Why is Seattle so Good at Iconic Moments of Radicalism?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Why has Seattle once again jumped to the head of the class in protest politics? Where have all those marchers come from? Good questions, and for some answers I turned to two U.W. historians.

One is the labor historian James Gregory, who argues that Seattle has had a series of iconic radical moments that go viral, impress many other like-minded lefties, and induce them to move to our city. Those iconic moments are powerful, with good visuals that last for days and make a lasting impression.

There was the General Strike of 1919. There were the WTO rampages of 1999. There was the 2013 election of a socialist to the city council, leading the masses with her anti-capitalist quotes. And now the Black Lives Matter occupation of a few blocks on Capitol Hill, the apple of the national media’s eye and another story with legs. 

Prof. Gregory has put this theory into a speech I attended and an article in the Spring 2016 edition of Pacific Northwest Quarterly. He writes:

“My theory turns on three elements–events, stories, migration—all operating together to keep the left alive in this place and to keep this city’s left-leaning reputation alive. The stories circulate and some people move here because of the radical reputation, in doing so they help make the reputation real….

“Eighty years after the general strike, Seattle had another reputation-building event that would convince people around the world, especially radicals, that there was something special about the political culture of this city…

“Certain initiatives and events have been turned into powerful stories that circulate and persuade certain people that Seattle is a place that nurtures radical activism. Reputations are a dynamic force, they have a way of fueling history.”

The other U.W. historian is John Findlay, who specializes in the Pacific Northwest. He adds the following radical aspects in our history:

In 1885-1915, the state’s formative period, “Washington attracted a prodigious share of radicals, socialists, and utopians,” coming here because we were a state that welcomed radical change. The I.W.W. flourished here, thanks to the lumber and mining camps. Our constitution was written in 1889 at a time of Populism with its hatred of railroad and other trusts. 

There was a second period of radicalism in the 1930s, when communism seemed a plausible alternative to the collapse of capitalism. This period produced the famous observation of James Farley about 47 states “and the soviet of Washington.” 

Additionally, the state (unlike Oregon) has always encouraged the growth of population, including the ideologically selective migration of earlier booms.

Notably, these radical inundations have also touched off counter-reactions. Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson survived an assassination attempt (the bomb didn’t detonate) and rode a post-war red scare in 1919 into national prominence. “The anarchists in this community shall not rule its affairs,” Mayor Hanson boasted, Trump-like. Speaking of bombs, Seattle has had a moderate share of terrorist incidents. 

We had another bout of sniffing out communist sympathizers in the 1940s and early ’50s, with homegrown Albert Canwell tormenting university professors, corresponding to the rise of Joe McCarthy. 

I would add one other factor: the hunger of the national media for Wild West stories about outsized characters, epic battles, and menacing trends from the Left Coast — well before FOX News. The Far West breeds nightmares. They have been hard to take your eyes off them and strangely alluring. 

Welcome to the next chapter in this televised series!

The Arts Online: Ten Great YouTubes that wouldn’t have been made without Lockdown

Since the lockdown in March, our public arts life has moved inside, or rather, online. There are thousands of great archived performances to choose from. But with performance schedules disrupted, artists began creating new work online. Soon after that, the mosaic video — artists performing by themselves in their homes and the videos stitched together in a checkerboard — became a cliche. But almost immediately the online forms began evolving.

Here are ten compelling videos that wouldn’t have been made without the lockdown:

Juilliard started busting the mosaic with an end-of-year video of an “evolved” version of Ravel’s Bolero, which takes a slight modernist detour in the middle. It is one of the first mosaics that plays with the form, using the video boxes as pieces on a larger canvas.

Pushing further, Juilliard started producing a series of short videos to thank first responders. Somehow, musicians have stuck to the idea that watching musicians saw away at their instruments is inherently visually interesting. Mostly it isn’t. Here, however, the visual editing is riveting — helping to guide the ear, but also proving to be compelling in its own right.

The Stay At Home Choir is pretty much what its name says — 732 singers from 52 countries submitted recordings of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes and the recordings were stitched together to back the King’s Singers.

Here are dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet at home and outside. It starts off conventionally, flashes a sense of humor, then throws in some moves that would be possible on a stage.

This performance of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is as good as it gets. First, the individual performances are outstanding, and pianist Max Grossman (who also conceived of, directed and edited this) is propulsive. But more interestingly, the moving around of the characters on the screen — solo, in groups, etc — not just directs the eye, but leads you through the narrative.

Over the past ten years, The Public Theatre in New York has produced a series of plays about the Apple family. Playwright Richard Nelson brings back the cast for a play on Zoom. “This hour-long play picks up with them during their now suspended and quarantined lives. They talk about grocery shopping, friends lost, new ventures on a hoped-for horizon.” All discussed in the form of an entertaining Zoom call.

Mark Morris is a very physical choreographer and something of a technophobe to boot. But — as he told the New York Times, lockdown isn’t a pause from your life, it’s your life. So you make with what you’ve got. And he made four Zoom dances, of which I like “Lonely Waltz” the best.

