Thursday, December 30, 2010

What are you reading?

I have been deficient in keeping this category of blog posts current, but something has changed that. Santa brought me a Kindle.

Now I have a list of books - no, the books themselves - to read that are as convenient to carry as, well, a Kindle. I am now reading much more than before and have even eschewed Roku, DVDs, and cable for a quiet evening on other journeys. The next page is a click. The next chapter is a click. Another book is a couple of clicks. And the experience of reading is still every bit as enjoyable, maybe more. I often need just one hand, maybe none at all, to read the Kindle. The book doesn't fall shut and - a big and - I can increase or decrease the font to compensate for low light and my willingness to use glasses.

eBooks are somewhat cheaper than their analog versions, but a current book is still going to cost ten or twelve dollars (I hope author royalties are comensurately better). The gift certificates that Santa's helpers left me help with that and I found myself on my back in bed at 2 a.m. buying books via a wireless connection. Pretty slick. I'm still investigating cheap and free books, but at the moment I have plenty to read.

I have a couple of titles open: Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester, and Tree Soldier, by Janet Oakley. (Janet is a writing colleague and has published her novel of the Civilian Conservation Corps herself via Amazon.)

I just finished Russian Detective - excuse me, Investigator - Arkady Renko's most recent adventure Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park, Polar Star). I'm the kind of reader who locks onto an author and tracks down everything he or she writes. Another series of books in the Kindle queue are the spy novels of Alan Furst (Spies of the Balkans, The Spies of Warsaw, The Foreign Correspondent).

I finished Three Stations and it's great, not just for the sense of place (contemporary Moscow), but the enduring protagonist who, if he isn't nearly killed, is almost always fired by venal Prosecutor Zurin. Now I have no more Arkady Renko novels to read until Smith does another. Fortunately I'm just getting started with Furst. And I have thousands and thousands more titles to check out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another video lynching

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman on New Year's 2009, Officer MarySol Domenici was suspended, then fired for her role during a chaotic situation on a train platform. She was accused of lying to investigators about her actions that night. She appealed her termination and an arbitrator held that the law firm hired by the BART Police to investigate the entire incident presented conclusions that were flawed. Only because the officer had the resources of her union and the Legal Defense Fund of the Police Officers Research Association of California was she able to retain the services of Force Sciences Institute to examine the evidence. Force Sciences experts carefully examined all the available video evidence and demonstrated over a fourteen-day hearing that she did not lie about what did not happen. (The full text of an article is below)

This is another example of a rush to judgement based on incomplete examination of video evidence by a high-priced law firm which was supposed to objectively gather evidence. Community activists demanded the firing of all present when Grant was killed when the evidence showed at least one of them had done nothing wrong (another case is still on appeal).

There are lessons here for those interested. First, just as one should not believe everything they read in the newspaper (or on cable or on the web), they should not believe everything they think they believe on video. Second, if you want something done right, use someone who knows what they are doing. It took fifteen months for the lawyers to investigate and for the BART police chief (who has since left) to decide the officer should be fired. The officer's appeal and the decision took six months. Third, wait until you have all the facts before you make a decision.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And now for something political

Today I read of a measure filed in the House to enact a Constitutional amendment called the Repeal Amendment (New York Times, Kate Zernike). It would allow two thirds of the states to vote to repeal any federal law or regulation. What a dumb idea. And cowardly too.

Apparently conservatives think that this is the only way to limit the authority of the federal government which they find overly intrusive into private lives and business. Their case in point is the new health care bill and the requirement for all Americans to purchase health insurance. As if there is no other way to change the policies of the U.S. Government.

It's a dumb idea because potentially two thirds of the states, representing a minority of U.S. population, could dictate to the majority policy and legislation. That's not what the Founders intended. If the Founders had felt that the powers of the central government needed to be limited - and they did - they would have included a repeal mechanism in the first draft of the Constitution.

It's cowardly because if conservatives want to pass or repeal legislation they should elect enough members of Congress to do just that. If they have a friendly president, they can get him to sign the bill. If not, they can get a two-thirds majority like the Founders had intended.

We will see if this idea gets any traction, which I doubt.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Power For The People: A History of Seattle City Light

Yesterday Mind Over Matter host Diane Horn interviewed me on KEXP Radio FM 90.3 about my history of Seattle City Light. Click here to go to the station archives and select November 20, 2010 and 7 am. Then you choose your media player.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Deficit cutting

What a boring topic amid a week of news about presidential trips abroad, the GOP taking over the House, and, as always, the pundits proving that if you give people enough money they don't mind making fools of themselves. One item caught my eye and some other notice was the list of suggestions by two members of the deficit commission (not its official name) on how to trim federal spending.

The first reaction of readers and viewers is probably "how will this effect me?" and "will I get hurt?." Any time spending gets cut or taxes get raised people scramble to take positions that hurt them less. Individual citizens look at how much it will cost them in more taxes or some lost benefit. For the politicians it's all about "will this hurt me in the next election?" To be sure, the list of proposals includes things that impact nearly every American whether a government employee, a defense contractor, a Social Security recipient (current or prospective), or anyone who depends on those checks from dry cleaners to car dealers. And anyone who depends on dry cleaners to car dealers.

Watch the scramble of interest groups (nasty name for anyone taking an interest in government) as they try to avoid their share of the cuts that are really necessary if my grandson hopes to retire to someplace besides a blue tarp in a vacant lot. And when the government cuts get down to agencies watch - and marvel at - the artful arguments why they should not be cut. Everyone will have a case.

The good thing about these proposals is that they seem to hurt everyone which is what is needed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Political Coverage

I may be in a tiny minority, but I just don't accept what is being reported and analyzed about the outcome of the midterm elections. I read and hear about polls predicting a Democratic party route, but the Pew Research Center has suggested that the polls are only capturing people with hard-line telephones. The pollsters are not calling cell phone customers who have no phones at home. Doesn't that throw into question the "representative sample" upon which polls are based? Not that the predictions might not be true, but I just haven't seen any convincing evidence.

And how much of what is reported is coming from other news reports and "analysts" and not from primary investigation? The state of journalism being what it is most newswriters do all their work at the keyboard and not in the field or even on the telephone. I would hate to have my career determined by a second hand report of a telephone poll or some pretty face whose credentials are in entertainment and not journalism.

I've already voted by mail and will wait for the returns.

Publishing Update

The two books I did with the late Walt Crowley several years ago are now available through University of Washington Press. Power For The People tells the story of Seattle City Light and Hope On The Hill is about Seattle Children's Hospital, the old Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

The publishing game being what it is I had not seen either work for some time and it was with great joy and some wonderment that I reread what I had done. Not bad, if I say so myself. Naturally Walt had worked his magic on the stories and others added updates, but both are still my work.
Hope On The Hill launches on October 26, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. at University Book Store. Marie McCaffrey, Executive Director of, Dr. John Neff, former Medical Director at Children's, and I will offer comments and sign books.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On the air

Hot on the heels of the radio interview I appeared on KCTS Channel 9, our local PBS station. They are having a pledge drive and aired the documentary I did about Snoqualmie Falls. During the pledge breaks, as green-tee-shirted staff from Parks and Rec manned the phones, the host asked me quick questions about the story. Turn me on about history and I just keep on going. I didn't cause the show to go over too much.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

KUOW Presents

Today I was interviewed on KUOW FM 94.9. The segment is twelve minutes condensed from an hour conversation with producer Dave Beck. The piece is archived here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflecting on 9-11

A local journalist wrote recently comparing the disaster of 9-11 in 2001 to that of Custer in 1876. As a "Custer buff" I was immediately drawn to the article if only to look for holes in his historical account (not bad for a non-buff). But his point is to compare Custer's hubris and failure to see things beyond his own myopia. I think the writer complimented the Custer Battlefield as an effort to see an issue from both sides.

