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OF DESPERATE TIMES AND VISUAL VOCABULARIES
Jul 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

desperate times cover

I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.

This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.

I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.

Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.

We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)

The result was called Desperate Times.

It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.

(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)

I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)

It got a response all right.

That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)

This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.

And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).

One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.

For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.

Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.

White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).

White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”

Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.

But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.

Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:

The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.

The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.

Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.

 

 

chantry speaks cover

Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.

I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.

In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.

Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.

The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.

He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.

Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.

Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.

He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.

Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).

And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.

You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.

But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.

And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.

But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.

Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.

And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).

AMAZON @ 20
Jul 7th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey
an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

One month ago, I asked you to turn back your mental clocks to the summer of 1995.

It was a time when Seattle still had a men’s pro basketball team and two daily newspapers. It was a time when Seattle bands still ruled the recorded-music sales charts (and a time when people still bought recorded music).

And, as I’d mentioned last month, it was a time when the whole World Wide Web thang was new and full of possibilities. Wired magazine’s pundits (a homogenous gang of “Grateful Dead fiscal conservatives”) lauded the dawn of a new golden age for media, the arts, medicine, and business opportunities unfettered by either governments or by the physical laws of planet Earth.

Amid all this hype, many “dot com” startups began.

Many of those ventures burned out in one to five years, having run out of money before they could turn a cool domain name into a viable business model.

There are (or were) websites devoted to chronicling the demises of other websites. Many of those obituary sites are also now defunct.

One of those first-generation dot-coms, however, has continued to live, and to expand in all directions like a wild Northwest blackberry bush.

And it’s done this without turning a real profit for most of its 20 years in existence.

Amazon.com Inc. has a lot of very patient investors. That, and its famous aggressive approach to everything it does (under such internal slogans as “Get Big Fast” and “It’s Always Day One”) turned it into one of the nation’s top 10 “technology” companies.

My readers here in Seattle don’t have to be told what Amazon has done for and/or to the city.

It’s brought thousands of swaggering “Code Ninja” programmer doodz into town (often for just one or two years), who’ve reshaped the local nightlife and bar industries while threatening the longstanding civic image of “Seattle Nice.”

It’s helped to accelerate the hyper-inflation of housing prices and the replacement of so many cool low-rise buildings.

It’s reshaped the Cascade (er, “South Lake Union”) neighborhood with its office buildings, and is doing the same to Belltown.

It’s made what was already one of America’s biggest book-buying burgs into a top center of gravity for book distribution and even publishing.

In the larger world, it’s become both loved and hated, often for the same things.

Along with most tech-centric companies, it’s been chided for its low hiring of non-white and non-male employees.

It’s become a symbol of economic inequality, paying many programmers six-figure salaries while being far less generous to its warehouse staffs.

Along with previous 500-lb. gorillas of bookselling (B. Dalton, Borders, etc.), it’s feared and despised by much of the old NYC publishing elite. Like those companies did before it, Amazon has been accused of setting its terms and expecting publishers to fall into line.

With the Kindle, it finally turned e-book reader devices into a real business. It helped to generate an explosion in online self-publishing, facilitating tens of thousands of author-entrepreneurs (who get nervous every time Amazon changes its terms).

Kindle, and the privacy it affords to its users, also helped turn “women’s erotica” into a major commercial genre.

In just about every other category of e-commerce, it’s instilled fear into competitors who don’t have the luxury of doing business for years without profits.

I shouldn’t describe Amazon as completely without profit.

It’s earning healthy margins on Amazon Web Services (AWS), its computing-services division, providing Internet “cloud” servers for other companies, including Netflix (a rival to Amazon’s own streaming-video venture), Spotify, and Instagram.

AWS’s web-page serving business is so big, and some of its clients are themselves so big, that up to one-third of U.S. Internet traffic at certain times of the day comes from AWS-hosted sites.

Another part of what AWS does is a modern, broadband-enabled version of what Boeing’s Computer Services division or Ross Perot’s old EDS company did—crunch numbers and process data for organizations that need stuff done by big computers, but don’t need to own their own big computers to get them done.

That business is almost certainly here to stay.

As for all the other big and little parts of this huge outfit, it all depends.

It can continue to “Get Big Fast” in new venture after new venture, as long as its shareholders (who include a lot of its own top employees, past and present) remain patient.

If they don’t, or if a raider like Carl Ichan muscles into the scene, Amazon might one day have to sell or drop some of its costlier or newer lines of business, raise prices and “Prime” membership fees, pause some of its ginormous office-building plans, hold back on some new projects, and shed some of its 20,000 staff in the Seattle area (out of some 165,000 worldwide).

