Are We There Yet?

Ric Hallock blogs about being a family man dealing with life in and around Gig Harbor.
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Archive for the ‘The Dark Side’ Category

Be Wary of Barely Clad Tattoo-touting Coffee Sirens

Friday, April 1st, 2011

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With a sense of full-disclosure on my part (and not my subject matter’s part …) I relay the following true event — if for nothing else, to serve as a warning to other unsuspecting parents of budding, hormone-driven teens.

On a really recent Sunday, my 12-year-old son’s baseball team called a hastily gathered scrimmage with another team to prepare for the season. Sunday being my “putter-about-the-house” day, we were slow to rouse ourselves (it also being his “sleep-until-the-sun-sets” day) to get out the door in time to make the scrimmage.

Jetting toward the field in our jalopy, I took note of the fact I had not yet been caffeinated for the day — a matter I could rectify in one of two ways. We were headed for the highway, which was the quickest way to the field site, and I was faced with a conundrum: I could purposefully go the wrong way at our exit and backtrack about five minutes to get to the nearest coffee purveyor of Seattle fame with the naked mermaid for a logo — or — I could save those backtracking minutes and head for the nearest local stand that had a neon sign flashing “open.”

I opted for the latter.

To get there from the direction I was headed, I had to pull into a road that ostensibly was a one-way going the other direction, with a 170-degree turn back — a move that had to performed with some deft driving on my part to not get stuck doing a five-point turn.

I managed the semi-illegal turn in quick order without garnering any undue attention of a county deputy and pulling up to the stand, I noted it had not one, but two windows less than a car length’s apart, so wasn’t really sure which one was the proper serving window. (I was baffled and temporarily distracted by this design flaw: an important detail in my defense.) I rolled slowly past the first window and stopped at the second.

This was your typical home-grown coffee stand, a free-standing shack, plastered with stickers and posters and hand-scrawled signs everywhere, all but obscuring what little glass was left uncovered. I began looking about for some sign I was actually going to be able to order a coffee when the stickers on the windows registered in some part of my non-caffeinated brain: flaming pink lips.

Then I uttered the words my son will not soon forget: “Uh oh,” I started. “This isn’t one of those places, is it?”

No sooner had the words parted my lips than the lips stuck on the sliding window moved aside and we were greeting by a smiling, cheerful barista … wearing scant but her string bikini, asking how she could help us this day.

The thought of speeding off in a cloud of dust and gravel fleetingly crossed my mind, but my sense of decency (if you will), prevailed. I reasoned that would be just plain rude to this finely shaped lass, who was obviously so very proud of the art running the length of her body from her shoulder down to her left flank.

I muttered some obscure coffee order and shot a quick glance at my young charge in the passenger seat as I dug in my pocket for some money. He was laughing, trying to look, but trying not to look — not having much success at either, and having great difficulty keeping any composure (as if a 12-year-old could muster such self-control).

The body tattoo asked what had us out on such a chilly, windy day and I was sorely tempted to ask her the same. but again, my sensibilities told me to behave and I bit back my tongue, just saying something about baseball.

Following an interminably, awfully long time waiting for her to make a simple mocha (no whip), she handed me my coffee and I handed her a bill (I hope it was a $5) and drove off with a hasty “thank you,” not waiting for change. My son then began laughing much more loudly, telling me how he couldn’t wait to share this moment with his buddies at the field, convinced I knew all along what kind of stand this was.

Now when we drive by this stand, I catch him craning his neck to look back for as long as he can. And I feel secure in my mind that I’ve cemented yet another nomination in my bid for Father of the Year — NOT.

And the coffee? Not as good as the naked mermaid, nudity notwithstanding.


Anyone See the Same UFO as This Guy Did?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

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Despite sitting in our backyard a few weeks ago at night roasting marshmallows and dogs over a campfire, no one in our immediate family saw anything unusual in the sky. But one Gig Harbor resident saw something on May 1 — enough to write a report of the sighting and send it in to the Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network (MUFON).

Anyone else from Gig Harbor to Port Orchard see anything that night? below is an excerpt of the filed report, which — according to MUFON — has not yet investigated by the organization:

My name is –. I live in Gig Harbor Washington on the water facing SW towards an area we locally refer to as the Purdy (Wa) spit. The Olympic Mountain range is in the back ground.

