

The Hadrian’s Wall episode somehow collapsed time and space for us, as we contemplated Whin Sill in Northumberland, the dramatic fault escarpment on top of which part of the wall was built. Alene had to stop what she was doing briefly to look at pictures online. There was much confusion over who exactly built this wall, with the attribution going to Hadrian in modern times. In Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People, it would appear to be Severus, who came from northern Africa — and we found ourselves contemplating the Atlas Mountains, which were formed more than 200 million years ago by the same tectonic collision which built the Appalachians (rather dear to Alene), as well as the highlands of Scotland, which brought us back to Hadrian’s Wall again.

But the account of the dissolution of the monasteries spawned an idea that we kept revisiting all day long. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries following the split from Rome. Common belief is that he had them sacked and destroyed, but that is not necessarily the case. Rather, their occupants were forced to leave, and the buildings were made non-habitable, usually just via removal of the roof — to make sure no one returned. The serious sacking and looting was actually done by local people — not by Henry’s henchmen.

The Church lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the people. God had just stood by as the monasteries were dissolved. Then the people went in and helped themselves to anything they could carry away — and again God just stood by — there were no consequences. It is said that God helps those who helps themselves — and the English got rather good at helping themselves!

Another tragedy associated with the dissolution of the monasteries is that the contents of many of the libraries were destroyed. The cultures of pre-Roman Britain had an oral tradition, which is why we rely on archaeological evidence for want of written historical accounts — and why we know so little about our original religion, Druidism. The Anglo-Saxons did have a written tradition (both Latin and Old English) — but much of it was lost in the sixteenth century.

So at the same time that the English people were losing their conscience, they also lost some connection with their early history and culture — which is too bad — because that’s a deadly combination.

Get out of the way

I swim while Alene is on the bus to work. That way, I can listen to a podcast. This morning, we were in the mood to be unapologetically British and listen to something from the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: History archive — the episode about The Celts, of which Alene can probably claim to be one, as she’s from Cornwall. She’s finally starting to tune into my surroundings as I swim — smelling the chlorine of the pool water — AND, getting a sudden shiver of cold as I get out of the water. She’s formed a picture of the layout of my studio apartment too. I’ve been living there a month now — but she’s been very busy and very distracted.

She’s finishing up her third Coursera course, and I suggested she take a break for December — and perhaps January too. We have some fun projects of our own she needs to work on. And, I’d like us to spend some quality time together, in way we haven’t in a long time.

Alene has typed — and then deleted — five paragraphs so far. It’s not that we have writer’s block. We both have plenty to say — but then we think better of it. Perhaps that is writer’s block!!

Sting was blocked once. Yes the guy from The Police. After a couple of decades of creative inspiration, he couldn’t summon a new song if his life depended on it – until he started writing about shipbuilders in Wallsend — writing in the remarkable Geordie dialect of the far northeast of England. Poetry emerged out of nowhere — and Sting now performs spoken word in his native accent. Check out his TED talk.

We need to get out of our own way too – perhaps go back to our own roots.

The world is coming unglued. Everywhere you look you can feel it. Something big and powerful is coming up fast behind us — and we have to get out of its way — and let it do what it must.

Shackleton nights

I’ve seen more than my fair share of winter this year. I went down to Patagonia in the austral autumn (April) and stayed there until July, when I went on to Australia. I visited briefly with summer in Hawaii and Vancouver — and then headed up to Nuuk, Greenland. I returned to Seattle in the middle of October — just as the stormy, rainy weather returned. And now it’s dark early — and cold a lot of the time.  But I’m back in the same city as Alene — and so I don’t care about the weather. Besides, the dark and cold of winter allow for enjoyment of one of life’s greatest pleasures — a hot beverage spiked with booze.

A chai latte is helped along with rum. A regular espresso latte benefits from Canadian whiskey. And hot chocolate likes to be paired with bourbon — although just about any liquor goes with chocolate. And Yukon Jack is pretty darned good by itself.

Alene was a bit envious of me and Allen back in the dog days of the Seattle summer, which was awfully hot at times. While she was going through five trays of ice a day, Allen and I were enjoying rum-spiked cocoa as a winter storm raged outside.

That feeling of snuggly, happy warmth as one enjoys winter treats by a fire is known by many names. In Danish it is called hygge — and I think we mentioned that in a post a few months ago.

We don’t really have a name for it in English — even though the journals of the Shackleton party suggest that the men fantasized about winter food and drink comforts constantly. So Alene and I propose naming it after him — as in, we’re having a Shackleton night in — and going to bed with a comforting warmth in the belly.