But the article got me to thinking about the way that Americans celebrate their defeats more than the victories. Everyone can recognize things like September 11, December 7, Custer, November 22, and the Fall of Saigon. But what about September 1, May 8, or November 11 (Armistic Day not Veterans Day)? What is it that draws us to remember the pain of the Arizona blowing up or the collapse of the Twin Towers and not the triumph of GIs and Doughboys?

I like to think that a military defeat, like any disaster, personal or national, is what teaches us the most. What do we learn when we graduate from school or land that job? Not as much as when the report card comes back with Fs or the interview goes sour. I've heard that Japanese business people call failures opportunities and I think they have something there. We don't recognize what went wrong unless it results in failure. When we fail we ask, why? We look to others to blame, then to ourselves. Should I have worked harder in that class? Should I have prepared better for the interview?

Pearl Harbor has shaped U.S. military and political policy for almost seventy years: Never be unprepared again. Custer left us with a whole list of lessons: "recon the objective" (taught in Infantry school) and beware of over confidence.

What do the 9-11 attacks teach us? Don't allow sharp objects on airplanes? I don't think so (but don't tell that to the tens of thousands now employed to collect nail clippers at airports). We learned that no one is ever totally safe from a terrorist attack, but how does that instruct the future? Be afraid? No. Spend billions on cosmetic security measures like the machine-gun inflatable boat that shadows our ferry? I don't think so.

How about, "stuff happens"? That is to say that the world is full of hazards, hurricanes, serial killers, oil wells, and fundamentalists bent on murder and suicide. None of us has ever been completely safe since our ancestors left the trees to strike out across the savannah and none of us can ever be completely safe again. Leopards and fundamentalists will always be out there, but we have to eat.

We can keep our eyes open and pay attention to the systems designed to protect us. As I have posted before we need to question whether the system is defective or just needs to work correctly. We can do our jobs, but that doesn't protect us from those who don't do their jobs. Custer didn't do his job, the Army and Navy didn't do their job in Hawaii, BP didn't do its job in the Gulf of Mexico, and the airlines didn't do their job on 9-11. But what is the lesson?

We were attacked because we were successful as a nation and a society. We have peace and prosperity where so many others have neither. The resentment was translated into some abomination of religious thought. Being successful at something will always make you someone's target whether it's a burlar after your new HD wide screen or some lunatic resentful at our shopping malls. We can never make those crazies happy and we can never kill them all. We can try to see things from their point of view, but they will still keep coming. We can keep working to make things better for everyone.

Like a small group of Homo Erectus which has just lost a member to some prowling cat, we keep heading toward the horizon. Stuff happens.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flogging My Wares

Yesterday I had a book signing, probably one of the fantasies of those seeking to be published. The wannabe author imagines being seated at a table in an upscale bookstore surrounded by fresh copies of The Great Work. It is just before 10 a.m. and faces of anxious customers peer through the windows hoping for a glimpse of their hero. At 10 the doors open and they flood in to grab the precious copies. The book seller is prepared with burly salespeople, ID cards around their necks, earpieces connected to radios. The salespeople shepherd the faithful into orderly lines and they queue up to the table. The author greets each reader with a smile.

The readers offer compliments like, "I couldn't put it down," and ask questions like, "where did you get that character?" The author replies with a standard set of platitudes, "Thank you very much," "It just came to me," and "I'm glad you liked it. How would you like it signed?"

The books fly off the table and the displays. Clerks hurriedly unpack more boxes to fill the demand before the crowd gets rowdy. Fortunately the retailer has seen the brilliance of the book and has opted for most of the run just to be on the safe side.

As in the rest of life, reality is different. I stood next to the table and greeted visitors, about one every two minutes, "Hi, we're featuring my history book today," or "Hello, are you interested in history?" Most smiled and continued on. Some simply ignored me. No one stopped. Almost no one. I managed to sell three books, both copies of the first one and one of the new one. The last copy sold a minute after I was supposed to go off duty. My share of the sales paid for half my parking.

I did get to say, "How do you want it signed?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Historic Photos of Seattle in the 50s, 60s, and 70s

My latest book with Turner Publishing is now out, Historic Photos of Seattle in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I had posted the availability on this blog a few days ago then discovered that the copy I took for the weekend had blank pages. Gak! I took down the posts on Facebook, etc. When I got home I discovered it was just an anomaly and all the rest of the books are fine.  You can order from Turner or contact me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Video Lynchings

The recent kerfuffle over the dismissal of a civil servant who was framed by a doctored video underscores something I've believed for a long time: you can't always trust the camera lens for the whole picture. In this last case someone boogered with the tape intending to embarrass the NAACP and ended up embarrassing the Obama White House. Here in Seattle we are in the middle of a couple of controversies over video taped police actions.

Ever since the Rodney King thing salacious video has been the caffeine of the 24/7 news cycle. It's even better than the aftermath of a car bombing. Get something on the air, don't worry about accuracy. The stylish transcribers who call themselves journalists today do little in the way of vetting of their stories and sources so what the viewer gets is often raw data, incomprehensible and misleading. In the 19th Century, journalists punched up their stories with information they thought made reading more interesting. Sometimes they made things up. This settled down to a more rational approach later in the 20th Century where good reporters checked sources, dug further, and committed their reputations to the story. In the 21st Century all that matters is speed of delivery.

Back to video. Consider first of all that any camera captures, at best, what you see can see with one eye closed. There is little in the way of scope to the scene and no sense of depth perception. Remember that famous shot of the raid that removed Elian Gonzalez from the home in Miami? What we saw at first was a SWAT team member pointing his rifle at a terrified Elian. A closer look shows that the rifle was aimed wide to the side. Elian was justifiably frightened (I blame his caretakers and the anti-Castro lobby for that) but the officer wasn't threatening to kill them. He had just entered a premises where people pledged to resist with force and then a room where persons unknown were hiding in a closet. He was doing as trained, enter a strange room as if it was hostile. Elian was carried from the home by a female officer and whisked away while activists happily waved the photo. (Some credit this photo with Al Gore's loss of Florida in 2000.)

The camera, still or video, often misrepresents the true relationship between the subjects. People many feet apart can appear next to each other. Artful cropping can alter context. Journalism and history are full of these false perceptions.Time magazine even has a top ten list. Given retail editing programs on desktop computers and any patient user can manufacture an image or a video clip at will. Upload the new product to the Web and you have an instant hit. But you don't have the facts. Magazine publishers routinely graft heads to pretty bodies for the covers. Does Oprah really look that good?

Second, consider the technical quality of the average home video camera degraded by low light conditions and wielded at a moment's notice. We often just don't get a good picture let alone something to support a rational decision. I have been careful not to watch the recorded episodes of the Seattle police incidents (I saw one just once, quite unintentionally). I prefer to wait for the complete investigations with all the facts and all the circumstances.

The next time damning evidence is presented on television or the web stop and question it. Question everything.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Monday, the Supreme Court reinforced its position that gun ownership is an individual right as set out in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Guns, gun ownership, gun violence, and firearms legislation is one of the great hot-button topics of our society along with abortion and any other partisan issue. I think this decision, which mirrored a decision from two years ago, will not have a serious impact on public safety except for a likely increase in accidental discharges in the hands of the careless as they embrace their newly confirmed rights.