Pushing things with a bit more polish is Moving Assembly Project from the UK and South Africa and its video #BeyondBorders, which gets out in the city, and uses graphics imaginatively, all while social-distanced.

For something completely different, many solo artists have taken to YouTube stripped of their usual production values to play at home. Norah Jones has been giving almost daily mini-concerts, sitting at her spinet piano accompanying herself. They couldn’t be more informal, and she sounds terrific. This is one of my favorites in her series — a birthday tribute to Willie Nelson.

And finally — here’s bass player Leland Sklar, who’s played on more than 2000 recordings with many famous bands. Mr. Sklar sits in his room with is bass — his “peace and love” bass — playing tracks on which he’s performed. On this edition he spends the first nine or so minutes talking about what he’s going to play and some background, then reaches over and switches on some Jackson Browne — minus the bass track — and plays along. It’s mesmerizing. He’s really good.

Capitol Hill’s Occupied Zone and how it Happened

Image: CNN screenshot

President Donald Trump from his New Jersey private golf club tweeted this past Friday morning June 12, that “The terrorists burn and pillage our cities.” He was referring to demonstrators occupying three blocks along a single street on Capitol Hill, in Seattle’s most culturally active neighborhood. Trump demanded that the mayor and governor, “Must end this Seattle takeover now!” Or else he would call in the Army.

What was he talking about?

This “national threat” began on Sunday June 7, when a small section of the Capitol Hill’s business district (known as the Pike-Pine Corridor) saw demonstrations outside one of Seattle’s five precinct stations. Like other demonstrations held around the nation for over a week, people of all ages and races were in the streets supporting Black Lives Matter’s demand to end racist policing, opening up the move to defund or reduce police departments’ budgets.

That Sunday the police said on Twitter that some people had thrown projectiles and fireworks at officers, although they did not provide any evidence beyond what appeared to be a single candle. Accordingly, they responded with pepper spray, blast balls and tear gas, which the mayor had previously promised not to use for the next 30 days. But protecting themselves from thrown projectiles triggered an exclusion to that prohibition on non-lethal weaponry. Councilmembers who had attended as witnesses told me that there did not appear to be any threat to the police officers’ safety and the police over-reacted to the chants from the crowd, who did not wish to be pushed away from the East Precinct police station.

The only terror activity that occurred was when a civilian driver headed his car into the demonstrators. An unarmed 27-year-old Black man reached into the open window of the car as it was passing, grabbed the steering wheel and halted it from hitting people. The driver pulled out a gun, shot and wounded the man as the car came to a stop. The driver then left the car with gun in hand, walked over to a line of police standing nearby, surrendered himself and was arrested.

The next day, on Monday June 8, the police emptied the police station of guns, files and critical equipment as they prepared to stop defending the building. They apparently thought it would be destroyed by the demonstrators, who were mostly residents of the East Precinct, some of whom live in multi-million-dollar mansions as well as in low-income social housing projects. The precinct has the highest concentration of apartments and small independent retail businesses in Seattle. Historically it has been the city’s most liberal council district; and since 2013 has repeatedly elected a Socialist Alternative Party member to the City Council, over the opposition of much better funded business-community candidates.

By Tuesday June 9, a loose conglomeration of demonstrators came together to use the former police street barricades to close off Pine Street for three blocks. Although Trump tweeted: “These people are not going to occupy a major portion of a great city,” it is not even part of downtown. It is a two-lane road lined with small neighborhood businesses and Cal Anderson Park. The area came to be called CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and occupants put up a website, listing their demands.

However, the local conservative radio host Jason Rantz, interviewed by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson on Thursday June 11, said it was a violent place. And that similar occupations to the one taking place in Seattle could happen in cities across the U.S. if the authorities allow it. Although Carlson began the interview saying that Rantz was one of the few people he knew who had visited CHAZ, Rantz basically admitted that he had not been inside when he replied to Carlson’s question of what he saw inside CHAZ, he said, “Right now, it’s too violent for us to go in.” He provided no examples of what kind of violence he was referring to.

I have previously been a resident for decades in this neighborhood, so the next day, Friday June 12, I went to see what dangers lurked in a community without police patrols.

I casually walked by the CHAZ street barrier and the three community sentries, who sat off a way behind it, talking to each other. No conversation or ID needed. It was a wide-open passage, where I discovered that CHAZ had become a bit of a tourist destination for curious Seattle residents taking photos of all the posters, graffiti and the one-block colorful mural painted on Pine Street spelling out BLACK LIVES MATTER.

The businesses on the street were still open as was the park when I visited. There was no sign of smashed windows or burnt buildings. There had been no looting and there was no violence of any sort occurring.

There was a “No Cop Co-Op” covered stand — offering free fruit, vegetables, snacks, umbrellas, hand sanitizer and water — set up in the middle of their occupied territory. There was also a covered truck converted into a People’s Community Clinic with its own emergency medical team. There were many memorials to victims of police violence, along with other little touches of an emerging community — an open-air conversation café with sofas, a small basketball court, an improvised smoking corner, and a private food stall, the Dirty Dog hotdog stand, among other things.

