Saturday, June 30, 2012


Beyond a tourist destination I actually buy stuff from Pike.  Weird huh?

Another Kerry Park Shot

Seattle at night.

People standing still

These statues are at Westlake Plaza.  They are really cool.  Go check 'em out.

The Hara kids are so hot right now

The three Hara kids--models.

O cuddles with a statue

Natalie photo bombs.

Nat photobombs again

Nat and O Visit

A nice picture from Kerry Park

Ridin' the monorail.

O parts the red sea-like sculptures

Kitten Inspired by...

Arya is her name.

She really likes the blanket that Ciera knitted.

Being a kitten is hard work.

It's hard work.  Really.

Yeah, meme it up.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ten Fingers: The Super Rich 3/3

So I’ll ask again, where is the money? Much of the money is now privately held by people who have no intention of spending it on jobs. A rich person just can’t buy things for no reason—a couple million big macs anyone. And despite some of the uber-rich trying really hard to burn through their money (presidential campaigns, expensive toupees, monogrammed jets) they just can’t spend like households who have a need for that cash can. And there is a demonstrated need. Eventually 60% of all Americans will at some point need some extra cash. And that doesn’t include how much we could all use a raise for our increased work hours since 1979. Or how about closing the gender wage gap?

Nope, the amply monied continue to amass large sums of cash while bequeathing a bare minimum to the majority of Americans. Let me put it this way; billionaire Sheldon Adelson is willing to spend less than the tip of his pinky on the presidential campaign. For an average American that’s equivalent to 5 dollars. For him that’s $100 million. And it’s so he can keep what he already has and not spend it on creating American jobs. If we were to restore some of the taxes from 1979, Addy would have to actually put that money (in the form of taxes) toward programs that fund the military, job training, public works, police, fire, and hundreds of other common services that we all take advantage of.

It’s not that Addy can’t have his billions; it’s that they have actually come at the expense of honest hard working Americans after a point. Sure there are people hired under his purview, but at the point where the cash stops circulating he is no longer helping anyone but himself.

Put simply, if Mr. Adelson’s money were circulating in the economy, people would be making marginally more per household, but there would be much more money to circulate. As it stands, he is circulating probably less than five fingers of his money (nothing is trickling down). If that money were divided amongst average American households then nine and a half fingers would be circulating. If that money were given to the poorest Americans, then all ten fingers would circulate. If he were to give away everything but $1 billion (20,000 average American households) then that would inject $25.5 billion into the economy.

Recap. 6 fingers of Americans will drop below the poverty line in their lives and will suffer from a lack of cash. Your pinky tip owns 2 fingers of America’s wealth, double the amount in 1979. Wealthy Americans have had their taxes slashed to nearly half of what they were and do not suffer from lack of cash. Wealthy people keep one fist closed tight around their cash (at a minimum). The average American household keeps about half a pinky in savings and spends the rest in the economy.

You should care that the rich are being stingy with their cash yet continue to receive tax cuts while over half of us will at some point become so poor that we will be forced to take government assistance. You should also care that one of the presidential candidates wants to increase this disparity.

Ten Fingers: The Super Rich 2/3

Body: first, the state of affairs. Since Obama took office, there was a major government stimulus that went to private industry mostly. Things like the work I do which is contract for the government. But government all over the country has shrunk. Many departments have been whittled down to half their size or less—close five fingers. Despite some new regulations (about on par with the Bush administration), agencies now have to prioritize based on their limited resources.

So where is the money? Well, it didn’t actually start with the recession. Since 1979, the share of America’s wealth owned by the 1% (the tip of your pinky) has doubled (two fingers) to over 16% of America’s wealth. Basically, nearly two fingers end up being owned by the tip of a pinky. The rest of America? Well, they’re average wealth has decreased. The 99% now share 8 fingers.

And are the super-rich paying for this? Well no. In 1979 the ultra-mega-wealthy (.01%) paid 75% (7-8 fingers) of their income in taxes. Now they pay less than 4 fingers. That means two things: the super rich have more money to spend now than they ever did, and the super-rich aren’t creating jobs for reasons that aren’t monetary.

Look at it this way. The average American saves about 5% or a half finger of their income. Not much but better than the negative numbers they were saving pre-recession. And the average wealthy person saves over 50% of their money (five fingers). That’s a ten fold increase percentage wise. In real dollars it’s far more.

Let’s say you are just in the 1% and not in the .1% or .01%. You make about $1.2 million, or the equivalent of 24 American households—I don’t really have a way to put this on ten fingers unless you want to get exponential. The 24 households would save about $2500 each; about $60,000. As a 1%er you would save $600,000. Ten times as much. And that wouldn’t go into the economy.

All your fingers except for the tip of your pinky, spends on average 10 times more money that goes directly into the economy. It stands to reason that tax policies that benefit those who truly create jobs and keep the economy moving are the priority. Tax policies that encourage savings for people already saving money are awkward and dumb.

Ten Fingers: The Super Rich 1/3

Ten Fingers: The Super Rich and Job Creators

Intro: here in America we have a bracketed tax system. These brackets make it so that people pay for government based on what they can pay and how much that affects their overall financial security. But our tax system has skewed and politics has concealed a very stark picture.

Put up ten fingers—that’s America. One and a half fingers are below the poverty line in America—that’s 46.2 million Americans. These people understandably have an effective tax rate of 0%. Often they receive rebates and government services because of their status.

