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Vestal visits Little Free Libraries

The dispersion followed no logic: Dickens and Whitman in Browne’s Addition. Sherman Alexie and Jonathan Lethem on the North Side. Marilynn Robinson and Joyce Carol Oates in the Perry District. Henry James and Saul Bellow on the South Hill.

In no particular order, and for no reason other than this week is Get Lit! – which fills me with good cheer over books and the people who make and read them – I spread a bunch of books around Spokane this week. Cleared them off my shelves and left them in “little free libraries” all over town.

One might fairly accuse me of trying to thin the crushing piles of books around my house. But, while I did not give up many of my most treasured books, neither did I spread around junk. Because I set out to write about this, I probably let go of better books than I otherwise would have – my book vanity is strong. More. Shawn Vestal

Lousy Time For Food Stamp Cut

Ten bucks a month. That’s roughly the size of cut that each person who receives government food aid is facing in five weeks. Your response to this cut may vary, and may reveal something about your understanding of what it’s like to need food stamps. It may seem small, this 10 bucks a month. For some of us, it wouldn’t cover condiments. But if you’ve ever struggled to put food on the table – ever walked that thin line where the grocery check lives dangerously close to the checkbook balance – then you might recognize that 10 bucks can be significant. If you’ve ever relied upon food stamps yourself, you realize that 10 bucks is more than significant. According to the federal guidelines used to determine benefits, it covers more than five meals. That would be one way to look at it/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Is this a good time for House Republicans to try to cut food stamps?

Vestal: Hart Tax Fight Tortures Logic

Phil Hart, the former Idaho lawmaker and tax-dodger extraordinaire, admits it: He’s made a “huge mistake.” That’s what he says in a new court filing in his effort to outwit the nation’s bankruptcy laws – a bit of court-clogging windmill-tilting that follows his battle to outwit the nation’s tax laws. He’s made a huge mistake. Which one, do you think? Was it his claim that he did not owe income taxes because income taxes are unconstitutional? Was it his refusal to pay those income taxes for years? Was it his repeated insistence that his eventual payment of some income taxes, however begrudgingly, should wash away the taint of all the taxes he still has not paid? Was it the hypocrisy of drawing a public paycheck while refusing to pay taxes?/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Hart admits he made a "huge mistake"?! Who woulda thunk it?

Vestal: Idaho Biz ♥ Low Wages, But …

Occasionally, we hear from the business community about the wonders of the business climate in Idaho. Usually, though, those praising the Gem State’s business-friendliness don’t point out that one of the reasons is this: Employees are paid less – and in some cases a lot less – than most employees elsewhere. The median hourly wage for an Idaho worker is $14.58 an hour. That’s almost two bucks an hour less than the national median – and five bucks below Washington’s. Closer to home, there’s a gap of $2.47 an hour between the median hourly wages paid in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Which side will raise Idaho's minimum wage sooner — the Idaho Legislature or U.S. Congress?

Vestal: Beliefs Misinform Sheriff Ben

Is sodomy against the law in Idaho? More to the point: If a law in Idaho violates the Constitution – as determined by the constitutionally created Supreme Court – is it still a law? If you want the correct answer, don’t ask Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger. And the fact that Wolfinger seems not to know, or maybe care, about the answers should give pause to anyone who thinks it’s swell that Wolfinger wants to go all judge, jury and executioner on the Boy Scout troop his office sponsors. Wolfinger said last week that he’s not sure the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office can continue its charter with the Boy Scouts, due to the Scouts’ recent decision to stop discriminating against gay kids. Wolfinger based this qualm, in part, on Idaho’s 1972 anti-sodomy law/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (SR file photo: Kathy Plonka)


Vestal Unveils ‘Godforsaken Idaho’

Shawn Vestal grew up in a Mormon family in Gooding, Idaho, but he left the faith as a young adult. His new book, Godforsaken Idaho, is based in part on his experiences growing up Mormon. The stories in the book also examine secular takes on life and the afterlife. Slate recently featured Vestal as one of a growing number of ex-Mormon writers who examine the faith in their writing. Shawn Vestal now lives in Spokane, where he writes for the Spokesman-Review. After two decades of writing stories in his spare time, he went back to school in 2006 to get an MFA in creative writing at Eastern Washington University. He was published in the literary journal McSweeney's the following year, and signed a book deal shortly after that/OPB. More here.

Question: Have you had a crisis of faith involving your childhood religion?

