Archive for March, 2006

I agee with Bush

Ok, it’s early enough in the morning for me to claim plausible deniability later on for this post.

So, I agree with Bush. On at least one or two things. And it frustrates me.

Over the past 6 years my agreement with the decisions and aims of the current administration have been few and far between. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the times I’ve been frustrated and appalled by something they’ve done.

But when they’re right, they’re right. And when their opposition is wrong, they’re just wrong.

Two things come specifically to mind:

  • The ports deal
  • Illegal immigration

Let’s drill in:

The ports deal – Yes, we all get it. Arabs are scary terrorists, and thank heavens we were able to stop those folks from Dubai from blowing up all our ports by preventing them from operating the ports.

Ok, that’s just too stupid a sarcasm to even continue. Nobody in congress actually thought the Dubai folks operating the ports were any sort of real terror threat. That’s just ridiculous. Our port operations are already outsourced out of the country, but the folks neglecting port security on a daily basis are all homegrown. By scuttling the ports deal, all we did was send a loud-and-clear message to one of the only western-friendly middle-eastern countries: we don’t trust you. Good work, detractors!

Illegal immigration – My agreement on this one is a little more hedged. Illegal immigration is a huge problem.

Digression: note that it should ABSOLUTELY NOT be confused with legal immigration. This is also a huge problem, but because there’s TOO LITTLE of it, not too much. We need to make it easier, much easier, for immigrants to legally come to the US. Especially, but not limited to, highly productive immigrants who fill needed jobs that might otherwise end up being off-shored (ie – the H1B crowd). I believe that the whole offshoring trend is a direct response to the inability to fill positions in the US with qualified people, even more than the alleged “cost savings” it provides.

Back to my comments on illegal immigration: We have now 10+ million (some say even 12+) illegal immigrants in this country. And many of them have children who are citizens because they were born in the US. I’d argue that’s a law in need of serious review, but that’s for another day. So, we now have a situation where you can’t easily send the parents back, because their kids can legally stay. Plus, let’s get real — there are millions and millions of them. And quite a large number of them are gainfully employed (albeit illegally).

So, although I agree 100% with Lou Dobbs that it’s a huge problem in need of fixing, and I agree with him that free amnesty is a bad idea, I don’t think it’s as simple as building a wall and sending them all back.

I guess that means I agree (mostly) with Bush then. Ugh. We need a solution that is realistic. We need a solution that will actually draw them out (ie – amnesty that the illegal immigrants are afraid to use is useless). We need a solution that will draw these folks not just “out” to become legal, but also “in” to American society — it serves nobody to have an entire subclass of millions of people. And finally, we need a solution that makes it unlikely that we’ll end up in this same situation again in the future: stronger security to prevent illegal immigration, combined with a more realistic legal immigration program.

Nobody’s got this quite right, as far as I can tell. But Bush is closer than the reactionary congress viewpoint.

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Reminder – Indiana thrown into chaos on April 2nd

The unauthorized Microsoft Weblog reminds us that Indiana starts to observe Daylight Savings (sic) Time on April 2nd. Yes, it’s finally happened.

Of course, they evidently had some high-level meetings to decide how to make it even more confusing for people. And what did they come up with? How about: “you’re all now Eastern time, except for a bunch of folks at the west end of the state”.

Wah, hahahaha. Their nefarious plan has worked, and they will undoubtedly have succeeded in keeping folks (both in and out of Indiana) from understanding what in the world is going on with their timezone and timezone shifts.

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Our neighborhood Wonder Bread sign

Read an interesting article in the NY Times (by way of Slog and, later, also Seattlest).

I found the article interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because the Wonder Bread sign is about 3 blocks from our condo — and very visible out our window. So if-and-when it comes down it’ll be a very noticeable change for us.

But, more importantly, I found it interesting because both the article and the various commentaries on it (drilling down even into the comments posted to the blog postings, etc) so clearly show the difference of opinion that Seattle has about development.

As a very clear “for instance” of what I mean, Courtney of Seattlest has this to say:

Personally, Seattlest doesn’t worry about losing views (we don’t have one), but we do worry about what will happen over the next five years to our quiet, diverse little neighborhood which we actively chose to move into over more homogeneous options. We can hear the bulldozers rumbling in the distance, and in their wake we fear we’ll have only indistinct block after block of condos and townhomes strung together by infectious sores of StarBuQFMcSubWalgreen complexes at every third intersection.

