Thursday, May 12, 2016

Of buses and Sadiq Khan

I don't know about you, but I am pretty psyched about Sadiq Khan becoming the first Muslim Mayor of London. Partly because it throws such a wrench in the works of the same old tired discourse about Muslims, refugees, terrorists and how in some people's heads (and speech) they are all pretty much the same thing. Also because it shows Londoners as being a cut above we Americans in their ability to discern racist tactics in electioneering and to rise above them. I am sure Khan isn't perfect, nor are Londoners, but I think they are perhaps a little less imperfect than we are in the present historical moment.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Anyway, I put Khan on my Google alerts, a thing I've started doing just recently, and that's why I got the following news. According to the Telegraph, he is going to introduce a new bus fare called The Hopper, which will allow people for the single price of £1.50 to travel as far as they can get in an hour. He tweeted:

I’m introducing a one hour ‘Hopper’ bus fare from September. I’m committed to making travel more affordable for all Londoners

People are already getting in the spirit of the thing by trying to figure out just how to get the most mileage for your buck. More power to them.

Khan's father, in case you missed it, was a bus driver for much of his life. And I, in case you missed it, have been a bus rider for much of my life. So I'm sad to report that Santa Cruz, liberal, environmental bastion that it is or wants to be seen to be, is taking a different path. According to our local weekly the Good Times:

Since the 2008 recession, Santa Cruz METRO’s expenses have exceeded revenues, forcing the bus system to dip into its reserves. Rising operating costs, stagnant funding, flat ticket sales, and a growing backlog of repairs and capital needs have pushed the transit system against the wall.

The ways that lie open to Metro, according to their planning and development manager, are three. Cut the routes' frequency, cut the hours and days they operate, or cut out routes all together. 

To be fair, there have been a series of public meetings to discuss these cuts, and I probably should have gone to the one that was downtown last week. But helping to evaluate which of three bad options is best really isn't my cup of tea. In fact, I think it's asking riders and other concerned citizens the wrong questions. It's asking them to fight over the wreckage. 

As a county which I am pretty sure largely believes that climate change is real, I have never really understood why there hasn't been a more active campaign to get people out of their cars and on to public transportation, and I find it extremely odd that the county government is sitting idly by while it's being further eroded. There's a lot of heated debate here recently about the proposed rail/trail which will use the old railroad tracks to provide a trail and train along the scenic coastline. (Most of the debate is about the rail, not the trail.) Trails are fine and trains are fine, but actually not generally that practical for getting to work and shopping and school. I know a lot of people say they will bike to work if the trail is there, but most of them probably have a car to jump into in a pinch. You know--stuff happens. 

Buses, however, are the vehicles of students, the poor, the elderly, people with physical impairments and the working class. They're not particularly fun or glamorous--they are just a necessity for many. I echo the sentiment of bus rider Patricia Fohrman when she told KION news, "I definitely will be buying a car and I shouldn't be driving a car I cannot judge distance or speed and I haven't driven a car in perhaps 40 years but I will buy a car.” 

For all our sakes, I really hope Patricia doesn't end up having to buy a car. And for similar reasons, I hope I don't either. 

                                                                                                      Richard Masoner

And yes, I do find the destination of this bus just a wee bit ironic...

I'm editing this to add a link on the situation that has since come out in our local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, talking precisely about these sorts of concerns.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016



I have racked up a bunch of things I am curious about that I haven't had time recently to write about, but this one is leaping the queue. I was at a discussion group I attend on Monday nights yesterday evening, and the guest speaker was Terry Corwin, who is president of the Santa Cruz Land Trust. She was there to speak about various projects that the land trust is pursuing, but at the end spoke of one of the most common ways that the trust protects and preserves land. Simply put, they buy easements of a farmer's property and the farmer is free to use the land in whatever agricultural way they see fit, but they are restricted from selling it for development or other non-preservation practices.