Vestal: Car Thief Didn’t Earn Death

Does self-defense extend to your SUV? And if it does, let me pose another question: Is it just car theft that good guys with guns can punish? Or could I, say, shoot to death someone I caught stealing my bike? Or my newspaper? The slope, it is slippery. The fatal shooting of a car thief by a Spokane homeowner is a sad tale for all involved – including, I would argue, the man whose case was closed extrajudicially – and there is a lot we don’t know. But it extends the boundaries of our debate about gun ownership and self-defense, because the homeowner shot the car thief as he was driving away. Which means that it’s possible, if not probable, that no self was really being defended/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Did we talk this topic out yesterday?

Vestal: Fairchild’s Ties To Torture

Ten years ago this month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was considering the approval of aggressive interrogation techniques for “high-value detainees” being held at Guantanamo Bay. The techniques had roots in the survival school training conducted at Fairchild Air Force Base and elsewhere, where service members are taught to resist the worst the enemy might do. The methods became the foundation for an interrogation program that proceeded, sometimes officially, sometimes not, through various incarnations of the “war on terror”: from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib. Some of those Fairchild roots are well-known, particularly the roles of two former Air Force psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the CIA’s interrogation program in the months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; they oversaw an extended case of waterboarding at a secret prison in Thailand, one of the most detailed cases in the debate over torture and interrogation. But others with connections to Fairchild played roles as well/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Is there ever a time when this country should be involved in torturing prisoners?

Vestal: Judge Defends Transparency

It’s too bad that the time most ripe for optimism and enthusiasm regarding democracy and citizenship – elections – is so persistently darkened by cynicism. It’s too bad, but not surprising or unfounded. One of the chief failures of our public life is the failure of frankness, and it’s widespread, and it causes an entirely reasonable loss of faith in the whole enterprise. That’s why the 19 pages written by Judge Michael Wetherell and filed in a Boise courtroom this week are such an invigorating tonic. It’s not because he ordered a stubbornly resistant political committee to reveal its donors, as required by Idaho law. In doing that, Wetherell was interpreting the law. But in the way he did it – in his clear, cogent defense of the rights of citizens – Wetherell produced an eloquent reminder that there is reason to be more than merely cynical about elections/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: How about joining me in giving 3 cheers for Judge Wetherell?

Vestal: Own Private Idaho Hurts Kids

The Coeur d’Alene School Board has made it clear. The kids whose educations are under their charge do not reside in the world. They are not global citizens. They live in Idaho, and Idaho only. The board, earlier this week, made its second stand against the grave threat of internationalist, one-world-order education, banishing a program that emphasized multiculturalism, global citizenship and awareness of other places. The program also has a suspiciously British spelling – the Primary Years Programme – which is a tipoff that it’s a secret arm of the United Nations and Agenda 21, the plan for global domination through land-use zoning. Is being a global citizen such a bad thing? Trustee Ann Seddon said it can be. “A global citizen would then be a member of the world, owes allegiance to it and is entitled to the international rights of the U.N.,” Seddon said, according to S-R coverage of Monday night’s school board meeting. Holy cow. Allegiance to the world. Nations united. The mark of the beast. Someone had to step in, obviously, and protect Coeur d’Alene’s tender youth/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: How do you react when you hear individuals warn that a United Nations philosophy is taking over our education system and land-use planning?

Vestal: Belief Gap Widening

Does living in different political parties mean we occupy different realities? The narratives of the Republican and Democratic conventions suggest that’s true. And new research by a Washington State University professor finds that highly contentious issues reveal something about the political moment: What we “know” is governed more by our beliefs than facts. “It’s not so much, anymore, what you know,” said Doug Hindman, associate professor of communication at WSU. “It’s what your party tells you to believe.” To get a good sense of Hindman’s research, you need to spool back forty-odd years – to a time when it was more commonly accepted that news coverage helped to distribute facts and knowledge to help people govern themselves/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: How much does your political party affiliation serve to form your political views?

Vestal: Why Defend Right To Insult?

A judge has ordered this newspaper to turn over information about a person who made a potentially libelous comment under an assumed name on the website. This, of course, will have a chilling effect on free speech. A chilling effect is what we in the free-speech business always warn about. We do not want to chill speech; we want it hot and loose. This speech, though? This anonymous lobbing of insults? Chill it. Give it frostbite, even. It feels traitorous to say so. My training and background and beliefs lead me to certain articles of faith: More speech is always better; protecting the identity of sources is noble; anonymous information is often an important tool for getting at the truth; journalistic organizations must stand against government efforts to usurp newsgathering for their purposes. But what has emerged in the era of online commenting is, about three-quarters of the time, a sewer of stupidity and insults and shallowness/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Do you agree with SR columnist Shawn Vestal that Internet speech should be chilled, in light of Judge John Luster's ruling last week that the SR must reveal source of questionable comment?

