Monday, December 30, 2013

December Sun

It has been a dry December, and this has meant that morning sunlight has been unusually strong and persistent. Because we have several solar panels, in a sense I am glad for the many hours of sunshine. On the other hand, it is hard to work at my desktop computer, even with the blinds drawn. Friends in Britain tend to take a pessimistic view of the future weather. One of their favorite expressions is 'We'll pay for it later!". By this they mean that we should expect heavy rains and possible flooding in the coming months. I am certainly not hoping for floods, but nor do I expect the next two months to be dry. The last thing we need is another drought here in California. Instead of just praying for "seasonable weather", I should be praying for rain!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Handshake

It may have been somewhat perfunctory when President Obama shook the hand of Cuba's President Raoul Castro, but it has been criticized. Few people remember that Bill Clinton once shook the hand of Fidel Castro, without any significant developments in the strained relationship. I have long been a critic of "Gitmo" - not just of the prison, but also of the whole idea of maintaining an unneeded naval base on Cuban soil. This may have made some sense early in the 20th century, and a modest rental was originally paid. For many years now, the Cubans have declined to accept the rent. How would we feel if a perennially hostile nation maintained the base at Miami beach? I see no reason for us to continue the embargo on trade with Cuba in any form. I understand the vocal chorus from the original middle class Cuban immigrants in Florida who oppose any resumption of normal relations with Cuba, but I believe that it is time for a change.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


The use of perfume by women seems to be very limited these days, especially in such feminist circles as are to be found in Berkeley. In these times when equality in professional life is thriving--an era of which I strongly approve--it is rare in Northern California to encounter a woman who uses perfume. Even in my advanced age, I am still affected by the delightful scent of an expensive perfume. It remains a powerful mental aphrodisiac. There may be other nations where exquisite perfumes are created, but to me the French remain the best at the parfumier's art. My favorite maker remains Lanvin. My all-time favorite was Jolie Madame, with the better-known Arpège a close second. In this egalitarian age, beautiful women wearing "heavy" perfume are likely to be scorned by other women for "lowering" themselves, presumably to try to trap a man with feminine wiles. They may even be assumed to be members of the "oldest profession". "Respectable" women wearing heavy perfume are considered as out of style as businessmen wearing hats. I do know some women who use perfume discreetly on special occasions, but this is usually quite "light", often modestly floral. I appreciate it when I encounter it. I never saw the movie The Scent of a Woman, but the title reminds me of the excitement I used to feel when a woman exuding expensive perfume came near. I think I would still feel pleasantly affected by my old favorite perfumes, but apparently no woman cares to give me the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Charles Dickens

I have never been a great fan of Charles Dickens, preferring the work of his near-contemporary, Anthony Trollope. I have seen movies or TV serials of most of Dickens's best-known works: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Nicholas Nickleby. I long ago read and enjoyed Pickwick Papers. There are other authors, some still living, whose work has always been a priority for my reading list.. First, it was John Buchan years ago, and then Graham Greene. I have read every book written by John Le Carré, and I'm on a waiting list for the last in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. I have read all the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli novels of Laurie R. King, and every one of the Patrick O'Brian naval novels. So I have begun to tackle more of Charles Dickens, starting with A Tale Of Two Cities. I hope to read Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Labels are often helpful, and sometimes essential, as on luggage and on bottles for wine or medicine. Yet no-one likes to be "labeled" I dislike those labels that are stuck on apples and other edibles. They can be missed and left on the food. Barbara tells me of an occasion in which her former husband claimed she had made him a "label sandwich". I can understand that when there are similar items at a different price, those labels assist the checkers to ring up the right amount. But that is a rare occurrence: mostly the labels are not needed for that purpose. Buying the labels and occurring the cost of labor to affix them to each piece of fruit is, in my opinion, a waste of money. Labels are useful if one is sharing a refrigerator with someone. They can also be useful indicators of quality: Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch Whisky is good: Black Label is better! I recently was asked to remove the two labels stuck on an apple. One came off easily; the other was firmly embedded, so that I gouged the apple, trying to get the label off. A relative told us of a three-label item. It was probably an apple, with one label identifying the variety, one showing the price or numeric code, and one announcing to the world that it was "Organic".

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Early last week, I had what seemed like an insect bite, but it didn't start to disappear: it increased in size and discomfort.. By Friday evening it was a significant and itchy rash. I didn't feel that an emergency room visit was called for, but a call was made to Kaiser's Richmond dermatology department, and i was fitted in for a Monday appointment at 4::45 p.m.. My regular dermatologist was not available, but the young man who took her place was excellent. He was virtually certain that I was suffering from Shingles, a diagnosis later confirmed by a biopsy. If one has had chickenpox, as I had before WWll, one is liable to suffer later in life from Shingles. Some years ago, I had taken medical advice to have an anti-Shingles inoculation. This doesn't prevent one catching the ailment, but it lessens the effect. For my comfort, the rash was smeared with Vaseline, and then covered with gauze and loosely bandaged. I also began a course of anti-viral tablets--five a day for a week. Despite the itch, I have had my usual good night's sleep every night. I removed the dressing on Friday to take a shower. In other words, I have easily endured a mild case of Shingles, a condition which is often very painful and may last a long time. If you have had chickenpox, I strongly recommend you to be inoculated..