Three-Four weeks ago while driving down our road at around dusk I saw something. At first I thought it was a very bright star and then realized it was moving. I pulled my truck into the driveway and grabbed my scope, fixed it directly onto the object and viewed something far beyond my knowledge of technology.

I could see it very clearly through my Orion 90 refractor scope. It was the shape of a diamond. The top half was amber red and the bottom half was as bright as a star. It hovered a while at around my guess 20-25 thousand feet and then dropped to around 8-6? in a matter of a minute or two as it approached then just cruised right over the top of us towards Mount Rainier. It made no sound though I felt like I could hear something like being close to a power line or similar almost like maybe all sound went away, hard to explain. As it passed over I then grabbed my scope and went to the driveway to view it as it moved away. From behind it was no longer the shape of a diamond, it looked liked an elongated circle eight figure of light, all amber red. And no, I am not an alcoholic nor drug addled so I know what I saw.

Two nights ago,coming from the same direction, this time it was around midnight, a round orb like thing with a half circular arc just as bright coming out of the orb from top to bottom. It came from the same elevation and traveled the same direction as the first. Then one hour later another one. These objects were without a doubt not planes nor helicopters. We have had quite a bit of F-16 type jets and apache/military looking helicopters buzzing over I think as a result these past few nights. We do not normally see these military type craft directly over us.
Other than the usual black helicopters that rattle our windows every other night from 10 p.m. to midnight, we don’t see (or hear) much going on in the skies above us.

My boys have become quite adept at spotting satellites as they silently pass overhead and we’ve been able to confirm sightings of the International Space Station on different nights. So it seems unlikely we would have missed this particular sighting — unless we just weren’t outside at the exact same time.

Years ago, I was one of several witnesses watching a bonafide UFO cross the sky, but not being one to quickly assign the unusual site of lights crossing overhead to alien technology, I assumed it to be some space debris breaking up as it entered the atmosphere.

But as this posting was recent, I’ll once more be watching the skies and I can guarantee this: If I ever spot anything unexplainable and odd, I won’t settle with getting some grainy, blurry, shaky images that look like a blob of light.


Online Commentary: It’s a Jungle in There

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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One needn’t look far to find a new-age battlefield where anything goes, low blows are the norm and bitterness, nastiness and just plain old meanness rule the playing field. No, I’m not speaking about youth sports (this time) or no-holds-barred cage wrestling (that has too many rules) — I’m speaking about online commentary fields commonly found on news websites.

Anyone who has read a news story online has seen them. They follow the story; an open field where readers — most often hiding behind pseudonyms like SillyPutty, newsjunkie32 and lord_of_the_rants — feel free to add their two cents’ worth. And God knows, there’s no shortage of opinions these days. It’s such a cultural phenomenon that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t already produced a summer romantic comedy titled “When Harry Tagged Sally’s Blog,” a romp of errors and misunderstanding when a seemingly offhand remark gets taken way out of context, to the delight of Sally’s coworkers and the horrors of Harry’s friends.

Only in real life, there is seldom anything very funny about the comments posted — humor being intended or not.

Mean spiritedness is not in short supply. It seems people with an axe to grind find news commentary sites rich and fertile ground to spew forth vindictive and spurious comments. Given the anonymous nature of the sites, seldom are random statements backed up by facts or even reasonable supposition. It’s as if the Wild West has been reborn, but instead of a six-shooter, today’s gunslingers wield smoking keyboards behind their oh-so-clever avatars.

These people are so commonplace in the virtual world, they have been given labels to quickly identify them: the most common being sock puppets or trolls. The latter conjures up a not-too-hard-to-imagine image of a person sitting in a darkened room, hunched over a keyboard, with only the glow of a screen to light their way to posting snippets of vitriol.

It wasn’t always this way. Having spent the better part of the past two decades in newsrooms, I’ve watched them metamorphose from X-Acto blades and waxed galleys to electronic publication of stories on the Internet before  — and even exclusive of — print. Ever since the days of newspapers themselves, people have been given the opportunity to comment and vent upon a writer’s words.

The difference is news used to take time. the news cycle used to be 24 hours — sometimes a week in outlying communities and rural areas — the time it took the local paper to report on a story. Television would give you the headlines, along with a snappy soundbite and a busty weathergirl — but the meat of the news was always reserved for the printed word. And the same could be said for the commentary that would follow in the subsequent editorial pages.

