Yesterday evening, on our daily walk, Jenny and I were aurally assaulted by a motorcyclist revving his (surely his) engine repeatedly and very loudly, on purpose, just because he’s a jerk. We were six or eight blocks from home, and from where we were we had a clear view south along Evanston Avenue N, which abuts Greenwood Park on the west, as he sped down it very much in the direction of our house. Evanston hits the arterial of 85th Street at a T, and I assume he turned there. A good thing about our street, 86th, is that it’s just one block long, with T intersections at both Dayton and Evanston, so it doesn’t get much traffic at all.
I held Jenny to comfort her until the revving moved beyond our hearing. She angrily wondered aloud what effect such noise must have on anyone in the neighborhood who’s already affected by PTSD or autism.
As I write this longhand in my notebook it’s just before six a.m. in Seattle, and I just heard several sirens racing by a few blocks away, probably along either 85th or Greenwood Avenue. Sirens are a daily occurrence. I try to tamp down how they and other noises like revving motorcycles are getting to me. But it’s impossible not to wonder whether I’m hearing the sirens more these days just because I’m at home and there’s less general traffic, or because they’re rushing to pick up covid-19 patients or shooting victims, or what.
If you don’t understand the world and are frightened of where it’s all headed, there’s an app for that. Written language is a technology for fabricating an illusion of coherence and comprehensibility, while assuaging one’s own inability to control or direct events. The bug in the app is that the order it imposes is fleeting and illusory.
Writing this diary, in the back of my mind all along has been the hope that I might become able to write less often as the pandemic is brought under control, and that over X number of entries over Y months, a narrative arc might emerge that I could point to and say, “This is the story” or “This is what it’s about.” I’ve already written some 75,000 words, enough to count as a book. But four and a half months in, I’m still trying to punch my way through a miasma of confusion and menace, and it’s not even possible to start one’s day by reading something relaxing, because there’s no such thing anymore.
First thing yesterday, for example, I was forced to read about scary federal agents in camo abducting unarmed peaceful protesters – ominously labeled “violent anarchists” by Trump’s acting secretary of homeland security – off the streets of Portland into unmarked vehicles. Portland is just three hours straight down the Interstate from my house. Every time I hear or read about the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after 9/11, I think of the title of my British friend Nick Ryan’s courageous and all too prescient book reporting on neo-Nazi and other far-right movements around Europe and the United States, which he wrote mostly before 9/11. Nick’s book is titled Homeland: Into a World of Hate.
Last week I had a routine medical checkup, although nothing seems routine anymore. I asked the young woman taking a blood draw to test my cholesterol whether she feels safe in her working environment. Yes, she said, UW Medicine is doing a good job protecting its staff and patients. We were both wearing masks, of course. “This is the new normal,” she added – that phrase we’re all using these days. She was glad she didn’t work in a hospital, though. And we agreed that it’s alarming that there seems to be no national plan for dealing with the pandemic.
“This is a political thing to say,” I said, cautiously, “but I feel well watched over here in Washington.”
“Inslee’s doing a great job,” she volunteered with feeling, and that felt especially comforting to hear, coming as it did from a health-care worker.
From Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, July 15:
Breaking News Alert! Local Republicans finally have come up with a candidate for governor who is … willing to wear a mask.
I know – the bar could hardly be lower. But bear with me here, as this may have bigger implications than it might seem.
Raul Garcia, a 49-year-old political newbie from Yakima, suddenly is making some ripples in the local political scene for nabbing endorsements from some of the few heavy-hitters in Republican politics left around here, such as Rob McKenna, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and current state Senate GOP leader Mark Schoesler.
They’re endorsing him against Gov. Jay Inslee not because he’s likely to win. But because he isn’t a Trump-toadying, anti-science conspiracist who will totally alienate blue-state voters like the rest of the GOP field. …
“I will tell you why I wear a mask,” Garcia, a doctor, [said] at a Pasco press conference, in which he called for “selfless acts” to beat the pandemic. “When I cannot socially distance, I wear it for you, not for me. To prevent my saliva from coming out and hitting you.”
Like language, political habits and rituals are apps we download to try to impose order and coherence on human society. Lately I’ve been getting a string of fundraising emails from Jay Inslee. He’s running to become Washington’s first three-term governor since the Republican Daniel J. Evans (1965-77). Washington hasn’t had a Republican governor since 1985, and we aren’t likely to get one this fall (knock wood), but, as Jonathan Freedland put it yesterday in the Guardian, “If these past four years have taught us anything, it’s that nightmares can come true.” The worst nightmare here would be if the known chair thief Tim Eyman were, somehow, to win the Republican nomination and then defeat Inslee. That’s almost impossible to imagine actually happening (but see Freedland, above).
