High school haze

Yeah, yeah, I know, the last thing you want to hear is any more chin stroking about the Columbine High School shootings, now that Kosovo has finally regained the front pages. But bear with me; I just got back on this soapbox, and there may be just one more thing left to say.

Nearly all the explanations and recriminations over the massacre boil down to one culprit: permissiveness. You know the refrain: We're too lax about guns, movie violence, video games, the Internet, and look what happens to kids. The subtext to that indictment: Blame that great unraveling commonly called "the counterculture," or "the '60s."

As a typical repentant boomer, I'm all too ready to cop this plea: Yes, yes, we're just reaping what we sowed. And then . . . I remember what school was like in the mid-1960s, before "the Sixties" washed over the towns we lived in. Jocks and cliques ruled, with official backing; conformity was enforced down to the color of your socks (navy or burgundy only; white socks were social suicide); fights were frequent but waged with fists; bullying was taken for granted.

Then, in the late '60s, when I was in high school, this system unraveled. Jocks became mere athletes, another current in a chaotic sea. Bullying and overt racism were no longer hip; intellectualism and eccentricity were (credit Dylan? Lennon?), before drug-fogged mindlessness set in. Everyone was an outcast, and no one was; the monolithic high school culture Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold set out to destroy seemed to have collapsed on its own.

Now it's back. High schools nurture jock and clique culture, as a form of social control. The ins are back, and so are the outcasts, bitter as ever—but with much, much better arms and combat training.

Birds of a feather

The Seattle Times can be relentless in guarding its staff from conflicts of interest; it once threatened to fire a columnist if he got elected to an obscure suburban water board. Not so in restricting or disclosing its freelance contributors' conflicts. On May 11 it ran a full-page science feature, "Birds or Feathers," on the debate over whether, as recent Chinese discoveries suggest, dinosaurs had feathers, and whether running dinosaurs evolved into flying birds. The last two graphs detailed an upcoming appearance by paleontologist Philip Currie, a leading exponent of those two theories, at the Burke Museum, right down to time and ticket price.

What the Times didn't mention is that the author, Cathy McDonald, also works half-time as a publicist for the Burke; she even wrote the press release for Currie's talk. Times editors know this, says McDonald, and since she started at the Burke have judged her fitness to contribute on "a piece-by-piece" basis. She says that the museum "wanted to get Diedtra [Hendrickson, the Times' staff science reporter] to do a story on" Currie. But Hendrickson had left the paper, so McDonald offered to write it herself. Times science editor Andrea Otanez regrets the "oversight" of not mentioning McDonald's affiliation. But otherwise, "because she's freelance with the Burke and freelance with us, I didn't see a problem. If she were staff, it would be different."

Otanez's concern was that McDonald fairly present the contra to Currie's, which she did.

But that's not where the conflict lies. The Burke didn't want to promote Currie's views, only his appearance. And the staff/freelance distinction means little to the museum, which got a PR spotlight, and readers, who were left in the dark.

A bridge to the future

In a way, I can sympathize with the biotech powerhouse ZymoGenetics, which wants a safer crossing between its two buildings that sit, midblock, on opposite sides of Eastlake Avenue. Many years ago, I pleaded for four-way stop signs for a busy local double-arterial crossing—a menace to elderly shoppers, Metro buses, and pupils at the nearby elementary school. Sorry, the city traffic engineer said: We already measured that intersection's traffic, and it doesn't qualify for stop signs. Your study measured apples and oranges, I replied; come see this mess. He did, to his credit—and was scared to walk across the street. His last words: "You'll have your stop signs in a week."

Now the engineers say traffic on this long, unbroken stretch of Eastlake doesn't merit an exceptional midblock traffic signal. They'd prefer a signal at the next intersection, which would make Zymo's people walk farther but would also serve members of a nearby health club who must now sprint across to their cars. But neither is what the company really wants—which is to build a skybridge, something the city code putatively discourages except as a last resort. Its justification: This would assure maximum safety for employees transporting delicate lab materials, and security late at night when no one else is on the street.

The Eastlake Community Council opposes a skybridge, which would mar an historic landmark (the Lake Union Steam Plant, Zymo's main quarters), suck life from the street, and do nothing to make it safer for other citizens. (Plus, this affords a long-awaited chance to slow the speeding traffic.) And so a classic macro/micro-issue heats up, involving all the classic Seattle elements: nabe protectionism, historic preservation, high-tech incubation, civic deference to corporate demands, and a boon (skybridges) that policy supposedly limits, but that big shots (Paul Allen, the convention center) always seem to be able to get.

Slade strikes again

Who said this? "I felt, aside from the public policy questions, that an honorable government doesn't treat its citizens the way they treated Crown Jewel. At the last moment, to have it turned down, was simply immoral."

Sen. Slade Gorton, of course—as quoted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Michael Paulson (5/13), explaining why he shoehorned a last-minute rider overturning the administration's nay of a proposed Okanogan County gold mine into an emergency spending bill for Kosovo operations and Hurricane Mitch relief. Ergo, an "honorable government" would let Battle Mountain's open-pit, cyanide-leaching mine despoil a scenic mountain and pristine watershed. And there's nothing "immoral" about holding hurricane victims and Kosovar refugees hostage to a mining company's gain.

Just one question: Did anyone get a picture of Gorton, as described by Paulson, "kneeling beside a group of mining industry lobbyists as they discussed possible language" for the rider? Imagine the campaign poster that would make, with Thomas Nast's famous caption: "Let us prey."

 
comments powered by Disqus