History, politics, people of Oly WA

Month: October 2013

5 places for local online conversation (and trolls) now that the Olympian comment threads are dead

From my Facebook news feed recently:

Sort of funny how, now that you have to pay for access to The Olympian, and they require folks to comment using real FB identities, that there are no almost no comments on the articles whatsoever.

Whatever will the trolls do amuse themselves?

The Olympian put up a bit of a paywall and moved to Facebook comments awhile back. Since then, the comment threads over there went from troll heaven to ghost town. So, where did all the online conversation (and all the trolls) go?

1. Craigslist Rants and Raves

This is the most epically troll heavy place in the world and Olympia. Not sure why anyone ever really posts here, other than self gratification. But, there even seems to be some back and forth.

2. Thurston Blog

Back when the Olympian was trying to make comment threads work on their own, several comment thread regulars broke off to start Thurston Blog. Comments seem to have pretty much dried up there, but its worth pointing out that the exodus from the Olympian comment threads has a bit of a history.

3. Olympia Memes

While engagement over at the Olympian has waned, it has waxed at Olympia Memes. This isn’t just a simple local memes site, the admin of the page has raised money for charity and taken on local debates like feeding homeless downtown. Also, making fun of Shelton.

4. Olympia subreddits (r/olympia)

Reddit has a reputation (earned) for being a sort of troll heavy site wide. But, our small corner of reddit here in Olympia is “pretty chill.” There are also several other specific local subreddits for Evergreen and jobs in Olympia.

5. Olympian reporters on twitter

Back when I was a young reporter and first thinking about publishing on the web, I thought of comment threads as a way to update stories and engage with reporters. What newspaper comment threads eventually became couldn’t be further from that. But, reporters on twitter seem to be bringing that vision to reality. Meg Wochnick and Matt Batcheldor are doing a great job engaging on twitter.

Mars Hill, other entrepreneurial Christians and the Cascadian religious landscape (Cascadia Exists)

The seemingly manufactured debate between the Mars Hill Church and Sound Transit on who should own some property in Bellevue seems out of place. When you dig into the debate, it leaves you scratching your head. Why would any organization (a church or whatever) seem to have any case when the rightful owner of a property doesn’t want to sell it to them.

But, once you take a step back and see the debate from the point of view of the religious landscape of Cascadia, it makes a bit more sense. Not much, but it helps to understand how churches like Mars Hill fit into the religious world and the broader social landscape in Cascadia.

While Catholics make up the largest single religion, there are almost actually a footnote when you see the larger religious picture here. There are two things to keep in mind when thinking about religion in Cascadia:

1. There is no more universally diverse region in the United States. That means there are more different sorts of active churches or other houses of worship in our region that any other place.

2. The most dominant sort of religious is actually the non-religious. There are more non-adherents in Cascadia than any other part of the country. And, this isn’t a new phenomena. It has been noted for at least a century that fewer people attend or are active in churches here.

You can see these trends in my first post on Cascadian religion here.

But, how does that help explain the situation with the Mars Hill Church?

Well, because Cascadia is so unchurched and so religiously diverse at the same time, it is possible for active and growing segments of religion up here (like so called entrepreneurial Christians) to become self sufficient enclaves inside the broader culture. To the point that places like Mars Hill are even more conservative than similar churches in more churches areas (like the South).

In “The None Zone” Patricia Killen explains that instead of bending towards the center left that is Cascadian social life, entrepreneurial Christians around here bend ride. In almost all political scales (aside from gay rights) they are far more conservative than there counterparts outside the unchurched Cascadia.

Because Cascadia is so religiously diverse, it doesn’t force small communities of faith to adapt to a larger religious culture. They are allowed to live and let live in their own communities. So, Mars Hill church is left alone among a sea of left leaning, non church going Cascadians, they separate themselves, and become more conservative against against the sea of let-live liberalism.

So, when it comes to a simple debate about a church wanting to buy a piece of land after a public agency buys it a few months before, there is plenty of room for each side talking past each other. Communities like Mars Hill probably and simply don’t see eye to eye with the local civic culture. So they’re way of trying to buy a piece of property for seem pretty tone deaf.

