Monday, January 30, 2006

A lamentation and a prayer

In the weeks after September 11, 2001, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loss for what could have been. I remember seeing the pictures and news clips of people all over the planet, lining up at US embassies to sign condolence books and leave candles and flowers. I remember the mind-boggling array of nationalities among the fatalities and missing persons.

It was a moment when nearly all of the world's human population was drawn together in a sincere, intense yearning for peace. United in our fatigue with conflict, the majority of humanity was poised at that moment to say: Enough. Enough of trying to douse violence with more violence, enough making excuses as to why the problem is everyone else but us. It was a moment that could have been seized by a truly gifted leader, the type of person who comes along only rarely in human history. If that kind of person had been in a position of leadership at that moment, maybe he or she could have galvanized the world in the wake of our shock and disgust, in the reminder of our common humanity, and turned the tide.

George W. Bush, of course, was not that leader. Not only was the moment lost, it was trampled. Crushed by arrogant bravado, tin-eared and ignorant turns of phrase, and eventually, violence.

He has brought war down upon the heads of millions, justified by false information that he all but demanded from government employees accountable to him - and now he disingenuously shrugs that he was misled, but admits he would have gone to war no matter what. He endlessly trumpets the same circular logic - "It's my intention to make Americans safer, therefore by definition my actions do make Americans safer." And yet Hurrican Katrina revealed our pitiful inability to deal with any kind of disaster, indeed the wholesale dismantling of the very disaster-response infrastructure that has supposedly been strengthened. Iraq has gone from a despotically ruled but relatively powerless country, to a massive training ground for angry and opportunistic terrorists. As Iraqis suffer, genuine relief at ejecting a tyrant turns to bitterness, while our own government shrugs off the incompetence of the occupation - how were we to know it would be hard? Because it was your job to know, before you played with other people's lives. More people the world over hate the United States more intensely than ever, and more terrorist acts are committed now than in 2001.

Our government has spent unfathomable amounts of money on all of this, betraying the fiscally conservative values of the president's political party and cutting basic services to his own citizens. He has fueled religious extremism and intolerance, wrapping himself in a banner of so-called Christianity while demonstrating either complete ignorance or disdain for the teachings of Jesus. The civil liberties and separation of powers that underpin our constitution are trampled, the president and his advisors loudly declaring that he is above the law. The values of democracy and liberty that we are supposedly spreading, and which many people in the world genuinely admire, are looking tarnished and hollow these days. More and more, our government uses the tactics and rhetoric of fascism, telling us in vaguely menacing tones that we should be fearful of unspecified enemies who lurk at every turn, that secrecy is necessary for our own protection, that debate is unpatriotic.

While in Rome last summer, touring the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, I commented to Enrico that every U.S. president should be required to visit that spot before taking office. The mammoth size and splendor of the buildings are still evident, and surely the people who walked those bustling streets and corridors thought to themselves: We are it. It's a cautionary tale that should be emblazoned in the minds of all U.S. leaders, and the leaders of all superpower nations to come.

I thought that perhaps September 11 would prove to be the event that brought us back from the brink, an event so destructive that it united the people of the world in a vision of how we want to live our daily lives, what we want for our children, how we want to exist together. It was not to be so, and I have no doubt that history will judge this presidency as a mammoth and tragic failure. Perhaps, though, the Bush presidency itself will eventually prove to be that decisively destructive event, the catalyst for change, the planetary disaster that paves the way for an exhausted humanity to say: Enough.

Miscellaneous Shellfish

I am home with a stomach bug. There are few things worse than feeling really nauseous. Bleh.

We are entering the Year of the Dog. I hope my dogs aren't expecting too much power and influence to come from that.

Grey, rainy, dank, wet, cold, rainy. Will it never end?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A little too easy, really

I know that making fun of quaintly awkward translations of stuff is a very easy target for humor. Chinese restaurant menus, warning signs in foreign hotels (please to caution oneself of the hot water!), that sort of thing. But today I got an email from the company that rented us our very fabulous Italian house last year, enticing me to become a return customer, and it made me smile:

Letting of Charming Houses
Villas & Manoirs
All the fascination of the places
where to live a rare and
personalized experience

Friday, January 27, 2006

Another sulubrious use for chicken fat

Last night at about 2 am our dogs suddenly sprung into alertness and ran to the front window. Toby especially began barking and singing and whining frantically, so I got up to see what the fuss was about.

Our house sits up on a hill where we have a broad view of the street corner and the neighborhood. I think our dogs take very seriously their responsiblity to keep watch over the realm, to monitor the comings and goings of all creatures across our lands, and to investigate anything fishy. Which, last night at 2 am, included a virtual cat convention on the street corner. There was no fighting - our carport is the approved neighborhood locale for all catfights and cats in heat - just lounging. There they were, like a bunch of drunks in front of the corner liquor store, just hangin'. The dogs were beserk.