O Canada! Here We Come

lot of people are threatening to leave the country. The Twitterverse was alive with people proclaiming that they were so upset over the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare that they were moving to Canada. Rush Limbaugh threatened to move to Costa Rica. This ruling had the critics packing their bags, hypothetically and sarcastically. “SCOTUS holds up free health care for everyone?!” Tweeted one twit. “Screw this commie country, I’m moving to Canada.” Some of these people presumably know that Canada and Costa Rica have universal, socialist health care, and are operating at some other level of sarcasm – perhaps mocking liberal threats to leave the country if Dubya got elected. But some of them clearly didn’t see the irony in fleeing to a socialist country to protest “socialism,” and liberals had a lot of fun at their expense. It was more or less standard political warfare, cheap-shot edition. But, seriously, there are some people who ought to consider moving to Canada: poor kids in Idaho/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Have you ever thought of moving to Canada?

Vestal: Rypien Suit Raises Questions

Not long ago, my sister-in-law asked me a question that I hadn’t considered. Was I planning to let my son, who was then 3, play football? The question struck me as overly cautious. Why wouldn’t I? It won’t break my heart if he grows up with a wariness of the sports-worship that afflicts our culture, but if he wants to play, why not? After all, I played football – a little bit, very poorly – and look how well I turned out. You can get hurt doing all sorts of things. Then she gave me a few good reasons, involving the frequency of concussions, the frequency of repeated concussions, and the fact that frequent, repeated concussions can cause brain injury. The conversation came back to me this week when I read that Mark Rypien, local hero and Super Bowl MVP, was suing the National Football League for “repeated traumatic injuries to the head”/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Would you let your baby grow up to be a high school football player?

Vestal: SR Pulls Doonesbury

Item: Nothing funny — or apocalyptic — about pulling Doonesbury strip/Shawn Vestal, and: AP report

More here: Getting into abortion politics is apparently so scary that lots of newspapers decided to run a week’s worth of old strips or move them to the editorial page. Here at the S-R, where Doonesbury has already been exiled to the classifieds, the powers that be pulled the strip. Instead of publishing political satire that would provoke and dismay, engage and enrage, we punted. And everyone, everywhere, read those comics anyway. Just not here.

Question: Should the Spokesman-Review have pulled controversial Doonesbury strip on abortion politics? And/or: Are you a Doonesbury fan?

Vestal: Addiction Excuse Used Before

Get a job with a badge and a gun. While catching drug dealers, start smoking pot and snorting coke. Just to fit in. Find yourself going a little further than your undercover duties require. Snort some more cocaine, then smoke it. Then smoke it. Then smoke it. Take paid leave to go to treatment, turn in your badge and gun – and sue the city of Spokane for $2 million, for getting you hooked on crack cocaine. If you thought the Brad Thoma case was something new under the sun, think again. A quarter-century ago, Spokane was rocked by a case with unmistakable similarities: an addicted cop, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, and a City Hall that doesn’t want to settle … except it also doesn’t want to lose a lot of money in court. We don’t know the end of the Thoma case, yet. The City Council is showing some backbone, Thoma is suing, and the case will doubtlessly drag on for a good long while/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (Spokane police photo of Brad Thoma)

Question: Was the city of Spokane right in rejecting a proposed settlement with fired/disgraced former cop Brad Thoma?

Debt Collection Booms In Bad Times

Sometimes it seems as if all our economic news is bad news. Then a ray of sunshine pierces those clouds. We hear of an industry that is thriving. Whose various companies provide a lot of jobs, a valuable service, a healthy contribution to the public good through taxes, and contributions to charity. An industry like the one that contributed an estimated $311 million to Washington’s economy in 2010, and $30 million to Idaho’s, according to a new report. An industry like debt collection. According to the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, about $55 billion in unpaid debts was collected by third-party agencies in 2010/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Anyone ever dealt with a debt collection agency and is willing to talk about it?

What Would Lewis & Clark Think?

SR columnist Shawn Vestal offers this Facebook thought: "I often wonder what a rugged Western frontiersperson would think about our lives. Today, I wondered what a Lewis or a Clark might think upon visiting the YMCA, seeing people sweating while running in place while watching people cook on little personal TVs, then departing to a shower with nice warm water and sweet-smelling soap, and noticing the little machine that spin-dries our swimming suits so we may all avoid the hardship of carrying home a wet swimming suit in our automobiles, and then noticing the sign on said swimsuit-drying machine: 'Use at your own risk.'"

