Is It Bertha’s Fault?

Viaduct meme

Seattle is digging a BIG tunnel.

When it gets done–assuming it ever does–it will replace a LONG overhead viaduct. The viaduct casts a shadow over prime city waterfront property. It is not a thing of beauty, unless you’re driving on it, and that makes property owners unhappy.

However, several problems have developed with its replacement. A gigantic, expensive tunnelling machine got stuck, hurt its teeth on an old steel pipe used in 2002 for groundwater studies and for some reason, never removed. Then Bertha took sick with a fever, got doctored up, but is still…stuck.

In the meantime, the viaduct has developed noticeable cracks and has to be temporarily closed for repairs years before the tunnel is completed.

Officials say the cracks are the result of settling from an earthquake that occurred 13 years ago. They have nothing whatsoever to do with Bertha, a 58-foot-tall, 7,000-ton boring machine blasting away–before it got stuck, that is–under the ground nearby.

Who knows, maybe they’re right. I hope so.

But my own common sense took my thoughts in a different direction and led me to create my first meme, at the top of this post.

 

 

Signs of Spring 2014

blue sky

Blue skies come to Seattle

It’s not here yet, but unmistakable signs of spring have hit Seattle. Not every day, but some days. Parts of days.

Sunshine. Blue skies.

Herons tidying up their old nests and moving back in to raise their younguns.

Flowers and trees coming into bloom, or forming big buds.

Join me virtually on our walk at the Ballard Locks as we discover the uplifting hints of spring.

daffodils

Daffodils are in full bloom, as are crocuses.

Forsythia

Forsythia is coming out.

Herons in nests

Herons are returning…

heron nests

…to their abandoned nests, fixing them up for their new families.

red leaf buds

Some trees are sprouting tiny red buds.

white buds

Buds that look like pussywillows are getting very close to blooming. What are they? I don’t know!

cherry tree

And cherry trees are coming into their own.

It’s getting to be a time of juvenile silliness, when students grow restless, looking out the window and longing to be outdoors. I’ll leave you with a “poem” they wrote on the blackboard back in my own youthful spring so long ago:

Spring has sprung

The grass is green

The bird is on the wing–

No, that’s absurd!

The wing is on the bird.

Happy almost-spring!

 

Privacy: It’s A Brave Old World

 

privacy then and now

My gut reaction to this Wall Street Journal story about a company that puts sensors in downtown businesses to track the whereabouts of customers for marketing purposes—They go to the gym a lot? Sell ‘em tank tops! They’re barflies? Better apply for a liquor license!—was probably the same as yours: outrage and disgust.

How dare anyone track your location without your permission? Is it even legal?

As it happens, the company that tracks customers everywhere they go is in Canada. But in the US, it’s legal for companies to collect and share customers’ location, though a bill is afoot to restrict that. Many US companies already track your movements inside their stores.

No matter what the courts decide, the fact is that Google and Apple, whose software operates smartphones, know where you are at all times. It’s just a question of what they can do with that information.

One solution is to turn off wifi. But that’s kind of beside the point.

Which is that it’s getting damn near impossible to keep anything you do or say private anymore.

It’s the nightmare everyone’s talking about, it’s Big Brother, it’s 1984, it’s the Horrifying Future it’s…it’s…

A throwback to the past. To where we’ve lived throughout most of civilization.

Example 1:

I recall in my early years as a lawyer, I tried to call Tom Forbes, a lawyer in Eureka, Kansas. I looked up his number in a phone book and gave it to the long distance operator. Instead of transferring my call, she informed me, “Mr. Forbes is at the race track,” so this ended my request. I did not ever get the satisfaction of being told this by Mr. Forbes’ office secretary. It came from the long-distance operator. That was the uniqueness of the small town, where everyone knew everyone else’s business.

