Bingeing I

Like probably everybody, I like to binge. Thankfully, my days of binge drinking are long over. But what counts as a binge? Is it nothing more than excessive indulgence? If so, “excessive” implies a negative, such as with the drinking. However, people also binge on television series. Granted, obsessively watching Downton Abbey episodes to the point that you can’t properly perform activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, and work, is a definite negative. But people love to binge-brag, and media companies love to invite you program-binge (I myself am somewhat tempted by the upcoming “Miss Marple” – off). They literally use the word. Alcohol vendors don’t run public ads inviting you to Bacardi-binge. We will just have to accept that “binge” has an additional, positive, connotation. There must be a philological concept of word meanings going from negative to positive via some cultural usage shift. “What were once vices are now habits”. Here’s a brief riff on some of my favorite binges. I expect to indulge in more binge-related posts, thus the titular Roman numeral.

Maps. I cannot remember a time that I didn’t love looking at maps. In fact, when the Pluto data started coming back, I wrote a one-line iambic nonameter poem: “Like Bilbo Baggins, I love maps; therefore I love this recent map of Pluto”. IIRC I used it in a seminar I gave at the time, not coincidentally about geospatial programming in R. One of my grandfathers was a hobbyist – not only did he polish semi-precious gemstones and cut large agates into thin sheets, he cast plastic sundries, including (back in the day when cigarette smoking was everywhere) an ashtray that was the outline of Oregon, which for some reason fascinated 5-year-old me. I get lost zooming around web maps, switching between satellite, map, and street views. Possibly half of my love for Dungeons and Dragons in high school was the drawing of campaign and dungeon maps, often at the expense of taking class notes.

Food programs. I have watched most the food programming I can find on our streaming services, that has an educational component. Not necessarily “how to do something” programs, although definitely those, but also ones where they spend a lot of time on chef techniques, chef descriptions of their approach, and/or exquisite filming of cooking some dish. I can sometimes get something out of the competition shows, although they’re kind of a secondary source. Shows that follow people who are famous for being well known (I usually don’t recognize them) watching them eat? Mrs. Dean got me to watch one episode of “Someone Feed Phil”. Not for me.

Drink. As mentioned, I don’t binge drink anymore, although I have very fond memories from when I did do that (this suggests that I wasn’t very “good” at it, as the conventional wisdom is that I shouldn’t remember!). My obsession is not with excessive drink consumption, rather with excessive drink quality. Craft beers and gourmet sodas are what I’m talking about here. Not wine. I also quite enjoy single-malt whisky, although only in small amounts, not even getting tipsy. Interestingly, I will fall in love with a beer, preferentially drink mostly that for a few years, and then switch to another. Not because I don’t like the first one any more, as I seldom quite totally abandon old favorites, but probably because a combination of menu fatigue and something new (to me) comes along. Gourmet sodas, to me, start with a cane sugar requirement. In my youth I mostly drank root beer, Hires bubbling up as a favorite in my lapsed memory. Today I favor Maine Root sarsaparilla, root beer, and birch beer. Virgil’s root beer is quite good, and Boylan’s black cherry may be the best soda I have ever tried, strangely for me as it is not actually a root beer.

Good Art

the temple bell stops / but the music keeps coming / out of the flowers —Basho

While I do love a good poem, I don’t like all poems. The same with other art. A piece must transport me to a “different world”, of memory or of possibility. Technique is critical: any flaws distract from the transport and can foreclose on the desiderata. Technique is particularly important with ensemble dance, where unity of motion can transport me, but any skew gesture, by accident or by design, leaves me dejected. For poems, even the typesetting is important. Granted, “A poem should be palpable and mute, as a globed fruit” (MacLiesh), but also: A poem should be ample, able, and put, as a figured blot. I do expose myself to new art (though not like Bud Clark), but am rarely rewarded. I am highly aware of difficulties in communicating simple factual information to people who sincerely want to receive it and are competent to comprehend it. Transmitting complex emotional information to a diverse and random audience must be leagues more difficult.

Last year Mrs. Dean and I visited Bonn to tour Beethoven’s house and take in some museums. I elected to experience modern art. Gallery after gallery, my disappointment increased, until finally I espied, across one gallery and through a doorway to the next, something quite intriguing. I savored the anticipation as I tried to “get” the pieces in my current gallery, and finally allowed myself to enter the tempting one. Alas! It was the historical room, with fine pieces by Max Ernst and others – nobody from any recent decade. I was of course happy to enjoy the genius, but rueful, reflecting on my lack of personal response to the rest of the museum. A few years prior, Mrs. Dean and I had visited the Tate in London, mainly to visit the Turner collection, but there was plenty from the early 1900’s. Those “classic” modernists (can I use such a juxtaposition?) were expressing something detectable and special absent from more recent works.

