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CAN ‘AMAGEDDON’ BE PREVENTED?
Aug 16th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

bloomberg.com called amazon’s under-construction hq complex a ‘geek zone, cursed by dullness’ (sean airhart/nbbj via bloomberg)

A few months back, I gave a presentation to a group of retired teachers about my 2006 book Vanishing Seattle.

At the talk, I mentioned how, at the time the book came out, the city seemed to be losing its most beloved people, places, and things at a rapid rate.

These disappearances have only accelerated since then. (Most recently, the Harvard Exit on Capitol Hill, one of the city’s pioneer “art house” cinemas, which closed forever following this year’s SIFF.)

Everywhere you look, funky old buildings are giving way to enormous new buildings.

And it’s all to be blamed, if you believe some wags, on a company that’s more interested in incessant growth than in such business-world niceties as, you know, actually turning a profit.

Late last year, Jeff Reifman posted an essay on GeekWire.com claiming everything we now know and/or love about Seattle could quickly become lost to what he calls “Amageddon,” the total takeover of the city by Amazon.com’s self-styled “code ninjas.” Reifman warns that, unless Amazon’s corporate culture (or its rampant growth in town) is stemmed, the result could be “an unaffordable, traffic-filled metropolis dominated by white males and devoid of independent culture.”

Reifman claims there are three things Amazon could do (other than crashing in a WaMu-like stock bubble) to become a better corporate citizen. It could “advocate for an appropriate tax system in Seattle and Washington state,” commit to hiring more women and minorities, and support programs to help “lower income, lower skilled Seattleites” stay in the city.

But those moves, as noble (and unlikely) as they are, would not change the trend of Amazon (and many smaller dotcoms) importing waves of hyper-aggressive “brogrammers” from out of state, with no knowledge of or affinity toward Seattle’s heritage, only to replace them after an average of one or two years.

(The NYT recently described Amazon as “a bruising workplace,” where “code ninja” programmers are worked into the ground, maternity and illness are treated as treason to the corporate cause, and a hyper-aggressive atmosphere makes it nearly impossible for women to advance.) (A high-ranking Amazonian wrote a long rebuttal to the NYT piece at GeekWire.)

No, what we need is a training program. A crash course in why this city, this place, is something to be celebrated, cherished, nurtured. To encourage our newer citizens to care about more than just their own narrow cliques and their own material existences.

With enough people taking a more active part toward making things here better, we can still be the city that rose from challenge after challenge.

A city that respects its heritage, in its highest and lowest aspects.

A city that could create great things.

Whose engineers and deal-makers brought about the Jet Age, and later “de-fragmented” the chaotic early home-computer business.

Whose progeny have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of art, music, and performance.

A city that’s constantly remade itself; that moved mountains (well, hills), raised streets, lowered lakes, created islands, and planted parks in the most improbable spots.

A city that pioneered in public power (City Light) and public health care (Group Health).

A city that can both love and laugh at itself, creating great comedians and cartoonists along the way.

A city that comes together, not apart, in moments of sadness (the public rallies after 9/11) and sweet triumph (the first day of gay weddings at City Hall).

A city that always took pride in its buildings and other structures, whether sublime (the Olympic Hotel), playful (the Hat n’ Boots), tasteful (the many Craftsman bungalows), or both spectacular AND populist (the Central Library).

Indeed, the library building is a great example of Seattle at its best. Yes, the building qualifies for that hoary overused expression, “world class.” But it’s also a place that simply works. It invites everyone to relax, read, listen, and learn.

It’s a building that’s more than “world class.” It’s Seattle class.

And it’s what we need more of.

Not just in our buildings and construction projects, but in our people, our attitudes, our ambitions.

More than half a century ago, the Century 21 Exposition depicted a Seattle on the move toward a great tomorrow.

Our real life Century 21 might never have flying cars; but it can still become an age built on wonder, optimism, high art, low kitsch, and shared joys.

Reifman has since gone beyond merely complaining about the Big A.

He and artist Kali Snowden have just started a site called Flee the Jungle.

It’s got short essays reiterating Reifman’s complaints about the company, and about its actions (or lack of same) as a local corporate citizen:

“…Amazon’s run by a wealthy libertarian who’s shown only modest concern for his home community as his company’s growth has dramatically impacted the city—good in some ways, but largely problematically in many…”

And it has dozens of links to other e-commerce sites, in many of the umpteen product and service categories in which Amazon’s now involved.

The thing about “disruptive” companies is that someone else can always come along to disrupt them.

To date, Amazon’s been able to crush (or at least hold its own against) the competition in all these lines on its sheer size and muscle, and on its ability to operate unprofitably thanks to loyal shareholders.

But none of those advantages are necessarily permanent or exclusive.

Is there an endgame to all this?

Of course there is.

