Monday, April 24, 2017

"Building Ghosts" is a really good book, it's a freaking pillar of light. You know?



I dropped the library copy of "Building Ghost" by Jim Burlingame into my nine year old son's lap, hoping he'd hold onto it as we pulled away from the library. He immediately started flipping through it as I explained it was a book about a part of Olympia's history.

Specifically, it was a book with pictures of new buildings placed next to photos of the same location in the past.

"Building Ghosts" pairs a series of photos Burlingame took in 2014 of vacant buildings with historic photos of the the same location at some point in the past. Also included in the book is a well thought out essay on why he did what he did.

[By the way, you should buy this book. You can do so here.]

"How can this be the same building," he said, thinking hard on pages 28 and 29 (the former Last Word Book location at 211 E. 4th). But, then he realized it was taken from a different perspective. And, then it all made sense to him, especially 3900 Martin Way East, one page further in. That page shows a series of small houses on the former side paired with a former Subway franchise location in an anonymous strip mall on the more current side.

Burlingame's book is like that, it makes you think harder about seemingly anonymous corners of Olympia. It's easy for us to roll around in the prettier and more stately buildings in town, but much more of our human history revolves around small anonymous houses on the edge of town replaced by strip malls on roads like Martin Way.

He starts the essay in the front of the book talking about the experiences at the old video store on the westside, how anonymous strip mall commercialism is unrecognized human history:

All around us, we have chances to see the literal infrastructure we pass through and spend time in every day as aspects of another kind of infrastructure altogether: the brick by brick accretion of details that sustain the meaning of those locations, both for individuals and the community they're a part of. Of course, the latter is made up of an ever-changing set of members, most of whom don't have much knowledge of the earlier incarnations of the places they frequent. Thus the near-invisibility -- yet ubiquity -- of these pillars means there's a phantom palace overlaid upon the mundane world we know.
I bolded that last phrase, because I'm trying to set up the criticism of my next point nicely.

This book makes me want another book. As much as I like Jim's effort here, it seems like more of a proof of concept than a finished piece. That he took his 2014 photos before researching what historic photos were available of the same locations means (as my son figured out) that they're often of different perspectives.

I would have also like there to be a way for his essay to not be separated from the photos. The ideas are so powerful that reading them across the same wide pages the photos were laid out on was tiring. I've read and reread the essay and it speaks to me. I really like it, but laid out narrower, next to the photos, would have been better.

The way he talks about trying to draw out the mundane past into the mundane future and the phantom palace (and later in the essay his "pillars of light" vs. Springsteen's darkness on the edge of town) makes me want more. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Washington had a surge of Independent voters. What does that mean?

Here is the last 10 years of Survey USA statewide poll results charted out (background data), focussing only on how the respondents identified their partisan affiliation.


Basically, following the trendlines, both the Republican and Democratic parties have lost marketshare and three times since 2006 there have been more identified independents than anything else. Also, in the most recent survey from last fall, the independent identification has a big lead.

It is worth noting that independents have always been strong in Cascadia, but I'm convinced we're seeing something different in this trend here.

What could have caused this?

I have a couple of theories, but I'm far from totally convinced by them.

I think the Top Two primary had something to do with this. Especially, in combination with a redistricting process in 2010 that had a lot to do with protecting incumbency and not with creating competitive districts between the traditional left and right.

So, since the first Top Two primary in 2008 and redistricting races in 2012, we're seeing more legislative level races that aren't competitive between the two major parties. So what do member of a minority ideology do when left in the cold without a standard bearer? I think it's possible they drop the partisan standard all together.

I think there's also something wrong with how we structure party politics around here that encourages not identifying as a partisan. Basically, political parties, the local county and legislative district ones, aren't forces in the lives of most voters or even most activists.

Campaigns can be built, volunteers recruited and advertising funded, without a lot of help from local party officials. The web has a lot to do with this, but the fact that the basic party structure is an obscure elected official called a precinct committee officer probably doesn't help.

What does this mean?

I think we're already seeing the impacts of what a possible non-partisan identifying stable plurality or even majority could mean in Washington State. With little buy-in with their actual policies, the Thurston County commission is now made up of conservative independents. There is was also an independent election on the Grays Harbor County commission, a more conservative but still usually solidly Democratic county.

Also, in Grays Harbor, you saw them support a Republican for president for the first time since the Democratic party was near its death in the 1920s in Washington State. My guess is that they voted for Trump not because was running as a Republican, but because he was running as a non-partisan under a partisan label.

What could this mean in the future is two things:

One, maybe Bill Bryant could have won if he'd shed the partisan banner. With 41 percent and growing, the independent population in Washington serves as a much handier base than a shrinking third place identification. It also seemed to me that Bryant ended up not running as really a conservative, but as a better version of the centrist pro-government governor we already have.

And two, on the local level, even more independents. I hope.

 It is one thing for three anti-growth regulation independents to be elected in a county that voted overwhelmingly for an urban environmentalist of lands commissioner. That (plus the way we voted for the independents across the county), means that enough voters didn't know what policies they were actually supporting and just pulled the lever for the non-partisan.

But, what happens when there are two non-labeled candidates in the race? What shortcuts do the voters use to make their decision? Or do low information voters drop out and leave the election to the voters who have their minds made up?