And if that happens, you could see a local recession comparable to the 1970 Boeing Bust.

You might claim you’d like to see Amazon’s influence on Seattle wane. But a crash would hurt a lot of people.

THE RACHEL PAPERS
Jun 15th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

mgm/this tv

Some pseudo-random thoughts about l’Affaire Rachel Dolezal, the just-resigned Spokane NAACP leader who’s claimed at various times to be black, part-black, and Native American, but whose parents claim her to be white (and who have the blonde, blue-eyed childhoood pix to support their claim):

If it weren’t for white people pretending to be black, we’d have no jazz or rock n’ roll or R&B or even hiphop as we know those genres today. American white pop music would still sound like “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” British pop music would still sound like “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.”

(We also wouldn’t have sorry minstrel-show acts, macho-baby-boomer blues bands, or fratboy rappers either; but you’ve got to take the bad with the good, right?)

There’s a long-running meme of college-educated white women identifying, or trying to identify, with black women of “lower” castes. It ranges from recent works such as The Help, back to the predominantly white-female audiences for Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Walker especially depicted Af-Am womanhood as an ultimate embodiment of a specifically feminine wisdom and righteousness.

Could Dolezal, who had Af-Am adopted siblings, have envied their specific “tribal” identity, collective-struggle heritage, etc.? Not for an outsider like me to say.

It can be said that she should have known “being black” involved more than just looks and “soul,” but (as shown gruesomely in recent news items) a continuing legacy on the receiving end of repression, injustice, and brutality. (As Tavis Smiley asks, “Who’d sign up to be black?”)

Dolezal is the second Spokanian to re-invent herself so thoroughly. The first, of course, is Billy Tipton.

Tipton, a small-time jazz pianist and a bio-female who lived as a (hetero) man until his death in 1989, was essentially (in my opinion) a trans who never had reassignment surgery, but who simply tried to create a being and a life for himself and succeeded completely.

Dolezal attempted a similar life-feat, trying to create a present by rewriting her past. Our age of instant information made that ultimately impossible.

There’s nothing wrong, as Smiley’s above-linked essay notes, with being a white person devoted to helping her less race-privileged fellow humans; people who…

…have the courage, conviction and commitment to unapologetically use their white face—and their white voice, hands, feet, head and heart to make America a nation as good as its promise.

The NAACP has (openly) white local and national officers, past and present. More famously, the late Westinghouse and CBS exec Michael H. Jordan (absolutely no relation to the basketball star) was chairman of the United Negro College Fund for a decade.

In the statement announcing her NAACP resignation, Dolezal stated she won’t stop fighting for justice.

Dolezal has been a student, and occasionally a teacher, of Af-Am culture and history. She assuredly knows, both from book-learning and from those in her life, about what black life is really like.

She could have used this knowledge to work at bridging our racial divides.

If she can transcend the unfortunate image of her own “race drag act,” she still can.

Everybody seems to have an opinion or an angle on the tale:

  • Dolezal’s brothers have spoken on camera: “It started out with the hair.” (ABC)
  • The Daily Beast parses out the whole history of Dolezal’s carefully constructed identity.
  • Variety claims a Dolezal biopic “is inevitable,” and postulates whether it will be a comedy or drama or both.
  • Ijeoma Olio proposes a bargain for white people who want to be black: the ability to dance, a history of triumph over diversity, and the looks of white women clutching their purses when you walk past them. (Slog) 
  • Darnell Moore at Mic.com calls the Dolezal affair a “fiasco” and “a glaring example of white privilege in action.”
  • Twitter users are using such hashtags as #transracial and #wrongskin, as other Twitter users ruthlessly mock them. (KING) 
  • A self described “gay Black man” explains the terms “transracial” and “transethnic,” in terms of the furry community. (Fusion.net)
  • Kara Brown at Jezebel: Girl, WHAT?”
  • Explaining the “passing” as a quest for “empathy.” (USAT) 
  • Gyasi Ross at Indian Country Today compares Dolezal to decades’ worth of white folk pretending to be Native Americans.
  • Author Michael P. Jeffries calls the incident “a lesson in how racism works.” (Boston Globe)
  • As you might expect, the social sub-network known as “Black Twitter” has plenty of snarky reactions. (The Culture)
  • Vox has a think piece on how it proves “race” isn’t a cut and dried issue anymore.
  • Salon has a harsher piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams, claiming Dolezal’s “fraud is unforgivable.
  • For compare-and-contrast, here’s the story of local author Mishna Wolff, whose white father “identified” as black for many years. (KUOW)
CORPORATE BEER STILL SUCKS. STILL.
Jan 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

There will still be four Elysian brewpubs in Seattle.