Think for a moment though, how does that affect you other than take your tax dollars? Well, if your ten fingers are America nearly 6 of them (58%) will fall below the poverty line sometime during their professional lives (between 25 and 75). So actually, it’s more like you, the reader have a 60% chance of using government services for those in poverty sometime in our adult life.

And if all your fingers are college graduates, somewhere between four and five fingers do not have gainful employment upon immediately leaving their hallowed institutions. These are highly qualified individuals that can work for depressed wages. Basically, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there.

America is full of poor people and because most of them will leave the poverty threshold after a brief stint it is realistic to assume they are willing to work.

Now, either private industry gives them jobs or the government does. If we want to kickstart the economy we need ‘job creators’ to start hiring. The Mittster would have you believe two things.

One, private industry is stifled by regulations and taxes. Job creators do not have enough free capital to hire new people. I’ll counter that neither of those points are true.

Thesis: in fact, job creators suffer from a lack of capital because the super rich have political policies that benefit the hoarding of money rather than the free flow of cash. I’ll also show that broader tax policies that encourage wealth creation across the economic spectrum are superior to ones that focus on the hyper-wealthy. And just with ten fingers (maybe more).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ten Fingers: America and Income

America Part II

So let’s get economical. Open both hands up and look at everyone in America standing together. Rich and poor all in one. Now close one hand, the open hand roughly divides the country into five economic categories or quintiles (if we want to get all professional and statistical).

Your pinky is the poorest 20% of Americans. They earn about $16,500 a year or $330 a week. To contrast put up ten fingers briefly and make each one a minute. In ten minutes Mitt Romney earns (from his investments so no actual work) $412 or the difference in size approximately between your pinky and middle fingers.

Back to the five fingers. The next 20% (ring finger) makes about double the first quintile. The middle finger makes slightly more than the median income at $52,100. The pointer finger makes $73,800. And finally the thumb makes $125,000 per year. Or seven and a half times that of the bottom quintile (7.5 fingers).

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. First, since 1979, households have added 10 work weeks (fingers) to their annual output. Productivity in America has soared. For the majority of households though, this means that their real gains (after doing all the adjustments and stuff for our ever-changing world) amount to barely a perceptible shift. For the pinky, wages per hour have actually decreased.

This doesn’t square with a simple fact of American incomes—they’ve increased dramatically. So what gives? Well, let’s look at the top 10% of Americans. Put up ten fingers; each finger is one percent of that final 10%. The first nine fingers saw a greater than average rise, but nothing too special. Although still a factor of two fingers to the middle quintile’s one--in some cases even more (three or even four).

Now we get to the famous 1%. The last finger. This finger makes over $1.2 million per year, and each year they make about 10% more than the last. In contrast, the bottom 20% took nearly 30 years to make 10% gains to their income and had to add 10 work weeks. These guys have experienced a 256% income increase since 1979 or 10 times (fingers) what the average middle-class household (the middle finger 20%) experienced. Wow. These guys get a big slice of America’s gains.

But they are nothing. Open up all your fingers again; this is now the one percent divided by ten. The last finger (.1%) makes over $7 million. Open up your hands again. This is the .1% divided by ten. The last finger (.01%) makes over $32 million. Not even Romney can keep up with those guys.

For tax purposes though, the people that make $320,000 are the same as those who make $32 million. Weird huh?

Let’s zoom out though. Put up ten fingers again and look at all of America. Now look at your last finger and lick your finger tip—that’s the 1 percent ($1.2 million). Slice off the tip after the nail (if you have short nails) and that’s the .1% ($7 million). Now draw a dot with a pen on the very tip of your finger, that’s the .01% ($32 million+).

Here’s the deal though. It didn’t have to be this way. But we’ll talk about that later. For now, all you really need to know is that the rising tide has not taken all the boats with it—many are left with less net worth than the generation before. In fact, if the tide of rising income had lifted all the boats equally between 1979 and 2006 (the year for which I have based most of this data), then 9 fingers (90% of America) would have done better overall.

For the median household that translates to nearly $13,000 extra per year or about 2.5 extra fingers.

Ten Fingers: Tour America 1

America Part 1

Open up your hands again, it’s time for another edition of Ten Fingers. This time, an orientation to America—the land of the free (as in liberty NOT money), and home of the brave (although it can refer to people other than the Atlanta baseball team).

This is America! Your fingers are amber waves of grain enjoying those beautiful and spacious skies. God Bless this place—it’s pretty cool.

Look at your left hand. Those are all the people who live within 50 miles of a coast. And your right hand is everyone who lives further away.

Ok, now six fingers. That’s how many white people there are. These fingers are steadily dwindling with over half of US births in 2010 attributed to children of minority groups. By the time I’m old the white people will likely only represent four-ish fingers.

One finger is black, one finger is Latino, and one half of a finger is Asian. The people who owned the land before us barely qualify for a tenth of a finger.

Both hands again. Make the rocking bull sign—y’know, with the two horns. Those two horns are the rural population of America. Over 80% of Americans live in cities or suburbs.

In America we enjoy our first amendment right to freedom of religion. So let’s start. One finger doesn’t identify with a religion, four fingers attend a religious service every week, and nearly six fingers pray once a week. Five fingers are Protestant; two fingers are Catholic; and half a finger is Jewish, Buddhist, or Other. Mormons—Mitt Romney and Harry Reid—account for one fifth of a finger; not bad for a religion the Army once tried to eradicate.