One of the most ambitious undertakings was begun by Marcus Henderson, who helped create the community gardens that occupy part of the adjacent Cal Anderson Park. Henderson is typical of educated citizens who understand that disruptive moments like CHAZ offer a positive opportunity. His expertise in sustainable gardening is backed by an Energy Resources Engineering degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Sustainability in the Urban Environment. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan visited the gardens and met with Henderson the day after Trump tweeted “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will.” In response, Durkan accused Trump of purposefully distorting the activities in CHAZ to fit his tough law and order mantra.

Trump may have also been watching Fox News, which was engaged in similar distortions. Thanks to an article by Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner, it came to light that Fox ran digitally altered images in coverage of CHAZ. Three separate photos were photo-shopped to create an image of a heavily armed man guarding the entrance to the zone. Another image, with a caption of CRAZY TOWN blazoned over a portion of it, showed huge flames pouring out of a building with a demonstrator running away. But it was not Seattle — the photo was from a May 30 protest in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fox and other outlets also jumped on a comment by a Seattle police commander suggesting protesters were extorting payments from businesses within CHAZ. Seattle police Chief Carmen Best refuted that statement, saying that it was based on rumor and social media. “We haven’t had any formal reports of this occurring,” she said.

Best also said that she did not want to abandon the precinct station but had to because of pressure. However, she did not say the order came from Mayor Durkan, who did not say she made the decision. I got the impression that internal pressure came from the police union’s members to leave the precinct. Also, some councilmembers asked for the removal of the hard surface street barriers that the police had set up to separate the demonstrators from standing on the street next to the police station. 

The police attitude that their station might be torched and that chaos and disorder would follow in the neighborhood by allowing protestors to peacefully demonstrate so close to them, was bolstered by the unsubstantiated comment from the police commander and also from comments made by a local police officer and the union’s president.

A resident of one of the nearby apartment buildings, whom I know very well, told me of her interactions with a police officer. She was standing in front of her building on Monday June 8 at noon asking people what was going on. A police officer came by and announced, “We are all pulling out, and you’re all going to be on your own. We are not coming back in and you are not going to get help and bad elements will come in.” Then he added, “And who would want to work in Seattle [as police]?”

On the same day, June 12, that I visited CHAZ, Michael Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, told Fox News “This is the closest I’ve ever seen our country, let alone the city here, to becoming a lawless state.” It would lead one to believe that the police union had lost faith in receiving political cover for their use of excessive force, if the city council and mayor were to allow protesters so close to their precinct station. Police officers in Seattle are not allowed to go on strike, but they may have actually adopted an old fashion factory “walk-out” by letting the police chief know that they could no longer execute their usual police practices if they remained there.

The next turn of events came in an interview on Saturday, June 13, when a person who represented the Seattle Black Lives Matter group said that the area popularized by the title CHAZ was not what their group was using to describe the street space that has been controlled by demonstrators since the police left their precinct station. The Seattle BLM chapter did not know who came up with that name and had not met with anyone representing them. That unknown group declared the name CHAZ and then spray painted the CHAZ slogans all around the area. Instead BLM is calling this zone CHOP — Capitol Hill Organized Protest. They posted a tweet: Black Lives Matter @djbsqrd “WE ARE #CHOP not #CHAZ stop spilling lies and spreading this narrative of being autonomous.”

The future of this urban resistance project, initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement, still has to be played out. Organizers continue to push for their objectives, which are posted on the CHAZ website. Talks and open-mike discussions occur regularly in large outside public forums debating the purpose of this unique effort. Overall, observers and participants will need to continue thinking about how claiming a portion of public space for an underserved and discriminated community can initiate effective social and political change, and not perpetuate the status quo or ignite a right-wing backlash that pursues further repressive policies.

Nick Licata served 5 terms on the Seattle City Council, named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of 1,000 progressive municipal officials. This article also appeared in The Medium.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Urban Politics

Reading: The Plague During Plague

This spring I decided to take a zoomed book class offered by Alliance Française Seattle. The assigned book was “La Peste” by Albert Camus.

It was a bit bizarre, or perhaps existential, to read about the plague during our plague. 

But it struck me as almost uncanny how much of what Camus described resonated with what we are experiencing in the time of COVID-19, and in a time of rising anti-racism protests. He takes an ordinary rather dull city in Algeria with ordinary also rather dull citizens and shows what happens when the plague comes creeping in. He walks us through the stages of denial, fear, blame, anger, resignation, action. 

He details how at its height the corpses pile up, funerals are curtailed, people can’t say proper farewells to their deceased, mass graves become necessary. Then I opened my morning paper and saw what was happening in New York earlier this spring when deaths overwhelmed the city.

