Sunday, July 30, 2006

People suck, news at 11

Continuing the saga of the lost wallet, it turns out that my uneasy premonitions about "Sidney"'s phone message were entirely correct.

He called me up at work, gave me a long spiel about how I should be glad he came from such a "respectful" family, mentioned that "someone" had gone through the wallet and taken the cash, and then asked again if there was a reward. Rude, I thought, but hey, rewards for wallets aren't unheard-of and he is doing me a I said, sure, I'll give you $20. There was a long pause, and then he said "that's really insulting, you know?" Taken aback, I asked what he was thinking of, and he said that he was thinking of more like a few hundred dollars.


That isn't quite what I said, I just said "No" and "I don't know what makes you think that's a reasonable amount." At this point he started asking again about "don't you want your wallet back?" and making vague threats about what would happen if it got into the "wrong" hands. I made one mistake, raising my bid to $40 (I shoulda just cut him off there), but finally told him I had to get off and get to work. He wouldn't give me a number to contact him at but said he'd call me later.

So, at this point it was obvious that a pretty nasty character had my wallet, so I double-checked that all my important cards were cancelled and started ordering duplicates of the remaining ones. I called my apartment manager (since my provisional license had my home address on it) and warned them to keep an eye out for suspicious people hanging around my apartment, just in case.

I did try calling the police; however, they were just as useless as you'd expect (considering I didn't know how to get in touch with the wannabe extortionist). The only thing they could suggest was that I try making arrangements to collect the wallet, then arrange to have a police officer arrest the guy when he showed up. Given the fact that I have no actual evidence of the extortion, though, I figured the main result would be to leave someone that I already know is a bad character, and who has my personal information and address, a grudge to hold against me. Not a good long-term move.

What depresses me most about all this is that "Sidney" is far more representative of the average person than I am, or (I assume) most readers of my blog; and he may very well be better adapted to the world than I am. People suck, life sucks, and the world sucks; I should be grown-up enough at age 25 to not care by now, but I still do. :-(

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wallet arghness

This morning, when I got up, I couldn't find my wallet. I had it yesterday when I got on the bus (I pulled it out to pay my fare), and I went straight home from the bus, so I figured I might have left it on the bus. I called the lost & found office, and they said nothing with my name on it had been turned in to them.

When I got home I had a message on my answering machine from a guy named "Sidney":

"Hi, Daniel, my name is Sidney, and I, uh, found your wallet here, and just want to know ... is there a reward for it, or, uh ... you can reach me at (206)*BEEP*"

So, yay, I get to change my bank card number while hoping that the question above was intended more innocently than it sounded. And the new card won't arrive until after I leave town for a week, so this should be an interesting vacation (luckily I'm staying with family the whole time so money shouldn't be too much of a problem outside the airports). Meanwhile, I can see if I need to replace all the less important cards that I didn't get back, or if I can retrieve them from the guy who has the wallet. Obviously that last bit will require him calling me back and giving his entire phone number.

The one bright spot is that I just got an official Washington driver's license on Saturday, so my "real" license will hopefully arrive in the mail in the near future...that would be the most painful thing to be missing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Meeting the Wisconsin state bird in Washington

In Which our Intrepid Heroes Scale (or trudge along) Mountains While Defending Their Precious Bodily Fluids From The Local Fauna.

This is a continuation of my previous post about how I spent my holiday weekend. Yes, it took my a while to get around to it, why do you ask?

Day 1

On our second day in Leavenworth, we decided to hike up to Stuart Lake. This is a nine-mile round trip up the side of a mountain, culminating at an alpine lake; we figured it would make a nice site for a picnic.

The trip up was fairly smooth for about two-thirds of the way, at which point we discovered what we had forgotten in our preparations. Somehow, the fact that mosquitos can live on a mountain had escaped both of us, and we'd left the bug repellant at home!

The next couple hours were a nightmare of swatting, itching, and trying to move fast enough to leave the horde of bloodsuckers behind. We did make it to the lake, but only stayed long enough to take a picture and gobble down a sandwich while doing the Mosquito Dance (where you run in circles while flailing one arm wildly to repel the little nasties). As soon as we were done, we conceded the field and fled back down the mountain to less infested areas.

We got back at about 5, ate the remaining sandwich for dinner, and nursed our wounds until we fell asleep. The whole thing wasn't so bad for me, but Kate seems to be particularly sensitive to mosquitos, and by the time we made it back her whole arm looked like one big bite.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Paintings make the room pretty.

In my last post, I linked to the Wikipedia article on "kitsch". I generally use this to describe art that's in egregiously bad taste -- plaster sculptures of women with exaggerated breasts holding beer bottles, animal-shaped clocks whose eyes wobble with the pendulum, etc. I want to make this clear, because the Kitsch entry in Wikipedia suffers from a case of advanced artistic pinheadism. In short, their definition of Kitsch reduces to

It's pretty and people buy it.