Ok, so I guess that means I’m the enemy then? Jodi and I, live just up the street from Courtney, based on her other comments. And we live in the Welch Plaza Condos complex. At a corner across from a Starbucks. Half a block from a Walgreens. So I guess it’s pretty clear.

But to cut her some slack, I get it. Nobody sane likes block after block of uniformity. People who move into neighborhoods like ours like character. We do. And that’s a significant part of why we moved here. If we wanted boring uniformity in our neighborhood we would have moved to the east-side (shout out to all my east-side coworkers ).

So we all agree then, right? What do I mean by the “difference of opinion”? Well, I suppose I mean that the “Seattle urbanization mindset” appears to be at direct odds with the “Seattle neighborhood mindset”.

Background: Seattle has a bunch of distinct neighborhoods. In most of these neighborhoods, historically, there have been principally single-family houses. The core part of Seattle is blocked on three sides by water, so there’s not a lot of “new land” to keep building single-family houses without ending up with sprawl (out across the bodies of water).

See where I’m going with this? In the past year I’ve been following all sorts of discussions about development and there are two conflicting views I see over and over again (I’ll oversimplify them here for brevity):

  • Neighborhoods are wonderful for their character and history. Redevelopment and tall buildings (density) is the devil.
  • Neighborhoods are the urban equivalent of suburb sprawl, charm or no. The only way to fit the people we need is density (and tall buildings).

I think these are two extreme viewpoints, and I find myself somewhere in the middle. I like the distinct neighborhoods here in Seattle, but I also like tall buildings. I am all for historic preservation where it makes sense (there were some references to how developers wanted to rip out all of pioneer square and pike place market, etc), but I think it’s silly to say we should preserve the handful of dilapidated houses in my neighborhood vs replacing them with density condos or townhouses!

When I look at what are the problems in Seattle, there are a handful of relevant ones here that bubble to the top in my mind (and apologies if I miss your pet problem here):

  • cost of housing
  • neglected transportation infrastructure
  • transit permanence

Let’s break those down:

Cost of housing – this one is a no-brainer. It’s hella expensive to buy (or even rent) a place in Seattle. This means that new-to-the-area lower income people find themselves unable to settle in the city and they often end up out in the south suburbs. It also means that folks already living in the city are increasingly finding themselves pushed out as apartments convert to condos, houses are torn down, etc. This all logically follows, and it’s bad news. Some argue that the solution is to not convert to condos, or to not tear down dilapidated old houses… and I say that’s hogwash. The solution is to provide more (and more lower-income) housing in the neighborhoods and in the city core to ensure it can meet the needs, not to try to artificially hold down the value of the existing property by preventing improvements!

Neglected transportation infrastructure – we have lots of roads, bridges, sidewalks, etc that are fallen into disrepair due to short-sighted tax-reduction strategies over the past years (I’ve had a year now of reading up on Tim Eyman and the great work he’s done for the city and state). Obviously we need to fix what we have. But another perspective is that, well, the more dense the development, the less transportation infrastructure we have to support. So that’s maybe overly simplistic, but it’s also totally true. And it’s another reason I favor increased density in Seattle.

Transit permanence – It’s absolutely shameful that a city the size of Seattle, with the public transit acceptance of Seattle, has exactly zero fixed-line transit systems in operation right now. Well, unless you count the people mover at SeaTac, I suppose. Waterfront trolley – down for retrofitting. Historic monorail – being repaired from the crash last year. Green-line monorail – canceled, never built. South Lake Union trolley – construction starts soon. ST Central Link light rail – under construction until 2008/2009. Yikes, even with the fact that some of them are being upgraded or are being newly constructed, it’s just an appalling situation! Metro does a great job with the buses, but it’s transit permanence (ie – rails in the ground vs buses) that causes neighborhood growth and positive development around the stations.

But, we’re back to the same conflict then: do we want to “keep things just like they are, warts and all” or do we want to “rip up all that is good and replace it with soulless developements”. I trust there’s something in between, and that’s what we should be shooting for.

