Recent Local Blog Posts

Gross Happiness Index of Washington: Thurston County is only just above average happy

Olympia Time - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 5:42am
Happiness Indexes are pretty interesting. They try to reach back beyond sterile, single factor indices (like Gross National Product) and give you a clearer picture of the health or happiness of a place.

So, obviously, I wanted to do one for Washington State.

I took some indicators that I could find data on the county level for across the GNH scale (economics, education, health, violence and democracy) and came up with a Gross Happiness Index of Washington Counties.

Certainly, there is a massive back of the napkin warning here, I'm not an economist or a statistician, but here are the general rankings:

CountyOverall rankAverage rankSan Juan14.20Whitman26.67Garfield311.60Lincoln411.80Island512.00Douglas612.80Jefferson713.00Walla Walla814.17Whatcom914.67Kitsap1015.17Klickitat1115.60Wahkiakum1215.80Ferry1316.20King1416.50Chelan1516.67Snohomish1617.33Thurston1718.17Kittitas1819.00Columbia1919.00Clark2019.17Benton2119.83Skagit2219.83Skamania2321.60Pend Oreille2421.60Adams2521.83Lewis2622.17Okanogan2722.33Grant2823.00Spokane2923.33Franklin3023.50Asotin3123.50Clallam3223.67Mason3324.00Stevens3424.83Pierce3527.00Pacific3627.60Grays Harbor3728.33Cowlitz3828.50Yakima3930.17
Digging down into the Thurston County, it is interesting to see what shapes our ranking. We do pretty well in Health (9th) and Pollution (10th) and average in Economic (17th), Education (18th) and Crime (21st).

But, our worst index is voter turnout. Out of 39 counties, we are 34th in voter turnout. Which, if you think of the symbolism of us being the home of the state capitol (totally crap symbolism) is pretty sad.

I think its also interesting that in terms of our neighborhood, we're the shining freaking star. Practically all four counties that border Thurston are in the basement of the GHI. Lewis (26th) Mason (33rd), Pierce (35th), and Grays Harbor (37th) all fall well below Thurston County in happiness.

Yeah us! We're above average!

Toward a clean and healthy Puget Sound: community shellfish farming fosters a local connection to our marine environment

Works in Progress - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:39am

Bounding forth onto the tideland rain or shine, hipboot toting, the hardy volunteer community shellfish farmers are working and slurping oysters at Olympia’s own Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm (HICSF). With wide smiles the crew is surrounded by the abundant beauty of the Salish Sea tromping amongst bands of bivalves, with seabirds singing overhead. Some of the enticements and pleasures of Community Shellfish Farming is the first hand experience of working with your neighbors in the world of the marine intertidal, knowing that your efforts are supporting water quality, making that oyster taste ever more sweet.

Locally in Olympia, many people have heard about or have become involved with community gardens, urban agriculture, and community farming. In the most recent years the awareness has grown alongside the development of the local food movement, but what is a Community Shellfish Farm? It is the idea of creating public access to marine resources for the sake of local food production, community and our environment; this access can be utilized to educate, restore, and celebrate efforts around water quality and the marine environment.

Here in Washington, we are fortunate to live next to Puget Sound the nation’s second largest estuary. This special place is not only beautiful but magnificently productive with the potential to support a large complex ecosystem as well as a buffet of world class seafood.   Alongside the productivity is the building ecological pressure that our increasing population is putting on these invaluable marine resources.

Non-Profit Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) was founded in 1997 with the mission to restore marine habitat, water quality, and native species in Puget Sound through tangible, on-the-ground projects. Much of their work consists of projects directed at restoring native species such as the Olympia Oyster, Pinto Abalone and Bull Kelp. PSRF developed the Community Shellfish Farm (CSF) model to address water quality issues in areas where bacterial contamination and resulting downgrades in shellfish growing areas threaten access to resources that depend on clean water.

PSRF’s Community Shellfish Farms Drayton Harbor*(Blaine, WA), Port Madison (Bainbridge Island, WA), and Henderson Inlet (Olympia, WA) have joined other organizations and agencies with a common vision of a clean and healthy sound that is productive, full of life and capable of sustaining us. CSFs work with watershed communities to help restore and maintain healthy shellfish growing areas, spur cleanup efforts, and maintain community access to shellfish resources. By maintaining community access, PSRF fosters stewardship of the marine environment. When bacterial contamination threatens the ability to harvest, residents are motivated to change practices on their own property and support local pollution control efforts to regain something that’s personally important to them. Harvesting local seafood on the beach influences people to want to protect and preserve the marine environment, which leads to a long-term commitment to the health of Puget Sound.

Here in Olympia, south sound residents are fortunate to be close to the Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm located in southern Henderson Inlet. Volunteers, students, educators and community members can experience first hand the bounty of high quality shellfish harvested from clean water. They also learn about the struggle for water quality, growing oysters and the surrounding marine ecosystem.   This currently safe access culminated out of a massive amount of work done by a plethora of partners within the watershed.

Prior to this work, in 2001 the health of the inlet was not looking good.   Commercial shellfish harvest was almost brought to a complete halt, long time historical growers such as Jerry Yamashita were at the front lines of this battle for water quality, desperately trying to stop the downgrades and began to reach out to the community for help.

The source of the pollution forcing the closures, in this case, was not what most people have in mind when they think of pollution. No big smokestacks or warehouses, no black ooze draining from pipes, no point source. It was our own individual collective impact within our watershed that accumulates fecal waste, creating bacterial contamination through failing septic systems, pet waste, and stormwater management intensifying these non-point nutrient pollution that poisons our shellfish beds in Henderson Inlet.

It was at this time in 2001 that PSRF partnered with the Pacific Coast Growers Association and WSU to create the HICSF in conjunction with the formation of the Shellfish Protection District (SPD) within the Henderson/Nisqually Reach watersheds. HICSF became a stakeholder within the SPD, working with partners to create context and to educate community members around the necessary work to be done to improve water quality in the inlet and stop the flow of nutrient pollution. The SPD, stakeholders, and partners worked diligently with homeowners to inspect and maintain septic systems, create farm plans with agricultural businesses to manage fecal waste, and the creation of stormwater treatment plants in the city of Lacey and Olympia. Along with this they have worked to slow down nutrient inputs during heavy rainfall, implemented constant water quality testing, orchestrated a county wide pet waste campaign, and promoted many other efforts around education for students and community members to create awareness and stimulate action.

It was almost ten years later, in 2010, that these efforts finally began to pay off for the oysters and residents of Henderson Inlet. Between 2010 and 2012, 340 acres of the shellfish growing area were upgraded by the Department of Health as determined by the frequent testing throughout water stations in the inlet. Growing areas such as the HICSF’s status changed from conditional to approved allowing for safe harvest most of the year!

Now more than ever, with water quality presently trending toward a decrease in bacterial contamination,efforts are needed to continue this positive momentum as well as celebrate the successes in the watershed. Outreach goals with HICSF have been brought to the adjacent Nisqually Reach working with partners National Fish and Oyster and South Sound Green to bring the education and connection to residents and students of that watershed. Another way HICSF tries to bring attention to the present issues and say thank you for the work that has been accomplished is operate an Oyster-Give-Away Program. This program rewards residents of the combined Henderson and Nisqually Reach watersheds with a dozen free oysters for those who successfully complete the Operation and Maintenance of their septic systems required within the SPD. This year HICSF is currently expanding the Give-a-way program to those who have taken action volunteering towards water quality, create farm plans on their property, or other pledges people make to Puget Sound. Oyster Give-A-Way dozens can be picked up at farm events or the HICSF Farm Stand located in East Olympia at George and Son’s Fruit Market @ 427 Lilly RD, Olympia, WA.

Currently HICSF operates year round hosting monthly work parties, volunteer opportunities, and educational tours. These events allow for people to visit the farm and participate in a hands-on oyster farming experience, learning about oyster aquaculture and upland connections to water quality while also supplying that gut connection to Puget Sound through oyster BBQs and slurping some on the half-shell. HICSF can also be found in the community shucking oysters or serving oyster pickle sandwiches at events such as the PCSGA’s SLURP, SSEA Turn of the Tides Festival in Olympia, Elliot’s Oyster House’s Oyster New Year in Seattle, and others. You can find Henderson Pacific Oysters on the half-shell at the Dockside Bistro in Olympia, the HICSF Farm Stand, and events throughout Puget Sound.

Population growth is not expected to slow down; our community needs to keep in mind how to manage our growth, to be stewards of our marine environment.Our actions will impact the water quality downstream and ultimately our access to these marine resources for now and for generations to come.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” —John Muir

Derek King grew up on Orcas Island where his connection to the Salish Sea began. Currently based in Olympia, Derek graduated from the Evergreen State College with a dual BS/BA in Marine Science and Environmental Journalism in 2014, and is a Program Technician with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. There he manages the day-to-day operations at the Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm and coordinates and assists in other native species and water quality projects.

