Welcome to something not seen in these pages since the sun was shining and the days were long: a column with nothing to say about the WTO, nor about I-695, Tim Eyman, his new highway-building, sprawl-spreading, transit-gutting initiative, shameless hypocrisy, fronting for the developers and highway, or robbing the urban counties of the transit taxes we voted for to instead pay for more useless concrete.
Well, nothing serious to say about the WTO. But think back, and 'fess up. It's time to talk about the darker side of WTO fever, time to admit just how much fun you had while the tear gas flew, the dignitaries spewed, and the cops stewed. Downtown and by day at least, this baptism under pepper spray was a big lark for a lot of people. A new generation of junior war junkies— gawkers, thrill-seekers, and protest partiers—got initiated; come Friday, when things were winding down, one buddy who'd gotten used to a higher level of urban excitement as a journalist in Asia just couldn't believe it was all over: "Let's keep looking. There's gotta be some action somewhere!" At the same time, he was scornful of the whiners who howled, "God, they teargassed me!" Where he'd been overseas, they shot—real bullets—instead. The fact that people here didn't consider that possibility, and didn't even expect gassing, shows how much they trust the police. Or trusted them, till the cops went berserk on Capitol Hill.
Hearts and minds
John Hoffman, who also seems to be getting nostalgic, suggests this paper publish "a special people-meeting-people insert, just like Valentine's Day" for folks who "got friendly [at the protests] and then got pulled apart in the mayhem." Watch for personals like these:
*You: The green in the scarf over your face matched your eyes, and the button on your cap said "Eat your parents." Me: The one who wasn't wearing Nikes as we kicked in the window. . . .
*Tear gas tore us apart, but revolution can still bring us together. . . .
*OK, Weezil, property destruction isn't violence, and you don't have to pay for the windshield. Just come home. . . .
*Unreconstructed anarcho-syndicalist working on dissertation on the Paris Commune for the past 17 years seeks impressionable young SF who has the slightest idea what he's talking about. . . .
Or if civic boosters still want to make marketing hay out of hosting the WTO, how 'bout an annual costumed reenactment of the Battle of Seattle—just like Tombstone's never-ending Shootout at the O.K. Corral. Tourists'll love it. Cops and ex-protesters could take turns playing each other.
The balance sheet
Are the people moaning about the lost downtown sales factoring in those merchants who actually profited from the riots? Military surplus stores had their biggest season yet for gas masks and ski masks, dry cleaners cleaned up removing gas and spray residues, and one-hour photo shops jammed to process all the snapshots that gawkers were hurrying to post on their Web sites.
Unfortunately, police arms outlays seem to have gone out of town—another example of runaway globalization. When Seattle police found themselves nearly bereft of riot munitions, they did just what Boulder police did when they found themselves in the same fix in 1997 (when U Colorado students rioted for the right to party). They hopped a plane to Casper, Wyoming, home of Defense Technology Corp., and bought tear gas, pellet-scattering "28B Stinger" shells, and who knows what else. Gas canisters from Federal Laboratories of Salzburg, Pennsylvania, also littered the streets. Both companies are subsidiaries of Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Florida. Armor Holdings' Web site (www.armorholdings.com) boasts that it "is rapidly becoming THE single-source provider of security solutions for a vast, global market . . . which we offer through a network of more than 500 distributors and agents internationally."
Will Armor Holdings' salesmen use the Battle of Seattle to push their wares? Maybe you can sell them all that video you shot.
The best clean fun you can with a word processor is checking on the vagaries of its spellchecker. (That is one word, according to Microsoft Word 2000's spellchecker.) And it says something about the company that programs it. MS-Word has long recognized "Microsoft" and "Nordstrom" as legit, but has been curiously inattentive to many other Northwest icons and fixtures of the landscape it's inhabited for nigh on 20 years. Here are a few that Word 2000 doesn't recognize: clearcut, orca, tideflat, tidepool, saltmarsh, shoreside, salal, madrona, tourboat, Duwamish, sculler, timbermen, clamdigger, geoduck, alderwood, bottomfish, pollock, chinook, coho, redd, anadromous, smolt, weedkiller, overfishing, and, for the earthquake-aware, terrane, subduct, and geotechnical. Worst of all, Northwesterner itself gets the electronic red pencil.
Still, MS-Word is growing a few more local roots. Since the days of the even more clueless Word 6.0, this word-processing lingua franca has learned to say rainforest, mudslide, temblor, Nordic, biomass, grunge (a little late, guys), geek, cyber-, neo-, Seattleite, Amazon.com, Starbucks, and, now that Bill Gates lives there and owns them, lakeshore and waterfront.
Up the creek
Speaking of missing the point: Seattle Public Utilities has launched a "Millennium Project" to distribute 180,000 of those free promotional postcards you see racked up in clubs and restaurants. The message it's promoting is a worthy one: saving the city's "Urban Creeks Legacy." And it would have been easy to illustrate it with a luscious shot of Ravenna or Carkeek Creek, or a cartoon of happy puddle-jumpers. Instead it shows a more generic graphic image, with a vague creek outline and something that looks like 1970-vintage United Nations graphics. Just the inspiration to make you want to send a card.
By the book
So, the visionary Rem Koolhaas has delivered his preliminary design for the new downtown library, a design that, in current fashion, "contains" the role of books and looks toward a post-book future. Maybe, but looking at the design's loosely stacked and staggered platforms, I can't help thinking of one thing: the ever-collapsing stack of books on my bed stand.