I couldn't quiet them down. I couldn't let them out to wake up the whole neighborhood with their barking, which I knew from experience would do nothing whatsoever to intimidate the cats away from their post. I coaxed, I commanded, I sprayed them with water.

"I don't know what else to do," I said to Enrico. "Toby is beside himself."

"I'll take care of it," Enrico said, climbing out from under the covers. As I tucked back in, I heard him rustling in the kitchen, and the cacophony soon stopped. When he came back to bed, I asked how he'd done it.

He'd fed them each some chicken broth. So simple, and yet so clever. The cats were completely forgotten.

Of course the dogs think that after morning food comes time up on the bed! Because usually after their breakfast, we let them hang out with us. How were they to know that it was only 2 am and the chicken soup wasn't breakfast? So to keep the peace we had to invite them up. It was a snug night in the bed, all together. But at least it was quiet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Well it makes you think anyway

I'm on the board of a small, progressive faith-based organization which is rebirthing itself after near-total dormancy. I'm the treasurer. The organization is in somewhat dire financial straits. As the treasurer, I have seen it as my duty to push my fellow board members to think about the Worst Case Scenario, financially speaking. I've been at the helm of organizations on the brink of financial disaster, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can't wait until you're in crisis to start planning for crisis. By then, it's far, far too late.

Some of my fellow board members are clergywomen, though, and although they've certainly shared my anxiety and paid attention to my charts and graphs, there has been a certain element of "we're on the right path, and God will provide." Myself, I've been pretty skeptical of that approach. My conception of the Creative Force of the Universe just doesn't work that way. If something is stagnating, she's more likely to sweep it away in the power of her unstoppable creativity than to pause and pluck it out of harm's way.

So imagine my surprise when a sizeable (for us, anyway) bequest check arrived in the mail, out of the blue. Not enough to solve all our problems in the long run, but enough to provide substantial breathing room. In all my years at charitable organizations, I have never, not once, received a sudden, unsolicited influx of cash from a mysterious guardian angel right at the eleventh hour. It's just too Dickensian. Or too Hollywood.

And so my clergywomen colleagues just laugh with knowing, satisfied delight, while I'm left shaking my head, unsure what to think.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Too many interesting things in life

Books I have recently acquired or requested from the public library:

  • Manitoba, A History
  • Empire of the Bay: A History of the Hudson's Bay Company
  • The Geneaology of the First Metis Nation
  • What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: The Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England
  • The Ceylon gazetteer; containing an accurate account of the districts, provinces, cities, towns, principal villages, harbours, rivers, lakes &c. of the Island of Ceylon, together with sketches of the manners, customs, institutions, agriculture, commerce, manufactures, revenues, population, castes, religion, history of its various inhabitants.
Yeah. It turns out, I'm a little weird.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I have finished sifting through 80+ resumes. I've hired (or been part of hiring) many people, but this is by far the densest pile of resumes I've ever handled. And we're only halfway through the application period.

Anyway, my all-time favorite job title appeared on one of these resumes:
"Deckhand and Corporate Giving Advisor"

You just have to wonder about that one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tips for jobseekers

If you send in your resume as a Word document, and you had the "track changes" feature on for redlining - accept all the changes and render it final before you send the document. Unless of course you want the reader to see all the things you deleted. Presumably you deleted them for a reason, no?

Better yet - PDF.

I know, I shouldn't hold things like this against candidates. But it's hard not to. It's certainly a lesser sin than neglecting to follow the application instructions, or calling me to ask questions that are CLEARLY answered in the posting. ("I see the closing date is January 31, but can you tell me when the closing date actually is?") It's also a lesser sin than writing a cover letter that has nothing, not even one little sentence, that expresses why you're interested in this job specifically - I mean, it if you can't be bothered to add one customized sentence to your otherwise patently boilerplate letter, how interested can you really be?

And seriously - don't send your photo. Unless it's for an acting or modeling job, just - don't. And serious job applications do not come from people with email addresses like Unless your name is in fact Cutie Poo, which would be very, very unfortunate.

Twenty resumes later, edited to add:

  • Don't send two or three versions of your resume - "attached is my functional resume, and my business resume, and my community service resume!" The person receiving your application is having to open, read and print many, many documents. Don't add unnecessary clicks.
  • Don't set your electronic documents so they can't be opened from an email, and have to be saved. That's just more clicks. More clicks = bad.
  • Don't set print margins so tiny that most printers can't accomodate them. Your stuff will print crappy, and the computer will ask me whether I want to print despite the tiny margins, and that means - say it with me, people - MORE CLICKS.
  • Proofread!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The things I learn in PI school...