For more information on the Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm, volunteer opportunities, and Oyster-Give-Away Program, go to

* With the role of PSRF accomplished Drayton Harbor CSF has since become its own commercial entity in 2014 as the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company.


Recent world events provide a bit of hope for halting climate change

Works in Progress - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:36am

When I was growing up, the Thanksgiving holiday meant that my family got together with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents from all limbs of the family tree to eat turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and pie. At some point in the increasingly rowdy conversations, a solemn adult would interject the plea that we all pause and consider what we were thankful for.

This November, three events occurred for which I am grateful. They offer a glimmer of hope that we may act collectively to address global climate change and reduce the rate at which carbon dioxide emissions are accumulating in our atmosphere—just a glimmer, not enough to celebrate, but enough to pause and say, okay. We might pull this off.

Presidents Obama, Xi Jinping agree to emissions reductions targets

On November 12, 2014, the presidents of the two countries that are the biggest contributors to climate change announced a deal to limit carbon dioxide emissions. By 2025, the U.S. aims to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent below the level of emissions in 2005. China set the goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and of having 2030 be the peak year for carbon dioxide emissions. Both these moves are not enough and also precedent setting. Meanwhile, the European Union reached an agreement to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent below the levels set in 1990, and to achieve this reduction by 2030. That means, as Jeff Spross reported on the website Climate Progress on November 12, the world’s three biggest carbon dioxide emitters have “gone on record with new commitments to get their greenhouse gas emissions under control.”

Should we be pleased with this turn of events? Paul Krugman, the often pessimistic and solidly liberal columnist for the New York Times says yes. Krugman’s op-ed piece on November 14 outlines why the agreement between China and the United States is a big deal. First, he says, consider the context. Fossil-fuel interests and “their loyal servants,” which is how Krugman characterizes the entire Republican Party today, have erected a deep defense against any action to save the planet.

Their first line of defense is denial. Climate change isn’t real. Senator James Inhofe, the likely chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is an outspoken proponent of this view, and also the recipient of more than a 1.5 million dollars from the oil and coal industries. In spite of the rich funding, arguing that climate change is a hoax perpetuated on the public by money grubbing scientists is losing its luster: a Pew Research study released last summer found that 67 percent of people in the U.S. believe that climate change is real.

According to Krugman, the second line of defense against taking steps necessary to save the planet is the argument that the economy will suffer. If we reduce carbon dioxide emissions, jobs will be lost and economic growth will sputter to a standstill. A version of this argument is central in the debate in Washington State about whether (and how) to put a price on carbon emissions—more on that later. The truth, Krugman argues, that is putting a price on carbon emissions will affect some businesses—any form of a “polluter-pay” policy is intended to shift the cost of polluting back to the producer. The alternative is for all of us to pay for the cost of pollution, leaving the polluter to count their profits and move on. Shifting costs of pollution back to the polluter changes profit margins; it doesn’t cost jobs and it doesn’t halt economic growth.

The third line of defense guarding us from taking action to reduce carbon emissions is that it’s pointless to act if the other big polluter, namely China, won’t. But now China will. The targets are too low, and too soft; however, this is the first time China has agreed to participate in an international climate agreement—and that’s a good step.

Krugman’s analysis of the U.S./China agreement is good in that it dismantles the arguments for ignoring climate change. Bill McKibben, co-founder of (which reminds us of the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from current levels of 400 parts per million to 350 parts per million in order to preserve a liveable planet), makes an even better case that the two presidents acted because of political pressure—pressure from activists. McKibben points out that this agreement comes at a time of growing unrest in China about the terrible air quality in cities, and just seven weeks after after the largest global climate demonstrations in history. In other words, as McKibben writes, “movements work.” In the spirit of being grateful, thanks to everyone who participated in demonstrations, called their Congress members, supported and other organizations, and wrote and talked and shouted and marched to say—business as usual won’t cut it. Reduce carbon emissions now.

Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce release WA State report

Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 14-04, issued in April 2014, established the the Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce (CERT) that was charged with providing recommendations for designing a carbon emissions reduction program. On November 14, they released their report, organized around four findings:

Emissions-based market mechanisms (carbon cap-and-trade systems) and price-based market mechanisms (carbon tax systems) can contribute to the goal of reducing carbon emissions in the state;

Either approach can work; whichever is implemented needs to be carried out in a thoughtful way and consequently, both approaches require further analysis;

The only way that Washington State can reach its carbon emissions limits is by developing a “harmonized” set of policies, particularly in terms of the transportation sector, which is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state. (In other words, reducing carbon emissions from transportation requires a mix of strategies, from land-use planning to transit development, that keep the diverse needs of WA residents, including low-income and rural communities, in mind.);

“Important questions remain unanswered”…

So far, there’s not that much to be grateful for. However, at the end of this 38-page report, an avid reader can find letters from individual members who served on the CERT. Reading these letters is instructive and, for the most part, heartening.

J. Perry England, Vice President of Building Performance at McDonald Miller writes that, “Price is key. We cannot fully unleash our innovative potential if we continue to allow unmitigated carbon pollution for free.” As a business owner, England wants the state to put a price on carbon.

Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, ALF-CIO, also wants a price on carbon. Johnson writes that “the impact of climate disaster, while bad for everyone, will fall disproportionately on the poor and communities of color, the very people who will be least able to afford the cost of transitioning to a new energy economy.” Consequently, he argues, in addition to establishing a price on carbon, the state should set up an “Economic Justice and Environmental Equity Board” made up of representatives from highly impacted communities (low-income, communities of color, front line workers in fossil fuel dependent communities) around the state who will monitor carbon emissions reduction strategies and make recommendations about investing carbon revenues so as to maximize equity, job creation, positive health outcomes, and further carbon emission reductions.

Renee Klein, President & CEO of the American Lung Association for the Mountain Pacific similarly focuses on issues of health. The reason to act, she writes, is to protect human health. She outlines current threats to health created by changes in our climate, and points out that the elderly, pregnant women, low-income and minority communities, people with chronic illnesses, and children are most vulnerable.

Other letters are equally eloquent, making the case that not acting—not putting a price on carbon—is unacceptable because it’s immoral. As Rick Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica writes, “we are united by a deeply felt urgency to take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions in ways that address social. Economic, health, and food justice.”

Governor Inslee faces Republican opposition that will take this form: reducing carbon emissions will hurt Washington’s economy—the same argument Paul Krugman identified at a national level, the second level of defense once the argument that climate change is a hoax has been dismantled. Lots of work remains to be done to get us past the “do more research” mode and into the effective action mode. Still, I’m grateful for those in our state, including the fore mentioned members of the CERT, for pushing forward in demanding the state meet its carbon emissions reduction goals.

Keystone Pipeline not approved—yet

The same week that CERT delivered its report the Senate took up the issue of whether to approve the Keystone Pipeline. The vote to approve the pipeline didn’t carry—60 votes were needed, and pipeline supporters only got 59. The 59 senators voting for the pipeline included all 45 Republican senators along with 14 Democrats. Forty-one senators voted against the pipeline: 39 Democrats and two Independents, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Angus King from Maine. Mitch McConnell, soon to become leader of the Senate, threatened to bring the issue back for another vote in January, when the number of Republican Senators will increase. A veto from the president is not a sure thing. Ashley Parker and Cora Davenport, writing for the New York Times on November 18, 2014, conclude their report on the Senate vote with this cautionary note: “People familiar with the president’s thinking say that in 2015, he might use Keystone as a bargaining chip: He could offer Republicans approval of it in exchange for approval of one of his policies.”

We have a lot of work to do to topple the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry and the stranglehold it has on our political system and consequently on our future. I’m glad for a pause, a moment of hope, and grateful to everyone, everywhere, who works on making our political representatives more representative of us, the people. Let’s keep at it.

Emily Lardner teaches at The Evergreen State College and co-directs The Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education, a public service of the college.




Works in Progress - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:14am

This poem is for the drug addicts

the dope fiends.

this poem is for ninety pound bodies

shriveling in gutters like dried fruit.

this is for those who shoot.

for the withering alley-cat specters dancing

sleepwalk in the devil’s daymare.

this is for those who drown in dope

without a sunrise beyond the black tar’s shadow.

indentured to the needle and the spoon.

this is for my siblings who met their makers too soon.


This poem is for you

you who are black listed for your sickness

convicted, untouchable and criminally ill.

you who is locked up for possession

without a hope of redemption for

your child who is missing you and doesn’t understand

the reasons why the drug war nabbed his daddy

and will follow in his boot steps

if not properly guided.