Monday, November 11, 2013

have never been a great fan of Charles Dickens, preferring the work of his near-contemporary, Anthony Trollope. I have seen movies or TV serials of most of Dickens's best-known works: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Nicholas Nickleby. I long ago read and enjoyed Pickwick Papers. There are other authors, some still living, whose work has always been a priority for my reading list.. First, it was John Buchan years ago, and then Graham Greene. I have read every book written by John Le Carré, and I'm on a waiting list for the last in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. I have read all the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli novels of Laurie R. King, and every one of the Patrick O'Brian naval novels. So I have begun to tackle more of Charles Dickens, starting with A Tale Of Two Cities. I hope to read Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As I wrote this recently, a strike was in progress in our area. BART, the commuter rail system used by hundreds of thousands every day, reducing highway traffic congestion and contributing to a thriving local economy, was shut down. To make matters worse, the AC Transit (bus) workers had also given notice of a strike. A headline in the local newspaper sums up the attitude of most citizens: "Disgusted!". In my working life, as a Naval Officer and then in the insurance business, I was never inconvenienced by a strike: they are prohibited in the armed services and the insurance business is generally not unionized. My wife was involved in a strike as a member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the more militant of two competing teachers' unions. (She voted against the strike, which achieved nothing that could not have been resolved by negotiation.) I generally have negative feelings about strikes. I have certainly been influenced by my upbringing in the UK. I was born less than a year after the notorious General Strike of May 1926, but I grew up hearing stories about the middle-class heroes who drove buses, delivered milk or bread, and kept life going for the nine days of the strike. Unions often held sway in Britain, with practices damaging to the economy, such as "featherbedding"--employers being forced to hire more employees than are needed. (Thanks to the "Iron Lady"--Mrs. Thatcher--the unions' stranglehold on efficiency has largely been eliminated in recent years.) I would argue with myself that anyone had the right to withhold his or her labor, and that to do that in concert with others was a just riposte to the bargaining power of employers. Nevertheless, I remain opposed to strikes, especially if they cause loss of income to workers in other fields. Police and firemen are not allowed to strike, and I believe that the same strictures should apply to transit workers.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Halloween doesn't fit my definition of a holiday. It's a working day. As the years passed when I was running a business, it became increasingly common for our employees, especially younger women, to show up for work in costume. I soon learned that this particular aspect of American culture was irresistible. I remember that when a friend's parents visited the East Coast in 1938 they were shocked by "Trick or Treating". They thought it terrible that parents allowed their children to go around demanding candy from strangers. No, you can't easily fight the culture! Every year, Halloween is a major item in newspaper articles, and especially in newspaper comics. This year, my Episcopal Church parish asked us to give "unwanted" candy to those organizing Hot Meals for the homeless. (Why anyone would have "spare" treats before Halloween I cannot imagine.) Most of those reading this will know that Halloween is also known as the Eve of All Saints' Day. In the UK, most children are looking forward to November 5, "Guy Fawkes Day". They probably know that this commemorates the day when a Roman Catholic was caught attempting to blow up Parliament. With present-day concerns about the environment, my guess is that the bonfires which were a major feature when I lived in England, are no longer permitted. However, it is the fireworks to which children look forward so eagerly. It was - and may still be - the custom for children to build a scarecrow-like effigy, their own version of Guy Fawkes. Never so insistent as trick-or-treaters, they would nevertheless trundle their creation around town, calling out "Penny for the Guy!". Those effigies were usually burned on the bonfire, with little thought given to the concept of death by a cruel torture. In fact, Guy Fawkes was tortured, and only avoided the customary fate of traitors (being hanged, drawn, and quartered) by leaping from the scaffold and breaking his neck. It gets dark quite early in November in the UK, where daylight saving time (known as "summer time" there) has already ended by November 5. One advantage of this is that young children can enjoy fireworks before bedtime, not possible (unless they have indulgent parents) on July 4.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When to clap

When we attend a symphony concert, the program shows the estimated time of performance, and the various movements are listed. I still prefer the customary silence between movements, despite those who have written that we should not suppress the enthusiasm of those who feel moved to express their pleasure. I applaud when the concerto or symphony is concluded. Because Barbara's multi-talented daughter, Laurie Lewis, is mainly (but "not strictly") a bluegrass musician, I attend a lot of concerts in which any solo section of a song or instrumental piece is applauded during the music, a custom that I believe originated in performances of jazz, I have trained myself to join in, if so moved. We also attend many Early Music performances, in which the individual works are often much briefer. Good program notes show where a break between items is appropriate for applause, and when it is not. One can tell by the layout of the page, with white space indicating the breaks, or possibly a dividing line between "sets". Different "movements" are usually delineated by Italian terms, such as Allegro, Adagio, Andante, and Largo. Sometimes there are breaks in the middle of short movements. (One needs to keep alert in order to follow the words, with English translations printed alongside 18th Century Italian, Spanish, French, or German. Having some French and a smattering of the other European languages, I enjoy attempting to translate the texts in my head before looking at the translations.) If the breaks between sets are not apparent, the best guide to the break is apparent from the body language of the performers. I continue to abhor the practice of starting to applaud before the music has ended, a particularly common practice when the National Anthem is sung before the start of a football game. .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


We are told that there are some 11 million "undocumented" persons in the USA. I don't know how the number is calculated, but I accept that it is probably approximately correct.. Many politicians say that they support "immigration reform". The major sticking point in the House of Representatives is Republican opposition to any "path to citizenship". This is because they expect that most new citizens would vote for Democrats. Perhaps as someone who became a US citizens by the legal route, I might be expected to share the Republican view. Why should those who are here "illegally" jump the queue? Well, that's not my view. I am especially sympathetic to those brought here as minors, many of whom know nothing of any other country. There is a misapprehension that almost all "undocumented" folk are Mexicans who "sneaked" across the border. That's true of some, and of others from Central America, but there are many others who don't fit that description. I particularly think of those who have overstayed their visas. The Senate bill calls for a fine for those who decide to report to the authorities, and a long period of waiting until they are eligible for citizenship. For someone settled here, this is not an attractive option. If there is some reform that would apply to long-term residents (which doesn't seem very likely in the near future), I don't expect iot to have much traction.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fortified Wines

Before discussing Sherry and Port, I should briefly mention Malvasia, a grape variety sometimes fortified, and Madeira, both of which I have enjoyed from time to time. Malvasia has also been known as "Malmsey", most famously because of the murder of the Duke of Clarence during England's Wars of the Roses. The unfortunate nobleman was apparently drowned "in a butt of Malmsey wine". The most prized dry sherry is "Fino". I also drink Amontillado. I prefer these as aperitif sipping wines. The after-dinner versions, such as oloroso, have never appealed to me. I prefer port, although I seldom drink it nowadays. The name "sherry" in English is derived from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia,,Spain "Ruby" port is so called because of its color. When aged, the color gradually changes, and it becomes a "tawny" port. "Vintage" port is always aged, its pr Fortified Winesice typically rising with its age. The name comes from the city of Oporto, in Portugal's Douro Valley. Brandy is made in many parts of the world. The world-famous Cognac comes from France, of course, as does its lesser-known cousin, Armagnac, my personal choice on the rare occasions when I drink such spirits.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


There are no members of our family that prefer white to red wine, but I am very fond of certain white wines. First, let me list a couple of wines which I consider only belong in blends: Semillon and (most examples of) Chenin Blanc. I find Pinot Grigio somewhat insipid, but it's "o.k." to my taste. I am especially fond of the Rieslings and other wines of Alsace-Lorraine, and I enjoy Viognier, which has come into greater prominence in recent years. In this limited review of my personal tastes, I enjoy Sauvignon (or Fume) Blanc, but my all-time favorite is the classic Chardonnay. There's a broad range of vinification of this grape, from the somewhat dry to the much-maligned "buttery" style. I like them all. There are many other types of white wine from the many wine-making parts of the world, of course. Then there are sparkling wines, which I'll discuss in another blog.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sparkling Wine