There will still be various Elysian beers on tap and in bottles at bars, restaurants, and stores in the region and beyond.

There will still (probably) be an Elysian Brewery on Airport Way South, not far from the old Rainier Brewery.

But they’ll all be owned now by AB InBev (doing business in this country as Anheuser-Busch).

The Belgian beer conglomerate that bought Budweiser (and commands 47 percent of the nation’s total beer sales) is now buying up craft brewers around the country. Just weeks ago, it snapped up Oregon’s 10 Barrel. It already owns 32 percent of the now-merged Redhook and Widmer Brothers.

And now, Elysian has joined the empire.

The craft brewers’ national trade group, the Brewers Association, automatically expels any member company that sells out to AB or MillerCoors. (However, the group altered its rules a few years back to allow Boston Beer (Sam Adams) to remain in the group.)

For almost 19 years now, starting with a single (albeit spacious) brewpub in the Pike/Pine Corridor, Elysian has steadily become a big fish in the no-longer-so-small pond of regional craft brewers. Its product line has included over 350 different brews over the years, many of them short-term and seasonal (like its annual pumpkin ales). Its products are distributed in 11 states and two Canadian provinces.

One of those products is Loser Ale, originally introduced as a promotional tie-in with Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary in 2008. Its slogan (based on Kurt Cobain’s hand scrawled T shirt on a Rolling Stone cover, which in turn was based on SST Records’ old slogan): “Corporate Beer Still Sucks.”

Many “craft beer” drinkers see their choice of drink as meaning a lot more than just a matter of quality product. They think of indie beer (just as many think of indie music) as a crusade of the Regular Folk fighting back against a bland, monolithic corporate culture.

But should they?

As Kendall Jones writes at the Washington Beer Blog:

The sky is not falling. This is not a sign that the end is near. There are still over 3,400 breweries in America that Anheuser-Busch does not own…. As craft beer lovers, we’ve been taught that Anheuser-Busch and the other big beer companies are our enemies. So what gives? Is Elysian now evil? Not in my mind, but that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

Another view on the Elysian sale comes from Jeff Alworth at the Canadian blog Beervana, who ties Elysian’s past success to its savvy local management:

It’s long been my favorite Washington brewery, and it’s always my first stop when I hit Seattle. It has always seemed the most Seattle of the Seattle breweries—an extemporaneous brewery that could be equal parts gritty and urbane and credibly support local sports teams or indie bands. Elysian always seemed to be right where Seattle was at the time….

Just because a brewery is local doesn’t mean it can channel the local mores, culture, and zeitgeist. Elysian could and did—which is a big part of why they were so good. Can they still do that as a division of AB? In the short term, almost certainly. But I fear we’ve lost a little bit of what made Seattle Seattle.

If, as Elysian’s owners publicly insist, joining the big boys was the only way to support the company’s continued growth and to fund further expansion, maybe there’s a natural business limit to how big a microbrewer can be and still remain independent (if no longer truly “micro”).

neonsign.com

In other news:

  • Chop Suey, the venerable live-music club located not far from the original Elysian brewpub, may remain open (or rather, reopen) after all.
  • Here’s how out-of-it (locally) I’ve been: Richard Hugo House, the city’s premier writing and literary-arts center, is getting demolished and rebuilt at the same site. Didn’t even know.
  • The Seattle City Council and City Attorney Pete Holmes apparently believe sex workers will be less abused by pimps and traffickers if we just create harsher penalties for sex-work customers. Uh, no; it doesn’t work that way. Try again. This time, try to work on the pimps and traffickers themselves (and on support services for the workers).
  • There’s still no real replacement for the still-mourned Fun Forest amusement area at Seattle Center. But we may be getting a 1,000-foot water slide this summer.
  • Our pal Lindy West remembers the cool stuff found in the now-bankrupt SkyMall catalog, and also ponders whether its fate is that of all that is fun and quirky.
  • Hershey, which owns all U.S. rights to Cadbury products, is moving to stop the grey-market imports of the British-made chocolate goodies.
  • Print books are bouncing back, according to recent sales figures. The “literature is doomed” crowd will, I’m sure, simply ignore these figures and continue its wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth.
RANDOM QUESTIONS
May 26th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

sony pictures tv via wellesley.edu

I’m still not back to posting Random Links posts (at least not without re-thinking their whole format).