Question: How much tougher was your life growing up than it is today? Or do you think life is tougher today?

Vestal: ‘Rent’ Must Go On, Not Critics

I wish it didn’t need to be said, but here goes: “Rent” is not “about” fornication. It’s not “about” homosexuality. It’s about human beings and their trials. It tries to do what good art does: create empathy, draw viewers out of themselves, provoke emotional and intellectual reaction. It’s the constructive, valuable opposite of running around giving everyone a self-righteous thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But even if it wasn’t, one of the great things about America, of course, is we can go to hell if we want to. Whenever people start gas-bagging starchily about “fornication” – a word that’s only useful for hurling at others – you can be sure they’ve forgotten that. Besides the small-minded bigotry of it, opposition to “Rent” seems to grow from a serious cultural disconnect/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (Wikipedia photo)

Question: Do you plan to see Lake City Playhouse production of "Rent"?

Vestal: A New View Of Karl Thompson

Karl Thompson looked like a whole new man. When he walked into the federal courtroom Monday, he wore yellow jailhouse garb – the blousy top a shade darker than the loose pants. Big black letters on the back read: BONNER COUNTY. On his bare feet were cheap plastic sandals. Gray scruff stood out on his chin, and his usually neat white hair was very slightly disheveled. His hands – the hands that had placed countless criminal suspects into cuffs over his career as a cop – were locked behind his back. He looked smaller, sadder, diminished. “I wasn’t prepared for that,” said one of his supporters. Neither was I. Nor was I prepared to look at Thompson and feel what I felt: sympathy. It’s a sympathy tempered by anger at what he did to Otto Zehm and the city’s long string of mistakes in the case/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (SR file photo by Colin Mulvany)

Question: Do you have sympathy for 64YO Karl Thompson and what he's facing — 6-10 years in prison for his actions in the death of Otto Zehm?

Hucks: Sharing An Ink-Stained Past

What do Jess Walter, Richard Miller and Dan Kolbet have in common? Hint: They are ex-Spokesman-Review staffers. And? They’ve all written books. Walter, of course, parlayed his reporting of the August 1992 Ruby Ridge siege into a book (“Every Knee Shall Bow”) and a TV miniseries. He’s now penned seven books, with the last one, “The Financial Lives of the Poets,” receiving national acclaim. Kolbet, an Avista spokesman, worked in the sports department. Now, he’s written “Off the Grid,” a futuristic thriller about a man who fights a power monopoly that decides which cities are blacked out and which aren’t. Miller, a former editor now handling Washington State University public relations, has just published an anti-vampire-genre novel about a 150-year-old vampire living in downtown Spokane, “All You Can Eat.” No Team Edward versus Team Jacob going on here/DFO, Huckleberries. More here.

Other SR weekend columns:

Question: Have you read any of Jess Walter's books? Thoughts?

Vestal: Con Man Brandon Earns Jeers

He said his name was Brandon. He said he was embarrassed. He said he needed gas money to drive to Coeur d’Alene and back. It was an emergency. He said he lived just down the street. I’m your neighbor, he said. I thought he looked like one of the young people I’d seen around. He said he needed to pick someone up – his mother? his wife? – and they had his wallet and he’d bring the money right back … and somehow, even as I recognized the unmistakable template of the con, I found myself believing him. Hadn’t I, in fact, seen him in the neighborhood? Didn’t he live in the house three doors down? Plus this: What is wrong with me, if my only response to a person in need is to size up their criminal potential? I didn’t have any change. So I gave him 20 bucks. And, as you no doubt have ascertained, that was the last time I saw Brandon/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

DFO: I've been hearing Scanner Traffic reports of scruffy individuals knocking on Kootenai County doors seeking work or money to help them get back to Spokane. Mebbe we should swap them for Brandon.

Question: Have you had someone come to your door begging for money?

Vestal: Hate Crimes Not Taken Lightly

Are we in the midst of a wave of anti-gay violence in Spokane? A pattern with ongoing momentum? Some people think so. But there is unquestionably a pattern emerging from several recent events, and it has to do more with the response of the gay community and Spokane at large: an outpouring of concern, outrage, indignation and passion. If there is discouraging news in recent incidents in which gay men were beaten – and there is plenty – there is also a silver lining in the insistence that such crimes not be taken lightly. “People are standing up and speaking about this,” said Matthew Cannon, board member of the Inland Northwest LGBT Center. “I don’t think this is something that’s going to go away”/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Have you ever witnesses a hate crime?