Eventually, the number of cases in the Algerian city start to decline, and people begin to allow themselves to hope. Finally, the city is reopened and everyone pours into the streets and cafes and train service starts again. As the plague departs and the city seeks to return to normal, Camus describes how quickly people want to forget. They want to move on and not think of the horror they survived. He builds up to the haunting final paragraphs that warn that the plague may for now be suppressed but the bacilli still lurk and could arise again at any time. 

We already are seeing that with COVID-19. Places where restrictions were lifted are seeing new waves of contagion. As some authorities around the country are warning, the virus is not done with us.

That reality also brings me back to “La Peste.” The book was published in 1947 and is often discussed as an allegory for the evil contagion of Nazism and occupation of France (where Camus worked in the Resistance). As we discussed in our zoomed class, Camus also was talking about evil in its many manifestations and that we never know when or how it will spread again. 

This is why as I finished reading the book, I found it resonating not just with the COVID-19 news, but with the anti-racism mass protests here and around the world. From this country’s original sin of slavery, the evil of racism has permeated our society, and like the virus, it is not done with us.

Paint The Town: Takiyah Ward and the Autonomous Zone’s Defining Mural

Perri Rhoden painting the “C” (Image: https://www.perrirhoden.com)

For those who still might be unaware, Seattle is not, as our idiot president tweeted “under attack” or “taken over by domestic terrorists,” but is in fact experiencing more of a “take back” by the community. 

Located inside a six-block area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (the artist formerly known as CHAZ) has recently been renamed by activists the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (or CHOP for short). Born in a movement that began a week ago in the wake of the peaceful protests that turned violent in the wake of police incoherence and overreaction, CHOP is a growing collective of local businesses, food vendors, artists, and activists who have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Takiayh Ward painting the T’s (Image by Caela Bailey @misscaela206)

That is where you might find Takiyah Ward, and the first thing you’ll notice about her is her smile, a smile that’s usually paired with an endearing and escalating laugh that stumbles out almost uncomfortably but lands as gracefully as one of her dance moves. Born and raised in Seattle, a dancer and painter, Takiyah describes herself simply as someone who was “born an artist.” 

Inspired by the murals that were showing up on social media in cities like Charlottesville, NC, and DC, last Tuesday Joe Nix hit up Takiyah with a text proposing one here on Capitol Hill. “The homie Joe [Nix] hit me up and was like, ‘We need to do this,’ ” she tells me, launching her infamous laugh. 

So off they went to literally paint the town. 

They had a unique advantage since CHOP had already blocked off most of what would be their future canvas, providing an opportunity to start painting Pine Street on Wednesday. Thanks to their head start, Takiyah and Joe Nix were able to map out and outline the words ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ in one day.

“Art has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. My mom was an artist before she became a mom and then she had to get a job to support her kids'” she says. “But she has always been a creative person and I think a lot of that has been passed down to me” Takiyah tells me during a phone interview while she takes a break from helping her partner put a bookcase together in their new home, which has been an “incredibly unexpected but beautiful form of self care.” And a huge step for someone who has been seeking a stable place to chill. 

Takiyah was very aware what a rare moment this was. “Normally getting a project of this size done in the city of Seattle would have required months of bureaucracy, red tape, and writing grants, and trying to find the money, all of which can kill a creative vibe or project real quick.” 

It brought into sharp focus the way people have immediately gone into knee-jerk panic at the very suggestion of defunding the police but have rarely batted an eye in the past when arts programs and social programs were cut in Seattle Public Schools and all across the communities where people need them most. 

As they waited for the paint on their outline to dry, Takiyah and Joe began reaching out to their extensive contact list of talented POC and indigenous artist friends in Seattle. Assigning a letter in “Black Lives Matter” to each artist or artist collective, they invited them to come to CHOP on Thursday, paintbrushes in hand, ready to work. 

Takiyah Ward and her partner Caela Bailey (Image by Tito Fuentes)

Mission accomplished, Takiyah has been enjoying some time over the weekend to reflect on the historic moment she just took part in. “It’s the incredibly positive response we’ve been getting that has been kind of surprising to me. I guess it’s because of the simplicity of how it happened and how quickly it happened.”

Being an artist is difficult for many reasons, but one of the biggest challenges has to do with the concept of time. Waiting for the right time, finding the time to create, or having to wait for your times to catch up with your vision. No one knows this better than Takiyah, who has been working on her craft since childhood but has only been able to make a living as an artist since 2015. Takiyah has been using this time to reevaluate the kind of artist she is and wants to be while trying to find a  balance between mental health and creativity.

But even though we are still in the middle of a pandemic, it’s impossible to ignore the countless social injustices in this country. When the news first broke about the murder of George Floyd, something sparked in Takiyah and sent a charge through her body, unlocking something else that had been brewing for a while. Until then, she supported but hadn’t taken part in the demonstrations that were taking place in CHOP  before the painting of the street mural. “I mean, let’s not forget we’re still in the middle of a pandemic; I plan on staying healthy for my friends and family. My life has always been about fighting for black lives. I want my nieces to be here in the future, I want my brother to be here, I want my mom to be here. So everything I do is geared to that at all times.”