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Aeon Flux

Saw Aeon Flux the other day. Was a bit confused about the plot, even after reading about it online. That’s about all there is to say about that. 

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It’s about time

Well, it’s finally “official”. The house we sold in Charlotte last December is finally completely recorded in the CharMeck land records. It recorded with the register of deeds on December 9th, but the Polaris system was still listing me as the owner until this past weekend.

Before:

7102before

After:

7102after

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Bush approval rating

Found this Survey USA posting the other day to be pretty interesting. It’s a breakdown, by state, of the Job Approval rating of GWB. It tracks 3/15 vs 3/06 and shows the net difference. Of course, it’s no surprise most were trending downward — that’s why we’ve seen such a rush to “being frank” in front of audiences this last week.

Blah Blah, everyone knows polls can say anything. This one could be total garbage for all I know. But let’s just assume it’s accurate for a moment. If it *IS* accurate, it’s a very telling statement on the Bush presidency:

There are only 7 states where folks approve of the job he’s doing at a higher rate than they disapprove. And of those 7, only 4 are >50% approval. Wow. Here are the seven states, with asterisk next to those that approve by a majority.

  • Alabama*  (51% / 46%)
  • Idaho*  (50% / 47%)
  • Mississippi  (49% / 47%)
  • Nebraska  (49% / 48%)
  • Oklahoma (49% / 47%)
  • Utah*  (55% / 42%)
  • Wyoming*  (52% / 45%)

So, wow again. The best performance here was Utah with 55% approval.

And consider that these are all such small states. In states which carry a much larger electoral weight, it’s a bit more disapproving:

  • California  (33% / 63%)
  • Texas  (41% / 55%)

Even “republican” Ohio went 34% / 64%.

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The Constant Gardener

Jodi and I watched The Constant Gardener last weekend. We had high hopes since Rachel Weisz won for her performance as Tessa Quayle. It was a decent movie, but not quite up to my expectations.

It seemed a little bit jumbled to me. They focused on AIDS and how terrible is the AIDS epidemic in Africa (it surely is!), but then suddenly they were talking about TB. Whoa, where did that come from?!

I think the story was interesting and engaging at times. But at the end I couldn’t help thinking it must have been written by Robin Cook. I should explain, since I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about Robin Cook.

I read a couple of Robin Cook books (hehe…. cook books) starting in summer of 2004. Jodi’s roommate Lysa let me borrow a couple of them, and I ended up buying some more while I was out in Redmond doing the ranger training that August. They’re quite fun to read. But they’re in many ways very formulaic and over-the-top. There’s always some crazy twist or the head-of-the-lab-is-actually-a-cold-blooded-killer.

So The Constant Gardener is a bit like that. Without doing too much in giving away spoilers, suffice it to say it couldn’t as simple as “the pharmaceutical company is soulless and thinks there’s no money in giving away its drugs”. Even “the pharmaceutical company is taking proactive action to prevent production of generic substitutions for its cash cow” would have been realistic. No, the plot became a bit thin when the pharma company took explicit and deadly action to “silence” the various players.

Oh, who am I kidding… don’t read beyond here if you don’t want a spoiler! The key thing is it struck me as totally nonsense that the drug company would be unwilling to take a step back from the research program and reevaluate the drugs effectiveness (since it wasn’t working or there were unpredictable side effects or whatever). Let’s get real. If the drug didn’t work or had bad side effects, how successful do you think it would be in the US? A big part of the “we should be ashamed” message of the movie seemed to be around how terrible it was to “use” these folks in Africa as a testbed. Ok. I can totally see that perspective. But the next part of the message was that not only was it bad to use these Africans, but that the Pharma company would have no interest in “fixing” the broken drug… just letting it go on causing problems in Africa in a rush to get it to market in the US.

Um… how does that work? Have those involved with the Constant Gardener not heard about Vioxx? Does anyone really think Merck is happy that they are facing all of these lawsuits over releasing a drug with the reputed side effects? Does anyone really think that drug companies aren’t TOTALLY on edge about releasing drugs that might backfire on them and cost way more than they’re “worth”?

