Stoicism and Seneca

Rode down to a presentation at Smithsonian about stoicism and got a practical  lesson in stoicism on the way down. I used the hourly weather prediction to get plan to ride my bike when it was not raining. About 15 minutes into my ride, it started to rain, really hard.
Stoics do not seek suffering, contrary to popular perception, but neither do they avoid it if it stands in they way of what they want. Once you get really soaked, you cannot get any wetter, so it does not matter.

The lecture at Smithsonian was about Seneca. He was an interesting case. He wrote beautifully about Stoicism, but he was one of the richest men in Rome and he worked for the very immoral Emperor Nero. It is not necessary for the person to be personally virtuous in order to preach virtue.

But I think it might go deeper than that. None of the ancient philosophers can really play in the big leagues today. They simply did not have the intellectual resources we enjoy, since they were the ones building the intellectual resources we enjoy. Ancient Stoicism did not have the moral structure that we need to go with the methods they used. It is great to practice self-control and reason, but modern readers are also looking for a moral structure. Reason is not sufficient. It must be right reason. At least that is the way I feel about it.
The lecture was good. I learned a little about the life and times of Seneca. I like him less than I did before the lecture.

My pictures show the rain on the way. It stopped when I was about a 30 minutes out, but I did not dry out. Next to the bike trail if Four Mile Creek. I took the picture at the underpass at Wilson Blvd. The creek floods there. It was filling up as I watched. I enjoyed the lecture a little less being soaked and itchy. Last picture is the lecture.

Great Day in Washington

People grumble about Washington weather and about Washington in general, but they are wrong. The weather is glorious in spring and fall. Winters are usually mild and even during hot & humid July we have some really nice days. Today was one of them and tomorrow is supposed to be too.

So it was a joy to ride my bike today to FSI and Washington. I stopped at FSI to use the State computers. FSI has lots of good attributes. One that is useful to me is that it is right near the bike trail, so I can ride there almost w/o going on streets. My trip to Brazil is almost set, and I can do most of my business on the home computer, but sometimes not. FSI is closer than HST. After that, I went down to Brookings for a program on sustainable development goals and just enjoyed being.

My first picture is from FSI. They have done a really good job and made the landscape more natural. That used to be a simple mowed hill. Nicer now. Next is the fountain at the botanical garden. I like to sit there and read my book. Next picture is looking the other direction. Picture #4 is a panorama from where I had lunch near the Reagan building. It was just a nice moment. Last is a less happy scene. Sometimes you see where somebody has locked a bike but it didn’t work the way they hoped.

Day in the Life July 6, 2018

Went to pick up my Brazilian visa in anticipation of my upcoming São Paulo adventure. Looking forward to it.
The weather was good enough (a little humid, but only a light and intermittent rain) to ride the bike to Washington. It is more rewarding than taking the Metro. I really enjoy riding the bike, but I like it better if I have a destination. Just riding from and back lacks something.

I am very happy with my “new” bike. All the moving parts are new, but the frame, handlebars and seat are the old and beat up originals. With all the scratches and lost paint, I am hoping that it is less attractive to bike thieves.

Washington has lots of nice bike trails The one on 15th Street (in the picture) is not wonderfully beautiful, but it is convenient. I can take it up to AEI or Brookings, and the Brazilian Consulate in right there in 15th. The danger is that it is a two-way trail along one side of the street. Drivers are sometimes not looking for you coming the other way. It is also dangerous coming onto Massachusetts and New Hampshire Avenues going south, since 15th becomes a one-way street going north and you cannot see the traffic light. The solution is to only cross when the walk light is with you. Next picture shows my half-new bike.

Last three pictures are from the botanical gardens. It is not really on the way, but I make it so. I am trying to get familiar with some of the wildflowers that we are encouraging on the farms. They have interesting names like rattlesnake master in the first picture and star tickseed in the second. I forgot to get the name of the one in the third picture.

Maybe Mariza is worried about not treating Boomer right. We are indeed treating him like a dog, but you can see that he is doing okay. That is a big dog.

Mariza – your mother is getting very much attached to Boomer. He knows how get what he wants.

Jury Duty

Why anybody avoids jury duty is beyond me. We finished out case today & it was a great and uplifting experience. It might have been worse with a more difficult case or a less happy outcome, but I think most of the good would have remained.