But she also knew she needed to be part of this moment. The call to action can be a strong and unexplainable force. Which has lead her to some powerful advice for any young black or POC artist who’s wondering what to do with their time: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t hold back for fear of any sort of response because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about you having a perspective that you can add to the global story because nobody can tell your story like you can. There is only one of you on this planet.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is not something we should be talking about and discussing only when another police officer’s killing goes unpunished. It’s a subject that should be talked about in everyday conversations. It should be brought up like how we talk about the weather or the potholes in the road. This is a crucial time for us to take real action by supporting those in the Seattle community who have been abandoned. Or as Takiyah puts it, “Don’t take a knee, pay the fee.” 

She’s right. Right now, Seattle is going through one of those rare times where the glare of international media is on us. We should take this moment to show the world that CHOP is a community effort that has been missing from the conversation. Don’t let the festival vibe fool you. Yes, there are victories to celebrate but we can’t forget that this all happened at the cost of innocent lives. CHOP is not a one-size-fits-all response to the systemic racism that still lives in America, but it is a very Seattle response to something we’ve been tip-toeing around for years.

The CHOP street mural was created because too many voices in our Seattle community have been overlooked for too long. This introduction to Takiyah and the many other incredible artists who painted those letters on the streets of Seattle has been a long time coming. And attention should be paid.

To keep up with Takiyah Ward and support her please check out her Instagram and  website.

B: @kimishaturner
L: @perrypaints
A: @onesevennine
C: @thecurlynugget
K: @thesoufender
L: @tooth_taker and @drakesignanddesign 
I: @stattheartist
V: @aohamer
E: @barryjohnson.co
S: @snekeism
M: @moses_sun and more 
A: @artbreakerbt
TT: @tdubcustoms
E: @future_crystals
R: @thekingafroshow

How To Make: Bad Apple Pie

Image by 6563351 from Pixabay

It seems that there has been an outbreak of bad apples in nearly every city and town all over the country. And it’s not even apple season. In fact, we’re at the wrong end of the season, still eating last year’s apples from cold storage. But I think when life gives you bad apples, you might as well bake a bad-apple pie.

Few things are more disappointing than a bad apple. You can’t really tell a bad apple from a good one, at the grocery store or even on the street, apparently. There is no reliable test for sorting good apples from bad, except for the rule that there are several varieties you should avoid. I don’t need to name names; you know the ones I’m talking about. 

So where did that worn-out proverb about bad apples come from? Most sources I’ve consulted credit Chaucer as the earliest popularizer of the phrase when he wrote, “Better take rotten apple from the hoard/Than let it lie to spoil the good ones there.” There was a different version of the Chaucer version cited in a recent New Yorker article: “A rotten apple’s better thrown away / Before it spoils the barrel.” Since they are reputed to employ the fiercest fact-checkers in the land, maybe they’re right. To make matters even more confusing, The Oxford English Dictionary gives a pre-Chaucer version, dating from 1340, which translates, more or less, as “A rotten apple makes them all rotten.” But it’s the Ben Franklin’s version from Poor Richard’s Almanack, “The rotten apple spoils his companion,” that I think comes closest to describing the current situation.  

Things got even more mangled a couple of centuries later, thanks to the songwriter and singer George Jackson who gave us “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch.” He wrote the song that line comes from for the Jackson 5, although it was eventually snapped up and recorded by the Osmond Brothers when they were looking for something that would help them piggyback on the popularity of the J5. It worked. In 1971, their recording of One Bad Apple became a number-one hit in the US and Canada. And now almost everyone uses the line from the song when they’re talking about bad apples even though we all know that apples don’t grow in bunches. That kind of behavior is reserved for bananas. 

To be fair to the songwriter, he chose the word “bunch” for obvious reasons. If you don’t get that, try singing it and substituting the words barrel or bucket or crate or grocery-store bin. It’s just not the same. But even though Jackson knew what he was doing, I doubt he imagined that he would be rewriting the proverb for a new generation. In a youtube video of them performing One Bad Apple at the 2008 Pioneer Day celebration in Salt Lake City, Marie Osmond introduces her aging brothers as “the original boy band,” conveniently forgetting that the actual original boy band they had been knocking off when they recorded that song was the J5. And there you have the history of American popular music in a single sentence. For a longer version of that, you could listen to American Pie by Don McLean. As far as I can tell, the only black person alluded to in that song is Martin Luther King. Jr, although every musician mentioned owes his (yes, they’re also all men) career to what he borrowed from African American music.

Getting back to the subject of pie, my personal message to America is: We put way too much cinnamon in our pies! What is it about the taste of fruit that makes us want to stomp all over it with a spice that obliterates the delicate aroma and flavor of a peach or a pear or an apple or, god forbid, a berry? I love cinnamon when it’s the dominant flavor in something like in cinnamon rolls or snicker doodles. Or when it’s combined with equally aggressive spices like ginger, clove and allspice in ginger cookies. Or in middle eastern lamb dishes. Or in Mexican sauces like mole. Just don’t mutilate a blueberry dessert with it. That’s cruel and insensitive. 