But today, I have some random questions:

  • If you know that advertising/media images about people like you are lying, why would you ever believe such images about anyone else?
  • Why do most “do what you love, the money will follow” books presume that everybody already has money?
  • If “not all men” are rude or violent creeps (which is true), how can those who aren’t convert (or at least disarm) those who are?
  • If “content is king,” the thing that gets and keeps people going to one website instead of another, why do so many dotcoms pay six-figure salaries to programmers but expect writers and artists to work for free?
  • Could I ever deserve to be the man of a woman as smokin’ smart as Jeopardy! champ Julia Collins?
FROM CITY LITE TO CITY OF LIT
Mar 24th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

As Sears’ Seattle store dies (see this blog’s previous entry), another company here in town has led a revival of shopping from home, with a “catalog” running to millions of auto-customized web pages.

But Amazon’s original business, and its most controversial presence, remains in books.

As George Packer recently noted in the New Yorker, Amazon has disrupted, and often infuriated, the champions of traditional publishing, also known as “Book Culture.”

Some of these folks gathered in Seattle in late February/early March for the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

AWP’s main public event was a giant book fair on the convention’s final day, featuring hundreds of publishers big and small, for- and non-profit. It’s the one time a year, in a different city each year, when poetry is a business!

And Amazon was there, as a convention co-sponsor and as a vendor, with a book fair table advertising its self-publishing services.

One of the small literary publishers at the fair had a raffle for one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader devices. They promoted the raffle with a punching-bag toy, festooned with a photo of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ face.

More recently, Mayor Murray sent a formal proposal to UNESCO’s “Creative Cities” program, to become an officially, internationally recognized “City of Literature.”

The city’s formal application included a long original essay by Blueprints of the Afterlife novelist Ryan Boudinot.

The essay lists programs (to be supported partly by local public and private funding) Seattle would implement should it get the UNESCO nod. One of these programs would involve the city buying Hugo House’s building on Capitol Hill as a permanent “literary arts center” (that would also continue to house Hugo House’s programs).

Boudinot’s essay also gushes, in adoring detail, about Seattle and the Northwest’s cultural heritage(s) and its contributions in literature and publishing (especially Fantagraphics’ graphic novels) as well as in music and the visual arts.

And nowhere in the essay’s 7,000-plus words are the words “Amazon” or “Bezos” ever mentioned.

I HATE CALIFORNIA. IT’S COLD AND IT’S DAMP.
Jan 17th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

'i hate the 49ers' on facebook

(Note: This post’s title is a gag based on a song lyric. Californians never get the joke.)

Twice a year, I get to express out loud an opinion that usually attracts scorn and correctiveness from even my closest friends.

And this week, I get to really say it.

The excuse: The Seahawks’ upcoming battle in the National Football League’s playoff semifinals, against the arch rival 49ers.

The opinion: San Francisco is a land of pompous, arrogant snobs who falsely believe themselves to be the Supreme Species of the Universe.

Especially San Francisco’s “alternative” and “radical” scenes.

That’s a socially forbidden opinion there—and even, often, here.

All my life, I’ve heard people here insisting that Seattle was a “hick town” that needed to become “world class” by religiously copying everything in, from, and about San Francisco. Its restaurants and bars. Its bands. Its fashions. Its municipal political structure. Its architecture. Its media institutions. Its stores. Its strip clubs. Even its street crime.

To these “local boosters,” anything Seattleites created on their own was intrinsically inferior to anything swiped from or “inspired by” cultural dictates from down south. (This attitude was particularly strong during the ’70s and ’80s, when Seattle’s civic establishment was almost completely run by upscale baby boomers.)

Over the years, there’s also been a steady stream of promoters and hucksters from there moving up here, opening “authentic San Francisco style” hoity-toity clubs or boutiques, long on attitude and short on anything really interesting. When these enterprises failed, as they usually did, said hucksters bemoaned us Seattle hicks for failing to appreciate their genius.

To a true San Franciscan, there is only San Francisco, and maybe New York, and just-maybe-maybe Los Angeles. The rest of America is all Bumfuck, Iowa.

“But,” people invariably say, “what about all the bohemian rebels and counterculturists and Establishment-challengers from there?”

They can be even more annoyingly snooty than your basic San Franciscan annoying snoot.

And it’s an American tragedy, the way they’ve helped left-wing politics to get ensnarled with the most anti-populist, square-bashing sentiments, in which one is supposed to love “the people” and hate “the sap masses” at the same time. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Tom Tomorrow and Mr. Jello Biafra.)

I happen to believe progressive/revolutionary politics should be for everybody.

Even meat eaters. Even TV viewers. Even people who don’t drink lattes or listen to public radio.