As I always say, things that are hot now just don’t keep getting even hotter forever. (Except, perhaps, actual climate-related hotness.)

Financial/accounting exec John Spaid, writing at GeekWire, believes Amazon will eventually have to change itself to become profitable, and that those changes will likely include lotsa layoffs in Seattle.

And when that happens, a lot of locals (merchants, landowners, homeowners, etc.) will get burned.

(Cross-posed with City Living Seattle.)

GENTRIFYING THE ‘STREET’
Aug 13th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

sesame street fever

Since this entry is all about a program that’s all about “learning,” let’s start with the facts.

Starting this next season, and for at least the next five years, new episodes of Sesame Street will appear first on HBO and its online streaming service, along with selected old episodes.

Street reruns will still appear on PBS, in hour and half-hour formats. After a nine-month HBO exclusive “window,” the new episodes will appear on PBS also.

Up to this point, Sesame Workshop (née Children’s Television Workshop), the indie nonprofit that’s made the show these 46 years, has relied on two main streams of funding:

  1. The same corporate donations and government grants upon which all PBS shows rely; and
  2. its own licensed merchandising, DVD/record sales, etc.

With the industrywide collapse of CD/DVD sales, the latter has been a less reliable source of money.

And with more PBS Kids shows on the daily schedule vying for the same corporate/government bucks, the former has also been less lucrative.

As production money got harder to get, the Street got fewer and fewer episodes every season. But with HBO’s money, the show will produce 35 episodes next season, up from 18 the year before. (In its early days, the show produced 130 hours a year.)

At the network’s 1970 launch, Sesame Street was essentially PBS’s first hit. It was one of three series (the others were Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The French Chef) that continued on from PBS’s even more-underfunded predecessor, NET (National Educational Television).

It’s not hard to say there would have been no Nova, no Frontline, no Masterpiece Theatre without the Street’s initial popularity, drawing audiences to the previously little-watched local “educational” channels.

While its ratings, its episode orders, and its merch sales have shrank in recent years, it remains the third longest running “scripted” show on American TV. (Only General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, among currently in-production shows, have lasted longer.)

You can now make up your own “Sesame Street on HBO” joke here. Many already have. About Carrie Bradshaw and the gang turning Bert and Ernie’s tenement into a ritzy condo; or about Elmo facing a Game of Thrones surprise slaying; or about Big Bird and Oscar as Tony Soprano’s newest henchmen.

Just remember that, along with the “naughty” sitcoms and the “artistic violence” dramas, HBO’s also the channel that gave you Fairie Tale Theatre, Little Lulu, and Fraggle Rock (another Jim Henson co-creation).

But without the Street having its exclusive home on the nonprofit network, what will PBS’s defenders invoke when the Republicans next threaten to cut off its (relatively paltry and very incomplete) federal funding?

Time says HBO pursued the Street because it really wanted to get more young viewers hooked on its on-demand and streaming platforms.

Jessica Winter at Slate says the move symbolizes “the ultra-efficient sorting process of socioeconomic privilege,” and compares it to the drastic cuts faced by Head Start and other pre-K programs for non-rich kids.

THE LAST GRIST FOR JON STEWART’S MILL
Aug 6th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

you wrote it you watch it

I still remember Jon Stewart as the host of a consistently unfunny MTV sketch show called You Wrote It, You Watch It. He was the only memorable part of that unmemorable endeavor.

Then he had a regular ol’ talk show with a monologue and musical guests and all; first on MTV and then in syndication.

Then he took over an existing comedy-talk franchise from Craig Kilborn on a cable channel that, at the time, you couldn’t get here.

The first piece I heard from Stewart’s Daily Show was a bit replayed on KJR sports radio. He introduced a clip from the GOP rebuttal to one of Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speeches, delivered by athlete-turned-politician Steve Largent.

Largent began by telling his own rise-to-fame story, noting how “I lived out every boy’s dream, to play professional football… for the Seattle Seahawks.”

Stewart jumped in: “It’s really every boy’s dream to play professional football for any team OTHER THAN the Seattle Seahawks.” (The Seahawks, just a few years after almost moving to Anaheim, were decidedly not the powerhouse they became.)

I knew then I would like Stewart, and have continued to do so.

Even when he was injecting humor into really icky news events (of which we’ve had a lot) and other TV channels’ lame coverage of those events (of which we’ve had a HELL of a lot).

Surveys listed Stewart as some people’s primary “news source.” Here’s one reason why:

There came to be a lot of “funny fake news” out there—in print (for a while), on TV, and especially online.

But Stewart didn’t run totally-fabricated stories with halfway plausible “clickbait” headlines.

He and his rotating sidekicks (“correspondents”) repeated the facts of a story (or whatever other channels claimed were the facts), and only then joked it up about them, in ways ranging from the joyously juvenile to the deadly serious.