The recipe below for Good Apple Pie doesn’t have cinnamon. It’s based on one from Edna Lewis’s excellent cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking. Like me, she prefers nutmeg in her apple pie. You can make this pie with almost any kind of apples (perhaps even bad ones; I have never tried) and it will taste better thanks to the missing cinnamon. And don’t skip the nutmeg sauce because it’s easy and delicious

If you want to turn your own favorite recipe into Good Apple Pie, simply replace the cinnamon with an equal or lesser amount of nutmeg, which will enhance and respect the flavor of your good apples instead of shoving them to the ground, cuffing them, and hauling them off to spoil, in a bunch, in jail, where they might turn into bad apples. 

Good Apple Pie or Deep-Dish Apple Pie with Nutmeg Sauce

Note: Edna makes this in an 8 x 8 x 2” glass Pyrex baking dish, but you can also bake it in a round glass pie dish. Just make sure it’s at least 2” deep. Her recipe for the crust uses lard because she was old-school and knew how incredibly tender and tasty crusts made with lard are. But since most cooks don’t make their crusts with lard anymore, I have substituted a reliable pasty recipe of my own for hers.

First, make the pie crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (more or less) ice water

Blend flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Using on/off turns, blend in enough ice water by tablespoonfuls to form moist clumps. Gather dough together and divide into 2 pieces. Flatten them into disks; wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (If you don’t own a food processor, just put the flour, sugar salt in a bowl, stir them together for a bit, then dump the butter chunks into the bowl and using your hands, rub the butter and flour together until  the mixture looks like coarse meal, add the water and stir the dough together until it forms moist clumps, slap it into two equal pieces and roll it out. Whenever I make pie crust with my hands, I think of my favorite Julia Child remark about nouvelle cuisine: “It’s so beautifully arranged…you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”)  

Next, prepare the apples and bake the pie

7 large apples (about 3 pounds) of any tart apple of good flavor
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
5 pats of chilled butter

Preheat oven to 425°. Remove the chilled pastry discs from the refrigerator and let them loosen up a bit, about 15 minutes, before you begin rolling it. Roll one into a 10” square or circle, depending on the dish you will be baking it in. Place it gently into the baking dish shaping it to fit in the bottom and up the sides. Roll out the top crust, transfer it to a large plate or cookie sheet, and put it in the refrigerator.

Mix the nutmeg and sugar together in a small bowl. Peel and core the apples, cutting them into quarters and then slice each quarter into 3 or four slices. Place half of the sliced apples on top of the crust in the baking dish, sprinkle them with half of the nutmeg and sugar mixture, then add the rest of the apples. Mound them up slightly higher in the middle so the pie will have a nice rounded top. Take the butter pats out of the refrigerator, cut them into smaller pieces and distribute them evenly over the apples. Sprinkle the rest of the nutmeg/sugar mixture over the top. 

Take the top crust out of the refrigerator and place it on top of the apples. If it’s a little cold and stiff, give it few minutes to relax down over the apples. Crimp the edges of the top crust over the bottom one, like your mother taught you. If she didn’t, go watch a Martha Stewart video online and she will show you how to do it in a really fussy way. But that’s not how Edna rolls. 

Trim off any excess dough from the edges of the pan and eat it, raw. With a sharp knife, cut a few slashes in the top of the crust—any pattern you like or perhaps the initials of your secret love—but don’t get carried away. You’re just trying to vent off some steam while the pie is baking.

Place the pie in the middle rack of the oven for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 400° and bake it for another 40 minutes. Let it cool for a half hour and serve it plain or with the nutmeg sauce. 

While the pie is baking, make the nutmeg sauce

2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsps cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 cup boiling water
1 3-inch strip of orange peel, dried or fresh
3 tablespoons brandy

Place the sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch and salt in a 1-quart saucepan, stir well, and pour the cup of boiling water over them slowly, stirring as you pour. Add the orange peel, put the pan over a burner on medium and bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat a bit and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the orange peel and set the sauce aside in the pan until just before you are ready to serve it with the pie. Then put the pan on the burner again, reheat it, but don’t let it boil. Stir in the brandy and pour some of the sauce over each slice of pie.

2010 Entertainment; 2020 Allegory

How to Train Your Dragon (Image: Dreamworks)

When How to Train Your Dragon hit the screen back in March 2010, it scooped the kind rave reviews movies for kids rarely enjoy, plus half a billion dollars in the kind of countable applause big production companies live for. Two sequels followed, in 2014 and 2017, with the usual loss of critical and box-office steam sequels are prone to.

