‘Damn Yankees’ is just a mile in Seattle from ‘Damn Mariners’

Hans Altwies as the Devil in “Damn Yankees” at the 5th Avenue Theatre

The irony of this juxtaposition is simply delicious. On Saturday, “Damn Yankees,” the memorable Faust-inspired musical about a long-suffering baseball fan’s deal with the devil, opened a month-long run in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theatre. On the very same day and just 20 blocks to the south at Safeco Field, pitcher Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox threw a perfect game against the long-suffering Seattle Mariners.

Given that they arguably are baseball’s worst team over the past 35 years, the “damn Mariners” might have fans willing to do almost anything to improve things. Except that the Mariners don’t have very many fans anymore. Over the past decade, Mariners attendance has fallen 45%. With a 7-10 record (including a three-game sweep by the White Sox this weekend), the average paid home attendance so far this season is just 19,633. One game drew all of 11,343 beating hearts. Despite absolutely perfect weather, only 22,473 turned out on Saturday for what proved to be Humber’s outstanding, historically rare performance. Continue reading

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Starbucks bug story is big news outside Seattle

Starbucks just had to expect this.

Word that the Seattle-based coffee giant no longer will use crushed red bugs to color its flavored offerings–and even that it used them in the first place–has inspired the world’s news media.

“Beetle mania gets results: Starbucks de-bugs Frapps,” USA Today declared. “Starbucks wants to stop bugging you,” read the headline on the website of the York (Pa.) Daily Record over a brief item that referred to “Starbugs, er Starbucks.” Down South, a headline at the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer proclaimed, “The Starbucks ‘secret’ menu.”

North of the the border, the Montreal Gazette ran with this headline: “Starbucks exterminates its bugs.” The Calgary Herald reported, “Starbucks de-bugs drink dye.” Just up Puget Sound, the Victoria Times Colonist went with, “No more bugs for frap fans.”

Down Under readers saw “Starbucks works bugs out of its system” in the Sydney Morning Herald.

From the standpoint of Starbucks, even the pun-free headlines weren’t much better. “Starbucks getting rid of bug extract” or “Starbucks to stop used ‘crushed bug’ dye” were pretty common–and disgusting. Perhaps hoping to gross out readers a little bit less, a few media outlets used “beetles” instead of bugs, like “Starbucks Puts Dead Beetles in Frappucinos” over a Miami New Times blog post and, in a suburban Chicago paper, “Meet the beetles–in your frappuccino.” The Washington Post came up with this: “Starbucks to stop using dried insects to color Frappuccinos.”

I imagine that at the Starbucks world headquarters along 1st Avenue S in Seattle, there is still a lot of red–on faces.

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Another dubious charity solicits in Seattle

U.S. soldiers in Iraq (Wikipedia)

Joe sent me.

This afternoon, still New To Seattle, I received a telephone call from “someone” asking for money on behalf of a charity called the United States Armed Forces Association. I use quotes because it became pretty clear I was on the horn with a cleverly programmed interactive computer using a male voice. I decided to name it “Joe.”

When I asked Joe if in fact I was speaking to a computer, Joe even laughed and said I wasn’t the first to raise that issue. But I don’t recall that Joe said no.

Joe pressed for a verbal pledge of money, saying that would be followed up with a mailing. I said I first wanted to review the mailing before making any commitment. Joe didn’t like that. Joe wanted that oral pledge up front. We went back and forth, with Joe largely repeating the same talking points. It seemed like Joe’s chips were heating up. Eventually, Joe got off the line, maybe to call someone else around Seattle.

Perhaps thanks to the Gates Foundation, Seattle has a reputation as a giving place when it comes to charity.  The dubious operators know that, too.

Last month, I wrote about the Seattle radio pitches of the Cancer Fund of America, a Knoxville, Tenn., charity that spends less than one-half of 1% in furtherance of its charitable mission–an astoundingly low amount. The rest goes to executive salaries, overhead, fundraising and direct mail.

