Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seattle Light Rail Connects to SeaTac Airport...and a Hike

It's the apex of holiday time and again we're confronted with planes, trains and automobiles...and light rail.  Here in Seattle, the final stop on the Link Light Rail system opened on Saturday, finally connecting the 15.7 miles between downtown and SeaTac airport. Almost.

Catching your plane via light rail isn't so simple. Somehow you've got to get to the train, and not by driving, as none of the stations have parking lots.  Once on Link, you won't find luggage racks.  And finally, after you reach the spanking-new SeaTac station, you debark onto a platform 60 feet in the air.

From there, you've got to schlep your luggage outdoors, unprotected from cold and wind, down a level, across a bridge, and the length of the enormous parking structure (which holds 13,000 cars, ostensibly the largest garage in the world), finally crossing over to the terminal--where you start the indoors hike to your airline.  (Rental of a luggage cart is $4.)

As the Seattle Times suggests, "With its open-air walkways, chill breezes, highway and tarmac vistas, visible pipes ans jet fumes, the station seems to celebrate the maelstrom that is modern air travel." The article continues, "People-movers were not built, because those would cost millions, nor do the Port and Sound Transit keep electric carts, rental wheelchairs or pedicabs at the station."

Well, what do you expect for $2.3 billion?  And that was for the first 14 miles of track that opened in July.  Latest reports show that November ridership slipped to its lowest level.

This is of interest as my family prepares for travel to Hawaii (oh, yes!) where my husband will continue working and the rest of us plan to soak up a few of those 80-degree rays.  We're not checking luggage, given that the first piece costs $15 each way, and we've got heavy "personal items" and must tote our Northwest coats.

 Is the light rail an attractive means to reach the airport? Well, let's see: It takes longer for us to drive to the nearest station than it would to get to the airport and be dropped off right in front of our airline.  The cost of gas is no more for all of us to ride in one car than the multiple fares on Light Rail would be. And with a car drop-off, there's no grappling with bags down stairs and during a lenghty (and time-consuming) outdoor walk.

Funny, I've asked several groups if anyone's tried the Link light rail, and not a single person has.  Why not? Because we value our time, our convenience and our money.  Greg Nickels, outgoing mayor who proudly cut the ribbon at the SeaTac station opening Saturday, is hoping that people will forego all of the above, in sync with a liberal philosophy that views cars as evil and independence as selfish.

Taxpayers who wouldn't ride light rail are forced to pay for it.  Even the liberals who support mass transit in principle won't sacrifice time and effort to take Light Rail to the airport when cars are so much easier and faster.  Our left-leaning government thinks it knows best how we should travel, but no one's willing to give up personal freedom and comfort.  I'll be eager to see if Mayor Nickels or any other politican toasting the new station Saturday ever rides light rail again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Messages of Chanuka, Christmas...and Tiger Woods

Happy Chanuka; Merry Christmas.

They're not at all the same, even though we're all surrounded by the vivid colors and jocular commotion of the Chrismas season.  Last Saturday night, my husband and I joined at least a thousand others walking around Seattle's Green Lake, a three-mile path that glowed every few feet on both sides with flickering luminaria. Every so often, groups of people gathered to sing carols. Not winter songs, but traditional melodies celebrating the birth of Jesus.  The temperature, about 30 degrees, hadn't varied much all week, and the lake ice splayed reflections from the lanterns on the frozen water like Crystal Craze.

Chanuka's a quieter holiday.  True, we put our menorahs (candleabras) in our family room window, where theoretically neighbors can watch the display increasing by one light each night, climaxing next Friday evening, when all eight (plus the shamash, or "helper") celebrate the triumph of Jews faithful to God over those willing to assimilate. The menorah in the window publicizes God's part in the miracles of the holiday, and shows our fidelity, saying, "count us among those who uphold God's laws." 

It's almost ironic that culturally, Christmas and Chanuka are so often linked as dual celebrations of the season. Christmas marks the materialization of the spiritual, the coming to earth in human form, of God.  Giving gifts and putting up Christmas trees and decorations (increasing "stuff") extends the idea of God's taking tangible form.

Chanuka focuses on the non-physical--flame, light--and ridding the Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple, in 164 BCE) of man-made gods.  It celebrates the Temple's rededication to its prescribed functions, and we to the special non-spacial stratum of Jewish study and concentration we overlay on our concrete activities.