As for the second amendment, gun ownership is holding steady at about five fingers; contrary to popular belief there have been few, if any, regulations limiting gun ownership in the US.

As for states rights and representation, there are some interesting peculiarities. Every state gets a minimum of three representatives (two senators and one representative). Because of the way the Constitution was written, with an emphasis on states’ rights, there is the burgeoning difficulty of adequate representation in the legislature. A representative in Montana represents two fingers of people (about 977,000) as opposed to Wyoming’s one finger (about 532,000). Area is also a concern; some members represent only a fraction of a city whereas others represent an entire state like Alaska.

And that’s the first tour of America.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ten Fingers: World Orientation

We’re going to play a game today called ten fingers. I’m tired of hearing arguments back and forth about economics and tax structures and smaller government and stimulus and bank bailouts. None of it makes sense in thirty seconds or less.

So to help me, I will be presenting to you thirty second demonstrations here that will give you context for what money is and what it means to the world and America. And the good news, it only takes ten fingers to demonstrate this.

First, the world and the US. Put up 10 fingers. Go on spread them out and wiggle them a little—stretching is good. All these fingers are everyone in the world; the whole world in your hands feels good right? Now, close your hand except for your right middle finger. Half of your middle finger represents the population of America as well as its rough political leanings (middle left)—also, America Fuck Yeah! The other half represents the EU.

Now, throw up another finger. These two fingers represent the amount of money that America makes as a percentage of world GDP—half of your middle finger is worth two whole fingers. Open up your whole hand now. That represents all the money that the EU and America make. Your middle finger is worth a hand.

Ok. Open up your hands completely and look at the world again. Make the live long and prosper sign with one of your hands. If you can, two sets of two fingers should be separated to form a ‘V’ sign. The pinky and ring fingers are China—1.3 billion strong. The other two fingers pressed together are India and Pakistan—even though they may not like it. And your thumb can be Southeast Asia. But who cares about all those people? I mean, they only make three fingers worth combined. And your smallest three fingers at that. If you eliminated China from the pack you’d barely have your pinky.

Open your hands again. Let them feel the breeze. Now open your wallet and grab a two dollar bill—just kidding, those are rare. But people living on two dollars a day or less are not; your open palm represents all of the people who live on less than two dollars a day. Your closed fist holding a barely used bill of currency may be redeemed at your local Starbucks for a tall drip coffee—the smallest cheapest drink. If you live in a state with a high sales tax you may not be able to pay for it fully.

That’s your orientation to the world. It’s not everything but it gives you some context when we start talking about America.

Monday, June 18, 2012

People Jumping off Cliffs: the Videos

A little fun.  Sorry these aren't edited.

People Jumping Off Cliffs

Some pretty cool stuff

It was quite the show.  And there were tons of people out.

You can't quite see it here but Seattle is way off in the distance.

There's always that one guy.

The guy that brings a hang-glider to a paraglider party.  Apparently that was my Dad back in the 80s.

Recent Weeks: Chirico 2

We did eventually make it to the top. The last leg before the first point is the most difficult. There is a shortcut that cuts a straight line up a clearing to the first ridge. This path gets a lot of sun and is full of loose rocks and few firm footholds. It is the steepest portion of the hike. But it’s also worth it. It cuts about ten minutes off the hike and there are great views on the way up.

At the first ridge a few paragliders were set-up waiting for the wind to catch them and send them off. We rested and ate our lunches while watching the paragliders. A couple took off. The rest opted to keep hiking to the second ridge.

And we did too. We hiked to the second ridge. A short couple of switchbacks, and saw the actual top.

I had never been to the top of the mountain before, only vaguely aware that there was more mountain on previous hikes up. This point was set for the paragliders. There was a large Astroturf runway from which most people launched and there were indicators of windspeed and direction everywhere. Some were stakes with colorful fabric, another was an actual weathervane.

Ciera and I sat at the top for a couple hours. We could see all the way to Seattle. The land stretched out before us magnificently. And the sun poked through. The paragliders filled their colorful wings with air, swung around, and leaped off the edge. And the wind carried them effortlessly. It was a beautiful sight. Every color circled overhead gently riding thermals higher and higher. I sat a little closer to Ciera.

We watched a man and his wife put together a hang glider. My dad used to hang glide, way before I was born. I watched the man assembling the glider and thought about how dangerous the sport looked. It took a long time for the hang-glider to get all of the gear together. Finally the man was ready. He waited for the wind, and raced down the hill. Not five steps later he had taken off and was flying, catching thermals, and hanging with the paragliders.

We descended the mountain with our feet. At the bottom we turned and watched the colors and patterns, still circling high above, for a moment.

Recent Weeks: Chirico 1

This time I made it to the top. I had wanted to take Ciera on this hike a long time ago and today was the day that we would finally do it. The hike was strenuous. The air was humid. The sky was mostly cloudy. I was peeved at Ciera because she didn’t seem to know what to pack for a hike.

I was being a brat though. It was not often that Ciera had gone on hikes as a child whereas my childhood was full of memories where my parents would say, “let’s go for a hike.” And all of us kids would reply with screams and shouts and tantrums and then eventually when we were done with the hike, happiness.

Hikes have been part of my entire childhood. Packing and hike preparedness are a natural and easy thing. And I was being grouchy and insensitive because Ciera had little of my same experiences. I should have been excited to show her how to pack and get ready for a hike, instead I felt like she was stalling our journey up the hill.