Before Joe called, I had never heard of the United States Armed Forces Association. Who was controlling Joe? And where does the money go? Continue reading

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The devil in the suburbs of Seattle

It was nearly 20 years ago when The New York Times Magazine riled the waters of suburbia with a cover story. “The Devil in Long Island” was writer Rob Rosenbaum’s review of the seemingly large amount of crime and strange doings in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. That’s home to a collection of bedroom communities with 2.6 million residents stretching eastward for 100 miles from New York City along the continental U.S.’s largest island. Published on August 22, 1993, the much-commented-upon 9,000-word article distressed local leaders who, among other things, thought it would hurt economic development by unfairly stigmatizing the area.

Pierce County, Washington (Wikipedia)

Now that I am New To Seattle, I think I have found the Pacific Northwest equivalent of the diabolic suburban inferno Rosenbaum described. It is the lesser populated Pierce County, immediately to the south of King County, home of Seattle. Like Long Island, the 800,000-person jurisdiction, dominated by the looming, haunting, snow-capped presence of Mount Rainier–a volcano that some day could erupt again–is often in the news for terrible reasons.

It was from the Pierce County military installation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord that Army Sgt. Robert Bales was deployed to Afghanistan. Last month, authorities charge, Bales murdered 17 civilians, including children and women, in Kandahar. Two years earlier, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes called Lewis-McChord “the most troubled base in the military.”

It was in the Pierce County town of Graham that Josh Powell, suspected of foul play in the 2009 Utah disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell, blew up a home in February, killing himself and their two young sons. Authorities suspect Josh’s father, Steven, who lived in the Pierce County town of of Pulyallup and is now under arrest on voyeurism and child pornography charges, knows something about Susan’s disappearance.

It was in the Pierce County town of Parkland in 2009 that four police officers from neighboring Lakewood were shot dead in a coffee shop by Maurice Clemmons, a habitual criminal who had been facing new charges and was out on bail. Two days later, police in Seattle killed Clemmons. (More recently, a former Lakewood policeman pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $150,000 from a fund set up for the slain cops).

And that’s just multiple-murder stuff. Single-victim cases are pretty numbing, too. Continue reading

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NY Times headline cites Seattle ‘bubbles of corruption’

Those of you who follow my musings here since I became New To Seattle know I am fascinated by the way Seattle both is portrayed in other places and tries to fashion its image. I have described coverage of Miss Seattle’s Twitter complaints about the weather as well as the city’s effort to replace its official “Metronatural Seattle” marketing pitch with something a little less kinky.

So you can imagine my excitement at this headline stripped across the top of an inside page in yesterday’s New York Times:

“Seattle Reporter Finds Bubbles of Corruption Under the Space Needle”

Except that this was not a breaking news story. Nor was any actual corruption alleged or documented. Continue reading

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To Seattle from a Californian: ‘Take the Sacramento Kings. Please!’

My post yesterday about the blasé baseball fan base of the Seattle Mariners opined there seemed to be more excitement in Seattle about the possible return of an NBA franchise. That prompted an interesting note from a friend I’ve know for four decades who now lives around Sacramento, where there’s a wobbly team Seattle city fathers have been, ah, courting. With my friend’s permission, here’s what this obvious devotee of Henny Youngman wrote:

What Seattle needs to shake off the boredom is a new NBA franchise. Take the Sacramento Kings. Please! Hell, you wouldn’t even have to change the name.

At the moment the Kings are trying to hook the city into putting up $250 million for a new arena in the downtown area where there’s not even enough room to add sufficient parking. The deal is being pushed by the mayor–Kevin Johnson, himself an ex-King–and city council members are nodding their heads ominously.

The city is closing schools and can’t keep its streets in decent repair, but it needs a new arena for the next-to-last-place Kings.

To make matters worse, the team’s owners–the Maloof brothers–are already starting to weasel out of the handshake financing agreement they, the city and the NBA reached in Orlando in February.

This would all fit right in up there, right?

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The Rime of the Seattle Mariners

Okay. I grew up around Philadelphia, where rooting for the Phillies was an article of faith even though for much of my formulative years it was a crappy, disappointing team playing in a falling-apart stadium in a bad part of town. We talked baseball all the time, even when the Phils hit the National League cellar four straight seasons, including, in 1961, their epic 23-game losing streak. That’s still the MLB record for this century and the last. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Phillies won their first-ever World Series–two months after I had moved to Houston.