Along the way, he always appealed to his audience’s image of itself as the only people who “really knew things,” as above all the hype and manipulation. (Which, of course, is exactly what Stewart’s nemeses at Fox News encourage their own audience to believe about itself.)

If there were any surveys about “the most popular TV show among people who pompously refuse to own TVs,” Stewart’s show would have topped them. (And they still could, with multiple online ways to see the show.)

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.

HEY BABY, IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY!
Jul 3rd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Deja Vu Showgirls with American flag LED sign

The ol’ U.S. of A. sees b-day #239 embroiled by many disagreements. Among the biggest are disputes about race-hate, severe economic inequality, the subversion of democracy by big money, and the perilous future of life on Earth.

The nation stands at a crossroads.

As it always has.

Issues of equality, class, race, and the best long-term use of land and other resources have been with us from the start. We are a nation born of contradictory ideas; ever since it all started with a colonial secession by business men and slave holders publicized as a freedom-centric “revolution.”

Disputes between What’s Right and What’s Profitable have traditionally torn this nation—much more than disputes between different definitions of What’s Right ever did.

Even battles that superficially seem to be the latter usually turn out to be the former.

You undoubtedly know about assorted “family values crusades,” fanned by politicians who really only care about billionaire campaign contributors.

But a similar, if more complicated, syndrome occurs on the allegedly “progressive” side of the political spectrum.

By belittling and stereotyping white working-class people as “hicks,” “rednecks,” and racists, certain elements on the left have helped to enable the Democratic Party’s embrace of Wall Street and other elites, while ignoring for practical purposes the hollowing-out of middle class jobs.

(For a more detailed riff on an aspect of particular contradiction, check out Greta Christina’s essay at RawStory on the fallacy of claiming to be “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” Christina avows that no matter how much you like legal pot and gay marriage, you’re only a real liberal if you fight against economic and class injustice.)

As I wrote here many years ago, I have a basic definition of liberalism: the belief that Money Isn’t Everything. We have to take care of our people and our planet, not just our bottom lines.

To that, I’ll add a latter-day addendum:

Money may not be Everything, but it’s still Something. Something more people should have more of, instead of a privileged few hogging most of it.

Fortunately, the biggest thing that’s Right With America is our ability to discuss, and even fix, what’s Wrong With America.

THOSE ENDEARING YOUNG CHARMS, REVISITED
Jun 25th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

jones 3 bullseye

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve been doing this past 10 months when I mostly haven’t been blogging.

They include what one might call Internet research rabbit holes, obsessions with obscure corners of pop-culture arcana.

One of these obsessions is a “rabbit hole” in more ways than one.

It starts with something everybody knows, even if it hasn’t been at the pop-cult forefront in recent years.

Warner Bros.’ classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons haven’t been on broadcast TV in years. The one basic cable channel they’ve been on, Cartoon Network, had lately only shown them on weekday mornings, and only when that time slot wasn’t being used to rerun some Tom & Jerry or Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie. CN’s not showing them at all now. You have to pay extra for CN’s premium-tier channel Boomerang to see these timeless classics.

Even worse for longtime fans, no LT/MM shorts have been issued on DVD (aside from reissues) since late last year. With the industry-wide collapse of disc sales, Warner Home Video has put any future digital remasters of old cartoons on hold.

The prolific WB cartoon studio made some 1,005 “classic” theatrical shorts over 40 years. Approximately 450 of them have yet to be digitally restored. A lot of those look really dingy in the old TV prints seen online.

Oh yeah: Almost all the LT/MM shorts can be found in unofficial online uploads. WB has gotten some of them removed from YouTube, but they just pop up on more obscure sites. (WB could put them up officially, and get whatever ad revenue there is to get, but mostly hasn’t.)

While I was on my last extended “blog vacation” earlier this year, I set out to watch every darned one of the not-on-DVD Warner cartoons. About half of them feature the studio’s “A list” characters (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc.). Some of them (in the uploaded versions from old TV prints) look good enough to go on disc as is. Others look dingy, faded, and lo-res.

To keep the LT/MM “franchise” (and its lucrative merchandising) alive, WB needs to (at least) make new digital transfers of these not-on-DVD shorts, from the best existing film materials. This would make the films more viable in today’s hi-def era, for release on broadcast, cable, on-demand, streaming, and download “platforms,” as well as on disc. Perhaps some of the less “commercial” entries (the ones with minor or one-shot characters) could receive less of the labor-intensive digital retouching that was used for the DVD releases.

At the same time as I was re-viewing all those films, I also started to research the music used in them.

The studio’s great music directors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, incorporated more than 500 pre-existing compositions into their cartoon scores. They ranged from classical and folk pieces, to contemporary hits and songs from Warner feature films, to obscurities that had originally been published as sheet music for silent-music accompanists.