I’ve never really followed musical trends, but I was caught up in the Grunge phenomenon. I happened to live in Seattle then, but that hardly matters as I rarely attended live music, and then mostly just local bar bands, not really enjoying it. I listened to the radio and bought the CDs. I wonder if “spirit of the age” is a real phenomenon. The eras of the Dutch Masters, the Impressionists, Dada; the Big Band era, Rock-and-Roll, Grunge. It seems as if there are brief intervals of innovation punctuated by longer ones deserted by the muses. Does culture need to chew, swallow, digest, and sleep before fully absorbing the innovations it has hunted, gathered, or cultivated? The imitators that come after can be just as competent, or even technically better, than the founders, but their work is obviously derivative. The innovators whose efforts stall out are obviously groping for something original, but either have no vision or can’t express it in a way that attracts colleagues and patrons. I think it may take a rare confluence of cultural readiness, practitioner availability, and patron generosity to create conditions where a seed crystal can nucleate an artistic revolution. I hope that long intervals of novelty vacuum somehow allow culture to become supersaturated with “blah”, making it ever more likely that authentic genius will trigger widespread innovation. I’m definitely ready for another one.


I love double-names for cities. Sedro-Woolley. Winston-Salem. Nagorno-Karabakh. The German city I lived in for a couple of years was single-named, but could well be the offspring of that Oregon town housing a scientific research center in the middle of the grass seed capital of the world, and the notably pedestrian- (and cyclist- ?) friendly village from which Bagginses set off on their adventures. Was I Bilbo with a bicycle? Pippin with a penny-farthing? Actually, if I am any Tolkien character, it would probably be Radagast, so I should probably have bought a recumbent, to adhere to my alliteration. While living there I embarked on several non-motorific adventures radiating outwards from my town along trails and farm roads to all sorts of places: castles, werewolf sculptures, nature parks, viewpoints.

One of my favorite bike trips was the ~60 km round-trip journey to a nearby Dutch town, across the Wurm. For some reason I just got a kick biking across the tiny bridge and being in a different country. If only the Euro was as pretty as the Guilder used to be. Absent lockdown I would do that trip every few weeks. It was quite a workout. There are many possible routes, although the fastest requires some village/city riding. It is mostly paved or gravel, forest paths and farm roads. I could reliably do about two thirds of the route without my navvy, but I would invariably get a bit lost then turn it on and have it start telling me what to do. Sometimes I would deliberately get really lost, striking out almost at random until I felt the need to visit Ralph’s Taverna, which offers an excellent chili con carne and Texels Skuumkoppe. Usually, getting back on track from getting “lost” took me through even more delightful dirt trails than my usual routes.

Another great trip is a loop around one of the local brown coal mines. Germany shut down its own nuclear power plants and now has to import some of its electricity from countries that didn’t shut down theirs. It also has to burn an awful lot of coal, the shitty kind, “brown” coal or lignite. It is not the coal mine, however, that makes the trip great (although you can get your fill of some spectactular open-pit mining views). One great thing is that a lot of the route is on trails through the woods, sometimes alongside rivers and streams, or through dirt roads between farm fields. Much more rural than the trip across the Wurm. What urbanity there is is very low-key, farm villages rather than bedroom communities. Fields of carrots, oats, maize, wheat, beets, rape (“canola”), and more are everywhere. Another great thing is the Indeman. The local small river, the Inde, defines the name of the region: Indeland. The Indeman is a tall (something like eight stories) metal sculpture in the cubist form of a standing, gesturing person. It is a steel frame construct that you can climb (or ride the elevator) to the top of for an encompassing view of the local landscape, including the coal mine, the small villages and larger city, farms, wind generators, rivers and woods.


There seems to be one accepted list of “deadly” sins, but several lists of virtues seem to be available, some containing ridiculous ones such as chastity or religious faith. If we take the so-called list of seven “capital” virtues, which lacks faith but contains chastity, and reduce it to six by eliminating the latter, how do I stand (recall that I would fear damnation according to the sin list)?

Temperance. Voluntary self-restraint. A middle ground between self-indulgence and self-denial. I probably drink too much. I may average two beers a night, but those are good, strong, Oregon-style craft beers, but I don’t drink every night, so the nights I drink I have more than two! I’ve been bringing this down lately (see “Gluttony”, from last week). Score: -½.

Charity. We don’t “give until it hurts”, not wanting to have to end up on the receiving end of charity, but we do give money and food-items to various causes, and we donate functional used goods rather than try to eke out a few pennies from them online. When I say “we”, I mean Mrs. Dean. I’m totally in favor of this but if it were up to me (see “Sloth”, from last week) it just wouldn’t get done. If I were less uncertain about the future I’d be OK with being more generous. Score: -½.

Diligence. Here I am half-and-half. When on a roll and not under pressure, I am obsessively diligent at least with work that motivates me. Unfortunately, when I am diligent, I am slow. I have certain gifts, but they do not extend to writing beautiful elegant code or prose quickly, and when there are deadlines, something has to give. If the work is bullshit, I am diligent only in the moment, while actually belatedly performing the minimum required effort. For me, but obviously not others, bullshit work often has to do with “keeping up appearances”. I am hygenic but not dapper. My yard is a jungle of weeds, but somewhat tamed. Score: -½.

