Archive for August, 2007

konkel.jpgWhen COBI Finance Director Elray Konkel—one of the City’s straightest shooters– speaks, I listen up.

I even watched a re-play of some of Wednesday night’s lengthy Council meeting on BITV, to make sure I heard correctly.

Sure enough, at that meeting, Konkel introduced the City’s Capital Facilities Plan with some blunt talk, noting that 30% of the $101 million CFP total is eaten up by two projects, Winslow Way improvements at $21 million and a new police and court facility at $9 million.

“It’s a very highly leveraged plan,” Konkel said. (more…)

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Will BHS’s new lockdown look have any impact on the students? Will there be an effort to enhance the aesthetic inside the building, to compensate for the barricades? I hope the district’s Construction News website will be updated (last entry 5/21) to let us know how the high school will function, and how students will manage in a construction site. And how they get into the school. Seriously. Where’s the entrance?

As a survivor of a kitchen remodel, I mean this with complete sympathy for everybody involved. The chaos is inevitable and the payoff is worth the pain. But be warned, even as the chief construction instigator-designer-administrator-workzone-coordinator, I eventually succumbed to Remodel Breakdown. One day, for no reason at all, I just got in the car and started driving (destination: AWAY FROM HERE), sobbing into my cell phone to my Seattle commuting husband (whose 20-year Seattle employment was, I believed, a deliberate shirking of his shared misery obligations), threatening to keep driving until the remodel was done. I made it as far as Port Gamble when I regained my senses and came home to soldier on for another three months. For the record, I love my kitchen.

The point: no one can take months of dust, chainlink, startling noises and blockaded entrances. Not even high schoolers.

The rest of us need to take care of all campus regulars. Anyone want to start a Construction Support Group that will provide soup, comfy slippers and fresh flowers? And a getaway car for the breakdown? 


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marina.jpgTonight at 6:30 pm at City hall is the public hearing on an authorizing ordinance for an Open Water Marina in Eagle Harbor.

Community Housing Coalition director Kat Gjovik posted an excerpt from a letter in support of the marina on Green Voices for Bainbridge, in which she wrote, “As advocates for diverse, affordable housing options for our community, we collectively support this Ordinance and commit to participate in future review, discussions and planning activities regarding an open water marina in Eagle Harbor.”

But the plan hasn’t been well-received by some in the liveaboard community. In an article about the marina this week, the Kitsap Sun quoted liveaboard Dave Ullin as saying,”For government to require me to tie to a buoy or anchor within a confined reservation and charge me a fee for this ‘service’ is contrary to my nature.”

As background on the marina efforts, here’s an article I wrote for the Buzz last year: (more…)

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Intellect eclipsed





Gone (almost).


We drove to Manitou Beach under the full moon around 2 AM, so tired I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel. But I woke up as we watched the moon redden into eclipse, awed by its beauty and darkness.

The physical science is fascinating. The NASA website, for instance, says that a lunar eclipse can only occur during a full moon. During an eclipse, the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, and the moon’s reflected light from the sun is temporarily in the Earth’s shadow. The moon appears red because of the filtering and refracting effects of our atmosphere.

An eclipse stirs more than intellectual curiosity. The hour we spent watching the clear, black sky, listening to the waves on the beach, wrestling with the camera, and exchanging quiet greetings with a couple on the porch of a nearby house, spun the moon’s magic of romance and madness, tides, danger and the supernatural. It suspended my disbelief in things unknown. All things seemed possible, even probable, under that devoured moon.

In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the effects of our actions are multiplied by 1000 during a lunar eclipse, for good or for ill.

Another tradition has it that the eclipsed moon resembles a more human face than when it fully reflects the light of the sun, a symbol of how we are diminished when we see only our own intellect and achievements, rather than the greater light of the truth reflected within us.

The mystery of the moon, as it’s swallowed into blood-red shadow and then emerges anew, makes poets of us all, if only in the silence of our hearts.

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freedomstatue.jpgFrom Bainbridgebuzz.com, 4 July, 2006


This Independence Day, I can say without blushing that I believe America is an extraordinary place of opportunity and freedom. The promise of this country is as much a state of mind as it is a system of government, and it is unique in all of history.


But as our country slides deeper into partisanship, and money completes its takeover of our civic lives, I feel sorrow as well as anger that the promise of America seems to be slipping from us. Freedom itself seems lost.


The changes in our country transcend political parties. No Child Left Behind–passed with bipartisan support–has diminished our freedom to educate our children as local communities see fit. We’re fighting a war with which a majority of us disagree, and both political parties got us into it. Power brokers buy laws, justice and tax breaks. In politics, money trumps human beings, regardless of party or ideology.

