Yep, USPS still exaggerates Seattle dog attacks

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USPS logoOn May 14, I posted a story under this headline: “Is the USPS still exaggerating in new Seattle dog bite count?” The Post Office that day had released its annual list of “dog attack city ratings,” putting Seattle in a tie for No. 15 with 28 incidents involving letter-carriers during the year ending September 30, 2013.

Why was I so skeptical? Last year, when Seattle was tied for No. 2 in the annual USPS press release with 42 attacks,  others in dog-loving Seattle raised questions. So I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the posties for the underlying paperwork.

Whadayaknow? It turned out the Post Office, which for decades has been on a jihad against dogs, exaggerated the Seattle attack count by 17%, including incidents that occurred outside city limits and even across Puget Sound on Bainbridge Island. Only 36 of the 42 occurred in Seattle proper, and two of them didn’t involve dog bites but dog lunges. And in case you wonder, nothing in the press statement the USPS sent out said out-of-town attacks were included.

Given this back story, I filed another FOIA request for the reports underlying the newest set of claims. Guess what? The USPS is still exaggerating! Continue reading

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Could Seattle’s depiction as Fun City go up in smoke?

Pot clipOnce again Seattle is the center of worldwide media attention. And once again it’s due to marijuana, in this case the July 8 opening of a single store near the sports stadiums to sell legal recreational more than a year-and-a-half after the state’s voters gave approval. (Nearly two dozen more locations in Seattle alone will open once paperwork and regulatory issues are resolved.)

Typical of the Seattle-As-Fun-City coverage was Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s Tonight Show depicting the Space Needle as a giant bong. Reporters from Europe and other far-flung places had plenty of yuks interviewing folks outside Cannabis City in the long line that started the night before. This being dog-happy Seattle, some opening-day buyers even brought along their best friend. “First puppy in state to buy legal pot,” declared one tweet with a photo.

Aside, perhaps, from a claimed constitutional right to get high, one of the major arguments advanced in Washington State for legalizing pot was to end the large diversion of law enforcement resources toward offenses with no victims, and also to raise a little coin. To me, still New To Seattle, legal pot might prove again the validity of that other great principle of human behavior, the Law of Unintended Consequences. Continue reading

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A Seattle roof gathers woe moss

A mossy roof in Seattle

A mossy roof in Seattle

As I review the characteristics that help define Seattle, several come to mind. They include beautiful vistas, liberal politics, omnipresent coffee shacks and, increasingly, LGBT relationships (led by the voters’ legalization of gay marriage and a openly gay new mayor, Ed Murray, who talks up his husband at every opportunity).

Here’s another: roof moss.

Various climatological factors make the tops of many Seattle houses look like petri dishes for clumps of green growths. The appearance is not exactly that of the quaint thatched roofs found in parts of the U.K. To me, a better label would be residential acne.

No less an authority than the Washington State University agricultural extension office in King County (where Seattle is located) has issued a published warning:

The unsightly look of moss on roofs is not the only reason that control of this moss is important. Moss will often grow so vigorously that it causes the singles or shakes to become loosened and raised. Under very wet conditions, water can back up under these raised areas and cause interior leaks and water damage. Often accompanying the moss will be a green coating of algae on those areas that the moss has not yet colonized. Algae becomes very slipper and treacherous and have been implicated in more than one roof-related disaster.

Seattle’s climate–abundant rain and humidity, plus moderate temperatures and minimal sun–is conducive to moss growth, but the city hardly is alone. However, in Seattle roof moss removal is something of a big industry unlike anything I have witnessed elsewhere. I hear competing commercials on the radio for the service, just like the spots aired in this sunshine-deficient climate by sellers of Vitamin D. From time to time I even have been cold-called at the New To Seattle world headquarters by moss removers who–lucky me–just happen to be working in my neighborhood. Continue reading

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‘Seattle Freeze’ is now an accepted fact around Seattle

Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia entry for Seattle Freeze

It was a year after becoming New To Seattle in 2011 that I started writing in this space about the Seattle Freeze. That’s the notion Seattleites aren’t all that friendly to newcomers. I certainly found that to be true, as did the vast majority of other relatively recent immigrants I chatted up on the topic as I bopped around town, often refereeing youth soccer matches. However, despite Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary entries on the subject, and a 70-year-old printed suggestion that I found, folks who have been here awhile tended to disagree with me, sometimes forcefully.