With the aid of several existing online lists of the “sampled” compositions, I put together a YouTube playlist of most of them. It’s currently up to 434 entries. They’re all records or film clips of the original tunes—not the cartoon excerpts of them.

If you know them only from the cartoon versions (and you probably do), you’re in for a few surprises:

  • “Hello Ma Baby,” the first frog-sung tune in One Froggy Evening, was originally a novelty song about a man in love with a woman he knows only as a voice on that then-new gadget, the telephone.
  • “Those Endearing Young Charms,” used in the oft-repeated “exploding xylophone” gag, was originally a sorrowful ballad about a man promising his wife he’ll still love her in sickness and old age.

jones 2 mural and guitar cyclone

Warner might be mismanaging one of its most valuable assets; but other parties remain determined to keep the cartoons in the public eye.

They include the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, founded by the Spokane boy who became the most famous of the studio’s several cartoon directors.

The Jones Center and the Jones heirs, along with the Smithsonian’s “touring exhibits” division, created What’s Up, Doc?: The Animated Art of Chuck Jones. It’s now at the EMP Museum in Seattle.

It’s got dozens of original art pieces and artifacts from Jones’s Warner, MGM, and indie films.

It’s got one of his most famous works, What’s Opera, Doc?, playing continuously (it never gets tiresome); plus a mysterious minute and a half of music recorded for “unproduced scenes” in that classic. (Wonder what they would have been?)

It’s got excerpts from several other Jones films (and one Tex Avery WB short, the defining Bugs Bunny film A Wild Hare), on flat-screen monitors around the exhibit space.

It’s got a few spots where you can take photos of one another alongside life-size cartoon props, such as under a “precariously” suspended prop anvil. (Photography’s forbidden in the rest of the exhibit.)

It’s got meticulous explanations and documentation about the now-threatened art of 2D animation.

And it’s got plenty of words, pictures, and video footage about Jones (1912-2002).

Besides hundreds of one-reel films for theaters, Jones also worked on TV specials, instructional films, and a couple of animated features (Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth).

At Warner he created his own characters (the Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe le Pew) and developed characters created by or with other directors (Bugs, Daffy, Sylvester).

Later, he adapted works by Dr. Seuss, Walt (Pogo) Kelly, Rudyard Kipling, and his former Warner colleague Frank Tashlin, adjusting all of their individual artistic visions to his own.

Thematically, Jones’ films ranged from Disney-esque sentiment to violent slapstick and back again. Stylistically, they ranged from slick “realism” to almost pure abstraction (and, in his version of Norman Juster’s story The Dot and the Line, total abstraction).

And while many animators were/are soft spoken and shy creatures, Jones was an inveterate and articulate self-promoter. He made books and documentaries about his works. He gave many interviews to animation historians, sometimes embellished for entertainment’s sake.

And with the exhibit, his take on “the art of animation” has an immersible, walk-through incarnation. Viewers get to enjoy the finished films, and to learn in grit-detail about each of the many components that went into them.

Can this help revive interest in “analog” animation?

And, just as importantly, can it help rescue the classic WB shorts from extra-tier-cable-channel purgatory?

CAN THIS MAGAZINE BE SAVED? ALAS, NOT.
Apr 29th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

aboutfacts.net

The publication that first coined the phrase “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” (initially referring to women’s spending power, as a lure to advertisers) is calling it quits.

The Ladies’ Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper, as it was known back in 1886, was founded by Philadelphia newspaper publisher Cyrus Curtis, and originally edited by his wife Louisa Knapp Curtis. It was run for three decades by the Curtises’ son-in-law Edward Bok, one of the inventors of the modern magazine industry. (Some old timers might have heard of the Curtis/Bok family’s other big magazine, The Saturday Evening Post.)

The Journal was a pioneer in the business model of cheap subscriptions subsidized by advertising, and thrived on it for many years. At the end it still had more than 3.2 million buyers (down from 6.8 million in 1968); but ad revenue had collapsed, as it has for so many print ventures. The name will now appear on occasional “newsstand special” editions, essentially to keep the trademark alive.

(The above image links to a review of a 1900 article in which the Journal predicted American life in the far-off year 2000. The article was a lot closer to what really happened than you might think.)

FIVE YEARS AFTER
Mar 17th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

Classic P-I building from my book 'seattle's belltown;' museum of history and industry collection

I left the Missy James post up as this blog’s top item for a month, both to remember her and because I’ve been laser focused on finding paying work.

But it’s time for me to get back to the “writing” thang.

And there’s no more appropriate day to do so than on the fifth anniversary of the last printed Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The city lost a huge chunk of its soul and its collective memory when the Hearst Corp., awash in losses here and in its other print-media operations, pulled the plug on our town’s “second” yet superior daily paper.

There’s been a P-I sized hole in the local media-scape ever since.

Yeah, we’ve got the Seattle Times, albeit a shrunken one (though it’s apparently stopped shrinking any further, at least for now).