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From Bainbridgebuzz.com, Monday, 10 July 2006
I thought I might send emails and notes from our family’s trip to England later this month, to post on the hometown Buzz. But it seems we’ve left earlier than planned, and to a place farther from home. We’ve slipped through a door next to the telephone, and now I sit at my desk or talk to my friends from an enormous, incomprehensible distance. I don’t even try to understand the life I left because this new one is so raw and beautiful.

The phone rang last week and I heard my husband’s voice, incredulous, saying he’d gotten news from our doctor. Our middle son, 17-year-old Nate, has a tumor near his auditory nerve. A brain tumor.We’ve traveled through this strange land of serious illness before. Eleven years ago, our youngest son, Jake, who was four then, was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor on his optic nerve. Doctors tell us there’s no connection between the two tumors, but I claim a mother’s right to an irrational belief in the poetry of the human body. I don’t know the meaning of these growths near the organs of perception of two of our boys, but it’s significant to me just the same.  

When Nate was in middle school, the school nurse called us two years in a row saying his hearing tests showed some deficit in the left ear. We took him to his pediatrician who assured us there was nothing wrong with him. With the faith of someone who believed lightning does not strike twice, I let it go. The possibility of a tumor growing near his brain stem, invading his ear canal, never entered my mind.

Last spring Nate started to complain that his left ear was so clogged he couldn’t hear out of it. We thought he had a sinus infection so we took him to an ear, nose and throat specialist who ordered an MRI.

After we got the results, we spent the week of the fourth of July–which was unseasonably cold, like we were–in the demoralizing, clinical world of office lobbies and patient exam rooms. Doctors were cordial but not personal or compassionate. We grilled them and they answered. They grilled us and we answered. Yes, a tumor. No balance problems or facial numbness. Yes, hearing difficulty in one ear. Yes he should have surgery soon. No guarantees about his hearing. Balance and facial nerves should be fine. No football his senior year.

Nate was a condition, a surgery, a problem to be solved, a schedule to be accommodated. Not a young man with the world in front of him, beloved by his family and friends. The lack of warmth exhausted all of us.

When we spoke to Jake’s neurosurgeon so long ago, he told us he didn’t even want to meet Jake before the surgery. “I can’t do what I do if I have a personal connection with them,” the surgeon said. My husband and I complained to each other about the lack of kindness in the medical world, but in truth, we couldn’t have heard social niceties anyway. We were deafened by the sound of our own heartbeats, pounding out the frantic mantra all parents chant for a gravely sick child: “Makehimwell-makehimwell-makehimwell.”

One day last week Nate and I had to walk onto the ferry because it was overloaded with residual fourth of July traffic. Late in the afternoon, after two doctor’s appointments, we rode the bus back to Colman Dock. If we’d missed the point before, it was unmistakable as we lurched along in the plodding, stop-and-go bus with its kaleidoscope of weary, suffering, laughing, crabby, calm, burdened humanity: we’re not special, not God-protected, not too comfortable or too smart for sorrow. We belong to the same world as everyone else–the weathered, cheerful alcoholic, reeking of urban alleys and stale liquor, the old Pakistani man with with long fingernails and sores on his lips, the young woman staring straight ahead, hugging her backpack, the heavy matron sleeping on a bus that smelled like rotten garbage.       

Tumors and diagnoses and cold clinics have stripped us–again–of our confidence and self-importance, and for that I’m grateful. I remember from the days and long nights in intensive care with a screaming four-year-old that a profound healing begins in the realm you can enter only when you’ve given up all your pretenses, when you’ve met the limits of your intelligence, emotions, personality, and worldly position, when you’ve been driven to your knees and see that your very best efforts are not enough. I’ve forgotten so much about the blessing of humility since then.

We’ll go on our trip to England as scheduled, and at the same time follow this journey we did not choose. When we come back, Nate will have his surgery, and we’ll trust his doctors with his precious brain, his hearing, his face and his balance.

And I hope humility won’t be so hard to learn our second time through this unseasonably cold country. 

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From Bainbridgebuzz.com Monday, 17 July 2006
I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or call my lawyer.

A year and a half ago I was your average Bainbridge mom, dealing with kids, volunteering in the community, and doing some free lance writing.This month I was interviewed by a federal ATF agent about the arson fire on Tolo Road. For the record, I’m the only person at the Buzz who’s been interviewed. Shortly after the fire, when questions of ecoterrorism had already surfaced, I offered the Buzz’s full cooperation with the investigation and was asked to come to the fire station for an interview.

Before I went, my co-publisher, Cathy Nickum, and I wrestled with our responsibilities and obligations to our anonymous commenters (we don’t have any information on them other than the email addresses they provide when they post).We needn’t have bothered. No one ever asked us for information on commenters and we have never given any. Unless law enforcement has more spy tools than I think, investigators have no way of contacting our anonymous posters. I haven’t heard that people who posted under their real names have been contacted either, and I assume they have not.