This poem is for you who grew up

comfortable, but were missing something.

who graduated from the school

bus to the squad car, the pen to the magnum,

you who found your feet, your fountain,

in the Haight & Ashbury.


No hurry.

Why worry?


SMACK is the main line out of the middle class

and into an early grave. this is

for the track marks we paved.


This poem is for you who is on the wait list

for an underfunded treatment center for three

months deciding between

triage through treatment

or deliverance through death.

anything to stop the suffering.

This poem is reality.


I know this poem.

This poem is for ME.


ME who used to strip mine crumbs of amphetamine from the carpet snorting whatever came along with the catch. ME who trembled in anticipation at every new prescription. ME for whom the birds chirping in the morning would produce paranoia. ME who heard gunshots and lived in psychotic delusions


ME. . . who got clean.


ME who no longer lives between high speed chases and post-mania comas under the covers.


This poem

is for worried mothers.


This poem is for hope.

it is for one day, just this day clean

and serene, finally again a human being.

this poem is for no longer

being an animal a slave to my desires,

impulse towards deathly indulgence.

this poem is for skin clear of scabs,

face full of color and complexion.

this poem is for

a job,

an education,

poetry slams,

and getting published.

this poem is

for friends and family

proud to call me theirs,

for a mother who I can look in the eye.

this poem

is for hope.


But this poem is also for the fallen,

for the soldiers digging their trenches in

Southeast D.C. and Baltimore.


This poem is NOT for

the War on Drugs

the War on the Poor

the War on the Spirit.


This poem. . .

is for my dead kin who struggle no more.

for those who finally gave up and greeted the

reaper in the back seat of a beat up Caddy

with not an ounce of body fat,

sunken cheeks

emaciated skeletons

the ones we loved

dead at 23.

…this poem is an epitaph.

This poem is statistics.

This poem rolls dice.

This poem is proof that the dealer didn’t win.

This poem is for every addict who never met the pen.

This poem is for last gasps beneath bridges,

for the funerals

we didn’t have the courage to attend.

This poem is for


resilience, and

blind fucking luck.

THIS is a poem against all odds.

THIS POEM should be six

feet under, but


            IT         defies gravity.

I          defy gravity!

I          defy DEATH!

Brian McCracken is a poet, activist, and youth ally living and resisting in Olympia. As a founding member of Old Growth Poetry Collective, he lives in a house full of dyslexic poet revolutionaries.


Coordinated actions; climate change is major concern for oil trains in Washington State

Works in Progress - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:48pm

An emerging alliance of community and labor leaders joined by local elected officials want Governor Inslee to use his executive authority to deny the permitting of proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor and Vancouver and the expansion of a Shell refinery in Anacortes.

“All of these terminals and expansions and all the increased oil train traffic fall directly under the executive authority of Governor Inslee,” said their spokesperson, Geoff Simpson. Mr. Simpson is a long time fire fighter for the City of Kent and a lobbyist for the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters.

“We want Governor Inslee to live up to his commitment for a clean energy future and stop the use of our state’s rail system as a carbon corridor for the export of crude oil to Asian markets,” he continued.

In their letter to Governor Inslee, this alliance of organizations is seeking a meeting with Governor Inslee so that they can discuss their perspective. It is signed by leaders of labor unions, community organizations, physicians, fishery groups, as well as elected officials such as Ben Stuckart, President of the Spokane City Council, and two Port of Olympia Commissioners.

Mr. Simpson said that these organizations first met in August at a Statewide Strategy Summit on Oil Trains at The Evergreen State College. As a follow up to the Summit, they met at an all-day session hosted by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters on Saturday, November 15, in Olympia where they drafted their letter to Governor Inslee.

—WA State Council of Fire Fighters



Works in Progress - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:43pm

Con la boca con cinta adhesiva, Rafael Reygadas, un profesor de la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) Xochimilco, se sienta con los muebles que sostienen fotografías de la juventud Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa. “Agresiones aberrantes contra Ayotzinapa futuros profesores – heridas, mutilaciones, asesinatos y desapariciones forzadas – son los más graves de una política de criminalización de la juventud vez Sin duda, es de los crímenes de Estado y crímenes de lesa humanidad que no debe ser impunes Ellos. mostrar colusión inadmisible entre las autoridades, los partidos políticos y el crimen organizado “profesores de la UAM.


Enrique photo

Foto: Araceli Mondragón

ON STRIKE: With his mouth taped, Rafael Reygadas, a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) Xochimilco, sits with furniture that hold photographs of the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School youth. The sign behind him says, “I can’t hold class, I am missing 43 students.”

In a statement from UAM faculty, “Aberrant assaults against Ayotzinapa student teachers–wounds, mutilations, murders and forced disappearances—are the most serious of a policy of criminalization of youth time. It is certainly of State crimes and crimes against humanity that should not go unpunished. They show impermissible collusion between authorities, political parties and organized crime.”                                                     Photo: Araceli Mondragon

Adventure and mystery in Laniakea

Works in Progress - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:39pm

 Laniakea, as Wikipedia defines it, is a Hawaiian word meaning, “immeasurable heaven.” The exciting thing for me is to finally see a well made map of our actual neighborhood in the Cosmos.

The British science journal Nature recently released a fantastic four minute video on YouTube called, “Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster.” We now have this clear view our home port – something the human race has never had before. It is the recently released description of Laniakea by R. Brent Tully and his team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way is part of a Local Group which contains around 75 nearby galaxies. Our Local Group roams the edge of the Virgo Cluster of about 2500 galaxies. This is a very big neighborhood.

Bigger still is our supercluster. Our neighborhood revolves around the center, a place called the Great Attractor. We now have a clear idea that the 100,000 galaxies of Laniakea are all bound together by gravity.

All the while we are gliding through space along with a plethora of other clusters of galaxies. These clusters are in mutual orbit around the Great Attractor – the gravitational center of our supercluster of which there no known way to leave.

The other superclusters are expanding away from us at an accelerating rate. This will eventually fling them out of sight far away across the Universe. But our Laniakea will probably always be here as a very large and wondrous domain for us to explore.

To explore on not to explore?

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is in mutual orbit with the great galaxy Andromeda. In several billion years we will be much closer together and likely to merge with each other. Humans will have little choice but to populate other star systems or perish as our Sun advances through the red giant phase of its life.

100,000 galaxies with 100 billion stars each, that’s room for lots and lots of possible adventures. Ten quadrillion solar systems with an unknown quantity of alien civilizations to meet.

The number of possible extra-terrestrial civilizations can be estimated by using the famous Drake equation. It is quite easy to estimate for yourself:


The number of extra-terrestrial civilizations within Laniakea which we may run into in the future just requires us to multiply a few estimates.

N(hab) is the number of habitable planets, I’ll guess one in ten stars out there has one.

F(life) is the fraction of these where life gets started some how, my guess could be one in a hundred.

F(civ) being the fraction of these where life develops into a space-faring civilization, maybe one in a thousand.

F(now) is the fraction where that civilization exists during our time period (civilizations come and go we guess) may be one in a hundred.

N(civ) the total civilizations estimated to be in Laniakea today.

(1/10)x(1/100)x(1/1000)x(1/100) =1/100,000,000

Divide the ten quadrillion stars of Laneakia by the one hundred millionth chance of a civilization being there. The estimate is on hundred million strange, advanced, diverse, alien civilizations out there for us to meet, this does not include ones which might visit form neighboring superclusters like the nearest, the Perseus-Pisces Supercluster.

Many people feel we should fear these civilizations. I think that is ridiculous. We should be searching for ways to cooperate and coexist with them, as well as ourselves. We need a conversation above all, to decide how we will handle contact with these alien civilizations who may have much to teach us.

As Laniakea, “immeasurable heaven,” swirls through space with our Milky Way hanging onto its skirt tail, we have so much adventure ahead. The European Space Agency just landed a probe on an approaching comet. India just placed its first satellite in orbit around Mars. China is staging for a return to human Moon landings. We have more opportunity than ever to cooperate with other explorers.

Russ Frizzell is an activist living in Olympia since 2010 and a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied Physics and Cosmology.


John Rambo, John Tornow and Appalachians in Cascadia

Olympia Time - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 5:53am

The very first Rambo movie (First Blood) is set in Washington State, in a fake town called Hope. Filmed in the actual Hope, British Columbia, the setting is descended from a fictional town in Kentucky in the original First Blood book, which in turn is based on a Pennsylvania town.

Both the fictional Kentucky town and actual Pennsylvania town are deep in Appalachia. Which, given the deep Appalachian roots in rural western Washington, Hope fits.