Last week the original film abruptly appeared on Amazon Prime Video, part of the escalation in the streaming wars brought on by the colossal June 1 content-dump accompanying HBO’s transformation into HBOMax. I idly checked it out, curious if time had been kind to this galumphing, jokey, and above all noisy coming-of-age tale about a frail Viking teen-ager trying to find a place in a world of hatchet-wielding, bloodthirsty berserkers trying to stave off a plague of avian saurids carrying off their livestock.

How to Train Your Dragon doesn’t exactly live up to my memory of it. It far surpasses recollection, shrugging itself out of the familiar skin of animated fantasy action-movie and emerging as a noble allegory: of justice denied and recaptured, hatred transformed by ,love, a rigid social order turned upside down by individual intelligence, determination and courage.

I don’t want to say anything more to justify my position here. Too much talk would mean too many spoilers for people who’ve never seen the film But I do want to suggest that you consider sitting down with this movie with your family one day soon, before the forces that have been keeping you all in irritating sync wane too much. For the moment, it’s about the world we’re living in. 

So let me make a bet with you: If I lose, you’ll have one more reason to despise my taste: I think that HTTYD is as good as any Pixar production, and in its boisterous way is the equal of any of Hayao Miazaki’s action films. But give me a chance: don’t join Amazon Prime on my say-so, but if you’ve already got the service, take a squint: as our President so justly asks: What have you got to lose? 

Mayor Durkan at a Low Point: Five Options for Survival

Up until two months ago, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was leading a charmed political life. Prior to the pandemic, the booming Seattle economy gave the mayor lots of money for pet projects. Once the pandemic hit, Durkan’s popularity soared as she effectively marshalled quarantine measures. Polling approval numbers were in the 60s, I’m told, and she has always polled well above city councilmembers. 

And then the bottom dropped out. Today, Durkan, 62, is besieged, and the storm flags are rippling in gale winds. She is losing allies, drowning in 26,000 emails, getting sued by Black Lives Matter and the ACLU, and facing threats of impeachment and growing demands she resign. Seattle politics has been emotionally galvanized by the street protests over the killing of George Floyd as well as Durkan’s shaky generalship over Seattle Police. The issues have moved well ahead of the Mayor’s pragmatic centrism. Can she “get it,” or will she have to get out?

Earlier this week, the Mayor began belatedly to move with the times. She gave the order to abandon the East Precinct police station on Capitol Hill, despite the public opposition of her police chief, Carmen Best. Durkan pledged no more tear gas against protesters, though awkwardly it was used days after that order because of a loophole. The Mayor reacted with a let’s-negotiate stance when the Black Lives Matter lawsuit was filed, meant to ban militarized responses to protests. She wants cops to turn on their body cameras in protest actions, overturning regulations designed to protect privacy. 

Some of these shifts indicate the Mayor’s effort to repair her never-good reputation with surging progressive politics in Seattle. It may be too little and too late. The city council is newly stocked with a majority who owe their elections to the Movement Left and labor unions. It’s rare for a mayor not to have at least one loyalist on the council, but that’s Durkan’s dangerous plight. Local elected officials, including state legislators, are distancing themselves, as are some of the groups who elected her in 2017. She’s getting dangerously isolated.

It’s reached the point, I’m told, where not only are Durkan’s chances to get elected to a second term in 2021 in jeopardy; but also her hopes of getting an attractive offer from a President Biden are fading.

Let me list five options for the Mayor to regain her political standing, each of which points to her vulnerabilities.

  1. Shake up her staff. Those close to the Mayor concede that her senior staff lacks political savvy and needs people with more experience in public safety. Durkan’s circle of advisers is narrow, and she is not the kind of mayor (as Ed Murray was) to make decisions after a rash of phone calls to political movers and shakers in the city. She is criticized for being a micro-manager, delegating people to handle a job and then hovering and correcting. Many earlier mayors have been saved by the arrival of a strong deputy mayor with good political “feel” for the council and departments. 
  2. Regain the initiative in police reform. Durkan as U.S. Attorney took the lead in getting the federal Department of Justice to put Seattle Police under a consent decree. That worked well as regards use-of-force issues. But the consent decree largely overlooked police accountability and oversight issues. (And of course Trump’s DOJ no longer likes these federal interventions.) Mayor Mike McGinn was a tepid supporter of the 2012 DOJ intervention, but McGinn did insist on a Community Police Commission, which has pressured mayors on accountability. Both Durkan and Murray, yielding to police resistance, have dragged their feet on this issue, infuriating the CPC. So, embrace the issue now that the police guild is badly on the defensive and push through serious independent-oversight reforms, as well as some sensible defunding of the police budget.
  3. Join the Progressive Parade. Durkan is a reluctant liberal, usually modifying or grudgingly adopting the farther-left proposals of the council. Part of this is due to her background as an Irish Catholic raised by a father who was a powerful centrist Democrat. So, pick an issue like a flat-rate income tax or a massive affordable-housing effort in SoDo that outflanks the progressives.
  4. Simmer down and heal. Mayor Norm Rice, who finessed the volatile politics of school desegregation by an Education Summit that produced the Families and Education Levy, often speaks of the value of a “time-out” when emotions run high, allowing time to get to “a place to heal and to move.” Certainly emotions are sky-high as people cope with the conflicting eruptions caused by the  pandemic (take cover) and the street protests (take charge). We need to get beyond the situation where activists and the council keep stoking the fires. Durkan’s remark that the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone might turn into a “summer of love” is a good way to defuse the Occupy Capitol Hill insurgency. The best way to allow for healing is for the mayor to say two things: Tell me what the pain is, and How can I help? And then lay out an inclusive process for getting consensus.
  5. Set clear public goals. Too many ideas and impractical proposals are swirling around. A leader articulates a few central goals and sets in motion the effort to achieve them. For the Education Summit, it was “safe, healthy, and ready to learn.” Here, we need to get back to Black progress, rather than other radical proposals to overthrow capitalism or advance some white political ambitions. (It doesn’t help that the city council doesn’t have a genuine black voice.) It’s interesting that the pragmatists in the city hall negotiations with activists are said to be Black Lives Matter. Durkan typically reacts to proposals made by others, but here is a chance for her to show leadership by laying out some ambitious but achievable goals. (Incrementalism is her style, but now fitted to the mood.) Examples: heavy investment in jobs and amenities for Southeast Seattle; tax policy that builds up Black wealth; City Hall takeover of Seattle Schools. 