Either way we did start our journey up the hill and the first bit was easy. Then it gets hard. Steep switchbacks and the humid air make each step difficult. Eventually it feels like climbing up uneven and poorly engineered stairs. I could feel my back start to sweat where my back pack pressed against it. By the time I would reach the top my back would garner an award in a wet t-shirt contest. Hiking is not for the prim.

We journeyed forward to the top of the mountain mostly communicating in huffs and grunts. The climb up was little opportunity to enjoy more than the difficulty of the exercise. We passed many people on our way up. All of them white.

Hiking is a white people thing. Go out into nature and pretend that you are roughing it in your high tech gear. It’s something white people like to do. I don’t have anything against white people sports, but there does seem to be something unjust about the lack of ethnic diversity enjoying the wilderness. I mean, nature is great, and everyone should have the opportunity to breathe free and get sweaty back stains, and get covered in dirt.

Recent Weeks: The Bar 2

And the girls in their dresses that are too tight and too short, their heels that give them blisters, their bling that catches the boys eyes, and the fawning feigned laugh of an animal doing its mating dance. And the boys in their cool or quirky or stylish shirts with their sunglasses at night and their jeans pressed just right show off their chests or their abs or their arms while they suck on a cigarette and wonder if the mating dance is meant for them and if they should move their heavy feet and try to play along or if that’d be stupid and they should just smirk like they know what’s going on.

After returning from the bathroom and seeing the incoherent guy trying to hit on Ciera again I found myself wondering where Pete and Rader had gone. Ciera did too. In that brief moment, incoherent guy slumped off to find another drink or maybe another girl—who cares? Olivia said her goodbyes and headed into the night—somewhere else. Ciera noticed Evan stepping into a cab and pointed it out to me.

I bolted to the cab and stopped Evan. He apologized profusely and said that we should get in the cab and come with him. Every man for himself.

I asked him where it was going. And I knew it was going in the right direction.

At the house the lights were down low and the music was up loud. It was the same scene in a different light. Pete and Rader were there. And a couple bros. And a cute dog.

But the energy was high. The house was nestled in the suburbs, just a few blocks from Mama’s. It felt like a family place, except for the decidedly young occupants. I went to the bathroom and it was filthy. Everything seemed nice but like it hadn’t been taken care of. The neglect of youth. I didn’t mind. It wasn’t unbearable by any means and the people were pretty cool.

At some point Evan removed his shirt. And everyone started bro-ing out. It happens. Just as several people arrived at the house—incoherent drunk guy being one of them—Ciera and I made our exit.

We walked home. It was only a few blocks. I gave Ciera my coat and we proceeded slowly, retracing our summer jogging route. It was still cold; colder. The night spread out and all I remember is walking back happy.

Recent Weeks: The Bar 1

I went out to the bars. I don’t normally go out to the bars. When I’m in Portland, staying in is much easier. It’s the comfort of my childhood. So comfortable to stay in, if only for a day or two, and pretend to be a child. Pretend to not have a care in the world. I’m certain that it’s an immature feeling; perhaps overly nostalgic. It keeps me in anyways. I can be safe at these homes I know inside out and not worry about being in the cold or awkward interactions with people I don’t know or awkward interactions with people I’ve met before and they remember so much more about me than I ever will about them.

My memory is really bad when it comes to people.

But we were out. I felt comfortable going out, because Ciera and Olivia were with me. My cousins are not very good at keeping track of each other. It’s every man for himself. They say it and I know it. It doesn’t bother me; I can play that game. As I’ve grown older though, it feels like I have a harder time breaking out of my shell and just meeting someone. And saying yes to going out has become increasingly hard.

But when I have Ciera and O with me I feel better. Because they run interference. Guys are more at ease and girls don’t feel threatened. I can be me more. Or maybe not.

And my cousins run interference when they are paying attention. But their night has different motives than mine. Keeping track of them thus becomes a little bit harder.

We ended up at a bar rented out by one of Evan’s friends. It was loud and ‘chic’. I’ve been there before, somewhere in Spain? Or Boston? Or maybe Barcelona? Paris? New York? Seattle? London? There’s a similarity. Deafening music, numbing alcohol, and blinding lights. The senses are not so much stimulated as assaulted and systematically taken out. The world becomes surreal; the senses suddenly come to life in one moment and in the next they retreat into the far corners of the brain.

Moments flash. A bartender with tattooed sleeves, a faux hawk, and a tuxedo vest crushing the oranges into a glass of ice and whisky—a sidecar. Waiting by the bathroom door as my bladder screams out in pain, again. God it must be the third or fourth time in an hour that I’m pissing and it’s still streaming out like Niagara Falls. Sitting outside realizing that I’m smoking a cigarette and trying to savor the buzz while hoping I’ll not die of lung cancer. One cigarette won’t kill me. Will it? I hate smoking cigarettes; I always feel dirty afterward, but sometimes I do it because I’m too drunk to care and I’m young and everyone else is doing it and somehow it seems to help with that breeze that’s just a bit too cold.

Cold. I know that cold. That’s the vampire cold that washes over an urban landscape as the pavement loses its heat, the reasonable people sleep, and the neon lights up. It’s the cold of a thousand streetlamps still burning bright at three am and the yawns of a tired man driving home through the back roads to avoid cops.

Recent Weeks: The Funeral

The funeral was at a golf course of course. I helped set-up the space. I moved tables, chairs, and speakers. I plugged in electronics and tested the sound system.

