Monthly Archives: August 2010

Road diets are implicitly good, so why don’t more people support them?

Over the last few weeks the bicycle community has been frustrated by the “road diet” discussion. The thought is, road diets are implicitly good, so why aren’t more people supportive of them? Why aren’t opponents of plans swayed by the fact that streets that undergo road diets have been shown to have enough capacity? And why don’t opponents seem to care about the safety of pedestrians, cyclist and motorist alike?

Seattle Likes Bikes, Publicola, Seattle Bike Blog, and the SDOT blog have all weighed in, mostly in response to the now infamous article by Nicole Brodeur of the Seattle Times, although the discussion certainly applies to every project that aims to improve safety.

Full story…

Art House Beat: New Films from Jacques Rivette and Ken Loach at Northwest Film Forum

Around A Small Mountain (NWFF, Aug 27-Sept 2)

Jacques Rivette’s “Around a Small Mountain”  explores the division of  natural space  into performance areas, following Shakespeare’s dictum that “all the world’s a stage.” The first image is that of a mountain, reminiscent of Monument Valley’s sandstone buttes, through the use of   which director John Ford transformed the deserts of Southern Utah into an outdoor soundstage for many of his Western films. The second mountain is a circus tent, under which every square foot of sawdust can be used as a performance space, whether the scene is played  in the presence of an audience   or exclusively  for the benefit of its performers. The tent stands as a monument to the artifice of human congress, while the mountain proclaims  that nature itself has become little more than a backdrop for  graveside monologues.

The film’s motif is a comic routine involving a gun, a plate, and a chair. The bit has been in the repertoire for years, yet its rehearsal is eternal.  The variations discovered during these  repetitions are a reminder that, without exploration and experimentation, life becomes stale before it gets old.  The film’s situation involves the chance meeting of Kate (Jane Birkin), whose car dies on her return to the circus after fifteen years, and Vittorio (Sergio Castellito), a man in no hurry to arrive at his unspecified destination.  Both actors are in their early sixties, yet play out their love story with the whimsy of moon-crazed teenagers without compromising the dignity of late middle-age.

The content of the scenes is never as important as the manner in which they are played. It is the meeting of characters in a specific place that interests  Rivette, who  does nothing to conceal the entrances and exits of his actors.  He raises the lights on a scene before it begins and darkens the stage at its conclusion.   But although he enjoys his role as the puppeteer, he is reaching for something beyond this red-curtained and blue-walled circus world.   In the film’s final shot, he finds it. 


Looking for Eric (NWFF, Aug 27-Sept 2)

 Ken Loach’s best movies are ignited   by his  indignation over  some  social or political injustice.  “Looking for Eric” isn’t one of those.  He is more  set on  exploiting the success of recent football movies (The Damned United, Bend it Like Beckham) than  getting on the post-Cromwellian soapbox for labor rights or dredging up bits of friction in the thousand year war between England and Ireland. He is also trying for a bit of the Mike Leigh whimsy, but hasn’t the sense of humor to pull it off.     As dull as it is casual, this lumbering   splice of life divides its overlong running time between romantic comedy and gangster thriller.

For the former, he  does a skin job on   Woody Allen’s “Play It Again Sam,” replacing Humphrey Bogart with football idol Eric Cantona, who does a credible job of playing himself.  The film begins with the other Eric, postal worker Eric Bishop, attempting suicide by driving against traffic, apparently because, after thirty years apart from his ex-wife Lily, he can’t take it any more.  I say apparently because the story is not sufficiently clear on the motivation for this act of near self-destruction.  Not that it matters, as Loach uses the suicide run as a dynamic but dispensable opening scene,  one that  doesn’t figure much in the picture’s subsequent action.

