Getting to Know Seattle: Smoky August

We actually don’t have wildfires in or near Seattle, but due to some kind of air inversion we do suffer the smoky effects of wildfires in eastern Washington state and British Columbia. Right now our air quality is apparently worse than Beijing, which is saying something. I’m not having respiratory issues, which is great. But our gorgeous Seattle mountain views are entirely obscured.


I never watched The Apprentice. Apparently Omarosa had some sort of Mean Girl shtick that made people hate her character but love to watch her episodes. The she wound up in a White House job, apparently on the strength of saying nice things about Trump. Then she was out, and now she’s striking back.

My point in adding to the torrent of words around the vicious fight between Omarosa and Trump is not to analyze who’s right, or who’s sympathetic — nobody in this crowd is the slightest bit sympathetic.

My point is to say how tawdry Trump has made the presidency of the United States. Who are the Trump voters, that this kind of bottom feeding makes them feel as if he is their champion?

The gym I go to has various large screen TV’s around the workout floor, with closed caption dialogue. Usually most of the screens are turned to sports or CNN or MSNBC, but anyone can ask for a specific show to be put on. Someone near me asked for a reality TV channel where people were screaming at each other — Maury Povich, maybe. A mother and daughter were waving their fists at a man seated on the opposite couch, demanding he recognize the girl as his daughter. He was waving his arms back, shouting that it was all bunk and they were two crazy broads — all of this in closed caption of course. Tawdry. I watched for a minute or so before turning back to the smaller TV screen on my elliptical. During that minute the camera panned the big screen Maury audience, who were rapt. These are the Trump voters, I’d wager, for whom “tawdry” is the wrong word. Something about screaming chaos and bitter invective seems normal to them. Trump seems normal to them, and Omarosa.

Later at night Anderson Cooper had yet another segment on Omarosa, and I was little interested. I ducked outside to grill my dinner.

“Amish Uber”

Well, it’s not exactly Uber because the Amish buggy driver you can flag down for a ride in the Amish community of Colon, Michigan, doesn’t work for Uber. There’s no app for his services, no online tracking of his arrival, no chance to pick the size car you want, no surge pricing to accept or decline. His horse drawn buggy is one vehicle, one size, and he doesn’t carry a smartphone. You flag him down along the roadway if you need a ride.

Driver Timothy Hochstedler is basically trading on Uber’s name recognition and the appeal of linking “Amish” and “Uber”. What he’s doing may not be legal — you can’t just appropriate the trade name of a larger business in order to save yourself the costs of building a brand on your own. But for right now, if you go to Colon, you can flag Timothy down and pay a flat $5 to get where you’re going.

Business apparently is booming.

New Fence

The new fence is in, and I’m very happy with it. I had them put the boards tight to each other so that the blackberry canes and ivy will not come through. Hah! The installers told me that nature will have its way — if the canes can’t wiggle through any narrow spaces, they will come over the top or under the bottom. I’ll just have to stay on it and clip, clip, clip. No one here uses RoundUp or similar — God forbid.

Firing Peter Strzok

The FBI has fired Peter Strzok for his personal emails trashing Trump during the campaign. I supposed it was a political necessity, given the current climate. But I wonder how many FBI agents, a conservative bunch, wrote personal emails trashing Hillary Clinton, and whether any disciplinary action will be taken against them?

The Orca and Her Baby

The Pacific Northwest orca who pushed her dead baby around for more than two weeks has finally let go and allowed the body to sink into the sea. The orca is feeding and frolicking with her pod, her intense mourning apparently over.

This story touched many of us at a deep level, because loss is a universal experience as a part of this life that we all share. I’m glad the orca did what she needed, kept her dead baby close as long as she had to. And, I’m glad she’s let the baby go and is moving on with her pod.

Guns and Neighbors

We seem unable to have any rational conversation about guns these days, but if we could, I believe the platform would be public health. Guns in rural areas are heavily implicated in suicide, especially in populations suffering job loss, opioid addiction, alcoholism, and other societal stresses. Guns in urban areas are the weapon of choice for gangs, and for mass shooters. Whatever sliver of common ground might be found in preventing unnecessary deaths might be a place to begin conversation.