Here's a little quiz. You've gone to the home of a witness in order to interview them. They invite you in and initiate some welcoming conversation. Match the questions with the appropriate answers!


(1) Would you like a Coke or some coffee?
(2) Would you like a beer?
(3) Would you mind if I smoke some crack while we talk?


(A) Yes, thank you! (Always)
(B) No. (Never)
(C) Gee, I'd prefer that you wait until I'm gone. But you can set it up if you want.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A match made in heaven

I think Enrico and I are the two biggest, geekiest nerds on Earth.

We broke our streak for this?!

Yesterday it did not rain, breaking Seattle's rainy-day streak at 27 days, 6 short of the record. It was news to me that it didn't rain yesterday, since the whole damn day was just as grey as ever. And today it's right back at it with the relentless precipitation.

I mean, when we were working toward a record, that made it ok that it had rained for nearly 4 weeks straight. We were going to break the record, and then the sun was going to come gloriously out, its beams streaking biblically from the clouds and gloriously marking The End of the Time of Rain. At least that's how I thought about it - ok, still raining, but just 6 more days until we break the record and and move on to the the streaming sunbeams! Now we're the rain. No psychological end in sight, no greater purpose to it all.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Building an ark

Here in Seattle we are on our 26th consecutive day of rain, the second-longest rainy streak on record. The longest known streak was 33 days in 1953, according to the local paper anyway. They're saying there's no end in sight to the rain, so this year just might be the record-breaker.

Maybe 26 straight days of rain doesn't sound that bad, but seriously - you just sink into the spongy, waterlogged ground by now, our carport has become a permanent lake, and I haven't been running in two weeks. It hasn't been the usual nice, gentle mist like you get in the produce section, either. Downpours. And, it turns out (according to my co-workers) that my office is on the windiest street corner in downtown Seattle. So I get horizontal downpours.

This record is not to be confused with the one we hit a few years ago for consecutive cloudy days. That was 93 or something. But it didn't actually rain every day. In fact we have been getting some sun between rainbursts, so I guess that's something.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Food for thought

We are starting to hire a permanent CEO at my gig (this is a good thing), and I was stunned to learn today that there were already 47 applicants - in less than a week. Forty-seven people that want my job. At first I thought - based on past experience - that I would go through and quickly weed out the plumbers and nail salon owners who have decided they'd like to run a small international nonprofit corporation - as their next logical career move, obviously. But to my surprise, I can't rule these people out that easily. It's a pretty solid bunch of applicants.

Applications will be accepted up until the end of January. One of my co-workers started a pool to bet on how many applications we'll receive, total.

The funny thing is, the really on-the-ball, super-motivated people do their homework, and start calling around to see who they know, how they can network their way to an inside track with this job. Which often includes calling me, and eventually working their way around to asking why I'm not a candidate for the job, seeing as how I'm already doing it on a temporary basis and all. I can alway see their question coming from a mile away...I can feel their this a rigged search, all for show with a candidate who's a shoe-in? Is there something so wrong with the job that not even the person doing it would want to apply? Is the board crazy? Is the office upstairs from a crack house? Is this whole operation a front for a religious cult?

So I always reply, no, I'm not interested in the job because I'm a professional interim.

To which they always, invariably, ask, "Seriously? That's a real job?"

I'm telling you, everyone should aspire to a career that prompts that question. It never ceases to amuse.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Happy belated Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Christmas

I know I said we didn't buy Christmas presents this year, and generally that's true, but in fact I ordered a box of little stuff for Enrico which arrived yesterday - a Russian Orthodox Christmas present, of sorts. Russian Orthodox Christmas of course falls 13 days after "Western" Christmas (for lack of a better term) due to a delay in changing from the Julian to the more accurate Gregorian calendar.*

At regular Christmas this year, a friend called to say she was taking her kids to Christmas Eve services, and would I like to come? Thinking, I suppose, that I'm one of the only church-going people she knows, and I might like that. The irony, I told her, is that Christmas eve has always been the one day my family never went to church, because we were always visiting my mother's family, and they were Russian Orthodox (more precisely Carpatho-Russian Orthodox, I think). So although we were celebrating Christmas Eve with the rest of American society, there would be no service at my grandma's church for another 13 days yet.

I once asked my mom how they explained that when she was a kid - why their presents came two weeks after most of the U.S. It was a heavily Orthodox immigrant community, of course, so they certainly weren't alone, but - how does a parent explain Santa Clause in such circumstances? How is it that Santa comes to a few houses long after most local Christians have celebrated Epiphany, taken down their trees and lights, and eaten all the holiday leftovers?