Not to imply that Jews eschew the physical (or that Christians ignore the spiritual).  The holiday of Purim affirms God's (hidden) role in physicality, and we express that by feasting and drinking and testing what we see (by wearing costumes) and hear (by twice listening to the Book of Esther).  But that's later, in March (actually the Jewish month of Adar).  Right now, as darkness seems pervasive here in the Northwest, with late dawn, cloudcover, and early night-time, we need to know that there's more than just what we're able to discern.

For Jews, Chanuka is the victory of light, of God's immaterial essence, over Hellenistic, hedonistic, touchable idols in our world.

Which of course relates to...Tiger Woods.  Some say he is a broken idol. I don't really follow such sordid stuff, an achiever, a hero, whose wholesome image is merely a veneer for betrayal, lying, adultery--the short-sighted selfishness that many call "just sex" and excuse with a shrug.

I don't think women are so charitable in their views of philandering sports stars.  Every phone call, every text message, every step through a door and unacceptable placement of his hand was a transgression.  It's not like there was one suggestive word, though that, too would be a choice.  Every single action directed toward a mistress or sex-mate was a cut in the basis of his marriage, in the trust expected by his wife, and by extension the fans and sponsors who believed not just in his talent but in his character.  It's not "just sex" but the destruction of the package that is the person.  The once-honorable person.

Back to the message of Chanuka: Don't fall for idols. Be true, be trustworthy, even though you have to forsake the immediately rewarding for long-term principles. Then, as now, it's easier to just go with the flow--to pick up the Hellenistic culture, the undemanding idols. To succumb to peer-pressure and feel-good temptations.

I know some people who love gossip and think Tiger Woods' (and any celebrity's) disgrace just lets normal folk feel better about their own lives: "The most famous and successful golfer ever, a mega-millionaire with a super-model wife blows it for some ridiculous sex--even I'm better than that."  I just find it sad.

I'd rather bundle up against the cold, light my menorah and enjoy the season.

Merry Christmas; Happy Chanuka.  And may you find bright light in your family room, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NY Show Feeds Graffiti Vandal B.N.E.'s Criminal Ego

This isn't the first time that a graffiti vandal gets glory. But it may be the first time one gets a Big Apple "art" show, sponsored by the New York office of a British advertising agency.

The tagger called B.N.E.--who's less a tagger than a paster, because he plasters 10,000 printed stickers monthly, with "iron grip adhesive," in selected cities internationally--put his unexplained three initials on a 15-foot wall in Manhattan as part of his exhibit. Seems hypocritical that he's challenging corporations ("You have these billion-dollar companies, and I've got to look at their logos every day. Why can't I put mine up?") but sponsored by an agency called "Mother" happy to exploit his "globally recognized and valued brand."

And he got an interview in the New York Times today, too. And for what? For sullying private and public surfaces from Japan to Bangkok, Prague and San Francisco, where liberal mayor Gavin Newsom, who you'd think would approve such added "art," is offering a $2,500 reward for his capture.

I can understand ad agencies trying to boost clients with edgy appeal, in itself not the most original of strategies.  They probably adore conventional folks' publicity-generating disdain.

But come on--all this does is fuel egomaniacs, whose "art" has the sole aim of increasing their personal domain, leaving evidence of their existence in much the same way dogs lift their legs to mark their turfs.  Dog urine, however, is a biodegradable substance, legal, and doesn't require human costs of time and expense to correct.  Nor does it stir neighborhood consternation and police action.

  In some cases, owners of homes or small businesses scarred by this smug defacement lack the wherewithal to remove it.  Santa Monica, California, where I used to live, provided property owners paint to cover the blight. Like many cities, it has a "graffiti removal team," and on its City website asks, "Which of the following impacts does the appearance of graffiti have on a neighborhood? 1.Decreases property values 2. Increases residents' fear of crime 3. Attracts more graffiti "artists" 4. All of the above.  If you answered '4, All of the above,' you're correct."