Why won’t those damn kids just obey the will of our Grecian columns?

The most hilarious part of the otherwise troubling piece about street culture downtown by Austin Jenkins was this passage:

On Washington’s Capitol campus in Olympia, sandstone buildings stand as
monuments to the rule of law. But just a few blocks away you can find a
street culture where young adults and teenagers live by their own
rules—sometimes with tragic consequences. 

I mean, for Pete’s sake! This is the state capital! While you’re within site of our capitol building, please remind yourself not to fall into criminality!

Jenkins eventually reminds us that “It isn’t just Olympia,” that many other Cascadian cities have the same problems. But, the implication from his lede is that somehow, because of our sandstone buildings, Olympia should have less crime.

As silly as that sounds, it is actually true. Or, at least true from the point of view of the people that originally designed the campus. It is practically impossible to utter a phrase in Olympia about the campus without being reminded of its city beautiful origins.

The city beautiful movement in architecture began in the 1890s as a reaction to the quick and messy growth of American cities during the industrial revolution. When the city beautiful movement came to Olympia in the 1910s, it was hardly a booming metropolis. It was still a fairly common timber town just being carved away from the forest. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Olympia would reach its industrial peak, and the campus was well settled by then.

The thinking behind the city beautiful movement was that it would not only literally reform cities themselves, but it would change citizens.

From an essay by architect Pierre De Angelis:

The Cities Beautiful movement exists as an insignificant footnote in the current discourse on urban planning. It stands as a relatively short lived movement which flourished in the 1890’s; a genuine attempt to reform the wretched conditions of inner city poverty. 

However the upper and middle classes continued to travel into the city, to attend to their businesses and participate in leisure activities. Whether out of genuine concern or simply fear for their own safety and the continued viability of their businesses, middle and upper class reformers attempted to relieve the malaise of the city and lower classes. They did so by embracing the concept of beauty as an “effective social control device”… Reformers had no interest in beauty for its own sake but in its ameliorative power which could inspire civic pride and moral rectitude amongst the impoverished and poverty stricken. It is on these principals that the cities beautiful movement was born and on which much of our contemporary thinking on urbanity finds its ancestry.

There are some interesting parallels here between this description and the city beautiful and the Olympia downtown discussion. “(S)imply a fear for their own safety and the continued viability of their businesses…” is attached to the present time with people scared too come downtown. “(I)nspire civic pride and moral rectitude amongst the impoverished and poverty stricken” attached to ending homelessness and getting people off the streets.

We’re still having the urban discussions now that we had at the dawn of the “architecture will convince the poor to be good people” ideas behind city beautiful. We’re obviously moved beyond the point that we think nice looking buildings will make people better citizen. What Jenkins did was a device to put his particular story in the place he was writing about.

So, if we do end up getting around the corner on how bad downtown really has gotten, it won’t be with building nice looking buildings.

Buy my book: Oyster Light (or download it for free or help edit it)

Over the past year or so I’ve been putting together a few longer than blog post pieces into something that just barely qualifies as book length. You’ve probably read some of what makes up the book on Olympia Time already, but in “Oyster Light” you can read them in the way that I intended, in their entirety.

There are four major pieces in here covering baseball, murderous settlers, the early lawyering life of E.N. Steele and the capitol campus.

You can certainly pay for a printed or electronic version, but you can also download it for free.

The ebook version is available as a pay-what-you -want version at Smashwords. If you really want a suggestion what you should pay, $3 sounds about right. If you have trouble downloading a clean version, let me know and I’ll hook you up over email.

The printed version is available at Lulu for $11.

An editable version is also online since I have a hard time saying this is a good or even final version of this book. Feel free to take a whack at editing a possible future version.

When the world economy came crashing down on Olympia, WA

Did the world end? Has our economy crashed? If you can read this, leave me a comment below to tell me how it all ended. I’m writing this on Tuesday night, so I’m not sure if we breached the debt limit and America’s credit crunch killed the world economic system.