Mom said that her grandmother - the great matriarch of the family - simply explained that Santa Clause came back from the old country in a helicopter for Orthodox Christmas. I've always loved that - not just that Santa comes back, from "the old country," but he uses the more expedient helicopter the second time around. Maybe the flying sleigh magic doesn't work. Maybe the reindeer are too tuckered out. Maybe he just knows that the Slavs are a practical people.

Anyway - Santa came from the old country in a helicopter this weekend and brought us a new Golden Retriever Movie Guide, Rachel Ray's 30-minute vegetarian meal cookbook, a CD of the Duke Ellington orchestra performing jazz renditions of the Nutcracker and Peer Gynt suites, and an educational DVD with John Cleese entitled "Wine for the Confused." Veselé Vianoce!

* Actually it turns out, if Wikipedia is correct, that the Russian and several other Orthodox churches still haven't accepted the superiority of the Gregorian calendar, but have just somehow rigged their beloved old Julian calendar to be more accurate until the year 2800. At which point I guess they'll just cross that bridge when they get to it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Free! A House Elf no more!

This afternoon as I was sitting on the couch, Nelly came over and nudged me gently with her snout, and I realized she was offering me a pair of Enrico's socks. Nelly has given Dobbie socks!

We've never known Nelly to do this before. It's refreshing that she can still surprise us with novel behavior. When she was a puppy she used to bring us her empty water bowl for refilling, which we thought terribly clever and cute. Now when it's empty she just picks it up and slams it loudly on the floor, to let us know of her displeasure. She really became a curmudgeonly old lady well before her time, that dog.

And yet today, she gently, playfully and inexplicably presented me with a pair of my husband's dirty socks. The sparkle in her eye suggested perhaps she was doing it just for the fun of confusing me.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A little obsessed

Why, WHY did Julius Rutabega change his name to Julius Camel? Seriously, I'm ready to give up the pseudonyms and attract anyone to this blog via Google who might, just might, be able to answer this burning question for me.

Today I went to the Special Collection Archives at my local university, which happens to have the autobiography of my famous relative, Uncle Charlie Camel. Uncle Charlie was the one who got things named after him. The archives are kind of cool. You have to check in, and you can enter the actual archives only with loose-leaf paper (no notebooks) and a pencil. No books, no laptop, and no ink pens. They did let me bring in my eyeglasses, thankfully. Then you tell them what you want to look at and they bring the materials to you. It all made me feel very special. Like having to go through the decontamination chamber on Star Trek.

Here is what Uncle Charlie has to say about his father Julius's name change (as I transcribed it on my sheet of looseleaf paper with my pointy pencil): "His name at that time was Julius Stewart Rutabega, which however he changed for family reasons to Camel, taking his mother's maiden name, about the time I was born." In the winter of 1876-77, Julius made a 2500-mile snowshoe trip from Fort Liard, Canada to Crow's Wing, Minnesota, and then on to New York and England. "It was for the purpose of having his named changed in London that he made this long trip. He started from the Mackenzie River as Mr. Rutabega. He returned the following summer a Camel."

But why? What were the "family reasons?" I think I have learned from English census records that in fact Julius was the second of four children born to his parents in Ceylon. The 1851 census finds his widowed mother living with his three siblings and working as a music teacher (Julius allegedly being in military prep school of some kind at this point). So my romantic idea that Julius and his mother were abandoned in Ceylon by his shiftless father to fend for themselves, casting off his ignominious name in the process, seems improbable. And the idea that perhaps Julius simply hated his father for some reason - Well, the father must've died before Julius was 10 years old. Can you really develop such hatred of a parent by the age of 10 that you'd travel 2500 miles by SNOWSHOE to legally expunge their name from your life?

Meanwhile, the Mormons, who have a bizarre yet handy obsession with genealogy, have microfilmed birth, marriage and death records from churches in British Ceylon for the 1800s. I could have them sent from Salt Lake City if I want. Maybe that would shed some light on what went down in Ceylon with the Rutabega family.

Seriously, this is driving me nuts. But, I may never know. The secret may have died with the Rutabega name.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

PI School, Part II

Tuesday was the first night of the new quarter of private investigator school. Last quarter was the lawyer and the law. It was ok. This quarter is finally about private investigation, and it's taught by a career investigator. Very promising so far. She knows her suff, and is a hoot and a half to boot. And, she brought cookies! Here are three tidbits of wisdom from the very first night.

  • The best job training? Get a job in the sleaziest bar you can find.
  • The trick to trailer parks is: Walk down the middle of the road with a clipboard and a pen. Within minutes you'll be having coffee with the trailerpark busybody and you'll know everything there is to know about anyone who lives there.
  • The most important skill is being able to write as fast as a person talks. So it's very, very important to find the right pen.