Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Annual Letter

I got such good comments about our letter for the holidays I thought I would post it here.

The year 2008 has been a wonderful one for all of us. Our biggest news is that Matt and Tiffany got married in a lovely sunset ceremony in September followed by an even lovelier party ­– three days of party all told. One nice thing about all the runup and followup events is that we had time to meet their wide and delightful circle of friends. It was like that Bollywood feature Monsoon Wedding without the drama or the henna tattoos. With this event we can pass the responsibility for Matt and Tiff’s news on to them and their annual letters. If I had started these letters when I got married you would have thirty-six of them instead of only a dozen. Given the recent economic news and the value of my older letters you could sell one or two for a mortgage payment. I told you to save them.

Lorraine’s business is better than ever and our plucky media skills trainer improved presentations in Sacramento, New York (again), Toppenish, Walla Walla, and Atlanta, as well as all over the Seattle area. Her book Give Your Elevator Speech A Lift has gone into its second printing and she remains in great demand. But the real news, the stupendous news, is that she cleaned up her office! One weekend she unloaded everything out into the living room and then, like the captain of an overloaded lifeboat, ruthlessly pushed unneeded nicknacks over the side. The tiny stuffed animals, corporate trinkets, and swag bag chachkas slipped under the waves and brave Lorraine saved her ship. [note on January 1, 2009: The cleaning was a cruel ruse. The office is back to its old condition.]

Along with the wedding in Oregon wine country there was Maui, Sun River in eastern Oregon, and New York. Lorraine worked her magic with the contestants before they pitched their business ideas to venture capitalists. While in New York I saw my first Broadway show – Mama Mia – and had to remark that the singers and dancers were all pretty good.

I have a new job. I’m on the Seattle Office of Professional Accountability Review Board. That’s the citizen group that oversees the police department’s internal investigations program and they needed someone with a law enforcement background. We do not sit in judgement of police officers (the chief does that), rather we look at the process, network with the community, and make recommendations. They offered a $400 stipend which I thought was reasonable. Imagine my surprise to learn that wasn’t for the year, but every month. They threw in free parking at City Hall and a week in Cincinnati for a national conference.

While waiting to be discovered as the next breakthrough author I started a couple of new stories, a website, and a blog. Everyone has to have a blog. Take a look at The child advocate job keeps me hopping too. Two kids I represented for five and-a-half years finally got adopted in October. Another kid who was out of the home for five years finally went home, and his brother is soon to follow. I tutored African immigrant kids a bit last spring, mostly in their math. With all the woodworking I have done for more than ten years I have yet to multiply or divide fractions, but they still teach that to immigrants struggling with English. I don’t think the kids noticed the tutors passing around Math for Dummies.

It was a great year for quotes from Lorraine so I started posted the good ones and the other winners on the blog. This year’s winner is: “It’s a G** D*** miracle!”

Everyone have a great holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Snow

It snowed last weekend, Friday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday night. The total accumulation here on the north side of Queen Anne Hill is nine to twelve inches. Things are a mess. Yesterday I dug out my 4WD pickup truck and almost got stuck before I pulled back into my parking place which means we are pretty much snow bound. I will try again today. Other cars are making it up the hill and my truck has good snow tires. It's probably a matter of technique. Here is my neighbor sledding down the hill on Sunday.
From Snow December 2008

Thousands of airline travelers are stacking up at Sea-Tac and some have been stuck there for two or three days. The concessions are running out of food and the airlines have been cancelling flights. Alaska and Horizon cancelled all flights on Sunday.

It's not snowing now and things certainly are pretty. We are due for another storm on Wednesday, Christmas Eve.