But there I had the Astros, which had a decent following and baseball’s first indoor stadium as a respite from the city’s drenching heat, rain and humidity. Later, I lived in other places where, despite ups and downs, baseball fanaticism was legendary: New York, Los Angeles and even Albuquerque. When I resided there during the 1994 major league baseball strike, the Dodgers triple-A farm team, the Albuquerque Dukes, won the Pacific Coast League title and a claim to be the best professional baseball team not on a picket line.

Then I became New To Seattle.

In my 10 months here, the Seattle Mariners have been mentioned in my presence maybe twice. One was by an acquaintance who happens to own a small share of the team. I can’t remember the other instance, but I’m just being cautious.

Outside the sports pages of The Seattle Times, some specialty publications, sportcasts and a few blogs, the Mariners seem to be a no-show when it comes to public opinion. The team has its home opener in just a few days. Yet I hear a lot more talk about soccer’s Seattle Sounders and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. People chatter excitedly about the possible return of an NBA franchise. Hell, I even hear more about the Seattle Thunderbirds, a minor-league hockey team that despite its name plays its home games 20 miles away in Kent, Wash.

Now, the Mariners have had only two winning seasons in the last eight–finishing in their division’s last place the other six years. In an era of team financial parity, they remain the only American League squad never to have made it to the World Series. However, given my experiences elsewhere, that doesn’t adequately explain what strikes me as a stunning lack of fan interest.

But I just finished reading a new book that does. Continue reading

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Fifty shades of Seattle

For an update about the movie, click here.

Way back in 1884, author Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a novel called Ramona, about the trials and tribulations of a half-Indian woman as Southern California fell under U.S rule decades earlier. Despite its dark themes of greed, racism and murder, the book caught the popular fancy in an unexpected way.

Although the specific events were fiction, tourist-attraction opportunities presented themselves pretty quickly to enterprising locals in what would become the world center of make-believe. A San Gabriel Valley house touted as Ramona’s birthplace. A San Diego villa said to be her wedding site. An Indian reservation grave called her final resting place (although at novel’s end Ramona was still very much alive and living in Mexico City). To accommodate the throngs, the Southern Pacific even built a rail spur just north of Los Angeles in the Santa Clarita Valley–where I lived before becoming New To Seattle–and put a station next to a hacienda where Ramona supposedly grew up. Indeed, the marketing of Ramona’s image is credited with helping to generate the first of Southern California’s many wild population booms and waves of prosperity. Still in print, Ramona has been made into a movie four times, the last starring Loretta Young and Don Ameche.

Ramona came to mind amid the current hoopla over the run-away success of Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s the first in a trilogy of what admirers and critics alike are calling “mommy porn” for its explicit descriptions of BDSM and other kinky activities in a format acceptable to upscale female purchasers. (Since this is a family blog, you’ll have to Google or Wiki BDSM yourself to get more details).

You see, the books are all set in Seattle. So I perceive another fine marketing opportunity for the fine folks at Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Center. The organization currently is looking for a replacement gimmick to its aging promotion of the slightly suggestive and somewhat ridiculed “Metronatural Seattle.”

The author of Fifty Shades, E.L. James, is said to be a 40-ish London mother of two and a TV executive. It is unknown (at least to me) whether the author has spent much time in the Seattle area.

But who cares?

Given Seattle’s overcast skies (229 days a year, tops among major U.S. cities), you might think “grey” refers to the weather. But instead, it is a reference to Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. That’s a business owned by the youngish billionaire tycoon Christian Grey, described as “Seattle’s richest bachelor” (move over, Paul Allen).  Grey Enterprises is located in downtown Seattle in “a huge twenty-story office building, all curved glass and steel, an architect’s utilitarian fantasy, with Grey House written discreetly in steel over the glass front doors.” It has a “glass, steel, and white sandstone lobby” that the first-person narrator, the soon-to-be dominated college student Anastasia Steele, finds “frankly intimidating.” (Steele, by the way, attends the Washington State University campus in Vancouver, Wash.) Continue reading

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Searching the 1940 U.S. Census in Seattle: Oops!

You probably heard the big buzz. Today was the day that, after a mandatory 72-year secrecy period, the actual work papers from the 1940 U.S. Census were to be made public. And on the Internet, no less. That way, you immediately could search for Grandpa and Grandma and anyone else in your family tree alive at the time instead of going to the nearest government depository library and pouring through reels of smelly microfilm.

But you know, it’s a government project, and government plans don’t always work out. I logged on, specified the enumeration district, as census tracts are called, where my mother lived that year, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I’m still waiting.

It turns out that the feds and their private sector partner, Inflection, a for-profit company owned by Silicon Valley venture capitalists that operates the website site archives.com, wildly underestimated the first-day demand. Servers crashed with the online equivalent of a 6.0 earthquake (remember before I became New To Seattle, I was New To California, where even 4.0 shakers were greeted with a yawn). Apparently Inflection and their government contacts never got the memo about how 243,542,822 Americans had Internet access, plus another 2 billion or so elsewhere.

That occasioned the following back-and-forth email today between me and the fine folks at Inflection d/b/a archives.com:

(From me at 11:04 a.m. PT)

Subject: Observation

I think today’s big glitch might delay your IPO by about 10 years.

(Reply at 2:24 p.m. PT from “Susan,” a “Member Services Representative”)

Subject: Re: Observation

Thank you for contacting Archives.com. I am sorry about the difficulty you are having viewing the pages.  Please try refreshing your browser, if you reach a page that states no longer valid.  Due to extraordinary demand, this website is undergoing updates to better accommodate users. While these changes take place, you can still use many of the useful features built into this website (search for enumeration districts, bookmark results, etc). We appreciate your patience, as enhancements are underway! Please let us know if we can assist you further.

Hey, I waited 72 years (and I’m only age 60). What’s a few more?

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Blogging the blogs of Seattle

It’s time for my semi-annual review of the blogosphere in Seattle. I’ve been New To Seattle for less than a year. But since I last looked at the blog scene here in September, I have grown to appreciate more the information void around Seattle filled by online sources. So much so, in fact, that the column to the right lists every blog-style site in the city I know about that meets my minimum requirements (regular current postings, primarily content of information and/or opinion, not mainly shilling for the owner’s business). Including online sites attached to other media, that’s a whopping 67  68 75 entries, double what I found a half-year ago. Click on the name, and you’re there! Feel free to let me know about others I should consider.

To simplify things (and maybe generate a few referring hits), I classify each blog in one of four categories: neighborhood; news/opinion; commentary/review/arts; and sports. News/opinion includes the Internet operation of several print or broadcast outlets, including The Seattle Times, the alt weeklies and the slick monthlies, various college student newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. But with just one exception the focus of my review here is on blogs that are not part of a larger news or media organization. I don’t have a good grip yet on the sports blogs, so I offer no opinion in that realm.

For obvious reasons, also excluded from my assessment is the blog you’re reading right now, NewToSeattle.com. I generally employ a newspaper column-style format using a Margaret-Mead-watching-the-natives-in-Samoa attitude. Frankly, while I write regularly, that’s usually just once a week. (But I managed last week to muster three articles, on such diverse topics as Seattle stress, Jay Leno’s comment about Seattle weather and the elusive Seattle home of the Internet Movie Database.) However, I like to think my one-step-back efforts stand the test of time. That means the whole body of work remains relevant for those visitors with way too much free time on their hands who are willing to wade through the four dozen posts so far.

So,with the disclaimers and qualifications all out of the way, here goes: Continue reading

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Stressful Seattle: HOW CAN THAT BE??!!

Peter Finch as the stressed-out TV guy in the 1976 movie  “Network”

Sometimes, good material just falls into my New To Seattle lap.

A new study out this week calls the Seattle metropolitan area one of the most stressful places in the country. Worse than New York. Worse than Chicago. Hell, even worst than Cleveland and Newark, N.J.

The list was compiled by Sperling’s, a Portland, Ore. research firm that cranks out various “best places” lists. But the outfit occasionally takes a walk on the dark side. The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metro area came out No. 9 among the 50 largest metros, which collectively have about half the country’s population.  (In case you wonder, the most stressful was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater while the least stressful was Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington).

This study can’t be dismissed by suggesting a bunch of people simply got together in a room and voted on worst places on the basis of personal experience like a bad meal in a restaurant. Sperling’s used government statistics drawn from a variety of studies to fashion its rankings.

There were a number of factors. And when you look at that list, you start to understand why Seattle was near the top. In fact, it’s stuff that I hear my fellow Seattleites kvetch about all the time. Continue reading

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Jay Leno links politics, pornography–and Seattle weather

Two weeks ago, amid the furor over the anti-Seattle Twitter comments of the newly crowned Miss Seattle, Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, I suggested here that Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau should aggressively market the local rain rather than minimize it.

For more evidence why this should be done, let’s turn to Jay Leno.

Last night on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” the U.S.’s top-rated late-night TV comedian made Seattle rain a punchline of a double-entrendre-ladened bit.  To see the video clip, click here. After a commercial, the relevant part starts at 1:15. Below, a transcript of the pertinent portion.


THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO (National Broadcasting Co.)

March 20, 2012


Opening monologue

JAY LENO (host): As you know, Rick Santorum has declared war on pornography. And ironically today, the first shot was fired prematurely. I’m surprised.

(Audience laughter)

LENO: You see, pundits say Santorum is clearly out of touch with male voters who are in touch with themselves. That’s the problem.

(Audience laughter)

LENO: Really? Stopping pornography? Why not aim for something more realistic? Like stopping the rain in Seattle. Something doable. Okay?

(Audience laughter, then applause)

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Hollywood mystery solved in Seattle!

See update at end of story

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting front-page profile of the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb as it’s known to a vast user base that consults the website 110 million times a month for facts and trivia. Turns out IMDb actually is headquartered in Seattle–Amazon.com owns it–and tries to keep its physical location a secret. As the story recounts, the mystery is somewhat in keeping with the stealthy way IMDb comes up with, say, the true birth date of an aging actor who otherwise might shave five or 10 years competing for roles in an industry where youth seems to be paramount. (IMDb and Amazon are being sued on this in Seattle, about which more later.)

535 Terry Ave N, Seattle: The font of movie trivia

Now, as someone New To Seattle, I simply don’t see the city as any big den of big secrets. I have lived around some places that are. Like Albuquerque, a center of nuclear research where authorities managed to hush up for 29 years the fact that a hydrogen bomb accidentally fell out of a military plane in 1957 (it didn’t go off). Or even Los Angeles, where what some consider the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history occurred in 1959 when a reactor partly melted down on the city’s northwest corner and little alarm was sounded.

Still, I find it amusing that a Web site in Seattle not exactly essential to the maintenance of national security feels it necessary to hide. Maybe IMDb is afraid some crazed fan with a gun will shoot up the place after screaming, “If I can’t have Kevin Costner, you can’t, either!”

Specifically, the WSJ wrote that IMDb’s inner workings “remain mysterious” and that the organization “lists no address.” The spirit of IMDb’s own dedication to unearthing inconvenient truths begged for some hard-hitting investigative reporting to smoke out the hideout.

Except that it didn’t take much reporting. Mainly just some poking around IMDb’s own public website, which means no privacy is being violated. Continue reading

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Big Seattle charity uses accounting magic to look better

“At United Way of King County, 97 cents of every donated dollar goes to meet community needs.” This statement is prominently displayed on the website of the country’s largest United Way unit by gifts received. The claim of sky-high financial efficiency presumably is intended to impress donors in the increasing heated competition for charitable contributions.

It looks good. Too good, to my practiced eye as a journalist New To Seattle who has written about charities for a long time.

As I read the UWKC audited financial statement–downloadable from the website–only 83% of donations received in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, really was spent on those “community needs.” The rest was spent on fundraising, management and overhead (which for simplicity I’ll just call overhead), or accumulated as an unspent surplus for future use.

How did my 83% become the UWKC’s 97% (or even higher, as you will see)? I’d say largely thanks to a little accounting magic. In its calculations, UWKC simply ignored the 10 cents or so of every donated dollar that went unspent and therefore met no “community needs.” Then this: UWKC received $5.6 million of incoming money from a separate Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-established endowment earmarked for UWKC. But instead of including the $5.6 million as a donation, or even as investment income, UWKC just subtracted the money from its overhead costs before calculating the charitable commitment ratio. The ploy made the donations look a little lower–but the “bad” expenses a lot lower and the efficiency ratio a lot higher.

Such netting can be the province of dubious charities. Ten days ago I wrote here about one of them, Cancer Fund of America, soliciting in Seattle and laundering much of its outrageously high overhead through a little-noticed affiliate using a similar netting procedure.

