Whale tales

The surest way to get credit is to claim it, and who’s better at that than Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society? Their latest missive declares “the 1998 campaign to oppose Makah whaling to be a complete success,” first and foremost because the tribal whalers “failed to take a single Gray whale from the 1998 quota allotted to them by the United States government. . . . This translates into five whales saved from the harpoons and .50 caliber guns. These five whales cannot be added to the 1999 quota.”

Not exactly. Under an agreement with Russia to share the world gray whale allotment, the Makahs may take up to 20 whales in five years and five in any single year. That means if they really got their hunting act together and actually wanted so many whales, they could kill five in each of the next four years.

No one expected the Makahs to go for more than one whale this year anyway. It’s an open question to what degree the protest armada and resultant three-ring controversy dissuaded them from even trying. Dissension and disorganization among the whalers, the fact that the migratory whales they’d promised to confine themselves to didn’t show, and the sheer difficulty of resuming whaling after 72 years might have kibboshed the hunt anyway. Meanwhile, though the Makah whaling team has made a brave show of getting back on track and into canoe practice, whale watchers out on the strait report they’ve only been seen paddling in the protected inner waters—not out on the open ocean.

Button-down politics

Take anti-impeachment backlash, add entrepreneurial ambition and timely tasteless sardonicism, and what do you get? Buttons like this one from a self-described “spanking new start-up” (well, that’s better than “strapping”) in Seattle called “Sexual-McCarthyism. Com.” Other inscriptions available:

*”I Slept with [your representative’s name here]”

*”I Partied with [X]”

*”I Had Inappropriate Contact with [X],” and, of course,

*”I Bore [X’s] Love Child”

But no, you can’t order “I Was Dick Armey’s Cigar Aficionado.”

More technical difficulties

Last week we noted the first hints of premillennial computer breakdown, occurring just as the new year began. It seems that some date chips begin counting down to the dreaded “00,” January 1, 2000, a year before, so these glitches aren’t surprising. Here are a few more unverified e-mail reports of glitches, from . . .

Sweden: Eight hundred taxi meters miscalculated fares, costing Taxi Stockholm hundreds of thousands of krona. The new passport registration system failed, and the postal sorting system didn’t work correctly.

New York: Telephone movie-ticket sales went on the fritz throughout the city; theaters told callers, “Due to technical difficulties at this theater, we cannot sell tickets at this time. Hurly Burly is also playing at . . . “

Seattle: “This morning a US Bank cash machine seemed to take about three extra minutes to dole out a quick $40. I blame it all on Ken Starr.”

Woodsman, spare that strip

It looks at a glance like first-degree civic malfeasance, especially in a town whose citizens fret more over bad tree prunings than bad haircuts and whose mayor wants to plant 20,000 trees as a “millennium legacy.” But there it sits: a stark, stubbly clearcut where greenbelt once grew, above Aurora Avenue on the mudslide-prone east side of Queen Anne Hill. Worse yet, it seems, one uphill resident has a view easement over part of this belt. “Aha!” one suspicious tree-hugger exclaims: Wealthy property owners are jerking City Hall’s chain again!

Not so, replies city forester Paul West. The neighbor got that easement by donating the land below to the greenbelt. West concedes his team could have done “more selective” cutting, but the remaining maples and alders growing amidst the blackberries on the slope were in such bad shape, it seemed better to raze them and start over. West adds that the site’s been replanted with tanbark oaks, vine maples, shore pines, and flowering ash; and neighbors have agreed to fund its maintenance “for the next few years.” See how it looks then.

Their favorite vegetable

Sometimes truth, or at least PR, tops not only fiction but politics. Remember Garrison Keillor’s parody “Ketchup Institute,” touting the bloody-looking condiment’s healing powers? And the time Reaganite bean counters, trying to cut school-lunch subsidies to buy more B-1 bomber toilet seats, declared ketchup a “vegetable”? Now the H.J. Heinz Co. sends a three-page press release touting the antioxidant virtues of lycopene, a compound in tomatoes. Because heating releases more lycopene, “processed tomato products—like Heinz Ketchup, tomato juice, and tomato sauce” are better than fresh tomatoes. Fine, but ketchup is loaded with sugar, vinegar, and salt and is usually eaten in small quantities with large quantities of grease—unless you believe that “consumers . . . consume 4 to 5 tablespoons each time they use it.” At least when they order the Ronald McReagan Happy Meal.

Blind man’s phone tag

Guess I’m not the only one riled at the police/phone company practice of blocking public phones from receiving calls or making coin calls at night. A December 3 column on this crude public-safety tactic (which is supposed to somehow foil dope peddlers but hurts the poor and homeless more than anyone else) drew commiseration. One local architect complains that he recently arrived from the airport late at night and walked four blocks trying to find a working phone. All three that he tried gave him a “call rejected” signal. “I called the operator to report it and each time was told, ‘It must be malfunctioning,'” he recounts. “They never told me the phones were blocked.”

Seattle Displacement Coalition volunteer John Hoffman, an inveterate tilter against police and City Hall follies, did protest when the City Council, urged on by police and U S West, authorized disabling pay phones at night. He noted that pay phones were one more amenity that made the street “more hospitable,” hence safer. Just like restrooms, park benches, and kiosks—all of which this city also skimps on.

Since then, however, phone technology and the marketplace have changed greatly. Calling cards, cell phones, and pagers become ever more common and affordable—and dealers are much more likely to have them than some guy calling around to find a shelter bed. “When we looked at it a few years ago,” says Vic Roberson, the then­City Council staffer who helped develop the blocking scheme, “who knew that phone cards would become so cheap? Is what we put in place still reasonable today?”

But the lines are open here at 206-467-4375 or q&d@seattleweekly.com.

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