Anyway, if it is alright, let’s take another look back at one of the earlier times we crashed into a failing world economy in 1933. I wrote about that last hunger march here, but that remembering was from a pro-marcher point of view.

Lora Weed’s retelling here speaks of “*(the marchers’) attackers used broom handles to beat the marchers into ending their march.” But, this telling by former Olympia mayor E.N. Steele (in his self-published memoir) tells of a more patient and then flabbergasted response to the marchers:

I shall never forget watching them come in. Police met them at the city limits and escorted them to the park. It seemed as though the end would never come. They came in every kind of a conveyance; cars old and new of every vintage, and trucks of all makes and kinds. Many had tents. Those who did not were able to provide in someway. They came in January so it was rather cold, but they soon had fires going.

These people were for the most part good citizens who needed food and comfort. Hunger makes men desperate. Part of them were farmers, but most of them were from Seattle, Tacoma, or other cities where industries had closed down, throwing them out of work. There was no social security in those days, but there are always radicals and at a time like this they stir things up and really make trouble. We did all we could to make them happy.

But, negotiations with the state legislature for some sort of economic relief were slow going and conditions at the park went downhill.

Sanitary conditions were especially bad. As mayor of the city it was up to me to get them out of town. I submitted the matter to the Director for the State Department of Health. He directed a letter to me, stating that they must move at once, in the interests of their own health as well as the entire city, should an epidemic break out. I wrote a letter fixing a date for their departure. It was sent out and served on the leaders. Copies were posted on the trees.

They sent word they would not leave. Some of the most radical made speeches trying to stir them to fight. Rumors were whispered around town indicating real trouble. I called a meeting of the businessmen and others. After advising them of the entire situation, I asked for volunteers to be sworn in as deputy police. Those present volunteered almost to a man. The new police were organized. None were to carry guns. Each of these hundred men were to assemble at 8:00 A.M., at the Chief’s office, each wearing a badge. Each of them was given a short club to be used only in emergency. By 8:30 each was at his assigned post. There was a string of men on each side of the road the trespassers were to follow. At that time the Chief of Police entered the Park. The men and women were standing around in groups but showed no signs of moving out.

They indicated that they were not leaving and tried to get the Chief into an argument. His only comment was that he had a hundred deputies and the State Police at his disposal and that unless they were on the way by nine o’clock he had instructions from higher up to place them all under arrest. Some grumbled but some began to pack, others followed and at the appointed time they were on their way.

I failed to tell you that after a meeting about midnight a State Police Officer came to me and said there might be trouble as several of the visitors had been hanging around all evening. He took me by the arm and we went down a back way that I did not know was in existence, to the garage which is in the basement where I had my car. He rode home with me and to my surprise I found a shadow police had been on guard for the protection of my family.

That was the only time in my life that I have had to be guarded by secret police.

It is striking the difference in tone and perspective between Weed and Steele. Obviously, both are coming at it from different perspectives. But, today, I keep on coming back to the “Lord of the Flies” story on KPLU this week.

It is interesting how perspective is skewing our conversations about the sitting ordinance, the lower barrier shelter and the current nature of downtown. Either the city is too accepting or the city is criminalizing the poor. We can look back into history and find strains of the same debate throughout our history.

Three Olympia local food options that aren’t the co-op or the farmers market

Don’t like shopping at Safeway or Fred Meyer? Ralphs and Bayview got you down? Tired of shopping at the co-op and the farmers market is never open?

Recently, one local email group I’m part of had a long conversation about the food co-op, whether it really serving the community and if expanding to a larger store downtown (rather than two smaller neighborhood stores) would improve things. That got me thinking about where are the other places that you can buy food around here that don’t fall in either the big store or co-cop/farmers market categories.

So, here are three local Olympia food shopping options that you might like.

1. Olympia Seafood. This is my favorite, which is why I put it on top of the list.

When I want to buy something seafoody, his is where I go. All the time. I also tend to buy gift certificates here for other locals as a go to gift. While Olympia Seafood was established less than 20 years ago, it vividly reminds me of another seafood market that I used to go to as a kid. Walking in there, it literally feels like a seafood place. Cold, wet and smells wonderful. The seafood is good too.

