Dispatch from the Center of the Universe

Everybody knows that the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle is the Center of the Universe. (According to the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, the determination was made in 1991 by an assemblage called the Fremont Scientists, who issued the declaration “after a careful and considered study.”)

A band of rogue sign makers, instigated by local artist Maque daVis, erected a sign on a pedestrian island pointing directions and distances to various landmarks – TROLL; 2 BLKS, LOUVRE; 9757 KM, MILKY WAY; 69 LT. YRS, “NOOGIE; TOP OF HEAD – thus proving Fremont’s centrality. A couple years later the Metropolitan King County Council issued a proclamation and in 1994 put up an “official” sign.

Fremont’s decline began in 1998, when Adobe came, moving into its new building, a modern, soulless edifice put up without regard to its eccentric surroundings. The resulting gentrification and rising rents over the past two decades have driven out the artistic community that made Fremont its home and gave the neighborhood its quirkiness. Even the beloved Red Door Ale House has transitioned to upscale.

The sign remained. Errant drivers have twice taken out the signpost; both times it was repaired and replaced. Recently, a villainous miscreant stole the sign, post and all. Surveillance video shows a woman loading the sign into her Audi and driving away. Seattle police have a suspect, a “serial sign stealer.”

Maque daVis

Mr. daVis, who no longer lives in the neighborhood, is finishing work on a replacement sign. Keeping with the spirit of Fremont, the new one is being built with materials donated by local merchants and erected without permits or other bureaucratic interference.

Coming Soon to China: 1984

The People’s Republic of China, perhaps inspired by Google and Facebook and Amazon, is about to initiate a program rating all its 1.4 billion citizens. A person’s “social rating” score will determine how trustworthy one is. Transgressions such as a traffic infraction, a loan default, criticizing the government or not properly caring for one’s parents will deduct points from one’s score. The system will track hobbies, purchases and even who a person’s friends are. A low score will result in myriads of restrictions, from person’s job prospects, what schools children may attend, even access to restaurants or high-speed Internet.

Participation in the program is voluntary now; by 2020, every citizen will be required to enroll. But Chinese citizens are already finding themselves barred from air and rail travel because of their “untrustworthiness.” Continue reading “Coming Soon to China: 1984”

Climate Update

The day after Thanksgiving, while we were still semi-comatose from overindulging on food and family, the White House quietly released the latest report on the state of the world’s climate. Friday afternoon is typically news-dump day, a day for the government to release information it hopes few will read. (You can read it here.) The current occupant of the White House has already gone on record that he doesn’t believe it.

Continue reading “Climate Update”

21st Century Minstrels?

From National Geographic

Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white man, was born in New York City in 1808. He devoted himself to the theater in his twenties, and in the early 1830s, he began performing the act that would make him famous: he painted his face black and did a song and dance he claimed were inspired by a slave he saw. The act was called “Jump, Jim Crow” (or “Jumping Jim Crow”).

Megyn “Santa is white” Kelly reportedly has settled with NBC after her show was cancelled halfway through her three-year, $69 million contract. The stunning ignorance supporting her defense of wearing blackface for Halloween was not enough to invalidate the $30 million she will still collect on the deal.

White entertainers performing in blackface, caricaturing and demeaning people of color, amused white audiences. Black folks have been entertaining white folks in this country for a couple centuries. It’s a blurry line between the joy of performing and cynical pandering.

Continue reading “21st Century Minstrels?”

Paradise Lost

The environmental expert currently occupying the White House was quick to assign responsibility for wildfires burning in California. Using the venerable Republican strategy of blaming the victim, he tweeted:

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.”

In fact, these fires are fueled mostly by grass and chaparral; forest land, not so much.

“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost…. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

In fact, California each year sends more dollars to D.C. through federal tax payments than comes back into the state via Federal spending. (As is the case with most “blue” states.)

My former hometown, Santa Rosa, was devastated by wildfire in 1964. Continue reading “Paradise Lost”