But as news budgets shrank and online media began to take ever larger bites out of the more traditional print and broadcast news markets, the powers that be in those old worlds saw a need to meet the new age at least halfway. So papers  — grudgingly at first — began to allow readers to comment on stories. Understand — writers and editors are good at two things: writing and editing. So be kind before finding fault in their not seeing the maelstrom brewing on the virtual horizon as readers warmed up their typing skills and polished their fangs.

Many newsrooms were caught unprepared for the anything goes world of online commentary. Some quickly pulled the plug on allowing commentary on controversial stories while others closed up online commentary completely. But most outlets — in an attempt to appear hip to the times and not demonstrating a knee-jerk reaction to the backlash — continue to allow comments while working in the background to find some way to bring a Wyatt Earp to their online Tombstone.

Few papers have the capital to hire a full-time online editor to view, edit and respond to the many posts a paper receives. Many have turned to their online “community” to help police the streets — asking for informants to flag the Bonnie Parkers and Clyde Barrows of cyberspace. This has been at best a Band-aid fix. Bitter comments still get posted — and are only pulled based on the working hours and due diligence of a harried editor who has much better things to do and more pressing needs than to babysit a thread.

For the gunslinger, he/she has lost nothing. Their comments still have been seen by any number of others (their intent) and even if they eventually get banned from a site, they simply change their online presence to an as yet unbesmirched screen name and begin again or they simply move on as there are an untold number of sites they can comment on from Aachen to Zwolle.

many of these wily worthsmiths don’t even care about the gist of the story — they know how to post a lively comment sure to draw in others into a protracted debate over issues that have no pertinence to the original posting. They appear to delight in just getting others all ruffled and twitchy.

So what’s an ethical editor to do? (Yes, they do exist, you just have to really look.) Allowing comments on stories is like running herd over a freak show; while pulling the comment threads is counter to the ideal of community support and responsible journalism.

And as newspapers grasp at the next latest things to somehow remain relevant in an irrelevant world, the buzzword has become “hits,” and the hits that count are the ones being compiled on the websites. And, of course, nothing drives the hits like a little controversial commentary …

Aldus Huxley warned us it would be a Brave New World. But his dire prediction centered around an Utopian government of predetermined castes, while H.G. Wells predicted a government run amok and watching our every move in “1984,” both dire in their own way, but not on the mark of where find ourselves today. Perhaps the most prescient prognosticator of our own worst nightmare coming true is a philosophical little possum from Okefenokee Swamp, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, where he surmised, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


Parkland Tragedy Aftermath: Fix the Broken Judicial System

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

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It’s so frustrating — and so typical. No sooner than the stories were posted about the slaying of four police officers in Parkland, Wash., those who hate cops hit their talking points while those who hate the government hit theirs. And those who support cops were incensed by the hatred being posted while still others found ways to turn a senseless tragedy into a podium for a political rant of left or right persuasion.

This is why I didn’t even feel like writing a blog on the events that unfolded when suspected killer Maurice Clemmons was sought for, found and subsequently killed by a Seattle patrol officer after the Sunday slaying of four Lakewood Police personnel: police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronnie Owens. I didn’t see a need to add to the cacophony of opinion flying about this horrific event and it’s many sordid ramifications.

But one thing seemingly everyone can agree upon — cop hater and lover, left wing liberal and right wing conservative, and every two-bit Joe that can type a message on a comment list — is that the judicial system failed us.

Even here, the blogosphere goes nuts with everyone and his brother pointing fingers and laying blame. “Someone must pay” seems to be the prevailing attitude from former Arkansas Gov. and one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to Pierce County judges who set bail earlier in November. No one steps forward to accept responsibility for their actions and how those actions may have contributed in some fractional way that allowed Clemmons to be on the street Sunday morning, and everyone is quick to point fingers across the country between Arkansas and Washington over which state messed up more. But nowhere do I see anyone looking beyond the blame game to identify just exactly where the judicial system broke down and how we can go about repairing it.

Without creating a timeline of Clemmons’ life, let’s look at one crucial moment in his violent past. In 1989, at the ripe old age of 16, Clemmons was sentenced to 108 years in prison after being tried as an adult for eight felonies that included aggravated robbery and burglary. Tried by a judge and jury, it was determined he was so dangerous that he would serve the multiple sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently, as is the norm for multiple sentences.

Clemmons applied for clemency in 1999, writing a single word in response to the question why he sought such action: “Mercy,” he wrote.