This was all very interesting and I hadn't heard of the concept before, but what brought it to my attention again today was that this very concept appeared in my friend Leslie Karst's new mystery novel, Dying for a Taste. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the protagonist, Sally Solari, ends up in the Marin County area, talking to a farmer. How does the farmer support their organic vegetable enterprise? Why, easements of course. And Sally Solari proceeds to describe easements and their function in almost identical terms as Terry Corwin did.

I always find it intriguing when something I've gotten by not knowing about for my whole life gets mentioned twice in the space of less than 24 hours. So now that we know how easements function in land preservation, there's just one question.

What exactly is an easement?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word hails from the 14th century and meant even then compensation or redress. It's roots are in the Old French aisement, with its sense of comfort and convenience, use and enjoyment. The legal sense which we're talking about here, meaning the legal right or privilege of using something that is not one's own, comes from the early 15th century.

In the two agricultural/preservation senses that I've just come across, the concept of an easement sounds relatively simple to decipher, but  having now looked at "Easement Basics" at a site called , like most legal entities, there is a lot that is subject to interpretation. Here is the kind of legal logic from that website that I'm talking about:

For instance, if Alvin owns a piece of property and grants Barbara a right-of-way on the road across the property, Barbara has an easement in Alvin's property. Barbara may use the road, but may not stop others from also using the road, except to the extent that their use interferes with her own use of the road. Alvin may exclude everyone except Barbara from crossing his property, while continuing to use the road himself. - See more at: 

As the website makes more than clear, Barbara and Alvin's problems are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resolving disputes over easements, which are often recorded in documents which may be vague or not have foreseen all the issues that might arise overtime. If you think about the Supreme Court and how the justices often puzzle over what constitutes the Founders' Original Intent, you can probably get a glimpse of the scope of the problem. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Quonset

My sisters and I have been in Illinois over the past few days, attending a memorial service for a cousin, whose death reminded us all that there is no time for visiting friends and family like now. My dad grew up in the vicinity of Waukegan, Illinois and although we didn't grow up there ourselves, we have visited the area all my life. While traveling along the road between Gurnee and Waukegan, my nephews were pointing out all the business names that you don't see in California, which is probably how we happened to notice  the sign for The Quonset.

We ofthe older generation immediately remembered our cousins often saying that they were "going to Quonset for pizza". As it happened, a couple of days later, one of my relatives had us over and had the iconic Quonset pizza delivered, in the Chicago thin crust style. We had no problem devouring almost all of it.

At some point in our journey someone asked, what's a quonset? I knew that at least the Quonset hut had a military origin, but at the moment, I couldn't quite visualize one. Certainly The Quonset itself gave us no clues.

But it turns out that anyone who's ever watched a Gomer Pyle rerun knows what a Quonset hut is.

According to,  this is "the westward view of the set of Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., directly across the road from "Wally's Service Station," with Culver City residences visible in the  background".

Wikipedia tells us that the Quonset hut was an American variation on the British Nissen hut, which had been developed by Peter Norman Nissen during World War I. A site called Quonset: Metal Living for a Modern Age says that the American Quonset hut, built originally for use in World War II, was almost identical to the Nissen hut with its corrugated steel outer walls, but a key difference was that the interior wall was of Masonite and the hut was insulated with paper between the inner and outer walls, while the British system used air between the two walls as the insulating factor. Both types of huts were originally 16' by 36', though later versions varied from these dimensions. As this same website tells us: 

Less than three months after initiating the hut design project, the U.S. military had in its arsenal a new demountable structure that could be shipped in twelve crates and put up in one day by ten men. It required no special skills to erect.

And the difference between the Quonset hut and the Nissen hut is evident in this anecdote from the George A. Fuller Company, which the U.S. Navy contracted to manufacture the huts, about some Quonset huts that had been sent to Iceland:

 A night gale of hurricane proportion that wrecked shipping in the harbor, tossed crumpled PBYs on the beach like paper hats, and ripped the covering completely off of many British Nissen huts, left the Quonset huts practically undamaged.