For instance, Thomas Kinkade (the self-styled "painter of light") is disposed of with the offhand comment that his pictures are

scenes of stone cottages, lighthouses, cobble stone streets, rustic villages, and other vistas, with emphasis on the glittery ornamentation in the play of light and natural foliage. His work is meant to be sentimental, patriotic, quaint, spiritual, and inspirational.

While I'm a bit put-off by Mr. Kinkade's aggressive marketing, the quote above could only be considered a serious insult by people who describe the origins of the scourge of kitsch as follows:

Kitsch appealed to the crass tastes of the newly moneyed Munich bourgeoisie who, like most nouveau riche, thought they could achieve the status they envied in the traditional class of cultural elites by aping, however clumsily, the most apparent features of their cultural habits. ...

... in being “too beautiful” and democratic it made art look easy, non-involving and superficial. ...

In some sense the goals of democratization succeeded, and the society was flooded with Academic art, the public lining up to see art exhibitions as they do to see movies today. Literacy in art became widespread, as did the practice of art making, and there was a blurring between high and low culture. ...

The subjects and images presented in academic art, though original in their first expression, were disseminated to the public in the form of prints and postcards.

In short, "wasn't art great back when the only folks who could have it were rich aristocrats, back before those grubby ungewisserei [0] got their grubby hands on it and grubbied it up?"

I am reminded once more why I never took a single art course in college, and took only one English course (and that to fulfill a degree requirement). The worlds of "serious" art and literature seem to be about standing around in a circle telling all the other people in the circle how cultured and sophisticated you are, and how intellectually impoverished and shallow all the people outside the circle are.

Why are you sophisticated? Because you said so, and you ought to know. And be forwarned: any attempt to invoke logic will be refuted with an assertion that our thought systems are inherently socially constructed and there is no absolute truth anyway, except that we are far more intellectual and sophisticated than you.

This has gotten a bit long -- but in short, anyone who looks down on another human being because they would rather have this hanging on their wall than this has frankly given up any right to be offended by the term "self-important pinhead".

[0] This may not be proper German, but as I am apparently an inferior man-child for not seeing instantly how awful kitsch is, how can I possibly be expected to get any language but my own right anyway?

Not Bavaria, but still fun.

With today being a federal holiday, Kate and I decided to take a four-day weekend and head to Leavenworth. This is a little town up in the Cascades that calls itself Washington's Bavarian village, and seems to be part of the complete Seattle experience -- everyone around here has visited it at least once. The short description is that while the Bavarian theme is a bit of a gimmick, there's good hiking in the area and some good food (if you don't mind the touristy atmosphere).


Why is this post written in the present tense? 'cos I felt like it.


For the convenience and sanity of people reading this on aggregators like Planet Debian, this saga is broken into segments.

Day 0

We get a late start leaving Redmond and drive along some pretty spectacular scenery on Highway 2 East ... although after living here for a while, I've become somewhat inured to spectacular scenery. Another craggy mountain with snow-spotted alpine meadows, thousand-foot waterfalls, and blankets of pine forest? You woke me up for THAT? But even by the standards of the Pacific Northwest, this is a scenic drive.

Kate has picked out a short hike about halfway to our destination, but when we pull up to the trailhead we learn that a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park. We decide to cut out that hike and make a note to buy a pass when we get a chance. Probably they're sold in Leavenworth. Further on we see a little picnic area with a path going back into the woods. We decide to stop there for lunch and follow the trail, which turns out to be a pleasant loop through a patch of forest and up to a decent-sized waterfall.

We arrive in Leavenworth in the afternoon. The town has done an impressive job of building a city center of half-timbered buildings in what looks to me like a reasonably German style (bearing in mind that my last visit to Germany was about ten years ago when I was in high school). They even have a two- or three-story clock tower. After checking into the bed-and-breakfast where we're staying, we head downtown to explore.

Leavenworth, at least in the city center, looks very Bavarian from the outside. It's a little less impressive when you actually go in the buildings. Most of the shops sell generic American tourist junk -- shirts that say I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good either., kitschy statues (women holding beer tables on their breasts), etc. However, while I see very little that's recognizably Bavarian in town, there are some stores with nice selections of work by local craftsmen and artists.

After looking around a bit, we head to the Andreas Keller Restaurant for dinner. We have a nice meal of jägerschnitzel, spätzle, red cabbage and knackwurst while listening to (live!) accordian oom-pah. I am surprised to see the Chicken Dance mixed in with the rest of the performance, but Wikipedia says that this was composed in Switzerland in 1950s for the accordion under the name Der Ententanz. Live and learn.

After finishing dinner, we walk back to the bed-and-breakfast and get an early sleep.