We’ve got the StrangerSeattle Weekly, CrosscutPublicola, and SportsPress NW.

We’ve got four local TV news stations (plus NorthWest Cable News), four local radio news stations, and all their respective websites.

We’ve got Seattle magazine, Seattle Met, and CityArts.

We’ve got the Daily Journal of Commerce, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and assorted tech-biz news sites.

We’ve got Horse’sAssSeattlishThe Seattle Star, and dozens of other (mostly volunteer-run) blogs covering local politics, sports, and arts.

And, oh yeah, we’ve got SeattlePI.com.

It’s still run by Hearst. It still has Joel Connelly’s acerbic political commentary, Josh Trujillo’s dramatic photojournalism, and the occasional excellent news story.

But its staff has shrunk to 14 reporters, photographers, and “producers,” down from the 20 it had at its stand-alone start in ’09. That, in turn, was a small fraction of the team the print P-I had.

That’s still a full-time payroll comparable to that of any newsroom in town, except those of the Times and the TV stations.

But it’s stretched thin by the requirement to post dozens of “click bait” and “listicle” stories every day.

Hearst is running PI.com according to the 2009 rules of a “content” web business.

Those rules, which nationally gave us the likes of BuzzFeed and Elite Daily, have proven profitable only among the most sensationalistic and most cheaply run operations that feed either on gossip, noise, or national niche audiences.

It’s no way to run a local general-news operation.

And it’s no way to pay for professional local journalism on a sustainable basis.

But neither Hearst nor any of America’s other old-media giants has figured out a better way.

So it’s become the job of us “street level” bloggers to find new rules, new concepts, to forge a new path beyond the ugly web pages stuff with worthless banner ads. To create the New-New News.

My personal bottom line:

I want a local news organization, staffed by folks who know what they’re doing and who are paid living wages.

I want it to attract an audience at least as loyal (and as willing to help support it) as KUOW’s audience.

I want it to be the first place this audience looks to to learn what’s been going on around here, in the last day or the last hour.

I want it to reach out across subcultures and social strata.

I have collected a few ideas in this regard, a few potential pieces of this puzzle.

And I’d love to hear some of yours.

I WANT TO BE A PART OF IT, EAST RUTH-ER-FORD…
Jan 20th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

(The title of this post continues with the Sinatra-esque title treatment of the previous post.)

The Seahawks are off to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history. Just like the last time, you can expect all the national media to be against us. It’s going to be all “THE GREAT LEGENDARY PEYTON MANNING and some other team.”

Or that’s how it was going to be, until certain online commentators found a hate object.

Yeah, Richard Sherman is loud.

Yeah, he talked like a trash-talking wrestler during his impromptu sideline interview just after the game.

No, he was not, and is not, a “goon” or a “thug.” (He’s really a thoughtful young man who gives generously to charity.)

And no, his remarks do not justify idiotic racist bigotry.

The game’s striking ending, in which Sherman’s tip-away of a touchdown pass preserved the Seahawks’ lead with less than half a minute to go, was the climax of a huge day that capped a huge season.

It had been a day of high hopes and high fears.

The 2013-14 Seahawks had united this region in ways I didn’t think possible. Even some sports-hating hippies got into the fever.

The pregame festivities outside the stadium were a glorious cacophony of enthusiasm, pride, joy, and (yes) love.

And, yeah, maybe a little bit of bragging. Like when a lot of us noticed that one of the two Pioneer Square bars taken over by 49er fans was the New Orleans—namesake of the Seahawks’ previous playoff conquest.

(The “pegging” in the above photo was only with small water balloons, and was a school fundraiser, though they never said for which school.)

A nice lady gave me this cupcake decorated with Skittles (a product of Mars, originally founded in Tacoma), and a plastic kid-size Seahawks helmet ring.


Eventually, though, it came time to gather inside the stadium, to private parties, or to bars (such as Safeco Field’s “The ‘Pen”; yes, the Mariners learned to make a few bucks from a neighbor team’s success). I dutifully found myself back in Belltown, cheering on the team with about 40 other rabid fans.

And, as you undoubtedly know by now, it was a knuckle biter of an experience.

Our boys were down (but not by much) the entire first half, broken by a short-lived tie in the third quarter. They only took the lead early in the fourth quarter, and held precariously to that lead until Sherman’s final pass deflection.

The whole bar I was at became noisy as hell after that, and remained that way for a good half hour afterward.

Then the party spilled into the streets, with revelers driving and marching up First Avenue from the stadium. Revelry continued well into the night.

