2017年7月19日 星期三

Wherein the Author of This Blog Uses Knute Berger's "Pugetopolis" to Talk About Both Himself and the Puget Sound

(Self-aggrandizement is fun.  Just ask Knute Berger.  In the spirit of both self-aggrandizement and Knute Berger I offer the following thoughts, all "inspired" [if that's the right word] by his book "Pugetopolis")

(And although much of this book could be boiled down to the statement "Nature, old buildings, and local traditions good; business interests, development, and economic decision-making bad," there are some "subtleties of argument" in the authors varied essays.  Some of these subtleties of argument are presented below.)

1. Knute Berger distrusts the future:

"I remember talking about the future with my mother.  We were in our summer cabin in the San Juan Islands some time in the 1960s.  One day, she predicted, they'll cut down all the trees and pave everything."

Yeah... that's not going to happen.  Just look at the size of most people's yards.  If anything, yards are bigger out in the suburbs, NOT smaller.  And I realize that "urban density" is a dirty word around here, but how else can you conquer the trend toward sprawl?  At some point someone's going to build one of these developments you hate so much, just so that others have somewhere to live.

Those vehemently against this type of development probably already own a house - with a big yard - inside the city.

2. Knute Berger is "edgy":

"People tell me how surprised they are at liberal Seattle's prudish crackdown on strip clubs and lap dancers, but it seems totally in character to me."

It is in character.  This area has a long history of laws and regulations intended for our moral improvement.  But I notice that Mr. Berger says very little about alcohol and drugs in this context.  Why?  Because he was writing for the Seattle Weekly in 2005, and he was afraid of offending someone.  

Instead of concentrating on strip clubs (a vanishing beast around here for sure), it would have been more enlightening to discuss the larger issue of how (often unspoken) religious concepts play into people's conceptions of the public good.  The author, writing as he is the journalistic equivalent of tomato soup, avoids this almost entirely.

3. Knute Berger cares about the Earth:

"My first thought when I see such a load is, "Is it still legal to cut those trees?"  To me, it's amazing that we are still tossing such rare commodities into buzz saws and turning them into mundane things like shingles and lumber."

...says the guy who probably lives in a wooden house, built long ago by people who made their living cutting lumber.  That wood has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?

And I don't know...  Perhaps that piece of "old growth timber" spotted by your owlish eyes wasn't really old growth at all.  Maybe it was also growing on private property.  Maybe it was knocked over in a windstorm, or by lightning, or it was diseased and removed by trained forest service personnel.  Not all of the trees can remain where they are, and some of them are removed for perfectly acceptable reasons.

4. Knute Berger is "old school":

"Modern mossbacks [his term for people that have acclimatized to the area] - still sneered at my many newcomers and outsiders  - are not people who have settled the country but people who have been settled by it.  We've been here long enough to put down roots and become part of the modern landscape.  'Mossback' is an epithet to embrace with pride."

Does this make ME a mossback?  Or did I cease being a mossback the moment I moved away from the area?  God, I hope so.  Such an "epithet" strikes me as silly, and perhaps even shameful.  Seattle is hipsterish enough without clowns pretending to be more "local" than other, "nonlocal" clowns they're trying to impress.

5. Knute Berger worries pointlessly:

"Just as the range was fenced off, we in the auto age are now facing a future that comes with more toll gates, private roads, and high-tech surveillance technology."

Really?  This is something you spend time worrying about?  Ten years later, I doubt that toll gates, private roads, or high-tech surveillance are any more pervasive than they were in the early 2000s.  The surveillance state is a real worry, but the only thing hindering your freedom of the road is other drivers.

6. Knute Berger becomes hard to relate to:

"Our summers became Shaw Island summers, we spent days exploring the coastline in a skiff, walking the woods, collecting old fishing floats on the beaches.  Our only social life consisted of hanging out with my mother's cousin and her husband.  Margaret 'Babs' Cameron was an artist who made sensuous wildlife sculptures in soapstone.  Her husband, Malcolm, was an illustrator and architect who built wooden steamboats for fun."

Cool, man.  But my parents never had a cabin on an island, and I never spent summers floating around on a skiff.  No one in my family ever sculpted anything out of soapstone, and I never enjoyed the kind of wealth your family seems to have enjoyed decades previous.  I don't have anything against those with recourse to island cabins, skiffs, and artsy relatives, but I also don't pretend it somehow makes me more "local" than those who had to work harder and indulge in cheaper pastimes.

7. Knute Berger isn't sure if he wants to portray himself as "local boy" or member of the aristocracy:

"It's a funny thing to watch the kids you went to high school with grow up and, in some cases, become important people."

Or, conversely, it's a funny thing to watch the kids you went to high school with grow up and, in some cases, become residents of various penal systems, employees earning minimum wage, or patients in the care of mental health institutions.  

I'm not trying to be depressing - we had our success stories too - but Knute Berger sure does spend a lot of time talking about all the rich and influential white men he knew in high school.

8. Knute Berger oversimplifies incredibly complicated subjects:

"Isn't it odd that in a time of economic shortfall, our major priority is roads?  We're slashing social and health services, cutting back on fundamental state services, making a good public education harder to come by, but the one bill that everyone in Olympia everyone can agree upon is a welfare bill for the road lobby?"

Knute seems to regard the roads around here as a luxury.  But are they?  Just imagine, for example, that you're a recent immigrant living in White Center, and you work at a nursing home in Shoreline.  Are you going to be able to afford public transportation back and forth between both places?  Would it be worth it if you could?  Most likely you're going to want a car, because that car means less time in a vehicle, and more times spent with your family.  For many people road improvements are a social service, and moreover a social service that many desperately need.

Knute's also assuming that the budgets for transportation, social and health services, and education are the same thing.  In many local and state governments these budgets are kept separate, and are subject to oversight by different individuals and organizations.  If these budgets really do fall under the same jurisdiction and oversight, this should have been stated in the article.

But to be fair, the last two sections of this book are pretty good. It's only that I find Knute Berger's positions on any number of topics ill-defined and seemingly contradictory.  I doubt, in other words, that this book will add significantly to anyone's understanding of the Puget Sound region.  I liked parts of it well enough, but if this region has a voice, Knute Berger isn't it.