I’ve been around guns all my life. Dad was a hunter and a strict gun-safety nut. Before he was nineteen he was involved in two or three hunting accidents and never cared to see any more. The guns at our house were locked up with the key hung on a hook up out of the way of little hands. I was taught at an early age how to safely handle firearms and to respect their power. I took this ethic to my brief military experience, then into a thirty-year career in law enforcement. I was trained as a firearms instructor, a range master, and as an armorer and trainer for the Glock pistol. As a retired law enforcement officer I am entitled to carry a concealed weapon in any jurisdiction in the nation. But I endured the weight of the weapon, its obligations, and the risk of having it turned against me long enough to have lost any desire to exercise my rights through gun ownership. No guns, no gun accidents.

What is to be made of this new decision? Not much. Gun sales might increase, but the issues of what regulation is allowed on gun ownership will still rage on here in the blogosphere, on the tube, in the Congress, and in courts. Can an illegal alien own a gun in his home? Can a regular citizen carry a gun in his camper to a state park? Can someone carry a gun openly in a holster in a grocery store? The Supreme Court left open these questions. The citizen remains confused. The gun lobby and the anti-gun lobby are assured of years of revenue-rich litigation to sort it all out. And legislators are not off the hook when it comes to gun policies.

I will relate a humorous episode as a Cub Scout leader. Starting in the mid 80s, we took eight, nine, and ten year old boys to summer camp. It was an experiment. They didn’t used to go to summer camp until they were Boy Scouts. The Scouts invited moms up too so they could keep track of their precious babes. One single mom was quite vocal in her disapproval of the trappings of Scouting, uniforms, badges, saluting the flag, mustering before dinner, and telling stories around a campfire.

One of the activities was the rifle range where the Boy Scouts shot .22 rifles as they have done since about 1909. The Cubs shot BB guns. Every shooter wore goggles to protect against ricochets. This mom just couldn’t understand why the boys needed to know how to shoot. She didn’t own any guns and her son would never own a gun. I tried to explain to her the importance of the boys knowing gun safety. Her son might never own a gun, but her neighbor might and her son might want to know how to behave if that gun came out. I left her to mutter her unhappiness. Three days later I chanced by the range. She was wearing safety glasses and just getting out of the prone position and readying her BB gun for her next course of fire. I doubt that she ever shot a BB gun again, but I know her son, now probably with a son of his own, will know how to be safe around a firearm.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Drill Ban

I get irritated with the clamor to ban offshore oil drilling because of the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I wish people would take a breath. The Deepwater Horizon accident is like a horrible traffic pileup on the freeway caused by someone driving drunk and over the speed limit. And then we discover that the highway patrol was off eating donuts. Do we close the freeways? No.

Oil platforms have blowout preventers, immense, complicated safety valves that, well, prevent blowouts. The operators are supposed to conduct regular tests of the BOPs, but this involves suspending drilling or production which costs money. Anyone inclined to take a shortcut will falsify the tests and get back on schedule. I was peripherally involved in a BOP falsification case in the 1980s. The oil company and its contractor cooked the books to maintain the drilling schedule. Already we are hearing accounts that on the Deepwater Horizon they knew the BOP was about to fail, but the crews were under great pressure to get the well in. Only a professional and rational investigation will reveal the facts.

There are systems in place that would have prevented the Gulf tragedy, but they weren't used. Indeed, they may have been willfully ignored. Just like the drunk driver going too fast. Will more regulations for offshore drilling solve this problem? Not if the operators ignore them too. Let the operators obey the rules and have a solid regulatory structure in place.

Friday, May 28, 2010

New Books

I received good news this week. University of Washington Press is listing two books of mine in their online catalogue. The first is Power for the People, the centennial history of Seattle City Light. I worked on this for Walt Crowley and History Ink more than five years ago, but publication was delayed by Walt's illness and death. 

It's a fascinating story, if I say so myself.The utility started in an era of go-go capitalism where corporations and trusts had their way with U.S. consumers. There was little, except Teddy Roosevelt, to block their sharp and even rapacious business practices. The cost for electricity from the one company selling power in Seattle at the turn of the 20th Century was something like 20 cents a kilowatt hour. That compares to more than $4 in today's values. As soon as competition in the form of City Light and the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company came on the scene the prices began to drop. And they continued to drop until 1970.

A Seattle newspaper columnist called City Light the closest thing the city has to a "secular religion." The utility survived political manipulation, fierce propaganda campaigns, the gold rush for hydroelectric sites, and engineering difficulties. Central to the success of the idea of public power was James Delmage "JD" Ross, a self-trained electrical engineer who envisioned Seattle growing and prospering with the benefit of cheap, plentiful electricity. You have to read the book to see how things turn out.

The other book is Hope on the Hill:The First Century of Seattle Children's Hospital (formerly Children's Orthopedic Hospital, Children's Medical Center, etc.) which I researched and co-authored with Walt. The book was due out in 2007 in time for their centennial, but was delayed due to finalization of the hospital's expansion plans.

This is another story of visionaries, in this case women who wanted to care for children disabled by disease and birth defects. Anna Clise and Harriet Stimson gathered like-minded wives of prominent businessmen to provide the long-term care needed to correct club feet, tuberculosis of the bone, and osteomyelitis, but at little or no cost to families. They recruited physicians to donate their services and raised money. They organized neighborhood guilds as networks to provide everything from sewn bandages to fresh and home-canned foods. The annual Penny Drive became a Seattle and Pacific Northwest institution.

What was amazing to me was that the women retained control of this remarkable enterprise when other successful hospitals were taken over by the physicians. The Board of Trustees remained entirely female until about 2003. Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, founder of King Broadcasting and daughter of founder Harriet Stimson, served on the board for many years. In the 1960s, when Seattle corporations scrambled to add women to their boards of directors, they found a great pool of talent with corporate experience at Children's. Bill Gates's mother, Mary, was a long-time and highly-respected trustee who helped spin off the foundation that now supports uncompensated care and research.

While I was working on the book, I kept encountering people who had history with Children's. The washing machine repairman spent nine months there. The clerk at the County Courthouse had his tonsils out there. It seemed like most of the city had some connection with "the Orthopedic."

Again, buy the book to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What are you going to wear?

Steve Sadis, the producer and my co-writer for The Power of Snoqualmie Falls informs me that the video has been nominated for an Emmy. The awards are June 5, 2010 at the Snoqualmie Casino.

Alas, the Academy found Morocco to be more compelling than Snoqualmie Falls. But being nominated isn't so bad. Like they say on the north side of Chicago, wait til next year.

Monday, May 24, 2010


It's time to join the cacophony over the Gulf oil spill. I worked for the EPA as a criminal investigator for sixteen years, thirteen of them covering the West. One five-year investigation involved a oil platform off the California coast so I became familiar with the culture of oil companies, the culture of regulators, the regulations, and the law. Don't forget the politics.

One thing that seems to be missing in the frenzy around the Gulf spill is an investigation into possible criminal violations by individuals (that is human beings, people) whose decisions contributed first to the deaths of eleven people then to the biggest environmental catastrophe since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. After that event, criminal investigators from every agency imaginable descended upon the tiny port of Valdez. The Coast Guard investigated. The Alaska State Troopers investigated. The FBI investigated. The EPA investigated. Investigators learned that if you wanted to be a player in the case, you had to come up with your own evidence; a statement, a study, some forensic facts, something to give you a seat at the table.

If you will recall, the only criminal violations developed was negligence on the part of Exxon the company (for which they paid a fine, chump change for them) and misdemeanor negligence against the master (for which he paid a fine and served community service). The third mate in charge of the ship had been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation. In a criminal investigation a person is not required to give a statement that might incriminate himself. The civil case is still going on after twenty-one years and scores of lawyers have retired on the fees they have earned.