But I think local mainstream public opinion has finally come around to my way of thinking.

The latest example appeared Wednesday at the top of the front page of The Seattle Times. A story by Gene Balk, the paper’s long-time librarian and statistics guru (as well as a fellow New Jersey native and Rutgers grad), reported on the large number of Seattle apartments with only one occupant. The very first sentence called the city “home of the notorious ‘Seattle Freeze’ “.

Think about that. Existence of the Seattle Freeze stated as a fact in the city’s newspaper of record! Just like the sun rises in the east or it rains a lot in Seattle. Continue reading

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Delta CEO snookers Seattle with old planes that don’t work well

Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines (via Delta)

Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines (via Delta)

I’ve never met Richard Anderson, but I think he has a public relations problem. He appears on a certain video that’s played over and over. It’s supposed to be serious. But many in the audience laugh—at him. And when the company he heads promptly fails to deliver—well, that laughter quickly turns to anger.

Anderson is the CEO of Delta Air Lines. The world’s third-largest carrier is starting a war with Alaska Airlines. Much of the battle will be centered around Seattle, where Alaska is headquartered and has half the service in and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Delta has about one-eighth.

If you fly Delta, you know Anderson. Displaying his CEO ego, he appears in a video at the start of each flight. He extolls the airline and its employees, who in my experience are among the more surly in the air. Given what they have been through, including a bankruptcy, I can’t say I really blame them.

And, of course, they work for Richard Anderson, the CEO since 2007. “We have to watch that video, too, every flight,” one Delta flight attendant groused to me recently. That was the first time I heard an airline employee openly bad-mouth the boss since the 1980s when Frank Lorenzo used union busting and bankruptcy to run Continental/Eastern/Frontier/PeopleExpress smack into the ground. Is it a coincidence that Anderson’s first job in aviation was as a lawyer for Continental in 1987, when Lorenzo was still in charge? (As it happened, Anderson joined Continental the very same year my lengthy cover article for Texas Monthly accurately predicted the downfall of the hated Lorenzo and his enterprise.)

From what I, New To Seattle, can tell, Alaska Airlines enjoys a good reputation among Seattleites for pleasant service and fair prices. To me, Delta’s persona is that of a predator. The company charges what the market will bear, screws passengers—it just announced adverse changes in its frequent flyer program—and uses old equipment. Continue reading

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Seattle embraces high tech–except for the Internet

Comcast logoLet’s see, now. At the New To Seattle world headquarters I get my Internet service from Comcast. Four times in the past three weeks it has gone out, for periods ranging from 30 minutes to four hours. Comcast outtages usually aren’t that frequent, but they’re hardly uncommon, either. Since I also get my landline phone service from Comcast, and that blows when the Internet does, I have to call Comcast on my cellphone.

I don’t know whether to laugh like Jeff Bezos or cry like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” when the tape tells me I quickly and easily can check on the status of the service problem (it’s never at my end) by going to a Comcast website. Remember, the reason I’m calling is that I can’t get quickly and easily to a Comcast website–or any other, either. (For some reason, the cable TV service I also get from Comcast rarely fails, meaning while I’m waiting I get to kill time by binge-watching something really stupid like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”)

Judging from comments on Seattle Reddit and other forums for venting, this is a persistent problem across Seattle. Yes, that Seattle, the city that touts itself as the new high-tech Mecca, a region with, Microsoft, a major Adobe research facility, a string of brand-name Internet firms and God know how many NSA intercept taps.

