Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vaclav Havel’s “Disturbing the Peace”

Girl with a Pearl Earring

This novel is reminiscent of the equally popular “Memoirs of a Geisha”. The theme of both books is that beautiful women, especially of an earlier age, are not in control of their destiny with regards to men. Henry James said exactly that in “Portrait of a Lady”.

In the case of “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”, the maid Griet, her beauty attracts the interest of powerful men—in this case the painter Vermeer and his patron. Tracy Chevalier, the author, gives us clues that their interest is dangerous and could lead to tragedy. When a gentleman fondles a maid in 1665 the maid cannot offer much resistance owing to her low status in life. More likely than not, as with Fantine in “Les Miserables”, it is the maiden who is cast into trouble.

The beauty of this novel, for a male reader like myself, is that is draws you into the perilous existence inhabited by young women. Prior to this I always thought young women like Griet were just glittering beauties sailing easily through life on their good looks. It’s kind of like reading the diary of a teenage girl—highly guarded and something to which one would not normally be privvy.

This novel is erotic too, but in a 17th century demure sort of way. Griet, we learn, is loath to let her full head of hair be seen by any man and she would never been seen with her lips held open. When she is intruded upon with her long mane of hair freely unfurled the reader’s heart flutters and it must have for the young girl. And when she moistens her lips and holds them open at the request of the portrait painter Vermeer we are absolutely aghast and tingling with erotic excitement.

The other theme of this novel is the brutality of being poor and female in earlier ages. This is much like “Memoirs of a Geisha” where the two sisters are pushed into the business of entertaining men by their impoverished family. Griet is pushed into working as a maid because her family is poor as well. The women who work as maids of geishas have a brutal pecking order and are quite cruel to one another. An unattractive woman in the Geisha household is call “Pumpkin” because that is the shape of her head. Griet undergoes similar cruelty by Vermeer’s children and the other maids in the large house.

For me, the most thrilling parts of the novel are where the young maid Griet is allowed to go into Vermeer’s studio. This creates much jealously in the Vermeer household--not even the painter’s wife is allowed into the room where the master creates his masterpieces. This is what is meant by the book jacket blurb that she is “drawn into an artistic wakening”. Griet learns the subtlety of light, how to grind various potions from the apothecary into vivid blues and reds, and the way a painting is made. It is assembled not by drawing an initial outline as one would imagine. Rather layer upon layer of color blotches are laid down until the final form takes place.

Wine Communism and Volcanoes Introduction

Isabelle Allende writes in her memoirs that one Chilean writer wondered if Chile could be sold and traded for something “closer to Paris”.

The writer no doubt wanted to be closer to the glittering salons of the 13th arrondissement than the isolation, which is Chile. Surrounded by the Atacama Desert to the North, the Polar Regions to the South, the towering Andes to the east, and the freezing Pacific Ocean to the west, this narrow ribbon of volcanoes, geysers, and towering mountains is a geographical oddity unlike no other. From the point of view of the North American, Chile is upside down. Winter is in June, July, and August. The Southern Cross constellation illuminates the night sky.

The entire region north of Valparaiso down to Concepción in the South appears carpeted with vineyards, orchards, and produce ranging from onions to oranges. The Chilean farmer is perhaps frustrated that it is not possible to plant each and every inch of ground here—so much space is taken up by all those annoying mountains that run from the coast to the center of the country, lay down for a few dozen miles, then resume their march to the border with Argentina.

With irrigation provided by rivers swollen with melting snow and a Mediterranean climate, Chile is an agricultural paradise. The weather is bone dry here which means roses and grapes are free of those molds and rots that are associated with humidity and rains. Cold breezes at night descend from the Andes mountain onto the ¼ million acres of grapes planted here. This cool air causes grapes to retain rather than cast off their acidity—acid is an important component of taste. In the daytime in Chile it is hot, but not so hot that the grapes turn to raisins and lose their flavor.

Chile might be the marketing and winemaking machine to displace the Australians who currently enjoy ½ of grocery store sales in the USA with their cheap wines with cute animals plastered on the label. The whole country of Chile is geared towards exports—drinking powdered orange drink at the winery where I worked for three months I wonders whether the Chileans keep anything for themselves. The country enjoys low costs that cannot be matched by Australian and European growers. California grape growers and winemakers are of course saddled with even higher prices for grapes, land, and labor plus heavy-handed local regulation. The take away message from Chile is you can buy excellent Chilean wine for a low price. But not all Chilean wines are excellent--like Italy, the USA, and Australia there are foul-tasting, sour wines here as well sold to unwitting consumers who perhaps cannot tell the difference.

Beyond grapes and geography, the politics of Chile make it a unique place. Chile is perhaps the only country in the world to have elected a Communist government. President Allende ruled for a few years in the early 1970’s until he was killed in a military coup aided in part by the United States. His successor, General Agusto Pinochet, left a brutal legacy that resonates today.

Today Chile is the most stable, least corrupt, and perhaps most prosperous country in Latin America. Some would say this is because of Pinochet and his policies. These Pinochet apologists would say, “Sure Pinochet killed 3,000 pointy headed intellectuals but look at the prosperity he foisted upon the nation.” Pinochet was such a believer in laissez faire capitalism that he even privatized the national social security pension system.

But the sentiment for Socialism runs strong in Chile. In the 1960s, President Eduardo Frei nationalized a source of great wealth, the copper industry by seizing it from American interests. The Marxist Allende continued this nationalization program seizing banks and taking land from the wealthy. Socialists outnumber conservatives here. In spite of heavy spending by the moneyed interests, in the presidential election of 2006 a Socialist woman, Michelle Bachelet, followed Ricardo Largos, the Socialist incumbent into office.

When Salvador Allende came to power the rich women of the wealthy barrio of Las Condes in Santiago turned out with their kitchenware in a noisy protest of pots and pans saying they would starve to death at the hands of the socialists. The United States at this time was busy fighting the Cold War with the Soviets. For many years the Monroe Doctrine said the USA would not allow a foreign government to gain a toehold in the Americas. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State, worried at what was happening in Chile, got even more agitated when President Allende invited Fidel Castro to visit Chile. Castro, who is known to be a bit longwinded, stayed in Chile not a few days or a few weeks; for 8 long months he traveled the breath of this narrow country giving speeches to mine workers, students, and anyone who would listen.

To USA decided to act. It is well-documented in various books and declassified papers that the USA began a campaign of destabilization. The CIA funded money to journalists and politicians to upset the status quo. The oligarchs cast their lot with the Americans and persuaded a reluctant Agusto Pinochet to seize power in a military coup. When he came to power vengeance again the communists was swift and brutal. Writers, student activists, and intellectuals were rounded up and tossed into prison, tortured and exiled. Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning poet, fled over the border into Argentina. Isabelle Allende left with her family leaving behind memories of her uncle, the late president.

Chile is free of military dictatorship today, but the legacy of Pinochet still resonates around the nation. Many of the provincial cities have human rights judges to deal with the 3,000 desparecidos (disappeared persons). And Pinochet—who granted himself lifetime immunity--is finally being brought to justice. The British seized him under a Spanish extradition warrant when he went to England for medical care in 1998. But Home Secretary Jack Straw let him go after a months-long tug of war between Spanish jurisprudence, Scotland Yard, and Chilean supporters of Pinochet. Pinochet often has ducked trial and prison by saying he is too old and sick but today he has been prosecuted for tax evasion, has been placed under house arrest, and even has seen his children brought before judges in Chile on charges of corruption.

This book is a memoir of the three months that I spent working the harvest at VIA Wines in the Maule and Colchagua Valleys in Chile in 2005. Go with me as I take the reader for an inside look at how wine is made in an industrial sized winery. I talk about the people and the process. Beyond VIA Wines I take extended tours of the best wineries of Chile and talk to the most important winemakers there. Listen as the people I meet in Chile talk to me about politics and race; poverty and wealth; Pinochet and Allende. I made a lot of friends there and from them learned about the educational system, how the cell phone and transportation systems work, and the difficulties faced by single mothers. I take the reader into the homes of the poor agriculture workers, on a tour of the Villarica Volcano, and even a visit to one of the legal brothels here.

Wine Communism and Volcanoes Prologo

Isabel Allende escribe en sus memorias que un escritor chileno se preguntaba si Chile podría ser vendido y cambiado por “algo más cercano a París”.

Sin duda, el escritor querría estar más cerca de los glamorosos salones de “arrondissement” que en el aislamiento que es Chile.

Rodeado por el desierto de Atacama al norte, las regiones polares en el sur, los gigantescos Andes al este y las gélidas aguas del Océano Pacífico al oeste, esta larga cinta de volcanes, géiseres, y monumentales montañas, es una rareza geológica sin igual.
Desde el punto de vista de un norteamericano, Chile es al revés: el invierno es en junio, julio y agosto y la Constelación de la Cruz del Sur ilumina su cielo nocturno.

Toda la región norte de Valparaíso hasta Concepción en el sur, aparece alfombrada de viñedos, orquidearios y productos variados, que van desde cebollas hasta naranjas. Probablemente es frustrante para los granjeros chilenos el no poder plantar algo en cada centímetro cuadrado de esta tierra – esas enojosas montañas que vienen desde la costa al centro del país y se tienden planas por unas cuantas docenas de millas para continuar su marcha hasta el borde con la Argentina, se toman demasiado terreno.

Con irrigación proveniente de ríos que se engrosan con deshielos y un clima mediterráneo, Chile es un paraíso para la agricultura. Su clima es muy seco lo cual significa que rosas y uvas crecen libres de moho y podredumbre, tan asociados con la humedad y las lluvias. Frías brisas de los Andes descienden por la noche sobre las aproximadamente 101.000 hectáreas de uva plantadas aquí. Este aire fresco hace que las uvas retengan su acidez en lugar de perderla – el grado de acidez es un importante componente del sabor. Durante el día, Chile es caliente, pero no tan caliente como para que las uvas se conviertan en pasas y pierdan su sabor.