Guns are big business in the United States. Businesses who profit from the sale of guns, ammunition. and gun paraphernalia, can also be major philanthropists in the communities where they are located. That means a lot of people, regardless of their beliefs about easy gun availability, benefit from the profit derived from guns.

Grinnell, Iowa, is ground zero for that kind of dilemma. Grinnell is the home of Brownells, a major firearms company and longtime family-owned business. Pete Brownell, CEO of the company, lives in Grinnell. He and his wife are philanthropic contributors to many local causes. The company also provides many well-paying, skilled jobs with benefits — a boon for any relatively small town.

Not everyone likes the way Brownells makes its money, even though some of that money goes to benefit the community. But it’s not a distant issue, confronting a distant and faceless corporate entity. The Brownells and many of their neighbors meet up in the local coffee shop.

Neighborliness is important in Grinnell — part of a cultural ethos called “Iowa nice.” But candor is important to some Grinnell residents too, as is the chance to talk openly about what it means for the town to benefit from gun money.

Much of this simmered below the surface until Pete Brownell became head of the NRA, and the Las Vegas shootings happened.

“For some time, none of this attracted much notice. People certainly knew that their good, generous neighbor subsidizes their quality of life with money earned in the gun industry in a state where gun deaths run nearly neck and neck with drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But at Saints Rest and elsewhere, most people broach neither subject. There’s other stuff to chat about, like how things are going.

Grinnell is both progressive bastion and gun town, a place urbane and rural. It is home to an influential liberal arts college with an endowment of more than $1 billion, and also a Monsanto plant. Usually, these juxtapositions are a point of pride, if they are noteworthy at all.

But since the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, Mr. Brownell has become a divisive figure in town, to nearly everyone’s reluctance. The culture wars here — and all of the culture wars converge right here — may be about guns, or about religion, or they might be about money. But they may really be about manners.”

The question for Grinnell, and for all of us, is whether we can find a way on both sides to have a civil conversation about guns, gun deaths, the right to bear arms, and the influence of gun-related money on politics and philanthropy at all levels.

So far, Grinnell hasn’t found it. Pete Brownell hasn’t responded to invitations from local clergy and others to begin talking. People who know the Brownells say that neighborliness is a two way street, and having local residents put their concerns on Facebook was, for the Brownell famly, a step too far.

I’ll be interested to see if this one small community can find a way forward. They might provide a model for the rest of us. Brownells, and the neighbors in Grinnell, Iowa, might be a place to start.

My Fellow Americans

CNN has a clip of an interview with a neo-Nazi in a small town in Pennsylvania, the kind of person who’s always been around under the radar but feels newly empowered under Trump. Honestly, the guy is scary — especially in his abrupt shift from a normal conversational tone to crudely vulgar fury. It’s hard for me to believe that white people, white males particularly, actually feel threatened. But here is a guy saying he does, telling the black interviewer that “This is my country” and “You didn’t win the culture war”, and then exploding and demanding that the CNN camera crew get off his property.

The clip includes other people in his town, white people also, who take a very different position and explicitly reject what their fellow American has said.

But they look frightened, a little. And so should we all.

There’s a brief ad at the beginning of the clip — stick around until the meat of the interview comes on.

Getting to Know Seattle: Cloudy Day

Seattle has had a run of gorgeous summer weather: mid-80’s, abundant sun, dry as a bone. The weekend, by contrast, was cooler and cloudy, with short spurts of rain. Starting Monday we’re back on for warmth and sunshine.

When it’s sunny, I feel as if I should be outdoors and active, taking full advantage of the gift of blue sky, gentle winds, and sun. When it’s cloudy, I find things more restful. I’m more apt to curl up with a book, which is what I did Sunday: A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheem Mirza.

How about you? Does your daily activity change depending on the weather? Do you find cloudy days restful now and again, or are you chafing at the bit to be beckoned outdoors?