The football idol becomes an invisible friend, giving the postal worker advice, not only on how to reconcile with his ex, but how to deal with the delinquent kids with whom he shares his flat. The stolen televisions are one thing, but one of the kids is also holding a gun for a local gangster, who has recently used it to shoot somebody who insulted his choice of footwear.  Eric finds himself in a tighter spot with this punk than with the woman he abandoned during a panic attack in his youth.  But the football idol shares words of wisdom that resolve both issues.

“Looking for Eric” should have about as much appeal to the poor audience member who neither knows nor cares that Eric Cantona is a football idol as “Play It Again, Sam” might have for one who has never heard of Humphrey Bogart.   To the football fan, however, the final scenes of what appears to be  Manchester’s  entire postal staff wearing Cantona masks may prove the pinnacle of hilarity.

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Lack of WA income tax promoted in Fortune despite fall ballot measure

The September issue of Fortune magazine will feature a 7-page advertising supplement touting Washington as a great place to do business. One of the key selling points: it’s one of a handful states without an income tax. But an income tax measure is on the fall ballot. 

Read the full story here

A tale of two Seattle churches tells the story of religion’s shifting role

For area church-watchers, the recent news that the Ballard-based Mars Hill Church has purchased the University Baptist Church building may not be surprising, but it is noteworthy, even striking. The tale of these two churches — the decline of one and the ascent of the other — tells a story of larger shifts in the Northwest.

University Baptist Church, near the University of Washington, had long been a standard bearer for progressive religion and social-activist politics. In the 1980s and 1990s, University Baptist was led by Donovan Cook. A charismatic minister, Cook often could be found in the forefront of demonstrations and protests against wars and for social equality. But Cook’s pastorate ended badly. He was charged with having been involved in a string of sexual affairs, some with members of the congregation.

Cook was followed by Tim Phillips, now senior minister at First Baptist Church, just east of downtown on First Hill. The University congregation, under Phillips’ leadership, tried to find its way forward. But it was relatively small, had already eroded, and had aged. Questions about its future and its capacity to support its current building loomed large as the ’90s ended and the first decade of the new century passed.

Meanwhile, in the 1990s Mark Driscoll was creating Mars Hill Church in the basement of First Presbyterian Church, adjacent to Interstate-5 just east of downtown Seattle. From the beginning, Driscoll has been driven by a concern for reaching marginalized and floundering young men to change their lives. He connected with this group, in part, because of his own often raw personal style. At the time, he became known in Emergent Church circles as “the cussing pastor.”

The “Mars Hill” name is further evidence of a confrontational spirit. In the New Testament book of “Acts,” Mars Hill is the setting where the first-generation Christian leader and missionary, Paul, took on the philosophers of Athens and the religious world of the ancient Greeks. As a name, “Mars Hill” signals a willingness to challenge the prevailing ethos, something Driscoll thrives on.

The effort to reach and transform the lives of aimless young men has continued for Driscoll, whose Mars Hill Church looks to the University location as its 10th “campus.” For a least a year, Mars Hill has been holding services in a rented Kane Hall on the UW campus to establish a beachhead at the university.

Meanwhile, University Baptist embodied a quite different spirit and ethos. It was a spirit that was at home with the modern and tolerant ethos associated with a university. Again, the name, University Baptist Church, is in its way telling. Rather than an oppositional name like “Mars Hill,” this congregation — like most founded in the same era and location — embraced its neighborhood and sought to fit in to the university setting. In that spirit, it increasingly emphasized social justice, changing social structures, and society itself, rather than personal change or regeneration.

As some sort of barometer of religion’s changing role, these two churches evidence a shift. Once, in the not too distant past, Protestant Christianity was the religious expression of the prevailing culture and its values. Increasingly, it seems that Christianity, at least in its currently thriving expressions like Mars Hill, plays a more oppositional role in relation to the prevailing culture and its values.

What will happen with the remaining congregation of University Baptist remains to be seen. In June the congregation called a new pastor. There have been discussions between that congregation and nearbyUniversity Disciples Church. The latter has a large neo-gothic home on the corner of 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 50th Street. That congregation, too, is small and aging. It already rents out substantial portions of its building to support various community programs and gain revenue.