Vestal: Idaho Ignores Its Teachers

If you want to “fix schools,” apparently, there’s one group of people you should ignore. Teachers. And when, in the course of fixing schools, you ignore this group of people, you should make it clear that you are not really ignoring “the people.” They’re just teachers. If you want to fix schools and put students first – well, first after taxpayers and “customers” and federal standards and ideological opponents of unions – what you should do about this group of people is remove them from the equation altogether. Make ’em leave the room while kids learn on computers. Teachers. If only we could have schools – very cheap, very effective schools – without them/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (AP file photo of Superintendent Tom Luna)

Question: Why do Idaho political leaders have such disdain for teachers?

Washington Tops In Vaccine Paranoia

We’re No. 1. Measles will be overjoyed. A new report shows that more parents in Washington refused to have their children vaccinated than any other state in the nation. I’d have thought Mississippi would have taken that flag, but no – it’s apparently a different kind of counterculture that drives this particular paranoia, and we’ve got a big dose of it. In the 2009-’10 school year, 6.2 percent of Washington parents claimed an exemption to vaccination requirements, most of them citing philosophical objections. Idaho was at 3.8 percent. The national average was 1 percent. This information is courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which you probably know is the gang in charge of supporting, organizing and propagating the lies your doctor tells you/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Do vaccines worry you?

Vestal: Hate Depends On Outlook

Then, this week, Michael Hop came rushing to his brother’s defense. He claimed – in a long story the S-R published on its website, and a shorter version that appeared in the paper – that his brother is merely proud of his white heritage, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The reason he picketed taco trucks in Coeur d’Alene – an activity that is deeply offensive to both heart and stomach – is because the Hop brothers, being from California and all, truly understand what will happen if we let tacos and the people who make them proliferate. In his interview with the S-R, Michael Hop tried to whitewash these things the way bigots always do – it’s not that they hate anybody; it’s just that they’re proud of their race, see? Nothing wrong with that/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Are people who picket Mexican food stands in Coeur d'Alene misguided? Hateful? Or merely individuals with a pride in the white culture?

Vestal: ‘Stolen’ Hotdog Baffles Jurors

Call it the great hot dog caper. Or maybe the greatly overblown hot dog caper would be more accurate. One day last December, Eastern Washington University student John Richardson got himself a German sausage at the self-serve counter at Mitchell’s IGA in Cheney. He ate it as he shopped for peanut butter (crunchy), jelly, bread and other items. When he left, he forgot to pay for the 99-cent dog – though he did pay for more than $28 in groceries. Store managers approached him once he left the store, refused his efforts to pay for it, and held him for the police to arrive when things got heated. Thirteen weeks later, Richardson was found not guilty by a baffled jury with a minimum of deliberation/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here. (SR photo: Chris Anderson/John Richardson stands across the street from Mitchell’s IGA in Cheney.)

Question: Have you ever walked out of a store after forgetting to pay for an item that you've eaten or that is in your possession?

Vestal: Bullying Launches Gay Project

These days, (Terry Miller, left) – along with his famous partner, the writer Dan Savage (right) – is trying to give gay and lesbian kids a more reassuring message: It gets better. You’ve probably heard of the It Gets Better project, which started in September with a video that Miller and Savage made and exploded into a project with 10,000 videos, including one from President Barack Obama, and now a book. The idea is to show kids who may have no support or positive vision of a future that there can be a joyful light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a powerful and moving vision, a landmark in the effort to move beyond our inability to move beyond this. In an interview at Kirkus Reviews, Savage – a well-known sex columnist and activist – said that Miller’s story was key to making the first video. Since then, he has reviewed and edited videos and helped edit the book/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Have you ever seen someone bullied because she or he was gay?

Fighting Racism A Taco At A Time

Matt Anderson stopped for lunch at El Chiludo taco truck in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday. An Aryan Nations group picketed the stand recently. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

I’m late to this bandwagon, which has been rolling on Huckleberries, an S-R blog run by Dave Oliveria. The two recent Aryan protests already prompted plenty of people to show their support, one taco at a time. The man taking orders at El Chiludo on Government Way – the target of two recent protests – said business was booming during Friday’s picketing. He didn’t want to do an interview without his boss’s permission, and I couldn’t reach his boss, but he said that apart from that day, things have been unfortunately slow. It sounds like business has been a bit brisker a few blocks away at Taco Works, where owner Oscar Magdalena said lots of people tell him they’re coming in “to prove we are on your side”/Shawn Vestal, SR. More here.

Question: Do you plan to buy a taco or other food fare from El Chiludo or Taco Works, to protest against the racist picket of the Mexican Food Stands?