WHERE I WENT to school, everyone had to read the same books, so I was thrilled when local lit-booster Nancy Pearl got all of Seattle reading the same book. No doubt you, too, savored all those spontaneous seminars on loss, trust, and responsibility with the other folks at the bus stop reading The Sweet Hereafter when it kicked off the program. It’s even more thrilling to see one city after another—from Orlando to Chicago to, yes, New York—copy the scheme; grunge and geek chic may be dead, but Seattle is once again a cultural trendsetter. So what can we do to get ahead of the trend now? We could all watch the same show—but bigger cultural arbiters have already commanded we do that with each summer blockbuster, Super Bowl, and Academy Awards ceremony. We’ll have to try harder. . . .
What if all of Seattle took the same vacation? Venice? Kauai? No, someplace everyone can afford. See you at Marsh’s Museum in Long Beach.
What if all of Seattle planted the same flower? Something everyone can grow, like deadly nightshade, Saint-John’s-wort, or morning-glory bindweed.
What if all of Seattle wore the same shirt? That’s shirt, not same kind of shirt. Pass it on. Share the sweat. Feel the love.
What if all of Seattle had sex at the same time? An idea with national legs and patriotic possibilities. Imagine the slogans: Climax Across America! Eat this, Osama! Orgy for the U.S.A.! Underage and clerical exemptions available.
Last spring, months before the events of Sept. 11 events put “terrorism” on everyone’s lips and political agenda, this column questioned the readiness of media and officialdom to label criminal wackos who wreck ski resorts and burn genetic-modification labs (and non-GM labs like the UW Center for Urban Horticulture) as “ecoterrorists.” Why cheapen that term and glamorize the vandals? Why not call them “saboteurs,“ the term used for the turn-of-the-century anarchists and wartime agents who also tried to wreck infrastructure devoted to purposes they opposed?
You’d think the distinction would matter more now as we combat enemies dedicated to spreading real mayhem and general terror, objectives the Earth Liberation Front [ELF] hasn’t declared or demonstrated. Instead, it’s growing even more blurred—with a big push from those with an interest in blurring it. “Crisis communications” firms are pushing the lucrative notion that business must gird to defend itself against ecoterrorists/environmentalists (another convenient blurring) just as the nation is girding against Al Qaeda terrorists. How? By hiring crisis communications consultants like Nick Nichols, who, in a D.C. conference this month, said these ecoterrorists “behave like guerrillas: They are predatory, powerful, insatiable, rich, and global.” Scared yet? Hire him to rescue you.
But the broad-brush prize goes to the Spokane area’s Congressman George Nethercutt, that trusty stalwart of ranchers, miners, and other free-spirited users of cheap public lands and water. When ELF spokesperson Craig Rosebraugh pleaded the Fifth to 40-plus congressional ques-tions about Northwest sabotage incidents last month, Nethercutt called the group a “home-grown brand of [Al Qaeda]” and proposed using “the model that has worked so well in Afghanistan” to combat it. The same Seattle Post-Intelligencer article that quoted Nethercutt referred to “what some officials say is the growing violence and brazenness of some environmental groups”— an association that sends real environmental groups through the roof.
On the same day, unemployed- publicist-turned-eco-impersonator Mark Sands was sentenced in Phoenix for an arson epidemic in a new development that was originally blamed on ELF types. Sands torched one house because he didn’t like it standing by the trail where he jogged. Thrilled by the “ecoterrorist” publicity, he torched more.
He and Nethercutt won’t be the last to exploit the term. Consider some other possibilities. “Fiscoterrorism”: reckless tax cutting and pork barreling. “Enroterrorism”: stealth attacks on employees’ 401(k) plans. “Egoterrorism”: wild and woolly newspaper columnists.
On that note, it’s time to announce a change I’ve long considered in this column, a shift from media criticism to an environmental focus. Media coverage and criticism are important and sadly under-represented elements in journalism, and I hope others pick up on them. But other matters are more important and, these days, seem more pressing to me.
A few afterthoughts on two media outlets this column’s picked on more than most: There’s more good stuff in The Seattle Times lately as its poststrike agonies recede—Sunday magazine features that aren’t about gardens, meals, or decor, for example, and Alex Fryer’s fine study of the 1944 Fort Lawton riot. As for National Public Radio, which I’ve harped on as a disappointed admirer—it’s more conspicuous when the best, not the worst, fall short. Molly Ivins said it best: “Attacking NPR is like attacking Minnesota Nice—you could, but you could probably find better targets, too. We can always use a few shots at the trite and the simple, but the mean and the dangerous are more deserving.”
On to the mean and the dangerous.
Eric Scigliano’s environmental column will debut in two weeks.