I walked the grounds, almost pacing as family carted objects to and fro. We worked like an orchestra in some moments and in others we worked like headless chickens. Nothing was frantic, but organization was a fits and starts occasion.

At some point everything happened and the funeral proceeded with precision. Each speaker for Marian captured her exactly as we knew her. She could be hard and difficult sometimes. Somehow we missed even those moments when she was hardest to bear. There is little opportunity to mourn a loss when someone is so viscerally there.

Marian was always there. As background noise or the only noise in a room, she was there and very real. Each speaker drew a portrait of a woman that was loved and sometimes feared for her bluntness and honesty. She was real. And she was always compassionate. Somehow criticisms from her mouth were inarguable truths. Across all of the speakers emerged a person who often had a wider agenda, a consistent character, and a laugh that filled a room.

We said our goodbyes to her under the big white tent next to the golf course.

After, there was food and liquor. I tried to help whoever I could but I had little knowledge of what needed to substantively be done. I found myself getting food for people and just comforting everyone as best I could. Yet I was averse to social interaction and all I could feel was uncomfortable. It bugged me to be stuck in that room waiting hungrily to leave.

So I gathered together the cousins and we went to the driving range. I am a terrible golfer but I find the driving range therapeutic.

And it seemed that the cousins enjoyed it as well. We knocked the balls out as far as we could, hoping to make the task gain purpose. We told ourselves it was in honor of Marian, but I’m not sure. It seemed right. And it made me feel good. When we were done, our bodies were sore, and it was time to leave. So we went to grandma and grandpa’s house.

Recent Weeks: Maple Drive 2

In the living room I sat with Olivia and Ciera, trying to keep them company. Olivia was persistent; organizing the borders and pictures to make a stellar presentation.

I looked around the familiar room. It was the same as it had always been. Home. It was one of my homes. The house held me in and gave me a gentle embrace as my eyes consumed the details. It had been nearly six months since Mama had died and the house remained almost identical to the moment of her passing. The home, filled with love and people for my childhood, suddenly felt incomplete. I looked at all the touches that were hers. The furniture, the pictures of family, the careful attention to detail. And it all oozed southern hospitality. I tried to take in everything in that moment; maybe it was to remember why I loved that place, maybe it was a fear of never returning, maybe it was the right thing to do—if that makes any sense.

The boards from Mama’s funeral sat on a chair. I looked at the pictures. As I scanned through memories came and went like milk swirling through coffee; distinct clouds of times rolling up and sinuously twisting with the blackness. And then the memories were no more, nothing was differentiated, just a singular mixture.

I slept without moving. Curled in the fetal position on my side. Ciera said I lay there stubbornly. In my dreams I was restless. Nothing I could imagine about the coming morning was particularly happy. I wanted only to get through the next 48 hours. I wanted the family to stop being in funeral mode. I wanted our lives to move as when I was a child; easily and without fear of death.

My dreams were black and red. Fuzzy faces of people and little vignettes of disjointed scenes. I did not feel rested when I awoke the next morning.

I descended the stairs nearly dressed already. I wanted nothing to go wrong. I looked out onto the back porch; a neighborhood cat had come to see us. O had named her Lady. Lady was a beautiful tabby who we occasionally fed. The grey morning had made the porch damp and cold, typical weather for Portland.

The cat rubbed her body against the back door, signaling her desire to be fed. I grabbed a handful of cat food from the container by the door—still there—and put it on the porch for Lady. Lady looked pregnant. I petted the gentle cat and closed the door to the house. Life goes on. It just does.

Recent Weeks: Maple Drive 1

The house was still. It sighed inaudibly as we pulled up to the driveway. Headlights traced the contours of a garage door. It could have been any garage door. A simple white automatic garage door that held a generic green car.

The usual clicks, snaps, and drumbeats of a family exiting a car accompanied. I unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door. Cloth rustled heavily as the occupants of the car gathered their belongings. Someone tapped in the combination to the garage door; it could have been me though I’m not sure. Her birthday. No house is an ordinary house.

The extraordinary hides behind the walls. Houses creak with pleasure at familiar footsteps upon floor boards, hands upon doorknobs, and bodies upon beds. The rumble, buzz, and clanks of the garage door opening pulled me out of a trance. I gathered our bags, my shoulders sagging, and walked into the house.

The dim warm light of the kitchen greeted me. Only the counter lights were on; a courtesy left by my mom. She was tired and had already gone to bed, but the late car had just arrived and wasn’t about to sleep easy. The kitchen smelled the same. Decades of cooking had seeped into the woodwork, making the house smell like a home. I noted the scent, familiar and comforting, as I set down the brown paper bag in my hand. The paper crinkled and crunched; the familiar rustling of groceries.

Olivia set to work; she had a lot to do still. Her boards for Marian were incomplete and needed to be done by the time the family left in the morning. The boards were covered in pictures of Marian at all stages of her life. Olivia was good at making those boards and in the last few years she had to make too many of them. Nevertheless, O moved her workspace to the living room and set about her project.

I took my bag of clothes and a few other things upstairs to the room I would be staying in. The middle bedroom upstairs. Ciera had stayed in that room when we were living there. The room was decorated with remnants of my aunts’ and uncles’ childhoods. A horse marionette, a typewriter, books on German culture and language, and long forgotten articles of clothing. I set my things down in a self-absorbed manner. I was exhausted and could think little beyond my need for sleep. Not that I expected sleep to come easily.