Otherwise it’s just a worthless pose.

There’s now a book out by one Fred Turner, called From Counterculture to Cyberculture. It traces the twisted path of San Franciscan “liberation” ideology/hype, from the “flower power” wild-oats sowers, through the Whole Earth Catalog gang, to the early microcomputer startups, to Wired magazine’s founders, to the hyper-alpha guys (and too few gals) running today’s dot-com giants.

Turner traces how a particular strain of NoCal “personal freedom” beliefs mutated and metastasized into corporate-Libertarian selfishness.

The Harvard Business Review story about the book carries the telling title, “How Silicon Valley Became the Man.”

Right now in Frisco (an informal, anti-elitist abbreviation I always insist upon using), there’s a loud backlash against dot-com one-percenters taking over the whole city, forcing artists and musicians (and, oh yeah, non-white folks) out, and making annoyances of themselves with their big spending and boorish behavior.

Protesters and pundits forthrightly proclaim that this all runs counter to “The City” and its heritage of rugged individualists, rule breakers, and wild boys.

No. It’s a monster bastard child of that heritage, taken to a parasitical extreme.

So no, Danny Westneat and Knute Berger: I don’t share any “sense of inferiority to San Francisco.”

I treat it as an example of what Seattle should not become.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/10/14
Jan 10th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

fastcoexist.com

  • The Fast Company folks seem to love Northgate’s Thornton Creek mixed use megaproject.
  • A Seattle architect has re-devoted his career toward aiding the homeless and the recently homeless.
  • One-fourth of Amazon’s Kindle ebook sales in 2012 were for books by indie and self-publishers.
  • Amazon’s warehouses, sometimes infamous for pushing workers hard, are getting robotized.
  • Meanwhile, some guy at the Atlantic’s biz-news site Quartz claims that 3D printing and robotized manufacturing, and the one-of-a-kind manufacturing they can enable, could eventually mean “the end of Walmart and mass-market retail as you know it.”
  • Students at Eastside Catholic High School will keep protesting the firing of a beloved, now gay-married, vice principal.
  • Seattle author David Shields is acting in a movie directed by James Franco.
  • City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and the Stranger writers who relentlessly pushed her candidacy, were named to the Nation‘s “2013 Progressive Honor Roll.”
  • The gang down at Three Imaginary Girls has a roundup of their favorite (mostly) local music of ’13.
  • Ani DiFranco scheduled a women’s songwriting retreat at a former slave plantation. (The place is now a museum, offering a highly sanitized account of America’s slave-owning heritage.) Some Af-Am women protested online. A smart person would have used this hubbub as a positive “teaching moment.” DiFranco and her associates essentially failed at that.
  • Where They Are Now Dept.: NY punk and underground-film bad girl Lydia Lunch now teaches women’s yoga and “empowerment” workshops in Calif.
  • Right-wing front groups, pretending to be “journalists,” have tried to obstruct investigations into right-wing financial misdealings in Wisconsin.
  • Prostitution is fully legal in Canada (including brothel-keeping and solicitation), sez their Supreme Court. It could be the start of a new (or upgraded) tourism shtick. But I’d like it to mean more respect and personal safety for sex workers, there and here.
OF MONORAILS AND MONOMANIA
Dec 28th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

Back in 2003, after the first round of local dot-com crashes, former Seattle Weekly writer Fred Moody wrote a book called Seattle and the Demons of Ambition.

Moody wrote about instances when the city as a whole, or individual Seattleites, obsessively pursued grandiose schemes for power, money, or civic greatness, only to figuratively crash back down to Earth.

Moody didn’t include the Seattle Monorail Project (1996-2005) in his vignettes. But that failed dream of a better, cheaper, more futuristic urban transit system certainly qualifies as a sky-high dream that collapsed amid broken hearts and balance sheets.

And Dick Falkenbury, the sometime cab driver who helped to launch the project, is a major aspect of this tale. While he’d worked in minor roles on local political campaigns in the past, many saw him as the ultimate outsider.

To the local media, and to many of his supporters, Falkenbury was the civilian tinkerer with a great idea—an idea that would cure gridlock, make car-free living more feasible, and never get stuck in traffic, all without major government subsidies.

He was like Campbell Scott’s character in the Seattle-filmed movie Singles, whose drive for a city-crossing “supertrain” was promptly dismissed by the mayor. Except that Falkenbury’s idea, while snickered at by almost everyone in power, was loved by the people.

With the aid of local rich kid Grant Cogswell and a few plucky volunteers, plus some clever ideas for low-cost signature gathering and campaigning, the Monorail Initiative got onto the ballot—and passed.