12:41 PM.
I got my truck going up the hill, barely, and when I got to more heavily traveled streets it got easier, but would have been silly without snow tires. A tank of gas helped with the traction of my rear tires, but didn't prevent me from spinning out as I turned into my street. I spun wheels until the truck worked its way back into the parking space where it remains.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Day

It's hard to imagine that forty years ago Seattle endured two significant storms a season without too much difficulty. Indeed there were street closures and hellish commutes, but residents and officials worked through it all. There is so little snow these days that I don't even have a shovel (I left it in Illinois in 1985). My bag of salt, which I found in the basement when I moved in ten years ago is finally gone. The hardware store is sold out.

In last ten years, since I returned to Seattle there have been perhaps two measurable snows (see January 2007) with the ones this week being the biggest.

With the imact on the area you would think the Big One (earthquake) had hit. The major interstates are down to one or two lanes and frequently on- and off-ramps are closed. Schools closed in Seattle yesterday on the threat of snow only no snow fell. The flakes didn't start until about 5 a.m. Friday and continued into early afternoon. I measured at least three inches of white stuff. The hinterlands are much worse off with lower tempertures and deeper drifts. Sunday morning the accumulation was almost seven inches.

Our hill is basically only four-wheel drive only so it's pretty quiet and a great place for the kiddies to try out their sleds and plastic saucers. I discovered a great blog by a meteorologist who has published a book about the weather hearbouts.

If you don't like the weather here in Seattle, wait a while, it will change.

Here is some driving in our neighborhood

Friday, December 5, 2008


On a more serious note I am being drawn into the issue of biased policing as part of my civilian oversight job. (I thought it was a volunteer gig, but they keep paying me.) Last night I listened to a presentation by three members of the community concerned about how racial profiling impacts African Americans (particularly young men), immigrants, and Muslims. We listened to pretty compelling anecdotes about how individuals were being victimized, not for their conduct, but for their race, religion, or civil status.

Immigrants get hit when they enter the criminal justice system at any level. If they don't have legal status, they can be immediately deported since Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE - routine sweeps jails for illegals. If a legal immigrant is convicted of a crime he or she can be immediately deported despite their family ties, clean record, or time in this country.

Muslims have suffered since 911 because they are Muslims. Anyone with middle eastern looks taking pictures can be questioned and even arrested. Federal and state investigators who target suspicious Muslims are seen to be doing a good job. The panelist showed an advertisement from a security contractor retained by a local law enforcement agency offering counter terrorism courses. The training included the naming patterns for Arabic and Muslim children, religious practices, and the tenets of Islam. The panelist did not object to cultural awareness training, but not in the context of battling terrorism.

The panelist from the NAACP, who is also a defense attorney, provided several accounts of how his clients were targeted because of race. That racism exists in America and in all its institutions should come as no surprise.

Alas, these issues of immigrants and Muslims fall outside our board since they reflect federal initiatives and policies. We provide oversight to the Seattle PD and its policies and practices. One panelist complimented the Seattle police chief for "getting it" and notifying is officers that religion and physical appearance was not the basis for a criminal investigation. Another complimented the City Council for reconfiguring its professional accountability system of which my board is a part. So despite the concerning accounts of biased policing, Seattle either was not the problem, or was already taking firm steps to improve fairness and accountability.

What about racial profiling?

The Los Angeles PD's civilian oversight made some interesting findings. Out of hundreds of complaints of biased policing only four were sustained and those were because the employees made some sort of biased comments. Without some demonstration of animus there was no way to prove the stop or action was based on race, etc. In Seattle no complaints of biased policing have been sustained and no employee was the subject of a bias complaint more than once.

LAPD decided that to guarantee fair policing it made more sense to focus on the constitutional basis for the stop or the arrest instead of pursuing prejudice. The police just can't stop anyone, handcuff them, and seat them on the curb without some reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or hard evidence of a crime. So if a motorist suffers from issues of "rear license plate illumination" the traffic stop should be limited to investigating that infraction. Naturally if the officer sees something else amiss he or she should pursue it, but a bad bulb should not, by itself, take forty-five minutes to resolve.

So one of the issues our board will address is the perception that biased policing – racial profiling – is a problem. As for the feds, change is coming. Isn't it?