It also fits in the parallel I draw between the Rambo character and John Tornow. There is so much written about Tornow (some very recently), I've always wondered what the fascination was. Tornow, at least on the surface, doesn't reveal any greater truth. Unbalanced man either murders or is accused of murder. People chase him down, a few deaths later, he gets killed.

But, if you look at Tornow through the lens of Rambo, you see something deeper. It lets you look back on the society that is turning its violence onto these men. For Rambo, he's a recently returned Vietnam veteran targeted as a vagrant by an evil small town cop.

I've heard enough from small town cops to know that giving a vagrant a ride to the county line or a bus ticket out of town is at least within the realm of reality. And, Tornow shows us that a massive manhunt against Rambo was also in the realm of reality.

For the Appalachians in Grays Harbor in the early 1900s, for the Appalachians at every step in First Blood, the wild men are too far gone from society to live. They murdered, they are outside the bounds of even the libertarian Appalachian societal rules. Every man has liberty, but there is only so much liberty.

Both Tornow and Rambo are also both experts. Rambo is a highly trained commando, the cops that come after him are hopeless against his killing skills. He seeks to come back into society, but he falls back onto his training and the war.

Tornow was an actual outdoorsman, more at home (according to biographers) than in a town or among society. He was able to live off the land while being hunted for over a year and a half, feeding himself with what he had around him in the deep woods.

And, that is what I think is the larger truth about Tornow. If the Scots-Irish, the genetic base of the Appalachian DNA had finally run out of new territory to conquer in Cascadia (also explored in Sometimes a Great Notion), then they were almost ready to run down the last Wilderness. Tornow was a representative of that wilderness.

Sure, Appalachians are much more libertarian, every-man-for-himself than other sorts of North American society. Rules don't necessarily work for them, but they are also the shock troops of a larger society against the wilderness, or agains the native inhabitants.

So, in dramatic stories about Appalachian outcasts, John Tornow and John Rambo must be hunted down.

Boy, they really scraped the heck out of old Tono

Olympia Time - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 6:51am
I've written a few times about Tono, here at this blog and over at Thurston Talk.

The thing that surprises me every time I run into details about that old town is how total the destruction was. The town doesn't just not exist anymore, it was decimated. The very soil that it was on was moved away.

For the uninitiated, Tono was a small coal town just south of Bucoda and Tenino. From my Thurston Talk piece:
In 1932, as the Union Pacific was shifting from coal to diesel engines, the rail line sold the mines and the town to the Bucoda Mining Company. By the 1950s, most of the old town had disappeared and the mines closed down. Some of the old buildings were moved into neighboring towns. Only one couple, residing in the old superintendent’s house, stayed on the site through the 1970s. In 1969 coal mining in the fields around to the Tono site was revived when the Pacific Power and Light company bought the land and built a new steam plant to produce power. It was during this era that the Tono site saw its largest change. The ground on which the town had sat was scraped up, in order to get to the coal beneath it. The coal mining terraforming was so severe that the town site is currently dominated by two massive ponds.I've done overlays of old Tono before, using aerial photos from the USGS, but recently I ran into some coal maps that are published online by state DNR. These are just fascinating. Two hand drawn maps from the middle part of the century add a new level of detail to the Tono site that I wasn't able to see with the USGS aerials.

Take a look at this one in particular overlayed in Google Earth:

You can see that originally Tono was located in a small valley. But, in the 1960s, that valley was deepened and widened to locate the last coal deposits below the old townsite. And, if I'm correct in reading the map, the original coal field serviced by Tono was located south and east of town.
Lastly, the single structure I've seen out there (not up close) certainly is in the wrong spot to be part of the old townsite. If it is of the same vintage, it is likely connected to the mine operation itself.

Mexico–a dissenting nation: the long night from Tlatelolco to Iguala

Works in Progress - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 9:04am

In October of 1968, ten days before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, over ten thousand students gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in the neighborhood of Tlatelolco, to protest the repressive government policies against labor, farmers, unions, and popular organizations as well as to oppose the irresponsible spending of very significant national resources to finance the Olympic Games—in detriment of needed social programs. The government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz responded by shooting from helicopters and tanks killing over 300 students.

This massacre has remained in the collective memory of the Mexican and Latin American Student movement for decades. It has also permeated many Mexican cultural expressions in the arts, film, and literature, an example of which is Elena Poniatowska’s novel The Night of Tlatelolco. (She is the latest recipient of the Premio Cervantes, the equivalent of the Nobel prize for Hispanic literature). It was in the middle of organizing an event to commemorate in the city of Iguala their comrades fallen 46 years ago in Tlatelolco, that 43 young student teachers of the near by city of Ayotzinapa were kidnaped by police forces following orders of public functionaries, shot in cold blood, and then incinerated in a macabre pyre that burned for over 14 hours. According to The Guardian (November 9), the remains left “were collected in plastic bags and disposed in a nearby river.” The 82-year-old Poniatowska, revisited her indignation yesterday in Miami, where she is to inaugurate the American Book Fair, denouncing on American—Spanish television the slaughter of the students with these caustic words:

That 43 people be assassinated in such fashion, not just assassinated, they were burned in a garbage dump, like garbage, as if they were shit.

In response to the massacre, huge protest rallies with hundreds of thousands of participants have been organized throughout Mexico’s largest cities, towns, and small villages to protest this new crime. While his country shows legitimate indignation and demands justice, Enrique Peña Nieto, the current Mexican President, has decided not to interrupt the new Olympic Games of Mexican capitalism and continue his planned tour to China and Australia. Whereas the Chinese people have been kept silent by president Xi Jinpin’s suppressive state surveillance (Remember Tiananmen Square protest in 1989?); in Australia, numerous protests for the missing students have taken place during Peña Nieto’s visit demanding that he steps down as president.

The Berlin Wall American style, and Mexicans as “the other”

It is hardly an accident that a 680 miles long wall barriers, at a cost close to 50 billion dollars has been erected along the Mexican- American border in the States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas allegedly to stop undocumented migrants and smugglers (ironically, at one point in history all those states used to be part of Mexico). The border-wall is an unequivocal architectural cultural testimony that shows how conservative, fundamentally white America characterizes “the other” at the south of the border though a discourse that assumes innate illegality by reasons of geography and skin color. Simultaneously, like all walls do, the border-wall also serves as a barrier to the exterior world that asserts and reinforces the isolation and parochialism of the U.S versus other countries. This double function of distortion and isolation, have been visible in the ways the American media has covered the events in Mexico focusing exclusively on describing the violence without an analysis of the forces behind and its beneficiaries on both sides of the border. It has also systematically ignored the massive dissenting struggle of the Mexican people against the status quo.

Complementing this dual function, the border-wall serves as an implicit ideological purifier demarcation, meant to create the illusion among Americans that the law and non-violence resides this side of the Rio Grande, ignoring the high military apparatus of men and equipment, integrated by official federal and state forces, and voluntary forces of right-wing vigilantes put in place along the border. The border-wall with its massive blocks of concrete and electronic surveillance in tall iron fences is the new iconic symbol of contemporary America, replacing The Statue of Liberty with 680 miles of barbwire.

It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the flaws of the border-wall forcing migrants to take perilous desert routes, or its pathetic un-effectiveness which according to ‘No Border-Wall .com‘, shows that 97 percent who tried to cross the U.S. –Mexico border eventually succeed at entering he country. Rather my purpose is to bring attention to how Mexico and its people has been criminalized in the American mind by the erection of tangible physical structures like the border-wall, the persistent racism in American culture, the economic exploitation of immigrants subjected to ‘inferior’ and underpaid jobs, as well as the one-sided media reports that portray Mexico as an out of control, violent land run by corrupt government officials in alliance with drug-cartels and the army. The reports on the massacre of the student teachers in Iguala last month exemplifies this approach in the sense that they have left out an important national historical trait of Mexican people: their ability to dissent and struggle against the hard conditions imposed by capitalism in its most current version. A form of capitalism directly conditioned by American interests in the region.

Mexico: a dissenting nation

If, as mentioned above, the Tlatelolco massacre lives on in the collective memory of students and people all over Latin America, so does the long revolutionary, dissenting tradition of contemporary Mexican history. From the first country in the Western world to organize an armed agrarian revolution in 1910 (of which Lenin and Mao where to learn more than one thing in 1917 and 1949 respectively); to the strong peasant and workers movements of the 30’s and 40’s; to the prominent intellectual role played by Mexican writers, poets, painters, muralists, etc. influencing south-American culture, to the New-Zapatista Army of National Liberation born in 1994 and still active nowadays in a anti-capitalist struggle in favor of Mexican indigenous peoples and the reforming of Mexican Political Constitution.

But most importantly, this article pays tribute to the Mexican people who through decades of social adversity— created by an alliance of mutual benefits between the traditional Mexican dominant capitalist classes, the drug cartels as new members of this class, (This distinction is important because the economy of drug-trafficking exist closely integrated in the Mexican economy), and the official and un-official armed forces in the country—still persist in its dissent and questions the violence generated by existent domination system, as proved by the dozens of public rallies and protest marches nation occupying the streets and plazas of their country.

I have chosen as a final example of the long ascendancy of dissent in Mexico, parts of a poem by Javier Raya that with eloquence and figuration combines in a popular form, his individual subjectivity with wider social sentiments. (Translated to English by me)

I Dissent

“I dissent your version of public health

as an illness to be cured by bullets.

I dissent your version of education

that allows the most brilliant

minds of my generation

condemned to telemarketing jobs

or living with their parents until their 30’s

and to fuck without making too much noise


The only luxury of young people has been hope

and even hope is sold to us on credit and overpriced,

they take advantage of us as they did with our parents


I dissent, when you tell me

that the 121 deaths until 2014,

and keep on counting

is just collateral damage


I dissent when you tell me

that the dead fit in a figure of cost analysis

or in the expenses of producing peace.


I dissent when you tell me

that the increasing violence

is in the name of happiness,

of unity, and national prosperity.


I know that everything will be fine

because I am not alone,

because we are many,

and we’ll make sure that everything will be fine.


Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.


México–una nación que diciente: la larga noche de Tlatelolco a Iguala

Works in Progress - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 9:00am

En octubre de 1968, diez días antes de los Juegos Olímpicos de Verano en la Ciudad de México, más de diez mil estudiantes se reunieron en la Plaza de las Tres Culturas en el barrio de Tlatelolco para protestar contra las políticas represivas del gobierno contra trabajadores, agricultores, sindicatos y organizaciones populares; y también para oponerse al gasto irresponsable de recursos nacionales para financiar los Juegos Olímpicos—en detrimento de los programas sociales necesarios. El gobierno de Gustavo Díaz Ordaz respondió disparando desde helicópteros y tanques matando a más de 300 estudiantes.

Esta masacre permanece viva en la memoria colectiva del movimiento estudiantil mexicano y latino-americano. En las ultimas décadas también ha permeado muchas expresiones culturales mexicanas en las artes, el cine y la literatura, un ejemplo de esto es la novela de Elena Poniatowska La noche de Tlatelolco. (Ella es el último ganador del Premio Cervantes, el equivalente al premio Nobel de la literatura hispano-americana.) Fue en medio de la organización de un evento para conmemorar en la ciudad de Iguala sus camaradas caídos hace 46 años en Tlatelolco, que 43 jóvenes estudiantes de pedagogía de la cercana ciudad de Ayotzinapa fueron secuestrados por fuerzas policíales siguiendo órdenes de los funcionarios públicos, asesinados a sangre fría, y luego incinerados en una pira macabra que ardió durante más de 14 horas. Según The Guardian (Domingo, 09 de noviembre 2014), los restos remanentes “fueron recogidos en bolsas de plástico y arrojados en un río cercano”. La octogenaria (82 años) Elena Poniatowska, volvió a revivir su indignación ayer en Miami, donde se encuentra para inaugurar la Feria del Libro en Estados Unidos, denunciando en la televisión hispano-parlante la masacre de los estudiantes con estas cáusticas palabras :

Que 43 personas sean asesinadas de esta manera, pero no sólo asesinadas, sino  que además fueran quemadas en un basurero, como basura, como si fueran          mierda.

En respuesta a la masacre, enormes manifestaciones de protesta con cientos de miles de participantes se han organizado a lo largo de las ciudades más grandes de México, pueblos y pequeñas aldeas para protestar este nuevo crimen. Mientras que su país muestra indignación legítima y exige justicia, Enrique Peña Nieto, el actual presidente mexicano, ha decidido no interrumpir los nuevos Juegos Olímpicos del capitalismo mexicano y continuar su planificada gira a China y Australia. Mientras que el pueblo chino se han mantenido en silencio bajo la vigilancia del estado y su presidente Xi Jinpin (Recuerdan protesta la plaza de Tiananmen en 1989?); en Australia, durante la visita de Peña Nieto han tenido lugar numerosas protestas por los estudiantes desaparecidos y exigiéndo la renuncia del presidente mexicano.

El Muro de Berlín a la American y los Mexicanos como “el otro”

No es casual que 680 millas de muro fronterizo, a un costo cercano a los 50 mil millones de dólares se han erigido a lo largo de la frontera mexicano-americana en los Estados de California, Arizona, Nuevo México y Texas; supuestamente para detener inmigrantes indocumentados y contrabandistas (irónicamente, en algún momento histórico todos esos estados solían ser parte de México). El muro fronterizo es un testimonio arquitectónico cultural y una muestra inequívoca de cómo fuerzas conservadoras, fundamentalmente blancas de los Estados Unidos caracterizan a “el otro” en el sur de la frontera, a través de un discurso que asume la ilegalidad innata por razones geográficas y por el color de la piel. Simultáneamente, como lo hacen todas las paredes, la pared fronteriza sirve también como una barrera hacia el mundo exterior que afirma y refuerza el aislamiento y la estrechez de miras de los EE.UU. frente a otros países. Esta doble función de distorsión y aislamiento, han sido visibles en las formas en que la prensa estadounidense ha cubierto los últimos acontecimientos en México, centrándose exclusivamente en la descripción de la violencia sin un análisis de las fuerzas detrás de la misma y de sus beneficiarios en ambos lados de la frontera. También ha ignorado sistemáticamente la lucha disidente masiva y persistente del pueblo mexicano contra el status quo.

Como complemento de esta doble función, el muro de la frontera sirve como instrumento implícito de demarcación y purificación ideológica, destinado a crear la ilusión entre los estadounidenses de que la ley y la no violencia reside a este lado del Río Grande, ignorando así la gran magnitud del aparato militar de hombres y equipo, integrado por fuerzas armadas oficiales federales y estatales, así como por voluntarios de extrema derecha y vigilantes a lo largo de la frontera. El muro de la frontera con sus enormes bloques de concreto y la vigilancia electrónica en sus altas vallas de hierro es el nuevo símbolo icónico de la América contemporánea. Se ha substituido La Estatua de la Libertad con 680 millas de alambre de púas.

No es el propósito de este artículo el hablar de otros efectos del muro en la frontera que obligan a los migrantes a tomar rutas desérticas peligrosas; o su patética falta de efectividad demostrada según ‘Sin Fronteras-Wall .com’, por el hecho que 97 por ciento de quienes intentan cruzar la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México, finalmente tienen éxito entrando al país. Más bien mi propósito es llamar la atención sobre la forma en que México y su gente han sido criminalizados y tipificados en la mentalidad americana a través de la erección de estructuras físicas tangibles como el muro fronterizo, el racismo persistente en la cultura americana, la explotación económica de los inmigrantes sometidos a puestos de trabajo mal pagados y considerados ‘inferiores’, así como los informes de los medios que nos presentan un retrato de un México fuera de control, una tierra violenta dirigida por funcionarios corruptos y por narco-traficantes. Los informes sobre la masacre de los estudiantes en Iguala el mes pasado es un ejemplo de este enfoque en el sentido de que ha dejado de lado un importante rasgo histórico nacional del pueblo mexicano: su capacidad de disentir y luchar contra las duras condiciones impuestas por el capitalismo. Un capitalismo que en su forma actual es directamente condicionado por los intereses estadounidenses en la región.

México: Una Nación Disidente

Si, como se mencionó anteriormente, la masacre de Tlatelolco vive en la memoria colectiva de los estudiantes y el pueblo latinoamericano; también viven en esta memoria la larga tradición revolucionaria y disidente de la historia mexicana contemporánea. In 1910, México fue el primer país en el mundo occidental en organizar una revolución agraria armada (de la cual Lenin y Mao, aprendieron más de una cosa en 1917 y 1949, respectivamente); los años 30’s y 40’s caracterizaron a México por altos niveles de organización y movilización obrera y campesina; en el pasado los intelectuales escritores mexicanos, poetas, pintores, muralistas, etc. jugaron un rol influyente en la cultura sur-americana y continúan haciéndolo en el presente; de igual modo Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, nacido en 1994 y sigue activo hoy en una lucha anticapitalista y en favor de los pueblos indígenas de México y por la reforma de la actual constitución política mexicana.

Pero aun más importante, este artículo rinde homenaje al pueblo mexicano que a través de décadas de adversidad social—creada por una alianza de beneficio mutuo entre las clases dominantes capitalistas tradicionales mexicanos y los carteles de la droga como nuevos miembros de esta clase, (Esta distinción es importante porque la economía del narcotráfico existe estrechamente integrada en la economía mexicana), y las fuerzas armadas oficiales y no-oficiales en el país—todavía persiste en su disidencia y cuestiona la violencia generada por el sistema de dominación existente como lo demuestran las decenas de mítines y marchas públicas de protesta ocupando las calles y plazas de Mexico.

He elegido como un ejemplo final de la larga ascendencia de disidencia en México, partes de un poema de Javier Raya que con la elocuencia y la figuración combina en una forma popular, su subjetividad individual con sentimientos sociales más amplios.

Disentimientos de la Nacion

Yo disiento tu versión de la salud

como una enfermedad que se cura a balazos.

Yo disiento de tu versión de la educación

que deja a las mentes más brillantes

de mi generación

condenadas a empleos de telemarketing

o viviendo con sus padres hasta los 30,

cogiendo sin hacer mucho ruido


El único lujo de los jóvenes ha sido la esperanza

e incluso la esperanza nos la venden a crédito y cara,

nos ven la cara como se la vieron a nuestros padres


Disiento, cuando me dices

que las 121 mil muertes hasta el año 2014

y contando

son bajas colaterales


Disiento cuando me dices

que los muertos caben en una cifra, en un costo,

en un gasto de producción de la paz.


Disiento cuando me dices

que la violencia creciente

es en nombre de la felicidad,

de la unidad, y la prosperidad nacional.


Yo sé que todo va a estar bien

porque no soy solo yo,

porque somos muchos,

y nos aseguraremos de que todo va a estar bien.


Enrique Quintero, un activista político en América Latina durante la década de los 70, enseñó ESL y adquisición de segundas lenguas en el Distrito Escolar de Anchorage, y español en la Universidad de Alaska Anchorage. Actualmente vive y escribe en Olympia.

Death of a Local Biz, frozen, lizards and a stone (Olyblogosphere for December 8, 2014)

Olympia Time - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 6:34am
1. Things freeze here.

2. OMG. You can enjoy Olysketcher in print. All year long.

3. Birds, Bees & Butterflies: Looking for a Salamander on Thanksgiving.

4. I like this photo, but I think it should've been titled "Stone in the Midst of All."

"Not All That Shimmers," by Diablo_119 in the Olympia Pool on flickr.

5. And, finally. Over at r/olympia: Dino's Dinner, death of a local business.

Just because Bud Blake won a county commission seat doesn't mean an independent can win in the 22nd LD

Olympia Time - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 5:52am
When you think about politics in Thurston County, the 22nd legislative district is the Democratic liberal juicy middle in what is a pretty typical rural or suburban western Washington county. This is where the urban communities are, this is where the liberals are.

This is a district that hasn't elected a Republican since 1980 when W.H Garson of Tenino went to the legislative building. This is also when the 22nd LD was big enough geographically to send someone from Tenino to the legislative building.

Just a side note: since Thurston County population shot through the roof in the 1970s, I'd assume that redistricting was particularly unkind to Republicans in the 22nd in the 1980s. What probably happened was the district shrank geographically given the boost of urban population, giving it its liberal contour today.


Bud Blake was the first conservative to win a county commissioner seat in Thurston County for a long time, most likely because he ran as an independent against a Democratic. And, he won in a convincing fashion.

I was wondering if a county-wide election for a Republican in independent clothing meant the same sort of strategy could equal the same result in the smaller, liberal 22nd LD. Well, it does not.

But, man, it would be close. If you isolate the 22nd LD precincts (the way I did in that link above), you see a pretty tight race. Democrat Karen Valenzuela would have won with just over 51 percent, or 2,000 votes out of over 40,000.

But, a win is still a win.

That said, I think a legislative race would have been even harder for an independent (especially a conservative one) to win over a Democrat. I suspect that strictly partisan issues (like abortion, environmental protection, taxes) could be isolated in a way that they couldn't be on a local general government election.

Ebenezer Howard, 3 Magnets and the bad bad City Beautiful

Olympia Time - Mon, 12/01/2014 - 6:04am
Just below the surface of the best new place in Olympia, the 3 Magnets Brewpub, is a fascinating way to look at cities and communities.

One of the 3 Magnets owners vaguely references the ideas of Howard here:
“Three Magnets is based on a 115-year-old book called Garden Cities of To-morrow by Ebenezer Howard,” explains Sara. ”Basically, Ebenezer considered himself an inventor of the perfect community. He thought he could take the best of both rural and urban living and blend them into a perfect town-country. When reading this, everything called out to us as Olympia, either what we are or what we strive to be.”So, to delve more specifically into the imagery, the three magnets are "Town," "Country," and "Town Country."

It proposed the creation of new suburban towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land. These Garden cities were used as the model for many suburbs. Howard believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature.Howard believed that a new civilisation could be found by marrying the town and the country.The towns would be largely independent, managed by the citizens who had an economic interest in them, and financed by ground rents on the Georgist model. The land on which they were to be built was to be owned by a group of trustees and leased to the citizens.So, in at least not in an intentional way, this sounds a lot like what people in Olympia would like Olympia to be, post Growth Management Act. Lots of rural space around us for small scale agriculture, vibrant urban community on a human scale.

So, if you're following me so far, this sounds pretty typical. Nothing special here, just a reference back to a nice idea that we might draw from.

But, then there's the City Beautiful Movement. If you've listened for more than five minutes about any discussion about Capitol Lake or the so-called isthmus, you're familiar with this term. I think its a bunch of bunk myself. It was a short lived, classist and based on importing old world esthetics and pasting them onto North American cities. Just dumb.

Both the Garden City (Howards') and the City Beautiful movement came along at the same point in history, when people were facing the pressures of dealing with industrialization and urbanization:

While the Garden City movement shaped a design aesthetic and pattern for satellite towns, the City Beautiful movement was aimed at restructuring American downtowns around a coordinated ideology and strategy. Just prior to the 20th century, America was becoming an international economic power, and its cities were in need of an urban form indicative of the new national identity. America's cities were fraught with problems, and the City Beautiful movement helped provide a physical form for the previously established Public Health Movement. The City Beautiful movement envisioned the city as an entire work of architecture; its practitioners insisted that all construction conform to a singular vision. They believed that cities had failed and that a new expression of values would inspire good government and public stewardship....

He envisioned Garden Cities as compact, transit-oriented communities surrounded by greenbelts of natural landscape; they were to contain all the pieces of a town, integrating residential, commercial, industrial, landscape and agricultural uses. Howard authored the first radial city plan, which is a useful diagram for city planning even today. Garden City architectural styles were diverse but inspired by expressive, picturesque and romantic designs appropriate to natural settings.We're not facing the same pressures that urban leaders in the 1890s faced. Instead of trying to make urban areas livable because of pressure from industrialization and population growth, we're trying to make them vibrant to fight against suburbanization. Thurston County is already one of the most sprawled counties in the country. We want people to be in downtown Olympia because it is a nice place to be.

And, it seems like the diversity offered in the Garden City ideal, rather than the monolith of the City Beautiful Movement, offers a much better answer. It speaks to making the country productive while also making our city livable.

Happy Thanksgiving, Olympia 1852

Olympia Time - Thu, 11/27/2014 - 5:27am
A far as my lazy bones are concerned, 1852 is the earliest point you can really go and see what Olympia was all about. The Columbian (between 1852-53) is available online via a searchable database.

And, from that source, we can see what Thanksgiving was like in that early Olympia fall:

Olympia existed, but it was still a part of Oregon itself, the Columbia or Washington Territory was still yet to be born the following spring. A convention had just been held advocating for secession from Oregon. And, yet, even still, the governor of Oregon couldn't bother to let Northern Oregon know when Thanksgiving was going to be.
The late date of 1852's Thanksgiving in the unified Oregon is a nod towards the squishiness of our most American holiday. Only six years before had a Thanksgiving campaign been started and it wasn't until the 1860s that Lincoln got around to the national holiday.
If you then scroll back to near where we celebrate Thanksgiving now (the Saturday, November 27, 1852 edition), the Columbian features a letter to the editor that marks a much more important celebration for Olympians. The Monday before had been the first day of school in the city.

Set aside the "idleness of Indians" (because Indians weren't and aren't idle), the letter spells out a pretty interesting vision of America, education and civic life.