Patience. Again, half-and-half. I am impatient at certain moments, such as when there is a slipping schedule. Here I must seem to criticize Mrs. Dean, in whose natal culture arriving on time is Just Not Done. However, in the long term I am very patient, perhaps too patient. Knowing my own faults in terms of diligence, I tend to cut people slack when they don’t deliver on time for example. I know this sets me up to be taken advantage of, betrayed, and manipulated. Some of this is adjacent to my dislike for doing project management. Score: 0.

Kindness. I’m not outwardly kind, at least not in a way that would require me to be gregarious. However, when circumstances require me to interact with strangers, or when I am interacting with people I’ve known for a while and like, I would say my kindness level is relatively high. I’m not often proactively kind. When I think of it and the situation is synchronized (e.g. I am in a libation palace and I happen to remember that our impending houseguest likes Founder’s Porter, I will buy some for them). I love cooking for guests and spare nothing when I do so, hoping they will welcome the leftovers we foist on them at the end of the evening. Score: +1.

Humility. I know a lot more than most people in many subject areas, and I love to show it and be seen showing it. In my chosen field, most folks actually know more than I (I am a dilettante and an amateur), but because grants only come to those who subscribe to the hype of the week, I get to be one of those ethical contrarians who say things like “that not only violates the second law of thermodynamics, it violates the first!” (I’ve never actually said that; see “Kindness”). Score: -1.

Final score: -½ – ½ – ½ + 0 +1 -1 = -1½. Looks like I have some work to do here, too.


So-called “western” culture contains the notion of “sin”, for example the list of Seven Deadly Sins. I’m not religious, so I don’t fear offending magical beings, but I am aware that some peoples’ behavior sucks because it harms others, while other peoples’ behavior shines because it helps others. If I had to come up with simple hallmarks, “sin” would be taking a positive-sum game and rendering it zero- or negative-sum, whereas virtue would be taking whatever game is underway and improving its return. How do I fancy my status as a “Seven Deadly” sinner?

Pride. Some people are proud to be of their nationality, or to support some athletic team. I don’t understand this, although I understand being happy to belong to a certain culture or group. To me, pride derives from accomplishment. I am proud to have a Ph.D. and to have Walked Around Mount Rainer in Nine Days, among other things. I am happy I grew up in the Willamette Valley, and that my excellent wife chose me. Score: +0.

Greed. Beyond having what might be called a vaguely middle-class lifestyle, I don’t aspire to more money or possessions. Additional consumption causes a corresponding increase in carbon footprint, which is currently unethical insofar as it involves burning fossil fuel. Compared to most people with more excessive lifestyles, I am thus more virtuous, and I am proud of that. Score: -1.

Lust. Evolution has provided males with an ongoing “shouldn’t I be trying to get my sperm into that thing?” feature, which I suppress due to receiving various forms of training and negative feedback, and a desire to not be creepy and manipulative. Still, non-objectification of other persons requires attention. I love sitting in a congenial beverage establishment, sipping a favorite and doodling. I invariably become lost in thought, but sometimes snap out of my reverie to note that I have inadvertently been male-gazing some shapely person. Embarrassed, I swiftly pretend to return to my doodling, needing several moments to recover before starting to return to my groove. In never act on this and sometimes apologize. Score: +½.

Envy. I fleetingly have wishful thoughts about being more gregarious or less phone-phobic (like others more successful at things I strive to be more successful at), or about having a nicer house or yard or car (like most people I know), or the erotic attentions of Mensa supermodels (even more desirable or intelligent than Mrs. Dean). These thoughts “just happen”, and detract from my humanitarian efforts, and I generally roll my eyes at myself for them. Score: -1.

Gluttony. I am overweight, not obese. Though finicky, I am a gourmand and a gourmet. I enjoy Oregon-style craft beers, rib-eye steaks, peanut butter pie. Eating enough vegetables gives me the emotion that a few gravy-drowned schnitzels are just fine. I try to control myself and sometimes succeed. Score: +½.

Wrath. I have to actively avoid certain conversations, websites, comment sections, news items, etc. Deliberate ignorance and stupidity, cults of personality, surrender to mystical bullshit, and a host of other crass populist wankings infuriate me. Littering, fire-lightin’ dog-bringers, spurious car-honking, filling out the same information multiple times on pages of medical forms. I attempt to conceal it, but I am full of wrath. This probably affects my blood pressure. Score: +2.

Sloth. I sleep in too much. I take too many naps. I don’t mow the lawn on schedule. I delay or even defer anything requiring human interaction. However, I obsess about my writing (code or humanish). Score: 0.

My overall sin score is 0 – 1 + ½ – 1 + ½ + 2 – 0 = 1. If there were a hell, I’d be worried.