So, I guess I’m getting a bit off on a tirade, but let me close it out. It seems to me that it’s a fine balance to keep. The drug companies need to make money or they won’t have research funds to look for new “miracle drugs”. People all around the world want new drugs. Some of them (in Africa OR the US) need drugs for certain problems more than others do, and there are various ways of getting particular drugs while they’re still in the research/testing phase. Generally in the US this seems to be done through “getting into a test program” while the drug is generally understood to work (I guess through animal testing?), and I don’t think most times these programs cost you a lot of money as a participant since it’s the drug companies who stand to gain most from the transaction (you might get cured, but they almost certainly will get approval if you do). I suppose I don’t know that last bit about $$ for certain. In the movie, it seemed like the same basic strategy in Africa — find a good population of people who could use the drug and “test” it on them. There was some implied concern about how they had to sign some release in order to get the drugs, but I would be very surprised if the same wasn’t required in the US. Sure, maybe the drug companies charge too much after the drug is released. Maybe they release the drugs too soon, without enough testing. Some would probably argue that they wait too LONG to release the drugs. And unprofitable drugs which are produced based on the profits of the profitable drugs are undoubtedly used by some folks in need. 

So, it’s all a balance. And The Constant Gardener just seemed a little off balance to me.

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Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Finished the Voyage of the Dawn Treader a few weeks back. I’m getting a little tired of the Narnia books, but at least I’m entering the end-stretch.

Edmund and Lucy end up on a boat (the Dawn Treader) with their friend Caspian by traveling through a picture. They bring along their dour cousin Eustace. Caspian is looking for the 7 lords sent away by his uncle prior to the Prince Caspian book. Adventures ensue.

Fun read, I suppose. Fewer inconsistencies than Prince Caspian, but still not as good as I remember it 20 years ago.

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Props to Metro

Good work Metro Transit! Yesterday (Friday) was a great day for me, as a transit rider. Not sure what were the variables in my favor, but it all just worked out in both directions:

  • Caught the 8:31am 48 bus, which rocked up 23rd like no tomorrow and dropped me at Montlake in about 11 minutes.
  • Ambled my way down the stairs to the freeway station and waited about 2 minutes until the 545 bus arrived. Plenty of seats, and then THIS bus rocked across 520 and dropped me at Overlake in only about 12 minutes, also a personal best.
  • Brisk walk to my building, and I was in my office by 9:03am. I couldn’t have gotten there much faster driving!
  • Coming home was just as good… walked over to Overlake and waited only about 10 seconds to get onto a nearly empty 545 bus (i had to walk-jog when I saw the bus coming). Got me to montlake in about 18 minutes, a respectable travel time.
  • Transfered at Montlake and waited about 3 minutes for my 48 bus. Which dropped me at home about 15 minutes later.

Great way to end a Friday!

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Transportation meeting at Garfield Community Center

Transportation is not exactly transit, as I discovered the other evening at the “Transportation Public Meeting” for the Central District. Learned a lot. Like how our bridges are falling apart. And how our roads are falling apart. And how the number 1 priority of most of the people in attendance appeared to be sidewalks and/or not building a tunnel (depending on who you ask). I had been planning to go anyway, but thanks to Mayor Nickels for the personal message left on my answering machine, reminding me about the meeting.

Seriously though, I did learn a couple of things I did not know. Like how there have been two major sources of funding for our transportation infrastructure eliminated over the past 10–or–so years: first the street utility fees in 1995, then the vehicle license fee in 2002. So now the only dedicated source of transportation funding in Seattle is the gas tax.

So that means that the city has had to subsidize transportation repair/improvement from the general fund. A general fund which has been restrained to 1% annual growth in property tax assessment (even as assessed value of the properties throughout Seattle have dramatically increased in recent years).

So, short version: we’ve been under-funding our transportation infrastructure by millions of dollars each year. So the backlog keeps growing, and much of the infrastructure gets further and further into disrepair (and therefore more expensive to eventually fix).

Expect a transportation package this year to try to “catch up” some of this backlog and get the city back into a manageable place.

Plus, expect S Jackson St between 12 and 23rd (or maybe all the way to MLK, I forget) to be resurfaced sometime this spring, since it’s bubbled up the list of need.

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