Flash forward to 2010 and the Louisiana coast. With a new law in place the company faces a $1,000 penalty per barrel of oil discharged. With that much money at stake the company can afford a dream team of lawyers to keep things from moving forward.

Prosecuting companies is relatively easy since corporations have no right against self incrimination. The government can demand production of documents and emails and interview all the employees to see what they knew. All the evidence can be used against the corporation. But prosecuting the individuals responsible for the disaster is another matter. The negligent discharge of the oil is a crime, but that is a misdemeanor. Willful avoidance of conditions that lead to a discharge can be a felony with real prison time a possibility.

Just like the mob, the corporation instructs employees to clam up until they can get lawyered up (at company expense). Nobody talks, everybody walks. The lawyers can tell the government the worker won't talk without immunity. To get the information the government must often give the guilty parties a pass to get to the truth.

This process takes months and often years. Given the political magnitude of the disaster watch to see how the case - if any - gets fast tracked, maybe only a couple of years. The corporation has time on its hands and legislators and the electorate have a short memory. If five years passes without charges, the statute of limitations runs and prosecution become impossible.

Another tactic is hyper-cooperation. BP had a pipeline fail in Alaska. The company produced all the requested documents, millions of pages scanned to a server someplace. EPA had one or two people to read them all online. BP then offered the government cash to settle that case and one involving fifteen fatalities in Texas and the government took the money and went home. No individuals were prosecuted.

From all that BP proved again that it's all about the money.

Here is a LA Times article about this topic.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Memorial Day

[this is republished from a year ago]

Bob Snyder was my best friend in high school. We met as members of the McClellan Cadet Squadron, Civil Air Patrol in Sacramento. We both dreamed of military careers and spoke almost every evening on the phone about CAP and military history. We both became cadet lieutenants. (that's Bob in his CAP uniform).

Bob was raised by his grandparents in West Sacramento because his parents were out of the picture for some reason I will never understand. He attended James Marshal High School and played football. Summers, he got up before dawn to show up at the hiring lot in Sacramento to board a bus and pick local crops for rotten wages. H could not afford to attend the annual CAP encampments that I enjoyed so much.

During the school year, when he wasn't at football practice, he volunteered afternoons at the local Air Force recruiting station stuffing envelopes. Bob's grandparents lived on Social Security so on the money he saved picking produce, Bob went to Delta Community College there in Sacramento in 1966. He studied a new field, computers.He planned to go to San Jose State College and late in our freshman year he went down there for registration. He stumbled into a antiwar protest. This annoyed him so much he went right to a recruiting office and signed up for the Army Airborne. Bob attended basic training and advanced infantry training at Fort Lewis in 1967 and I visited with him there (I was attending college in Seattle safe from the draft). He went on to Noncommissioned Officers Candidate School. Upon graduation he was promoted to Sergeant E-5 - a "Shake and Bake".

Bob arrived in Viet Nam in November 1968. The Army promised him that as a volunteer he would be in the airborne unit of his choice. The Army instead sent him to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, a "straight leg" unit, in the Mekong Delta. Before Bob left he sent me a gift, a sweatshirt with an Ed Roth characture of an infantryman shooting and running through the mud. I still have it.

Bob arrived in country in November and was assigned to 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2/60th. His platoon sergeant was Richard W. Carter. The battalion allowed men to become acclimated before going on operations, but Bob volunteered early. His last letter to me is dated November 26, 1968.

Greetings from the front. Well old buddy I am what you call a combat veteran now. I learned what it's like to be a deer during hunting season. Our AO is the Delta, all rice paddies and mud. You cross the patty and move into the wood line, that woodline is murder. We had six KIA yesterday. The point man was 15 feet from the bunker when the guks opened up. Doc was put in for the CMH for his actions. He was one of the six. The guys feel real bad about it.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We're going out on Bushmaster. War isn't very pretty besides it messes up my sleep. Charlie gets you up all hours of the night with his mortars. Hey Dave, gotta clean my shootin' iron. Say hi to everyone for me.










On December 10, 1968, about two weeks after this letter, Bob and his platoon took on a patrol in the delta. The regular point man, who was very experienced, didn't want to enter a particular area known to have booby traps. Bob and PFC Gary Stephen Hodges took the point. Hodges tripped a 155mm artillery round rigged as a booby trap. The explosion killed them both. Bob was twenty years old.

Bob is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Califonia. His grandparents, the Careys died in the 1970s and were buried in the same plot since Emmett Carey was a veteran of World War I. While I lived in San Francisco I decorated Bob's grave on Memorial Day.

I never went into the service. About ten years ago I discovered his battalion's web site and I posted a query about Bob. After a year or so I got a response and ended up telephoning a vet living in Missouri. He gave me the story about when Bob was killed. I posted a little bio on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

The fortieth anniversary of Bob's death passed last month unnoticed by me until a few weeks ago. The oversight inspired me to make this entry which just might endure in cyberspace as the story of one soldier.

HBO has a film out about heros coming home and the trailer was enough to move me to include the link here.

Bob's niece Rebecca (born after he was killed) found these snaps in her mother's things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 4

I can’t believe that it’s been forty years since the killings at Kent State. In Kent, Ohio they call the event May 4th like December 7th or 9/11. Everyone knows right where they were when they heard and I remember too.

I’m amazed that I lived through such a time. In March, hundreds of city and county cops occupied the campus when the acting University president hit the panic button over demonstrations about playing sports with the wrong school. In April, the Nixon Administration indicted radicals – called the Seattle Seven – for leading protests. The musical Hair opened at the Moore Theater. On May 1, a young man set a series of fires in one of the buildings. I helped put out some of the little fires, too excited to even speak clearly to my fellow officers.

I heard about Kent State on May 4, 1970 after a morning of writing parking tickets. Despite the increased tensions and scheduled rallies, the process of parking enforcement had to continue. I kind of liked that duty. I was outside walking around, sometimes talking to people, and I enjoyed seeing how many tickets for no permit and for parking outside a designated area I could write. That’s when I learned how to block print. We were already on high alert and putting in overtime because of the expansion of the war into Cambodia. (for Baby Boomers “the war” is Vietnam).

At break time, I got a ride to the station and the patrolman gave me the news. My first reaction was that it had to happen sometime. Seattle had been hit particularly hard by anti-war protests during those years. We were 19th in population and 2nd in bombings. The UW had more than its share. Two people were arrested setting a firebomb at an ROTC building. Another firebomb practically destroyed another ROTC building. A big bomb trashed the Administration Building and the library. Someone placed two pipe bombs under campus police vehicles set to go off five minutes apart. The first would pull the officers in; the second would take them out. The lieutenant on duty was wise enough to wait to respond. Then there was all the petty vandalism. Every night someone tagged a building or glued locks shut in some demented rationale that it would somehow bring peace. What a time it was.

So we knew what was coming when the reports of the killings in Ohio came out. The students would crank up the volume of the protests disrupting classes, damaging property, and even causing injuries. The campus police department had only recently expanded to meet this new challenge and we were seriously short of training and decent leadership. Everyone knew that another Kent State could easily happen (and it did in Mississippi). The response was to put everyone on twelve-hour shifts. We crowded into patrol cars three at a time to be able to deposit enough officers at the scene of a disturbance to calm things down. Such was the thinking of the time.

But the disturbing protesters were either too many or too fast for us and all we did was create our own traffic congestion as we circled the campus slouched down and exhausted. That was during the time between organized rallies. When people gathered to give speeches or to take action, that was called an Unusual Occurrence or UO. It was a month of UOs. I compiled a partial list here.

The University and City strategy was to let the people march until they became intolerable somehow. Intolerable was things like blocking the freeway, trashing businesses, and trying to shut down the University. When that happened the authorities and the police pushed back, not nearly hard enough for some, too hard for others. In the field of public safety you never make everyone happy.

For me the fallout from the killings peaked the night of May 7. General rioting drifted off campus into the University District where people no one recognized broke windows and threw rocks. Hundreds of city and county cops responded in buses. A few dozen Seattle PD plainclothesmen, on official orders, started roaming the neighborhood clubbing anyone.

I can still see the body of a man on the grass. A young woman comforted him and shrieked that those were the guys who did it. I ran, armed with a long riot baton, at the man with the night stick. Only because he dropped the club and showed me a badge did I not cold cock him right there. I saw it. My fellow campus cops and I stopped it. The response from the Seattle chief was that individuals “at least overreacted.” My ass.

But no one was killed. Probably the most serious injury during those years was a plainclothesman clubbed by a campus cop. And he turned out not even to be one of the goons.

There are men my age with much more dramatic memories, but we have the memories we have. Those are my memories that come up when Kent State – May Fourth – is mentioned.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Chief

Two weeks ago, Mike Shanahan died. He was my chief of police and assistant chief for two years in the early 70s. I moved on to be a federal agent and Mike stayed on to head the University Police Department for twenty-five years. Because I still had many friends in the department I stayed in touch with the gossip and cops love to gossip, particularly about the chief.

Mike came to the campus cops in May 1970 straight from the U.S. Army. Our old chief noticed him when he covered the University of Washington as a major from Military Intelligence. The first pick for assistant chief, a retired Seattle Police lieutenant, bailed on the job when he saw all the unrest we were facing. Mike stepped into law enforcement at a great time. He was not quite thirty with blond hair and a boyish smile not to mention a Stanford education. He was a positive addition to the talent pool even if we didn't recognize it. His first day on the job was when Nixon ordered troops into Cambodia. Three days later, National Guardsmen in Ohio gunned down four students. Things really came apart with demonstrations, strikes, and attempts to close the University.

Back up a little bit. In 1968, when the first sit-in on campus shook up the University fathers there was a political division between local and state elected officials. The city and county pols said it was a state problem and the campus police will just have to deal with it. The campus police were called the Safety Division which embraced parking lots, occupational safety, fire safety, and public safety. Law enforcement and police were words to be avoided. The department consisted of about eighteen men, some retired military, and not a few grandfathers. Hardly the highly-trained professionals the University needed. So the old chief started hiring people, students like me who sold parking passes or shook doors, and names offered by the personnel office - men looking for jobs like truck driver and janitor. By the time Mike showed up as the old chief's ramrod we had grown from eighteen to more than fifty or sixty. Half of us had no formal training. No mount of training would make some of them peace officers. Some of the original eighteen said no thanks and quit. Not a lot to work with.

This is important for two reasons. The first is that the level of professional practice in the department was not high. Second, the level of maturity to deal with Mike's take-charge approach was not high either. He pissed a lot of people off including me, mostly because he was the old chief's hatchet man. His radio call sign was Charlie Five. The oafs among us liked to hold up five fingers then turn it into a thumbs down.But Mike knew he had to lead from the front and he did.

Cut back to May 1970. The calls for a student strike resulted in some half-ass attempts by demonstrators to block the entrances to campus (as if this would somehow bring the troops home). It got serious enough that the University President Charles Odegaard ordered the old chief to clear the gates. This resulted in rock throwing and general rioting on and off campus similar to baloney the summer before. This sucked in hundreds of Seattle PD officers and King County deputies in riot gear to the U District.

Seattle PD responded with a practice they had employed in the Central Area since 1968. They fielded plain-clothes officers to wander around and just beat the crap out of anyone. The idea was to spread fear of vigilantes and random violence and send everyone home. This apparently had met with some success in African American neighborhoods, but it turned bad on campus. To make a long story short (read more here and here) campus cops confronted plain clothes officers. One of the SPD guys ended up on the ground with a shattered face and jaw.

The old chief put Mike on the task of an internal investigation. He called every one of us into his office individually where he assured each of us of eternal regret should we ever discuss the matter. He then extracted statements from all of us to document "The Incident on Hippie Hill". Oh, in the midst of all that, the University moved the whole department, lock, stock, and locker room off campus to an old saw mill on Portage Bay. And we went on twelve-hour shifts, no days off. It didn't take long for nerves to wear thin. I doubled my paycheck that month with the overtime. 

A year later, the old chief died of a heart attack caused by the accumulation of stress. His name is on the law enforcement memorial in Olympia. Mike took over as acting chief until the University fathers felt comfortable enough to confirm him as chief. He did things that pissed off more people, but made me like him more.

For example, each officer was surprised with a written test on the traffic code, no chance to study. Those failing were prohibited from writing tickets until they studied up and passed. I was the only one to pass the first time around. (Maybe there was one other, but he was fired soon after.) The other cops bellyached, but they studied up and passed the test.

There was the long-standing issue of guns. The old chief had some odd ideas and insisted that officers carry lightweight, snub-nosed revolvers so as not to offend. "We're not out there to fight the people," he often said. What with officers being assassinated and bombs going off, this policy annoyed us all. Almost as soon as Mike was confirmed as chief, he signed off on a purchase order for new, proper police revolvers, but he didn't tell anyone.The first I knew was when the box arrived and I was handed a shiny, proper police weapon. There were other reforms.

The old chief's response to discovering the entire graveyard shift, save one, playing Hearts in the coffee room  was to have them write essays. Mike continued to insist on more from the officers and he handed out letters of reprimand and days off where they were needed.

The day of the old chief's memorial service there was a rock concert at the pavilion on Montlake Boulevard. The University had allowed a series of these events and was immediately sorry. Thousands of young people, not entirely sober, showed up to trash the Pavilion. Hundreds more showed up without tickets and to force their way into the place. Mike's response for the next concert was a full-court press by every man jack of us, some seventy-two.

At the Pavilion we ran the ticketless long-hairs away from the front doors. They took up a position on the old railroad line that would someday become the Burke Gilman Trail. At that time it was still paved in ballast, rocks perfect for throwing. Add to that the elevation of the roadbed and even the most amateur rock thrower could lob missles onto the front porch of the "Pav". That left us pinned down behind pillars as rocks skipped in breaking windows like sniper fire. We crouched there clutching our riot batons like rifles or spears waiting for someone to take charge.

At that point Mike did something I think we all dream of. He stepped back from one of the pillars which provided us cover and said, "We're going to take that hill. Is everyone ready? Let's go."

We rushed out across Montlake Boulevard and into the traffic, legionnaires against the barbarians. One cop waved a motorist to a stop. Rocks rained down on the car shattering the windows. The officer then signalled the driver to proceed. Up the embankment we ran and, naturally, the rock throwers disappeared. So we fell back to the Pavilion. The rock throwers returned and we had to retake the hill, but that time we stayed.
The night deteriorated into groups of roving youths setting trash cans on fire and trying to sneak into the concert. It was quite a night.

