Weekend Reading 8/22/14

Style coup, top coal reads, donuts for bears, and more.
This post is 168 in the series: Weekend Reading


My top recommendation this week is Lummi elder Jewell James’ article in the Bellingham Herald:

In August we make our journey from South Dakota to the Salish Sea and north to Alberta, Canada, stopping with many of the tribal and local communities whose lives unwillingly intersect with the paths of coal exports and tar sands. We will carry with us a 19-foot-tall totem that brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects. We travel in honor of late elder, and leader, and guiding light Billy Frank, Jr., who would remind us that we are stewards placed here to live with respect for our shared, sacred obligation to the creation, the plants and animals, the peoples and all our relations.

There’s plenty of other coal reading this week too.

The tireless folks over at DeSmogBlog bring news that environmental groups are suing a major coal exporter on the lower Mississippi. The photographic evidence they present is completely consistent with my observations when I visited the site a few months back—a horrifying look at how callous and destructive coal terminal operators are.

A new video critique of coal export plans is out on Vimeo. Check out: Coal Road to China.

Rail workers try to put the brakes on coal and oil shipper BNSF Railway’s scheme to have just a single person on some freight trains.

Finally, I think it’s obvious to everyone that we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the Roman Empire. So it’s a relief to see Vox publish 40 maps that explain it.


I am a big fan of donuts. Apparently, so are bears. And some are smart enough to figure out how to get some for themselves. (Alternative possibility: I shape-shifted this past weekend.)

As an alum of a Catholic high school with a uniform code that relegated all us girls to boxy polo shirts and “Dockers-style” khaki pants or to-the-knee skirts, I can’t imagine having been half as self-possessed or thoughtful about our dress policy as this young woman out of Seattle’s Ballard High School. Along with some friends, Annie Vizenor is staging a “style coup” to confront the victim-blaming-inspired dress code policy her school enforces, complete with some DIY shirts with statements like, “My bra straps are not the problem…YOU are the problem.” Get it, girl. Read more »

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Ambre Energy’s Troubled History: Greatest Hits Edition!

The "thin green line" of the PNW puts Ambre in its place.
This post is 25 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor
No coal trains sign, at a home in Bow, WA. Photo by Pam MacRae.

No coal trains sign, at a home in Bow, WA. by Pam MacRae (Used with permission.)

In case you missed the news on Monday, the Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit for Ambre Energy’s plans to build a coal export terminal along the Columbia River capable of shipping 8.8 million tons per year.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this ruling. It’s the first major regulatory decision on any coal terminal permit in the Northwest states. It was an unambiguous victory for opponents of coal export terminals, particularly the tribes that have been so vocally opposed to coal export facilities on the Columbia. And it foreshadows the likely outcomes for the much larger, more complex, and higher-impact projects that are still in the early stages of the permitting process.

Though the company may appeal the decision, the odds are stacked against Ambre: the path forward is unclear and likely lengthy; the company is struggling to raise sufficient additional financing; international coal prices are low; and recent developments in Asia show uncertain demand for US exports.

Of course, none of this is news to Sightline readers. You’ve been reading about Ambre’s shaky finances since late 2012, and the news has only gotten worse. It’s been a long road, but with this happy event, we can’t help but take a fond look back (and yes, feel free to crank up some victory tunes) at some of the research that helped get us here: Read more »

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EVENTS: Coal & Oil Trains in Bellingham, Everett

Two public panel discussions on Northwest fossil fuel exports.
This post is 47 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails
Everett Coal & Oil Trains Panel Discussion, 2014_0822

I’ll be participating in two panel talks on coal and oil trains, one this Friday and one next week. Both promise to be interesting.


This Friday, come ask your toughest questions at a free, public panel discussion on coal and oil trains. I’ll be joining Ross Macfarlane of Climate Solutions, Sean Ardussi of Puget Sound Regional Council, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, BNSF Consultant Terry Finn, and Joe Ritzman of SSA Marine to talk about everything from public safety concerns to local traffic delays to climate and regional economic impacts. Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Somers will moderate.

  • When: Friday, August 22, 2014, 10 am to noon.
  • Where: Snohomish County Administration East Building, first floor public meeting rooms, 3000 Rockefeller Ave, Everett, WA 98201 (detailed map)
  • Cost: Free


Then, next Wednesday, Bellingham City Club has invited me to talk on the same subject alongside Shannon Wright, executive director of Communitywise Bellingham. The event is not free, but it is discounted for members and includes lunch.

  • When: Wednesday, August 27: Doors at 11:30 a.m., Lunch at 11:50, Program from 12:20 to 1:30 pm.
  • Where: Northwood Hall, 3240 Northwest Avenue, Bellingham, WA (map)
  • Cost: $13 member / $18 guest / $5 young adult if purchased in advance here. A limited number of tickets may be available at the door at the cost of $15 member / $20 guest.
  • More information available on Bellingham City Club’s website.

Hope to see you at one of these events!

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(Pay To) Park and Ride?

How user fees will produce parking sanity.

In July 2013, board members of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, better known as Sound Transit, unanimously approved a pilot program to test several efficiency-boosting strategies for a woefully oversubscribed parking system. The pilot scheme was budgeted at $495,000 and set for a 2014 roll out, with three key measures:

  • Parking permits;
  • Real-time information on parking availability;
  • Rideshare collaboration.

Unsurprisingly, the introduction of parking permits became the most controversial part of this new program. Following the announcement, Internet news forums were ablaze with furious commenters who questioned the logic of charging for what has always been a “free” good. Here’s a collection of the statements, ranging from frustrated, to angry, to apoplectic, and ending with a calmer voice:

And the war on cars continues.

Great, so now only the rich can afford to take the bus too?

Forcing people to pay for a park-n-ride slot will backfire. These people are true idiots.

…idiotic idea. I’d actually do the unthinkable and vote for an Eyman initiative to stop Sound Transit if there was one.

Want ridership? Make the system easy to use. That means building parking lots. If you don’t want ridership, charge the users to park. Simple.

Some people think that free parking is mentioned in the Bill of Rights, right after cheap gasoline.

As alluded to in the final user comment, Hell hath no fury like a motorist deprived of free parking. The permit scheme ended on July 31st, and the early data supplied by Sound Transit suggests that the program was successful, raising the possibility that more fees may be coming to a transit center near you. Undoubtedly, the broader effect will be to alter long-held notions of the real cost of parking.

Read more »


Weekend Reading 8/15/14

Photos: Living off the grid; #IfTheyGunnedMeDown; and more.
This post is 167 in the series: Weekend Reading
Original illustration by Nina Montenegro of ghosttide.com.


Heads up to a great event happening next Saturday, August 23: the 9th Annual Duwamish River Fest! It’s a completely free afternoon of food, art, boat and kayak rides, kids’ activities, live music, and more. I’ll be there and volunteering (still a few more spots to fill!), so come out with the fam for some local river fun.

Wow, this is powerful. After the controversial shooting of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last weekend, this hashtag collected the commentary of black youth across the country wondering about mass media’s selective portrayal of gun victims of color: #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. Here’s a sobering “Hands up, don’t shoot” photo collection from Vox, and historically black Howard University’s own contribution to the conversation.

In more local related news, this past weekend, a guard at Seattle’s Westlake Mall pepper-sprayed a bystanding young black man, Raymond Wilford, instead of the white agitator who was heckling a pro-Gaza demonstration. From the article:

“I’ve been treated like that all my life, so it kinda brushes off,” Wilford, who has two kids, says. “I’m from the South, I’m from New Orleans. I’ve seen the worst of it.” He lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and came to Seattle a decade ago “to try to redo my life,” he says.

“People here seem to be more secretive about their not liking black people, or their racism,” he says. “I’m so used to it I don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right half the time.”

Read more »

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The Holy Grail of Parenting

A photoessay on urban spaces that work equally for parents AND kids. (Please send us yours!)
This post is 8 in the series: Family-Friendly Cities

Image by Grace Hobson

On a recent vacation, I had a perfect moment, one that so rarely occurs since I had a kid nearly six years ago. I was sitting on a deck, drinking a gin and tonic, and having civilized conversations with my husband’s oldest friends. Almost entirely uninterrupted.

That’s because sandwiched between our restaurant and another across the way was a grassy field full of roving kid gangs. They were far enough away that their entropic energy didn’t bother anyone, but close enough that you could still keep half an eye on them.

Our daughter befriended a local girl, cadged a piece of her birthday cake, and joined and lost interest in countless soccer scrimmages, dance parties, frisbee games, and sibling chases.The important point is that she was having a great time doing kid things, and we were having great time doing adult things. In the same place.

In my life, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. Possibly because of byzantine liquor laws, the fact that urban land is pretty expensive to let kids run wild on it, and all the perfectly good reasons that not everyone wants our child around as much as we do.

Happening upon those urban spaces that serve children and adults equally well is like the Holy Grail of parenting. Read more »

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Messaging Basics to Live By

Our favorite Flashcard tips: Go viral, show your true colors, and optimize your photos.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards
Photo Credit: willgame via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: willgame via Compfight cc

As we gear up for a busy autumn, with election season looming and new legislative efforts on the horizon, it seems a good a time as any to take stock of some of our favorite, enduring strategic communication recommendations from the past year or so.

It’s three Flashcards in one!

First, communications researcher and advisor Anat Shenker-Osorio reminds us to show our true colors, saying what we really stand for—confidently and consistently—and not just because she says so, but because it’s a strategy empirically tested to fire up our base and bring the so-called “middle” our way.

Next up: Resource Media’s visual storytelling guide is a must-read in today’s digital media landscape. You can’t do social without mastering the art and science of putting photos to optimal use.

And, finally, what are six principles that can make your message “go viral”? Put a kitten on it, right? Well, that’s one way. But Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger goes beyond cute, fuzzy animals and cracks the code on contagious content.

Messaging Basics to Live By

Your True Colors (Don’t be afraid to let them show). Trying to please everybody? Retreating to the “middle”? Swaying with the polls? All quick ways to water down your message and convince NO ONE. Better to stick to your guns and say what you stand for.

Let’s Get Visual: A pocket guide to powerful storytelling with images. Pictures evoke emotion, faster and in ways that words alone cannot. Plus, they’re sharable!

Are You Contagious…Enough? Six principles of viral messages. Does your message give people social currency (a.k.a. bragging rights)? Is it worthy of imitation? Are there triggers that will crop up naturally? Is it emotional, a story we want to retell? Is it something useful to share with friends?

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Big Is Beautiful

Michael Lind, contra E.F. Schumacher.

I have had a think-tank director’s crush on Michael Lind, co-founder of the New America Foundation, since I read his four-part filleting of the US Senate in 1998. The man is a polymath with a golden tongue, as he amply demonstrates in his 2012 book Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. Better, he is an iconoclast, unsatisfied with any particular ideological presumptions. Not since reading Benjamin Friedman’s Moral Consequences of Economic Growth have I encountered an economic argument that so successfully forced me to examine my own comfortable assumptions.

Lind begins with a detailed retelling of the Jefferson-Hamilton debate over the role of the federal government in economic policy, a debate which at first seems like trivia for history buffs. (Review: Jefferson was the voice for smallness, for economic and political decentralization, against banks and industry and cities; Hamilton was the voice for a vigorous national economic policy, including a national bank, public investments in infrastructure, spending on science and research, and strong central coordination of industrial development.) Lind then shows the unbroken relevance of the debate by retracing American economic history up to the present, following these strands of ideology as they braid through and across the left-right spectrum. Jackson and Reagan = Jeffersonian; Roosevelts and Eisenhower = Hamiltonian.  It’s an insightful undertaking, revealing the way Hamiltonian thought runs through both New Deal progressivism and neocon militarism and how Jeffersonian impulses characterize both libertarians and small-is-beautiful greens. He successfully adds another axis to the conventional mapping of American political history.

More original and important, however, is Lind’s economic assessment. He argues systematically that America’s economic success has almost always flowed from Hamiltonian policies, not from Jeffersonian decentralization. Indeed, he makes a case that much that’s wrong with US economic policy is caused by the polity’s susceptibility to Jeffersonian mythology about decentralization’s virtues. He writes, “What is good about the American economy is largely the result of the Hamiltonian developmental tradition, and what is bad about it is largely the result of the Jeffersonian producerist school.” Read more »


A Rx for Family-Sized Housing in Seattle

If we don't build it, they aren't likely to come.
This post is 7 in the series: Family-Friendly Cities

Most Northwest parents trying to raise kids—in an urban setting or no—can appreciate the importance of space. There’s the avalanche of stuff that modern babies seem to require, from diapers to strollers to whatever jiggly thing puts them to sleep. Until parents of young children make a secret pact to stop handing out birthday goody bags, there will be rivers of useless stuff coming into our houses.

Urban families are often willing to trade compact living spaces for walkable neighborhoods, less brutal commutes, and quality time with each other. But there’s typically a limit to how small they’ll go.

Though some families with children certainly make it work, most prospective parents aren’t shopping for a studio or one-bedroom. If cities like Seattle and Portland are serious about offering families viable alternatives to expensive single-family neighborhoods or the suburbs, there must be multifamily housing units where they can live. But the private market simply isn’t building many affordable, family-sized apartments or condos.

That was one of the key findings from a 2011 housing report by the Seattle Planning Commission. A tiny fraction—just 2 percent—of market-rate apartment units in Seattle in 2009 had three or more bedrooms, as the chart below shows. Even worse, only half of those were affordable to low-income families.

Read more »


Weekend Reading 8/8/14

The most playful playground, Hollywood's whitewashing wonders, and more.
This post is 166 in the series: Weekend Reading
Original illustration by Nina Montenegro of ghosttide.com.


A few months ago, I wrote about all the things it was illegal for kids to do in Northwest parks. This Berkeley playground is the opposite of that.

Also, this piece by Seattle’s A-P Hurd does a great job of explaining how city requirements to provide expensive parking spots in new development makes building affordable, family-sized housing units in urban areas nearly impossible. It also mucks up good design. Here’s my favorite line of hers:

Why do cities require developers to build parking and bundle it with apartments? Because people in surrounding neighborhoods don’t want the residents of new apartments using up “their” street-parking spots. It’s as if we were trying to get people to eat healthy affordable meals then forcing them to bundle it with an order of French fries because we don’t want to upset the potato lobby.


The idea that big Hollywood films do not feature racially diverse casts is far from a secret. But new data from the University of Southern California confirms this notion.

In slightly more humorous fashion, Vox tackles the same issue, detailing in both past and upcoming films that Hollywood loves to pretend ancient Egypt was full of white people. Hollywood executives have never been particularly accurate historians, though, since they also curiously assume that ancient Romans all had British accents. Read more »

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