598th Engineer Base Depot in Japan, post-World War II

The Quonset hut was named after Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, where these huts were first built in 1941. It's interesting if probably coincidental that the word quonset comes from an Algonquian language and most likely means something like a "long, small place." Whether or not it's meant to, this sounds an awful lot like an indigenous North American longhouse, which in turns looks an awful lot like a Quonset hut. Peter Nissen, though inventing the Nissen hut in England, was actually born in America and grew up in Canada, so maybe this is not as much as a coincidence as we might think. 

Powhatan Village, a re-creation in Virginia
*      *     *     *    *

So why was the Waukegan pizzeria called The Quonset? I decided to do a little research into the restaurant itself. I came across an article from the Chicago Tribune entitled "Quonset's Menu is Limited, but That's the Whole Idea." It was written in 1994 and was a special to the Tribune. Much to my surprise, it was not only written by someone I knew, but by the very person who had served us Quonset pizza a few days before. Virginia Mullery is a writer and journalist who once wrote a book about Waukegan and has had a long and active journalistic career in the Lake Michigan region. She was married to John Mullery, who, though a first cousin, was actually more of a brother to my father, so in any important sense, she is my aunt. Here's what she wrote about the restaurant's history:

When Steve Mirretti and Joe Ambrogio were discharged from military service in 1946, they returned home, bought a government-issue Quonset hut and opened a tavern, adding the food 10 years later. The same long bar runs the length of one side, booths line the other. A package goods store and carryout counter eventually were added at one end, then a dining room at the opposite end.
The outside was bricked over, and the roof line no longer resembles a Quonset hut, and for a time neither did the interior. But in a remodeling two years ago, according to Joe Mirretti, who became his father's partner when Ambrogio died in 1984, the original arc ceiling was uncovered. Floral drapes, de rigeur for lounges in the '50s, were added to recapture the original ambience of the Quonset.
The Quonset, interior
To be honest, I haven't been inside The Quonset recently enough to know if it endures in this form or has had another interior renovation since. I do know, though, that as of this week, they are still serving good pizza, same as ever. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


This is just one of those random things that startled me. Some friends and I read Joyce's Finnegans Wake together every couple of weeks, and having reached the neighborhood of page 480, we encountered the word "lyceum". I know vaguely what a lyceum is, or at least that it has something to do with  education. I even know that it goes back to a teaching center of the ancient Greeks, though whether to Plato or Aristotle, I couldn't tell you.

But the odd thing is that this little passage we were reading is strewn with references to wolves--no, don't ask me why--and that lyceum is one of them. What do wolves have to do with education?

 The Salem Lyceum, circa 1830

As to current meanings, in America, a lyceum can be many things, including a hall where public lectures take place, or the series of lectures and events themselves. It can be a school, particularly a private one and may also mean a secondary school, like the French  lycée, a word to which it is related. In England, it was often the name that British literary societies adopted, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. And there is some overlap with the word "gymnasium", which is not a gym as in American usage, but a school preparing students for higher education in Germany and many other European countries. The overlap of the words' meanings is due to the fact that the gymnasium and the lyceum overlapped in time and space in their origins in ancient Greece.

Aristotle's School, by Gustav Adolf Spangenberg, 1880s

First of all, the original Greek Λύκειον or lykeion was indeed the name of a school in which Aristotle taught,  first in an open public area in a grove of trees, where many other philosophers and sophists had taught before him, Plato and Socrates being among them. Wikipedia tells us that the grove was named in honor of  Apollo. Although we tend to think of Apollo as the sun god, he had many other associations (here is a list of many of them-perhaps the most amusing to me is Apollo Erythibios, "Apollo of the mildew"). One of these many titles was Apollo Lyceus, meaning something like "Apollo in the form of a wolf". However, Apollo was also a protector against wolves. In Barry Lopez's Of Wolves and Men, he speaks of the many strong links between Apollo and wolves, which can be contradictory. For example the myth of Apollo's birth is that  his mother Leto, impregnated by Zeus,had disguised herself and hidden in a pack of wolves when she fled to give birth to Apollo on the island of Delos, trying to escape notice of the predictably jealous Hera. But he is also invoked by shepherds to defend their sheep against wolves. (This, I feel, is an ambiguity that the Joyce of the Wake would be particularly at home with.)

the ruins of the lyceum in Athens (open to visitors)

Lopez writes that the lyceum became a gymnasium and then a hall where Aristotle taught. So in its earliest incarnation as an actual structure, the lyceum was also a gymnasium. Lopez writes that "at the southern end of the Acropolis in Athens stand the ruins of the Lyceum." Although it is contested, he goes on to say that it is probable that the building was once the temple of Apollo, the Wolf Slayer. 