411 Columbia St.

2. Spuds Produce Market.

Spud’s has only been open for a year? Feels like way longer than that. Anyway, unlike the other two listings here, Spud’s has an awesome community feel. Kids from the local school take field trips there, its in a neat old building, and I know for a fact, the food is great.

2828 Capitol Boulevard

3. Farm Fresh Market (Olympia Local Foods)

This is the place I was most fascinated with, because I didn’t even realize they had a retail store until I started poking around during the co-op email discussion. I had heard about a few local food delivery services, but Olympia Local Foods recently opened a brick and mortar retail location, sort of out of the way on the westside. But, beyond that, they seem to have a well rounded selection, plus their delivery service is still online.

2010 Black Lake Boulevard
Olympia Local Foods

Evergreen should play more games not on campus

Here’s on thing about Evergreen State College and Olympia that a recent resident here observed: You’d hardly think Olympia was a college town. Now, this guy is from the upper Midwest, went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. So, maybe he has a different idea of what kind of college town Olympia could be. But, he mentioned Bellingham in the same breath, and I see where he’s going.

It could be the culture of Evergreen. No Greek system, a fairly young college and you know, Evergreen. So, maybe we are a college town, its just harder to see because Evergreen is different, therefore its impact on us is different.

That said, I think there’s something else to it. Evergreen in a lot of ways isn’t in Olympia. Literally a college in the woods.

So, for someone like me, getting to events out at Evergreen can be a pain. Out of site, out of mind. But, that’s sad because a lot of cool things happen out at Evergreen. If Evergreen was centered around where we all lived. Like say, in a fit of rewriting history Evergreen was where the Automall ended up, wouldn’t we as non-Greener residents be at Evergreen more often, just because it was there?

I know sports is like this for me. I end up going to more high school and St. Martins, South Puget Sound Community Colllege athletic events because they are held nearer to me.

That said, because of field conditions Evergreen soccer was forced to play at South Sound Stadium. I really wish I heard about it earlier or it was on a better night for me, because I would’ve loved to have gone.

From the Olysports Blog (an effort you should suport, by the way), it even looks like there was a crowd at the game:

I could go on longer, but we could be prouder of Evergreen around here. There are a lot of proud graduated locally, but we should be even prouder. Sports is a big part of how people think about a school, and the easier it is to get to an event, the more fans you might have.

So, that’s it. More Geoducks off campus please.

October a day early. Well, that’s a surprise (Olyblogosphere for October 7, 2013)

1. On the day before October, October Surprise uploaded Stuff with October.

2. Democracy Wall went downtown to check out the feeding the hungry debate. Very, very much worth reading the entire thing:

The bartender in the 4th Ave. Tavern looked a bit like a pirate, but he didn’t want to be identified any more than the person interviewed at The Reef or, later, the Harlequin Theater staff.  He’d worked at the tavern for over 17 years, he said, including those Thursdays the CFM held their benefit for Olympia’s hungry.  He objected more to the characterization he chose for the beneficiaries than CFM itself.  He, too, had witnessed trash piling up in the tavern’s private dumpster as well as the bed of his pickup truck when he had made the mistake of parking in the lot where the event was held.  He argued many of those attracted to CFM’s hot meals were mentally ill, drug addicts, or miscreants who caused trouble hours after CFM had struck its tents and left for the evening. “When the trouble begins, they’re already long gone,” he said.

It occurred to yours truly, in hindsight, that many businesses were reluctant to openly criticize the feeding of the poor for philosophical as well as political and practical reasons, though the owner of the adjacent quilting supply shop had no such reservations. Some business owners who have openly opposed low barrier shelters for the homeless in their neighborhood have repeatedly had their business vandalized in the wee hours. There is a reluctance to be seen/heard, especially on the record, criticizing efforts to aid or assist the poor/homeless. At the same time, there has been considerable vilification of the poor/homeless. They are genuinely loathed by those business owners who see them as an impediment to having a profitable operation or an obstacle to their customers. Moreover, they are blamed for the vandalism and trash in the City’s streets.