Nor is the Internet problem limited to Comcast, which is by far the city’s largest ISP, with a near-monopoly position. Still, despite the persistent lack of quality and reliability, Comcast keeps trying to charge more. This forces savvy customers into a Kabuki dance of repeatedly calling and threatening to walk unless the price increase is rolled back, which it always is. I chalk up much of the lackluster performance to toothless regulation by the City of Seattle.

None of this is especially new. I have written here and here about Comcast’s difficulties serving the Seattle market. Thank goodness Comcast doesn’t run the cellphones.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Liberal Seattle tolerates guns

SPU logoAmerica’s latest multiple public shoot-’em-up took place very near my home in Seattle. The site was Seattle Pacific University, a small private college founded a century-and-a-quarter ago by the tiny Free Methodist denomination whose pleasant Queen Anne campus my daughter and I twice rode through on a bus just the night before.

In the aftermath of the incident–one dead and three injured by a shotgun-armed suspect described as a non-student out to make a splash–there was the predictable and entirely understandable outrage about gun violence. The shock of the incident was probably enhanced by the fact it took place in the heart of Seattle, a city with famously progressive politics, which one might think includes support for gun control.

But to me the hard truth is that Seattle is a pretty gun-tolerant city in a pretty gun-tolerant state (and for that matter a pretty gun-tolerant nation). Continue reading

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Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage captures wide fancy

First page of Seattle's minimum-wage ordinance

First page of Seattle’s minimum-wage ordinance

In this space I sometimes have argued that while liberal Seattle talks the talk, it doesn’t always walk the walk. But there’s no doubt that the city not only walked, it literally sprinted in enacting an ordinance that eventually will raise the local minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, by far the highest of any large city in the country.

And once again, Seattle seems to have captured widespread media attention–if not always admiration–in the same way it did for legalization of recreational marijuana and gay marriage. A Google search from the New To Seattle world headquarters for “Seattle” and “minimum wage” generated a whopping 9.2 million hits.

This is a huge amount of attention for a city that comprises less than one ten-thousandth of the world’s population.

Here’s a sampling of news media headlines in the past 48 hours:

  • “History In The Making” (Slate)
  • “Seattle Approves $15 Minimum Wage, Setting A New Standard For Big Cities” (The New York Times)
  • “Seattle Imposes Highest Minimum Wage Of $15″ (The Guardian, London)
  • “Seattle Council Ups The Minimum Wage (Irish Independent, Dublin)
  • “Burger-Flippers Of Seattle To Savor Taste of Victory” (Bloomberg TV)
  • “Who Will Follow Seattle Wage Hike?” (The Sun, Westerly, R.I.)
  • “Mayor: No Seattle-Like Wage Hike For Dayton” (Dayton Daily News, Ohio)
  • “Seattle’s Suicidal Minimum Wage (Investor’s Daily, Los Angeles)

I suppose it will take some time–like a decade, since the law doesn’t fully take effect until 2021–to see if this measure is the poverty killer its progressive supporters claim or the job killer its critics predict. But the ordinance–which on its first page cited President Obama’s view that income inequality is “the defining issue of our time”–clearly reinforced the notion elsewhere that Seattle is a liberal happenin’ place.

Now if only the bad street signage could be eliminated so all these higher-paid employees can more easily find their workplaces.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Repeat nomination in Seattle for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’

BCRSF logoOn Memorial Day, I got a call from Darlene Lewis asking for money. It’s not the first time she has contacted me.

Darlene Lewis is a poor excuse for a human being. I can state this without any fear whatsoever of a libel suit from her.

Why?  Because she isn’t a human being at all. Darlene Lewis is an interactive computer, and computers can’t sue.

She plies her telemarketing trade on behalf of something called Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund, a trade name used by another something called Community Charity Advancement. Sound familiar? That could be because in February I nominated Community Charity/BCRSF for my fledgling list of America’s Stupidest Charities.