Quite by chance, I was led to a book by John Patrick Lynch, who happened to be my much revered professor way back in college, with whom I studied a little bit of early Greek history and a full year of Ancient Greek language. Lynch wrote a book called Aristotle's School, which is partially available through Google books, and less so elsewhere. Here is what he has to say about Apollo Lyceus at the beginning of that book:

Despite all the later developments in the sanctuary, there is no evidence in any period to suggest that it contained a monumental temple of Apollo Lykeios. The Lyceum did include a famous statue of Apollo Lykeios, which was described by Lucian (Anacharsis 7) and is known from Roman copies...The Lyceum was clearly important in Athenian life just as a sanctuary, and even after it came to serve other functions, the site continued to be a public religious center.

Just to make things a little more ambiguous, if you look up "Apollo Lyceus" on Google, you'll soon find yourself at the Wikipedia page "Lyceus", which is all about an Apollo Lyceus type, which is a certain way of  depicting Apollo in art. It's a type that supposedly has its source in, you guessed it, the vanished statue of Apollo at the Lyceum. The type, according to Wikipedia, shows  "the god resting on a support (a tree trunk or tripod), his right forearm touching the top of his head and his hair fixed in braids on the top of a head in a haircut typical of childhood."

Apollo Lykeios at the Louvre

Not, I'm thinking, very much in his wolf-slaying mode.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Doctors Without Borders on Syria

I just watched this live webinar from Doctors Without Borders on their collective experience trying to give care to Syrians in an extremely harrowing situation. I thought that particularly on a day where Europe has seen another attack from Muslim extremists forces, it might be a good time to realize that the West is not the only place that suffers and radical Islamists are not the only one with powerful bombs at their disposal. The suffering of the innocent is everywhere.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Pamela Shows Mr. Williams A Hiding Place For Their Letters, Joseph Highmore, 1743-4

You may have the wrong idea about why I got interested in this word. That's because my attention was snagged by a secondary meaning. I was reading Samuel Richardson's Pamela recently, which,in the unlikely event you were planning to do so too, I won't spoil for you. But suffice it to say that at a certain point our eponymous heroine is detained against her will. Seeking freedom, she needs to divert one of her minders and comes up with this:

So I went towards the pond, the maid following me, and dropt purposely my hussy.

This single sentence doesn't exactly reveal what a hussy is, but it's clear it isn't our common usage, which is usually a derogatory term for women. We'll get to that. I tried to come up with what a hussy in this instance might be, and thought well, maybe it's some kind of scarf. I mean what else would you be able to drop without the person you were walking around with noticing? 

But I was wrong. A hussy turns out to be a needle case. Similar, I think, to the borrowed French word, etui. Although this interesting looking blog, Costume Historian, tells us that a hussy was usually more of a rolled up cloth with little compartments for tool, while an etui was a more generalized case which could carry an assortment of small objects. Here's a modern day reconstruction of a hussy from Nehelenia Patterns:

The interesting thing is that hussy as a needle case doesn't either precede the other use for hussy or follow it. In Pamela the word appears in both its senses. And this gets us into the other definition of the word, the one we're all more familiar with, meaning either a brazen or promiscuous woman or a saucy or impudent girl. 

But hussy originally didn't have such a pejorative meaning. In the 1520s, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it simply meant the mistress of a household or a housewife. (Our needle carrying hussy also derives from this sense, I suppose the task of the housewife and her tools becoming conflated.) Housewife was pronounced  "huzzif" which made it more of a match with "husband", but in the sixteenth century, it began to be thought that there should be a bit of separation between the good housekeeper and the bad one, and so "housewife" became the more accepted way to describe the venerable matron, while hussy, well, you know where that led. 