Now, I don’t think UWKC is a dubious charity at all. It funds good works and good deeds, is run by respectable people and certainly does not have outrageously high overhead. Moreover, the accounting treatment is clearly spelled out in the financial statement–if you know what you’re looking at and read far enough.

But to me it’s still questionable how UWKC presents its financial efficiency to the Seattle public. And I may not be alone in this thinking. It’s my understand there’s been a buzz about this for years among some Seattle-area charity watchdogs. The calculation was attached to the end of the financial statement as “supplemental information” and only after UWKC auditor Moss Adams LLP wrote this, “Such information has not been subjected to the auditing procedures applied in the audit of the basic financial statements and, accordingly, we express no opinion or other forms of assurance on it.”

I think that’s accountant talk for, “You’re on your own, buddy.”

Anyway, using round figures, I’m going to detail how I assessed the numbers and then how UWKC did the same. You be the judge. Feel free to add your comment below the story. Continue reading

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In Seattle, how do you solve a problem like Jean-Sun?

Near the beginning of the celebrated 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music,” the nuns at the Nonnberg Abbey in Saltzburg, Austria, sing about their discomfort with the free-spirited nun-in-training played by Julie Andrews. “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” they warble. “Many a thing you know, you’d like to tell her; many a thing she ought to understand.”

Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn

Now I have to think they’re singing this song over at Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city’s chief promoter to the outside world. Except that the lyrics were changed from Maria to Jean-Sun.

Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn is the newly crowned Miss Seattle. She is also the newly crowned Latest Person To Kvetch Publicly About Seattle. A Seattle-area native, Ahn did this on Twitter a couple months before she won the title in the city to which she returned after attending college near sunny Phoenix. “Ew I seriously an hating Seattle right now,” she tweeted on December 10. “Take me back to az!! Ugh can’t stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people.”

A Seattle radio station, KIRO-FM, was the first to bring Ahn’s musings to light after she took the beauty pageant competition on Saturday night.

It is hard to overestimate the amount of bad press and implicit ridicule this has been generating for Seattle in extremely far-flung places. It reminds me of the utter lack of sympathy to some of Seattle’s recent winter weather woes. Here’s a sampling of just headlines: Continue reading

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A dubious charity solicits in Seattle

Seattle has a solid reputation for its charitable endeavors, and not just because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s largest. United Way of King County pulls in more contributions–$120 million last year–than any of the country’s 1,200 other United Way units. A recent study of “America’s Most Charitable Cities” by Bundle.com ranked Seattle No. 2 (behind Washington, D.C.) . Another report by Volunteering in America put Seattle fourth among larger cities in the rate of persons who volunteer their time.

With such good pickins’ on the charitable front, I suppose it’s not surprising that some dubious operations might show up to see what they can haul off. As someone New To Seattle who has written about charities for a long time, I’m here to tell you about one that has been taking to the local airwaves with its pitch asking for donations of used vehicles to help the ill. This very morning, I heard yet another radio commercial for this nonprofit.

Cancer Fund of America is its alluringly appealing name. Here’s why the charity is dubious. By my reckoning, of every $100 it gets in contributions turned into cash, about 40 cents–not 40%, 40 cents–truly benefits the afflicted. That’s less than one-half of 1%. The rest goes to pay for executive salaries, overhead, telemarketing, direct mail, and fundraising expense–lots of fundraising expense. But thanks to several accounting tricks–all perfectly legal–and some rather sleepy regulation, Cancer Fund, which is based in Knoxville, Tenn., and solicits nationally, is able to depict itself as having financial efficiencies far higher than what I am describing.

Let me explain how this is all done. Continue reading

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In Seattle, an anti-government protest over bridge tolls?

Route 520 Bridge across Lake Washington

In early January, after tolls as high as $3.50 a throw were reinstated on the Route 520 Bridge across Lake Washington, I opined here it would be an utter revenue disaster for owner Washington State. “A large number of motorists will desert the bridge and stay away as long as they possibly can,” I wrote, drawing upon a somewhat similar situation I described as a Philadelphia journalist more than three decades before becoming New To Seattle. My reasoning: The price was too high and motorists perceived they had options.


KOMO Channel 4 reported last night that traffic is off a whopping 40%, blowing a gaping hole in earlier official predictions that traffic would fall only half as much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vehicle count drops even more. Continue reading

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Gender equality in Seattle

New To Seattle, I took this picture last night in the lobby of the Intiman Theater before the first performance of the Seattle Shakespeare Company production of “Pygmalion.” George Bernard Shaw’s famous battle-of-the-sexes play ends on a somewhat ambiguous note. Not so this sign, which couldn’t be more blunt and requires no further comment.

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What’s all this talk about crime in Seattle?

During my four decades as a journalist I’ve been in a lot of places, not all of them nice. In the early 1980s I spent a couple of years hanging around Beirut as the Israelis invaded Lebanon and assorted Arab militias battled back as well as each other. Kidnappings and sudden death became routine. One day my friend Terry Anderson, the AP bureau chief, was grabbed off a Beirut street. He was held for 5 1/2 years then released. In that respect he was lucky; a lot of kidnap victims came back feet first or were never found at all.

Billy The Kid (via Wikipedia)

Partly because of this experience, I’ve never worried too much about crime rates in the U.S. No matter where I go or live, it’s better than Beirut. And I say this having hoofed through dicey neighborhoods in cities like Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and New York City. I lived for a dozen years in New Mexico when by some measures it was considered the most dangerous of the 50 states (and whose best-known historical figure remains the 19th century killer Billy The Kid). In Albuquerque I had as a neighbor a woman who killed her husband–not the first spouse she had iced–and got off both times.

My lack of concern about crime extends to my status as New To Seattle. But here it is a lot more data-driven. Statistics suggest to me it’s pretty safe to walk the streets day or night, and that Seattleites generally have little reason to live in fear. As I wrote here in December, the latest FBI crime figures favorably portrayed Seattle among peer group cities, at least when it came to crime against people. (Crime against property, like car thefts and break-ins, were a different and somewhat more troubling matter.)

But you’d almost not know this from Mayor Mike McGinn’s State of the City address this week. “McGinn addresses murder ’emergency’ in annual speech,” read the headline in The Seattle Times.

Let me selectively quote at some length from McGinn’s address: Continue reading

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‘Oklahoma!’ casting is PC reaction to Seattle’s racist past

Kyle Scatliffe as the farm hand Jud Fry in “Oklahoma!” (courtesy 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle)

Still New To Seattle, I attended the opening night of “Oklahoma!” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Now theater criticism is really not my forte. But I was quite thrown by the injection without any context or meaning whatsoever of a bizarre racial yet color-blind element to the local production of this classic 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration. I am referring to the casting of black actor Kyle Scatliffe in the role of Jud, the farm hand heavy who vies with the hero Curly for the affection of Laurey as all the rural folk dance about singing fluff like, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!”

I say color-blind because the show ignores the racial angle in word and song, which, given the fact that Curly and Laurey are very white, made for some pretty strange stuff onstage. In the celebrated “Poor Jud is dead” scene, for instance, Curly, who wants Jud to go away so he can marry Laurey, uses a rope to make a noose. As written by Oscar Hammerstein, the idea was a playful and not very serious suggestion of suicide followed by a glorious mock funeral. But in the presence of a black man, the interplay came across more as a solicitation for a lynching.

Now, if the goal was to get a debate going (with the hope of, maybe, selling tickets), the 5th Avenue Theatre certainly has succeeded. It’s not every day you see a controversy over “Oklahoma!” Misha Berson’s Seattle Times review, which pointed out the racial disconnect, called the show “provocative.” She was being very, very kind. In a town that embraces “Seattle Nice,” her review has drawn an unusually large 17 online comments–many withering in their language. You can find another 18 below an article at MyNorthwest.com entitled, “Is ‘Oklahoma!’ racist?” (The author, Tom Tangney, really didn’t answer that question, but many of his commentators sure did!) A clearly delighted David Armstrong, the theater’s boss, has rushed to, uh, make hay of this farm-musical controversy, scheduling discussions before upcoming performances.

One of those 17 comments on The Times’ review was from Berson herself. She said she was told that the casting of Jud was both an “equal opportunity” move–her words–as well as “a deliberate commentary on the cultural/racial climate of the period.”

I see something else, and I’ll be blunt: a politically correct overreaction on the part of the production to the outrageously racist past of Seattle. The Oklahoma of 1906 (when the musical was set) had nothing on the Emerald City of a much later era. What really ought to be discussed is racist behavior in Seattle, not in Oklahoma. Continue reading

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