Right off the bat, my ATF interview took a completely unexpected turn, straight out of a TV crime show. The quiet, young local fire marshall took notes. The fed, sporting a beard, baseball cap and loud shirt leaned back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and said, “I’ve been hearing that people have been telling the Buzz that the arson was right on, a good thing that happened.” 

I’ve read a lot of strong and downright nasty opinions in the course of my association with the Buzz, but one thing I’ve never heard is the slightest hint that criminal, violent actions are a good thing.

So, like the journalist I am, I tried to check his sources. “Where’d you hear that?” I asked. “I forget,” replied the fed. Of course.

He asked me where I live, what my first reaction was when I heard about the fire, and whether I’m Really-Really sure no one has told the Buzz about a desire to burn a house down.

And he wanted to confirm that “the Buzz has a liberal perspective, doesn’t it?”

“You know, on the political spectrum, I’m toward the right on most things, except when it comes to the environment” he added trying, I guess, for some personal connection. “What happened to that wetland is just wrong. You can’t go out and destroy the environment like that.” Was I sure I didn’t know anyone who might have righted that wrong? You know…just between us friends?

I didn’t know how to respond. I live in mom-and-dad land, a daylight world of kids and mortgages and big responsibilities. If the people I know get mad about something, they write a letter to the editor or City Hall. Maybe they write an article for the Buzz. If something fills them with rage and they can’t take it anymore, well…they call their lawyer.

No, I don’t know anyone who would commit or cheer about a dangerous, violent and reprehensible crime. Period.

It was truly intimidating. I started worrying that I was suspected of committing a crime, consorting with criminal elements or, at the very least, providing someone with an excuse to burn a house down. Maybe I was being set up. I came down with dry mouth, and didn’t want to look Beard Man in the eye. Was I acting shifty? Did I need a lawyer? And who are all these people I’ve known for years? How well do I really know them?

I’m joking. Sort of. In the end, he didn’t seem all that serious about the interview. He didn’t even take contact information for Kim Brackett–which I offered, with her permission–who wrote the wetlands article that stirred the eco-speculations. Maybe he realized he was wasting his time when I confided to him, “Here’s what I know about the environmental community on Bainbridge Island: we’re all old.”

My brush with a criminal investigation was more amusing to me before the Buzz became the only name–again and again–to appear in television and newpaper stories about the arson. It was even less amusing when the Kitsap Sun’s Rachel Pritchett wrote last week that Acting Fire Chief Glenn Tyrrell said arson investigators have questioned “people who made comments to local blogs objecting to the removal of wetlands during development of an adjacent property.” (When I contacted him today, Tyrrell was unsure how his statements to the Sun might have been construed that way, and he denied telling any media that commenters were questioned.  “I never said who we were questioning,” he told me.)

My sense of humor has now deserted me as completely as common sense seems to have deserted the arson investigators.

What are they thinking?

The Insurance Information Institute, a national insurance education resource, wrote in February that the leading cause of arson is vandalism (53%), followed by fraud (14%), revenge (12%), concealment of another crime (6%), and pyromania (3%). Juveniles are responsible for 42% of the nation’s arsons, though the vast majority of arsons set by juveniles involve dumpsters, grasslands, cars and other non-structural property.

Ecoterrorism, which gets an inordinate amount of press for a relatively uncommon crime, doesn’t even make the list (though it may have been included in the “other factors” which make up 12% of arsons). According to testimony given to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2004 by John E. Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, there have been 1100 criminal acts by ecoterrorist groups in the past 30 years. That’s out of 37,000 cases of intentionally set fires that occur annually in this country.

These facts are important. Arson has one of the lowest arrest rates of any major crime. In larger cities, arrests are made in only 17% of cases, with arsons in smaller cities resulting in arrests about 25% of the time.

That means that there’s a high likelihood that the Tolo Road fire may never be solved. Suspicion and bad feelings could linger in this community for years without resolution. Will people who are outspoken about political, environmental or community matters remain under a cloud? Will some people think twice before they take a public position on a controversial matter, or one involving Island development? Or any “liberal” cause?

When I expressed concern to Chief Tyrrell because the Buzz has been receiving vicious, taunting emails accusing us of being linked to the arson–often using Tyrrell’s public statements as support–his initial response was “What do you expect when you publish one-sided articles like that?” Never mind that both the City of Bainbridge Island and the federal Army Corps of Engineers have joined the article’s so-called one-sidedness by issuing notices of violation of the law.

I want to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. They have a tough job and provide a valuable service to the community.