In 2000, then Gov. Huckabee — with the advice of a four-member clemency board — saw fit to commute the 108-year sentence to 57 years, thus allowing Clemmons to apply for parole immediately, decades sooner than he could have with the original sentence. A judge had to approve the clemency.

According the the Tacoma News Tribune, Sixth Circuit Judge Marion G. Humphrey supported it, adding a personal note, “I favor a time cut for Maurice Clemmons,” Humphrey wrote. “Mr. Clemmons was 16 years old when his cases began in this court. I do not know why the previous judge ran his sentences consecutively, but concurrent sentences would have been sufficient,” (italics added).

And right there lies exactly where our judicial system fails.

Humphrey does not know why the sentence was consecutive because he never bothered or was required by law to find out. A judge and jury that had to sit for days to hear of the teenager’s violent and reckless crimes saw firsthand why it was necessary to put him away for a long time and did their job as the state expected them to do.

How, then, can we have justice served when a governor or another judge down the line can look back on a trial and conviction — in this case a decade old — and arbitrarily decide they were “too harsh” in the sentence and change it? They didn’t sit in the trial. They didn’t see the evidence. They didn’t take in the testimony.

What they get is an inmate’s continued pleas for clemency and “mercy,” and sometimes get to hear from the prosecuting attorney’s office why they shouldn’t commute a sentence — although in this specific case, prosecuting attorney Larry Jegley said his office was never notified about the clemency request.

Then the same judge who granted clemency, also provided comment for the parole board, saying, “I strongly support parole in this case.”

Judges, governors and anyone else with the power to change a sentence should be mandated by law to know ALL the facts of a case and must talk with principals from BOTH sides of the court case before being given the power to alter one man’s life — allowing him the potential to alter so many more lives down the line — as Clemmons did on Sunday.

But I don’t hold out much hope for being able to change the judicial system. That would be akin to creating a new educational or health care system in this country. Too many ramifications, too many ways that too many people can jump on some blog and rant and rave and turn it into some beast of an issue that soon has nothing to do with what was intended.


Trouble With Girls Gone Wild – Sports Edition Is the Coaching

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

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Ah, another week, another viral video on the net. This time it is a double header with a college womens soccer game in Utah and a girls high school contest in Rhode Island.

The latter shows the frustration we often see from athletes when the game is already in hand with a playoff berth waiting the winner and a trip home for the loser. What’s sad is that the brief violence on the field — seemingly well handled by the officials, spread to the sidelines and stands. The former is a clip showing a 20-year-old defender from New Mexico bringing the hammer down — literally — to various BYU players has gone worldwide with whole Web sites devoted to either villifying or defending her actions. Some peers in college soccer say she’s only getting this kind of attention because of her gender and that if she were a male, this would not be happening.

I take exception to this, going back to the infamous head butt by French player Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup contest. His extreme behavior also went viral. It’s not so much the gender as the actions that grab the attention.

Watching the 20-year-old in action, a few things become clear:

1. Her responses were not entirely unprovoked. In the shot of her throwing an elbow into the back on another player you can clearly see she reacting to being elbowed in the stomach. In the instance of her pulling the ponytail of another player, yanking her head back and throwing her to the ground, note that the BYU player is pulling on her uniform. I’m not saying that her actions are justified in any way. But let’s at least give her the benefit of the doubt that she was out to just brutalize other players.

2. There is no clear justification of her  punching a player in the face or when she kicks the ball into the face of another player after a teammate has tripped that player. But again, let’s remember, we are seeing clips, not the entire game, so there may or may not have been prior provocation.

3. Given the style of her play, her remorse following her indefinite suspension isn’t easy to completely accept. An aggressive style of play such as she showed takes time to develop — it doesn’t come out just in the “heat of the competition.” I’m thinking some high school and college coaches along her soccer career might know more about this than they have said.

There is plenty of Internet buzz about the two incidents — evolving into a discussion of what we expect of female vs. male athletes and the form of competition we expect of the genders. But what isn’t being talked about here is what I think is the root of the matter: Not that players are getting more aggressive or brazen, but that youth coaches are allowing that behavior at younger levels — all in the name of competition.