I expected my body to continue functioning normally; something I took for granted. Bodies don’t always function normally and we’re never quite sure when that will happen.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury just passed away. He brought sci-fi into pop culture. His groundbreaking and provocative books were cherished by millions as bastions of cautionary tales. His stories were often written for children and teenagers but rarely strayed from a dark reflection of our own world.

I remember reading Mr. Bradbury in the third grade. I can’t remember which story it was now but I do know that he affected me deeply. He showed me a world where a cynic of society could exist without ever losing his innocence. At times his words were haunting and suggestive of something missing from humanity. The emptiness. The darkness that hid in between the text.

And sometimes the darkness stood out as the text, with only the memory of his brightest passages lingering. But always there was a yearning for the better. For a futurist and a horror writer, he gave us stories that made us hopeful somehow.

Even after the city is destroyed in Fahrenheit 451, the reader is left with the hope that the new world will not be full of war or mechanized dogs. Firemen will not burn down homes. And we will have our history.

In the Martian Chronicles, even after the destruction of the entire world, the last story is that of a family surviving and rebuilding.

His futures were histories. Songs full of emotion and sadness at the loss of civilizations and people. His words are laments that much of what we lose can never be recovered. What we build is only as good as the world that wants to keep it.

His story, Come Into My Cellar, satirizes suburbia with an alien invasion through the advertisements in the back of comic books. The story is distinctly Bradbury, following the creeping mystery of the perfect behind the 50s nuclear family. At the end the main character is faced with the same loss that many of his characters faced, the loss of his humanity.

And more than anything, that was the hidden meaning in his writing—our shared humanity. We may be swarming locusts, hateful militants, covetous of our walls, or confused by the seemingly impossible. But our human good can overcome our base nature. We can colonize worlds, reach out to strangers, and give each other more than any single thing could.

It was the pursuit of humanity’s greater good that kept me engrossed in Bradbury’s work, a desire for the world of tomorrow to echo the world of my childhood. I will leave you with a quote from the Martian Chronicles; an exchange between a martian and a man separated by thousands of years. They happen upon each other on a strange night.

“Two strangers…passing in the night. Ruins, you say?” The martian asked.

“Yes. Are you afraid?” The man replied.

“Who wants to see the future? A man can face the past, but…the seas empty, the canals dry? I see them as I always see them.”

“Let us agree to disagree.”

“What does it matter—who is past or future? What follows will follow.”

Tomas put out his hand. The martian did likewise. Their hands did not touch. “Will we meet again?”

“Who knows? Perhaps some other night.”

“Goodbye then.”

“Good night.”

Good night Mr. Bradbury.

Ellinor Ostrom

Ellinor Ostrom died on Tuesday. She was the only woman to win a Nobel prize in Economics. Her extensive research on managing the commons became the basis of much of my thesis work and her sharp intellect will surely be missed in the scientific community.

She pioneered the concept of self-governing systems. Her research was critical to helping people understand motives behind law. Fundamentally her theories advanced the idea that a regulatory agency can be unnecessary. She demonstrated that managing resources is not about blanket structures that require top down management. Rather, she emphasized that users in a system can effectively manage their own resources if they communicate effectively with each other.

One of my favorite examples is local fishermen in South America. Everyone understood, without any formal governing structure, that the fish in the fishery were a finite resource. This finite resource could only stay sustainable if the fishermen all withdrew at an agreed upon limit.

And the fishermen were very poor; the fishing was little more than sustenance. And if one person overfished there was plenty of profit to be had. In the short run the fishery would appear stable and the cheater would take in more cash, and in the long-run “we’d all be dead” to quote Keynes. So there was substantial incentive to overdraw on this fishery. But the fishermen all drew equally and kept the resource sustainable.

Ostrom carefully studied this and many examples like it. After interviewing many of the participants in these systems she found that regulations were merely the codification of deeply ingrained norms. Trust and communication were key findings of her research. In systems where everyone maintains the trust and carefully manages their stake with the rest of the community, there is little likelihood of a common pool resource collapsing.

For an economist she often bucked the trend. She interviewed people affected by her areas of study. She was an early proponent of the triple-bottom line and a framework of sustainability. Her ideas were often radical to the ears of capitalist Americans but her research was solid and often her proof was punctuated by pertinent examples in American communities.

Fundamentally she shifted how people approach the Tragedy of the Commons because she was able to do what only the best and very brightest are able to do, ask the right questions. Ellinor Ostrom, you will be missed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Density Needs More 2/2

The second school of thought is diversity of interaction. The Atlantic recently ran an excellent article detailing the pitfalls of a pure density philosophy. The essential thesis is that a sustainable city is one that “fosters a diversity of interaction.” The more people are able to freely exchange ideas with each other, the better the city becomes. The problem with sprawl is that people are so far away from each other that a real sense of community is disrupted. Who cares about a neighborhood when it is the homogenous clone of every other neighborhood in the country? Yet in cities where mobility between diverse groups is stifled by separate parts of town for the rich, the poor, the right, the left, the ethnic minorities, and the whites there is little sense of community there too. A city flourishes when community and place have meaning.

By creating skyscraper canyons where people can safely hole up away from the din below, there is little difference from a sprawl city. Diversity is not enough to make a thriving cityscape.

