Numbers are relative

Blame heat waves in the Northwest, freak monsoons on the East Coast, skyrocketing unemployment or Brett Favre signing with the Vikings, but one things is certain: tempers have been high in America all summer. The health care debate is the greatest indication that people just aren’t getting along. Admittedly, a recession is a natural time to react against the government — though I’m wondering how long it’s been okay to refer to your president as a lying Hitler/Communist/Marxist/fascist/senior citizen killer. (I did find a couple photos of Bill or Hilary Clinton-as-Hitler, so my guess is since the early ’90s.)

So how many people really are upset? I can’t seem to get an accurate count. According to CNN’s coverage of the weekend march on the White House by a coalition of conservative groups — aka the “Tea Party Rally” — tens of thousands wanted to voice their opposition to the health care overhaul, among other things.

But the UK’s Daily Mail seems to think otherwise, with an Internet search headline putting the number of protesters at upwards of 2 million. Read here. The article goes on with a slightly more conservative estimate of 1 million — is the Mail agreeing to disagree with itself? Still, both numbers come without comment from police — a reporter’s go-to for crowd estimates. (See, I learned something in journalism school.)

To solve this math problem, I turn to an unlikely source: Hunter S. Thompson. In Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson — An Oral Biography by Jann S Wenner and Corey Seymour (Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 2007; p. 167 -168), there’s this quote from HST:

“I still insist ‘objective journalism’ is a contradiction in terms. But I want to draw a very hard line between the inevitable reality of ‘subjective journalism’ and the idea that any honestly subjective journalist might feel free to estimate a crowd at a rally for some candidate the journalist happens to like personally at 2000 instead of 612…or to imply that a candidate the journalist views with gross contempt, personally, is a less effective campaigner than he actually is.”

Apply this to the Tea Party Rally. Some claim CNN sways liberal, while the Mail is a long-time conservative tabloid. Essentially, both media outlets are reporting what they *think* is fact. No harm in that, right?

Not when it fuels a debate with misinformation. Isn’t this how coverage of the health care issue has been all summer? One side says “We’re becoming socialist!” so the people who agree repeat that mantra ad nauseum. The other side says “We need civil discourse!,” so the people who agree discredit any concerns the opposition holds.

Is this actually a debate? Or just two sides talking at each other? And is it impossible for change to take place when no one is listening?

Perhaps the economy has to rebound first and tempers need to cool before we can reach a compromise — or at least agree to disagree. Because right now, this political climate is the antithesis of a recession renaissance.

(Thanks to Greg for the links to the articles.)


How to get your mom drunk for $1

Kidding, Mom!

If you have out-of-town guests coming to Washington and they enjoy a relaxing afternoon of imbibing, take them to Woodinville, a 30-minute drive northeast of Seattle. There are close to 40 wineries out there, with many offering daily tours and tastings. (Seattle Metropolitan magazine has a great article on local wine country weekends that helps narrow down the options.)

When my family visited this past weekend, we did the winery-brewery combo package: first, we stopped at Chateau Ste Michelle for a 35-minute tour of its wine-bottling/fermenting plant. The grapes aren’t grown on this property – that happens farther east in the Columbia Valley – so the tour guide has to make do with maps and pictures. But she has a lovely French accent, so that helps. The tour ends with a tasting of three of their Columbia Valley wines and a quick lesson on sniffing and swirling. As long as your brother doesn’t shout that he smells hints of Cream of Wheat, then drain his glass and ask for another, you can pretend to be sommeliers for the afternoon. Or, you too can chug your vino. I won’t judge, and they won’t either.

Cost: Free. Tours run from 10.30am-4.30pm daily.

After Chateau Ste Michelle, wander across the street to Redhook Brewery, which offers tours on the hour, Sat & Sun, noon-5pm, for $1. (Note: After Labor Day, tours are at 1, 3, and 5pm Sat & Sun, and 2 and 4pm Mon-Fri.) This dollar goes a long way. It gets you a souvenir tasting glass, a “tour” (you stay in one room and turn around a couple times), and five samples of beer. Those are the basics – but what does that really mean?

