Should We Give Spare Change to the Homeless?

I had lunch recently with an old friend from high school. We covered a lot of ground, but mainly discussed unorthodox methods for fighting cancer. Like so many families, we have loved ones who are afflicted with this disease and are open to trying different options. In the middle of our discussion on medical marijuana and the ketogenic diet, a young man in his early twenties hesitantly approached us. He was polite and asked if we could give him any money to buy some lunch.

For years, I haven't been giving out any spare change to people who ask. Part of my justification is that since I'm working in downtown Portland, I get at least three requests a day and I also don't want to "reward" panhandling. My friend Chris, however, pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to the grateful lad.

I liked what Chris immediately said next: "Yeah it's likely he made some bad choices to get to this point. And he may use my money for something other than lunch. But the guy is still hungry and still cold."


Terrence Malick and the "Problem of Good"

I discovered Terrence Malick movies only recently. His work is mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful. So far I've seen "The Thin Red Line," "The Tree of Life" and my wife and I watched "To the Wonder" just last night. Malick is very much into philosophy I've learned. His movies, however, convey mainly sensory impressions and not much happens in terms of a story. But I think he wants us to slow down and look carefully and thoughtfully at the life happening around us. To truly see both the natural world and the people closest to us. In doing so we won't "miss the glory" as Brad Pitt's character said in "Tree of Life."

The most meaningful part of Malick's movies for me though is how he confronts two challenging issues. He has us think about the "problem of evil" regarding the bad things that happen to people and the horrible things we do to each other. But he also makes us come face to face with the good in the world and in each other. This - in the philosophy world - is known as the "problem of good" and is in fact a perplexing issue if you don't think evil or good actually exist.

In all of his movies I've seen, Malick brilliantly shows both the beautiful goodness and horrendous evil of the world. He then asks us to deal with the fact that both are indeed real.

Buying a Cheap Car Makes You Happier

Thanks to our baby-boomer parents who paved the entire country and decimated public transportation, today most adults in America need access to a car one way or the other. My wife and I went eleven years as a one-car family. But now with two kids at home and another due this June (yikes) we finally realized we needed to get another one. We'd prefer to rent a car when we needed one (like Zip Cars) but they aren't close by to our house. I also experimented with riding the bus to the train to get to work but after missing the bus a few times and then being stuck I knew getting a car was the way to go.

The big question was: what type of car? Currently our family automobile is a newer Subaru Outback and we're very happy with how it can carry all of us around with its all-wheel drive. But for my "new used" car all I needed was something that would take me 8 minutes over to the train station which I then happily take into downtown while doing some reading.

It became clear that what I should look for is: a Beater. Yes, I scoped out Craigslist to find the cheapest car I could that would still be basically reliable and decently safe. After just one day of searching I found a fantastic automobile that brings me great pleasure every time I get inside and drive it to the Max station.  I love that: it cost me only $800, has 230,000 miles on it, has working airbags, looks decent, and does not require any washing. When other drivers ding my doors, I just smile and laugh. The windshield is cracked, the radio is terrible, and it makes squeaky noises when I drive it.

Overall though, compared to the "best" car I drove when I was a lawyer for a company in Silicon Valley - an Audi A4 - I get at least 50 times more satisfaction from this beater. Funny how that works. Here it is. (Not so bad is it!)

Seattle, Washington

I had an excellent experience this afternoon taking a "Bolt Bus" up from Portland to Seattle for an immigration lawyers conference. This bus had wifi, outlets for every passenger, leather seats and a bunch of nice people onboard. Plus, it was only about $20 each way. The experience was excellent and I was able to get work done and wasn't as tired if I had driven myself up. In fact, it was much more enjoyable than flying (no security lines) and faster than the train. Our conference is being held at the Seattle University School of Law. I was able to walk around the campus on my way to dinner and it's a beautiful place. I think the architecture of this university is phenomenal - lots of glass and brick and there was a funky modern chapel (it's a Jesuit school) next to a big pool of peaceful water.

The school is set in an urban area - called Capitol Hill and I was able to choose from several inviting restaurants: "Von Traps" German sausage place, an Irish pub and a French-influenced cafe/bar called "Cafe Presse." This cafe has rave reviews online for both food and its authentic French vibe, such as "this is probably the closest thing to a Parisian street cafe in Seattle." I got myself an excellent Croque Madame and a beer.

Rather than read, watch tv or do work here in my hotel room, I decided to memorialize my experience here. Traveling solo certainly inspires a desire to observe and record.