 Promoters who abet this community disfigurement, like the ironically named "Mother" and organizers of commercially-sponsored "jams" are responsible for its increased proliferation.  A program called "Graffiti Hurts," started in 1996 by paint-makers Sherwin-Williams (probably hoping their Krylon spray-paints wouldn't be banned or restricted, as many cities proposed) offers prevention and eradication information as well as school curricula to shape kids' attitudes.  They provide statistics showing that Jams for graffiti vandals, sponsored by video game makers, clothing companies, artists' agencies and even Hawaiian Punch, cause an increase in output in the surrounding neighborhood within hours of the events.
This doesn't bother ad agencies one bit.
Now, I support the free market system; the creativity of advertising agencies fosters the supply and demand that enlarges our options and makes our economy thrive.  But "pushing the envelope" by encouraging destruction of property, criminality and visual intrusion on the landscape ultimately doesn't get clients more business. Hawaiian Punch pulled the plug on a 2006 Houston jam because the community expressed its concern.
When my husband sees a new tag on a freeway wall, he goes into a funk. If the tag stays there more than a week, he phones the mayor's office to urge its removal.  Seattle applied for $547,000 from Pres. Obama's stimulus package to fund a Graffiti Investigation and Prosecution office with a dedicated detective, City Prosecutor and aides, to promply paint over and address the problem.  The plan wasn't funded, but clearly our town sees the increasing amount of audacious freeway and street tags as a plague.
When Paul Allen's vanity rock museum, the Experience Music Project, opened in Seattle Center in 2000, it featured an exhibit glorifying graffiti, showcasing a real New York Subway car whose original gray lay deep under wall-to-wall spray-paint. Photos of early taggers and their imprints appeared in glass cases for school kids to admire.  With fancy lighting and interactive videos, the show legitimized trashing somebody else's property and environment. I don't think the EMP would mount that display today.
B.N.E. knows he's a fugitive, and I think that's part of the allure--getting away with something despised by the establishment (governments, homeowners, businessmen) and lauded by a fringe underground.  Vandals splash their tags conspicuously as proof they can foil rules.  "I've always rebelled against authority," B.N.E. boasts. "Like any kid, I wanted to write the whole neighborhood. Most kids like that would then want to go out and do the whole city.  In my case, I wanted to do the whole planet."  Well, we're encouraging him, with glitzy ad agency "shows" and features in the New York Times.
B.N.E. arrogantly suggests his despoiling urban environments is freedom of speech:  "This is my voice," he insists, "and if you try to remove it, you're shutting me up."  (OK then, shut up.) Thus the super-tacky adhesive on his stickers. He loves being a famous snot.
The chairman of the Queens, New York, City Council Public Safety Committee, Peter F. Vallone, Jr. is right: "This is an unrepentant criminal who has cost honest taxpayers a lot of money, and he's profited from it." Times writer Corey Kilgannon as well as Mother brass know who this guy is and could end his career. But they wouldn't betray B.N.E., because they think cool and edgy trumps respecting the law.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obamas Homogenize the Holidays

Pres. Obama is minimizing Chanuka and miniaturizing Christmas because he wants to religiously homogenize the world.  A New York Times piece about social secretary Desiree Rogers includes her reference to the first couples' desire for a "non-religious Christmas," to many minds an oxymoron.  Apparently there was debate about displaying the terra cotta and wood White House creche, an 18th Century carved wood gift from Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr. that's been on display in the East Room every Christmas since 1967.

As an aside...I've attended two Bush White House Chanuka parties, and the creche (left) was discretely removed for the occasions. The souvenir booklet about the White House given guests, however, describes it.  I doubt Jewish visitors would have disapproved of the nativity scene any more than the Christmas trees that filled every room, but the sensitivity was noted.

Is it that same sensitivity that drives Pres. Obama to want to make his first White House Christmas "non-religious"?  Or, is it a more disturbing agenda?

I maintain that this is a small step that figures neatly in his broader plan.

Pres. Obama was raised in a Muslim milieu, even if he was not actively Muslim, and he knows that the Peace Prize he’s junketing to Oslo to pick up is predicated on his trying to build a religiously neutral world. Despite his 20 years in the congregation of Rev. Wright, the point of which was to build up his cred in the black community, I doubt he believes Jesus is his savior. I'd say he thinks this holiday is an American tradition, and if he were to ignore it, he’d alienate a lot of people.

With a somewhat megalomaniacal desire to better humanity according to his personal world-view, his underlying purpose is to homogenize just about everyone and everything. Rich and poor must be equalized. Male and female, ditto. America and other nations, ditto. He’s taking it in steps: first downplay the holidays (even the celebrations of his most strident supporters) and ultimately make “The Season” a Unicef Card, with paz, pasques, peace, shalom, and the Arab equivalent floating equally around a scene of an arm-linked circle of people of many colors.

Social Secretary Desiree Rogers calls it the Obamas' "philosophy" of being "inclusive, diverse, representative of all Americans, celebratory, authentic."  But at Christmas time, "representing all Americans" is not "authentic."  Our nation was founded by and is populated mostly by Christians.  In 2009, 75% of Americans say they're Christian.  That figure is down ten percent from 1990, but pundits speculate that's because it's now more OK to tell a pollster "no religion" than it used to be, not because the panoply of religions in the nation has expanded.

This time of year, Jewish publications are filled with advice on resisting the Christmas flavor around us.  Truth is, Chanuka carries exactly that theme--Jews who embrace their religion know that the underlying message is loyalty to the Torah; the Festival of Lights celebrates the restoration of the Holy Temple to its traditional role in 165 B.C.E., in defiance of those who would assimilate into the Hellenistic culture. Anyone secure in his Judaism isn't threatened by a benign American Christian culture, and in fact our family appreciates the holiday lights, happy caroling, and the air of conviviality and charity that circulates in shopping centers and with the tinkle of the Salvation Army bell at the entrance of our grocery store.

We wish our neighbors Merry Christmas, and we wish the Obamas could do the same.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Governors Aren't Judges: Huckabee's Well-Meaning, Politically Fatal Mistake

Keep reading: I'm going to tell you the politically fatal problem with the 1,033 commutations and pardons by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, one of which led 9 years later to the massacre of four policemen in Lakewood, Washington on Sunday.

I heard Gov. Huckabee yesterday on my favorite talk radio show, and I was disappointed with his continued defense of his 2000 commutation for killer Maurice Clemmons.  (I also heard my fave host catch him today on an inconsistency between assertions on the show and on another interview later in the day.)  I get the feeling that Gov. Huckabee, whom I like and admire generally, is looking for the most acceptable spin on a serious mistake.

His new tack paints Maurice Clemmons as the youthful victim of a racist and over-zealous judicial system, and his role in commuting his sentence from 108 to 47 years as righting that wrong.  He insists he thoroughly read every page of the thick file detailing Clemmons' violent and aggressive behavior while serving the 11 years that preceded his petition. Huckabee, who says he granted clemency on the recommendation of two judges, couldn't know what Clemmons would do after his release--he didn't have a crystal ball, did he?

Hearing Gov. Huckabee sympathetically describe Clemmons' robbing an elderly woman (he threatened he'd shoot her; she called his bluff so he whacked her down and ran off with her purse), minimizing it by saying the haul was only $16, was jarring enough. But he never mentioned that in 1990 (a decade before the clemency petition), Clemmons added 60 years to his already lengthy list of sentences by burglarizing a State Trooper's home, stealing $6,700-worth of property, including a gun. Omitting that offense, Huckabee went on to say that a 108-year punishment for "two crimes committed at age 16" was excessive.  Not only did the governor have the facts wrong; not only was his compassion misplaced, but to my mind he did something even worse.

He implied he was wiser than the state's entire judicial system.

For a politician to exert his power in a few cases--okay. But Gov. Huckabee considered interfering with the outcomes of trials and processes of justice several times a day. (He granted more than three times the petitions of the previous three governors combined.)  He claimed he read the records of all the prisoners petitioning for clemency or pardon, evaluated them, and dismissed 92% of them.  He granted 8% of the requests, thereby discarding sentences decreed by judges who had presided over cases beginning-to-end.

Now, it is entirely possible that a sentence can be overly harsh. And that racism was a factor in Arkansas, as Gov. Huckabee said yesterday on the radio.  That's why there's an appeal process. That's why juries, rather than individuals, render verdicts.

It's also wonderful to show empathy, and one of Gov. Huckabee's most appealing characteristics is his caring demeanor. He comes across as perhaps the most visible example of "compassionate conservatism," combining solid values with regard for others' welfare.

But a governor represents the executive, not judicial branch of state government.  Voters hadn't elected him to spend time absorbing details of 12,912 convicted criminals' cases to determine which sentences to change.  Gov. Huckabee's insistence that it would have been far easier and more politically safe to routinely deny all the petitions rather than scrutinize them, seems a bit self-serving, suggesting he magnanimously endured the risk to doggedly pursue justice and fairness for these victimized prisoners.  Nice guy; not his job.

That's why Gov. Huckabee probably ruined his chances as a presidential candidate.

I would not want a president who felt compelled to examine and correct Supreme Court decisions, any more than I want a Court that furthers a social agenda via sweeping rulings that state legislatures should decide.  The "emanation of a penumbra" scotched state legislatures' varying laws on abortion, and similar derivative language may yet nullify the will of millions of voters who've firmly supported traditional man-woman marriage.

A governor and a president do pursue a platform, but as "executives," their roles are administrative. Yes, they can put forth or veto proposals, but can't single-handedly enact or eliminate laws.  We have three branches of government, and a bicameral legislature to prevent kingly pronouncements.

And that may be what makes me so uneasy with Gov. Huckabee's stance on Maurice Clemmons' commutation. He sounds a bit too much like the imperial President Obama, who is so sure he knows what this nation needs, and sounds ever-so-slightly frustrated that even some in his party don't see things his way.

I don't really support the idea of executive clemency--but in any case, governors should use it only rarely, in special circumstances.  Gov. Huckabee pardoned or commuted a sentence nearly every other work day for ten years in office.  And he says he read 12.5 times as many case histories as he granted.  Something's wrong with those priorities.

With the flags at my kids' school at half-mast, mourning the deaths not far away of four dedicated police officers, we are reminded that the purpose of imprisonment isn't primarily punishment or deterrence, but public safety.  No matter how crowded jails get, the single most important criterion for parole or release should be the prisoner's potential to harm.  Even the eloquent and intelligent Mike Huckabee can't convince us that in 2000 Maurice Clemmons' record suggested he met that most fundamental standard.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Murderer Clemmons Dead after Frightening Seattle and Raising Questions of Compassion

Update this morning on Maurice Clemmons, killer of four Lakewood, Washington police officers, cause of city-wide concern and unease, and source of Mike Huckabee's future political demise.

As I'd hoped in my post of last night, Clemmons was found, about 2:40 am. And, due to the criminal's own bravado and stupidity, killed, saving taxpayers the expense of trial and incarceration and probably executing him anyway.

Clemmons, who had evaded capture with the help of nefarious low-lifes, decided to steal a car.  The vehicle's owner, Harvey Lagon, watching TV in his South Seattle home about 12:45 am, heard his car revving and, looking out the window, watched it being stolen. He decided to call the police rather than pursue the thief himself. That choice might have saved his life.

Several blocks away, Officer Benjamin Kelly, on routine patrol, came upon the car with the hood up and motor running. He determined the car was stolen, and began the paperwork when Clemmons approached. Kelly recognized him and commanded him to stop. When Clemmons ignored two further commands and reached into his waist area, the officer fired.  On Clemmons' body was a firearm taken from one of the Lakewood murdered officers.

The collective sigh of relief in Seattle is audible.  The day began with this beautiful dawn (I took the photo), the opening of a sunny day in the light-starved Northwest.  Today my daughter and her friends can walk to class at the University of Washington with less trepidation.

I hope this tragic episode can motivate support for government aggressively eliminating danger and effectively punishing criminals. We need to shift the mindset so that perpetrators are seen as responsible decision-makers, rather than victims of a society that owes them help and sympathy, since it failed to provide optimal upbringing.

The economy and individual freedom depend on citizens' living in safety. Providing that is the most fundamental task of government.  I'm sure Gov. Huckabee--and we all--now regret that nine years ago he didn't keep that duty foremost in mind.

Huckabee Mishandles Cop-Murderer Clemmons' Sentence Commutation

For my daughter, a student at the University of Washington, the world is askew because a murderous gunman is on the loose.  Maurice Clemmons, 37, mowed down four police officers at a coffee shop near Tacoma on Sunday morning, then headed north, bearing an abdominal bullet wound received in the attack. Police thought they had him when they surrounded a house not so very far from where I live. They were wrong; it was empty. Then today, he was spotted at the University of Washington. My daughter, who couldn't miss class, headed to her lecture despite her dad's pleas; she said police were everywhere.  Campus buildings were closed tonight, just in case; my daughter came home so she'd have a quiet place to study.

I only found out about the peril when my husband called, about 11 am, assuming I'd heard. No. And thanks for the worry, honey.

The story gained national attention because Mike Huckabee, as governor of Arkansas, 9 years ago commuted Clemmons' 60-year sentence for a series of robberies and burglaries (received while already sentenced to 48) after the felon had served 11 years. Clemmons' behavior while incarcerated certainly added to his punishment--he'd lunged for a gun, hidden a metal hinge in his clothes, and thrown a lock at a bailiff (missing, but hitting his mother, who'd come to bring him clothes). The Arkansas parole board reviewed Clemmons' case and released him anyway; he immediately went out and robbed some more, was convicted but released again in 2004, when he moved to Washington State.

Clemmons' (pictured) rampage Sunday occurred just six days after his release from Pierce County jail on charges of second degree child rape and seven other felonies. His freedom (with a tracking ankle cuff he cut off) was secured with $15,000 he put up from unknown sources, and a $150,000 bond from a bail bonds company called Jail Sucks.  Apparently, he was enraged either because of a domestic confrontation after "discovering a child" (according to a story in this morning's Seattle Times) or because he was generally mad at having been incarcerated. He apparently told acquaintances to "watch the news" because he planned to "kill cops."  He's been chased around Seattle, sometimes based on a trail of blood, abetted by others who, police say, have been lying for him.

It's all sad, scary and horrible, the loss of four brave officers, and this criminal on the loose, a wounded, armed animal whose mental state is some degree of crazy.  The "flat out execution" of the officers comes on the heels of the Halloween murder of Seattle policeman Tim Brenton, "allegedly" (according to eye-witnesses) by Christopher J. Monfort, called by police a "domestic terrorist" who had bomb-making supplies in his apartment. Monfort was shot and is in custody.

What I find especially appalling is the reluctance of Gov. Huckabee, who I admire, to express regret or take responsibility for the fact that Clemmons was in circulation. If he had not been moved by a handwritten plea that used the perpetrator-as-victim excuse, the compassionate governor might have let the repeat offender's sentence stand.  Gov. Huckabee, who explained his 1,033 pardons and commutations (one every four days of his ten years in office) on the O'Reilly Show this evening (embedded below) had evaded responsibility earlier today, blaming a "series of failures in the criminal justice system in Arkansas and Washington State."

 On the show he did admit "I am responsible" but qualified that he merely acted on the recommendations of the parole board and the judge in the case.  He emphasized that the commutation shortened Clemmons' 108-year sentence to make him eligible for parole, which was actually granted not by him, but by the parole board itself.

I find this unacceptable.  A repeat offender who had more than the three strikes, and who earned through the justice system 108 years in prison is a hard-core criminal. That a judge and parole board recommended his commutation is bad enough; the governor's office and Gov. Huckabee himself should have seen those facts and denied the request.  On O'Reilly, Gov. Huckabee said he did turn down 92% of requests for pardons, and that he studied the paperwork in each case. If that was true, then apparently the governor had enough time to consider the records of 12,912 criminals.  If he took no vacations, holidays or weekends off, Gov. Huckabee pored over the files of about four cases every single day during his tenure.

Even conservative pundits see the Clemmons commutation as a huge gaffe, an error of such Willie Horton-esque magnitude that it could easily dash Gov. Huckabee's future presidential aspirations.  If Gov. Huckabee had immediately and forcefully taken full responsibility, expressed extreme regret, and bent over backward to vow high priority to public protection from repeat criminals, he might have finessed his failure. But to my mind, even his O'Reilly "explanation" seemed defensive rather than definitive.  I think Gov. Huckabee is a good man, but he needed to address his zeal to free Arkansas offenders, and take a hard line against crime.

It's too late for him to do so now. We can only pray that Clemmons is apprehended tonight, for the safety of the citizens of Washington state...and the peace of mind of all the mothers whose children will walk to class tomorrow.