It means that you enter a room that smells a bit like college, manned by a tour guide who used to study opera and could double as a stand-up comedian. You hear about the history of Redhook – then try a beer! Look at the brewing tanks – now have a beer! Answer a trivia question right? Win a beer! It’s informative and entertaining, and by the end of it, you’ve had 2 pints of beer for the cost of a Snickers. I would have paid 20 times that just to hear my mom say “I love Washington!” again, giggle, then ask for another glass of the porter.

Cost: $1.

For information on the other Woodinville wineries, go to

Twentysomethings to take over the world!

News brief: Amelia Lester, 26, was named the new managing editor of The New Yorker. As the news broke, reporters could hear the collective sound of thirtysomethings around the world choking on their coffee and cigarettes. Meanwhile, Forbes noted a spike in the number of resumes submitted by 21-year-olds for managerial positions at Goldman Sachs, Google and the White House.

Congratulations to Lester, a Harvard grad and former fact-checker for The New Yorker. You inspire the rest of us to get our shit together.

Remembering Ted Kennedy

My first real news assignment was to attend a press conference given by Sen. Ted Kennedy. I was an intern at Metro Boston, a free daily paper that commuters read on the T (mostly to catch up on headlines, sport scores and Sudoku). I don’t think I even owned a tape recorder at the time…it was just me and my notebook, about to face a Kennedy and one of the longest-serving senators in our history. No biggie.

The good thing about covering press conferences is that they’re typically a great place for nervous “cub reporters” to hide out and still get the job done. Information is delivered, a couple seasoned vets ask questions, and you go home with a story without having to open your mouth. I’ll admit it’s not how Pulitzers are won, but that’s what happens when you still have stage fright.

However, that formula falls apart when you show up late. Only a few reporters were left standing around Kennedy, some with cameras, all with recorders, bombarding him with questions. This was up-close, personal. I had to join the scrum to get the story.

The rest is kind of a blur. I have no idea what I asked Kennedy, if anything. What I do remember was the man. I was surprised by how…well, short he was. Kennedy couldn’t have been much taller than 5’10, though iMDB puts him at 6′. It was a testament to the legend behind the “Lion of the Senate” — no matter his height, he was still very much larger than life.

He was intimidating, emanating fierce energy. His face was ruddy, like he’d been drinking or in a heated argument, or both. Eyes blazed with intelligence and confidence. And he somehow managed to be both gruff and eloquent, like a Notre Dame football coach speaking thoughtfully about stem cell research. There he stood, less than a foot away from me, and I was scared to keep eye contact.

It’s not much of an anecdote, but it still stands out when I think about what the country has lost with the passing of Ted Kennedy. This was a man you wanted on your side. He got things done. Considering his upbringing, he could have been a champion of the elite, but he spoke loudly — and persuasively — for those who had less. Consider his track record: 40+ years in the Senate; instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. In his early 70s — when people his age are retiring to Boca — he was paving the way for universal health care in Massachusetts.

Kennedy certainly had his demons (no one can forget Chappaquiddick). But to a casual observer, it seems he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for his past. How could a man whom so many Republicans love to hate always have a major ally from across the aisle on his legislation? I think, ultimately, people respected what he did. He served the greater good. And at a time when we’re reading about governors running off to Argentina or just quitting to do…who the hell knows what, you realize how sorely we’ll miss a public servant like Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Senator Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy, Feb. 22, 1932-Aug. 25, 2009

Follow-up on fun

I wrote recently about the indie pop band fun (yes lowercase, yes one word, yes confusing). Just saw them in concert tonight at Chop Suey in Seattle, and they definitely lived up to their name. Despite some early sound trouble and hideous feedback, they played an energetic set that got a better response from the crowd than headliner HelloGoodbye‘s act. Single “Walk the Dog” is about as charming as it gets. They’re clearly not used to the fame yet — they mentioned several times that it was their CD debut night, and that they cracked the top 20 on iTunes, “beating Black Eyed Peas” — but their insecurity only supplements their earnest showmanship. Check out their album Aim and Ignite or their live show in a town near you.