But when a violent crime is immediately politicized by their statements to the press, in spite of the absence of evidence and the statistical unlikelihood that the crime was ecoterrorism, when a fire chief is cavalier about threatening emails in response to lawful speech by a free press, and when a federal agent seems as interested in my political views as in my knowledge of suspicious activity, I find myself in a post-9/11 looking-glass world I never believed would touch my community.

The Seattle Times ran an article last May about the controversy surrounding a decision by the FBI to investigate politically motivated property crimes through its counter-terrorism division instead of its criminal investigation arm. Civil rights groups, judges and even the government’s own Office of Inspector General have pointed out the chilling effect this policy has on dissenting political points of view.

I’m not ready to believe this arson investigation involves deliberate political intimidation, but intimidation is a result, intentional or not.

I admit I haven’t been paying much attention to the national complaints about domestic surveillance programs and the erosion of civil rights, as terrorism has become the catch-all justification for government intrusion into the private lives of Americans. I’ve been complacent because I thought I was the wrong ethnicity, wrong religion, wrong age, and wrong gender to have any personal risk that my constitutional rights might be violated.

That was before I learned how easy it is to be “linked” to terrorism–even for a bunch of middle-aged suburban women, like most of us who write for the Buzz.

I’m paying attention now.

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From Bainbridgebuzz.com, Monday, 14 February 2005 PDF Print E-mail
It’s dawn in Eagle Harbor. The morning light is pink and tender, and mist rises from the water. The manic tick tick tick of a lone Kingfisher breaks the stillness, and then a woman’s voice calls, “Bow seat, give me a couple strokes.” There is a clunk of oar on oarlock and a rhythmical splash of water under the oar.Eight middle-aged women are in a rowing shell with me, seven other rowers and our coxswain who sits in the stern, facing us, calling out commands. We’ve recently finished a three-week Learn-to-Row class, and we’re training for our first race.

“Okay ladies, give me a power ten!” the cox yells. We’re already sweating from our warm-up and she’s ordering us to do ten strokes at top power. “It’s only ten strokes,” she cheers. “You can do anything for ten strokes!”

“Bullshit!” the woman behind me mutters. “I need some coffee. I can’t frickin’ do this. I wish I’d slept in. Shit! Shit!” Her swearing makes me laugh, because it’s so out of character with her land personality. I love sitting in front of her because when she bitches, I forget my burning legs, arms and lungs.

“No talking in the boat!” the cox orders. “In two, take it down two.” Translation: after two more strokes, we’ll slow down by two strokes a minute.

I took up rowing shortly after my 50th birthday. I’ve never been particularly athletic and don’t really care about winning races. I signed up for the class because a friend of mine is so nuts about it she recently bought her own two-person shell. I saw her at the gym one day (while I was yawning and doing half-hearted leg lifts on the weight machines) and she raved about how beautiful it is on the water, how fun the rowers are and what a great workout it is. She sealed the deal when she had me feel her abs. They were like a brick wall.

It’s not likely I would have met most of the women in my boat any other way. I work at home on Bainbridge. The other rowers work for the ferry system, the federal government, a law firm, the school district. A couple of them are retired. In age, we range from the late forties to seventy years old. Three of the women are over sixty, including our “stroke,” the person who sits in front of everyone else and has to have the best technique and rhythm because she sets the rowing pace for the boat. These women are strong and sleek, funny and interesting. They’ve erased any anxiety I had about getting older.

We’re half-way through a 1000 meter practice race. We started fast and then slowed to a pace we can keep up for a hundred strokes or so, until we do our sprint to the finish. I’ve gotten a second wind; I’m in much better shape than I was when I started rowing. My teenage son, who works out all the time, says he’s impressed with my “guns” (my biceps, which have reappeared as actual muscles after years of neglect).

As I row, I look straight forward, because one human head weighs enough to disturb the “set” (balance) of the boat and slow it down. I can’t look around at the stunning blue water, the heron standing in the shallows, the boats in the harbor. But I see them peripherally. I hear the gulls and that solitary Kingfisher.

This is the perfect team sport for a loner like me. I’m with other women, but when we’re rowing, we communicate without a word, through our oars and the movement of our backs. Everything depends on synchronizing our strokes, so we read each other silently, intuitively. It is a meditation through water. If one of us loses her focus and lets her thoughts wander, we all lose our rhythm. The boat is our Zen master and immediately critiques inattention by tipping to one side or the other. We’re novices so we wobble more than we glide.

But when we’re together, there’s no feeling quite like it, a smooth and elegant conversation among rowers, boat, oars and water. It’s why we drag ourselves from sleep and warmth three mornings a week. It’s a meditation, a fresh air work-out and social session, all in the first hours of the day.

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