Something tells me the Super Bowl itself (which will occur in East Rutherford NJ, despite what the promo ads may say), even when we win it, might feel anticlimactic in comparison.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/15/14
Jan 14th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

funhousedocumentary.com

  • Some folks have made a documentary about the Funhouse, that greatly-missed bastion of DIY loud n’ live music. It should screen some time this spring.
  • Buried in a list of various cineastes’ top 10s of ’13 is the announcement that SIFF will indeed return to the now-shuttered Egyptian Theater for this year’s festival, and is working to reopen the festival’s traditional “home base” for year-round screenings.
  • Norman Durkee, 1949-2014: Teatro ZinZanni’s original music director was a musical polymath. He produced early punk 45s, put out TV-advertised new age piano LPs, worked on stage musicals and dance performances, and performed recitals of jazz and modern classical tuneage.
  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was seen in an online video clip with local pompous homophobic/sexist pastor Mark Driscoll. This does not mean Wilson necessarily endorses anything Driscoll says.
  • King County will move forward with Plan C (at least) to save Metro Transit from drastic cuts, declining to wait for the professional Seattle-haters in the State Senate to become sane.
  • Meanwhile, in state-politician-friendly transportation (i.e. cars and roads only), the Waterfront tunnel project has a lot more problems than just a steel pipe in the way.
  • The long-delayed Tacoma Amtrak station now, thankfully, won’t replace half of the Freighthouse Square mini-mall.
  • Finally, a practical use for those “tiny houses” you sometimes see pictures of, cute micro-cottages usually depicted surrounded by pristine countryside with no humans or other buildings in sight. In Olympia, 30 of them are being used as transitional units for the previously homeless.
  • Misadventures in Clickbait Dept.: Two companies supply most of those often-silly “Around the Web” or “Recommended for You” link boxes on otherwise “serious” news sites.
  • Is “Net Neutrality” (the policy that service providers can’t give preferential speed/access treatment to certain websites) really “dead”? No. The FCC simply has to rewrite its rules around the technicalities of a court decision.
  • Fox News anonymously created its own pro-Fox News blog. Yes, it’s hilarious and chock full O’ stereotypes.
WHAT’S HIGHER AND LOWER IN TWENTY ONE FO-UR
Jan 4th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

For the 28th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most venerable (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known solar systems. As always, this is a prediction of what will become hot and not-so-hot in the coming year, not necessarily what’s hot and not-so-hot now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some BlackBerry stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
Da Vinci’s Inquest Da Vinci’s Demons
Lorde Lard
Mead Gin
Tapatio Sriracha
“Fewer” “Less”
WordPress Flash
CBS This Morning 60 Minutes
Alex Trebek retirement Jay Leno retirement
Baltimore Miami
“Relevant” “Viral”
Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) Kristen Stewart
Kacey Musgraves Brad Paisley
Formica Granite
Plum Silver frost
Oscar Isaac Johnny Depp
Mini-tacos Chicken wings
Fly Moon Royalty Robin Thicke
Saving Scarecrow Video Saving the Seattle Times
DailyKos.com Upworthy.com
Bare midriffs “Designer grunge” revival
Voting-rights defenders White people who claim “racism is over”
Elizabeth Warren “Politics by hashtag”
Venice Paris
Burien Bainbridge
Worker rights Working for “the exposure”
End of movies shown on film End of incandescent light bulbs
Games for all ages/sexes/races Macho-asshole “gamer culture”
“You better WORK!” “Because (noun)”
Erin Morgenstern Charlaine Harris
Raising the minimum wage Cutting corporate taxes
NHL in Seattle NBA back in Seattle
Binge viewing Crash dieting
Bolt Bus Airline mergers
Single-payer HMOs
Seahawks 49ers
Girls (still) Dads
Misfits Kardashians
Lovers “Winners”
“-esque” “-ski”
CONFESSIONS OF A DECATUR CANNONBALL
Jan 3rd, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

  • What early Seattle lumber baron was accused in 1876 of embezzling funds intended for “the Grand Lottery of Washington?”
  • Reached in 1950, what is the record for the lowest temperature recorded in Seattle?
  • Where was the second Starbucks located?
  • What is Macklemore’s real name?

If you know the answers to some or all of these questions, then you stand a fighting chance at MOHAI Trivia.

This monthly “pub trivia” competition began in April 2012, as a way to help promote the Museum of History and Industry’s pending reopening in south Lake Union. It began at the Wurst Place restaurant/tavern on Westlake, near the old Naval Reserve armory where MOHAI moved that December.

It’s now has also branched out to other bars around town, where volunteer quizmasters offer “MOHAI rounds” as part of those locations’ weekly trivia contests.

But the monthly flagship event is still held at the Wurst Place (except during summer breaks).

And, since its inception, it has been dominated by one team of obscure-knowledge buffs.

Which happens to be the team I’m on.

The Decatur Cannonballs were organized by Jeff Long, a rare book dealer and a longtime Seattle history maven. The other members, all founts of obscure knowledge, are Long’s longtime friends Chris Middleton, Brian Doan, Bill Sandell, and Randall Fehr.

The team is named after a U.S. Navy “sloop of war” whose artillery fire helped end the Battle of Seattle, a one-day uprising by local native Americans against the new white settlement in 1856.

(On nights when some members were unable to attend, the remaining team members have used the alternate name Denny Hillbillies, after the hill that was leveled to create today’s Belltown.)

The Cannonballs won all of the first 11 MOHAI Trivia events. Sometimes they won handily; sometimes by a mere half point. Once, a tiebreaker question was needed to put them on top.

They aced “name the local building” photo questions, questions based on audio clips from movies filmed in Seattle, the origins of local place names, old political scandals, local celebrities, historic events, and sports teams. They beat as many as ten other teams on any given night.

Finally, in November of this year, a team arose to challenge the Cannonballs.

And two categories were found that stumped the Cannonballs. They were local hip hop and local Olympic athletes—both vital aspect of our recent cultural scene but both topics about which these 50ish Caucasian dudes were relatively ignorant.

That night the Cannonballs finally lost.

The previously undefeated champs took it all in stride.

After all, constant triumph without at least a few setbacks just isn’t the Seattle way.

Then the Cannonballs promptly won again in December.

MOHAI Trivia at the Wurst Place (510 Westlake Ave. N.) occurs the first Tuesday evening of every month, including Jan. 7. Neighborhood MOHAI Trivia events will resume in the new year following a holiday hiatus; check MOHAI.org for dates and locations.

(ANSWERS: Henry Yesler; zero; University Village; Ben Haggerty.)

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/4/13
Sep 3rd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

satoshi kon's 'paprika' (2006); via film.com

  • The following are not among Film.com’s list of the all-time “Ten Most Beautiful Animated Films”: My Little Pony: The Movie, Bebe’s Kids, The Croods, Wreck-It Ralph, Gnomeo and Juliet.
  • Microsoft buys Nokia’s cell-phone business: Is it really the end of MS as predominantly a software company? Is it the end of software as a stand alone industry?  Nah. Code shall always be needed, as will be upgrades and bug fixes and adaptations to said code. What it’s the end of is MS relying on outside hardware vendors (aka PC manufacturers), a marriage of convenience that left the hardware companies racing to the proverbial price-point “bottom” (and to overseas subcontractors).
  • Nicklesville breaks camp and breaks up, to relocate three far-flung new sites.
  • For infotainment at its most baffling, it’s hard to top “Strange Bloomberg Headlines.”
  • Not even the song of Mothra‘s miniature princesses can save Japanese rubber-suit monsters from the onslaught of computer graphics.
  • Big Freedia, the “Queen of Bounce,” says Miley Cyrus doesn’t know how to “twerk” properly.
  • There’s no shortage of tech grads coming out of U.S. colleges. There are, however, scads of U.S. tech companies eager to legally bring in as many low-paid immigrant techies as they can.
  • In news that comes as shocking to almost nobody, corporate pop stars and actors willingly perform for free (plus expenses) at Walmart shareholder meetings.
  • Kim Messick at Salon explains, in terms of history and demographics, specifically “How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind.”
  • Music history note: The legendary kitsch cover art for Devo’s debut LP, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!, came from a merchandise display with golf star Chi Chi Rodriguez.

clubdevo.com

BALLMER IN GILEAD
Aug 29th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

ballmer at we day in keyarena, 3/27/13

In its 36-plus years of existence, Microsoft has had only two CEOs.

But no longer.

Steve Ballmer’s calling it quits, effective some time next year.

Fret not for the big guy with the big voice and the big body language. He’ll get a retirement-severance package bigger than the economies of several Third World states.

It’s what will happen to the empire of code and copyrights in Redmond (with tendrils worldwide) that’s at stake.

As all good schoolchilden know, Microsoft began in the primordial-ooze era of pre-personal computers, when tiny startup companies made build-it-youself electronics kits which, when assembled, could perform some of the functions of “real” computers (except, you know, for the function of performing real, practical work).

Bill Gates and Paul Allen made a stripped-down version of the BASIC programming language; then (more importantly) they established the notion that software should be paid for. They backed up this concept with copyrights and patents and lawyers.

With Ballmer at their side, Gates and Allen bought an operating system, re-sold it to IBM, and kept the right to also sell versions of it to other computer makers. MS would let hardware makers battle it out among themselves while it controlled the “platform” their products all ran.

This led to the DOS near-monopoly, which segued into the Windows near-monopoly.

It also led to Office and Internet Explorer.

It led to SQL Server, and to other high-end business software and related services.

Most everything Microsoft makes money from can be traced directly back to its early DOS-era dominance.

The company’s tried to get into other things. But those other things have had mixed results.

Remember MSN.com’s “online shows” concept? (The last survivor of those sites, Slate, is now among the Washington Post Co. properties not being sold to Jeff Bezos.)

Remember WebTV, HD-DVD, Mediaroom, Bob, Clippy, Hotmail, Actimates toys, the Encarta CD-ROM encyclopedia, Sidewalk.com, and Zune?

It’s probably easier to remember the Surface RT tablet device, the one the company recently wrote off to the tune of $900 million.

The company’s most successful new consumer-product line, the XBox game platform, is built (at least marketing-wise) on Windows’ gaming clientele. And even this realm has had its duds (XBox One, anyone?).

The jury’s still out on Windows Phone. Is there room for a third smartphone platform?

Microsoft could afford all these failures. Yes, even the Surface RT.

It could afford to keep an unsuccessful project going long enough to learn every little thing about why it failed.

And it could keep a successful project going long enough to watch its trajectory as the times, and the industry, pass it by.

So: Is today’s tech-universe passing Microsoft by?

Some analysts and pundits are making that claim.

They say the age one-size-fits-all personal computer has peaked.

There aren’t enough reasons for people or companies to keep replacing them as fast as they used to.

Especially with tablets and smart phones, and their hordes of specialty-function “apps” that make everything-for-everybody software like Office seem like lumbering beasts of prey.

So what should the next MS-boss do?

For one thing, he or she (and how come no women have been named as potentials?) could dump the notorious employee “stack ranking” system, that causes percentages of workers in each unit to be labeled as inferior no matter what. It’s horrid for morale and for productivity, and does nothing to improve products or services. If Ballmer really deserves to be called the “worst CEO ever” (he’s not, not by a long shot), it would be over this.

Next: Windows and Office still have many lucrative years left in them. That means there’ll be enough cash on hand to re-steer the company.

But to steer it where?

I say, away from Windows as the “one ring to rule them all.”

Even before phones and tablets, Windows had become an unwieldy thing, needing to perform the same functions (or at least most of them) on umpteen different hardware architectures, from sub-laptops to server arrays; for use by everyone from sophomores and shopkeepers to hospitals and factories.

Word and Excel have similarly undergone years of mounting “feature bloat,” hindering their everyday use at all but the most complex tasks. (Both are also based on a printed-page visual metaphor that’s increasingly obsolete as more people do everything on screens.)

What people increasingly need are simple ways to do specific things (preparing specific kinds of texts or crunching specific kinds of numbers, say), and to bounce the resulting documents around between different machines (their own and other people’s).

Think modular.

Think “apps,” to use the modern parlance.

The New MS could supply a basic ecosystem for modular software, which could be supplemented by developers large and small working in file formats (but not underlying code structures) compatible across different devices running different OSes in different screen sizes.

There’s plenty of space in that for all kinds of software puzzle pieces and building blocks. And for developers and template-scripters to build them.

And there’s no reason (other than entrenched corporate culture) why a lot of those builders couldn’t be at Microsoft.

Think even more “micro,” even more “soft.”

RANDOM LINKS FOR 8/12/13
Aug 11th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

messynessychic.com

  • Be unique enough and intriguing enough and eventually you, too, could become a “meme.” Such is the case with Hilda, a “zaftig” novelty pinup character created by illustrator Duane Bryers and the topic of an online rediscovery.
  • It only produced 33 total episodes over less than three years. Very few people saw them. But the legend of Heart Attack Theater, Kelly Hughes’ local cable-access anthology drama, just keeps growing.
  • Waterfront tunnel construction has already disrupted rats’ homes, leading some to fear a coming “Ratpocalypse!”
  • Capitol Hill’s “only vegan dive bar, music and Cakeroke venue” won’t have the “vegan” part anymore (or any food service for that matter).
  • An indie, vinyl-centric record label just died after less than a year in business.
  • Teabagger bigots still find new lows in sociopathy to which to descend. The latest fad: shaming disabled people as alleged “parasites” on the public dole.
  • Women are now almost half of all video game players. Expect the gaming industry to give up its sexist-geek ways, oh, maybe one of these decades.
  • Yahoo will have a new logo. But it’s teasing its online audiences by presenting a different fake logo every day for a month. I’m sure the final one, once revealed, will suck as much as the temp ones do.
  • It’s one of the worst things with which a “progressive” commentator can be charged these days, but a former interviewee has accused Lawrence O’Donnell of “mansplaining.”
  • Two Yale law profs believe “the Internet can save journalism,” by placing voluntary donation buttons at the bottom of article pages. The money would go to some nonprofit endowment fund.
  • Note to would-be “mile high club” initiates: when having sex on a plane, try to be discreet about it, not like the Oregon couple who, er, interfaced in full view of other passengers.
  • Finally, MISCmedia is dedicated today to the memory of Karen Black, Eydie Gormé, Eileen Brennan, and Haji. (Let’s not lose any more goddesses soon; we need all of those we can have.)
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