Having coached a variety of (male) youth sports for a number of years now, I can say I’ve seen my share of unsportsmanlike conduct in the way some coaches approach a game. In firsthand experience, I’ve seen coaches try to cheat by using the wrong size ball, heard them tell their players to purposefully try to hurt another player, bad mouth officials using colorful language in front of their players and even break out into a fistfight (that was two coaches on the same team …) in the middle of a game. These are sports at the 8- and 9-year-old divisions — not even close to high school age.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of really good youth coaches out there who every day try to teach the conduct of fair play and good sportsmanship. But I think there is a distinct disconnect in developing good coaches across the board. All you need to be a youth coach is a desire to do the job and the time to be at practice. There is no requisite for experience or moral sense of fair play.

For every youth sport, there are off-season coaching clinics, camps and seminars, but I see few coaches take advantage of these — often because they must foot the bill to attend out of their own pockets. Seldom do I hear of mandatory coaching clinics. Usually, there is one mandatory coach meeting before a season begins. But as a typical example, in Gig Harbor Little League baseball, the mandatory meeting is to go over details about rules and drafting order — everything except good coaching. There is the obligatory speech (usually near the end) about everyone working together for the betterment of the kids, coaching for the players — not for your ego, but you can easily see those good intentions benched early on each season.

I’ve always been a little amazed there isn’t some kind of “coaching” school that youth coaches should be required to pass before being handed their whistle. We require so much of other adults who come into daily contact with our children, such as educators and daycare personnel — yet we are happy to release junior to a virtual stranger for two hours a day over a three or four month period. It’s as if we as parents and those who run leagues are all playing a great big game of Roulette with our children — willing to blindly accept a “bad” coach for a season here and there while wishing for someone better.

Until we modifying the world of youth sports, we shouldn’t find it so surprising to see videos of women soccer players pulling hair and trading punches, upset parents flying out of the stands and sucker punching a ref, or Little League teens going ballistic and head butting an umpire. We are a competitive species living in a competitive society and this sense of competition is drilled into our youth at a very early age. It is unfortunate that in our haste to get the little one to play her best, we are willing to let some unscrupulous coach teach them the underhanded techniques to get that extra edge on the field while masquerading as someone trying to teach them how to properly kick a ball.


WSDOT’s ‘Nightmare on Alaskan Way Viaduct’ Destined to be Instant Video Classic

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

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Wow.

Hollywood needs to look over its collective special effects shoulders, some engineers in Seattle (tied to the Viaduct tunnel project) are looking to make the next natural disaster movie right in our backyard neighborhood of Seattle.

Words don’t do it justice, you gotta watch the YouTube video for yourself.

Alaskan Way Viaduct on YouTube

If this doesn’t play, check it out at the WSDOT Web site to find a streaming version — along with a quick explanation as to why they released this a week before the election.

Just be sure you pop the popcorn and grab the Milk Duds before watching. Who knows, maybe the producers of “2012″ will buy the rights and cut this into the upcoming blockbuster.

To read about the politics behind the delayed release and how it was first issued to KING-TV before being put out for public viewing, see the Seattle Times article that first broke the story.

Now if someone would just film the epic about Gig Harbor being ravaged by SUV-driving soccer moms all hopped up on triple lattes and radiated by their continuous use of cell phones … If anyone in Hollywood is interested, I can have the script for you in 48 hours.


I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes — But This Guy Does

Friday, October 16th, 2009

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House spider

As the cool air begins to chill the nights, the annual ritual of my wife’s blood-curdling screams fill the rooms and shatter the otherwise mostly peaceful ambiance that hangs about our rural county home.

Is she susceptible to the grisly nature of horror films that profilgate the airwaves and Netflix at this time of year? (Well, yes, but that’s not what causes her to scream.) Nor is she preparing for an upcoming appearance in one of the local theaters’ annual haunted house extravaganzas — although her howls would most assuredly add an air of sinister authenticity to the fright fests.

No, what sends her into an apoplectic shrilly nonsense is our diminutive and oft-misunderstood friend: a spider.

Like many “arachnophobes,” she firmly believes our little houseguests come in from the cold as the weather takes a turn for the worse. And up until a couple of days ago, I believed the very same myth. That is, until doing research for this blog post, I came across the Web site of a one certain Rod Crawford, curator of Arachnids at Burke Museum, on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Crawford on the telephone about a dozen years ago, when as a reporter, I was preparing background information on a story of a local claiming to have found a brown recluse in their home. Mr. Crawford assured me that if indeed a person had found a brown recluse, that I had a much bigger story than I intended, as no such confirmation of this particular spider being found in western Washington had yet been made.

