Monday, February 28, 2011

Nisqually Earthquake - 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, there was this little earthquake that happened in the Puget Sound. Here's how I remembered it.

I was driving to work. I had one of those jobs where I showed up in the late morning and worked until about 9 or 10 at night. I worked in Pioneer Square in a sixth floor office.

So I was in Lake Forest Park, driving south. I was driving down the street when two things happened simultaneously.

The first thing was that my tires rumbled strangely on the road. I thought for a second that I had a flat, but changed my mind quickly. I figured there were tracks on the asphalt. Have you ever driven on a part of a road where someone drove when the asphalt was still wet, and there's tire impressions baked into the road? It felt like that - like I was driving in a groove.

The second thing that happened was that Steve Sher and his guest stopped in the middle of a conversation and said things like "whoa!" and "oh, this is just like California." If you skip to the 1.00 mark in this video, you'll hear exactly what it sounded like.

So I knew two things: there was an earthquake, and nobody knew how bad it was. Sher said something like "I hope everyone is safe. We'll let you know once we know more."

So I had a forty-minute drive downtown still, and I didn't have a cell phone. All I had was KUOW, and I kept waiting and waiting to hear reports of damage, destruction, fatalities. I had no idea what I was driving into. For all I knew, everyone at my office had been pulverized.

As I got near downtown, I saw the strangest sights. Entire crowds of people were standing outside of their skyscraper offices. Huge mobs of people, standing on the sidewalk or even on the street. It was a little surreal.

I pulled off the highway, drove toward Pioneer Square. As I went down Jackson Street, I saw this scene.

That was just four blocks from my office.

I got to my office, and I saw all of my co-workers standing on the sidewalk. Nobody was hurt. The worst damage that happened was a potted plant had tipped over and spilled some dirt onto the carpet. A restaurant in the first floor of our building had a nasty crack in one of its walls, but the building was still sound. We called off work for the day. I called this girl that had been seeing for a few months - who later became my fiance, who later became my wife. She was fine. It could have been much worse. But for a few minutes, I was convinced that I was going to drive downtown to see the smoking ruins of buildings. It was a weird feeling.

Seven months later, the World Trade Center collapsed, and it really started to feel like the world was spinning out of control.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back to Your Cage

After the holiday is over, the balloons who could not find homes go sadly back to their kennels, doomed to wait until next year.
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Six Grownup Books for Kids

Oliver has books that I love reading to him. I probably love them more than he does. Oh, he loves them anyway, but there are parts of the book that just fly over his head. The language is just a bit too mature for children's ears. Or the books touch on themes - remorse, jealousy, sadness, longing - that he doesn't comprehend yet. Not yet. Not consciously.

I think it's entirely possible that he likes these books because they speak to him, the way songs in another language speak to me. Even if he doesn't understand everything that's being said, he knows that he's being told something important.

Anyway, these are the books that I secretly love to read him. I love the language. I love the moods and the emotions. I love that they feel real, honest; the way those formulaic books about Clifford and George and Franklin never do. They are written as literature, not as "kiddie books." The writer knew how to tell a story with engaging characters, compelling plot turns, and believable dialogue. Those are the books that I hope he still loves years from now.

Here are a few of my favorites.
One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some whales spouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of his boat gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse Amos, a little speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly akin to it all.With a long, rusty nail they tried to make a hole to peep through. "It is only a question of patience!" said Tillie. But after working an entire morning they gave up, exhausted, without having made even a dent in the hard stone.We didn't breathe for a whole minute. That dog just blinked. Then, slowly, he looked up with sad and patient eyes. Then, slowly, he looked up with sad and patient eyes. He blinked again, like he was giving it a second thought. Then he stood up, shook himself, and began to walk - like he was old and tired - toward the end of the garden.There was a little rabbit hutch there, and next to the rabbit hutch was a little run with chicken wire all around it. My dad sat on the grass, in the chicken wire run, reading his newspaper and eating a carrot. He looked a bit lonely, and he had grass all over his trousers.A few months later, Emily Brown and Stanley were lying fast asleep in bed, dreaming of all the adventures they would have the next day, when there was absolutely no noise at all at the door, or the gate, or the window. Silently, in crept the Queen's Special Commandos... and they STOLE the rabbit that belonged to Emily Brown.There were lima beans for dinner and I hate limas. There was kissing on TV and I hate kissing. My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas.