It is an urgent moment in the nation’s and Seattle’s politics. Can we afford another failed mayoralty? Some will surf the high tide, and some will go under. Which will it be, Mayor Durkan?

Elsewhere: Letter from the LA Protests

Protests in Los Angeles (Screenshot: CBSLA)

This past week has been exhausting: trying to explain to too many white people what systematic racism is, what white privilege is, why the history of white supremacy and legalized racism in the United States is so critical to understanding the current situation and climate of unrest. Doing the unsavory work of researching claims and “stats” that those who aren’t on board with the protests use to justify their views.

I have been floating at around zero percent productivity with work and personal projects. I missed a deadline for something that was important to me. I haven’t been sleeping well. My cortisone levels have been through the roof. My emotional state throughout the week can best be described as “unhinged.”

Downtown L.A. feels like a war zone. Helicopters humming overhead at all times. Persistent sirens—more than usual. The National Guard with their military vehicles and automatic machine guns built for fighting actual wars. Lines of troops in full combat gear spread out for blocks around our neighborhood. 

Image: Hamilton Boyce

This is day six. When I go for coffee, I pass through crowds of soldiers equipped to kill enemy combatants. They are presumably here to keep the peace. But they do not make me feel safe. They do not make any of the business owners I have spoken to feel safe. Most police wear bulletproof helmets and full body armor but no face masks. Meanwhile, I’m hearing that doctors and nurses here still don’t have enough PPE.

Explosions and booms and bangs ring throughout the night. What sounds like gunfire shatters an otherwise rare moment of quiet. I hear what I imagine are lone vehicles screeching aimlessly through the neighborhood crashing into unknown objects long after the protesters have gone home. Hours and hours after the peaceful protests are over, these sounds continue. My fear is that someone is waging psychological warfare on us. Trying to turn the community against the political unrest. Trying to get business owners to hate the protesters. I can’t prove this, but the paranoia lives inside me.

I have no fear of the protestors and no fear of looters or riots. I am afraid of the police and the kids in battle fatigues who are patrolling downtown LA carrying government-issued automatic rifles.

Many people are upset because they think the protestors don’t have anything to be upset about. People born in other countries who don’t know the history. People born here who have learned different or selective histories. White people who grew up poor and “worked their way out of it.” People who don’t understand what Black Lives Matter means but won’t bother to find out. I try to fill people in and catch people up. I listen to their views and try to find the point where some piece of it just isn’t connecting. I try to stay productive. And then I read the comments online. Dear god help us all.

I am white. It’s a little more complicated than that but I think people generally identify me as white. I have been on the receiving end of approximately zero racism in my life. I have benefited from white privilege innumerable times. It’s impossible for me to imagine how my experience might be different if I weren’t white. How might my life have gone differently? How would I feel right now? How would I handle white people constantly peppering me with the “get-over-its” and the “yeah-but-what-abouts?”

This is not a call for sympathy. I am fine. My emotional state will improve. I have the support and resources to take care of myself. This is a call for empathy for Black America, for our brothers and sisters who have to keep justifying their own existence and the value of their lives to complete strangers. We need more self-reflection. We need more awareness of our own privilege.

The worst part about all this for me is arguing with people who don’t seem to want to move forward. Asking them, why is it so hard? Why does equality scare you so much? Why is the idea of improving other lives a negative experience for you? But being a part of the protests has also been inspiring and hopeful.

I’m sending infinite love to all of you, especially the haters. To all the black folks, I say stay strong, because most of us are with you. To all the allies fighting the fight and particularly those who are fighting much harder battles than I am, I commend you. Keep it up.

Here’s to change.