The criteria for a nomination is simple. Representatives for a dubious charity call the New To Seattle world headquarters seeking a contribution even though this very same charity had been criticized in this very same space.

In the case of Community Charity/BCRSF, multiple times going back a year (see here and especially here, which references Darlene Lewis). Repeat nominations for the list are accepted. So hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off again we go. Continue reading

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Are Seattle pedestrians really that safe?

Dangerous by design coverWhen it comes to pedestrian safety from vehicles, a new national study says the Seattle metropolitan area is the third least dangerous among the country’s 51 largest. Given the recklessness I have seen displayed by people crossing Seattle streets, I am rather surprised by this.

The study is called “Dangerous by Design.”  It was put together by Smart Growth America, an advocacy group for better municipal planning that developed something called a “pedestrian danger index.” The report used per-capita pedestrian fatalities over five years through 2012 adjusted for the percentage of the local population commuting to work on foot.

By this methodology, only Pittsburgh and Boston were safer for pedestrians that the Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Tacoma. The highest danger was calculated in Florida: Orlando, followed by Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville, followed by Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach. If the danger index numbers are directly comparable, Orlando was calculated as being nine times more dangerous than Seattle. Continue reading

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Bad public signage continues to plague Seattle

NE Campus Parkway at the University Bridge, Seattle (via Google Maps)

NE Campus Parkway at the University Bridge, Seattle (via Google Maps)

One of the first things I noticed after becoming New To Seattle in 2011 was the terribly bad public signage around town. Everything from street signs so weathered they couldn’t be read, to missing signs, to inaccurate signs. It’s a topic I revisited a year later, and again last year when I managed, for $5, to buy my my own name–W. Barrett Street–in the form of a discarded street marker at the City of Seattle’s surplus warehouse in the SoDo district.

Things are still iffy on the sign front.

For instance, driving west on NE Campus Parkway away from the University of Washington, as I did last week, I came to a fork in the road just after going under the University Bridge. An unmarked, blind and rather counter-intuitive fork in the road. You can see it in the picture above, courtesy of Google Maps. The left fork goes up to the southbound lanes of the bridge. That’s great if one wants to cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal heading to Capitol Hill or downtown. Not so great for a motorist trying to stay north of the canal en route to Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard or even Interstate 5.

A driver has maybe three seconds to figure this out, and if necessary ignore the solid white do-not-cross line on the street. A well-positioned sign sure would help.  Continue reading

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Is the USPS still exaggerating in new Seattle dog bite count?

USPS logoThe U.S. Postal Service is out today with its annual list of the cities with the highest number of dog attacks upon letter-carriers. Seattle has improved from a two-way tie for No. 2 last year to a three-way tie for No. 15. An interesting question, though, is whether Seattle dogs are better behaved, or the post office is doing a more accurate job of counting Seattle dog attacks.

As visitors to this space might recall, the PO really screwed it up last year, counting a large number of attacks that took place outside Seattle proper. That had the effect of exaggerating the Seattle count by 17%. The truth emerged only a half-year later when I (1) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get the underlying records and (2) after getting blown off, submitted a formal appeal full of ridicule that was granted.  In addition to the records, I obtained a large number of apologies from various Postal Service officials for the ridiculous delay, which seemed to value canine privacy.

In last year’s press release for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2012, the Postal Service said there were 42 dog attacks in Seattle. I counted just 36; the others were in suburbs. Today’s press release, for the year ending September 30, 2013, listed 28 incidents in Seattle.

