Welcome to ethnic consciousness, postmodern/premillennial-style. Last Thursday Kennewick man, the world's most notorious bag of bones, finally arrived at University of Washington's Burke Museum after

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Vikings, then and now

Welcome to ethnic consciousness, postmodern/premillennial-style. Last Thursday Kennewick man, the world's most notorious bag of bones, finally arrived at University of Washington's Burke Museum after the most tangled custody battle since Mia Farrow and Woody Allen split up. Them bones set knees jerking 'round the world two years ago when they were discovered in Columbia River muck, tagged at 9,000-plus years old, and pronounced "Caucasoid" with "pre-modern European" resemblances by one freelance anthropologist (see Roger Downey's story on p. 14). Nordic nostalgists, "Aryan" racialists, and Native American groups all staked claims on this Barbie-less Ken. Sure enough, the last group staged a private ceremony in honor of the "Ancient One" they believe to be an answer, while members of the Asatru Folk Assembly, led by a Viking named McNallen, offered what sounds like a most engaging invocation of Thor, Wodin, and all that.

But even as enthusiasts strive to establish Nordic links across 93 centuries, those ties are fading fast after just three or four generations. Seattle, a town in large part built by Scandinavian immigrants who found Minnesota too cold and kept coming west, is now a city without a single smörgåsbord or other Scandinavian restaurant. The site of the last one, the ex-Scandinavian enclave of Ballard, now has the same Thai, Mexican, and other joints as every other neighborhood. With membership sagging, the once-teeming Swedish Club recently changed its name to "Swedish Cultural Center" and voted to admit non-Scandinavians as members. Never mind non-Swedes.

Time was, racial tension in Ballard meant Norwegians and Swedes ranking on each other. Now Ballard's much less Scandie and rather less white—while the Central Area is much less black and much pricier. But so it always goes: The more the mass of people forget ethnic identities and traditions, the harder the ardent few fight to preserve them.

K-man was really Japanese

The attempts to claim Kennewick man remind me of Japan, which presents something of a conundrum to those who put stock in terms like "Caucasoid," "Negroid," and "Mongoloid." Eight years ago, a staff researcher (and aspiring Diet candidate) for Japan's Liberal Democratic Party told me a secret government lab was trying to decipher an exclusive and definitive genetic marker that set true "Japanese" apart from everyone else—say, resident Koreans.

But for all their fabled homogeneity, various Japanese show physical traits believed particular to each of the "oids"—aquiline noses, curly hair, hooded eyes, you name it. Considering the home islands' location, it stands to reason that they were a migration terminus for various Eurasian and Pacific island peoples over the eons. But why is it any stranger to think that some "Caucasoid" types crossed the Bering land bridge along with all the other wanderers? Of course, their ancestors might have arrived from ur-Norway via Siberia. So what?

Rumor of the week

By their rumors shall ye know them: "History a distillation of rumor," Thomas Carlyle called it. We reveal ourselves not only in what we do but in what we imagine others are doing. Thus a new occasional feature in this column: the best disproved, debunked, and denied rumors from the local grapevine. Lately the most fertile ground for rumors has been the dispute over the Makah whale hunt, which has generated enough conspiracy theories on all sides for a weekly TV series. (Call it The W-Files.) The latest, circulating among opponents of the hunt, has it that Bill Gates offered to endow a foundation to fund development and social services on the Makah reservation if the tribe would only swear off whaling—and that it refused. Not so, says Carol Lucas of Lucas Bryant & Berg, which handles PR for Gates' eleemosynary activities. Nothing offered, nothing given, nothing refused: "It would really be a stretch" for Gates to get involved in something like that, Lucas explains. As we all know, he prefers buying computers for libraries frequented by future customers.

Tunnel vision

One sign that the Rainier Valley really is coming up in the world: Folks there are organizing, not just grumbling, over the Sound Transit (a.k.a. RTA) plan to run light rail at surface or in the air through most of the valley. A hundred or so valleyites showed up at two recent meetings on the plan, nearly all wanting a tunnel instead. Expect as many or more at another meeting this Saturday, complaining about noisy, view-blocking els and dangerous, traffic-blocking, lane-eating at-grade trains.

Still, it's a lot cheaper to take the high road than dig a tunnel. Sound Transit officials say the Rainier Valley is especially troublesome for digging, with high groundwater in some stretches, bedrock in others. Still, it's only sandstone, not granite.

The transiteers also warn that a valley tunnel could require up to six months' additional study, screwing up the whole mega-project's time line. And they're entitled to feel a little whiplashed by public opinion, which seemed for years to favor a surface route. Most residents were quiet as to how the line should be built: "We just didn't know what was going on," laments valley construction-company owner Frank Coluccio, whose property might be taken for a train maintenance yard. But the most vocal businesspeople plumped for surface tracks, on the grounds these would spur more development around the stations and not put the valley out of sight and mind. Just last May, the Rainier Chamber of Commerce's newsletter declared, "Aerial and underground alignments are less likely to stimulate economic development" than surface, and "economic revitalization was the most important goal" for valley rail.

Now quality of life is rising on the priority meter. But equity is still a sore point; South Enders feel dumped on once again at the prospect of seeing the North End get a tunnel while they don't. To that, the RTA may have an answer. It will soon complete the light-rail project's draft EIS. And spokes-man Denny Fleenor says it's likely "the staff will recommend an aerial route in the North End." RTA light-rail director Paul Bay is more guarded, noting, "I have to sign that recommendation, and it has not been made yet." But an elevated track along Eighth Avenue NE, between Ravenna Boulevard and 75th Street could shave $40 million to $70 million off the cost of tunneling under Roosevelt Way or 12th Avenue—and it would run on a neighborhood's margin, along I-5, rather than down the middle as in the Rainier Valley.

Fair would be fair—and elevating the Roosevelt line would save money for extending it to Northgate. But that kind of equity would probably do more to rile Roosevelt than placate Rainier Valley.

 
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