This is the second of several blogs about my favorite wines by style--not individual vintners, let alone vintage years! Champagne, in my opinion, is still the ideal wine for toasting, whether for a simple birthday celebration or some other special reason for rejoicing. But champagne, even a humble non-vintage, is expensive There are many other quaffs suitable for celebrating. From Spain, I especially like Freixenet, but perhaps Cava is best known. In Germany, the simple word "Sekt" is what one asks for. Italy's Prosecco is spritsy. France also has many other sparkling wines, including a version of Vouvray.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I love the color of rosé wines, but I accept the fact that they are not very popular - in fact, more rejected than accepted. Personally, I enjoy rosé wine as a summer quaff. Especially if it is a dry wine, not one of the sweet pink variety.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our Song

In the early Fifties, one of my favorite movie cliches was when one of the characters in a romantic comedy would declaim "Listen, they're playing our song". An orchestra would then play a sentimental song., and the lovers would embrace. My fiancée (Helen) and I enjoyed most movies, but with all the cynicism of Oxford undergraduates anxious to be considered sophisticated, we liked to poke fun at Hollywood sentimentality. So when Helen said "We should have our own "Our Song", I immediately agreed. South Pacific was the hit musical of that time, so Helen readily accepted my suggestion that Some Enchanted Evening should be Our Song. I was never much of a dancer, but I well remember dancing cheek to cheek with Helen when the band played that smoochy song, giving us the chance to declare to each other "They're playing Our Song!". Helen & I had a formal betrothal party at her parents' home in Buenos Aires, but our lives took different directions, and we terminated the engagement "by mutual agreement", despite romantic trysts in Geneva, Paris, and Venice after that decision. We have each had two marriages to other people, and haven't been in touch for many years. But I still think happily of Helen whenever I hear "Our Song" being played.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Washing Hands in Cold Water

It takes a while for the shower and faucet in our upstairs bathroom to run warm. I lost my taste for cold showers in wartime Britain, so we just run the shower until the water is tepid. (Is there a difference between "tepid" and "lukewarm" in the context of running water?) Water, it is said, is the new gold, and we do what we can to conserve it. For some time now I have simply washed my hands in cold water. I readily admit that when I am washing downstairs, I use the hot water faucet. Especially if Barbara or a guest has just washed their hands, I like it when warmer water begins to arrive, but I don't waste a drop of water. But we pay for our water, and though I remain smug about being a good citizen, I do wonder if at least part of my motivation is the knowledge that I am saving money, as well as water...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Flying through the years

When I was taking business trips to conventions and leisure trips to various parts of the world, I piled up significant amount of reward miles. This enabled me to fly first class or business class most of the time, sitting in relative comfort, and often enjoying wine with my airline meals. How times have changed! Most of my flying these days is between Oakland and Denver, and my airline of choice is Southwest. Because I use a wheelchair, I usually have a choice of seats because of "preboarding". This is reasonably priced transportation, especially if reservations are made well in advance. However, by no stretch of the imagination could I say that I fly in comfort. I still have some unexpired miles in a couple of airline programs. I would still prefer to use these for upgrades rather than for free trips. Barbara and I were able to fly in business class when we went to the UK in 2011, and I still remember my luxurious flights on Singapore airlines when I flew to Johannesburg a few years ago. I was interested to see that my own list of favorite airlines coincided with a list in a popular magazine. After Singapore Airlines came Cathay Pacific and Malaysian.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A nostalgic note on cricket lingo

Anyone who understands cricket will understand what these terms mean in the context of England's traditional summer sport. In no particular order, here are some of cricket's words: No Ball, Wide, Slip, Silly Point, lbw, over, maiden, declare, boundary, six, follow-on, yorker, innings, all out, Not Out, Ashes, Windies, Cover, gully, How's That?, new ball, Fine Leg, stumps, stumped, Third Man, Test Match, Carried His Bat, middle-and-leg, Mid Off, Extra Cover, Bye, Leg bye, opener, partnership, wicket, hat trick, cut, off spinner, bail, crease, dropped, run out, goose egg, half volley, single, broken bat, rain stopped play, bad light, substitute, googly, full toss. That's over fifty terms with specific meanings to cricketers. Baseball fans consider a game which takes at least a day, often three days, and sometimes even five days, to be boring. (In earlier days, the Final test was "played to a finish"!) Baseball fans should talk: in baseball a "perfect game" has no hits, let alone runs. Spellbinding, maybe, but to those who don't care, perhaps a bit boring... Cricket is a game to be savored. On a leisurely sunny day, watching 24 men (including the two umpires) in white, with the score creeping up steadily--delightful! Some things have changed. It used to be that professionals didn't have their "Christian" (e.g. first) names on the scorecard, and if initials were there, it was to distinguish between two men with the same last name. Of course, we knew their first names (Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Hedley Verity, Tony Lock). "Gentlemen v, Players" featured amateurs v, professionals. The Captain was always an "amateur"--of independent means or subsidized--and they had their initials shown, beginning (in memory) with W.G. Grace. We knew their names too--Colin Cowdrey, for example. As I write, the Fourth Test is under way. It looks as if we are in for an exciting finish. Australia has a slight advantage at this point, but the result could go either way.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Test Match

As a very small boy, I always wondered when the England cricket team would play a real match, not just a trial one! Soon I learned that Test Matches were very serious affairs, akin to a Superbowl in mesmerizing most of the male population--and many females. also. I played some cricket at Port Regis, my prep school (British-style, aged 8 to 13). I wasn't very skilful, just a dogged low-scoring batsman and indifferent fielder. When I entered the Royal Naval College in 1940, I was delighted to learn that I had the option to skip cricket and go sailing or rowing instead. I even made my House crew in sailing Gig races my first (and subsequent) summer at Dartmouth. In later years, my attitude to cricket mellowed, and I would follow the fate of Surrey, my county team and that of the England side. Fifty years ago, I witnessed the occasional cricket game, largely played by expatriates, in a local park. In 2004, when I was in South Africa, I enjoyed the international 1-day matches shown on television. I must have clicked on a cricket item on Google News one day, because that shamelessly spying system now knows of my renewed interest in cricket. This summer, the Australian team has been in England, playing county sides and five Test Matches for the mythical "Ashes" (More about that name, perhaps, another day.) England won the first by a squeaker, the second easily, and was behind in the third until "rain stopped play"on the fourth and fifth days, forcing the match to be called a "draw". The best the Ozzie team can do is tie the series with two wins, so England will retain the "Ashes". More about cricket in a future blog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Royal Names