–from Trials of a Small Town Lawyer, by Ervin E. Grant

Mr. Forbes never gave the long-distance operator permission to disclose his whereabouts. But the technology of the day was such that she had that information, and having it, chose to pass it on to someone who wanted it. Sound familiar?

Example 2:

Growing up I was raised in the country in Skiatook. Everything about me spelled out country girl.

Skiatook was like every other small town. Everyone knew everybody. Everyone knew everyone’s business and who you are who your momma and daddy are, and who your grandma and papa are. They knew where you lived what you drove and whether or not you went to church on Sunday. Some people thought this was a bad thing, everyone knowing your business and all.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you live; every small town is the same. Everyone knows everyone else’s business.

–Tobi Smith, Wagoner Tribune (Oklahoma)

It doesn’t matter where you live, all small towns are alike, and everyone knows your business.

We all came from small towns. Cities came from small towns.

This is how people lived, and live. They track one another’s whereabouts when they can, and then they spread the information around, and they lay it on thick, like cream cheese on a bagel. Sometimes the bagel gets turned into a doughnut, or a cream puff, or maybe a hot fudge sundae with an extra scoop and whipped cream and toasted almonds on top.

It’s human nature. We’re interested in other people, their whereabouts and whatabouts, whether it’s for marketing purposes or gossiping purposes.

Which doesn’t mean it’s right for a company to track your location. But it’s not a brave-new-world thing, either.

Could the internet be bringing back the small-town connectivity that the early 20th century, when people moved from their small towns to big, anonymous, disconnected cities, took away? The automobile took it away; big-city jobs far away from family and friends took it away; radio and TV and later tapes and CDs and DVDs took it away.

And the internet did too at first, when it was a new, isolating, confusing thing.

But by now there are internet communities as established and close-knit as Skiatook. With all the gossiping and feuding—and support and helpfulness—that any community offers its inhabitants.

And living in a place like the internet where everyone is connected is similar to living in a small town, where other people know your business and a lot of other things about you, whether you like it or not. Some of them use that information to try to sell you stuff—and surely small-town salesmen in days past did the same thing.

Others engage with your interests and hobbies—and maybe your business—in a way that was not possible before.

Example 3:

Shannon Ehlers lived and worked in tiny Soldier, Iowa (population approximately 300). When he was working as a traditional Chinese medicine chemist, he didn’t have a lot of industry peers anywhere near him. But he was a master of using LinkedIn to connect, and not just within chemistry circles. Shannon asked and answered lots of business questions on LinkedIn, connecting him with peers all over.

–from Small Town Rules, by Barry J. Moltz and Becky McCray

No one would argue that connecting with others by choice is a good thing—it’s a great thing, actually.

It’s when we don’t make the choice to let others to know about us that we get outraged. Just as Tom Forbes must have been, if he ever found out what the long-distance operator said.

So while you can accurately say modern technology is invading your privacy, you can also say:

Don’t like it? OK, turn off your computer and your tablet and your smart phone, quit your job, pack up, and go live in a small town far,  far away from all this infernal spying.

Except it’s not.

 

Guest Post from Ryan Rivera: Why, Yes, I Talk to Myself…And So Should You!

talking to yourself

I learned to talk to myself when I began suffering from panic attacks. It relaxes me. It balances me in a moment of chaos. It is my way of managing my panic symptoms, and it works.

But it’s more than that. It’s my way of affirming myself. It’s my tiramisu.

When I feel like a mess, I look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are not a mess. You were created by God in his own image; therefore, you are close to perfection. Go out there and be awesome!”

There was a time when I really hated my co-worker. But when I felt like shouting at him, I went to the washroom instead and talked to myself, saying, “The world will be a better place if you try to understand people more. If he gets in your nerves, just walk away. You are better than your anger.”

I used to have a stage fright. It kills me to be in front of people, especially if I have to speak. But I had to do it for a literature class. Besides calling on the angels and saints above to help me get through it, I told myself over and over, “It’s just for a few minutes. How bad could it be? You need this. You can’t fail this important subject just because you are afraid. Go break a leg!”