A couple days ago I sent Jay – I don’t know him but I call him Jay, because he seems like such a nice fellow – $25, because he had asked me nicely and he wanted to meet a $50,000 goal to counter his opponents’ ads. I did it not only, and not even really, because he’s a Democrat, but because he has shown me, in both words and action, that he understands what real political leadership is, as well as how and when – and on behalf of what – to exercise it. Right now, Jay Inslee is the only politician I would actually give money to support.
Also on our walk yesterday, Jenny and I saw a handmade sign in a neighbor’s garden:
Hey District 5 neighbors!
Do you believe
Black Lives Matter?
Do you want to
Defund SPD by (at least) 50%
& invest in Black & Brown
Call Deborah Juarez’s
(our City Council rep)
Deborah Juarez was one of only 2 votes
the Jump Start Seattle
Unlike Inslee and others at the state level, such as Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and our fierce and fearless congressional representative Pramila Jayapal, Seattle’s municipal politicians are not inspiring confidence in me. The city council has become increasingly left-wing in recent years, which sounds good in theory but is often part of the problem when there’s a city to be run. Last year Seattle Times political cartoonist David Horsey depicted an imagined exchange between the avowedly socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant and a constituent:
Sawant, yelling through a bullhorn into the receiver of an office phone: “Hello! Are you calling to join the fight against the blood-sucking capitalist oligarchy?”
Constituent: “Uh … no. I was hoping I could get a pothole fixed.”
A couple years ago, Sawant led the charge to impose a tax on large businesses in the city of Seattle, based on the number of people they employ. It was called a “head tax” but unofficially dubbed the “Amazon tax,” and Amazon guaranteed its unanimous passage by hamhandedly giving money to oppose it. But just a month later the council, to its embarrassment, rescinded it because – oops – it would also have affected much smaller businesses, as the local family that owns the popular Asian grocery store Uwajimaya was quick to point out.
The real problem is that Washington has no state income tax, and a lot of people who live modestly, like me and Jenny, resent that we have to pay sales and property taxes while people like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates don’t pay their fair share, to put it mildly. The city council is now taking a stab at a revised tax on companies, which Danny Westneat recommends as both better politics and better policy, because it would tax only employees with salaries of more than $150,000 per year. As he wrote on July 3:
Amazon may fight back, as it did two years ago when it halted downtown construction to protest the head tax. But the pandemic has counterintuitively turned into a bonanza for Amazon. The company’s market value has jumped 50% this year – to $1.45 trillion (right behind Apple and Microsoft). Even as your own personal economy craters, Jeff Bezos’ wealth has soared nearly $60 billion just since March 1st.
At what point must even libertarian Amazon concede it has become far richer than its hometown, which is struggling and needs a little help? … [W]e’ve been through decades of hand wringing about our state’s retrograde tax system, with zero movement. There’s also been years of talk about how business and political leaders will soon come together for some chimerical deal on homelessness. It’s like waiting for the Mariners to win the pennant. It’s always on the shimmering horizon, a year or two away.
This Thursday I emailed a couple local friends a link to a Seattle Times article that led with this sentence: “Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked a King County judge to reconsider her ruling to allow a recall petition to proceed against the mayor, arguing the use of tear gas to disperse protesters was a decision made by police Chief Carmen Best, not the mayor, and that it was a reasonable one.” And I commented:
I think things like this – and like her public complaint against Sawant about the march to her house – betray Durkan’s weakness, both political weakness and weakness of character. She’s a blah centrist, which might be an okay thing in a Seattle mayor in “normal” times, but everything I see and hear from her indicates to me that in this crisis she’s way out of her depth.
She looks pathetic. And on this one she’s brazenly passing the buck to Best – her own appointee – which Truman taught us a politician in an executive position should never do. AND it makes her look authoritarian and pro-cop in a bad way. Her lawyer is making a case, but relying on legal gambits and niceties to try to fix her political problem is what’s pathetic. Politically, Durkan seems just useless.
Dennis replied: “I’m forced to agree, and I used to appreciate her as a counterbalance to the Maoists who’ve taken over the City Council.”