We talked at some length of some other spider myths before ending our conversation. Now I doubt very seriously that my one phone call so many years ago led him to publish his Web site (but I’ll gladly take some of the credit, regardless), but he has, since that fateful phone call, put upon the Web — pun most definitely intended — a site about the many spider myths. And there are quite a few.

Just some of the myths he debunks are: You are never more than three feet from a spider; spiders found in bathtubs and sinks came up through the drain pipes; the Daddy-longlegs has the world’s most dangerous venom but it’s fangs are too soft to penetrate human skin; when black widow spiders mate, the female always kills and eats the male; some bubble gum has spider eggs in it; people are bitten by spiders at night while they sleep; you can identify a spider by a photo or by its markings — and a particularly disturbing myth, that we swallow an average of four live spiders per year while we sleep.

I could go on in some detail to some of the myths vs. reality, but why when Mr. Crawford has done such an excellent job already and you can read his handiwork for yourself by clicking here?

I will admit that I have heard and believed a number of the spider myths he squashes on his Web site. In particular: that spiders come into a house to escape the cold. Think about it. They are not warm-blooded so they do not react to the vagaries of outdoor temperature changes other than to die when it gets too cold. It was fascinating to read how there are in the Pacific Northwest roughly 30 outdoor arachnid species, 25 indoor species and eight that can live indoors and outside. Most of the house spiders we see have lived their entire life inside and putting them outside is most certainly a death sentence for the spider (another myth busted).

A big myth that I still have a hard time adjusting to is that spiders rarely bite and on average a person is bitten once or twice in their life. Of the thousands of spiders he has handled, Crawford claims to have been bitten only twice.

So as Halloween approaches and the visible sight of orb weaver webs can be seen on virtually ever bush and tree, take time to read how misunderstood our little multi-eyed friends are. Like sharks and wolves, they have garnered an undeserved reputation amid their human counterparts. It’s time they earned a little respect for all the good they provide by keeping a pest-filled insect world in line.

But that respect will stop short with my arachnid-fearing wife. She won’t even discuss a spider’s attributes and the photo I’ve attached to this post will guarantee to keep her from ever reading this blog.

And my apologies to Jim Stafford’s 1970s classic, “Spiders and Snakes,” about winning love through intimidation. I loved that song as a teenager.


Paranoia Will Destroy Ya: Watching Those Watching Us

Friday, July 31st, 2009

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Is it just me?

Or do I get the sneaking suspicion I’m being watched?

In my younger days — getting farther and farther away in my review mirror — I never used to be paranoid. How does the old joke go …? Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

For me, paranoia started in early 2002 while living near the U.S.-Canadian border. One day out of nowhere these really high towers appeared, each equipped with a movable camera attached to the top. Being a journalist, I inquired as to their sudden existence and found they were part of a beefed up response to border security issues brought on by the paranoia of the U.S. Government and it’s response to 9-11.

But no one would answer as to who was on the other end of the continuous video feed of the high-powered cameras that had the capability to zoom in to details inside any house or vehicle window within it’s scope. And no one would say if a recording device was or wasn’t hooked up to that feed.

Jump cut to current days and a couple of articles in different publications catch my eye. One was in the North Mason Life in the July 15 edition. “Sheriff’s Office to Install Mobile Terminals.”  Essentially, some outside funds are being used to install mobile data terminals (MDTs) in Mason County prowlers and have the effect of being able to broadcast dispatch calls without going out across public airwaves. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable — why broadcast where you want to be going when any two-bit thief or hoodlum need only plunk down a couple of (stolen) sawbucks to get a state-of-the-art scanner to eavesdrop on police movements? This may be a ludicrous stretch for an anology but serves to make the point: I’m sure another reasonable sounding idea at the time was that of creating a racially pure breed of Aryan during pre-war Germany.

The paranoid side of me questions who will monitor the officers to see if they aren’t abusing this technology to further erode the rights of citizens? Powerful tools such as these  are a great way to fight crime, but they can be every bit as powerful in creating corruption when used by unscrupulous individuals or for nefarious justifications.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Then there is a report in Science Daily about researchers in Oregon and Washington perfecting a new method for determining the extent of illicit drug use in entire communities from the wastewater flushed into a given municipal treatment plant. According to the report, “scientists determined the ‘index load’ of the different drugs — the amount of drug per person per day — based on estimates of the population served by each wastewater facility.”

A report issued in the July 2009 journal Addiction tells of a study completed in 2008 of a statewide mapping of Oregon’s illicit drug use with a one-day testing of 96 municipality wastewater treatment plants representing 65 percent of the state’s population.