When I started having panic attacks, I found talking to myself to be a big help. It keeps the symptoms from getting worse. The moment I feel an impending attack, I breathe in and out for a couple of minutes, and then I go on to self-talk. I tell myself to take it easy. Just relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Space out. “I am in a good place,” I say. “I will be okay. Nothing is going wrong. Everything is normal. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

And it helps a lot! Psychologists acknowledge the benefits of self-talk to improve your perception of yourself and alleviate tension, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks.

The study Talking Yourself out of Exhaustion: The Effects of Self-Talk on Endurance Performance investigated the effects of motivational self-talk on endurance performance. It showed that “psychobiological interventions designed to specifically target favorable changes in perception of effort are beneficial to endurance performance.”

On the Brown University web site, they published an article about body image, which listed some tips on how to boost your body image. One is to practice thought-stopping when It comes to negative statements about yourself. It explains that you CAN reprogram your self-talk about your body, and positive statements are needed to replace the old messages.

If you think that self-talk is awkward, well…you’re right. But only in the beginning.

Think of talking to yourself as a motivation strategy. Use it to create a more positive atmosphere. Do it to make yourself feel better.

Feeling awkward is nothing compared to the benefits you get out of self-talk.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Domesticus!

birthday cake

Domesticus turns one today.

One year since I’ve had this blog! The year has whizzed by, but somehow it seems like I’ve had the blog forever.

I’m having so much fun with it. I’ve learned so much.

I’ve explored everything from classic cars to hackers and their wiles in selling diet pills to chicken parades, with a couple of fake celebrity interviews thrown into the mix just for the hell of it. Who knows what I’ll write about next?

There’s nothing like having a blog, your own domain where you are CEO and CIO and editor-in-chief and star writer. You can do anything you want…but with no deadlines or financial rewards, sometimes it’s hard to get started. Once you do, though, it’s hard to imagine a life without your blog. To me, not having it would feel like losing my vocal cords. An irreparable, catastrophic, panic-inducing loss.

I should blog more regularly. But even if I don’t,  just having the ability to do it at all is magical.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog but aren’t sure who your readers are, don’t know if you have the time, don’t know how to set it up, or have any number of other excuses, you should ignore them, make like a Nike ad, and JUST DO IT!!! Once you do, there’s no going back.

That said, I also have to admit that the subjects I write about and the reasons people find my blog are often highly divergent.

Over the past year, 11,084 visitors came to Domesticus, led here by an enormous variety of search terms. But a common denominator does stand out. I guess you could call it the lowest common denominator. Let me explain.

Back in May, 2012,  I wrote a post about a plant I grew from seed. I’m not much of a gardener, so it was inspiring to me to watch this plant grow…and grow…and grow. One day our landlady came over and saw it, and seemed taken aback. Later I realized why: my plant–lupine, a hearty Northwest native–happens to resemble a certain other plant that some people use for smoking purposes.

So I blogged about that.

Well!

ONE blog post that mentioned the m-word has brought me more visitors than any other subject by a mile. Actually, more like 400 miles. For example, w–d plant was a search term that led 142 p–heads to my blog. M— dragged in another 128. Other variations on this theme pulled in another hundred or so.

And then there were the doubtlessly disappointed, ahem, cultivators who turned to me for specific growing advice: w—plant growing (7), m— flower (7) c—s— flower (hint: Latin name) (7), and even w—plant pictures (6).

Sorry, guys. I don’t even smoke the stuff–though it’s now legal in Seattle–much less grow it.

On the other hand, 110 people who haven’t already bookmarked my site typed the letters d-o-m-e-s-t-i-c-u-s into the search bar just to find me. Thank you!!

Many other people did specific searches for the classic car models I mentioned in posts about the annual Magnolia Car Show, and were rewarded with Bigfoot’s dazzling photos.

And 28 of you came looking for fake celebrity interviews, which I have only done two of, but I can’t wait to do more.

It’s my blog, dammit, and I can say which I have only done two of  if I want to! (See do anything you want above.)

Seriously, it’s been a long, strange, and wonderful trip along with the stoners and the spammers (who get caught by my spam filter like hair in a drain strainer) and everyone else who has come to visit me over the past year.

Thank you so much for coming!

Except for writing more often, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Though I might stay off the topic of gardening for awhile.

 

For Whom the School Bell Tolls

school house

Who are Seattle’s kids counting on? demands the oversize glossy color brochure, illustrated with cute kiddie drawings, that arrived in my mailbox today. Renew Seattle School Levies–Vote YES!

The brochure is from Schools First, whose website describes the group as “the campaign organization that works to help pass Seattle School levies.”

Not that passing school levies is a cause that needs much help. They’ve gotten voter support regular as the rain here–including mine–in recession or boomtime. After all, what is more important than education, and who doesn’t want to help kids?

This time,  the school district wants money f0r a variety of things, including building six new schools–at a cost of $42 million per school.

That’s at least 20 percent higher than normal, according to the Seattle Times.

How can a school building cost that much? the Times asks. Larger schools, higher construction costs. (Why?) And then there’s this:

Finally, there are “soft costs,” for planning, design, permitting, taxes and reserves.

Seattle says its soft costs would be 51.75 percent of its construction costs, adding about $14 million.

 

 

 

I have a hard time with soft costs.

And I have a hard time with Magnolia Elementary, a school in my neighborhood that has sat vacant for 20 years and deteriorated so badly that it has lost most of its value and may be beyond repair. If you owned a building, would you let this happen?

If you live in Seattle, you do own it. Your taxes are paying for it, and for several other schools left to rot. Not sold when they were no longer needed, not rented, just left to rot. Now the same people who “managed” them want more money. The old schools are decaying because of their neglect, so they want to build new ones.

Hmmm.

Still, I could almost shrug my shoulders and vote Yes anyway, after seeing the pathetic pictures of the speech therapist with no office and the hideous portable classrooms kids have to put up with.

Expensive? Well, why shouldn’t we spend a little more and give our kids nicer-than-average buildings? Too much bureaucracy and “soft costs”? Well, there’s bound to be some waste, nothing is perfect, and we shouldn’t punish our kids for the imperfections.

But what about this: a criminal investigation into Seattle Public Schools money that went to pay for work that was never done, at least not on school projects.

How much money are we talking about here?

Oh…$1.8 million or so. Give or take. Not that anyone at Seattle Public Schools is really counting. Arithmetic is a lesson you learn when you’re spending your own money. When it’s other people’s money, math skills tend to get weak, numbers fuzzy.

It’s my money they’re wasting and spending illegally.

That’s bad enough, but there’s something that bothers me even more, something that finally led me, after all these years, to vote No.

It’s not the money itself, but the values.

Should we open our pocketbooks unquestioningly to people who lie, cheat, and mismanage funds? Should we teach our kids that such behavior is OK, that the ends justify the means?

Who are Seattle’s kids counting on?

Let’s hope it’s not the people running the public schools.

 

New Year’s at the North Pole (aka Seattle) 2013

Who is that Eskimo?

Who is that Eskimo?

 

OK, it’s not really the North Pole. Though I’m dressed for it.

In fact, it’s not even freezing, nor even cold by Seattle’s standards. In our first winter living here, the winter of 2009, the mercury dropped to the single digits. Early mornings, driving to yoga, I thought How can anyone LIVE in weather like this?

So this New Year’s is…not that.

It just feels that way. I don’t know if it’s the humidity, the wind, both, or something else entirely but even with temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s,  it’s bone-chillin’ cold!

My friend Linda, who is from Canada no less, says the winter weather here has two speeds: warm, gray, and rainy or clear and cold.

It’s clear and cold.

But as you can see, I’m bundled up like an Eskimo in my puffer coat, fake-fur hat, scarf, and fur-lined gloves. Enjoying it. Except for my fingers, which are like icicles no matter what.

At least the clear air is good for photographs. Bigfoot got some nice ones, which I’ve posted below.

Enjoy, and here’s to the New Year–Skoal!!

Mt. Rainier rising over the Port of Seattle

Mt. Rainier rising over the Port of Seattle

 

Ducks at the Ballard Locks

Ducks at the Ballard Locks

 

Tree full of crows

Tree full of crows

Crow in winter

One flies away.

 

 

 

I’m telling the world: He said he fired his Chinese employee for beating him at ping pong!

It was a joke, though.

ping pong

I’m at the gym, gliding along on the elliptical with my brain set in writerly mode, looking around and observing people. That guy on the treadmill in front of me, could he be a Marine? Oh look, there’s my friend from church, the one who speaks with a lilting accent, I must try to remember where she’s from, is it Panama? And behind me, a man with a booming voice is having a jokey conversation with a friend as they walk along the main corridor.

I miss most of the conversation, but when the man says “I’ll fire her!” in his booming voice and he and his friend burst out laughing, I swivel my torso around to get a look at him. It’s an awkward swivel if you’re on the elliptical, and what do I gain from it? Nothing, only This is what two businessmen sharing a laugh together look like, this is what the man with a booming voice looks like. He is a rather slight fellow with a mustache, as it turns out. His build doesn’t match his voice at all.

I pedal on and forget about him until a few minutes later, when he suddenly appears at my elbow, lightly touching it. At first, I don’t recognize him.

Excuse me ma’am,  just want to make sure you know I was kidding.

Kidding about what? And who is this guy? I wonder.

You know, when I said that about firing my employee.

Oh, that guy. I didn’t hear the whole conversation, I say. I was just being nosy, pay no mind, I don’t say.

Well, I was telling my friend my Chinese employee beat me at ping pong. She beat the pants off me, actually. But I wouldn’t fire her anyway, she’s the best employee I’ve got.

Oh, I say. I laugh a little, and he is gone. It takes me a moment to figure out that when he boomed I’ll fire her!, he was referring to her thrashing him at ping pong. Now the joke makes sense.

But his behavior astonishes me. After reflecting on his words, he came all the way back across the room to the woman who had turned around on the treadmill to listen to him–me. To explain himself. As though he had to. To me, a nosy nobody.

Why?

Did he think, Who is that woman who swiveled around to look at me, could she be a friend of my employee’s who will tell her about the conversation?

But even if that were the case, the employee would surely get the joke. That she might worry her boss would really fire her because she beat him at ping pong doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility to me. I’m sure they joked about it at the time, especially given his jovial, outgoing personality.

What else, then?

He wants to make absolutely sure nobody ever thinks he would fire his Chinese employee for beating him at ping pong. Not even the nosy lady on the elliptical whom he’ll probably never see again–nobody.

Because you possibly could, if you were particularly obtuse, interpret his joke as a racist or sexist remark. And racist and sexist are about the two scariest epithets you can hurl at someone these days.

I want to run after him and shout, Wait, it’s a joke, I get it! I want to shout, It’s none of my business anyway! I want to shout, Even if you meant it literally, don’t apologize, you have freedom of speech!

But it’s too late, he’s gone, leaving me wondering, as I pedal on, about freedom of speech and what it means. Doesn’t it mean some people have a right to express their racist, sexist opinions, even if they are highly offensive to other people?  If the offenders aren’t at the workplace, where their comments have a direct effect on the people who work with them, the answer is yes. We have the right. But what good is it if we’re afraid to use it?

This guy was not only not offensive, he was so worried about being perceived that way that he felt he had to explain himself, to protect himself. Presumably against the possible pc patrol on the elliptical.

And if we feel we have to police ourselves from people at the gym, how free are we?