To a point Thanksgiving has now retreated back into the family. Like that, education is often seen as a benefit to family (if I don't have kids, why should I pay for schools?) and not the community. This letter seems to point out that there was always that sort of short-minded counter argument to public education:Think of it ye calculating men on this side of the continent, who let a few dollars (perhaps a single day's work), stand in the way of educating your children. Do you say there is less need of education now than two hundred years ago? Will there be no need in the future of intelligent men and women?The letter writer harkens back to the educational standard set by the most New England of New Englanders, the Pilgrims. And, of course, Olympia in 1852 was at the moment being settled by communitarian New Englanders and individualistic Appalachians. This debate on education was part of the friction between the two groups that eventually made us the way we are today around here.

And, yet, we still have the debate. Enshrined in the 1889 state constitution is the paramount duty of education, carried forward by the Pilgrim tradition written about in 1852. Hardly anyone argues that we shouldn't have schools at all, but we're working hard to avert our eyes from the promise our state made. And, the pressures that keep us away from that promise certainly are the same ones that talk about low taxes, smaller government and the power of the individual over the community.

So, happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful some New Englanders opened a school in late November 1852. Otherwise we'd wouldn't be "a people too enlightened to be enslaved, too virtuous to be bought."

Shrine of forgotten blog posts (Olyblogosphere for November 24, 2014)

Olympia Time - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 7:05am
1. Northern closed.

2. Some actual good advice (if not spurious descriptions) of how to buy stolen goods stolen from Oly.

3. One of Olympia's best artists has two new books out. And, is releasing even more soon. Damn.

4. One more LBA update from Olympia's best blog.

5. Shrine of Forgotten Objects in TESC Woods.

Look at how Smith Troy is smiling

Olympia Time - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 6:46am
He literally snuck back into town to take the oath of office.

He looks like he just ate the bird.

Or, he's just really super happy to be home after years at war. So, there should be some of that. But, I think there's a healthy dose of having gotten one over on room full of befuddled old men who would have like to replace him while he was gone.

From the AG's official history:
From 1943 to 1945, General Troy served in the Army in Europe as Lieutenant Colonel Troy and earned five battle stars. During this time, Troy's deputy served as acting Attorney General.This apparently was quit the coup for Troy. If normal process had been followed, Troy would have resigned and the governor would have appointed a replacement. But, Troy was able to write an opinion that his deputy serve for him and run for office in 1944 while serving.

The other people in the room look kind of surprised to be at a swearing in ceremony:

 Seems like Troy was actually in town for a month or so before he was sworn in at the end of August. He didn't end up taking charge of the office again until the middle of September.

But, in the end, he was able to pull of nearly two years, AG in the war theatre, and settle back in to his seat of power, befuddled old guys on his shoulders.

What do you see in this chart? Mason County changing?

Olympia Time - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:31pm
This is a chart tracking partisan returns in the 35th legislative district between 1992 and 2014. The lines track the two house seats and the dark dots, the senate. What I'm tracking here is how successful Democratic branded candidates have done over the past 20 years.

An important note before you look any further. For 2014, I switched Sen. Tim Sheldon for his challenger Irene Bowling. In you own consideration, feel free to totally ignore that, but for the sake of argument, and to make an interesting chart, I did that.

So, here's what I see: Throwing out two uncontested years, the Democratic brand in the 35th (greater Mason County) has been eroding.

Mason County always struck me as an interesting place, the furthest inland outpost of the "Coastal Caucus" political type. I sort of wrote about this, the most non-partisan of Washington's political regions, here.

I've also been thinking a lot about two other rural western Washington counties, Lewis and Grays Harbor. These two places share a river (the Chehalis), but party speaking, one is very Democratic, the other is very Republican. I've been wondering (baring very few other differences) why Lewis votes almost always Republican and Grays Harbor even more often Democratic.

And, I think we might be seeing that difference in action in Mason County. In the past, it seems that Shelton was very much like Grays Harbor. But now, as we move through several elections, Mason County is becoming more dependably Republican. This is the first time since at least 1992 that the 35th have returned three state legislators that won't caucus with the Democrats.

But, what are the factors behind this label change? You can argue that the Democrats Mason County sent to the legislator were always more conservative. Sure, I can take that. Other coastal Democrats were always different than King County Democrats. At least in the modern sense.

But, why the label change? Here's on theory: one other thing has happened in the last 10 years, urban Democrats have been focussing energy on Mason County and Tim Sheldon.

Sheldon's break with urban Dems has been at least ten years in the making, since he chaired Democrats for Bush in 2004. He also led a rebellion against a Democratic budged in a few years ago and then famously caucused with Republicans during the last two legislative sessions. And, since then, Democrats in other parts of Puget Sound have been taking a harder and harder aim at him. The high point was this year when a traditionally funded Democrat faced off with Sheldon in the general, and lost.

So, maybe this really isn't an act of Mason County voters changing their stripes, but a slow-motion erosion of the old-style coastal Dem with a modern conservative Republican.

A study in mis-direction: Inslee’s draft marine and rail oil transportation report

Works in Progress - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:04pm

State sees oil train risks as acceptable

Over the next several months, Governor Inslee is inviting the public to focus their attention on this Department of Ecology report leading to support for legislative proposals by March 1, 2015.

The question is whether the public should accept his invitation to help enable the transportation of this un-conventional Bakken and tar sands crude and to support his legislative initiatives or stay focused on local organizing, local jurisdictions, like Ports and City Councils, and statewide movement building.

I’ve come to believe that the only force capable of saving our land, labor and commonly held resources is an alliance of sovereign tribes, organized labor, farmer unions, and community based resistance groups working in concert with their local governmental jurisdictions.

The first draft appeared October 1 and the first comment hearings took place October 28 in Spokane and October 30 in Olympia. There will be more in the future.

Probably the first thing you notice about the report is what’s not there. There no mention of the significant statewide municipal, community, farm, union and tribal opposition to his proposed oil terminals, expanding oil refineries, explosive oil trains and the misuse of our public ports. You would think there would at least be a nod to the cities like Vancouver who passed a resolution opposing the oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver and calling on the Port of Vancouver to rescind its lease with Tesoro/Savage for a massive marine crude export terminal.

But then you notice who is writing the report. The Department of Ecology is the same state agency who on Inslee’s watch issued declarations of non-significance for two of the three proposed oil terminals at Grays Harbor. Such declarations would have meant a fast track to construction. However, an alliance of community groups and the Quinault nation got those declarations overturned and now massive Environmental Impact Study (EIS) studies are in progress for all three terminals.

Having this biased department leading the study is bad enough, but then they list a BNSF “Senior Citizens Club”, MainLine Management, Inc. as one of the authors of the draft report. This firm is the only rail consultant of the five firms listed as authors of the report. All three principals and all three associates in MainLine had long corporate careers with BNSF. BNSF is the dominant Class I railroad in this state and the main beneficiary of all the crude by trail traffic the Governor is facilitating.

MainLine, however, was apparently hired by Environmental Research Consulting (ERC) of Cortland Manor, NY. This firm, which has worked for the American Petroleum Institute and done previous studies for Ecology, has the sole contract with Ecology for this study. Of the $300,000 allocated by the Legislature for this study, ERC gets $250,000 for a one year contract ending in June 2015.

Then you need to consider the actions of Inslee’s Administration itself, not its rhetoric, but what it actually does. His policy. His Department of Transportation, State UTC, Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and Community Economic Development Board all implement programs with BNSF as one of its main beneficiaries and to the detriment of expanded and current passenger service.

So what’s the purpose of Inslee’s Study? Mis-direction. It defines the problem as a federal issue and calls upon the US Coast Guard and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to do something. The USCG actually regulates marine traffic, but the FRA is an industry dominated entity with the current capability of inspecting less than 1% of rail activity and a policy of imploring railroads rather than regulating them. Calling upon the FRA to regulate rail would be like calling upon BNSF’s owner Warren Buffett to stop making money. It’s not what they do.

Worse, the study’s authors wait until the very end of the report (p. 82) to state that the very things that the public has been asking about are not considered by this study: “… the potential ways in which the crude by rail system and the increase in port activities with new facilities affects tribal treaty rights, the environment and the regional economy” are “ancillary”and not the “direct topic” of the study.

Okay, if the study does not address how crude by rail affects tribal rights, the environment and the regional economy, what does it attempt to tell us? The study’s authors are trying to tell us all this risk is normal so there is no particular reason to get upset…. it’s just some new risks. They do this with the repeated phrase “for decades.”

“Tribal risks from spills currently exist in all areas of the state and have for decades.” (36) “The environmental risks from spills already existed in all areas of the state for decades.” (38) “While diluted bitumen has been transported into Washington for decades,” (38) “The socio-economic risks from oil spills has already existed in all areas of the state for decades.” (40)

But, of course, the scale of extraction of these “non-conventional” crudes has NOT been happening for decades nor have we experienced the consequent level of threat to our communities, our natural and treaty resources and our economic infrastructures.