If there is a congregation in the University District that might see Mars Hill as competition, if not exactly a threat, then it might be University Presbyterian Church. UPC has long been the largest church in the district (between 2,000 and 3,000 members), with a significant presence among UW students. UPC also has tended to be more theologically conservative than other university area churches and thus closer to Mars Hill in that respect.

Mars Hill’s acquisition of University Baptist, for $2.5 million, would seem to confirm the recent research of UW Professor James Wellman, in “Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Culture in the Pacific Northwest.” Among other things, Wellman argued that the common characterization of the Northwest as secular or churchless may not be accurate.

In his study, Wellman found that innovative and entrepreneurial evangelical churches, of which Mars Hill is certainly a leading example, were thriving in the Northwest. It was the more liberal churches that faced the toughest challenges and were struggling here. As Wellman comments, it seems paradoxical that liberal churches would struggle, given the generally liberal ethos of Seattle.

It may be that relatively comfortable liberals, so long dominant in Seattle, simply feel little need for religion. Meanwhile, the people Mars Hill is reaching may have experienced more of the rough edges of contemporary society and are receptive to a different direction.

Used by permission from

Anthony B. (Tony) Robinson is President of Seattle-based Congregational Leadership Northwest. He speaks and writes, nationally and internationally, on religious life and leadership. He is the author of 10 books. Crosscut readers may particularly enjoy Common Grace (Sasquatch Books). His blog, “What’s Tony Thinking?”, is at his website,

Truth Tour Makes a Pitt Stop in George

Marketplace: Reeling in commercial fishing dangers


  “In many fisheries, the minute the season opens, boats race to reel in as many fish as they can,” reports Janet Babin of American Public Media’s Marketplace.

Photographer Karen Ducey, formerly of Seattle P-I, crabbed under this system in Alaska’s Bering Sea.

KAREN DUCEY: You would work around the clock, and you would work like 100 miles an hour — I think we’d get about four hours of sleep a night. That’s where the danger element would come in because you’re exhausted.

  Full story and more photos…

  (Above photo depicting Bering Sea crabbing is by Karen Ducey.)

Latest superbug not a new bug, maybe not super. Just evolution

Two story themes have come out recently that should remind us that bacteria rule this planet.

Bacteria were here first, they constitute most life on the planet, we wouldn’t survive without them and the best we can probably hope for is prudent accommodation.

A big story over the last few weeks was the warning of a new superbug, which wasn’t quite right.

It was actually a new gene mutation — dubbed New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase 1, or NDM-1 for short — that can transform a normally harmless bacterium like E. coli into a drug-resistant menace.

Full story at Humanosphere…

Could the spike in autism break programs for children with disabilities?

Could autism overwhelm federal programs that support children with disabilities?

Autism appears to be nearly everywhere these days – 1 in 110 children are now diagnosed with the disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is on “Oprah,” national magazine covers and the minds of parents.

Now there are signs not every child that could have autism is getting diagnosed. Researchers found lower rates of diagnosis among African American and Hispanic families and suggestions that parents’ education may play a role in getting a diagnosis, according to a commentary.

Full story…



A special needs family finds few options in today’s child care world

Primary turnout breaks modern record

If you voted in last week’s primary, pat yourself on the back.

The word from the State Elections Division is that voter turnout for last week’s Primary Election cracked the 40 percent mark today, exceeding the 38 percent turnout that Secretary of State Sam Reed predicted.

According to Elections Director Nick Handy, it’s likely that the final turnout for this primary will be around 41 percent. Regardless, this sets a new modern record for a Washington State Primary held in an even-numbered year in which there was not a presidential election, Handy said. Washington’s 2006 Primary turnout was about 38.8 percent of the state electorate. The 2008 Primary, which was the first to use the Top 2 system, resulted in 42.6 percent voter turnout.