Puede que Chile no sea una máquina comercializadora y productora de vinos como para desplazar a los australianos, los que actualmente disfrutan de la mitad de las ventas en los supermercados de los Estados Unidos con sus vinos de bajo precio que muestran graciosos animales en sus etiquetas. Todo Chile está encaminado a las exportaciones – me preguntaba si los chilenos retienen algo de su vino mientras tomaba un jugo de naranja en polvo en el lugar mismo donde trabajé por tres meses. Este país ostenta bajos costos, lo cual no puede ser igualado por los agricultores australianos o europeos. Por supuesto, los agricultores y productores de vinos de California, están atados de manos y pies con precios aún más altos por las uvas, tierras y mano de obra, además de fuertes gravámenes locales. El mensaje de los vinos chilenos es: puedes comprar excelentes vinos chilenos por bajos precios. Pero no todos los vinos chilenos son excelentes, como sucede en Italia, los Estados Unidos y Australia, aquí también puede haber vinos amargos y desagradables que son vendidos a consumidores desprevenidos que, posiblemente no se dan cuenta de la diferencia.

Más allá de las uvas y la geografía, la política de Chile lo hace un lugar único. Chile es talvez el único país del mundo que ha elegido a un gobierno comunista. El Presidente Allende gobernó el país por unos pocos años, al inicio del año 1970, hasta que fuera asesinado en un golpe militar en el cual tomó parte los Estados Unidos. Su sucesor, el General Augusto Pinochet dejó un legado tan brutal que resuena hasta el día de hoy.

Hoy en día, Chile es el país más estable, menos corrupto y posiblemente el más prospero de Latinoamérica. Algunos dicen que esto se debe a Pinochet y a su política. Estos defensores de Pinochet dicen: “Claro que Pinochet mató a 3.000 agudos pensadores pero mira la prosperidad que trajo a la nación”. Pinochet era tan fervoroso creyente del capitalismo “laissez faire” que inclusive privatizó el sistema de pensiones del seguro social.

Pero la idea del socialismo corre fuerte en Chile. En 1960, el Presidente Eduardo Frei nacionalizó una fuente de gran riqueza: la industria del cobre, al recuperarla de manos norteamericanas. El marxista Allende continuó este programa de nacionalización al reclamar los bancos y tomar la tierra de los ricos. Los socialistas aquí son más numerosos que los conservadores. A pesar de los abultados gastos por parte de los aristócratas, una mujer socialista, Michelle Bachelet, ganó en las elecciones del 2006, seguida por Ricardo Lagos, el actual titular socialista.

Cuando Salvador Allende subió al poder las mujeres ricas del barrio Las Condes en Santiago, salieron con sus utensilios de cocina en una protesta ruidosa de ollas y sartenes, diciendo que todos morirían de hambre en las manos de los socialistas en un momento en que los Estados Unidos se encontraban ocupados peleando la Guerra Fría con los soviéticos. Por muchos años, la Doctrina Monroe dijo que los Estados Unidos no permitirían que un movimiento extranjero tomara control de Las Americas. El Presidente Richard Nixon y su Secretario de Estado, se preocuparon por lo que estaba sucediendo en Chile y se preocuparon más aún cuando el Presidente Allende invitó a Fidel Castro para que visitara Chile. Como se sabe, Castro, que se permite ciertas libertades, se quedó, no por unos pocos días o pocas semanas, sino durante 1 largo mes durante el cual viajó por el angosto país dando discursos a mineros, estudiantes y a todo el que pudiera escuchar.

Los Estados Unidos decidieron actuar. Está bien documentado en varios libros y archivos desclasificados que los Estados Unidos empezaron una campaña de desestabilización. La CIA dio dinero a periodistas y políticos para que descontrolaran el sistema. Los oligarcas juntaron sus fuerzas con los norteamericanos y persuadieron al no muy convencido Augusto Pinochet de lanzarse a tomar el poder por las armas. Cuando él usurpó el poder, la venganza contra los comunistas fue veloz y brutal. Escritores, activistas estudiantes e intelectuales fueron rodeados y tomados prisioneros, torturados y exiliados. Pablo Neruda, poeta ganador del Premio Nóbel, voló a través de la frontera hasta Argentina. Isabel Allende salió con su familia, dejando atrás los recuerdos de su tío, el último presidente.
Chile está libre de dictaduras militares hoy en día, pero el legado de Pinochet todavía resuena en la nación. Muchas de las ciudades provinciales tienen jueces de derechos humanos para tramitar los casos de 3.000 desaparecidos. Y Pinochet, quien se aseguró a sí mismo inmunidad de por vida, está siendo traído a los tribunales para responder por sus actos finalmente. Los británicos lo agarraron bajo una orden española de extradición cuando fue a Inglaterra para cuidados médicos en 1998, pero el Ministro del Interior, Jack Straw le dejó en libertad después de un mes de guerra entre la jurisprudencia española, la Scotland Yard y los seguidores de Pinochet. El ex – dictador a menudo ha logrado evadir un enjuiciamiento y la prisión aduciendo que está muy viejo y enfermo, pero finalmente ha sido enjuiciado por evasión de impuestos y ha sido puesto bajo arresto domiciliario; incluso ha visto a sus hijos ser inculpados ante jueces chilenos por cargos de corrupción.

Este libro es un recuento de los tres meses que pasé trabajando en la cosecha en VIA Wines en los Valles Maula y Colchagua en Chile en el año 2005. Le invito a venir conmigo mientras llevo a mis lectores a echar un vistazo a la forma cómo se hace el vino en una viña de tamaño industrial. Hablo acerca de la gente y del proceso también. Además de VIA Wines, tomo tours extensos por las mejores viñas de Chile y hablo con los más importantes enólogos del lugar. Escucho a la gente chilena hablarme sobre política y raza; riqueza y pobreza; Pinochet y Allende. Hice muchos amigos allí y de ellos he aprendido acerca del sistema educativo, como funcionan los celulares, el sistema de transportación y sobre las dificultades que enfrentan las madres solas. Llevo a mis lectores a visitar las casas de trabajadores pobres, a un tour al Volcán Villarrica e inclusive a visitar uno de los burdeles que funcionan legalmente aquí.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ben Yagoda’s "About Town : The New Yorker and The World It Made"

Home Burial

William Hodges Juvenal buried his son Julian today in the backyard of his house. Julian had died two days before at St. Judes Hospital after a protracted battle with Leukemia. After two years of chemotherapy and visits in and out of a dozen hospitals the little 11 year old boy finally let go of life and passed away quietly in his sleep.

William Hodges was not a religious man. He and his wife Katherine were bookish intellectuals who had subjected the existence of God to reason and had decided that they there is no God and that religion is a simply a man-made mechanism to keep society from sliding into anarchy. So being non-believers they did not go to a priest when their son died. Rather they held a simple civil service for family and friends at their farm on Long Island. When the guests left William went out into his garden, spent two days digging a hole, then lowered the body of his dead son into the ground and threw dirt over the grave.

Even though she was an atheist, Julian’s mother Katherine had grown despondent about burying her son in her own yard. Something began to stir in her soul—a longing for something spiritual to calm her anguished heart. She had begun to think that perhaps a proper burial with a minister or priest might have been better. As with many people who are confronting death, Katherine even began to think that there might just be some after life so shouldn’t her son go there rather than rot in the back yard.

Wiping away tears from her eyes, Katherine looked up at William as he came into the kitchen after having covered the grave. The way he calmly wiped the mud from his shoes—giving it no more thought than if he had been hoeing his tomatoes—seemed insufficiently reverent to Katherine. It was as if her husband had buried a dead canary or a cat and not his own flesh and blood. Her misery welled up in her eyes again and she began to sob.

“Would you like for me to fix you a Scotch?”, her husband asked. “Sure,” she said, “it will help dull the pain.” Even though he seemed rather nonchalant William was in deep grief as well. Both he and Katherine knew that when you lose a child it is as if a piece has been cut out of you. Where there once was the warmth of a little boy there is now an empty gulf, an ulcer writhing in pain, an oozing sore that would never heal no matter how many years would go by.

Katherine wanted to talk to her husband about their loss. William didn’t want to discuss anything. He preferred to brood over a book and try to reason away his loss by himself. So Katherine called her sister and they talked on the phone for hours.

As the days went by William returned to his study to work on his writing and Katherine returned to her studio to return to her painting. But neither parent could let loose of images of the young Julian at play. William, in particular, thought of how he and Julian would walk hand in hand in the forest of the farm looking for frogs. Julian would get frustrated with his father when he was 4 years old and go hunting for frogs all by himself. That Julian was bold enough to venture alone in the woods made his father proud. It also made him laugh the way the young boy said “it’s not fair” when William said he was too busy to go hunt frogs.

The loss of Julian tore at William’s heart, upended his emotions, and put him into a melancholy state. He tried to focus on his work but thoughts of his dead son cluttered his mind so he could not think clearly. Not all of William’s thoughts of Julian were sad. William reflected warmly on the cute way that William behaved. He laughed to himself when he recalled how Julian would fall down climbing through the brush of the family farm and then blame his fall on his father. He recalled how the boy would lie for hours on his bed talking to himself as all little boys do. “Who are you talking to?” William asked. “Nothing” the boy would answer not understanding the difference between a pronoun and a thing. And then there were the funny faces that Julian made. “Make a funny face for me Julian,” his father implored. Finally there was the way William could change his boy’s emotions from tears to laughter in seconds. If Julian was crying because he dropped his pancakes on the floor or if he had pinched his finger, William would hop around the room backwards on one foot, make funny faces himself and then Julian’s tears would stop instantly--he would then smile that wonderful cherubic child-like smile and burst out laughing. But all these pleasant thoughts dissolved into misery one morning when William walked into the basement and came across the pencil marks he had made on the wall to record the changes in his son’s height. It read “Julian 12/02/1999” and slightly higher up “Julian 10/14/2000”. William broke down and sobbed. He felt slightly ashamed of himself because he thought only women could experience such outward display of sadness. But then again he felt relieved because such outward displays of emotion were the way that one healed oneself.