Inslee’s study assumes all this extraction and transportation can be mitigated and focuses solely on risk. In focusing solely on risk, the authors are admitting they have no idea about, understanding of, or control over what they are facilitating. They refuse to exercise caution even in the face of existing catastrophic consequences. The study’s authors need to visit the still cordoned off downtown Lac Megantic or watch the film, Petropolis, showing the devastation from the Alberta tar sands where two of the three largest dams by volume in the world hold back all the unmitigated rot. And this study wants to reward all this by transporting it through our state?

Is there any value to this draft? Yes, it indirectly supports the statewide demand for an immediate moratorium on Crude by Rail. The study lists in excruciating detail how totally exposed everyone in this state is to the explosive danger of the existing crude by rail traffic. The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters is right. There needs to be an immediate halt to this oil train traffic.

From the report:

“Nearly three million Washington state residents live in 93 cities and towns on or near crude by rail trains routes” (or, as we would say, are in the “blast zone.”) (30)

“Current tank car placarding standards for the transportation of hazardous materials are insufficient in providing First Responders timely and important information. “ (51)

“None of the current crude by rail are subject to requirements for comprehensive response plans.”

“Railroad spills are not currently covered by state approved oil spill contingency plans (67)

“Washington has not established financial responsibility levels for facilities which include both fixed and mobile facilities and rail as a facility. (68)

“The current state regulatory definition of oil may not include certain heavy oils, diluted bitumen, synthetic crudes, and other crude oils produced in Canada that are transported in Washington. (68)

“Currently, the state does not have means to gather information on the type or volume of oil being shipped through Washington.” (69)

62% of the state’s 278 fire districts “believe that their departments are not sufficiently trained or do not have the resources to respond to a train derailment accompanied by fire.” (70)

An overwhelming majority of first responders surveyed “are not aware of the response strategies or resources in place by railroads should an incident take place.” (71)

There is “not a comprehensive inventory of the equipment location that would aid in locating and sharing equipment when it is needed.” (72)

“Training for first responders in Washington State is currently insufficient and is not uniformly coordinated, and what training is currently available is at risk of reduction due to reduced  federal grants. (72)

A Geographic Response Plans for oil spills to water “have not been developed for most of the rail corridors through which crude by rail trains are transiting….” (73)

How can this state level study process be used? There seems to be two options.

The study can be an opportunity to create a love fest for the “beleaguered green governor” who pleads that he has no authority to regulate rail and wants communities throughout the state to back a doomed legislative agenda to expand agency study budgets while oil terminals get approved, oil refineries get expanded, and our rail system is turned into a permanent carbon corridor for the export of tar sands and Bakken crude.

Or, the study can be a reminder that the strength of community resistance was what produced this attempt at mis-direction and the task remains to continue building opposition to state sponsored oil terminals, expanding refineries and a state bureaucracy collaborating with BNSF’s mission to export through our public ports global pollution from the broken earth of Northern Alberta and North Dakota.

I had a conversation with a person several months ago who described the small Lewis county rail towns of Vader, Winlock and Napavine as “sacrifice zones.” More recently I drove the BNSF track in Eastern Washington. I now think the farm towns of Cheney, Sprague, Ritzville, Lind, Hatton, Connell and Mesa are also “sacrifice zones.” Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that our entire state is being made a sacrifice zone to the extractive madness of the big oil and the state government is currently facilitating its creation.

Inslee’s study is an attempt to cap the oppositional movement and trade the state’s future for a false climate agenda based on mitigating disaster at the margins. It won’t work.

Dan Leahy is a Westside resident and proud member of the Decatur Raiders.

Tax me! I believe in civilization

Works in Progress - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 9:56pm

When it comes to taxes, Washington has the most regressive in the nation

The Supreme Court in Washington State is insisting that basic education be fully funded, and the group responsible for making that happen is the State Legislature. It’s not clear how exactly that’s going to happen.

It is clear we have a “revenue gap”—our state doesn’t collect enough revenue in taxes to pay for basic services and the McCleary decision will cost an additional 1.4 billion in this biennium. This comes on top of the .9 billion required to fund current educational obligations. So, simply in terms of K-12 education, we’re 2.3 billion short.

According to the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, if the legislature goes the route of NOT raising taxes, but tries to meet the demands of McCleary through cuts, we would lose all funding for:

  • Public four-year colleges and universities (1 billion)
  • Student financial aid (660 million)
  • Cost of living increases for teachers      (360 million)
  • Early learning for young children           (112 million)
  • Housing assistance for individuals with disabilities (79 million)
  • Offender supervision (65 million)
  • Food assistance for vulnerable families (24 million)

Food assistance, offender supervision, housing assistance, early learning support, cost of living increases for teachers, public higher education and access to it through loans—these are essential pillars in a civilized society today. We can’t have a democracy without a strong system of public education, and given the same structural inequities that make public higher education a necessity, we also need to insure that qualified students have access to that education regardless of family income and wealth. Without fair wages, schools across the state won’t be able to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Without teachers, students won’t thrive. Each item on this list depends on the others in order to be fully realized, and yet all are in danger.

And yet, we may give all this up. Unlike most states, we don’t have an income tax. The suggestion that we should vote one in never materializes into actual policies, in spite of strong arguments in favor of it. We voted ourselves into a pickle in terms of raising property taxes when we passed Initiative 747 in 2001, limiting increases in property taxes to 1% per year or the increase in inflation, whichever was smaller. We live in a tax averse state.

Regulated inequality in WA State

In January 2013, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy issued a report called “Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of Tax Systems in all Fifty States,” and in it, they argue that Washington State has the most regressive tax policies of any state in this nation. Regressive tax policies are those that force families with the lowest incomes to pay high proportions of that limited income on taxes, while families with the highest incomes are allowed to pay a much smaller proportion of their incomes on taxes. In other words, with regressive tax rates, rich families receive a lower effective tax rate than do poor families. That’s the case in Washington State.

In WA State, the average income for families in the bottom 20% was $11,500. State and local taxes required 16.9% of their income. On average, across all states, families with the lowest incomes paid 11% for state and local taxes. At the other end of the income scale, families with incomes in the top 1%–average $1,131,500—needed 2.8% of that income to pay for state and local taxes. Across the country, families in the top 1% needed 5.6% of their incomes to pay state and local taxes. Because of our tax practices, we’ve earned the label “#1 of the Terrible Ten”—most regressive of all the states.

None of this is new news—it’s the situation we have been living with, and probably would go on living with, except the Supreme Court has ruled that we need to live up to our state Constitution in which we declare our commitment to providing every child in Washington State with a basic education.

In the upcoming legislative session, these fundamental contradictions in our state policies will come to a head. We can’t continue to tax the poor and shelter the rich while providing a basic education to all. Well, we can, if we cut all the things on the list named above.

Reckless endangerment?

Bill Stauffacher, the lobbyist for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers (IIABW), is ready to make those cuts. In a letter to members of the IIABW, Stauffacher explains that the lobby will face two big tax fights—an effort to increase the B&O tax rate on producer commissions, and an effort to create a state capital gains tax, which he argues, is the first step towards a state income tax.

Stauffacher writes, “IIABW-member agencies and producers who are concerned about their B&O taxes increasing or the possibility of a new state capital gains tax (yes, you read that correctly) should run right at the looming political hurricane with all the collective force and fury we can marshal. This requires a renewed commitment to supporting the Big I PAC, timely grassroots participation and support of IIABW’s lobbying efforts.”

The status quo that Stauffacher supports—that the Supreme Court objects to—is one the state has tried to address before. In the 1970’s, in Thurston County, Judge Robert Doran ruled that schools were too reliant on local levies for their funding, which led to inequities across districts. The Supreme Court agreed in 1978, and the Levy Lid Act was passed, allowing local levies to pay for no more than 10% of a district’s education. That was repealed, and replaced, and the allowable levy limit crept up towards 30%. Currently, local levies provide about 16% of school funding, and the state provides 66 % (Budget and Policy Center).

What this means is that schools are not equal. Opportunities for learning are not equal. Local levies in the Sumner School District in north Pierce County add $2578 per student per year to the district budget. Local levies in the Sunnyside School District in Yakima add $351 per student. What difference can $2227 per student per year make in a school, or in a district? That’s a $55,000 difference in each 25-student classroom, each year.

Bill Stauffacher and his PAC may win. Washington may continue to be a comfortable home for the wealthy, while at the same time taxing the poor and providing inadequate services. He’s organized, he’s focused, and he’s getting ready now. Are we?

Emily Lardner teaches at The Evergreen State College and co-directs The Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education, a public service of the college.


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