I confess a slight tinge of disappointment that the new British royal baby is male. It is remote that His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge will "have issue" in the remaining years of my lifetime, so I won't know if there's woman monarch in the British Commonwealth's future. Britain has always prospered with a female sovereign. Elizabeth I, Anne, Victoria, Elizabeth II--all winners. At least we'll be spared another Henry or Edward, considering that the last two with those names were (in a sense) "losers". I just wonder why the initials of the names of the new prince were chosen to read "GAL"? A subconscious wish to break new ground and give birth to a future queen?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vin Ordinaire

I have never considered myself a connoisseur of wine. I do enjoy two glasses of wine with my dinner, but they are seldom from a highly-rated example of the vintner's art. I can remember only one occasion when a wine seemed really remarkable. Al Chinn & I were having dinner at Masa's in San Francisco about a dozen years ago. It was a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, but I don't remember the year or the winemaker, which in itself tells one something about my lack of appreciation of fine wine. Many's the time I have attended wine tastings and wine appreciation sessions. I can always go through the approved motions, but it's not my everyday style. Wine today is usually so good that it grates a bit when Barbara asks me to pick out a "good" bottle of wine to give her hairdresser. "All our wine is good", I mutter sotto voce. She reminds me that when we were courting I had been buying Oak Barrel bulk wine, which she considered "plonk"--my word, not hers. She would bring a wine such as Côtes du Rhone for us to share, and 44 years later continues to insist that she taught me to appreciate good wine. The truth is that I'm perfectly content to drink wine with no pedigree.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It was a Tuesday, and I called to make a medical appointment. I was told that one was available "next Thursday". Being a literalist by nature, my first thought was "an opening in just two days time?". Something about the unlikelihood of this made me check. It was "Thursday next week" that was being offered to me. My guess is that most Americans consider "next" in the context of dates to mean "next week". Within the week, the next occurrence of a given day of the week is referred to simply as (e.g.) "on Thursday". Well, I got that right, and set up my appointment for Thursday of the following week.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I use the word "alms" here in a broader sense than is usual, not only for small handouts given to suppliants or in response to church collections, but also for gifts to assorted "good causes." From early childhood, I was trained to put some of my modest pocket money in the collection at church, and I have always felt that I should donate some funds to charity. My wife & I share that belief, I'm happy to say. We live in a Community Property state, and in over 40 years of marriage I have never had any qualms about sharing my earnings with Barbara. We do each have relatively modest amounts of Separate Property, which gives us flexibility when one of us has a favorite cause, not shared by the other. Over the years we have increased the number of causes we support. A few years ago, I suggested that we eliminate one charity for every new charity we supported. The problem is that generous Barbara suggests all the new causes, mainly environmental funds, and her suggestions for discontinuance tend to be church-related charities that appeal to me. We use Donor-advised funds held by the San Francisco Foundation. There's a modest fee for this, which we do not begrudge. The two advantages of this arrangement are that we receive an immediate tax deduction in the years in which we add to these funds, and that we don't need to keep additional records for tax purposes of each individual "grant" we request. The one disadvantage is that the minimum grant is $250, so that we still need to keep records for smaller gifts of (say) $50 or $100. One of our favorite alternative ways of giving away money has been to purchase deferred Gift Annuities. When I was in business, still earning, this allowed us to take an immediate tax deduction, and add to our retirement income. Barbara's pension from her teaching is modest, as is her Social Security income. My Social Security is greater, but I have no pension. Those annuities and some dividend income enable us to be "comfortably off", and continue to give "alms". If I sound smug about this, I apologize. We do believe in sharing our worldly goods, but please don't call us "wealthy" or describe us as "philanthropists". We are certainly not in the "1%". Our way of life is determinedly "Middle Class".

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I have written before about the harsh treatment given to the young soldier who "leaked" classified information. Again, we hear nothing of any disciplinary action against those who "unlocked the gate", allowing an immature young man to have access to some of our country's diplomatic and other secrets. Manning has spent long months in a Marine "brig", often in solitary confinement and deprived of clothing. A judge has reduced the future sentence because of his mistreatment/ He has already pled guilty to certain lesser charges. He is being tried this month on charges that he aided the enemy. It will be a long trial. There are people who have formed "Free Bradley Manning" groups. LGBT folk in particular have made this a major issue. A little common sense would call for dropping the remaining charges, for which it seems unlikely that he'll be found guilty. He should then be sentenced to "time served" for his guilty pleas, and released, IMO. The administration's insistence on a trial while he still suffers in jail.seems vindictive, and leads to speculation that this gay soldier has been the victim of prejudice because of his sexual orientation. J do not consider those who betray our nation's secrets as heroes. There are proper (though not always comfortable) ways to express opposition to secrecy. The saga of Edward Snowden is still ongoing. I am not impressed by his frantic efforts to stay out of custody. I hope he is arrested and brought to trial for his disloyalty. In my "old fashioned" view of morality, it is totally acceptable to disobey a law if so doing (a) does not endanger others, and (b) if one is prepared to accept the consequences. This can be accomplished without endangering National Security. Those who take that course---even if I disagree with them--may be considered "heroes" by many, as they are acting on principle. Edward Snowden does not appear to meet either test.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The "F word"

When I was 16, I wrote an essay for my favorite English teacher, and at one point I wrote "copulating" as a substitute for the word that was needed in that particular place. My teacher was not amused. I took care never to trespass in that way thereafter. Times have certainly changed. Until quite recently, it was rare to see the "F word" in print, and it is still not my style to use it in speech or in writing. That was just the way I was brought up. We also see "freaking", "flipping", etc. I have recently read two books by favorite authors. The first was Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carré. The leading character in the story is a Russian oligarch, who wants to defect to the UK with his family. It's a clever story, as are most novels by that author, but my point here is not the plot, rather the Russian's constant use of the once- forbidden word. It was cleverly used, and seemed totally authentic, but my reaction can best be described as mentally wincing at the word's constant use. I have also long enjoyed the Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. It has been a few years since she wrote The Book of the Dead, but once again there is very liberal use of that word. Not that I am shocked, but a little surprised. O, wtf!

Monday, June 17, 2013


These are familiar initials in the US, where French speakers are fairly rare. There's a general grasp of the meaning: "Please Reply". A literal translation of the French is "Respond if it pleases you". Those initials have been adapted here to often become a verb, giving birth to such monstrosities as "Please RSVP" and "Have you RSVP'd?" I was brought up to believe that good manners called for a response to all communications containing "RSVP". I'm a bit more selective now. If it's (say) a wedding or dinner invitation, of course a response is needed. If it's a commercial or institutional inquiry, I recognize that it is just a matter of the hosting entity wanting to know how many places to set, I don't choose to waste time and maybe a stamp in replying that I won't be there. (I know I'll be in good company when ignoring the request.) In recent times I've noticed a helpful variant. If the invitation says "Acceptances Only" I don't have the least twinge of confidence in taking a pass on the event and the need to make a negative response.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Altar Rail

My parish church (St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley) was sensibly designed so that the Sanctuary area in front of the stone altar, (no longer used as such) is raised about four feet above the level of the rows of pews. This enables the congregation to observe the action of the liturgy. When it is time to proceed towards the beautiful wooden altar to receive communion, there are stairs and a handrail on each side of the sanctuary. I would have no problem climbing up the stairs, but walking to the foot of the stairs would be difficult for me, even with a cane. The presider and the deacon or Eucharistic Minister always come down to the main level, and offer the bread and wine to the infirm. I began taking advantage of this some three years ago. There is one elderly and very infirm woman who prefers to have two supporters, one on each side, to assist her up to the rail. I wonder why this is important to her. I don't criticize her for her preference, of course. I do wonder if she thinks her struggles to the rail bring greater benefit. More likely, she is just doing what she has always done to receive communion.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The IRS Blunder

I can well understand the furor created by the reports that the Cleveland office of the IRS "targeted" entities with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" in the title. I am certainly not surprised that the Republican Party is making such an issue of this news. After the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, it is not surprising that a flood of money was then dispatched for political causes. It is also not surprising that a flood of applications for 501(c)(4) status were then received by the IRS, which has the duty of determining if the applicant qualifies for the preferred status (gifts made to entities that undertake political work are not deductible to the donor, but those that receive the 501(c)(4) status may use the funds for "social welfare", although not for direct political purposes.) It is the responsibility of the IRS to determine whether the applicant qualifies for a 501(c)(4) exemption. Joe Klein in Time describes what happened as a "lunkheaded effort by mid-level IRS employees to use an ideological shortcut". I have some sympathy for the IRS employees, faced with a massive influx of applications, who decided to identify some applications which were suspicious, since the entities submitting them obviously exist for political purposes. Some of these applications were "shelved", essentially. Perhaps if I had been working in that IRS department, I would also have tried to weed out blatant attempts by purely political organizations to claim that any of their funds were used for the required "social welfare" purposes. That sympathetic point of view I am expressing may be shared by many. However, a more sophisticated management would have realized that by "flagging" right-wing groups they were setting themselves up to be accused of political bias.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I recently read Garment of Shadows, by Laurie R. King, one of her popular Mary Russell series. Much of the action takes place in Fez, Morocco, during the early 1920s. I realized that I knew little about that area--particularly that for some years there was an independent Rif republic (1920-1926) in what was previously the Spanish-controlled Northern part of Morocco. (Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, and the rest of southern Morocco, were then under French control.) A search engine brought me up to speed. Then Barbara & I viewed a short TV travel feature about Istanbul, and I remarked that there was no fez to be seen. "What's a fez?", she asked. "A hat with a tassel" was my reply. "What's a tassel?", she responded. That was easier to visualize than explain. Again, a search engine showed some excellent colored pictures of the colorful hats. I had wondered what was the difference between a fez and a tarboosh, and learned that the latter was the Ottoman Turkish name for a fez. I also learned that the name arose because Andalusian Arabs had developed them in Fez.. This was when a brilliant Arab civilization had been developed in al-Andalus, in what is now south-eastern Spain, which lasted until the Reconquest finally triumphed in 1492, with the fall of Granada. (I first learned of Reconquista as a street name in Buenos Aires, when I visited there in 1951. Only later did I realize what had been reconquered!). I had seen plenty of fezes at Port Said, when my parents took me on a Mediterranean cruise in the early thirties.For many years, I owned a fez, probably given to me on that cruise When I visited Alexandria in 1945, a fez was a rarity. Originally a symbol of modernity, the fez was banned in Turkey in 1925 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as being too oriental in a modern secular state.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Plan B

I can do no better than to quote part of an article from The Week of May 17, 2013. "'Does anyone like the idea of a 15 year old rushing off to the drug store to buy Plan B after a wild night with her boyfriend?' asked Michelle Cottle. Obviously not. But her access to emergency contraception is still far better than her winding up 'in the stirrups in an abortion clinic several weeks later'." There will always be other situations, such as the aftermath of a rape, when Plan B will be important. However, in very many instances, the need for it will arise when a young person has sex for the first time. This will often be a young woman of 15 or 16. I believe it is important that she be able to obtain Plan B without delay or the involvement of a parent or other person.

Monday, May 13, 2013


We recently enjoyed the visit of a Norwegian second cousin of Barbara and the former's father. I noticed that they always closed the lid of the toilet bowl after flushing. We don't normally bother to do that We usually didn't even flush after "Number One" during the extreme water shortage a few years ago, but we did close the lid, postponing the flush. During that time, I coined the little rhyme "Yellow is mellow, but Brown goes down". My memory is that many toilets in such places as rest stops and State Parks dispense entirely with lids. That makes good sense to me. Many jars that find their way to our dining room table have lids, and more than once Barbara has put the lid on top without screwing it down. Until I caught onto this, I would sometimes lift the jar by the lid, messing up the table when the contents fell out. I'm careful these days either to leave the lid on one side, or to close it tightly. We support MECA (the Middle East Children's Alliance) by buying excellent (but expensive) olive oil from Palestine. It arrives in Berkeley in bulk, and is bottled here by volunteers. I haven't yet spilled any, but the tiny metal cap can only be screwed in place with half a turn. I have thought of making a donation to enable the bottle lids to be more practical, but so far I have preferred to be very careful with the lid used in this good cause.

Monday, May 6, 2013


I woke up at cockcrow on a recent morning, and now I need to settle down with a strong cocktail to write this, after a fierce game of shuttlecock, and the elimination of an intrusive cockroach from the cockpit of my car. "Rooster" is a term invented in the USA by some cockamamie spinsters, because "cock", besides being the traditional word for a male bird, such as a woodcock or a cockatoo, is also a slang term for a penis. (This is not a cock-and-bull story.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I can only think of one person with this word as a first name: that is the comedian Zero Mostel, whom you may remember from his show Fiddler on the Roof. When I am saying a number aloud, such as when I am giving my phone number to someone, I prefer to say "zero" than "o". Admittedly, the letter "o" and the zero are sometimes hard to distinguish from each other. Sometimes the distinction is made clear by using an oval shape for zero, and a perfectly round shape for the letter "o". Also, a diagonal line often appears in the number zero. Most people say "o" when they are speaking about a number. I try not to do this, but I do understand that often it is simpler to avoid the word zero in such numbers as our area code (510), calling it "five ten". Poor neglected zero! For the rest of my life, I plan to say your name at every opportunity.


Sorry for the delay in updates. Here are two for this week and last. ___________________________________________________________________________ The first salads that I recall from the days when I was growing up in the UK, were main course cold meals, usually consisting of lettuce, tomato, and "salad cream" (a poor relation of mayonnaise) with cold meat such as chicken, tongue, or ham. I long ago realized that cafes offered salad as a first course, to be eaten while the main course was being prepared to order. These side salads always included some tomato and lettuce (usually of the rather boring iceberg variety). When salad is served in France, it is usually a separate course that follows the main dish. Barbara and I like this custom, especially because I deplore helping myself to salad to put on a warm and possibly greasy plate. This causes some confusion to visitors who tend to want to add the salad to the cooked vegetables on their plates. We are very fortunate these days in being able to make a salad with lettuce or arugula grown in our Berkeley backyard. Our salads usually include some celery, bell peppers, cucumber, radish, green onions, and avocado. We serve this with the best croutons we have come across (Semifreddi's) and feta cheese. I find these salads so delicious that I will often skip cookie, cake, or ice cream to follow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


This is a good word to describe the speeches we are hearing from North Korea these days. That country's leaders are making loud but ineffective threats against South Korea, the United States, and other countries. The USA wisely takes these threats seriously, although we well know that any act of war from North Korea would result in retaliation, which could virtually obliterate that country's future. There are some critics who believe that we should just ignore the bluster emanating from Pyongyang. The threat of war by the North Koreans, they insist, has no teeth. Even Kim Jong Un, the youthful leader of that country, they aver, would not be so foolish as to start a war of anything other than one of words. On the other hand, I would stress that we should not forget the lessons of history. WWI started because of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to succeed the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. What began as an act of defiance by Serbia soon grew into a war involving many major powers, and resulting in millions of battlefield deaths.. It seems to me that any relatively minor incident, such as an hour's shelling of a South Korean city, could be the spark that would light a fuse leading to a far wider conflict. The United States would likely be caught up, in support of its South Korean ally. In turn, this could force China to enter the fray. Soon, we might be involved in the kind of nuclear war of which we have thankfully been free since 1945. I do not think we should, in turn, engage in 'sabre rattling', but I do think that our government is doing the right thing by showing the world that it is ready to respond to North Korea's threats

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tradesman's Entrance

The house in which I was born had four doors leading outside. There was the "front door", the main entrance. There was a side door, which lead out to an enclosed courtyard, which we would use for al fresco meals when the weather was warm enough. There was a "backdoor" which lead from the scullery into the kitchen garden. And then there was another side door, the "tradesman's entrance". This would be where deliveries from grocer, green grocer, baker, fish monger, coal merchant, etc, came into the house near the servants' quarters. In those days, to have changed the name to "tradespersons' entrance" would have been redundant. Until WWII brought some changes, women did not make deliveries to the houses in our town. About a hundred years ago, when my mother was still young, she observed a loaf of bread fall onto the road from a baker's cart. The deliveryman saw her watching, gave her a broad grin, and said to her "What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over", as he replaced the loaf on his cart.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Four Seasons

This has nothing to do with Vivaldi's wonderful composition. I have been thinking of the weather and other "seasonal" matters. I am writing this after spending some time in Colorado. The weather was spring-like when we arrived in mid-February, with the day's high a pleasant 60 degrees Fahrenheit. During the ensuing three weeks, we enjoyed three snowfalls. In the Bay Area, snow is rare,and when it does occur, it usually merely sprinkles a little snow on Mount Tamalpais and other nearby peaks... In California, we don't make much of seasons, other than the "rainy season", which usually begins in late November and continues through April or May. It seldom rains between June 1 and mid-November. What we do experience everywhere is the variation in the length of night and day. A few years ago, we extended the period of "daylight saving time", which now begins in mid-March. I do enjoy the longer daylight hours in the evening, but I dislike having to get up in the dark again, since I usually do this at about 6:15 am, more than an hour before daylight at the start of this period. I heard someone say that we should have daylight saving throughout the year, which did occur during wartime in Britain. In those years, we had "Double Summer Time" during the summer months. One could say all we need to do is the train people to get up an hour earlier, but I think that we all realize that this simply wouldn't work!

Monday, March 25, 2013


Although I'm an Episcopalian, not a Roman Catholic, I am certainly interested in what takes place at the Vatican. Habemus Papam, and he has chosen to be known as "Pope Francis". (I have seen him described as "Francis I", but this is incorrect. Only when a second pope chooses that name will it be appropriate to describe recently elected pope as "Francis I".) It is refreshing to have a pope who seems to be more concerned with the poor than with protecting the church's priests. We shall see what develops, and it is interesting that he is the first Jesuit to be elected pope. That Order is widely considered to be the most liberal of the many RC Orders. However, Pope Francis is definitely one of the more conservative Jesuits; if he were not, he would not have been elected. Once elected, a pope has considerable independence and it may well be that Francis will provide a more balanced Curia and (eventually) College of Cardinals. For an alternative view of the pope, please check out: What I do not expect to see in what remains of my lifetime is a complete liberalization of thinking at the Vatican. I believe that American observers' hope that women will be able to become priests is very unlikely. There already are a number of priests who have been married, although they are expected to remain celibate. Some of those are former Anglicans, who have become members of the so-called "Ordinariates". I believe that some widowers have also been ordained to the priesthood. In my eyes, it has always seemed strange that men expected to counsel married couples have supposedly had no sexual experience. (It is an open secret that many heterosexual and gay priests have had varying degrees of such experience, but that has not been in accordance with official doctrine.) My guess is that the rule of celibacy is more likely to be relaxed at some future date than will be the opening of women to the priesthood.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blog: Cane, part three

My musician friend, Tom Rozum, has a song Walking Stick, about a dandy, for whom such an item is an essential part of his appearance on the street. He sings "I'd be lost without my cane". My late father made use of a "stick" in his later years. Now it's my turn to need the support of a cane. Kaiser gave me one of their thick standard metal canes, with a hard rubber handle. I still use that, notably when I am taken to church on Sundays. My neighbor, Joan McQuarrie, gives me the "friendly arm" I need for stability. Then Barbara bought two tall matching canes, like ski poles without any prongs. She also bought two walkers and a metal cane with four-pronges Next, in Colorado, she bought a metal cane with a four-pronged base, which I mainly use to walk to and from a car there. She also bought a simple walker, which I use all the time, walking several times a day from the East side of the house (kitchen, pantry, "mud room", utility room,"half bathroom", dining room. office), to the center (living room0, and on to the West side (hot tub room, dressing area, bathroom, and our bedroom). Back in Berkeley, she bought two more canes with a four-pronged base. I bought a "Hurrycane" for myself. If I haven't forgotten anything, that totals eight canes and three walkers, a consequence of not wanting to dispose of one of our homes. None of the "canes" makes use of what I call a real cane.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blog--Cane--part two