So today an entire municipality’s or state’s drug use picture (both legal and illegal) can be determined without the residents’ knowledge or consent. Today’s science breakthroughs routinely leads to tomorrow’s science fiction becoming a reality — often with less than honorable intentions. If science can now successfully test an entire community, how long before a state or federal government agency decides to place a testing device on a individual home’s wastewater flow?

J. Robert Oppenheimer, in helping to harness the power of an atomic reaction, really had no idea how that knowledge and power would be used. Scientists are often one step removed from the political powers that take their research and find new ways to apply it.

Then I read that county officials are busy mounting cameras at intersections with the intent that they can spot “pattern disruptions” and be more effective in triggering a traffic light to change than the older system of underground sensors. Again, on the surface, it sounds fine, but who can say that some government agency or official in the future see a new and more invasive use for the equipment that’s already in place?

You’d think more people would be alarmed about the continuing erosion of their private lives and the ease at which municipal, county, state and federal government agencies can tap that information through usurping of infrastructure already in place.

But then we’re talking about a populace that is ever more comfortable in posting intimate and trivial details about their everyday lives on Internet sites such as Facebook and myspace.

Want a glimpse of what may yet come of a future where we increasingly lose our personal freedoms? Rent the sci-fi thriller “Gattaca.” Then invest in a good high-speed personal DustBuster hand vac.


In Search of Spirits — the ‘Elicits Laughs’ Kind, Part III

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

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The video of the medium channeling spirits during the ghost hunt in Union is finally in (the investigation took place July 11 at the McReavy house). Thanks to Ron at Pixietale Studios for taking more than an hour’s worth of raw video and bringing together the most salient points for a 4-minute clip. I’ve attached it with the Part II blog post (link below).

For the complete story, you can check out the earlier posts: Part I detailing the anticipation of going ghost hunting and Part II, an account of the evening’s events. But if you just want to see the video, then you can watch it from the link below.

Ghost Hunt in Union, Channeling Spirits


In Search of Spirits — The Elusive Kind, Part II

Friday, July 17th, 2009

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mcreavyhouseunion-919

As the evening sky darkened, distant flashes illuminated the gathering clouds, followed by a low and ominous rumble as the thunder rolled across the sky, accompanied by gusts of wind shaking the alders and pines that surrounded our diminutive camp.

A handful of paranormal enthusiasts — along with an invited, spirit-beckoning “medium” — and a confirmed skeptic (myself) gathered together July 11 outside the McReavy house, perched atop the steep hillside overlooking the Hood Canal in Union, which has stood empty of living residents for nearly 40 years.

The purpose was to investigate purported paranormal activity (read: ghosts) that might be present at the site. My job: to help document the event in video and still digital images. The image above is of the medium channeling “Mary,” a young girl who told us, through tears, of her having great difficulties while swimming alone. The blurred effect is a result of a slowed shutter speed due to only two dim light sources, one directly behind the chair he is seated in and a second coming from a video camera off-screen to the left.

Built by John and Fannie (Gove) McReavy in 1883, the house certainly held the charm of being home to unearthly spirits. Willed to the local historical society by the heirs of the last couple to live in the home — McReavy’s daughter, Helen (who wrote “How, When and Where, On the Hood Canal,” 1960 Puget Press) and her husband — it has long been cleared of most of the interior furnishings. In fact, before the couple died (in 1969 and 1970) it appears they had come into some money and had started a major renovation of the home, both inside and out.

They removed the Victorian style pitched roof in favor of a flat beam and plank venture, essentially lopping off a third-story room just visible in some historical photos. And the first and second floors were in various array of having the interior wood plank wall coverings replaced by sheetrock.

As a result, much of the internal charm was boxed up, as fancy moldings and cornices that framed the doors and windows had all been removed to accommodate the remodeling work.

The reality struck me as a far more poignant story. Imagine remodeling your entire home and in the middle of the work, your spouse dies. For upward of a year, you continue to live in the home, but never complete the work, instead living our your days in a home with one foot in the 19th century and one foot in the 20th century. It must have been a lonely final year for Mr. Andersen.

The only remaining vestiges of the home’s original interior were the doors, hinges and some wallpaper remnants stubbornly clinging to some surfaces. The unfinished basement provided tantalizing clues to former occupants with a mishmash of home knickknacks from rolling pins to teacups and records to steamer trunks covered in the dust of dried mildew. One item of particular interest was the front page of a Good Housekeeping magazine dated 1894 — it was found lying on the floor where it had doubtless been tread upon for decades.