After I became a fed, I had infrequent contact with The Chief. Years later, after we had both retired, I met him at a reception. He commented how, way back when, we had held things together on campus. It could have gone very bad like in Ohio or Mississippi, but we kept the lid on. No history is good history I suppose.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Contract

The folks at Turner Publishing Co. in Nashville have a new project for me, Historic Photos of Seattle in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It's the same format at the book I did a year ago, Historic Photos of Puget Sound which "did quite well" according to Turner. As with the first book, Turner started with readily available digitized images of the era and asked for captions, chapter introductions, etc. Having been through the process before it was easy to get my arms around what was needed. Then the next day the people publishing my history of Seattle City Light notified me that they are going forward with the book and please review the manuscript within a week.

All this came down when I was in the process of selling the house, finding another place, and caring for my grandson one day a week (three days next week). I had a one-month turnaround to do it all. Preparing this four-bedroom, full basement home was far more work than in any other deal, but more on that later. I had to hump it to meet the deadline.

The decades selected for the coffee-table book are interesting ones and they bridge important eras in Seattle. I have already written about many of the events depicted so it was a small task to retrieve my research and pluck out the relevant facts. Also, I was here for half that time and had personal knowledge of what was going on. They selected many shots of the University of Washington and the U-District and I was able to offer some personal perspective.

These books are not intended as a comprehensive narrative rather as a collection of images with explanatory text each of which has a story. Some of the stories are big, such as the 1962 World's Fair. But many are small like air raid drills, traffic, and a series of businesses. That's the way history is. How many times do we say, "I'll never forget seeing..."

Based on the last book this one will be out in August or September, in time to compete with my other titles.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Smart Move

Today there appeared a news item about Seattle Police and a man who was the subject of a felony arrest warrant. The police followed the man as he ran into a house occupied by his "elderly father" and a "five-year-old niece."

Once upon a time, the standard response was to get out the shotguns, strap on the flak vests, assault the house, kick in the door - announcing authority and purpose, of course - roar in and catch the bad guy. With luck, no one gets shot. With bad luck someone gets shot. If the luck is very bad the shooting victim is a cop or an innocent bystander, the price of discharging an order of the court. Bystanders receive a memorable experience (psychologists call this trauma). I used to be the guy with the flak vest and the shotgun.

These days, police procedure is to surround the house to prevent escape requiring a pretty significant response on the part of the police; lots of people who aren't policing the rest of the city. Then someone telephones into the house to get the man to come out. Most of the time this is sufficient to bring the person into custody. Most of the time.

In this case the officers telephoned into the house, but the man did not reply. When this peaceful approach fails the police are justified in going back to the old days with the flak vests and shotguns (but without me). An authority of no less importance than a judge has ordered the police to bring the man to court. There is no "if convenient" or "only if he answers the phone" in the warrant. Do it. Failure to obey a court order would be contempt. Cops hate being charged with contempt. It's bad for morale.

What to do? Warrant in hand, suspect inside, but unwilling to cooperate, officers in place, shotguns and flak vests ready: Let the balloon go up (Pentagon term).

Last night, Seattle Police, certainly a sergeant and probably a lieutenant, elected to find the guy another day. The warrant is described in the news article as for a narcotics offense, a felony to be sure, but hardly a situation where waiting puts the community at risk. He probably neglected to show up for court. Drug traffickers are notoriously bad about appointments.The cops returned to the streets and a five-year-old girl will never know the scars of trauma. I think the cops did the right thing.

Alas, other members of our community do not agree. Anonymous visitors to the news web site left these comments:

Sounds like the inmates are running the asylum!


Is this the new [Mayor] McGinn law enforcement procedure?
Don't arrest felons with outstanding warrants if they run into a house and refuse to answer the door?


Sunday, January 31, 2010

History on Television

I will rant a bit on history as it appears on cable. I say cable since the broadcast stations don't feature much in the way of documentary material except PBS. Now that I have been writing history somewhat professionally for about ten years I think I'm in a position to comment on this genre. There is some good, lots of mediocre and some poor content. The viewer has to remember that programs are generated by producers who seek to generate a profit from selling something, anything, to the cable companies. I have never heard of a program that did not get sold.

The lead in cable history, as you can guess, is held by The History Channel which has branched off into all kinds of documentaries like The Axe Men and Modern Marvels. When THC first aired it was the World War II channel. The History Channel is now part of the same company that does A&E, Biography, and other History Channels. As viewership grew more content became available.

The first thing to remember about anything presented on television is that film and video are visual media. If you don't have a picture, you have to come up with one. That's one reason World War II was a natural starting point for televised history even back as far as The Twentieth Century and Victory At Sea in the 1950s. Ken Burns took the business to a new level with The Civil War in the 1990s. He developed a way to make still images move and brought to life that sad and critical moment in American life.

There are endless miles of film footage in official archives all over the world. Most of it was generated by government-paid soldiers and sailors and lie in the public domain. No royaly fees need be paid, an important feature of any commercial project. World War II is a great story: evil empires rise up to murder and enslave millions to be beaten back by young, brave, freedom-loving GIs (of course, the Sovs, the Brits, and others bled too, but the American producers decide what gets presented). Probably the two most used pieces are Stukas diving onto Poland in 1939 and the U.S.S. Arizona blowing up at Pearl Harbor. Too bad the survivors don't get residuals.

As THC grew more popular, the documentarians reached further and further into the vaults for footage to illustrate something, anything. Barring the usual difference of opinion between historians and predictable error the scripts appear to be sound academically. Alas, while the viewers watch footage they probably aren't listening to the narration. I think the producers know this so they feel free to show images totally unrelated to the script.There seems to be some union rule that writers and historians were not permitted to work with editors to point out that the airplanes in question are American and not Japanese or that the shots represent something five years from the event being described. That's the first giveaway to a bad documentary, but only geeks like me who can distinguish a B-17 from a B-24 or a Zero from a Dauntless really cares. This has gotten better in recent years I think.

The simplest documentary is public-domain archival film and narration. Then the producers added talking heads, historians, eyewitnesses, and anyone with something to say. This added an important dimension to the genre since the information was usually correct and the viewer tended to pay attention to what was said. The historians typically know their stuff. The eyewitnesses, mostly aging veterans, know what they know strained through the filters of time and perception. The last category is some descendant or any old person who knows what is written in the history books, but did not see it themselves. The crawl under their clip credits them with being a son or niece or simply being alive at the time. Talking heads need to be delivered in short breaths to keep the story line moving and to keep the viewer away from the remote.

Next the producers added footage of meticulously attired reenactors marching into battle. Reenactors are hobbyists who dress up like historical military units and even specific personages. They gather on weekends and camp out and march and have a wonderful time. The most numerous hobbyists are Civil War reenactors. Ted Turner used thousands of them to make the movie Gettysburg a visually stunning experience that credibly gave us an important historic event (but the soldiers were all too old and too fat). The guys who dress up as Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, and Robert E. Lee deserve special mention. It works for television and there are excellent, if drawn out, histories of the Civil War. This approach works well in any period and as long as actors don't speak, you don't have to pay them as much.

The spinoff of this is The History of Sex where there are plenty of reenactors available and they aren't too old or too fat. Scenes of writhing bodies, appropriately blurred, are spliced in with more talking heads and full-color depictions of love in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. I would love to have been around the studio as that one was pulled together.

Probably the last, best iteration, in my view, is the two-part series on Paris 1919. Using lookalike actors in period dress who speak the correct languages, the producers give us an accurate and somewhat compelling account of a critical and often downplayed period in history. At the end of The Great War (World War I) the European allies carved up the world and hammered Germany economically. This planted the seeds for the rise of Facism ten years later and then World War II twenty years and four months later. Just about everying wrong about the 20th Century can be traced to the Treaty of Versailles and the divisions of colonial spoils. People die today because of these decisions. Kudos from me to Paris 1919.

Computer animation has added a great deal to understanding history. Moving arrows on maps have evolved into three-dimensional representations of battles that might remain misunderstood but for technology. This is not cheap to do accurately.

You can tell when the producers are focused on viewership and not history when they leave you hanging just before the commercials and retell the story at the end of the commercials. That's because the producer's biggest enemy is the remote control. The commercials come on and you look for something else. Have you noticed that the other channels have commercials at that same point in the hour? By crafting history around the remote a thirty-minute story can be stretched to an hour. The hour blocks are easier to fill. The editors recycle footage and narration and you don't get the whole story until the very end. It seemed to take forever to document that fact that a minesweeper was sunk by a then-secret German mine.

I have one documentary to my credit, but it wasn't crafted around commercial breaks. It was designed as history and the story unfolds coherently. The editors did an excellent job matching appropriate still shots and narrators and contemporary footage to the narrative so I know it can be done.

One of my favorite history programs is The American Experience and the historians appear to have taken control. They seem to have hit on the right blend of archival footage and talking heads to tell a story that remains both accurate and compelling. And anything by Ken Burns is worth a watch, but his work requires some dedication to follow each series.

End of rant

Friday, January 8, 2010

Opening for the centennial history of Seattle Children's Hospital

Six-year-old Alice lies half reclined on the stretcher struggling against asthma to breathe. Her alveolar sacs are paralyzed and her lungs feel stuffed with cotton. She is slowly suffocating. A plastic mask supplies her with oxygen and medication. When she opens her eyes, she can look straight out the front windows of an Agusta A 109/Mark II helicopter as it speeds east through the night across Puget Sound. Assistant Chief Flight Nurse Sherri Kruzner-Rowe – Sherri K-Rowe to her colleagues – sits at Alice's left shoulder monitoring her labored respiration, her heart rate, her blood pressure, and her blood oxygenation. Flight Nurse Cincy Katz's flight station is on Alice's right, facing aft. To help Alice breathe, Katz injects additional aerosol into her mask, twenty times the dose of her home inhaler. Katz leans over to Alice and asks, "Can you breathe?" Alice's wheezes OK.

The conversation has two practical purposes; it helps console her and it tells the nurses something about Alice's condition. Even though both nurses each wear protective helmets and Alice herself sports large, soft hearing protectors, the close confines of the air ambulance and the soft words help relax her as she fights for air. Alice's parents rushed her to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with a severe asthma attack and when her she failed to improve, her physicians ordered that she be transported as quickly as possible to Seattle Children's Hospital. "As quickly as possible" meant a helicopter from Airlift Northwest.

"Can you see the lights out front?" Katz asks. "That's Seattle. We'll be at the hospital soon." This time, Alice does not answer. The nurse repeats the question. No response. Alice is still breathing, but now that she cannot talk, her case has attained a new urgency. The nurses quickly replace the light mask with an air bag and mask that seals around Alice's mouth and breathes for her. Nurse Kruzner-Rowe keys her microphone and instructs the pilot to fly directly to the hospital.

Pilot Steve Lodwig radios Airlift Northwest dispatch with the change in destination. Lodwig sits next to Alice's feet in a cabin smaller than most compact automobiles. The twenty-four-minute run from Port Angeles at 150 knots is familiar enough that Lodwig almost does not need the Global Positioning Satellite System moving-map display that guides him along the Straits of Juan de Fuca and across Puget Sound directly to the helipad designator at Seattle Children's. He flies at a comfortable 3,000 feet, high enough to see landmarks and navigate, but beneath the flight path of busy Sea-Tac Airport. Even if Lodwig had not grown up in Seattle, the black void of Green Lake and the twinkling lights of the street grid offer a map that any tourist can follow. Passing Green Lake, Lodwig counts one thousand one, one thousand two, and banks right over the bright ribbon of Interstate 5. With the wind from the south, Lodwig will effect an approach to Children's from the north. He banks again left at Northeast 50th Street on a strictly prescribed path to minimize disruption by the helicopter's noise. On the new course, he spots the brightly-lit Children's complex in Laurelhurst.

Most flights, Lodwig lands at Graves Field in the midst of the University of Washington athletic complex on top of an old garbage dump on the shore of Union Bay. The patient then transfers out of the helicopter and into a regular ambulance to be driven the last mile and a half to Children's. But Alice's condition is too delicate to expose her to a second ambulance ride through Seattle traffic, seven stop lights, and ten more minutes away from the emergency room. Kruzner-Rowe will be required to justify to a committee her decision to land at the hospital, but tonight, Alice's life comes first.

On receiving the message from Lodwig, the dispatcher at Airlift Northwest hits the auto dialer on his phone to alert Children's. Pagers on the belts of security personnel at the hospital sound off and men and women hurry into the rain along Penny Drive with flashlights and prepare to stop traffic.

Pilot Lodwig pushes the collective in his left hand down slightly and begins his descent. The Agusta's on-board computer automatically reduces the fuel flow to the twin Rolls Royce turbines and the altimeter winds down through 2,000 then 1,000 feet. As the helicopter drops through 120 knots, the landing gear automatically extend, further slowing forward progress. Ground personnel turn on the landing lights and secure the pad's fences. Lodwig now can clearly see the two illuminated wind socks and the rotating amber beacon at the Laurelhurst helipad. The Vietnam veteran eases the collective down and at 18 knots, the helicopter shudders through an aeronautical phenomenon called effective translation lift. The wheels settle onto the helipad and take the weight of the aircraft. Lodwig moves the throttle from "Flight" to "Idle." Because Alice is fighting for air, Lodwig applies the rotor brake so as not to have to wait the two minutes for the blades to stop swinging.

A team from the emergency room rushes through the rain to the left side of the red-and-white helicopter as the flight nurses hoist Alice up and out onto the gurney. Royal blue flight suits glow brilliantly under the intense landing lights. Alice still clutches the stuffed toy the flight nurses had given her just before takeoff. In seconds, Alice’s gurney surrounded by blue scrubs and blue flight suits is through the triple pneumatic doors to the Children's emergency department. In the resuscitation room, the flight nurses continue working the air bag until the attending physician takes over. In the space of half an hour, Alice has completed a journey that will take her parents four hours by car and once took days.

The resuscitation room in the ER is designed for efficiency and not aesthetics. The walls are crowded with steel shelves and red enameled drawers packed with tools for saving young lives; more like a super-clean garage than a facility to offer solace and care. Large glass-front cabinets that look like vending machines with a key pad hold critical supplies. By pressing in a code, a nurse can access drugs and other life giving miracles. The cabinet's computer automatically notifies central supply to replenish the used items.

Bandages, syringes, drugs, splints, respirators, intravenous needles, tubes and solutions, probes, forceps, rubber gloves, and all manner of devices to measure temperature, blood pressure and breathing, and computer screens and electronic readouts compete for space and overwhelm the casual observer. The business of emergency medicine may be all business with little concern and less room for entertainment, but Beenie Babies and Care Bears perch on top of computer monitors and at the edges of shelves, a reminder that these are children's lives being saved here. The little furry friends peek around corners to comfort the new arrivals.

And there is light, lots and lots of light. Overhead fluorescents, lights on flexible arms, lights to be held, and lights for forehead-mounted magnifiers. The only compromises for comfort are privacy curtains and a simple chair and foot stool to allow a parent to hold and rock a desperately-ill infant. There is still enough space for a DVD player and television set to help ease the anxieties of patients and families.