There are many types of cane plants. Probably one of the most common is "bamboo". As a child, I recognized similar plants in the family garden. When I first visited the Far East, I was amazed at the use of canes for scaffolding and other construction purposes. It is very inexpensive, surprisingly strong, and widespread. One particular use I remember was for making structures, called "fishing stakes". I came across these when in charge of a small tug without a working compass, searchlight, or adequate chart. These were light structures in the channel between Malaysia and Sumatra, which we were navigating overnight. On each side of the channel were fishing stakes of bamboo, which we fortunately avoided hitting on a moonless night. Have you ever chewed sugar cane? I have, although nowadays I avoid more sugar than the limited amount in my diet. Blackberries and raspberries, etc. grow on a different type of cane. Then there is the cane used in furniture. It's a very of plants, but when we speak of canes, we mostly visualize the thin flexible type, such as those used in corporal punishment. Then there is another use of canes--more about this next week.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Membership cards

Apologies for missing last week's blog. Here is an extra to make up for it: A slew of "2013 Membership cards" has been arriving lately, with start-of-the-year solicitations. Originally, the idea was to renew membership first, and then receive a card when the dues had been paid. Then someone realized that sending the card with the renewal requests would not only save labor and postage, but also act as a nudge to the recipient to respond with payment of "dues". It didn't take me long to realize that these cards should find no place in my wallet. Some tell you that there'll be (say) a 10% discount on merchandise available at some gathering or at a bricks-and-mortar store. Most of them have no use whatsoever. So these "membership cards" in our household are promptly recycled. There are other ways in which "good causes" separate money from supporters, actual or potential. There are raffles. When I enter I note the "Dear Friend" (only a minor turn-off), and I realize that I'm really just supporting our beleaguered Postal Service. Although it is clearly stated that making a contribution will not affect one's chances of winning, there's the wording on the back where one notes whether one is enclosing a donation or not. I suggest that most folk believe that if there's no mark to show that a gift is enclosed, the envelope wiill not be opened. Then there are those unsolicited labels. The idea is that if you don't send some payment, you'll feel "guilty". Then there are those ghastly photos of children needing extensive facial reconstruction. These techniques, heart-rending or even subtle, are in use for one reason only---they work...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cane, part one

This is the first (and longest) of three blogs on some of the uses of a word which has many senses. I first knew this word as applying to an instrument for corporal punishment. I don't think that teachers of elementary schoolchildren eighty years ago were still telling "naughty" small children to "Hold out your hand!", but when I attended my British-style Prep School (mostly teaching boys aged between 8 and 13) the Headmaster kept a cane in his study. I can only remember one occasion when he used it on a misbehaving pupil. It was different at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (age 13 through17). There were several users of canes with which to beat cadets. Cadet Captains, the equivalent of Prefects in a civilian school, were authorized to administer canings for disciplinary offenses. It was mainly the six House Cadet Captains who undertook the punishment. They usually limited their beatings to three or four "cuts". The two Chief Cadet Captains (much like the Head Boy at other schools) also caned other cadets for various offenses. I don't remember any cadet receiving "six of the best", but perhaps they were authorized to administer as many blows. I hated the idea of being caned, and mostly stayed out of trouble. Once the Chief Cadet Captains sentenced me to a caning for talking when I was supposed to be silent in the Mess Room (Dining Hall). I responded by saying that I always felt that the punishment should suit the crime. "Well, what would you suggest?", I was asked. "Sentence me to silence at mealtimes for a week", I said, and both agreed. I suppose most cadets were caned about half a dozen times during their eleven terms at Dartmouth. I was probably unique--and lucky--in never being caned. On one occasion I was in charge of two junior cadets at a fire drill. Some water was spilled, and at the end of the drill I ordered them to mop it up. I then left. Alas, they failed to do a good job, and this came to the attention of my House Officer. He pointed out to me that, as someone training to be in charge of seamen, this was a good opportunity to learn that it is not enough to give orders; it was important to see that they were carried out. He sentenced me to a caning, which I deserved. However, I had injured my coccyx (tailbone) playing Rugby Football, so I said that perhaps I should first obtain medical clearance. He replied that he didn't believe in postponing punishment, and that he thought I had learned my lesson (I certainly had!) "You can go" were his welcome words. There was one ritual of corporal punishment that was more serious--and painful. We called them "Official Cuts", and they were administered harshly by one of the Physical Training Instructors, Petty Officers in excellent physical shape! I think they might have been instructed to give up to twelve cuts. I can only recall one incident--perhaps the offender had been detected smoking, a Serious Crime at Dartmouth! Readers of the Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin novels would recognize that some of the aspects of traditional naval life remained, such as the manner in which flogging was carried out. "All hands to witness punishment" applied, and the Officer in Charge would engage in dialogue with the Petty Officer, giving permission to commence punishment, and carefully counting the blows. Talk about "Man's inhumanity to Man" , as Robbie Burns once wrote! More about canes in my next blog.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shower cabinet

I really like our shower cabinet. There's a light switch conveniently located outside the glass door. The small blue tiles are beautiful. The controls for hot and cold water are accessible. Above all, I appreciate the handy built-in shelf across from the shower head. I recently noted what was on this shelf. My shampoo was my sole contribution. I counted nine different containers of Barbara's--various shampoos, unguents, lotions, and what-all. Ten items in all on this useful shelf. In this matter I fortunately don't even want an equal share of shelf space.