Here’s an example. Remember Boston before the Big Dig? Maybe you don’t, or maybe you think Big Dig has something to do with the mob. The Big Dig was an effort to bury Boston’s freeways under the city. Before the freeway was raised above the city; a double-decker design similar to the Viaduct in Seattle and the Embarcadero in Oakland. There were many reasons to bury the freeway such as earthquake safety.

But it also had the added benefit of unifying the city. Before the city was divided by the freeway; little cultural exchange occurred between the two portions. Noise pollution ruined the value of land in the region. There was high crime in the area. And yet it was dense.

In Boston, the freeway served as a dividing line that kept the city from being friendly to the interactions and exchanges necessary for a productive city. Even now the divisions remain quite visible as remnants. Neighborhoods shaped for decades under the divisions of the freeway. Despite this, Boston now moves freely. It was already well known for its walkability but now there are few parallels in the world. There is no place in the city where a pedestrian feels uncomfortable crossing the road—excepting the Masshole drivers.

To sum, accessibility is yet another metric from which a city must be measured in order to fully address all three tenets of sustainability. While density is an excellent indicator for many economic, environmental, and social impacts it fails to fully explain many of the more nuanced questions of a sustainable city. It is about building and maintaining a culture which often does not have such concrete numbers. A sustainable future relies on innovation and creative thought, where the layered elements of a flourishing city are reflected in the academia.

Density Needs More 1/2

Something that struck me when I was researching my thesis paper was the generally accepted notion that density is good. Sprawl is definitely bad—the long-term economic impacts make sprawl fundamentally unsustainable—but is denser better?

Yes and no. From an economic standpoint the systems function far better when they are packed together. And this has been almost universally proven. But socially, dense development can be extraordinarily bad.

In cities where people are constantly shadowed by skyscrapers and jammed onto busy sidewalks along noisy and dangerous roads the advantages of density become outweighed by its perils. People, while they are forced to interact on a superficial level, are squeezed out of the urban environment by the technologies and structures meant to serve them.

When addressing the issue of sustainable cities, the problem is often framed by cars. Where do the cars go? How can car pollution be reduced? How can car trips be shortened and minimized? What are the economic effects of new roads in these places?

Alternately the problem is also seen as a matter of urban versus nature. How can people be kept within a growth boundary? What are the impacts of a development outside the city limits? How will housing prices be affected? Can the citizens live in these spaces if cost of living increases?

This is problematic. The wrong questions mean the right answers are impossible to find.

As addendums to these questions new theories and approaches are being developed that get to the underlying values much more accurately. The first is the blind man’s approach. Blind people have some of the most difficulty navigating a city. Blindness negates almost all of the cues that the sighted have developed to navigate a city. Imagine crossing a street blind during rush hour in a crowded intersection. I have by closing my eyes. It’s disorienting, and harrowing. Cars often turn without signaling, hybrids are nearly silent, and the cacophony ruins one’s ability to hear clearly. What’s more low hanging branches, poorly placed signs, and a myriad of other obstacles can make city navigation more than a little stressful.

If the blind residents cannot move freely then a city is not nearly as walkable as it purports. This was detailed much more in a recent Wired article.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Freaky Alien Vegetable

The freaky little alien babies we are eating for dinner.

They are actually called Kohl Rabi--how's that for worldly food.

Facing the Art

So the Town Theatre is doing another event. It’s called Facing the Art. On June 12th we will be at Naos on 3420 Fremont Ave from 7-10pm.

The event is an opportunity to celebrate many things. Naos is a really cool venue that recently opened in Fremont. They have great food and awesome staff. It’s modern, chic, and worldly. Think Paul Simon’s Graceland (30th anniversary edition out by the way) mixed with urban design maroon and copper.

Facing the Art is a collaboration with Homeless in Seattle. Local homeless artists have kindly given us some of their art to showcase around the walls of Naos. Performers of all housing situations will be gracing us with poetry, songs, and scenes.

Ciera and I have already seen the art pieces and some are excellent. Seeing one of these would be worth the price of admission in its entirety—which is free by the way. But we encourage you to donate to the Town Theatre or buy some food at Naos.

This is a no obligation night of fun though. We are super excited to present this work and hope that the public enjoys it as well.

This is a chance to support sustainability in Seattle as well. A socially conscious event held at a local establishment that supports the arts and an integrated community. It hits all the hipster buzzwords without forcing anyone into skinny jeans or onto a fixed gear bike.

Seriously, The Town Theatre is proud to bring together the community in its entirety and present art in all its forms.

Look out also for more details about The Town Theatre’s upcoming fall production Domesticity. Ciera assures me it’s not about her housekeeping skills.

Actually it’s a snapshot of First Wave Feminism unintentionally captured by the greatest playwrights at the time. It portrays women in four basic roles; woman as mother, daughter, lover, and peer. These two person scenes play out in the style of La Ronde and by the end one feels less that they have experienced a period piece and more that they have stumbled upon an entirely too relevant commentary on the workings of modern society.

Like us on Facebook. Visit our site. Call us. We hope to see you there.

Dying in the Future

My life is…moving again.

It felt like everything was in slow motion leading up to Marian’s funeral. But it’s moving now and I think I’m happy to be moving.

I’m not sure. I cringed today at the thought that I can easily live here until I’m 25 and think nothing of it. Death has been sneaking up on me. I had a dream last night that I had a fatal form of cancer. Less than forty eight hours to live. And I escaped from the hospital because I felt fine and wanted to live more than be confined.

And I was scared but all I wanted was to feel the breeze. And sit and think and love and live. I wanted so badly to squeeze a life into my last 48. Not that I’m actually dying. Just that I had dreams that made me feel held in by my reality.

Things that were will never be again and my life will leave me someday. It’s ok. It’s how it is.

Death happens. Once in a lifetime; how can I possibly miss it.

So my life is moving and my plans into the future are solidifying in a way that I never expected. I suppose that growing up was all about change. Things metamorphosed in exciting and wonderful ways. Now they change in ways that are far more shocking and unexpected. Yet there are constants that stretch decades into the future. And that’s comforting.

The people who will bury me and mourn me, I do not know yet. I just don’t know who they are. I mean, as long as I live into old age, I will likely be buried by my children and grandchildren. It’s a chilling and incongruous thought that the people who will love me so much that they will plan my funeral and make sure that I have a well polished headstone have yet to be part of this world.

And I won’t know them for many years.

But I will love them in ways I can’t fathom.

Not to get too mushy or metaphysical. Just to point out a truth—or an ideal one. If my family stays closely knit like it is now, I will be buried by family I don’t know.

It’s kind of cool. I look forward to meeting them I suppose.

Reset Button

I’m hitting the reset button. I’m so tired of the partisan bickering. Doesn’t matter how much I sympathize with one side or the other, I feel that the rhetoric has become disrespectful. Period. I don’t want to point fingers—it’s what’s gotten us into this mess.

I want to hit a reset button and kindly ask that everyone treat each other with a bit of respect.

We are not a nation of idiots—although we can often act that way. We are not a nation of ‘real patriots’ and un-Americans. We are a nation of people with a diverse set of backgrounds living in many geographically, politically, and socially distinct regions of the country. This diversity leads to natural and substantive disagreements but by no means does it give us license to wade into the mud and lose sight of ourselves.

Treat each other the way you would like to be treated. We call it the golden rule. Many religions cultivate it as a core belief. And I feel that it has been lost.

I don’t mean to shame our politicians, but I feel that an ideological agenda has taken over the human aspects of how we interact with each other. Ideology is based on an ideal. Ideals are seldom true for as Voltaire proved pretty unequivocally, we are seldom in the best of all possible worlds. Rather we are in the most real of all possible worlds. We must be real with each other and aspire to the ideal. Always with the consent of the other real people in the world.

I feel that often the ideal replaces the real. Pain, suffering, desire, and joy are all real things that extend far beyond the self. We as individuals have great capacity to inflict good and bad upon each other, and far too often we opt to hurt.

Being bullheaded is no excuse for hurting others. It is far from criminal to do almost anything that our politicians are doing right now yet it seems to hurt us morally. And I can guarantee it’s not because Mitt has no concept of hardworking middle class Americans. Or that Barack is trying to make the Socialist States of America. Rather it is that we willfully try to hurt and impugn each other.

The wolf in sheep’s clothing cannot hide amongst the herd forever. Gnashing teeth are better evidence than pointed fingers and false alarms. And besides, in many cases, wolves are just dogs who need a meal.

Hopefully the reference wasn’t too obscure. The point is that we can treat each other with respect in the political arena. We have far too many other problems on our hands. If this is how we treat our brethren, why would anyone in the world respect us or our values?

So. Reset. Please.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Marian Yoshiye Hara

It was a great funeral.

My dad was obsessed with getting his one sound-effect right. He wanted everyone in the audience to envision Auntie Marian on the green ready to tee off. And right when she swings her club…


I had to keep my hands on the phone that was plugged into Adam’s boom box. And then right at the moment, I hit the play button and the sound of a golf-ball getting hit was played. It was a lot of effort for one little effect. But it was her, a funeral that played by her rules somehow. And filled with bonus points.

Auntie Marian was a character. Her hands were so fast she was fired from a farm for being too efficient. She always had black hair—even when she lost it all.

She came storming into the office one day furious. Marge looked at her and opened her mouth, but before she could even say anything.

“You don’t think that I actually think they’re dummies when I call them that, right?” Marian was fuming, the smell of stale smoke hung on her athletic gear. She had been smoking again.

“Well, don’t you think they’re dummies when you say that?” Marge answered slowly; she had leaned back in her chair with her legs up on her desk. She knew not to answer Marian directly or with too much energy. Marian would only send it right back.

Marian paused, “well of course I think they’re dummies, but I just don’t want them to think I’m being unkind.”

“So you want them to know they’re dummies but you want it to be kind?”

“Of course!” She threw her hands up and stormed out. Marge watched her storm down the hall and went back to relaxing on her break.

The cousins came rushing out of grandma and grandpa’s house. Marian, in her bright Christmas sweater, opened the trunk of her car. Her grand nephews and nieces each took in large boxes wrapped in newspaper. Old Sunday comics, sports sections, and the metro section of The Oregonian. I was last in line and carried in her annual Christmas dish, jello. My dad looked on and smiled, idly wondering if jello was the only thing she could cook.

Marian was standing behind the gym with a cigarette. One of the coaches came up to her.

“How do you do it? What’s your secret?” Marian was coach for several champion teams. The boys’ tennis team had been crushing the competition so it was no surprise that another coach would be looking for some tips. Marian took a long drag on her cigarette.

The coach looked at her expectantly, “seriously, what’s your secret?”

Marian smiled and the smoke seeped through her teeth. She stubbed out the butt and smiled with a glint of mischief in her eyes. She patted the coach on the shoulder and walked inside wordlessly.