Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Watergate revisited

I was born in Washington D.C. in 1954 and lived there until I went away to college in 1972 and my folks retired to Cape Cod a year later. I was just a few years too young to be of the Vietnam generation. If any one national event characterized my coming of age, it wasn't the war -- it was Watergate.

I grew up in a family of federal employees. My father was an official in the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration. An agency of the visionary Kennedy-Johnson era, N.A.S.A. was considered a costly frippery by the Nixon White House, a group never known for setting its sights high. My mother was a systems analyst with the National Bureau of Standards, and she saw her star rise when she was assigned to the Nixon White House to work on system to track the administration's controversial wage-price freeze. When her team received a commendation from vice president Spiro Agnew, my (increasingly left-wing) father was appalled. At about this time his brother, a senior official with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, retired and devoted himself to volunteer work with a number of liberal organizations, including Common Cause.

When Watergate (the scandal was named after the upscale Watergate office complex where the initial illegal break-in masterminded by the Nixon gang took place) unfolded right in the pages of our local newspaper, my father and my uncle were avid followers of the story. I always imagined that Watergate source the Washington Post had nicknamed "Deep Throat" was someone much like my uncle -- a bright man who had grown cynical about government and who decided to have his fun by using what he knew to orchestrate the downfall of Nixon and his gang of thugs. I wondered if my dad or my uncle knew him.

When W. Mark Felt, a former top official at the FBI, revealed today that he'd been Deep Throat, I was delighted. Now 91, Felt was exactly of my father and uncle's generation. A handsome, slim man, he even looked like them. His witty, understated way of speaking reminded me of them, as well.

Too bad they didn't live to see Deep Throat's identity revealed. Felt's motives were his own but, where they intersected with those of Woodward and Bernstein, they made history, elevating journalism and exposing corruption at the highest level of government. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way (decreasing scrutiny of the government, and revelations of corruption in journalism) but it's heartening to be reminded of the heady days of Watergate.

This 1992 article from The Atlantic sets Felt's story in context.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Mysterious Traveler eats out

This morning I had breakfast in an shabby greasy spoon in a semi-industrial area of a small town in Eastern Washington. No, wait, the place was in Ballard -- it just looked, felt, and smelled like a greasy spoon in some dead-end town in the sticks.

The water glasses are smudged, the mugs unmatched and dinghy, the counter is worn, and the stove looks like it hasn't been cleaned since the World's Fair was in town. Chipped knick-knacks are scattered all over the counter. The only thing new in the place is a coat of Pepto-Bismol pink paint on the wood-paneled walls.

This was not my first time in the dive I'll call the Time Warp Cafe. I had breakfast there in January, and was absolutely fascinated. I expected to walk out the door and be back in 1962. But no such time shift ensued.

Somewhat to my surprise, the place is still in business. This time I ordered two eggs scrambled and an English muffin. They tasted the way food used to taste back before anyone knew about cholesterol. The tea is good, and, since I'm not a coffee drinker, some day I'll have to bring someone along to test that out. It's definitely not Starbucks.

Since much of what I'm saying about the place could be construed as pejorative, and would surely hurt the feelings of the woman who recently re-opened the place, no name or location will be given. Curious? Not particularly fussy about decor? Ready to enter the culinary time warp? Contact me and I'll take you there some morning.

Smartass or Starving Artist?

"The Personality Defect Test will provide an accurate analysis of your true personality, but it will do so in a manner that is very insulting, cynical, and intentionally humorous."

I came out mid-way between a Haughty Intellectual and a Starving Artist and, of course, I'd just love to see everyone else's scores. On second thought, if you score as a Sociopath, don't feel you have to share.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sun rain sun rain sun rain

The Berrymans, a Wisconsin folk duo, have a song called "Bird, Bird, Bird" in which they chronicle driving through a rural small town. The portion about the outskirts runs:

House, house, trailer, yard sale
Trailer, trailer, yard sale
Tavern, high school, bike trail
Gas pump, trailer, yard sale
Road construction, EAT NOW
Strip mall, pig farm, sow, sow
Silo, tractor, barn, plow
End construction, cow, cow.

This same narrative technique, applied to the Seattle weather of the past seven days, would sound like:

Rain rain rain rain sun sun
Clouds rain clouds rain sun sun
Rain rain rain rain stars rain
Stars rain stars rain sun rain.
(repeat daily)

Weeds grew three feet this week, and the grass, about six inches. (In the case of our rather enfeebled grass, the grass grew only three inches while the invasive weeds spread like oil slicks across the yard and plunged their roots down several feet.)