The depths of perfidy vs. necessity came up again during a dinner meal at the Thai food restaurant just down the street a block or two from the artesian on 4th Ave.  The waitress volunteered, when asked, that she believed many of those who took advantage of CFM’s largess weren’t ‘homeless’, or even poor, at all. She felt they were ‘lifestyle homeless’ who simply liked to hangout and had become a blight on the community.

The issue, ultimately, appears to turn on the degree of tolerance Olympia’s residents are willing to afford the less fortunate, and to some extent, the not so less fortunate. Many Olympia residents are willing to be generous, but many are not willing to risk their own safety to do so. The aggressive behavior of a few street denizens has tarred the lot in the minds of some City residents. But CFM’s “sins” are a red herring. There was not a little trash strewn about the City far from where the poor and hungry were being fed. There was even the occasional hypodermic needle on the pavement.

The stretch of 4th Avenue near the artesian has become a tenderloin district after dark. A sense of entitlement has pervaded street elements there to the point of consistently challenging a photojournalist walking through with a camera. A thriving black market in contraband and services can be seen operating there.  It is almost the diametrical opposite of the ambiance surrounding the faith based ministries outreach to the poor, hungry, and homeless through their hot meals event.

3. I’m sure Steven is implying that the Newhouse should really be the poster child of the campus.

4. I guess North Thurston and Timberline played each other last week too. Thurston Problems was having a fun time with it.

Two examples of trying to merge Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater (sort of)

Over direct message on twitter a few days ago, someone asked me if anyone had ever tried to get all three nothern Thurston County cities to join together. Off the top of my head, I could come up with two examples, sort of. As far as I know there’s been no wholesale effort to join the cities together, but I found two partial ones:

1. Fire service in 2009. As far as I know, folks just lost interest and this effort just died off.

2. Merging city and county planning in 1990. This idea went down in flames. It was part of the home rule effort that year, and with the rest of the charter, it was voted down.

This entire idea of why the cities should merge is one that comes up every once in awhile. It isn’t a bad one on its face, just one I know will never happen, mostly because there are bigger evils that three cities bordering each others.

The reasons the cities won’t merge are numerous.

Separate school districts for each city mean people grow up not necessarily crossing city borders socially.

Cities have different histories, interests and trajectories. Tumwater was founded at the base of the Deschutes River before Olympia (on the shores of Budd Inlet), but didn’t become a city until much later. Lacey on the other hand, came along almost 100 years later. And, if you look at how far down Martin Way Olympia stretches, you could almost assume Olympia tried to kill Lace at birth.

In the blocks north of North Street, you can see this kind of municipal racing laid out in the checkerboard border between Olympia and Tumwater.

These histories, interests and trajectories have created three different local cultures (political and otherwise). From Matthew Green in OP&L:

This result is no shock. Olympia voters have supported tax levies for
a new fire station, the library system, and schools by similar or
larger margins. However, it presents a contrast with Tumwater, which
approved a public safety levy by just eight votes (50.11%-49.89%), and
Lacey, which rejected a fire district levy 47%-53%, both in 2011.

This result is yet another reason (approximately reason #12,000,003) why Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey should not merge.
A few local political leaders pop up once a year or so, like
groundhogs, to suggest that the municipalities merge into one city
government. They imply that city governance is about just managing a few
departments. They pretend that city lines are mere arbitrary
administrative boundaries.

In fact, the three cities contain electorates with distinct and often
irreconcilable political views. They fundamentally disagree about what
is important to their community – in this case, about what public safety
measures are important enough to justify raising taxes. None of them is
right… well, okay, Olympia is right, but the other cities are entitled
to decide for themselves. Rather than stuff three different electorates
into one mass, in the name of false efficiency, let each community make
its own democratic decisions.

 So, for the time being, any merging will happen under the surface. We already have our sewers all merged and transit. Other things like fire might come along, but we’ll likely always have our own cops. And, we’ll always have our borders and separate civic identifies.

Hoquiam and Aberdeen should merge. No reason why not.

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