I've come across this slow slide that words relating to females make from perfectly respectable to not respectable at all a time or two before and wonder if, in our still benighted times, anything related to the feminine simply slides toward the derogatory. "You throw like a girl," being a  more modern day example. 

It's worth quoting once again from a post on the OUP blog by linguist Anatoly Liberman called "A Flourish of Strumpets", which I quoted sometime ago in a post on the word "slattern":

The author of an old dissertation (a Swiss researcher named Margrit Keller) examined British dialectal dictionaries and found about 600 words and phrases meaning “girl” and “woman.” Most of them are derogatory and harp on a few familiar notes: slovenly, lazy, garrulous, flighty, ugly, and too accessible for men’s pleasures. One or two are interesting to a linguist.  

*The picture from the novel Pamela is from a marvelous series by Joseph Highmore an 18th century portrait painter. I found the whole series on a fascinating blog called A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, which among other things, analyses costume in paintings. I have to own that I find the painted series much more charming than I found the book, and begin to understand what its contemporary readers may have seen in it.

Joseph Highmore, self-portrait

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Microsoft Security Essentials--the scam

I got a phone call last night, a Friday night, at about 10:30.My phone said "unknown caller", which usually I screen, but as I thought it might be someone in my circle of friends and family at that hour, I picked it up. A woman with an Indian or Pakistani accent said something that I don't quite remember, but it led me to say, I think you have the wrong number. But she was adamant that she had not, said my name, and so I stayed on the line. She told me that my Microsoft Security Essentials components weren't working and that if we didn't fix it, Microsoft would have to revoke my ability to use the license.

A couple of things ran through my mind as she was talking. One was, why in hell are they calling at 10:30 PM on a Friday night? But then I thought, well, they're obviously not on Pacific time, so maybe they're calling in daylight where they are. And when I say "they", I mean that I could hear lots of sounds in the background, implying some sort of phone bank. It's funny that we know enough about the fact that companies employ workers in Asia that we can believe all that we are hearing is legit.

I'm not particularly adept at picking up on scams, especially in person. I've been taken in by a couple of young hucksters in town in my time, though only to the tune of of a few dollars. Luckily for me, I am kind of ornery when it comes to phone calls from people soliciting anything--it kind of pushes a button in me, which sometimes I feel bad about afterwards. But in this case it kind of got my back up that Microsoft was calling me at 10:30 in the evening. I did feel a little anxiety at the idea that some sort of access to the internet would be denied, so seriously, I could easily have been taken in. But when this woman told me to boot up my computer to start some process or other, I just didn't feel like doing that. So I said, "You know, maybe you could send me an email about this, because I don't really believe that you are who you say you are. Sorry. Goodbye." And I hung up.

Now, you  may have noticed that this blog isn't called "The Confessions of the Super Savvy", so I didn't get off the line feeling triumphant or anything. I actually thought, well maybe my internet access will be cut off or something. I even turned off my router so that no nefarious scheme could be enacted. But after a while, I thought, if this was a scam, there will probably be something out there about it. And sure enough, there was. Tons of stuff. I even came across something where Microsoft sort of wrung their hands, saying, we get calls about this every day, usually AFTER someone has been taken in by a scammer. I got the feeling that they thought this was a bit pathetic, but if you are outside their inner track, I think the spiel is convincing enough that you might fall for it, so don't feel bad if you do. Like I said, I fall for scams all the time. The only reason I wasn't taken in by this one is that I got riled by the intrusion.

Later, of course, I started thinking of revenge. I know, revenge usually serves no purpose, etc., etc. But in this case the purpose would be to slow them down a little, which is all to the good. I thought of several tactics, such as leaving them on hold, staging some sort of violent scene which would frighten them, or asking them if their mother really thought when they were born that this was the kind of work they envisioned their child doing. I don't know that I will get another call any time soon, so if you do, I urge you to be inventive. Like this guy: