Friday, October 26, 2007

Voting by Mail, the Downside

Seattle's Vote by Mail was a long time coming, it was sped up by a heated election between current Governor Christine Gregoire, and her opponent Dino Rossi. We now have a majority of ballots cast by mail, and I'm a fan of this. We had it down in Portland and it was a great way to vote. You have time to do some research on the races and decide without the pressure of a voting booth, what you're for and against.

What I don't like is that we have to pay to vote. The cost of mailing a ballot, while not a large expense (the price of a first class postage stamp) may be prohibitive for some voters, and that marginalizes a population; which is the last thing an election should be doing. Now I know that there are drop off locations for mail-in ballots, but that takes most of the convenience and boon for a mail in ballot away. Is someone that can't afford a stamp really likely to seek out their local drop off location? I think no.

If I recall correctly, the mail in ballots in Portland, OR were postage paid. As I understand it, postage paid envelopes are only charged when used, so there is no waste. Why can't we put the money we're saving by not having voting locations towards postage paid ballots?

Also, on the subject of voting, I'm interested in how many of you are put off by Venus Velasquez' recent drunk driving arrest. The Stranger hasn't pulled it's endorsement, but I have to say, I was surprisingly hesitant to vote for her after her recent arrest and lack of taking responsibility for the charge. I have to be true to my gut feeling here, and I sure don't give Jane Hague a break, so why Velasquez? Is it because she's a DEM that the liberal newspaper thinks she's still the candidate for them? Hypocrisy takes many forms. It doesn't mean you have to play.

Finally, I really think it's time Seattle grew a backbone and realized that we need some local activism to get things done here. I was surprised, while looking through candidates web sites for the local school board vote, that this may be the last time we get to vote for School Board members. I'm not sure whose site I read it on, but it was said that it may soon be the duty of the Mayor to appoint school board members. That sounds like a mistake to me, and no one is talking about this. But my primary beef is not with the mayor, or school board issues, but with transportation. Back to Portland, I remember moving there in the mid nineties, and the city was being torn up for light rail. The MAX was being hauled out to the airport and the suburbs to take people to huge employers like Nike and Intel. I'm not certain of the numbers, but I'm sure that Oregonians had to make some hard decisions to get this all done and they did it. The light rail system in Portland is a wonder, and it's without turnstiles and toll booths. It's run on an honor system. You buy a ticket from the vending machine (or don't) and board the train. If you get caught riding without a ticket you get a hefty fine, but most people pay willingly.

Seattle needs to bite the bullet here and fix it's transportation problems. The monorail was a disaster. The public was willing to pay for it, we were paying for it in car tabs and years into it, multiple passed measures to fund it, we were shafted and it was killed. And we put up with it. There's something wrong with Seattle, and I'm not talking about the traffic. We're a lethargic lot, we can't make a decision and see it through. And we must, if not for ourselves, than for our future. Single occupancy vehicles are quickly becoming cost prohibitive; financially and environmentally. The internal combustion engine is going the way of the laserdisc. New forms of transportation will replace it, but where will there be to go?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Bachelor: Seattle

Once in a great while my wife and daughter go out of town and leave me to fend for myself.

When they're home, we're all very homebodied. I come home from work and we all spend most every evening together, chasing each other around the house, giving the little one a bath, sitting down together for dinner, putting the baby to bed. Once in a while one of us goes out with friends for a few hours but for the most part we spend all of our free time together.

This week I've been by myself; temporary bachelor. My wife, before she left, reminded me to eat colorful food. Her way of telling me that macaroni and cheese, pizza, grilled cheese and tomato soup are not healthy in large doses. I've been mostly good in that regard. That's not the reason for posting today.

I'm finding that after some years of being a family-centric homebody, I complain to my wife a lot about how I'd like to get out of the house and socialize more. The past week has been a case study in the reality of that request. I managed to set up outings and visits with friends most nights this week, and at the end of the day, what I've found is that what I really want to do is go home, kiss my daughter, sing some songs, dance, play "ring around the rosie" and "airplane". The idea of another night on the town this week seems exhausting. I cancelled plans with one friend last night, and another engagement popped up in it's place.

I'm already bored of being single. I'm sorry, I don't really want to go to the bars. Let's build a fire and get out the crayons.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seattle Attractions: The Ubiquitous Gum Wall!

Hidden down under the Pike Place Market in Seattle's Downtown area is an attraction that few visitors to this great city rarely get to see. I'm surprised to find it's in not one of the many guidebooks I've referenced for this post.

It's called the Gum Wall, well, that's what I call it, I'm not sure it has a name, it's on a forgotten part of Post Alley, you enter this section of post alley from the corner of 1st Avenue and Pike Street, near the news stand. Adventure down the cobblebrick road until you get the distinc feeling that you might be mugged and Violla! Gum Wall! It's proximity to so many other frequented tourist locations makes it even harder for me to understand why so few have made it's aquaintance.
We Start from across the alley, about eight feet away.

I believe the wall is a portion of the Pike Street Brewery, not sure if they commissioned its creation. As stated, the artist is unknown. Attempts to find a signature were met with a scolding from Mr. Sticky Fingers.

The Gum Wall appears in front of you as you exit one of Seattle's great nightclubs, the Alibi Room. On a given night, you could meet your future spouse, dance the night away to a local DJ, have a damned fine dessert (if I do say so myself), and stumble out of here, sick as the mind of M.C. Escher, and trip, face front, right into one biohazardous piece of gum right after another.
Getting Closer, can you smell the Retsin?

Don't think you have time for this little aberration? Only 72 hours in Seattle? I'll tell you what, skip the "Ride the Ducks", those things are dangerous! The Space needle? Who needs it? You want to really see Seattle, in all of it's artistic glory? The answer is simple. That's right, you guessed it, Gum Wall.

Is that a phone number up in the left hand corner? What a classy place for a singles ad!

Now that you've met your mate, had a bite of chocolate cake, cut a rug, guzzled a few mojitos and skipped the duck, move in a little closer.
Mesmerizing, isn't it?

Moving in to about two feet away, the artist's talents really start to shine through. It's actually beginning to resemble...wait, could it be? A Jackson Pollock!
(Actual Jackson Pollock for comparison)

At close range, the Gum Wall takes on it's own life, it could be a photo of grains of sand or decaying captain crunch.

In conclusion, the Gum Wall is just one of the many exciting and overlooked destinations that should be near the top of any visitor to Seattle's list. You can enjoy it here, in two dimensions, but to really get the flavor, you're going to have to step right up and take a bite.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Timeliness is next to, well you know.

I was just about to submit a big photo post about the areas on the Duwamish River that I wrote about earlier, when on the radio I heard that KUOW is getting ready to air a 5 part special on the Duwamish September 24th through the 28th. Creepy.

Now on to the photos...
Northward View from my lunchspot.
rusty torch in the rivermud

The fishing nets. As I understand it, the Duwamish tribe has no fishing rights in this river. I'm not sure who does. Despite their lack of ability to make money from the river, they have been on the forefront in it's cleanup and protection.

The monument to someone named Tim O'Brian.

The shoreline formerly known as brick wall.
An abandoned breakwater.

These river Rocks are made of brick and concrete.

South Facing View

Check out the radio special, and consider giving to the Duwamish Tribe to help build their longhouse. Their website, where donations can be made, is located here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What, Hague Worry?

Poor, Poor council member Jane Hague, once again her terrible staff failed her and quite accidentally (why is this tongue stuck in my cheek?) misrepresented her as having a college degree. News of the phony diplomey somehow happened its way into some four reputable publications.

This isn't to say that those publications aren't to blame for not doing their homework, but the deja-vu-all-over-again that this little spectacle brings to mind is unavoidable. One more in the rash of recent, and not so recent reports that Mrs. Hague can't be held responsible for her actions.
Asked why several "Who's Who" books said she had a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan, Hague said at first, "Beats me." She then speculated that her staff members may have inadvertently filled out forms with incorrect information.
So says the Seattle Times in this report about how she's taking the blame. Sure doesn't sound like it to me. Blame and responsibility are separated by a fine line.

As someone who tries to not get caught up in political malarkey, I just cannot let this woman's continuously trashy behavior pass without comment. Call me a partisan hack, call me what you will. But I say this; If you're unfortunate enough to still be on this woman's staff, I would advise you to start looking for another job. That or assume the position again when your fearless leader swerves her way into the office this morning. She's bound to screw you again.

More, and much better expressed coverage of these disturbing shenanigans can be found if you work your way over to

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Mighty Duwamish. River or Waterway?

I work in South Park, in South Seattle, about 10 miles south of downtown. I occasionally grab some lunch and head down to the river to watch the water and wildlife. Today, the native American's are fishing it, with nets running across the river about 50 feet apart. They do this a few times a year. Last week I saw salmon jumping high out of the water, there are even a few places that anglers will brave the bank. They do this for the migrating fish, however. You wouldn't dare eat something out of this river that spent it's life here.

There are a few parks, mostly very small triangular plots where you can sit and look at the river. These parks are on the whole polluted, filled in with old cement blocks, brick walls felled to form a makeshift bulkhead, creosote covered, rotten pilings stretching out into the shallows like ancient, disembodies legs. You wouldn't even know these parks were here unless you were really looking for them. They are at the end of graveled, dead-end streets. Rutted by decades of neglect and huge 18-wheelers delivering the supplies that keep our growing port city and nearby Boeing Field constantly moving.

The small park I was in today had a stone, carved and smoothed out to make a seat, with an inscription. It said,
This is a river, not a waterway.
I didn't catch the name of the person quoted but he was apparently a great friend of the Duwamish, who cared deeply about its future. A quick search for what constitutes a waterway came back as
a river, canal, or other body of water serving as a route or way of travel or transport
The Duwamish is definitely all of these things, but I think the man quoted on the stone was definitely on to something. Here in the Pacific Northwest we've been losing our rivers to waterways for a century or more. The promise of cheap, abundant power drove us to dam our major rivers to a point where we have been forced to truck returning schools of salmon past the dams, in mostly futile attempts to protect diminishing salmon returns. The ability of using rivers for transportation brought us to place our most polluting industries right along their shores. This idea of a waterway as route for travel or transport is limiting in the way that humans limit things unconsciously. It fails to mention who the water is making way for. That would be us. Humans. The problem is that these were waterways long before we arrived. Fish and marine mammals filled these rivers before we got here, delivering precious biological cargo upriver and we've pushed them aside in the name of progress.

Well, it looks like Seattle has taken a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the Duwamish basin has deteriorated to the point where it is a Superfund site, the good news it that this status has put in motion a project to return a portion of it's natural beauty and utility, both for those that eat lunch on it's shores, like myself, and the birds, fish and other aquatic species that depend on it. The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is tasked with this job. They have links to a wealth of information about the project and recent press coverage on their website.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Love Power!

A remarkable thing happened this past week. My daughter, all of 20 months, proclaimed, "Daddy, I Love You!". Let me put this into context though, she probably was in the middle of singing the "Wheels on the Bus" and telling us, as she often does that "Ellie, No Eyes" (Our Basset Hound had glaucoma when she was very young and had her eyes removed).

Despite the fact that she probably couldn't really fathom what it was she was saying, she did say, distinctly, that she does indeed love her daddy, and as a father, there isn't anything I can think of that could have made me happier or prouder to be her daddy than that. Somehow, in her growing brain, most likely right alongside the lyrics to Baby Beluga, that little girl knows that she has a father and that she loves him almost as much as she loves her mama.

I can't do justice, in words, to how I felt when I heard her say it. It wasn't something I'd felt before. I think the best way to describe it is to say that I felt connected.

In this one relationship in my life, i knew exactly where i stood, and where she stood, where I'll always stand.


Friday, August 31, 2007

M/V Cora Black or Restoring an Old Wooden Boat

A couple of months ago one of my closest friends and I purchased an old rotten wooden boat, the Cora Black. She's an old salmon fishing boat and probably fifty years old or more.

She's leaking some nasty bilgewater from the front (a place water should not be exiting a boat). There are some very rotten boards that are going to be very hard to replace, and the whole thing has many coats of paint all over it.

Last night we pulled her from the water on Salmon Bay, near Ballard, WA and brought her over to my yard at work. I built her a custom skid so I can move her around and placed her up on foam pads. I'll build some bracing later to lift her up off of the keel and support her properly.

I've heard some horror stories about letting wooden boats dry out. Apparently the wood shrinks and the seams open up. We used to have a wooden hot tub that would do this when we emptied it out to clean it. When we would fill it back up the water would gush out for a few hours until the cedar soaked up the water and filled the voids between boards.

Cora is cedar, too, I think, so at least I'll be able to replace the rotten planks easily. We have big plans for her, and I'll keep you up to date on her progress.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shame on Hague

This story has been eating away at me for a few days now and I just have to post it. I'd never heard of Jane Hague before reading this in the PI the other day, but I think she's a disgrace to the County and I'm ashamed to be in a district adjacent to her.

The story says that Jane was picked up driving home from a fund-raiser where she had a few too many. It happened days before the primary election and was not disclosed until 2-1/2 months later. It says that she was cursing and condescending to the officer and goes into some previous incidents when she refused to take responsibility for her mistakes.

Here's a snip from the story, you decide;
The trooper's report said Hague questioned his qualifications to administer blood-alcohol tests, on which she had readings of 0.135 and 0.141, well above 0.08, the statutory definition of intoxication. He wrote, "Several times (Hague) stated I should be out looking for real criminals, and sarcastically stated that my mother must be proud of me."
I've heard enough.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Super Carpenter" or How to Build Meaningful Children's Things (that Aren't Made In China)

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with Chinese manufactured goods, but a great homecooked meal beats Denny's every time.

I grew up with a father that told me stories about Super Carpenter, a hero that loosely resembled him. Super Carpenter's adventures were more exciting than my father's, but not by much. When I was young, my father built me a bed, bookshelves, and I'm sure countless other things that I've long forgotten. What I never forgot, though, was how proud it made me that my dad could build anything. None of it was beautiful by furniture maker standards, but it was always thoughtfully designed and built to withstand a hurricane. My dad was a general contractor and then a crate builder and small business owner (with a healthy dose of owning/running a preschool and being a landlord of a few rental properties thrown in for good measure). He was a Norwegian Son too, and a carpenter's son.

Suffice it to say that I was excited, when I became a father, to complete some building projects for my daughter. I don't have the extensive background with construction standards and practices that my father has, but I grew up going to jobs with him and having a huge working wood shop behind my house (though I spent as much time trying to shoot nails at the windows and burning the place down as I did learning to build things). My first two projects were a blanket/toy box and a large, standing book shelf. I then built a small tabletop bookshelf and more appropriately sized toy box. Today, with the help of Google Sketchup, I designed and built an indoor playhouse that fits in a corner of my daughter's bedroom. (See Photo for dimensions).

It's about four feet by three feet, and nearly four feet high. It has a window and a hinged door and a mailbox. I brought it home for her this afternoon. An attempt to describe the way she looked when she saw it, and realized it was for her, and that she could open the door and go in and out herself and check her mailbox, would not be true to the moment. She was elated and shrieking. It made my week, and it made me think again about how proud I was that my dad could build me things. I'm sure my daughter is too young to be proud that I'm her dad, but when she is old enough, I want her to feel that way about me too.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Management Style: Reluctant

I came to management from a job as a drone with a large internet service provider. My previous career was as an internet systems engineer, which is really to say a janitor. Cleaning up stray bits of data, rebooting servers, sitting on conference calls, and actually doing very little in the course of a day was my lot. The multinational company whose ISP I worked for was a behemoth and the red tape and bureaucracy was fantastically suited to getting very little if anything actually done.

I left that company, or should say, was downsized from it (they called it a RIF or reduction in force). Isn't it a nice, tidy word, RIF? Isn't it a tight, mono-syllabic wisp of a word. It's purpose, however, is to avoid the truth. Turn it around and it becomes the start a much more harsh word FIRed. It doesn't feel any less bad to be RIFfed as it does to be fired. The person that layed me off had never met me, knew nothing about me or my situation or anything I had done for the company. I imagine he didn't lose any sleep over the matter. I was one of hundreds that day, and many hundreds in the months and years before that. He had a buffer, it was not his decision, he was just tasked with the job of taking the jobs of others away. Something I had a hard time relating to...until recently.

I'm now the general manager of my family's business; a small woodworking shop with fewer than ten employees. The job of hiring and firing falls on my shoulders now and I work a lot harder for a lot less compensation. That's not a complaint as much as it is a fact. I had to fire someone yesterday. It's not the first time I've had to do it and it won't be the last. That didn't make it any less hard. I wrestled with the fairness of it all. I knew the person I fired and he needed the job as much as anyone. He's a great person, a great human being. Unfortunately that's not enough when it comes to his job. His circumstances were difficult. His life has been harder than most people I've met. I still had to let him go. I had to tell him it wasn't working. I was fair, I paid him for a couple of weeks extra. It doesn't make me feel any better. I did sleep last night. Not any less or worse than usual, but I did grieve his loss and I worry about his situation. I care about him. I care about all of my employees and I do feel that it's my job to make sure that they have a good working environment and that they feel respected and appreciated. I hope he left with a sense of pride in his working here. I hope his spirit isn't broken. I'll think about him a lot, I'm sure, and I'll remember him. As I told my wife this morning, I don't want him to be beat or marginalized by this, but I'm sure It has made his life harder.

The moral of all this? I don't know. I'm not even sure there is one. I know it will make me more cautious of who I hire, how involved I get in their lives. A person's livelihood is not to be messed with lightly. These things should be difficult and poured over. The buck should not be passed.

I hate this part of my job, but I hope it never gets any easier. If it does, I'll know I've gone terribly wrong.