Passing down the hallway through the ER, the visitor enters the rest of the hospital. More pneumatic doors allow a gurney or wheelchair to pass without delay. Down the hall to the right are the two Intensive Care Units. In the Neonatal ICU, the bright hospital lights give way to a more subdued atmosphere, dimmer, calmer. In the ECMO area, nurses, two at a time, all the time, hover over premature babies whose undeveloped lungs need the help of the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machines. The ECMO breathes for the baby until she can take in air on her own. Once distinguished by their immaculate white uniforms, distinctive starched caps, and sensible white shoes, modern nurses stand out with gaily patterned smocks and bright slacks or simple blue scrubs.

Almost as crowded with monitoring equipment, the Infant ICU makes a little more accommodation for parents with a sleeping chair so that the infant can enjoy the touch and soft words of Mom and Dad. For an infant, or any child, the trauma of hospital care can slow recovery and loving parents are included in the treatment plan. A simple rocking chair, worn from years of loving use, sits to the side.

In another room, A volunteer "Auntie" rocks a baby girl with more tubes in her tiny body than the sunrises since her birth. Human contact and soft words are as critical to her survival as the medicines. A hand-lettered card is taped to the crib and reads, "Amy, Trust in God."

Up one flight of stairs is an area specially designed with sleeping rooms, showers, sitting areas, laundry facilities, telephones, and even Internet access. Exhausted parents with blue-and-white stick-on name tags wait and try to rest, and try to share with each other the progress of their little ones downstairs.

Out through the big swinging doors into the public areas, elaborate murals and oversize plastic figures greet patients and visitors. Small children look up amazed at the images and some are hoisted on shoulders so that they can touch the animals and faces which smile from brightly colored locomotives and rocket ships. Great blue and green fish tanks catch little eyes and fascinate growing brains. The vast and confusing hospital is designated not with impersonally lettered wings, but into sectors marked by whales, giraffes, airplanes, rockets, and trains. Parents push hairless children in wheelchairs and teenagers pull intravenous stands that dangle life-giving solutions, but everywhere the visitor sees life and color and caring. Only so much assurance can be offered to a haggard family awaiting the results of a risky surgery or to a child facing months and years of painful rehabilitation, but the happy murals and bright figures help. Two clowns in white makeup, one with a guitar slung across his back, make their way into another unit to tell a joke, sing a song, and bring some cheer.

Visiting families with gifts and balloons make their way to patient rooms, and children, patients and guests, enjoy the toys and games in the public play areas. Blue-coated volunteers distribute gifts, cards and toys, offer companionship, and pitch in to give weary parents a break in supervision of young brothers and sisters. Social workers with their portfolios full of answers offer solutions to the greatest crises in these families lives.

Over in Rehab, patient rooms resemble the bedrooms of all kids with books, clothing, and posters in seeming disorder, but rationally placed in the mind of the adolescent occupants. Rehab patients tend to stay the longest at Children's while medical staff and therapists seek to repair and rebuild damaged spines and legs. The patients are encouraged to make themselves as much at home as possible, and home can look disorganized to a visitor. Special video game consoles allow a patient to play from bed both for entertainment and for therapy. A Teen Room provides space for older patients to gather and play arcade games, listen to music, and just hang. Some evenings, when things calm down, an old man with white hair stops in to see the patients. He is there as much to learn from their courage as to bring them friendship.

Earlier in the day, the outpatient clinics upstairs bustled with families and staff making their way to appointments. Strollers disguised as brightly colored kiddie cars help take young attentions away from what must be a mystifying and even frightening experience.

In any direction, the visitor sees the mission of Seattle Children's being delivered with love and with respect, but perhaps unaware that outside and across the community, the state, and the region a complex and comprehensive system of support makes it all possible. As Alice down in the ER gets the help she needs to breathe and to stay alive, she knows nothing of what makes it all possible. She and the other children are fortunate that their parents and neighbors can give them the care that they need, fortunate that their community can boast one of the finest pediatric medical centers in the nation, and fortunate that conditions like infantile paralysis, diphtheria, osteomyelitis,, and tuberculosis that crippled and killed children a generation or two before are now little more than historical trivia.

On another rainy night in 1898, in a fine home with a sweeping view of Seattle, six-year-old Willis Clise was not so lucky.

[Willis died. Nine years later, his mother helped found Children's Orthopedic Hospital]


In my posts about my work speaking up for abused and neglected children I have mentioned those kids who are adopted once their parents' rights to them have been terminated. Not all children get adopted, some go to relatives' homes under third-party custody agreements and some actually go home to their parents.

When CPS removes kids from the home, there are reasons. Issues such as mental health or sobriety make it unsafe for the children. The court tells the parents to get their acts together by agreeing to engage in "services," evaluations to identify their problems, therapies needed to correct the problems, and even something as basic as parenting classes. The parents have time frames and concise performances to demonstrate to the court that they are ready to care for the children.

Sometimes the parents get it together and resolve the problems. They get sober and stay sober or they engage in therapies that overcome their emotional issues. I've seen it happen. When the parent has established a stable home and is doing services and cooperates with the social workers and we think the children will be safe, we will ask the court to return the kids home in an in-home dependency. The kids are still under state supervision, but they are home and the parents can demonstrate their parenting skills.

In a recent case that has gone on for almost four years, "Maria" has a mother who cannot parent because of her mental health issues and her abysmal choices of partners. Maria's stepfather molested her when she was nine and she witnessed nearly constant arguing and fighting in the home. At one point she called 911. The transcript of that call as she described her stepfather threatening her mother with a knife is heartbreaking. Then her little brother showed up at school with cuts and bruises. CPS had to get arrest warrants out for the parents.

The kids were placed with relatives, but this was never really satisfactory. Maria's mother was still involved in their lives and actively sabotaged the efforts of educators and therapists. Maria became something of a feral child, living where she wanted, learning to lie to the workers (if she spoke to them at all), falling farther and farther behind in school, and becoming a conduct problem for educators. She would barely speak to me because of the lies she was told about me.

But Maria had a father. He lived out of state and, at first, participated in the legal process. The mother and her relatives systematically walled him off from Maria and he quit returning calls from me and his lawyer. He surfaced again about a year ago, agreed to cooperate with the social workers, moved his wife and four children to the area, and offered to be in Maria's life.The department got her connected to therapy for being a victim (Maria's mother blamed her) and other help getting her used to a new home. Maria had a tough time adjusting to things like rules and supervision, but she settled in and bonded with her stepmother. A stable and loving home can do wonders for a child, even one on the crest of puberty.

I visited Maria who is now fourteen and a freshman in high school. She has adapted to a good home with structure and loving parents. She is catching up academically and there might even be an opportunity to develop an artistic talent I saw when I first met her. She was still pretty distant, but I could tell that she no long held the deep suspicion of earlier visits. As I explained the legal process and how we were all going to get out of her life I could detect a sense of loss on her part. The department, the social workers, the therapists, yours truly, and her lawyer (kids get lawyers when they turn twelve) had become part of her environment. Every week someone visited her or talked to her on the phone and asked her questions. Now she was going to be just a kid with a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters.

We had to go to court for the dismissal, even though all the parties were already in agreement. These dismissals are really kind of cool. They are meager celebrations of the tiny victories in the child welfare system. The parties are all smiles (rare in dependency court) and the judge congratulates us all for our good work on behalf of the children. There's no cake or punch like we have at adoptions, just good feelings.

Alas, when Maria's case came up, after four years of hard work and many tears, I missed it. I was down the hall in another courtroom explaining to another judge why a mother should not prevent the children from seeing their father. No smiles in that courtroom.

[A week after I wrote this, Maria's mother abducted her.]