Cogswell went on to a failed City Council run, as documented in Phil Campbell’s book Zioncheck for President and Stephen Gyllenhaal’s movie Grassroots. (Later, Cogswell declared Seattle to be unworthy of him and moved to Mexico City.)

Now, Falkenbury’s written, and self-published, his account of the Monorail dream’s life and death.

The book’s title, Rise Above It All, was one of the initiative’s slogans.

Just as the elevated trains were meant to run above snarled streets, the Monorail Project was meant to run above, and apart from, the city bureaucracy and the “infrastructure lobby” of contractors and construction unions.

That things didn’t turn out that way wasn’t just the fault of Falkenbury’s outsider status. But that was a factor. He made enemies. He nurtured grudges, even with allies. Without the skills or clout to manage the ongoing operation of planning and building a transit system, he was forced to watch it taken over by the “experts.”

What came out the other end of that process was, in many ways, just another bloated civic construction proposal, complete with an unworkable financing plan. After four consecutive “yes” votes, city voters finally killed the monorail on a fifth ballot.

But would the system Falkenbury originally envisioned, or something like it. have worked?

Would it have carried 20 million riders or more per year, in auto-piloted trains, on tracks supported just 20 feet above the ground on narrow pillars, with fewer than 100 employees, financed almost completely by fare-box proceeds and station concessions?

In his book, Falkenbury insists it could have, and still could.

But he doesn’t make a convincing case.

For one thing, he could have really used an editor.

He regularly misspells the names of even major players in his story, such as City Councilmember Nick Licata.

He makes the sort of wrong-real-word errors that Microsoft Word’s spell checker can’t find, such as when he mentions “rewarding a contract” instead of “awarding” it.

He rambles on about his personal distaste for several people, including ostensible allies such as Peter Sherwin (whose second monorail initiative kept the dream alive after the city council first tried to kill it).

And he defends the monorail plan as he’d originally envisioned it, without providing a lot of specific evidence that the engineers and planners and politicians were all wrong and he was right.

But he still could be.

If Falkenbury had been a more effective schmoozer and networker; if he’d gotten more politicians on his side; if he’d sold his plan as a supplement, not a competitor, to the tri-county Sound Transit organization; if he’d convinced ST to at least consider switching from light-rail to monorail technologies; if he’d been able to keep a tighter eye on the planning and money people, or had more allies who could; then, just maybe, we might have been riding in the sky from Crown Hill to the West Seattle Junction by now.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

RANDOM LINKS FOR 12/17/13
Dec 16th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

  • Good News (Personal) Dept.: I’ve got a part time job these days. It’s in the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle. That was one of the many local structures designed by the great local architect Fred Bassetti, whom we lost earlier this month.
  • Why Didn’t I Know About This Sooner? Dept.: Bob Royer (ex-KING 5 newsman; brother of ex-mayor Charley; ex-hubby of self help maven Jennifer James) has been writing online about Northwest history. His recent topics include a Spokane narrative poet from the early 20th century and the launch of Washington’s wine industry as we know it today (he traces it to the state Legislature’s move in 1969 to allow more Calif. imports).
  • Passage-O-Time Dept.: It’s been 20 years since the murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata sparked the founding of Seattle self-defense group Home Alive. There’s now a documentary about the group and its impact. No idea when the film might play here.
  • There hasn’t been a new Seattle Best Places guidebook since ’09, and now the publisher says there won’t be any more.
  • Nope, there’s still no concrete plan to bring the National Hockey League to Seattle.
  • As ESPN’s Chris Berman might say, Mariners fans can now give a big welcome to ex-Yankees star Robinson “Paddle Your Own” Cano. (Of course, one marquee-draw player alone won’t reverse the results of years of mismanagement.)
  • The UW football team’s got a new coach, the same guy who helped helm Boise State’s rise to powerhouse (or at least near-powerhouse) status.
  • Mars Hill Church leader Mark Driscoll isn’t the only guy trying to combine a “hip” image with reactionary religious politics. One example, from Portland, is a vintage-furniture shop owner who moonlights as a street preacher railing against gays, strippers, and football, among other things.
  • German Amazon employees went all the way to Seattle to protest the company’s warehouse working conditions. The apparent lesson: In the age of globalized capital, labor must behave likewise.
  • Meanwhile, Amazon’s predecessor as America’s great central general store, Sears, was nearly destroyed by an Ayn Rand-lovin’ CEO whose modus operandi was to pit department against department, manager against manager, employee against employee. (Any relation to recent management policies at, say, Microsoft are purely coincidental I’m sure.)
MY EXCUSE THIS TIME
Dec 1st, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

Did the ol’ National Novel Writing Month thang again this year. Fifty thousand words in 30 days. My work, tentatively titled For One Night Only, will need a lot of work before I can show it to you all.