What are your favorite not-exactly-for-children kid's books?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


This post will almost certainly be irrelevant in twelve hours.

Hearing now that a) the Egyptian army is taking control of the country, and b) Mubarak will almost certainly be stepping down today.

I know almost nothing about Egypt, but from what I understand, Mubarak's been running the country with an iron fist for decades. So removing him from power would be a tremendous step forward. But is it enough?

If Egypt remains under a state of emergency, is anything really changing?

If the military takes command and it continues authoritarian rule, is this really a victory?

Is the goal merely driving Mubarak from power, or is true democracy the goal? What is victory in Egypt?

When will the protestors know that they have won?
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Monday, February 07, 2011


Groupon fucked up.

I can't speculate why they did it. Maybe they were forced to quickly develop an ad after they found out LivingSocial was running one. Maybe they seriously thought the ad agency that developed Burger King's Subservient Chicken was the perfect outfit to promote their brand. I dunno.

What I know, however, is that as soon as that Tibet ad for Groupon ran, all hell broke loose on Twitter. I started seeing boycott talk within minutes. Instant outrage.

What happened? Well, if you believe Groupon, they wanted to do something that would promote their brand by mocking people who felt passionately about causes.

Er ... no, that's not right.

No, they wanted to mock themselves. Yeah, that's the ticket. So they did it by making fun of the disappearing rainforest, dying whales, and the suffering of the Tibetan people. Sure, that's a great way to mock yourself.

Well, here, you can read what Groupon's CEO said, in his defense:
Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. Why make fun of ourselves? Because it’s different – ads are traditionally about shameless self promotion, and we’ve always strived to have a more honest and respectful conversation with our customers. We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes – even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?
Got it? So, by trivializing the causes mentioned in the ads, they never meant to trivialize the causes. Sure, that makes sense.

Somehow, Groupon failed to notice that there are still a hell of a lot of us who take those "causes" seriously. I got very excited for a few seconds when the ad started, because I was so impressed that someone had managed to get a political ad running on the Super Bowl. And then Tim Hutton started talking about fish curry, and I realized I'd been tricked. And I got angry. A lot of us got angry.

Groupon has tried to defend themselves by noting that they started out as a "cause-based website," and therefore ... something. Therefore, they get why cause marketing is so important? Therefore, they never gave a fuck about those goddamn causes in the first place? It's hard to take them at their word when their own community forum has this lovely message from one of their staffers:
Cause-marketers bombard us with celebrity endorsements, emotional pleas and percentage-based models that passively generate donations without converting champions around the issue.
(I will note that there was a much more offensive version of this message posted earlier by someone named Patty H. That message said something about "manipulating people into giving." I should have taken a screenshot. That message has since been deleted.)

Hey, thanks for making all of us fundraisers in the nonprofit world look like assholes! I made my money for several years doing grassroots fundraising - oh, excuse me, bombarding people with emotional pleas.

Groupon also says that they're all about raising money for these important causes. That's why you saw a link to a major Tibetan NGO during the Tim Hutton ad. Oh, wait, you didn't. Whoopsie!

Groupon is getting slammed for these tasteless and heartless ads, and they deserve every bit of it. Look at their community forums. Every thread that tries to promote the "cause marketing" side of these ads is being bombarded by angry users and angry ex-users.

It is important to care about causes. The world changes when people stop thinking about their own lives and begin focusing on larger causes - like the Nazi holocaust, like the oppression of African Americans in this country, like the environment, like global warming. Groupon made a huge mistake in assuming that they could use serious causes as a backdrop for a cynical ad campaign.

So now they're apologizing. Fine. I'm not satisfied. I want to see some serious penance. Want to make up for this? Start running some serious prime-time ads promoting the people of Tibet, protection of the rainforest, and saving those whales that you don't seem to give a fuck about. Start writing your own checks to important causes, not just collecting donations while you rake in record profits. You want to show us that causes matter to you? Prove it.