Attempting to garden on Saturday, I spent more time rushing my tools to shelter in the shed and lugging them out again than I did actually gardening. My major garden project, setting out soaker hoses in the flower beds, seemed outright bizarre, though I'm sure there'll be a use for them this year -- perhaps by August.

As the skies darkened for the second or third downpour late yesterday afternoon, I was amused to see three neighbors, who had been away on errands earlier in the day, emerge from their houses (clad insanely in shorts and t-shirts) and start their gasoline mowers. They then all mowed right through the rainstorm.

I suspect that the shaggiest lawns in the neighborhood belong to people with electric mowers who have been too cautious to risk electrocution.

Oops -- sun's out -- gotta run.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Extending the olive branch

I bought a small olive tree today from a Ballard neighbor who sells them on Craig's List.

Since our yard is small, the plan is to put the tree in a large terracotta pot and keep it pruned to a flame shape rather than letting it spread. This meant removing one shoot that was coming up alongside the main trunk.

I snipped the shoot and found myself in the unusual position of being able to literally extend an olive branch. I went inside and extended it to Zorg.

"Did we have a fight?" he asked.

I asked Zorg, who has a background in religious studies, where the expression "to extend an olive branch" comes from.

Zorg explains:

The ideas of offering an olive branch as a sign of peace, and the dove as a symbol of peace, come from the story of Noah. The story begins in Genesis 6 and tells how God looked down on the world of man and found it corrupt and wicked, but "Noah found favor in the eyes of God." So God decided to wipe the earth clean of corruption and begin anew with Noah and his family.

God told Noah about his plan and gave him the instructions for a boat (or ark) that would hold 2 of each animal on earth. He said, "I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made." Noah was 600 years old when he built the ark.
Another interesting biblical factoid is that before the flood, men lived long lives. Noah was still middle aged by those standards. Ultimately, he lived 950 years. (The oldest man of course, was Methusaleh who clocked 969 years. Look at Genesis 5 to see how long the patriarchs lived. ) After the flood, the span of a man's life was whittled down to "three score and ten years" (70 years), according to Psalm 90:10. The psalmist laments of folks living four score and ten years that "yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." In other words, it ain't no fun to get old.

In Genesis 8:6-12 the story goes, "After 40 days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him."

The interpretation I heard was that the dove did not return because it had found sufficient land and foliage to sustain itself. Thus, Noah knew that the flood waters were receding.

In Genesis 9:7, after Noah and his family have come out of the ark and released the animals, God repeats the first commandment he gave to Adam and Eve, "be fruitful and multiply." He then promised that he wouldn't destroy the Earth again, and in Genesis 9:12 he set the rainbow as a sign of the covenant.

Genesis 9:18 tells us, "The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth." If you're feeling sorry for their wives over having to do all that work, at least they only had to do 1/3 of what Eve had to do!

In Greek mythology predating the Bible, the olive branch symbolized wisdom and peace, and is often associated with the goddess Athena, who gave an olive tree to the city that was to become Athens. Historically, Greek ambassadors offered an olive branch of peace to indicate their intentions.

The olive branch appears in flags and symbols in many Westerns and Near Eastern countries and organizations, including:

  • the United Nations symbol, with the world flanked by a wreath of crossed olive branches;
  • the Great Seal of the USA, where the eagle carries in its right talon an olive branch with 13 leaves to represent peace between the original member States (this also appears on the flag of the Virgin Islands);
  • the flag of the league of Arab States, which has an upturned crescent encircled by a gold chain and olive wreath;
  • the flag of Cyprus, which has crossed olive branches beneath a map of the island to represent peace between the Greek and Turkish populations; and
  • the flag of Eritrea, which includes a golden olive wreath and stem, originally inspired by the flag of the United Nations
The olive branch also appears on the US Presidential Seal, where the eagle clutches the branch in one talon and a group of arrows in the other talon. I found it heartening to read that in 1945 President Harry Truman had the seal redesigned so that the eagle no longer faced the arrows but now faces the olive branch.

I'm in love

with my personalized Google start page. Want one?

48 hours behind

Would everyone else please just hibernate for 2 days so I can catch up?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A little wish list

I wish that

1. Bombich software would update CarbonCopyCloner so it would work in Mac OS X Tiger
2. All my Weblog Meetup friends would put RSS or Atom feeds in their blogs (you know who you are!)
3. Betaille, our elderly cat, would stop being such a prima donna

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Something new and different

Most gadgets that purport to be revolutionary improvements over a traditional tool rarely live up to their reputations, and those that actually do the job a bit better (such as Cuisinarts) usually turn out to be fragile, difficult to clean and maintain, or prohibitively expensive.

One of the few exceptions is the Oxo Smooth Edge Can Opener.

It's an innovative manual opener that offers three advantages over the traditional can opener:
• As the name suggests, it leaves a smooth edge when it separates lid from can (no jagged edges to handle as you wash or dispose of the can).
• After the lid is cut, you use a little pincer tool on the edge of the opener to lift the lid completely off the can (eliminates the spraying of the contents of the can that usually occurs when you flip a lid back).
• The cutting mechanism rarely comes in contact with the contents of the can, so it needs minimal cleaning.

It was the third point that sold me, since I loathe cleaning tuna fish juices out of the gears of a traditional can opener. That always seems to take repeated scrubbing with lots of soap and hot water, and once the gears stop smelling fishy, they start smelling soapy. And, in a few weeks, the frequently washed can opener has unattractive (and probably unsanitary) corroded gears.

The Oxo is so subtle to use that the first time I tried it I didn't realize that the lid had been separated from the can. Eventually, I took a chance and applied the little pincers and the lid lifted completely off, leaving me staring into smooth pool of olive oil filled with Italian tuna. Yum!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A good day

Nothing, but nothing, can make you appreciate a quiet Sunday morning, cornflakes and tea at the kitchen table, than a 9 a.m. call from a friend who is somewhat blearily asking for a recommendation for an emergency plumbing service!

I sent them to a service we'd summoned three years ago to remove a backlog of dead rodents from the sewer pipe of the new house we'd just purchased. (Phew!)

If I'd been able to find a copy of Checkbook, the local consumer magazine we subscribe to, I'd have activated my account for their website and checked their ratings. Unfortunately, you need your number from the mailing label to set up a web account. Grrrr.

We have an fine regular plumber, but he does remodeling projects and is not likely to zip over on Sunday morning to troubleshoot an emergency unrelated to a current project.

Steady rainfall appears to preclude another day of gardening, but I am enjoying the sunshine vicariously. I can see it, across the Sound, on the Olympic mountains, and am thinking of some lucky Bainbridge Island gardener having coffee out in her garden.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Weekend visitor

Zorg is in Eugene for the weekend at a family event; I stayed in town to do some volunteer work for the upcoming Folklife Festival, get my mom's condo ready for her return from Florida next weekend, and get the soaker hoses set out in the garden.

I got back from Folklife and the condo work around 3 and gardened until 8:30 p.m., aided by all the cats and the neighbors' 2-year-old. Then I took a shower and set about preparing a salad for dinner. The arugula has pretty well bolted, so I decided to go out and cut it all down and add it to the salad. Of course, as soon as I stepped out the back door, Betaille dashed for the cedar bench -- her "designated petting place." I sat down with her and, while petting her, admired the garden. It was nearly 9 p.m., but between the bright sky, the quarter moon above the pear tree, and the back porch lights, I could have read a book out there.

I certainly had no trouble noticing the 40-pound raccoon sauntering toward us across the back yard. He looked right at me, and just kept on coming. Betaille glanced at him, then went back to getting petted, which didn't reassure me at all. If they were friends, he might come right over to the bench and say hello to us. Or he might hang a right at the back stairs and go up to see if there were any cat food on the porch. All I could think was: This is a huge raccoon.

"Help!" I squeaked, although there was no one to hear me.

Hearing my voice, the raccoon stopped six feet away. He looked a bit disappointed, as if thinking "I'll have to swing back by here later." He wheeled around and began to stroll back the way he had come, disappearing into the side yard. I jumped up, grabbed the greens, and scurried up the stairs into the kitchen. If Betaille wants to share her dinner with the raccoons, I don't want to know about it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Test your geekiness

I want so much to write about good and bad fences, but have to wait until I've take some pix to illustrate that entry. I'm headed up to Edmonds to do some work on my mom's condo tomorrow; if I take back roads through North Seattle, that should yield some fence pictures.

In the meantime, how geeky are you?

My scores:
Academic Geekiness: Highest
Internet Geekiness: High
Geekiness in Love: Moderate
SciFi Geekiness: Moderate
Fashion Geekiness: Low
Music Geekiness: Low
Gamer Geekiness: None
General Geekiness: None
Movie Geekiness: None

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Wedding portents

The afternoon before Zorg and I got married, I saw a huge rainbow in the southern sky. The night before Nina and Mike got married last summer, Zorg and I saw a buck beside the highway in Bellingham. And the night before my cousins Alex and Mary's wedding in Phoenix, we saw a coyote by the roadside.

I was trying to remember if I saw anything the night before my first wedding, to the wrong husband, 20 years ago. But all I can remember is that during the ceremony itself the sky turned black and a huge thunderstorm erupted over the chapel. And I thought I heard a voice say "This is a mistake."

Pain in the...

Don't file a workman's comp claim in Washington unless witnesses saw a stack of the company's servers fall on you. If I'd said I'd injured my wrist gardening, I'd have had surgery by now to remove the cyst from my tendon. As it is, I'm stuck in painful limbo and likely to remain there for many weeks.

After booking an appointment for me and taking the number of my workman's comp claim over the phone, the incredibly crass and insensitive staff at the surgeon's office informed me when I showed up for my appointment that I couldn't see the surgeon. The reason: I didn't bring a letter from workman's comp saying that they would pay for my surgery.

I pointed out that they hadn't asked to me bring such a letter, that I was there for an assessment, not the surgery, and that my excellent health insurance will pay for the surgery if workman's compensation denies coverage. And I offered to pay for the assessment in cash.

They could have cared less. The rude nurse who bustled me out of the waiting room into the hall seemed to take pleasure in assuring me that it would likely take up to three months ("or more, if they extended the claim review" she said gleefully) for the state to either decide that I'm eligible to have treatment or deny the claim so the health insurance will kick in.

In the mean time, I can't use a scissors, a hammer, or garden clippers without searing pain in my wrist. Needless to say, when the workman's comp insurance issue is eventually resolved, I will not be returning to that surgery practice for the operation.

Divorce, office style

I admit that I sometimes confuse my work life with my home life. And, from that perspective, I just went through an amicable divorce. A recent re-org, though minor from the company's perspective, split my team.

We were a team that had been serving two increasingly disparate business groups. I went through each workday tormented by the impatient toe-tapping of whichever group was not being served at that micro-second, and interrupting any project longer than an email reply to deal with some mini-crisis from the "other" side.

Mercifully, the re-org has me re-focused on just one group's priorities, and already it feels much better -- though I'm still peeling away the tentacles of the other group from various directories, databases, and corporate travel and expense systems.

My boss went with the other group, and one of my favorite colleagues is my new boss. Now that the split is complete, there are only two of us left from the original team I joined five years ago. I feel like a tribal elder.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Off to Phoenix

We leave tomorrow for my cousin's wedding in Phoenix. This'll be my first time in Arizona. I'm told we'll have time to explore a bit on Saturday, since the wedding isn't until evening. Stand by for pictures of those stereotypical cactus.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries

I haven't been blogging much because of wrist pain. It's finally been diagnosed as a cyst on my tendon, and I'll be seeing a surgeon Thursday to talk about having that removed. Not only has this been cramping my blogging style, it's been getting in the way of my gardening. To say nothing of slowing me down at work.

We are into the birthday season. Tonight Zorg and I went to a dinner party at the local community center in honor of the 90th birthday of our neighbor Steve, the retired police detective with whom we share Smokey the cat. Steve's family and friends had a great photo display, including pictures of Steve as a young police officer in the 1940s. I collected some great neighborhood stories. Quite a few people well into their 80s, but all in fabulous shape.

Poor Smokey. We returned home from the party to find him wandering sadly up and down the street, wondering where all his owners had gone. He had been reduced to playing with the children across the street, and came in with us for a while to visit the kittens. And, speaking of birthdays, the kittens are now officially cats, having turned 1 this week. They are full grown--Zoe (Big Stripe) weighs 9 pounds and Kaylee (Little Stripe) weighs 6.

We continue with birthdays in May with Zorg's mom and his aunt, and move on to his nephew and his grandmother (she'll be 102!) in June. I bought a heap of cards at Bartell (including cards in Hebrew and Russian!) and will tackle the presents after we finish with Mother's Day and my cousin Alex's wedding this weekend. Zorg and I celebrate a big wedding anniversary (10) in June. Fortunately, we don't do anniversary gifts. We just go out to a nice restaurant celebrate over martinis, or Manhattans--anything but Zombies.