For Katherine the way she thought of Julian was more, well, motherly. It tended to focus on not what the child did but how the child felt and how the mother felt about the child. Katherine’s her heart ached when she thought of Julian feeding at her breast for the first two years of his life. The life she had brought into the world began it’s first few minutes firmly clamped to its mother and hung tightly there for the first few years. Even as the toddler became a child and the child became a boy he would cling tightly to his mother’s skirts when strangers came to visit or when he was frightened by the dark. Katherine installed a nigh light in the young boys bedroom to keep the frightening dark at bay.

A few months after the home burial Katherine was sleeping in her bed while William read Robert Frost’s poetry while laying beside his wife. He reached up and switched off the lights and then fell fast sleep. Outside a full moon rose and a breeze picked up and the pines swayed in the darkness. From the window of their bedroom you could see the tiny marble headstone that marked the grave of the Juvenal baby.

Suddenly Katherine sat up in the darkness as she heard something or someone crying from the back yard. She listened closely again and thought she heard her dead son crying out “Mommie”. A chill ran across her body and she looked around the room at the moonlight spilling across the bed and the arm chair in the corner. “Wake up William” she prodder her husband. “Get up and look downstairs, I think I heard someone outside.” Groaning, William would not get up. “What? Huh? O.K.” William reached into his drawer and pulled out his pistol. Pulling on his slippers he climbed out of bed .

William heads out to the barn because he sees a shadow passing in the dark. On the way back to the house he stumbles across the grave of his son. With his flashlight he sees tiny footprints in the dirt around the grave. For some reason grass had not grown there.

The mother is not wakened anymore by the sound of Julian crying from the grave. But her mind begins to rethink its atheistic position. Perhaps she could think through the question of God again and either find Him or find spiritual solace. If she found a God then she might find a place for her son in Heaven. If she reaffirmed her atheism then she might at lest find solace from a spiritual awakening if in fact the two notions could coexist.

Katherine then recalls all that is wrong with religion in her mind. It’s a man made device she says and not something created by God. Think of all the wrongs that have been committed by the supposedly pious religious in the name of God. First there was the Insurrection where the Jews were expelled from Spain. Then there was the scandal of Lucretia Borgia, the daughter of the Pope who had an incestuous relationship with her father. The Vatican had been so corrupt for such a long time—selling tickets to heaven, maintaining an army--that Martin Luther grew fed up and started the Protestant faith. But the Protestant zealot John Calvin tossed heretical women into the river at Geneva. Then the Protestant faith splintered into the Anglican Church, the Pentecostal, Baptists, African Methodist Episcopalian, Seventh Day Adventists. All of these religions were just man made devices. There was nothing God like in their founding—only a differing interpretation of the Bible or a man made desire to make legal something with had been frowned upon by another church: divorce, polygamy, drinking.

She decides to reread Dante’s “Inferno”. While Dante’s poem is beautiful it highlights what she says is a flaw with Christianity. In the first circle of Hell Virgil meets Plato and Socrates. They are in a kind of limbo that might be purgatory. They are not subjected to the full wrath of Hell because they lived many years before Jesus appeared on earth and long before the Christian religion began. But what about all the babies and innocent mothers who were also born before Christ? Are they doomed to purgatory simply because of a fluke in the calendar? If God is benevolent why would he be so cruel?

C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” has more of a positive impact on Katherine. In this book length essay Lewis argues that there is a Law of Nature which all men know by instinct. This law says that there is a universal morality—what one culture agrees is bad, e.g. murder, is agreed by all cultures. So there must be a supreme being who put together this notion and implanted it in the minds of all Earth’s citizens. Lewis does an excellent job of arguing that there must be a God. Further he goes on to say that the Christian faith is the only correct faith. While Katherine is impressed by Lewis’s argument she is not yet converted to Christianity.

Then Katherine reads Cardinal John Newman’s “Apolgia Sua Vita”. She fancies herself a scholar but can barely understand this long boring book written in the 19th century. When it was published in England it supposedly caused many Protestants to switch to the Catholic faith. As we’ve already pointed out Katherine does not think much of the Catholic Church. She does however have great admiration for Pope John Paul II for he faced down the communists in Poland and help to bring about the collapse of the evil Soviet Empire.

Katherine’s belief in religion she often compared to that of Ivan Karamazov in the novel “The Brother’s Karamazov”. Ivan argues that logic would indicate that is no God. Moreover he says if there is no immortality then nothing is immoral. But the author of the novel Fyodor Dostoevsky is a devout Greek Orthodox Christian as was his contemporary Leo Tolstoy. So Dostoevsky’s own beliefs manifest themselves in the character of Father Zosima the elder monk at the monastery and in the way that Ivan is crushed by his atheism. Father Zosima says that you cannot reason your way to religion. Rather you must have faith. Yet another character in the novel, the Devil, who of course believes in God, says “Besides in matters of faith, proof, especially, material proof is pretty useless.”

Katherine puts aside this debate over religion long enough to motor over to the local mall to go shopping. She browses in and out of the Gap—the prices there are too high for a poorly paid artist. Looks in the window at Victoria’s Secret—her skinny frame and slight bosom would find no support there. And then runs into two young men dressed in black pants, white shirts, and ties who are giving out literature and talking to passersby. Katherine recognizes them as Mormon so she takes one of their brochures but politely declines their offer to talk at length. “I promise I’ll read this” she says as she walks away thinking “there is no way I will read this”.

Katherine decides to go to the local Episcopal church that Sunday. She notes how the preachers are always smiling. She recalled that Oscar Wilde said that preachers are always smiling because they repeat the same think over and over as they read from the Book of Common prayer. So they are glib idiots. Katherine looks around the church and sees people from the village that she’s know for years. She recalls how she criticized her own parents. They didn’t believe in God she said; they simply went to church because in the rural area where they lived it was just another social club: a place to meet friends and get invited to parties. When Katherine went to her grandparents Baptist church as a teenager all she could think was how cynical these supposedly pious people were. They smiled meekly at one another and said “God is Great” and “Praise the Lord”. But they fornicated, committed adultery, stole from one another, lied, and behaved just like the rest of us. And the church’s dogma fit neatly into their scheme because God said you can be forgiven for your sins if you just ask. So for the petty thief or the abusive husband, the sanctuary was just one great big revolving door of amnesty. Katherine left church that day feeling that much more down on religion. But still she wouldn’t give up searching for the sake of her own soul and that of her dead child.

Katherine goes to her studio one morning in April to work on her painting. Her work is abstract. She dashes colors onto the canvas with her brush and sees what shat manifests itself. After a week of dabbing blue here, brushing red over there, and spreading yellow in bright swirls she steps back from the painting to look it over carefully. She gasps and drops her coffee to the floor when she can clearly see what appears to be the face of her son Julian. His hands are folded like Raphael’s painting of the praying hands and he is looking up at a church steeple. She then begins to think again of what the Mormons in the mall told her about Joseph Smith’s vision in the forest. Could she be having a religious vision? Could she be slipping into some kind of psychosis? Her emotions were beginning to unnerve her.

Katherine is looking about the den a few says later for something to read when she picks up “The New Yorker” magazine. She reads a scathing indictment of the Mormon Church in advance of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games. She feels vindicated in her mistrust of religion when she reads how Brigham Young had 57 wives. Polygamy it seems was not scripture but just a way to sanction the many marriages kept by the church’s founder Joseph Smith. But then Katherine’s schadenfreud turned to interest as she read of the Mormon’s belief in the Baptism for the Dead. The New Yorker explained that through prayer a living Christian could cause the soul of a dead person to go to heaven. Hence the Mormon’s interest in genealogy.

Katherine decided to read further. She went and ordered “The Book of Mormon”. Then she visited the Mormon Church and talked with the elders and they agreed to teach Katherine about the Church of Latter day Saints and help her pray for the soul of her dead child.

In the months thereafter Katherine is busy with her painting and her new-found faith in the Mormonism. She wouldn’t call herself a Mormon yet but she did hold out hope that the Baptism for the Dead could help her reconnect with her son or at least spirit her son off to Heaven. That night she crawls in bed, reaches up and snaps off the light, and falls asleep.

William is sleeping beside her when he abruptly sits straight up in a cold sweat. “Did you here that? I can hear Julian crying out from his grave.” He turns to his wife but she is not there. Her side of the bed has gone cold. Leaping up from his bed he throws open the window and looks in the backyard at his son’s grave which is well lit in the full moon. Across the grave he can see a shadow in the spot where grass refuses to grow. William tosses on his bathrobe and dashes down the stairs, pistol in hand, and runs out to the back yard. At the grave of his son William doesn’t find a trespasser or ghost. Rather Katherine is lying there an afghan wrapped around her shoulders and The Book of Mormon lying at her side. She too had heard Julian crying out so she went out to be with him and comfort him.

Job Interview at the WHO in Alexandria, Egypt

In 1994, I answered an ad in "Computerworld" magazine looking for a computer programmer working for World Health Organization of the United Nation. The UN--moving at the usual glacial pace of governments the world over--sorted through their pile of résumés and eventually mine popped to the top. So, perhaps six months later someone from the WHO called my voice mail and left a message. I had long since found other work and had forgotten completely that I had applied for work there. So when the voice message asked that I ring them up in Alexandria I thought this meant Alexandria, Virginia. I puzzled over the 5 or 6 digit phone number so tossed it in the trash. I did not know then that the phone call had come from Alexandria, Egypt and not Alexandria, Virginia.

If you've ever read Frank Kafka's "The Trial" or even "The Castle", one of its many themes is that the wheels of government always move foreword if at a somewhat leisurely pace. So the bureaucrats at the WHO let another few weeks go by then they called their Washington, D.C. headquarters and asked if those people there would call me at my Maryland home. Finally I got the message and on Thanksgiving I went to Dulles Airport to pick up an airline ticket which had been paid for in advance in Egyptian Pounds.

I had been working for Andersen Consulting on a computer project in Greensboro, North Carolina. I did not want to tip off my current employer, so it was fortunate that the Egyptians do not celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday. For on the Thanksgiving holiday I hopped on a plan at Kennedy Airport and flew nine hours to Cairo for an on-site interview at the WHO office in Alexandria. I would go and come back all in 5 days.

When I got on The Air Egypt 747 jumbo jet it was clear I had already left American even though we were still parked in New York. Because women wearing burkas and tchadors crowded into the plane while annoying Arabic music played non-stop. This non-stop music soon causes a non-stop ringing on my head.

I had flown to Europe a few times before so was used to the 6 hour hop across the pond, but as I looked down at the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain I was beginning to grow weary as we had 5 more hours to go. My arms were still aching from the many shots I had gotten to ward off diseases of the third world when I settled back in my seat for the remainder of the trip.

When we arrived over Cairo it was if we were circling a lunar landscape because there was not a bit of green grass in all that desert. The 747 landed and parked far away from any building. There was no gangplank nor jetway connecting the airport to the jet, so we simply climbed down from the airplane on a very tall ladder.

Most people queued up a immigration but I was met by the WHO travel agent who whisked be through security and into a waiting Mercedes. I certain felt like some kind of diplomat at my VIP treament. But this was just another bit of WHO largesse. For the Mercedes, which would have cost maybe $30 in the States, costs over $100,000 in Egypt because the import tax was more than 100%.

I wish that I had had time to do a proper bit of reading before I went to visit there. Fyodor and other travel guides do nothing to give you a proper perspective of a country. You would do better to read what learned men have had to say. For example, if one travels to Italy they should read the travelogues of D.H. Lawrence, Geothe, or Mark Twain. Likewise a traveler to Egypt would do well to dig into Gustave Flaubert's account of his trip.

Leaving the airport, we drove past dusty buildings and zipped down dusty highways cluttered with dusty cars. The highway had stripes painted on them but no one paid any attention. It was each man for himself as the drivers jockeyed with each other for a bit of open road.

It grew dark as we headed to the suburbs. I asked the driver to take me to Giza so I could see the famed pyramids. We turned left and right through the meandering streets which had grown increasingly dark. I had just read a Tom Clancy novel--I have since given up on that grocery store genre of literature in favor of belles lettres--where Clancy's character Jack Ryan had disguised himself as an Arab and infiltrated a neighborhood such as this one. So I was worried that I would be kidnapped or taken away as in a spy novel. But this was in the days before Al Qaeda, the Achille Lauro, or the increased militancy that has since taken root in Egypt. But I was not without my worries.

We pulled into a cul-de-sac and I hoped out and my driver hired a horse and tour guide to take me to the pyramids. A small boy was engaged to lead my horse by its rein. I was worried that I would be robbed as this surreal episode evolved around me, so I hoped on the horse clutching my briefcase in hand. We headed off into the desert night with my Bedouin-looking guides.

I should not have been worried because the trip was pleasant. A cool breeze stirred the night air while the pyramids loomed large in the distance. I could see where the Phoenix's nose has been blasted off by vandals. It is amazing that this--a national and irreplaceable Egyptian treasure-- was not guarded by a fence. One could simply ride up to the pyramids and then go inside.

We went back to the cul-de-sac and piled again into the Mercedes. Cairo is great because all one needs to do to get a beer is pull over the curb and some boy will sell it to you.

We set out on the road to Alexandria. It was quite a far trip and there is only one gas station en route. At that gas station we filled the tank with petrol while some boys played soccer in the parking lot and other boys washed car--not just the windshield but the entire car. I enjoyed my first puff of tobacco from a hooka and tea from a samovar. American pot smokers would call this a bong, but it more subtle and refined. The otherwise harsh back tobacco wafts pleasantly through the water which cools the same. It let one felling mellow and content.

I got to my hotel and a few Swiss but there were no Americans. I went to sleep and in the morning heading over to the World Health Organization headquarters.

One would have to visit the WHO on a job interview to realize how ridiculous it would be to work there. The pay package is generous: free housing and a generous salary. And you would be able to hire a driver, a maid, and a gardener all for pennies on the dollar. Further you could use your international status to import an automobile tax free and then sell it to an Egyptian at treble the price.

But to actually work at the WHO would require me to toss out all I believe regarding work ethics and work quality and settle into bureaucratic malaise. The man who I interviewed was a rude, haughty, condescending Burmese who treated his staff like peasant workers. I also interviewed with Africans whose only qualification for their post seemed to be that they had been royalty in their countries or had otherwise been cronies of the local despot. Most of the people in the computer department were Indian which was an odd forshadowing of the situation that reigns in the states today.

I was not offered the job largely because I knew more about computer software than computer networks and they wanted a network engineer. That would have been easily to assertion without me flying over the ocean but I was grateful for the trip nevertheless.

The one American I interviewed with tried to unnerve me with prying questions that pointed to supposed gaps in my curriculum vitae. I scarcely paid attention to what he said, because our meeting was interrupted by loudspeakers calling the faithful to prayer. I settled back and called downstairs for tea. At the WHO, when you want tea you just pick up the phone and a boy will bring it to you.

The next day I hired a cab for $20 for the full day and rode out to see the sites. The famed library at Alexandria--which had housed the Great Books--had burned some 1,000-plus years ago along with the lighthouse that stood over the harbor. A few important works by Greek philosophers, poets, and playwrights were lost forever. (According to Thomas Cahill, Catholic Monks saved the rest. Read "How the Catholics Saved Civilization".)

We traveled out to King Farouk's palace. He had built this boudoir on the beach so he could fornicate with his mistresses away from the prying eyes of the capitol. Everyone liked the late King and hated the current ruler. (I have since forgotten who that was. It was not the fellow who signed the Camp David Accords and thus paid with his life. Nor was it Nassar who had brought socialism and Soviet alliance to the Egyptian state. Nor was it Murbarak who is the current leader. So it was---the other guy whose name I cannot recall.)

Abandoning my cab I set out of foot. I tried to walk the beach but it was chock-a-block with high ride apartment buildings and not much sand. So I headed into a mosque. I took off my shoes and walked across the many carpets that stitched together comprised the floor. Muslims where bent over in prayer presumably pointing toward Mecca. No one seemed to mind this non-believer entering their midst.

I went to the market to shop and picked out some silk for my wife. I needed to exchange some currency but when I came back to pay for the silk the shop was buttoned up tight. It was 2:00 and the shop would not open again until 5:00.

In hindsight I wished I had bought Egyptian cotton, but instead I bought my wife a silk dress and my son something that looked like a snow suit. It never snows in Egypt so this garment was oddly out of place. I ducked into another shop to buy a scarf for my wife and a young girl modeless it for me at the behest of the shop owner. Egypt is and was more Westernized than the rest of the Middle East. Not all women wore the otherwise obligatory burkas nor tchadors. This girl wore nothing on her hair at all.

I was a bit annoyed that everywhere I went people flocked to me to ask money--I felt like a tourist attraction. The most embarrassing situation happened at a restaurant. I ordered red mullet and my waitress asked if I would buy her a beer. She did not want to share it with me--she just wanted a beer to quaff down by herself. Or maybe she was looking for a date. Anyway I was annoyed and confused all at the same time.

I stepped back out onto the street and was annoyed again by the way Egyptian drivers treat pedestrians. In the civilized west we yield to persons crossing the street. But in Egypt they try to run them over--literally. Cars would actually push up against pedestrians in the slow moving traffic to push them out of the way.

I went by the travel agency and picked up $700 from the WHO simply for traveling there. We went back to Cairo. On the way I bought pomegranates and pomegranate juice. At the airport Saudis were easily picked out because they wore very white garments. The Egyptians generally did not like the Saudis who generally traveled to Egypt to do what was not legal in their own countries.

Finally, I needed to call someone from Andersen Consulting who wanted to talk with me about working on their computer project in Denver. So I sought out a telephone. I found a room where a man wound up a crank telephone. He pointed me to a private booth and then connected my call. I did not tell the person I talked with in Denver where I was calling from because, as I said, this trip was made in secret. It was surreal to be phoning the states from this odd and ancient place.

Blaise Pascal

A mathematician, religious zealot, and an eccentric, Blaise Pascal made contributions to mathematics at an early age when most boys' minds wander aimlessly. His laborious efforts were well appreciated by mathematicians who followed him. His theories formed the basis for modern probability and contributed significantly to the field of geometry.

Pascal was born in France in 1623. Throughout his life he was plagued by ill health and died at the early age of thirty-nine. Pascal suffered not only physically, he also tormented himself emotionally by leading a life of sexual repression and religious morbidity. In a series of letters, "Pensees", Pascal admitted his lusts for women. His off sexual behavior is well-documented.

Pascal studied incessantly. At the time he was sixteen, he proved one of the most beautiful theorems of geometry the result of which became known as the "mystic hexagram". He also invented a machine for calculating operations on numbers, the first of its kind.

The idea of a calculator came to Pascal and a means of helping his father perform tedious tax accounting. Pascal's father was the tax collector for the township of Rouen.

In 1642, news of Pascal's attempts spread through Rouen. A watchmaker had the insight to build a machine of his own. Blaise was infuriated and called the machine a fraud. His distressed father appealed to his friend and supervisor, Chancellor Seiguier. The Chancellor inspected Pascal's machine and responded with an exclusive privilege to Pascal to manufacture adding machines.

Blaise's calculated was a polished brass box, about fourteen by five by three inches. It was compact enough to carry. On the top was a row of eight movable dials. The right-hand dial represented deniers, the next dial represented sous, and the remainder were for livres, of modern francs. The machines could be used equally well for pence, shilling, and pounds.

The machine could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Multiplication and division were somewhat difficult. These two operations were made possible if one considered multiplication as a form of addition and division a form of subtraction. For example, to multiply 1234 by 567 one would register 1234 seven times beginning with the dial on the right. The next dial would be used to register 1234 six times. Finally, the next dial would register 1234 five times. Pull the handle and the sum would appear. Division would be done is exactly the reverse order.

Blaise Pascal used the works of his predecessors, suggestions from peers, and correspondence with Rene Descartes and Pierre de Fermat to formulate theories about triangles, conic sections, cycloids, and other devices. With Fermat, Pascal founded the mathematical theory of probability. Chevalier De Mere, a professional gambler, initially presented the problem to Pascal. Mere was seeking an edge in betting on the outcome of dice and cards. The result was combinatorial analysis, numerous probability corollaries, and the Pascal triangle--all of which represent an ordered procedure for assigning numerical values to chance.

In 1654, Pascal sought out a friend of his father, Pierre de Fermat. He presented Fermat with the problem that Chevalier de Mere has posed to him. The problem appears in a book, The Mathematical Career of Pierre de Fermat, by Michael Sean Mahoney. Mahoney writes;

Suppose a player has wagered to cast a given number, say six, with a single die in eight throws, and supposed that after three unsuccessful throws, the game is interrupted. How are the stakes to be divided.

Fermat deduced that the probability of any success would remain constant for each of the eight throws. He further decided that the outcome of each throw is in no way dependant on the previous throws. These two assumptions were suggested to Pascal by Jacques Bernoulli, of the famed Bernoulli family. Bernoulli worked on Pascal's suggestions and derived the famous theory that all events will tend to occur with a relative frequency proportional to their objective possibilities, given the above assumptions. Bernoulli's theorem is known to modern mathematicians as Bernoulli trials. The central result for Bernoulli trials is given by Goodman and Rati in Finite Mathematics:

A sequence of Bernoulli trials is a sequence of independent repeated trials under identical conditions in which on each trial there are only two possible outcomes: S (success) and F (failure.) The probability of exactly k successes in a sequence of n Bernoulli trials with P(S)=p is denoted by b(k,n,p) and is given by: b(k,n,p)=C(n,k)pkqn-k (with p-probability of success and q-probability of failure.).

One of Pascal's most famous and useful works was the "Treatise of the Arithmetic Triangle". The triangle has the following appearance:

1 1
1 2 1
1 3 3 1
1 4 6 4 1
1 5 10 10 5 1
1 6 15 20 15 6 1

The border of the triangle is formed with 1's. Each number inside the triangle is the sum of the two numbers which appear in the live above to the right and to the left of the number. The triangle represents the expansion of (x + y)n. For example, the bottom line of the triangle is the coefficients of (x + y)6 = x6 + 6x5y + 15x4y2 + 20x3y3 + 15x2y4 + 6xy5 + y6. Pascal and Fermat decided they could predict the expansion of a binomial. The coefficient of any xy term was found to be the combination of n things taken k at a time. Modern mathematicians recognize this formula as a combination:

C(N,K) = n! .

k! (n-k)!

Much more can be said about the correspondence between Pascal and Fermat. Their letters outlined the basic principles of probability and combinatorial analysis. Pascal agreed entirely with Fermat that the chance of success in any situation is the ration between the number of favorable outcomes and the number of all possible outcomes (p/n). Pascal's investigation of the binomial expansion laid the groundwork for the most basic principles. Fermat's contribution seems to have been calculating the mathematics that Pascal provided. As it was, there was much ground left to cover. Bernoulli and others went on to develop the tools that probability would require.

Pascal's father was amazed by the ease with which his son could absorb the most complex literature. To him mathematics was taboo and his son was told to avoid it. Like any child would, Pascal was intrigued more by his father's negative response. Bell, in Men of Mathematics, writes, "One day when he was about twelve Pascal demanded to know what geometry was. His father gave him a clear description. This set Pascal off like a hare after his true vocation."

Pascal's works in geometry can be described as projective or descriptive geometry. In his "Essai pour les Coniques", he made almost four hundred propositions on conic sections. These are parabolas, hyperbolas, and ellipses. They are important in the fields on mathematics, engineering, architecture, space travel, and most exact sciences. The full essay was never published but it was read by Liebnitz and other scholars of the time.

In 1658, Pascal meditated on the problem of the cycloid. A cycloid can be imagined to be the result of a picture drawn from affixing a pencil on the circumference of a revolving circle. The problem was calculating internal areas of the cycloid. After having found a method he published an offer to the scholars of Europe in the papers. His offer was a reward of sixty pistoles, or six hundred francs, to anyone who could solve this problem of area. If no answer was presented within the time limit, Pascal would publish his own. The contest ended under tainted circumstances, but nevertheless Pascal's contribution was made.

Pascal's theorem in itself is exemplary of what is meant by projective or descriptive geometry. There are no quanities in Pascal's geometry, only methods of devising those quanities.

Pascal did not make mathematics his undertaking throughout his entire life. He was also known as a noted physicist, philosopher, and religious author. His achievements in mathematics come from three distinct periods. In 1640 through 1648, he was occupied with the geometry of conic sections. In 1654, he was business with the theory of numbers and similar subjects. In 1658, he was involved with the problems of the cycloid.

E.T. Bell, in Men of Mathematics, writes:

On of the mathematical side, Pascal is perhaps the greatest might-have-been in history. He had the misfortune to proceed Newton by only a few years and to be a contemporary of Descartes and Fermat, both more stable men than himself. His most novel work, the creation of the mathematical theory of probability, was shared by Fermat, who could have easily done it alone. In geometry, for which he is famous as sort of an infant prodigy, the creative idea was supplied by a man--Desargues--of much lesser celebrity.

In sum, much can be written about Pascal's contributions to the various fields of mathematics. His greatest achievements were in the fields of geometry and probability. Blaise Pascal was not a well-adjusted man. He suffered through fits of insomnia and delirium as he made various discoveries. He was tormented by near insanity throughout his life. His life and his works are of historical importance and modern significance.


E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1937).

Morris Bishop, Pascal, The Life of Genius. (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1936).

Michael Sean Mahoney, The Mathematical Career of Pierre de Fermat (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973).

A.W. Goodman, J.W. Ratti Finite Mathematics with Applications (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., London: Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1979).

Oil and Gas Exploration off the Carolina Coast

WASHINGTON. 27 February 1991. President Bush's National Energy Strategy calls for increased exploration for oil and natural gas in certain areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) including the coast of South Carolina.

The National Energy Strategy, a 2l4-page Department of Energy document outlining energy policy for the next five years, claims the OCS, the ocean floor from the coast to the 200-mile limit may contain as much as 26 percent of undiscovered U.S. oil resources.

Large portions of the OCS are currently protected from exploration by a presidential order that will expire in the year 2000. Protected areas include much of California, the Alaskan North Aleutian Basin, portions of the mid-Atlantic, and some parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

On February 21, the Department of the Interior released a draft copy of a 5-year plan outlining the department's strategy for the sale of offshore leases for the years 1992 to 1997. The plan proposes to open thousands of square miles of the OCS to oil and gas exploration.

The Department of the Interior plans two lease sales off the South Carolina coast: one in 1994 and one in 1997. The areas under consideration include roughly 2,000 square miles running from 140 to 180 miles offshore.

In August of 1990, the Senate passed House resolution number 1465, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. An amendment to this legislation, sponsored by Congressman Walter Jones D-NC, is aimed at delaying Mobil Oil from drilling exploratory wells off the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The law prohibits oil and gas drilling off the coast of North Carolina until October 1, 1991.

Mobil Exploration and Producing U.S. Inc., based in New Orleans, plans to drill an exploratory well 36 miles off the Outer Banks due east of Dare County in 3,100 feet of water. Mobil estimates that 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas might be found.

Any efforts to explore for oil or natural gas off the South Carolina coast could depend on the fate of Mobil Oil's plans.

Mobil is currently battling with North Carolina state officials, including Governor Jim Martin, who objects to offshore drilling. Governor Martin asked President Bush--.without success--to include North Carolina in the 10-year drilling moratorium.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, have objected to Mobil's plans because of the chance of an oil spill. Mobil Project Manager James C. Martin said, "The risk of an oil spill from this type of operation is very low." The Department of the Interior carries this statement further saying there is no risk at all associated with drilling for natural gas."

Exploratory wells are drilled from an anchored ship and not from an oil drilling platform. When drilling is complete, the ship can simply raise the anchor and sail away. To alleviate the contamination from a possible spill, Mobil plans to have an oil skimmer on hand 24 hours a day and another emergency vessel standing by in nearby Morehead City.

Offshore oil wells cause fewer oil spills than oil tankers. Nevertheless, the presence of oil wells can cause an increase in the volume of tanker traffic. Mobil says that if they find significant amounts of natural gas or oil they will build a pipeline to carry the product ashore. This will eliminate the need for barges and tankers.

This will not be the first oil well drilled in the waters of North Carolina. In 1965, Mobil drilled three wells in the environmentally sensitive Pamlico and Albermarle sounds. Exxon drilled at Cape Hatteras in 1950.

In 1984, The United Press International reported that Shell Oil Company planned to drill exploratory wells 45 miles southeast of Hilton Head, South Carolina. Shell spokesmen deny any drilling occurred and say that Shell Oil does not currently hold any leases for tracts off the South Carolina coast. Shell Oil does hold leases off North Carolina and Virginia.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, no commercially feasible amounts of oil or natural gas have been found along the Atlantic coast while at least $2 billion has been spent on exploration.

Environmental concerns prompted the Bush administration to block the planned drilling of tracts around the southern tip of Florida. A fight has developed over who will pay back the $100 million spent by oil companies on tracts than cannot be explored.

Companies wishing to drill off South Carolina must submit plans to the Department of the Interior and the South Carolina Coastal Council.

The Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior conducts sales of offshore oil leases. The agency provides revenue to the federal government in amounts second only to the Internal Revenue Service. 100 billion dollars has been earned--most of this in the last 10 years.

Revenues from leases of tracts more than six miles offshore go to the federal government. South Carolina can collect 27 percent of leases from tracts from 3 to 6 miles offshore and 100 percent of leases within 3 miles. Because the areas under consideration for lease in the new Interior Department plan are more than 6 miles offshore, no lease monies would be given to South Carolina.

Last June, the Bush administration announced that it would develop a legislative initiative that will provide coastal communities with a larger portion of lease revenue.

The National Energy Strategy seeks to "increase the use [and exploration] of natural gas." The document says that the OCS supplies about 1/4 of the U.S. production of natural gas. Total gas reserves--those that would be feasible to drill given economic considerations--are estimated to be between 44 and 114 trillion cubic feet. The government projects that some of these reserves might be found under the continental shelf off South Carolina.

The Department of the Interior suggests that natural gas is a cheap, abundant, and clean-burning source of energy. Amazingly, natural gas consumption has actually declined over the past two decades while oil imports have increased. This decline is blamed on a variety of factors including the mass of regulations that make exploration and production difficult.

The President's National Energy Strategy has been criticized by some for an emphasis on increased production rather than increased conservation. Certain critics would like to see an increase in the so-called CAFE standards, Car Fuel Efficiency, which require a certain minimum average miles per gallon for automobiles.

The United Press International reports that in the 1940's the chairman of Clemson University's Geology department once promised "to drink all the oil found in South Carolina." To date, that certainly has been possible, but future exploration might make that a lot to swallow.

The Office. A fictional account of the Absurdity of government IT Contracting.

For more than a dozen years I have worked as a computer contractor. All of this work was at Fortune 500 companies in various cities. But having grown weary of commuting each week through the airport I decided to cast my lot with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who work around the Beltway on government projects. I knew that working for the government would be different from working in the private sector. I imagined I would have to bite my lip and withhold my criticism and tendency toward sarcasm as I descended into the lunacy which is government contracting.

The film "Office Space" is a satire of office life and the novel "Microserfs" mocks the cult of IT Geeks who worship Bill Gates. But what is lacking from the literature is a parody that illuminates the quiet desperation faced by so many souls who toil day in and out at corporate IT departments. Burdened with paperwork, battling their peers in conference rooms, worried about layoffs, lacking the pensions awarded their grandfathers; today's office worker is an expendable pawn who, knowing he can be outsourced or downsized, owes no allegiance to his employer. His allegiance is to himself. His only hope of hanging on to that fat contract is to attempt to outshine his peers.

My first day on the job at my new contract with the Federal Reserve Bank was pretty much the same as any other day four months later. It took that long for me to get my government security clearance, so I was officially told to do nothing. I passed the days surfing the web and watching the absurdity of what was going on outside my cubicle.

Some have said that the government is the employer of last resort. The private sector is brutal and tends to toss out those who cannot keep pace. Government is more tolerant of the weak, the ignorant, and the lazy. You cannot come to work for three weeks because your back hurts? No problem. They have a charge code for that.

As long as you can find a charge code for what you are doing no one cares what you are doing or if you are doing nothing at all. This is cost accounting run amok. You spend 5 hours each week simply filling out your timesheet because you have to charge so many charge codes for the work that you did during week. Because you are working as a subcontractor to yet another subcontractor who is also working as a subcontractor to someone else, you have to translate this myriad of cryptic charge codes into various formats. Some systems are computerized and others are manual. Some vendors let you type in your time sheet into a web page, others use the telephone keypad, and some require written timesheets that must be filled in on blue paper with a black pen. So much transcription results in the inevitable errors that reconciling all these documents takes even more time. Of course there are people who thrive in this paperwork blizzard and even excel at it. One such fellow was Irving who we called "Spaceman".

Irving's job was to reconcile status reports with timesheets to make sure that each hour worked was properly document and summed correctly with the hours that were billed. To do this kind of work requires a mindset that is uncluttered with creative thinking, daydreaming, insight, or deviation from the status quo. Those who like to think as they work would quickly be crushed by the mind numbing tedium and absurdity of shuffling papers and forms from one stack to another.

Irving was ideally suited for this kid of work. Tall and bald he appeared to the rest of us at least 150 years older and maybe older. With dull unblinking eyes, a snarl permanently edged on his face, bad breath, and unkempt clothes he was the perfect automaton plodding away at early hours of the day and even on weekends to make sure that form A equaled form B and form C was done in blue and not black ink.

Spaceman lived to please his boss Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith had risen through the ranks of the organization because of his unvarying ability to avoid all accountability, to never raise his voice, to never fight on behalf of his troops, and above all to fan and cajole the egos of those who ranked above him.

That there is a difference between the old and the young is readily apparent in the office. The old have had the benefit of experience so know when someone is a fool, unless of course we are talking about an old fool who cannot identify even himself. The wizened gentleman or lady knows who is lazy, who cannot assume responsibility, who is posturing, who is pandering. But more than knowledge of people, the old know that the most important thing about work is to leave the job behind you at the end of the day. This is not true for the young-for them work and life are inseparable. Our manifestation of this phenomenon was Rey whom we called "greenbean" because he was a newly-minted MBA straight out of training at Deloitte and Touche's program of consultant indoctrination.

Rey came bouncing into the office in the morning buoyed by caffeine filled soda and slightly hung over from the previous night's carousing. He leapt with abandon at the chance to plug in his laptop and begin tackling the various issues of the day. Rey was carefully trained by Deloitte and Touch in their methodology of project management and problem solving. So he would not entertain other points of view that ran counter to his training.

Rey was the kind of person who woke up each morning thinking about work and went to bed with work on his mind. I needed an hour or two of reading the newspaper at the office before I started thinking about work. But Rey would come in at 6:00 AM speaking loudly about the Federal Reserve's ACHWIRE system. He would start talking as he rounded the corner to my office and finish his first sentence even before he landed in my cubicle. He was brimming with the enthusiasm of someone in their mid thirties who has not yet had that inevitable clash with mortality that jars most of us awake and frees us from the delusion that work matters at all.

Rey was wizened by his 25 years so naturally all of us senior citizens listened closely to what he said. We knew that he and his peers mocked the older people in our department believing that they moved too slowly. The processes and procedures put in place in our department over the years were simply obstacles designed to slow the deft and the nimble. Rey's attitude would invariably run afoul of the bureaucratic machinery, which was the Federal Reserve Bank, FRB.

On the third of February it was bitterly cold as Rey drove to the FRB computing center in Pennsylvania. The Senator from Pennsylvania had succeeded in relocating this facility along with an office of the FBI to his rural constituents over howls of protest from the District of Colombia who was giving up an equal number of jobs. On this snowy night with a stiff breeze, Rey had driven out to install some changes to the ACHWIRE financial system during the so-called "build window". This was that 5-hour period of time on Sunday morning when the system could be taken down and changes made to the software that ran the nation's wire transfer system for banks.

At 11:30 all the consultants in the Washington office got on the conference call and joined the Pennsylvania team. It was a team effort to install a relatively minor. Yet ACHWIRE would be restarted so all the peripheral parties had to be present to run tests to make sure that their own piece of the puzzle still functioned when the system came back up. If not then on Monday morning the chairman of Chase Bank would be on the phone to the FRB Board of Governors complaining loudly that they could not wire billions of dollars to their account. All of this ire would fall down around Rey and his coworkers. No one wanted that unpleasant possibility.

It was Rey's job to remove one of the thousands of small files that ran the ACHWIRE system and replace it with an upgrade. This small change was to fix what programmers called a "memory leak" issue-the offending software would consume even larger chunks of memory until the computer was exhausted and all its machinations would come to a halt.

Normally to process a change to the ACHWIRE system at the IRS required months of paperwork and a rehearsal process of pushing this code change through systems that were test copies of the real thing. The FRB computers were so well-guarded that Rey nor anyone else in the Washington office was allowed to actually touch the computers. Rather they pushed their changes through a proxy system called "Installer" that could reach into the most secure FRB computers in faraway Pennsylvania and install software changes unattended. Rey likened this process to trying to push a thread through a needle from 10 feet away with a bit of bamboo and a pair of binoculars to guide the way.

But what the Installer system brought was accountability and control. No one could bypass the system and clumsily clobber the status quo by trial and error, experimentation, or just following a hunch. Rather an idea was tested and retested and then delivered as a package to the target environment. The IRS computers were walled off in the network so that no even the most brazen rule breaker could gain direct access. People who tried to do so would have an uncomfortable discussion with the security people-crew-cut wearing FRB inspectors who were only slightly brighter that those dimwitted security guards who accompanied them wearing loaded guns on their hip.

The roles for this engagement were strict. Under no circumstances was Rey to touch the Fed's computers. Ken, the system administrator on duty, would monitor the automatic installation of the software upgrade and perhaps type a couple of well-scripted commands into the computer should something need verification. Changing anything not under the control of the Installer was strictly forbidden. Ken could be counted on to do as he was told for he was too dim witted to solve any problem himself and with 30 years tenure at the Federal Reserve Bank any initiative and foresight had been drummed out of him many years ago. Hence he did as he was expected-nothing, unless told do to so. So in a small part he was an important cog in the machinery of accountability and control.

But Rey was something of a cowboy. The installation that night did not go as planned. So the procedure was to back out the changes then replace them on the following Sunday night when the computers again would be taken down. But this was problematic because any failure would cause a 4-week delay since the Fed had stipulated that no change could be made during this, the business month of the year. Rey did not want to go back to office in Washington and sit upon his creation having pushed it for months through the bureaucratic operation. So he decided to act.

A computer is unforgiving and merciless. Like a wild animal with unblinking eyes it looks at you without a trace of compassion or understanding. Make one small mistake and the compute will respond without regard for possible disastrous consequences.

So Rey hopped onto the computer and nudged Ken taking away from the keyboard. The speakerphone crackled as the people at the other end of the line expecting that the evening's work would be cancelled and wondered what Bob was doing. He told them "Don't worry. I can fix this in a minute. I will copy over the change, delete the old software, then we can backfill the paperwork requirement when I get back to the office".

Rey logged into the super secret account used to transfer monies from one bank to another. As the super user he had full privileges to the system. Any careless mistake would be permanent and irreversible-there would be no security apparatus to challenge the user should he accidentally erase an important file.

Rey typed a command to navigate to the file folder where the transmission software was stored. He typed a command to copy the new version of the software into place overwriting the older one. Then he typed the command "rm *" to delete the temporary files that had been created.

The "rm" command is notorious among users of the UNIX operating system. It is unforgiving. When you type it in does its job of deleting files without asking "Are you sure?" Quick and convenient unlike clumsy Windows commands with their silly mice, in the black and white world of UNIX terminal emulation the teletype like interface is cryptic yet convenient. But for Rey this was a disaster for he was in the wrong file folder. Instead of the temporary file folder he was sitting atop the transmission software itself.

When Rey typed "rm *" he immediately got a sinking feeling in his stomach for the command took several seconds instead of the split second he expected. 10 seconds later he tried desperately to stop the command by typing "(-control-)(-c)" but the computer kept grinding away deleting files without regard for the anxious emotions of the hapless human. Lights began to flash in control rooms around the country as computer operators watched the financial transmission system for the entirety of the United States banking system cascade and fall apart as the computer erased itself.

The telephone fell silent as people wondered what Rey and Ken were doing. Rey was now crying. He took off his ID badge and handed it to Ken and then walked out of the office. Stunned and afraid he walked past the security guards, pass the Xray machines, past the stone faced security guards, and drove to his house.

A few weeks later we heard that Ray had lost his security clearance and was being prosecuted for security violations.

President's Day Blizzard

Just a six months ago the weathermen were measuring the drought by a gauge they called "the rainfall deficit". That drought was abruptly washed away this fall as one weather system after another rolled across our region. I did not even have time to rake my leaves when the hot, dry summer turned into a cold, wet fall which turned into a freezing, wet and snowy winter. Last weekend it snowed yet again. But this time it was a big one--the one the evening news called "The President’s Day Blizzard".

My neighbor on Bessie Bell mountain is Bob Ryan, the channel 4 weatherman and former weatherman on NBC’s Today Show. His snow-covered drive was unsullied by tire tracks this weekend for Bob was busy broadcasting the weather down in The District. When it snows heavily here the television coverage switches from sports and Jerry Springer to wall-to-wall snow coverage. It’s comical to watch the reporters out in the weather measuring the snow as it falls with a measuring stick. Such important news warrants veteran newscasters. So the usual, second string weekend broadcasters were shunted aside by the snow-fall celebrities Bob Ryan on NBC and Doug Hill on ABC. Doug Hill I like best for his WTOP radio forecasts are tempered by doubt. But even this weekend Doug Hill said there was no doubting the wrath of this mammoth snowstorm. Still he said it would be folly to predict exact snow totals until the weather was nigh upon us. Only then would we know.

Last weekend’s snow storm was a big enough event to sweep news of Iraq, Korea, and our relations with France right off the front page. There hasn’t been such breaking news since, well, Monica Lewinsky stole the limelight from her paramour Bill Clinton.

But how did this snow in far-away Washington affect us in Rappahannock County? I decided to venture out and see for myself. Sunday I got into my pickup truck and drove into Sperryville. Burger and Things was buttoned up tight even though it’s sign said "open"—so I could not enjoy a hot dog or some Carolina barbecue. Nothing was open. There was no place to buy food nor drink. So we drove around instead and snapped pictures of the frozen Thornton River.

The only other vehicle we saw on the road was a snow plow from Partlow trucking. I pulled up next to the driver and chatted with him for a few minutes. Then we drove up highway 211 and parked the car right in the middle of the vacant highway to take pictures of some cows all covered in snow. Poor, dump creatures. Perhaps they are too stupid to brush away the snow from their heads. Or maybe we should pity them for they lack fingers and arms to brush themselves off. Even the normally pampered horses, with their winter jackets, looked like tundra-dwelling caribou all decked out in ice.

Saturday as it began to snow I drove up to Linden Vineyards in Warren County. The wine-tasting patrons there wanted to know whether I had driven a four-wheel-drive vehicle up the steep driveway. "Yes", I assured them and they all burst out laughing. I wondered why they laughed until I saw two other cars come sputtering up the drive. One got stuck 1/3 the way up. Another did not make it even that far. It gave up, turned around, and skidded back to the bottom of the hill. That winter scene was prescient for that spot, Linden, Virginia, officially got 35 inches of snowfall this weekend. That was the highest snowfall total in the area.

Soon this snow will be but a memory as the winds of March usher in the Halcyon days of April and May. Ernest Hemingway said in "A Moveable Feast" that in the fall a piece of you dies and in the spring it awakens again. Such is nature. For the dormant grape vine and apples tree buds will soon burst forth in flowers in the warmth of the spring sunshine. The weathermen will surely be bored for they will only have blue bird days to sing about. What is boring for the weatherman is bliss for the rest of us.

Copyright 2003 Rappahannock News. Reprinted with Permission.

Development, Sustainable Agriculture, and the Virginia Wine Business

As Virginia’s burgeoning population expands outward, cul-de-sac neighborhoods increasingly find themselves thrust in the middle of what was formerly open space farmland. People, whose only prior experience with farming has been perusing the aisles of Safeway, suddenly find themselves awakened in the middle of the night by the howl of a frost-dispelling wind machine. Or they grow concerned when the vineyard tractor next door draws perilously close to their house with an airblast sprayer spewing the noxious aroma of sulfur into the air.

Farmers cannot grow grapes, apples, or peaches without spraying them against mildew, rot, and Japanese beetles that would otherwise decimate their valuable fruit and defoliate their vines and trees. But the layman does not understand this and is alarmed at the site of the agriculture apparatus in full-blown operation. He assumes the farmer pollutes the groundwater and streams with agriculture runoff.

Perceived notions are difficult to dispel. The son of the late owner of the Washington Redskins learned this lesson first-hand when he built his vineyard next to a school in tony Middleburg. Parents alarmed at the prospect of pesticide drift asked for a meeting. Mr. Cooke dispatched his viticulturist to explain to a frosty crowd that the vineyard and winery would be a model of organic farming and would in no way cause harm to people, plants, nor fauna.

Consumers assume that farming would be absolutely benign if all farming were simply “organic”. This clever phrase wrapped in nostalgia and whimsy is a bit disingenuous for it’s not the absolute panacea for an environmental Garden of Eden. For example, composted chicken manure is organic but it can flow into the Chesapeake Bay and cause algae blooms.

For an herbicide, pesticide, or fungicide to be considered organic it must be sanctioned as such by the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). That staid body of bureaucrats listens closely to leaders of the organic movement. They say that a product can only be considered organic if it comes naturally from the soil. Yet products that are byproducts of naturally occurring compounds generally cannot gain this classification. The rigidity of this rule frustrates the wine grape farmer who does not see the reasoning behind this logic. Thus sulfur, with its foul swell, and copper, which is a metal, are labeled organic but phosphoric acid is not.

Virginia vineyards do not want to wrestle over what is the definition of organic. Rather a movement is underway in Virginia to define sustainable agriculture practices for the Virginia vineyards modeled on Oregon’s LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) program. Jason Murray, a cooperative extension agent in Loudon County, is working with a handful of the most experienced Virginia wine grape growers to define what are environmentally-friendly farming practices. Vineyards wanting to adhere to LIVE standards will be directed what they can and cannot do.

Beyond the LIVE program there are other ways that vineyards strive to leave the smallest footprint possible on the surrounding terrain. For example, there is the notion of “integrated pest management” or IPM. IPM means to use environmentally friendly means to rid the vineyard of pests. For the grape berry moth and Japanese beetle, this means applying sexual lures (pheremones) to confuse the copulating creatures rather than dose them with Danitol. The moths are free to have their dalliance elsewhere, but this keeps the larvae and bugs from eating the grape leaves or punching holes in the berries.

To reduce agriculture runoff, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and others have funded the CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) program to pay farmers to plant bushes and trees to maintain riparian buffer zones along streams. The farmer is paid to erect fences to keep cattle from wading into and defecating in streams and the government picks up the tab to drill wells and build ponds for their cattle.

In Orange County, next to the sprawling Horton Vineyards Berry Hill vineyard is a business dedicated to developing organic and environmentally friendly pesticides. This is Saint Gabriel Laboratories whose web site,, refers to the name of a naturally occurring bacteria that attacks Japanese beetles in the soil before they can become airborne. Saint Gabriel Laboratories also produces Burnout, which is a mixture of lemon juice and vinegar that is a replacement for the widely-used herbicide Roundup (glysophate).

Beyond integrated pest management and the LIVE program, vineyards with large acreage in counties with heavy development pressure are granting conservation easements. This prevents the sprawling farm from being divided into neighborhoods and carved up by the bulldozer. The farmer gets a capital loss for their tax return and the environmentalist gets the preservation of green space. Farmers often are land rich and cash poor, so many have no taxable income. Consequently, in Virginia a business has emerged to broker these Virginia tax losses to wealthy individuals.

In sum, it is possible and is in fact happening that the burgeoning Virginia wine business can expand and at the same time foster the goal of preventing pesticides from fouling the air, groundwater, and stream. As the industry grows, perhaps farmers in the Southeast corner of the state, who have seen their federal peanut subsidies cut off, could plant some grapes, protect the environment from development and pollution, and increase the acres under vine in Virginia.

(This article was published on the op-ed page of the Richmond Times Dispatch.)

Biodyamic wine grape farming in Maryland

Monty Waldin in his book “Biodynamic Wines” quotes the French soil scientist Claude Bourguignon who said he found more microbiological life in the soils of the Sahara Desert than those found in the vineyards of Burgundy. Mr. Waldin writes, “ Decades of weed killers and potassium-rich fertilizers had turned Burgundy’s soils from being as friable as couscous and rich in microbial life into sterile hard-pans resembling concrete.”

Ed Boyce and his wife Sarah O'Herron had this in mind when they decided to plant 22 acres of grapes on their Black Ankle Vineyards just east of Frederick, Maryland. They envisioned that their vineyard would be a paragon of organic and biodynamic farming. But Japanese Beetles and black rot fungus have waylaid their plans to grow grapes organically. As for biodynamics—that is still a possibility.

Lots of people are familiar with the term “organic”. As it relates to farming it means that vegetables, fruit, and even livestock are raised without the use of chemical fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides; genetically-engineered plant material; or growth hormones. But fewer people are familiar with the concept of “biodynamic” farming. As Ed Boyce points out his vineyard could still be labeled “organic” under the law but he could erect a chemical factory on his property. Not so with biodynamic farming because the entire farm is supposed to be viewed as one living organism and not just the crops.

Biodynamic farming is a bit difficult to grasp to the uninitiated. Mr. Waldin says empirical evidence suggests that biodynamic farming does indeed produce superior wine grapes. Still, skeptics might tend to dismiss this blend of agriculture and philosophy as some kind of mysticism.

Monty Waldin explains that biodynamic farming grew out of the work of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Steiner lived among the peasants “whose feudal way of life had remained unchanged for centuries”. Steiner, “felt a connection with the natural world around him but also with an unseen spiritual world that lay behind it, which he felt he a need to explain or codify in some way.”

In 1924 Austrian farmers were complaining “seed fertility and crop and animal health were rapidly declining due to the destructive effects of ‘scientific farming’.” Steiner’s organized a series of lectures that presented the farmers with a specific list of compost and teas with which they could spray onto their plants and spread onto the soil. This promised to reinvigorate the soils with bacteria and earth worms, reign in fungal problems, and control excess vigor. Further Steiner and his subsequent followers set forth a schedule based upon the movements of the planets, moon, and stars that would promote deep growing roots and healthy flowers and fruit.

For those who mock the notion that the planets could have anything to do with growing wine grapes, the author Monty Waldin cites that the ancient Greek poet Hesiod “stipulated that wine be made according to a sign from the sky”. Further Johannes Kepler, who discovered that the sun’s orbit was elliptical, published an agricultural almanac. Waldin cites these examples as proof that the celestial calendar can indeed affect plant growth.

In Virginia there is an organization called The Josephine Porter Institute that is wholly devoted to biodynamic farming and makes the compost and plant preparations called for Rudolf Steiner and his followers. The grow and then process the stinging nettle, chamomile, dandelion, and silica preparations called for by biodynamics.

What makes Biodynamics a bit difficult to believe is these formulations are applied to compost in such tiny proportions that you would think they could not make any difference. Standing at the Black Ankle Vineyards--where hundreds of tons of cow and horse manure lie decomposing--Ed Boyce says the situation is analogous to yeast. Only a few grams of yeast can ferment thousand of gallons of wine—but yeast of course reproduce while, say, silica does not. So how could 1 gram of oak bark—which is supposed to add calcium to the soil—added to 15 tonnes of metric compost possible make any difference? And how exactly does silica, which is buried in a cow’s horn for the winter, channel the suns energy into plants?

The situation with teas is more plausible. A “tea” is made by boiling a plant and then spraying the resulting solution onto the growing plants. Horsetail, for one, is a plant that is supposed to contain 70% silica. Sprayed onto the vines it is supposed to control fungus when applied at the rate of 100 grams per hectare. Ed says those critics who cast a spurious eye at this formulation would not even question the application rate of the systemic chemical fungicide Pristine, which is applied at the rate of 10.5 ounces per acre. Of course even that small amount is many times the rate of application of biodynamic horsetail.

Prior to planting their large vineyard, Ed and Sarah sought out the advice of the viticulturists Wayne Wilcox of Cornell and Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech. Both men said that Black Ankle Vineyards might be able to grow grapes organically but that the black rot fungus would be a problem since there is no organic formulation to stop that problem.

Organic farming works in rain-free farming regions like California and Chile where downy mildew and black rot funguses are not a problem. But in Europe and the Eastern USA there is downy mildew and black rot. Downy mildew is controlled by copper sulphate and copper hydroxide —which are classified as “organic” under European and American law. But there is no organic formulation that controls black rot. Those of you who grow roses are familiar with this, because it makes the leaves on roses turn yellow and covers them with black spots. For grape vines brown lesions appear on the leaves. For the fruit the results are worse—the grapes dry out completely and turn rock hard. Several winemakers told me that you might be able to make drinkable white wine from black-rot infected grapes since the juice is simple gone. But red wine would be more problematic since the skins are used in the wine making process so it might make the wine bitter. As for Ed and Sarah, their vineyard is 60% infected with this malady so in order to avoid a total loss they had to abandon organic farming and spray conventional sprays until some solution can be found. Still they will continue to use biodynamic formulations while using the organic compounds sulfur to control powdery mildew (a problem the world over) and copper.

Japanese Beetles were another problem for Black Ankle Vineyards. Ed says some of vines had been completely defoliated. Again, for those of you who grow roses you know what these creatures do to lovely rose petals—they devour them wholesale. The problem in the vineyard is they descend on the leaves by the millions. A grapevine without leaves cannot ripen fruit nor can it survive the winter. Ed and Sarah tried various organic treatments but nothing worked so they used the non-organic chemical Sevin, which is widely used by vineyards and home gardeners.

Ed and Sarah do not mind that this article singles out problems in their vineyard. They want to highlight this concern for other farmers no doubt are looking for ways to farm organically here in the East. Meanwhile Ed and Sarah will continue to spray stinging nettle, cow manure buried in cow horns, chamomile aged in cow intestines, silica, and horsetail. They will also plant new vines and prune old ones according to the celestial calendar on what Ed calls “fruit and flower” days. Look for their winery and tasting room to open in 2007.

Historical Significance

In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry sailed his fleet to Japan. In an effort that continues today, Perry’s trip was America’s initial attempt to pry open the Japanese market. Perry negotiated the first commerce treaty between Japan and the Untied States. In 1860, a Japanese delegation came to Washington and the Willard Hotel to sign the new treaty. One member of the delegation wrote, “The house of the Secretary of State is not as fine as the hotel.”

These foreign guests caused great excitement in the District of Columbia. Great throngs of tourists, journalists, and the curious lined the street to watch the sword-carrying Japanese delegation in their brightly colored costumes and close-cropped hair. It was the first trip aboard by an official group of Japanese to a foreign destination.

The Japanese did not use pillows but preferred a block of wood. One Japanese official could not find his block of wood, so he used a white ceramic bowl instead. In the morning, the stewards were shocked to see the Japanese sleeping with his head on a chamber pot.

The Willard has also witnessed war. In 1859, Jefferson Davis, soon-to-be president of the Confederacy, attended a party at the hotel with 1,800 guests. Garnett Laidlaw Eskew, in his book Willard’s of Washington, writes this was the last party attended by Northern and Southern leaders before the American Civil War broke out. Later the hotel was the site of the Peace Conference from February 4 to 27, 1861. Delegates from 21 of the 34 states met in a last desperate attempt to avoid the Civil War. A plaque from the Virginia Civil War Commission, on the Pennsylvania Avenue façade of the hotel, pays tribute to this courageous effort.

Most American children know by hear the lines, “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In 1861, Julia Ward Howe, playwright, poet, and essayist, wrote the words to this anthem on Willard Hotel stationary. Ward wrote as she looked down from her window upon marching union troops who were singing a tune upon which this anthem is based. Julia sold the anthem text to the Atlantic Monthly magazine for ten dollars.

Notable Guests

When Charles Dickens made a voyage to the Untied States in 1842, he stayed at the Willard Hotel. This Englishman thought little of American culture and even less of the capitol city. He mockingly called Washington “The City of Magnificent Intentions” instead of its renowned title, “The City of Magnificent Distances.” From his hotel window, he could see dogs frolicking in the dirt, pigs rolling about the courtyard, and the Capitol and the Washington monument both halfway finished.

According to Smithsonian magazine, when Mark Twain stayed there he promenaded about, accompanied “by a horde of twittering females.” Statesman and orator Henry Clay mixed the first mint julep in Washington in the Willard’s Round Robin Bar.

The Willard also played host to these famous guests: Emily Dickinson, Jenny Lind, P.T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, Tom Thumb, Samuel Morse, the Duke of Windsor, Flo Ziegfield, Harry Houdini, the Barrymores, Mae West, Gloria Swanson and Gypsy Rose Lee.

The Willard family sold their interest in the hotel in 1946. The hotel continued to operate until July 1968 when its doors were closed. The renovated Willard Inter-Continental Hotel opened in 1986 after the building lay empty for 18 years.

This article originally appeared in Pest Management magazine.