Monday, February 11, 2013

His and Hers

My quip about Berkeley politics is stale now, but still accurate. In what some snide commentators still refer to as "The People's Republic of Berkeley", we have two political groups--the Left, and the Far Left. Barbara & I are both Democrats, but our views are not identical. Generally speaking, she is a Liberal Democrat and I am a Moderate Democrat. Needing from time to time a way to indicate which is Barbara's and which is mine, I always put my share on the right, and hers on the left. An example is her avoidance of butter--she uses a spread called Earth Balance. So when putting toast in the warming oven, my plate goes on the right, and hers on the left. One recent morning, enjoying my toast and Marmite, I was informed by Barbara that I was eating her toast. Now, I have no objection to eating Earth Balance, although I normally use real butter. "But I took it from the right side", I protested. "I'm right-brained, and you're left brained", she replied. Aargh! What can a stable, rational person do to stay out of such situations, while married to a creative, artistic person, who likes to tell people she is "consistently inconsistent"? At least I can truthfully say that the last 43 years have never been boring...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Warming Oven

One of my best decisions when we remodeled our Berkeley kitchen was to insist on a Warming Oven. I almost always eat a cold lunch, usually ham and Camembert on a piece of baguette, plus 3 prunes, an apple (of which one-quarter is passed along to my wife), and a small piece or two of dark chocolate. But I prefer a hot meal for supper, and that goes in our warming oven, at half the maximum heat. I like to have the evening's wine open and poured--we usually take to evenings per bottle--before my warm plate is put in front of me. Barbara prefers to call it a "Warming Drawer": either way, it's great for keeping cooked food warm, until we are ready to serve it. In Colorado, we have a different system: a shelf above the stove has two sides, each with controls for heat and light. It does a good job of keeping food warm, but there's no way to vary the temperature: the heat is either on or off. It's a minor difference, but I slightly prefer the warming oven. On the other hand, in Colorado it is always obvious if a dish is being kept warm. In Berkeley, sometimes I find that food left in the oven, in case someone wants a second helping, is left there overnight, and I find dried-out food when I open the warming oven to heat up the breakfast plates.

Monday, January 28, 2013


As I was thinking about writing this blog, I decided to ask my wife if she knew what the word meant. "Cut", she said. "No", I replied, "quite the reverse: it means to join two parts." "It also means 'cut', she told me. "My parents would speak of a splice of bread." Since Barbara's wonderful parents were Norwegian immigrants, it was perfectly understandable that they would confuse "splice" with "slice". Many folk have heard the phrase "Splice the mainbrace", and know that it is a naval term, traditionally calling for an issue of rum to celebrate a victory or some royal occasion of joy, such as a wedding, a jubilee, or the birth of a child. Wikipedia has a pretty good article, but flubs the naval term for a half-holiday: it's a "make and mend" day, not a "mend and make". That term stems from the days when the seamen would need to spend some time repairing their clothing. The mainbrace on a "square rigged" sailing ship is the cordage which controls the "yards" carrying the sails. It needs to be very strong--the mainbrace in HMS Victory is five inches in diameter. A sailing ship is helpless if the sails cannot be "trimmed" because of a break in a mainbrace. Most breaks occurred in battle: the "running rigging" was a favorite target of an enemy's cannons. It was vital for repairs to be made as soon as possible, and splicing heavy cordage was hard work. A warship's bosun would put his best seamen to the task. It became the custom to reward those men with an extra tot of "grog"-one-third rum, and two-thirds water. (The bosun would usually take "sippers" from each portion for his work of supervising the repair. A less-well-known Naval expression, remembered from my youth is "Different ships, different long splices", simply meaning that not every action had to be undertaken in the same "Admiralty pattern" way. That was a beam of tolerance in the grey of conformity which is a necessary part of a disciplined armed service.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Slow Clap

When I began acting in dramatic productions at Oxford, it was a fixed principle that the curtain went up at precisely eight minutes after the advertized time. It was explained that those who were punctual would accept that delay, whereas the perennially unpunctual would almost always have made it into their seats at that time. I went along with the system, but I chafed at the idea. I much prefer it when the curtain goes up on time. Fortunately, many theaters, including the tiny Aurora Theatre (yes, they use the British spelling!) to which we have subscribed for many years, have a place where latecomers can hear the play. They are allowed to take there seats at the first intermission--but many plays are acted without an intermission, or are written with a long first act. This isn't really a problem for us, as we take good care to arrive in plenty of time. I dislike long intermissions, especially when the seem to be dragged out to sell more refreshments. In the UK, when there was an inordinate delay, the waiting audience would sometimes break out into a song, featuring only one short lyric"Why are we waiting?" Another expression of irritation which I have occasionally heard in the U.S, but which was more common n the UK when I lived there many years ago, was the "Slow Clap". We would clap our hands in unison, allowing about two seconds between claps. It was a sort of unspoken form of sarcasm. Occasionally, it would induce an explanation for the delay, such as a car breakdown delaying a soloist or essential actor. It was easier to tolerate the delay when there was a good reason for it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Collective Economics

Although Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" has lost its Charcuterie and Cocolat, the venerable Cheese Board is still there, its finances bolstered by its adjacent offshoot that serves ready-to-eat pizza five days a week The Cheese Board is a "Collective", meaning that its employees all have a voice in decision-making. It seems to work. One of the hallowed features of the Cheese Board has been its policy of allowing discounts to those over 60. Starting with 5% off, the percentage increased every few years. At 100, "What you see is what you get"--in other words, it was free. We could fantasize about reaching that age, and proudly taking advantage of the system. Barbara & I enjoyed those discounts: we were 20% off in our eighties. All this is in the past, because the discount program was discontinued on October 1. I'll miss it, but I think the Collective made the right decision. Ingredient costs have risen somewhat, but the prices haven't changed. Most of the largely middle-class retired customers are doing better financially than many of the younger crowd. Even without the discount, the price is reasonable, and the variety of cheese is impressive. Some ready-wrapped cheese can be picked up and paid for, but most buyers enjoy the tradition of having a small taste of the selected cheese before buying it. We also love the vegetarian pizza, the English muffins, and the baguettes. Yes, we'll continue to patronize the Cheese Board as long as we are able to do so..

Monday, January 7, 2013

Second Thoughts

I don't make New Year's resolutions normally. If I convince myself that I need to make a change, why wait until the next year? But I do think that my very recent understanding of how my style varies from that of my dear wife could be considered a Resolution. I might word it as follows: Don't assume Barbara's first response is her "final answer". This is the politer version of stating that it's a woman's privilege to change her mind. I err in the other direction. When I make up my mind--normally very quickly--I seldom change it, and when I do, it is usually after a long internal struggle. Sometimes, I think it's a miracle that we are still together after over 40 years. ( I am certainly not alone in this wonderment...) Happily, we still love each other, and are usually publicly tolerant of each other's shortcomings. (In private, we do communicate robustly about the other's failings...) I usually make the choice of the breakfast dish, leaving the choice of fruit (cut, raw, or smoothie) to Barbara. As for the main course at dinner, I like to know what we'll be eating in advance, so that I can choose the wine and set the table appropriately. So I am inclined to ask "What's for dinner?". What I need to do is to eliminate the assumption that Barbara's first response is immutable. I am trying to do just that this year.