By the Postal Service’s math, that’s a 33% drop. By my math, who knows? There’s no new footnote on the press release to suggest the Postal Service is just counting events within a city’s limits. So it’s a fair bet the feds again are exaggerating the numbers to make the problem–a long-time USPS bête noire–seem a lot worse than it is. Continue reading

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Seattle liberals choose pocketbook in rideshare debate

Lyft rideshare vehicle in Seattle

Lyft rideshare vehicle in Seattle

As I understand political theory, liberals generally favor more governmental regulation, while conservatives do not. But this is being turned on its head in ultra-liberal Seattle, a city that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2012 and still seems to back him. The ultra-liberal masses are rising up against a City Council move to impose rules and requirements on free-wheeling ridesharing services like Lyft (known for the fuzzy pink mustaches affixed to vehicle grills) and Sidecar.

The high and mighty guiding principle here seems to be the pocketbook. The unregulated rideshare services–essentially, drivers using their personal vehicles to ferry passengers who call for service using cell-phone apps–are cheaper than traditional taxis.

So much for political theory. Continue reading

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Government agencies in Seattle yuk it up on social media

Seattle's Space Needle (via Wikipedia)

Humorous look at Seattle’s Space Needle (with apologies to Wikipedia)

Since becoming New To Seattle, I’ve written about what strikes me as a general lack of humor here. Not everyone agrees. A recent University of Colorado study of the U.S.’s “funniest cities” ranked Seattle No. 10 among the country’s 50 largest. I should note, however, that only those 50 cities were examined, as opposed to, say, all 729 cities with populations above 50,000, or even the 285 cities with populations above 100,000. So the CU list quickly became a “least funniest cities” roster, too, and probably not too many clicks after Seattle.

Still, I do find regular pockets of humor in Seattle. But they’re in the most unlikely places: government agencies operating on social media.

When its officers aren’t beating up jaywalkers, the Seattle Police Department has been in the vanguard of this movement, especially on its lively blog, SPD Blotter. The agency posted a guide to the state’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana use under the headline, “Marijwhatnow?” Accompanying a summary of law: a pot-smoking clip from the movie “Lord of the Rings.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation opened a first-person Twitter account in the name of Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine working on constructing an underground replacement along the Seattle waterfront to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The posts have been a riot for their deadpan humor, especially since the machine in December hit a pipe that should have been removed and hasn’t dug another inch. “I get that people are bummed/skeptical,” BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted nearly a half-year later on May 1, “but Seattle Tunnel Partners is working hard to fix me and I’m eager to dig again.”

WSDOT has a regular Twitter feed to update traffic conditions, and the agency is not above applying cheeky labels. This morning, it called two stalled vehicles blocking a freeway lane the “Box Truck Twins,” with a photo thrown in for good measure.

Earlier this week, the Seattle Department of Transportation got grief for posting on Twitter in real time a picture of a traffic jam on the West Seattle Bridge supposedly caused by looky-loos gawking at an accident. The shot was Photoshopped to put a “scumbag hat”–a meme used to signify stupidity, venality or incompetence–atop many of the stopped vehicles. With this text: “You get a scumbag hat … everyone gets a scumbag hat! haha I’m mean #sorry.

Hey, Babe Ruth sometimes led the majors in both home runs and strikeouts. The same could be said of official Seattle attempts at mirth. #LookingForSeattleHumorInGovernment.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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In L.A., a total stranger asks about the Seattle suicide rate

Aurora Bridge, Seattle

Aurora Bridge, Seattle (via WADOT)

Over the past several months, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Los Angeles area, my home for seven years before becoming New To Seattle. Staying on one trip near LAX in a hotel with a very slow elevator, I struck up a conversation with a young couple from San Diego also waiting to ride.

After I said I live in Seattle, the woman said she had never been there but heard it has the nation’s highest suicide rate.

The lift arrived at their floor and the couple got out. The comment stunned me. A total stranger, prompted about Seattle, could only think of one thing–suicide. Not scenic beauty, Super Bowl XLVIII, legal recreational marijuana, or even the rain.

Talk about an image issue.

The conversation also prompted me to dig into the data. Did Seattle really have the country’s highest suicide rate?

The answer, I am happy to report, is no. But the rate isn’t all that low, either. Continue reading

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