New finds

Happened upon a couple things worth mentioning this week:


Glenn Martin, DDS: This new stop-motion animated comedy from Tornante Animation (Michael Eisner’s company) is a fun, clever addition to the Nick at Nite lineup. The titular character (a dentist voiced by Kevin Nealon) takes his family on an RV trip across America in an effort to bring everyone closer together. Silliness ensues, thanks to a witty script and an impressive cast that also includes Catherine O’Hara and Judy Greer. The show has its sight gags for younger viewers, but it’s definitely geared towards an older crowd. Case in point: Last night’s premier episode featured a visit to the Amish, and a horse with a long, blond mane joining in a “Sex in the City”-style knitting circle. Get it? All I ask is that they get rid of the distracting laugh-track.

This week, watch episodes every night at 8pm, or catch all four on Friday from 8-10pm. Comedy Central will re-air the previous night’s episodes at 6pm. Regular season shows air Mondays at 8pm on Nick at Nite.

In Seattle…

Bang Bang Café: No, it’s not a gentleman’s club – it’s a haven for anyone living in Elliott Bay Plaza on an otherwise desolate stretch of Western Avenue between Wall and Battery streets in Belltown. This café, which opened across the street just four days ago, now ups to the ante of shops on this block to three, in addition to a meager convenience store and “Beauty is Pain” hair salon.

Pretty, chipper sisters at Bang Bang serve coffee, affordable paninis (all in the $5-$6 range) and – get this – an assortment of breakfast burritos all day. Not just a breakfast burritos – five kinds! Be still my stomach… The setting is just as welcoming, light and airy, and to top it off, they have a backgammon set for customers to use. This might be my new favorite place. Poor Macrina – if you were only one block closer…

Hempfest: This is my Sunday morning drill: get up, go for a walk from Olympic Sculpture Park to Elliott Bay Park, rehydrate with coffee. But this past Sunday, my boyfriend and I noticed that there were a lot of people — a lot of people — doing the same thing we were doing. As we got closer to OSP, we also noticed it smelled…different. And there were security guards at the entrance. Eh? Welcome to Hempfest, the 18th annual gathering of 200,000 people celebrating weed in all its glory, right in our backyard. Two. Hundred. Thousand. Judging by the crowd, it looked like Michael Jackson had come back from the dead and was doing a free benefit concert. Don’t ask me how we didn’t notice the throngs all weekend — I just thought traffic was bad because of tourists. In-TUITIVE.

We wandered around for a while (we’re curious!) and were impressed by how many different kinds of people were there. Young, old, hippie, yuppie skinny, not so fat (surprising considering the accompanying munchies). No age limit since no alcohol was being served — it must be the first Seattle fest this summer without a beer garden — so people were there with their kids. There were war protesters, vegans fighting for animal rights, a member of the ACLU trumpeting marijuana’s economic benefits. Yes, organizers tout Hempfest as a “protestival,” but it’s about as heated as a company picnic.

There were booths on medical marijuana clubs — it’s legal in 13 states, including Washington. A band dressed as vampires played in 85 degree heat. People sold paraphernalia of every sort: bongs, pipes, vaporizers, gas masks with bongs attached. Some sold homemade glass out of shopping carts. There was organic clothing, artwork, virgin margaritas, burrito stands, books signed by Ken Kesey. One poor guy was trying to sell windows — easily the loneliest booth at the fest.

By the time we left, we had walked the length of the park, eaten a monster burrito, listened to a great ’20s band from Oregon called the Shangai Woolies, and people-watched to our hearts’ content. I’m kicking myself for not having my camera, but maybe it was best if I didn’t. Even a picture wouldn’t do Hempfest justice.

Saving trees, one screenwriter at a time

Networking sites for writers seem to be all the rage this year. First there was Pitchtopia, a site designed to bring writers, editors and agents together in a forum for shopping stories. Now there’s, a site bringing screenwriters, agents and producers together in the same fashion. This latest conduit for starving artists also incorporates an environmental angle into its mission:

“Screenwriters in America print 180 million sheets of paper a year. In six months, we hope to cut that in half.”

Sounds good to me. Saves on stamps, too. But writers should make sure to copyright their work before submitting it — Greenwriter can’t protect against story theft. Go to to register your work (note: basic claims cost from $35).

That’s your public service announcement for the day.

Finding the best the Great Recession has to offer