What was good?
I was inspired by my fellow citizens and by the strength of our diversity. Five of the twelve members on our jury were naturalized American citizens and for all but one of us it was the first time on a real trial. A jury like this is probably more common in Fairfax County where we have a lot of foreign born citizens and I high ratio of registered voters to accused criminals, so our chances of being called are relatively small.

You could say Fairfax is multicultural, but I think it is a step better. It is the evolving American culture that merges new ideas and new outlooks and then embraces the most appropriate. My fellow jurors from different continents and countries showed their love of democracy in its manifestation in a jury trial. I think we had a productive time and a good one. Our opinions were diverse, but we came together. Made one out of many. How would you phrase that in Latin? Maybe e pluribus unum

W/o going into too many details, our case involved an assault. In the jury selection process, the lawyer for the defense asked if anybody had been a victim of violence or had a loved one who had. When I mentioned the thugs that attacked Alex, I thought I would be excluded. But they let me stay.

The testimony was interesting but inconclusive. The Commonwealth and the defense had very different theories of the situation. I do not think that any of the witnesses were lying. Rather that their memories were reconstructed to explain a confusing sequence of events. Some things they held in common and we generally accepted that. Some things were not plausible, and others would have been physically impossible. We all used our best judgement.

I am not sure when I decided that the defendant was not guilty, and I am not sure precisely why. I tried to be objective, but it is hard not to bring in personal feelings. I think maybe the defense lawyer made a good choice of keeping me on the jury after I explained about Alex. I could compare the extent of the purported injuries.

We decided on not guilty. We were not sure what happened in the event, but we were sure that we could not be sure, which meant that we had reasonable doubt. I think we made the right decision from the point of view of justice done.

Serving on a jury is a good experience for the jurors. You get a better idea of how justice is done, and you get to participate.

It is very hard to convict someone because of the presumption of innocent and the reasonable doubt requirement. I just did not think that the Commonwealth proved its case. The defense did not need to prove theirs, but they put on a good rebuttal. I thought that the defense would have won even with the lower standard of preponderance of the evidence, so I have no trouble whatever voting for not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Biking on the Gerry Connolly trail
It was a good couple days. I enjoyed it and learned a few things. Weather was good, so I could ride my bike to the courthouse. Riding the bike makes almost any destination better. I discovered a previously unknown to me bike trail, the Jerry Connolly trail, that starts on Picket Road and goes to Old Lee Highway. You can ride on designated bike paths, sometimes on sidewalks, all along Old Lee Highway, so it is a pretty safe ride. It is around 13 miles round trip. The only drawback is that the courthouse is on a long high hill and it is tiring climbing it. The route is not great topographically. My house is relatively higher ground. I descend into in the valley around the Accotink Creek. The trail follows the creek. Then you must climb again. You go faster than you need down the hills and then pay for it at the end.

My first picture is the courthouse. Next is the square in front followed by a corner in Fairfax. Last is part of the Jerry Connolly trail. I prefer asphalt when I am on the bike, but the dirt and gravel is a better trail for running.


Alligators used to be so rare that they were put on the endangered species. Today they are so common as pigeons, common enough to be a nuisance. We visited Everglades and Big Cypress. One stop featured a 15 mile loop you could ride on rented bikes. We did. We hoped to see maybe one alligators. There were dozens. The rangers said that they were not dangerous as long as you didn’t get too close. The ones we saw barely moved, but Chrissy did get a good action picture of one that you can see in the first photo.

The bikes were not very good. They had only one very low gear. I felt like one of those clowns on a little bike. The distance that I easily cover in less than an hour on my own bike took two hours on the little ones.

The second last photo shows the Everglades from an observation tower. It is an interesting ecology, very flat and wet most of the year but with a dry season. During the dry season, it often burns. We saw smoke from a fire (last photo) but all I know about the fire is contained in the photo.

SITES a LEED for landscape

It is not the destination; it is the journey. That makes sense in the figurative way and today literally when I rode my bike down to the SITES event in Alexandria. We went to Alexandria a lot when I first came into the FS, but I go there rarely today and I have never gone all the way on the bike trail.

The bike trail journey was cool. You take the W& OD until it merge with the Four-Mile Run trail, which then turns into the Mount Vernon Trail. You have to leave the bike trails a little in the town of Alexandria.

The first part was very familiar, following my quotidian commute at least as far as FSI. The next part was familiar. I had been down many times, but not regularly. That part went as far as where Four Mile Creek enters the Potomac. The last part was new to me but not strange. I had been near driving, but not on the bike. The one-way distance was about sixteen miles. This was our first summer-like day, so it was sort of hot, but it was nice to sweat.

My first picture shows a cobble stone street in Alexandria. Very picturesque but hard on cars and impossible with bikes. I took a picture but avoided it. Next shows the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the southern terminus of the trail I had to cut west to get to the meeting site for the SITES. Alexandria has gentrified and the old factories are now bars, restaurants and lofts.

You see that in picture #3. The forth picture is the bike train going up to the old Potomac River Power Plant. It was a coal burning station that polluted the nations capital. It shut down in 2012. Now that it is closed, we see it more fondly. Picture # 5 shows the bike trail tracks and condos. The tracks used to carry trains loaded with coal for the power plant. They run no more and now the tracks are just interesting and quiet enough that you can have a high-priced apartment on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The penultimate picture shows a cattail marsh near the Potomac and finally is the bike trail in a typical section.

Washington bike commute post 1

I have been commuting on my bike in Washington for more than 30 years – on the same route, riding the same bike for almost 20 years. But this epoch is coming to an end soon. Thursday, I had the perfect bike day. It was only 63 degrees when I set off, with sunshine and low humidity, so I took my camera to document the ride.
It is a total of 17 miles from my house to old USIA, which I count as the end for reasons of both tradition and practicality. Back in 2005, I started to do the one-way ride, i.e. riding to work but taking the Metro home. You can take your bike on the Metro after 7pm. When I worked in old USIA, I used the Federal Center SW Metro. I still do, since I really cannot find a place for my bike if I get on at Foggy Bottom or Smithsonian. I do not take the shortest or the faster route; I take the most pleasant one that mostly follows bike trails or quiet streets. I would say that I am lucky to live near both a Metro stop and the bike trails, but that is not true. When we bought our house in 1997, one of the most important consideration was that the house be near both the Metro and bike trails.

I will break this up into several posts, so that I do not have more than four pictures per post.

This is my Metro station with the area around under construction. It will be a nice place within a few weeks. There are already a few restaurants open and there will be a Harris Teeter. Next is way up Gallows road. Usually it is pretty clear and most cars respect the bike path. Here is where I catch the W&OD trail and next is looking down it.

Washington bike commute post 2

Post 2 – This bridge crosses 495. My experience with commuting is atypical. I don’t think I have driven to work in Washington more than a dozen times in more than thirty years.
I mostly share the trail with runners and a lot of women pushing baby carriages.
Next is crossing Lee Highway. The most dangerous are people making right turns. MOST drivers are respectful of bikes. Things have improved a lot. There are more bikes now and drivers are better behaved, but you still need to watch.

Washington bike commute post 3

Post 3 – The top is where I turn back onto the W&OD. This is my favorite few meters of the trail. I am not sure why. I always feel good and energetic when I hit it. There are a few miles of uninterrupted trail. The Custis Trail follows 66 on the other side. I don’t go there usually.
You pass under Wilson Ave along the side of Four Mile Creek. This stream floods with even a little rain and leaves mud on the trail side. It is not a good idea to go too fast after a rain and a very bad idea to go under when it is still raining. I tried once, hit what I thought was shallow water and almost got washed downstream, bike and all.

I continue on to the the Bluemont trail, cut left and catch up with Carlin Springs Drive. The one that goes straight is the path to FSI. The Bluemont trail goes up to … Bluemont and then you join some quiet roads.

Washington bike commute post 4

Post 4 – This is where I start on the streets, not very busy ones generally. These little houses were built in the post-war time to house the burgeoning population of the suburbs. I like them. Many people now think that they are too small and they are being torn down and replaces by bigger ones. But that was standard middle or upper middle class housing in those years.

Next is the opening to Carlin Springs. This is probably the busiest road I go on. It is not very busy, but the cars tend to come in squirts. Last is Thomas Street. It used to be all those small houses, but they are relentlessly building apartments and condos.
Crossing Glebe Road. I rarely make this light. I don’t mind. It is nice to have a short break.