Ivy tenaciously invaded one eastern window, preferring the controlled climate inside to the harsh weather blowing off the canal’s shores to the north.

The house itself had stories to tell — an intriguing one lingered about the internal fireplace with a partially dismantled brick chimney and insert installed. The backside of the fireplace faced a back room where the wall was exposed, showing burned timbers where a chimney fire must have put quite a scare in the residents of the time. They were lucky indeed that a timber house of well-seasoned and dried wood didn’t literally explode in flames, as so many homes of that era would do when exposed to fire.

And where the chimney had been removed, a member of the party discovered a large piece of cut tree trunk, bark still clinging to it, wedged between the first floor ceiling and second floor flooring. We surmised it must have been some tradition of putting a piece of unfinished wood from which the home was being built into the home to either bring good luck or ward off bad.

In an unfinished crawl space along the western side of the home, a large knarled tree stump measuring several feet across was left — obviously deemed too much trouble to try and uproot, they cut it to its base and built the home above it.

But if there were spirits lingering about with stories to tell, they remained elusive to our party.

The medium — by his reckoning — was successful in raising a half-dozen denizens of the past. But proof of this reality must be measured in quantifiable facts and every attempt to question a channeled spirit on a detail that could be fact-checked was adroitly side-stepped or ignored.

For example, when asked what book they last read, each and every one of the channeled spirits answered, “The Bible.” And of the channeled McReavy himself, an important businessman and one of the signers of the state charter, whom you would think would be in keen touch with the world around him and the comings and goings on in his own personally named “Venice on the Hood Canal.” But when I asked him what was the name of the newspaper in town, he replied, “I don’t care about newspapers.” Remember: this is the late 1800s when no other form of mass communication existed. Do you really think a man of his stature wouldn’t care to keep up on the news in his community?

I caught the medium in a few outright errors as well (that hopefully the rest of the group will pick up on as they review the videotaped sessions). His first spirit said he was a visitor in the home in 1880 (remember, it was built in 1883) and later when he channeled McReavy, presumably John as he referred to the home as his and wondered at the renovations, he said he built the home in the 1870s and later referred to the master bedroom as a guest room.

Some of the party saw validation of their beliefs in the medium’s manifestations while others maintained their doubts, but having been a theater major many years ago, I must admit that to me the mood lighting and channeled spirits who each rather conveniently “had to go” after a few minutes seemed more like a poorly staged one-act play than anything even beginning to approach reality.

To get a glimpse of the fun we had that night, check out the video here — apologies for the poor quality, but the lighting was limited.

I know one other member of our expedition was as skeptical as I when he asked a spirit if they liked to eat salmon.

The evening petered out around 4:30 a.m. with everyone succumbing to the Sandman, slinking away to find his or her sleeping bag or tent.

For what its worth, I will share my notes and observations with the group and they are free to include or exclude whatever part they desire as they prepare their report of the happening of the night.

As for me, I continue to remain skeptical, having not seen or heard anything that would change my mind. Although the stories that flowed around the room between channeling sessions and also around the campfire outside were anecdotal and filled with provoking details of secondhand sightings, I chalked up the night as being akin to a grown-up version of camp night, where the campers would gather about a fire nestled deep amid rustling trees and snapping branches as a camp counselor weaved a tale of suspense and terror of a haunted night long ago at the very site.

The scariest moment I had was while driving away and pointing down Main Street on a very, very steep incline and imagining the brakes giving way to a fast and furious ride down the hill, across a short gravel parking lot and straight into the cold waters of Hood Canal. That would be a chilly fright indeed.


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About This Blog

Gig Harbor, nestled in the northwest corner of Pierce County, snugly between Tacoma and Bremerton, is fast shedding its small-town demeanor as people seeking to escape the hectic pace, congested traffic and high cost of living in the big city continue to “discover” the fishing village in the harbor. With the influx of population, Gig Harbor continues to morph and develop, coming of age — as it were — as it defines its place among the many communities that dot the waters up and down Puget Sound. Kitsap Sun Special Sections Managing Editor Ric Hallock (whose responsibilities include Gig Harbor Life), lives in Gig Harbor and finds that reason enough to blog on living, breathing and spending money in the Maritime City.

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