Also, my hosting bill is due. $120 that I haven’t got. Should I continue with the site as it is, or move it to some lesser-but-free service?

RANDOM LINKS FOR 10/27/13
Oct 27th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

  • It’s easy to really admire Jim Vallandingham’s project “Mapping Seattle Streets.” It’s harder to describe it. I’ll just say he’s using street grids and other map details to explain the city to itself.
  • You know I love the Clark Bar, and am eternally grateful to the NECCO people for saving the historic candy brand. So yes, I’m amused by the brand’s current ad campaign, in which women of various ethnicities say inexplicable things in foreign languages followed by a brief product plug in English.
  • Jonathan Franzen has become, alas, the very model of a modern get-off-my-lawn crank. Fortunately, Mallory Ortberg at The Toast has a lovely antidote, “The Rage of Jonathan Franzen”:

He is angry because Salman Rushdie uses Twitter, and nowadays people can buy books on the Internet, and the Home Depot, and he had to go to Germany one time, and also some women exist who have not had sex with him.

  • I wish NYT contributor Tim Kreider’s “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” was actually about organizing a crusade against dot-coms that expect artists and writers to work for them for free. Alas, all Kreider offers is a prepared statement you can use when you reject their “opportunities.”
  • Is long-term unemployment a “good” thing? Perhaps to Wall St. speculators.
  • The “Lofgren Corollary.” It’s a fancy term to describe how Republicans destroy government from inside, then proclaim how government isn’t working.
  • Lou Scheimer, 1929-2013: The cofounder of the Filmation cartoon studio broke through to the bigtime with a Saturday morning Superman cartoon show in the ’60s. It led to dozens of series over the next two decades. All but a few were based on established character “properties,” and almost all were considered to be factory-produced schlock. But they were all made in the U.S. by unionized staffs, with no outsourced animation. Thus, a disproportionate number of today’s top animation figures got their start under Scheimer.
  • My favorite “intellectual joke”: Rene Descartes goes into a bar, orders a drink, and drinks it. The bartender asks if he’ll have another. He says, “I think not,” and disappears.
RANDOM LINKS FOR 10/22/13
Oct 22nd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

I mourn the Comet Tavern for what it had been. The un-upscaled hippie hangout; the dive that remained a dive when most of the other dives in town cleaned up their acts. I don’t mourn what it had become—a hangout ruled by an oft-violent aggro gang called Hate City. (A good friend, a petite female, was once roughed up by bouncers there, badly.) Could any new owners make it an inviting place again?

  • My ol’ pal Steven Shaviro uses a lot of highly obscure intellectual-left lingo in this essay about the futility of “transgressive” art/film/music in today’s world. I believe he’s saying you can’t be a “rebel punk” anymore, because the hyper-corporate society you’re rebelling against is “punker” (more offensive, aggressive, destructive) than you’ll ever be.
  • David Byrne has stopped pretending not to be white, long enough to notice one-percenter real estate speculation and Internet “disruption” (i.e., not paying content creators) as twin menaces to the arts and creativity.
  • Meanwhile, our ol’ pal Tom Frank claims pundits who talk about “the creative class” are really just talking about corporate players who like to imagine themselves as “creative.”
  • The e-book revolution has become a surprising boon to traditional big publishers. But it’s a hassle to libraries, which often have to pay more to provide e-books than physical books.
  • A husband-and-wife music duo in Arizona came to a sudden end. The wife died in a hospital; the husband then killed himself—after posting each death to the wife’s Facebook page under her name.
  • America’s biggest export to China was recycled plastic. But not anymore.
  • Gay men don’t have the right to grope women without consent either.
  • A British historian claims Jesus was a made-up character, invented by the Romans in an attempt to encourage conquered Jews to become more passive. Needless to say, there are many who disagree with this premise.
  • Is Cinemax really discontinuing its late-night softcore shows, unofficially nicknamed “Skinemax”? From the sound of this story, it’s more likely the cable channel’s just preferring to promote its primetime originals, in which sex takes a decided back seat to violence.
  • Andrew Fischer at GeneralForum.com has two lists (with a third promised) of “Really Annoying Facebook Friends We All Have.” Not included (yet): the one who posting vaguely-worded links to vaguely-headlined articles, attracting all vaguely-worded responses.
  • Elsewhere in snarkland, there’s a blog entry all about ridiculous traveler complaints:

We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/27/13
Sep 27th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

seattleglobalist.com

  • The thorough folks at Seattle Globalist traced UW-licensed apparel items back to the places where they were made, to the people who made them, and to how much more the people who made them would need to earn to meet the local cost of living.
  • Speaking of apparel, BuzzFeed’s got some sorry evidence of pathetic attempts to turn punk rock nostalgia into mere fashion-fad fodder.
  • Still speaking of apparel, Sesame Street really doesn’t like unauthorized “Sexy Big Bird” Halloween costumes. (You can still get the “Pho King Hot” waitress costume, though.)
  • Why is Storyville Coffee, a single espresso and pastry boutique in the Pike Place Market, spending so much on lavish pre-opening marketing (including a month of free food and drinks for invited guests)? Because (1) it’s the first unit of a planned chain, and (2) it’s got the zillionaire behind a for-profit college backing it. (And as an aside, the owners also have ties to the “hip” but reactionary Mars Hill Church.) (And as another aside, do they even know they’ve named it after New Orleans’ old red-light district?)
  • Can the scenic, low-density office “park” that is the ex-Battelle Research campus in Laurelhurst be saved? And should it?
  • Eric Stevick at the Everett Herald has the sad life story of a woman who basically never got a break her entire life, and then died in the Snohomish County jail because they wouldn’t send for medical help.
  • Bumper salmon runs! Yay! Just, you know, keep ’em away from the dogs.
  • Pasta-and-pride dept.: Barilla’s CEO doesn’t care much for the gays, but Bertolli (hearts) the gays. Or something like that.
  • Bono wants a more equitable tax system in Ireland, but will still keep his own millions stashed away in offshore trust accounts.
  • Could Google’s latest search-ranking changes finally kill off that bane to humanity that is “Search Engine Optimization”?
  • Ted Cruz apparently didn’t understand that Green Eggs and Ham is a liberal allegory about open mindedness. But he’s yesterday’s news. Today’s news is the conservatives’ next showdown target, the debt ceiling.
  • Do they serve Hello Kitty beer on the Hello Kitty plane?
  • Let’s leave you today with some visual inspiration, of sorts, in the form of “Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos.”

terriblerealestateagentphotos.com

RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/26/13
Sep 26th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

pelican bay foundation via capitolhillseattle.com

First, another “sorry folks” for not getting something up to the site lately. I know some of you enjoy these li’l linx, even when I don’t have a major essay about something.

For now, back to Randomosity:

  • The mural at the Kingfish Cafe’s building on east Capitol Hill (see above) dates back to the ’70s and to a noble experiment in cooperatively-run artist housing. Read the comments to learn how it collapsed.
  • A Bloomberg commentator decries Amazon’s South Lake Union “geek zone” as a swath of real estate “cursed by dullness.”
  • Amazon’s newest Kindle Fire tablet has one “killer app” selling point: live, human, tech support!
  • Getting the Rainier Beer “R” logo back up on the ex-brewery building will be nice. It would be even nicer if the brand’s current owners would make it here again, instead of at the Miller plant in the L.A. exurbs. There’s gotta be enough excess microbrewery capacity in Washington to make that possible.
  • (Rhetorical) question of the day: Would the local Caucasian model who donned black body paint for a fashion shoot make a good (rhetorical) question for the blog Yo, Is This Racist?
  • As discussed earlier this year at EMP, the likes of Miley Cyrus are, no matter how superficially “transgressive,” still the product of a star-maker machine that subjects female pop singers to a “packaging process.”
  • When it comes to regressive taxation against the poor, we’re (still) number one! (But Washington’s still a “progressive” state because we love gays and pot, right?)
  • A local grocery strike looks more likely.
  • An “adjunct professor” in Pittsburgh died a horrid death, without savings or health insurance. This is a facet of the status quo the Obamacare-bashing right wingers so desperately want to preserve. (Another facet: the cuts to mental health services that leave the dangerously untreated on the streets.)
  • No, Huffington Post,“Generation Y” folks don’t particularly feel “special” or “entitled.” Poverty-stricken and opportunity-deprived, yes.
  • Could “Internet workers” be subject to minimum wage laws? I sure hope so. And the same goes for other freelance and “for the exposure” workers, who are workers indeed.
  • I don’t need to view condom-free porn videos because, unlike apparently a lot of self-describing “straight” men, I’m indifferent toward the sight of other men’s parts.
  • And to help you politely refute specious “comment trolls” online and in “real” life, here’s a handy li’l Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.

ali almossawi

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