The top four counties for turnout so far in this year’s Primary are Wahkiakum (64 percent), San Juan (63.2 percent), Columbia (62.2 percent) and Lincoln (60.9 percent).

The four counties with the lowest turnout so far are Pierce (35.3 percent), King (37), Yakima (37.11) and Snohomish (37.15).

To see the 2010 Primary voter turnout figures yourself, or to see the latest Primary results for the U.S. Senate contest and congressional, legislative and judicial races, go here.

Time to reset state union rules

Whether it be state unions fighting the legislature’s furlough savings plan or digging lines in the sand over ways to reduce state health care costs, it is becoming clear that the budget isn’t the only thing that needs transformation. It is also time to re-evaluate the so-called 2002 Civil Service Reform that put state unions in the driver’s seat and policy makers in the back seat when it comes to certain budget decisions.

The 2002 “reform” first took full effect during the 2005-07 biennium. Under the new rules state unions no longer had to have their priorities weighed equally with every other special interest during the legislative budget process. Instead they now negotiate directly with Gov. Chris Gregoire (pictured at left), while lawmakers only have the opportunity to say yes or no to the entire contract agreed to with the Governor. Lawmakers can’t make any changes.

Perhaps not coincidentally, state spending during the 2005-07 budget cycle increased 18% over the 2003-05 budget.

For true budget transformation to occur, the Governor and legislature need to make their No. 1 priority in January repeal of SHB 1268 from 2002 (civil service reform) and replace it with a law that simplifies an agency’s ability to use performance-based contracts while also restoring the legislature’s flexibility over compensation issues for state employees.

Otherwise any compensation reforms or competitive contracting/flexibility for agency directors to innovate on service delivery will run against the brick wall of that 2002 law.

An example of this is some of the agency responses to the Governor’s eight budget questions.

Note these answers from the State Parks Commission concerning park operations (page 112):

Question 6: Are there more cost-effective, efficient ways for the state to perform – Yes
Explore more efficient staffing models and contracting. Reduced appropriations may result in service reductions i.e. hours of operations, staff presence or maintenance levels. Union contract must be renegotiated.

Question 7: Can the activity be the subject of a performance contract – Yes
If we contract out aspects of operations and if union contracts are modified.

Question 8: Can the activity be the subject of a performance incentive – Yes.
If we contract out aspects of operations and if union contracts are modified.

As evident from the answers to questions 6-8, the Governor and legislature are going to need more flexibility dealing with state unions to truly transform the state budget. 

At a minimum, state union rules should be changed to reflect the process prior to 2002 allowing state employees the authority to negotiate for non-economic issues (while not providing a veto over agency contracting authority) but leaving compensation decisions up to the legislature as part of the normal budget process.

Another approach would be to follow the lead of Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana (pictured at left). One of the first things he did when he took office in 2005 was to issue this Executive Order, which in effect ended any state negotiations with unions. 

In response to my e-mail asking about this action, Anita Samuel, Assistant General Counsel/Policy Director for Gov. Daniels, wrote:


Employees are still able to pay union dues through payroll deductions. It is completely their choice. Union reps are allowed to represent employees in the grievance procedure. We expanded who was eligible to take a grievance through our State Employees Appeals Commission under this EO. Every employee, merit and non-merit below an executive level could file a complaint. The prior process only applied to merit employees.

The state does not negotiate with the unions on any issues. At times, the State Personnel Department will meet with the unions when requested. The state sets the compensation, pay for performance increases and benefits without negotiating with the unions. Governor Daniels put in place a robust pay for performance system starting in 2006. The first year the structure was 0% for does not meet expectation, 4% for meets and 10% exceeds.  The second year it was 0,3,8.5%. Employees were also given a 1.5% general salary increase that the legislature called for. I think that most employees were pleased with this system.

Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News. Mercier also serves on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and was an adviser to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee.