Monday, July 28, 2014

A hurting world that cries out for renewal

It's the beginning of wildflower season in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps symbolic of the springing forth of new life
for which this wounded world cries out.
This past weekend, I went backpacking for the first time this season with a couple buddies of mine whom I've hiked with periodically for the past six years. Our destination this time was the Olympic Mountains, where we took in about 15 miles of backcountry on the east side of the national forest and park complex. The terrain was spectacular, and the company delightful, but when I got home Sunday night, I was completely spent.

I don't know whether I'm just not quite as spry as I used to be, or whether I'm simply out of shape. I suspect it's a bit of both. But my return to the city left me wanting nothing more than a cool shower to wash off all the grime and a soft bed to nurse my sore feet after two long days on the trail. Taking in both was positively the best thing in the world at that moment. Afterward, I felt…renewed.

One of the nice things about backpacking outside the range of cell phone service is that you get to unplug for a bit. I say "nice" with no hesitation, because the news around the world these days is just terribly depressing. Humanity is a mess, just like it's always been.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Living in a society that embraces barbarism under secrecy

There's been another botched execution, this time in Arizona. It follows similar recent events in Oklahoma and Ohio. This sort of travesty is becoming commonplace in the only country in the Western world that still uses the death penalty.

Now, hang on a second. Yes, I know. What happened to this inmate is nothing compared to the heinous acts he committed. He got off easy, right?

Cue that excruciatingly predictable refrain in five, four, three, two, one…yep, there we go.

You know what's funny? People will often use this argument before they even know exactly what crime was committed. Nevertheless, it prompts a variety of unpleasant hypothetical scenarios. Say the state just accidentally burned the man alive to express its contempt for his crimes. Or perhaps the justice-loving folks of Arizona somehow inadvertently amputated his limbs with a chainsaw and no anesthetic.

Not intentionally, of course. It just happened, because, well…things happen, and anyway, we're talking about a monster here who never deserved an ounce of mercy in the first place. C'est la vie, right?

At what point does society draw the line on its tolerance for barbarism under the rationale that what the perpetrator did was terrible, too?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Five ways to keep your city livable when it gets too popular

Five ways to keep your city livable when it gets too popular

Now that Seattle is a boom town, it faces a variety of major challenges that all pose significant threats to the quality of life in this region. In particular: it's too expensive to live here, it's too crowded, it's too hard to get around, and it's too difficult to find reasonably-priced housing.

From my perspective, there are at least five areas of focus that Seattle — and all other cities whose populations are growing — must adapt to preserve regional assets that draw people in the first place. Here they are.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why some cities fail, and others succeed

With the exception of the volcano in the background, Seattle's skyline didn't always look like this.
With the exception of the volcano in the background, Seattle's skyline didn't always look like this.
In the previous post, I wrote at length about Seattle's current growth spurt and some of the pains that accompany it. I wanted to comment at greater length on these points, specifically highlighting how this city came to be where it is now.

After the city council unanimously passed an ordinance early last month raising the municipal minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the nation, opponents of the measure gleefully proclaimed on social media (where else?) that the largest city in the Pacific Northwest would soon become the "next Detroit."

Naturally, that's complete hogwash, and it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of either metropolitan area. The minimum wage in Detroit was already significantly lower than that of Seattle even before the increase was approved. I'm no economist, but evidence suggests that the minimum wage in any given city actually has very little to do with whether it thrives or not.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seattle and a state of personal ambivalence

I haven't touched this blog for a long time. I'm done with school until September, but that doesn't mean I've quit thinking deeply and stressing out about stuff. Ironically, in my deepest moments of rumination I find it most difficult to put anything into words.

I visited my folks for the Fourth of July at their summer home on a little island out in the middle of northern Lake Michigan. As always, it was a fantastic time, and I found myself dwelling on still living so far away from them. I got pretty bummed about it, honestly. Sipping a locally brewed beer on my parents' deck while looking out over the crystal blue waters of the Great Lakes, I had a bittersweet moment. I wanted to capture it in time, because I knew it would come to an end, and once again I'd have to fly back to my adopted home some 2,000 miles away.

Lake Michigan from the deck of my family's summer home on Beaver Island, Michigan. This view is tough to leave behind.
And so I did, with no small measure of reluctance.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't fret. This blog isn't dead…

Don't fret. This blog isn't dead.
Why the long faces? I'll be back!
…It's just on hiatus. I'll fully concede this hasn't been one of the finer months of my blogging tenure. Sometimes myriad outside commitments — like going to school — interfere with my ability to sit down and offer meaningful commentary on anything unrelated to my coursework, as much as I desperately want to.

Admittedly, though, this is one among many perks of maintaining a blog that almost no one reads: If you don't update it for a long time, few will notice or care. (Did you? I didn't think so.)

But in case the thought crossed your mind for even the most fleeting moment, don't fret: I'm coming back. And when I do, I have plenty to discuss. Like near-weekly shootings across America. Or Dick Cheney. Or Scott Walker. Or America's ongoing descent into plutocracy. Or voter suppression. Or environmental degradation. Or Republicans' coordinated efforts to ensure that poor people remain uninsured. Or…

Well, to hell with all of that. Maybe I'll just talk about beer.

See you soon.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Death is never, ever the final word

Mount Saint Helens, Washington, in August 1983, following the catastrophic 1980 eruption that decapitated the top 1,300 feet of the volcano and obliterated all forms of life, including hundreds of square miles of old-growth forest, in the blast zone:

Mount Saint Helens, August 1983

The same location, northeast of the peak, in September 2009:

Mount Saint Helens, September 2009

The images here — courtesy of the Mount Saint Helens Institute — speak more brilliantly than any words I could ever utter.