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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Memo to Joni Balter: Calm Down.

posted by on April 24 at 14:47 PM

Today’s column from the Seattle Times’ Chicken Little editorialist Joni Balter has it all. The phrase “nanny state”? Check. Overwrought references to “social engineering”? Check. Mockery of organic food and gardening as “enviro-dogma”? You betcha.

Take it away, Joni:

[Seattle City Council president Richard ] Conlin’s latest proposal is a wide-ranging resolution that aims to strengthen “Seattle’s food system sustainability and security.” The measure promotes healthy eating, militant vegetable growing, greenhouse-gas-reduction opportunities related to food. It aims to address obesity and food waste and improve everyday access to farmers markets.

If that sounds like a nanny state in a bib overall, it’s much more. It’s 12 pages of enviro-dogma that might, finally, take the green-city bit overboard … into the compost bin.

Shorter Balter: If we stop eating fast food and buying all our groceries exclusively at Wal-Mart, the terrorists have won!!! (I’ll leave it to readers to figure out what the hell “militant vegetable growing” means.)

Since becoming council president a few months ago, he has become Conlin Unplugged, pushing Seattle to the forefront of sustainable living. Sometimes it seems he is trying to out-Berkeley Berkeley.

The proud architect of the city’s pygmy-goat policy he pushed to permit miniature goats as licensed pets seems more focused on Green Acres than Green Lake.

Conlin is a social engineer who clearly sees himself as the overseer, left unchecked, of Seattle as one giant kibbutz. Pesticide-free, of course.

Well, for God’s sake, Joni, spray some pesticide on me STAT!

Keep in mind that the proposal that’s got Balter all hot and bothered is, in her own words, a “measure [that] promotes healthy eating… vegetable growing, [and] greenhouse-gas-reduction opportunities related to food. It aims to address obesity and food waste and improve everyday access to farmers markets.” A kibbutz, in contrast, is this. See the difference?

But boy, is Balter good at framing:

Conlin has pushed a plan to recycle kitchen waste, whether customers want to or not. Starting next year, many Seattleites will be issued another container for garbage, to pull food waste out of the waste stream.

Let’s try phrasing that another way: Conlin has pushed a plan giving customers the option of recycling kitchen waste, instead of just throwing it out. Starting next year, Seattleites who want to recycle food waste can get another container to pull food waste out of the waste stream.

But Balter isn’t done yet. She hasn’t mentioned the poor! Oh, here they are:

About a year ago, San Francisco outlawed plastic bags at large grocery stores. Conlin and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels go further. Conlin is a proponent of the plan to charge 20 cents per paper and plastic bag in grocery, drug and convenience stores to reduce landfill space and cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

One gets the impression no price tag is too high if Conlin and his pals can feel they are saving the Earth with every breath they take and every move they make.

Middle- and lower-income residents have limits. Most will follow along, grab a canvas bag and do the right thing. But where does it end? Bit by bit, baby step by baby step, we are pricing the middle class out of the city sometimes in an effort to turn our city into one giant commune.

Um, Joni? A tax on plastic bags does not “go much further” than banning them outright. The reason: Unlike a ban, charging a nominal fee gives consumers a choice. If you want to bring your own bag, it’s free. Or, if you prefer to use a disposable bag, you pay 20 cents. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head, nor is anyone taking any options away.

Also: “No price tag is too high”? How disingenuous can you be? It’s a 20-CENT FUCKING FEE that is COMPLETELY OPTIONAL. Conlin isn’t forcing anything on anyone (and for the record, the fee has strong support from the rest of the city council)—and even if he somehow could force the plastic-bag fee down an unwilling city’s collective throat, it’s still 20 FUCKING CENTS. If a middle-class person uses so many optional plastic bags that they can no longer afford to live in Seattle, that’s their own stupid fault.

But not to fear—Joni’s a reasonable anti-environmentalist. Hey, she even shops at the PCC from time to time!

I am all for farmers markets and food grown close to home. I sometimes shop at the Puget Consumers Co-op in my neighborhood, which procures some vegetables a few miles from where my mother-in-law lives in Sequim. I favor reasonable behavior changes steps like conserving water and energy to be green and help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

But, damn it, she’s tired of these enviro-commies marching us all off to their eco-rehabilitation camps!

But give me no, give our residents a break. This is not a commune. This is a big urban city.

Hey, you know what’s great about “big urban cities”? They’re the kind of places where environmental policies—recycling, bans on environmentally harmful (and unnecessary) things like plastic bags, city-run composting programs, policies that promote local food—first take hold. If it weren’t for environmental efforts that initially took hold in big, urban cities, we’d all still be driving massive gas guzzlers, throwing our newspapers in the trash, and eating pesticide-drenched produce and antibiotic-injected meat. So I’m all for big urban cities setting an example for everybody else. In a sense, it’s our job.

I understand that right-wing editorialists like Balter trade in “they’re trying to take away our FREEEEEEDOMS !” outrage. But using a bully pulpit like the editorial page of the Seattle Times to argue against even the mildest environmental improvements (read the resolution if you don’t believe me, but it calls for things like “strengthen city support for the local food economy” and “identify additional locations and infrastructure for community gardens) isn’t just disingenuous. It’s irresponsible.

RSS icon Comments


I've changed my mind, Erica.

If this thing looks like it has any chance of passing whatsoever, I'm going to mail all my collected plastic bags to you.

And encourage everyone else to do the same.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 24, 2008 2:58 PM

But how does all of that keep all those smelly poor people from sitting next to you on the bus?

Posted by povertyrich | April 24, 2008 2:59 PM

God, she is SUCH a moron. Always has been. It's really jarring to read her husband's book The Good Rain and come across all the paeans to nature-loving, with Joni often floating around somewhere in the perfect picture. Only in Seattle could someone like this disguise themselves as something other than a right-winger.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | April 24, 2008 3:00 PM

Erica, the best way for you to help would be to shut up.

Posted by Or better yet switch sides. | April 24, 2008 3:02 PM

If Joni Balter likes cities with no environmental laws, she's welcome to come to Phoenix. No urban planning and air so brown you can CHEW it.

Posted by yucca flower | April 24, 2008 3:08 PM

At first you had me going, ECB.

But, then, you started ragging on the same things you always do.

And then it became a case of who can be the most shrill.

Having the option to conveniently recycle newspapers is not a big city thing, and is not comparable to anything you have been supporting of late. Neither is organic food nor fuel efficient cars (even though the big honkers are still abound...see your own fucking post about the H2 parking on the street).

Posted by TheMisanthrope | April 24, 2008 3:09 PM

telling someone to "calm down": check
sensational bolding: check
shrill exclamation marks!!!: check
Um, ...: check

the only thing this post is missing is a pre-emptive dismissal of any and all comments to follow. and calling the WHAAAAAAMBULANCE.

it's ok, erica, everyone has an off day.

Posted by some dude | April 24, 2008 3:12 PM

So, you're telling her to 'calm down' because she's acting hysterical, right?

It might be a little easier to take your position as the Voice Of Reason seriously if you hadn't just spent a record-breaking amount of Slog-space on your cut-and-pasted outrage at the affront to humanity represented by the actions of a handful of socially maladjusted fanboys at a sci-fi convention, framed as though it were a Horrifying Incident with Troubling Broader Implications for the State of Our Society.

Posted by flamingbanjo | April 24, 2008 3:14 PM

ECB: Awesome. Right on. Let common sense rule.

Posted by brinsonian | April 24, 2008 3:17 PM

ecb is spot on. joni should fuck off.

Posted by tiffany | April 24, 2008 3:19 PM

Erica, are you single?

I'm serious. You're the only one left who talks about important things. And I need a date.

Thank you.

Posted by El Seven | April 24, 2008 3:21 PM

I agree with ECB on this. Anyone who uses the term nanny state is automatically worthy of the gas chamber of credibility.

Posted by Jay | April 24, 2008 3:22 PM

re the plastic bag tax paragraph:
"...every breath they take and every move they make."

Wow, I guess she hears the enviro POLICE singing, "I'll be watching you." in the back of her mind.

Posted by bi.cycle.rider | April 24, 2008 3:25 PM

See, this kind of post is where you really shine. In it you do three things:

1. Confront the recent writings of another local alarmist / borderline-hysterical columnist

2. Out-outrage their outrage over (insert topic here) with your own outrage that they would ever consider taking such an idiotic position.

3. Make sense.

Makes me long for the pre-election cycle days when you were tearing Joel Connelly a new asshole at least two times a week. ECB, sometimes you are super awesome.

Posted by Hernandez | April 24, 2008 3:29 PM

See, this kind of post is where you really shine. In it you do three things:

1. Confront the recent writings of another local alarmist / borderline-hysterical columnist

2. Out-outrage their outrage over (insert topic here) with your own outrage that they would ever consider taking such an idiotic position.

3. Make sense.

Makes me long for the pre-election cycle days when you were tearing Joel Connelly a new asshole at least two times a week. ECB, sometimes you are super awesome.

Posted by Hernandez | April 24, 2008 3:29 PM

Okay, I don't fucking understand. I went to Whole Foods, spent six bucks on six large, reusable grocery bags. I buy groceries, they're bagged as normal, I put my groceries away, and then I put the bags back in the car. Repeat.

So, since I'm acting like this law is already in place, I've spent a grand total of six bucks. I've added one step to my grocery shopping, that of putting six bags back in my car. QFC also donates a nickel per bag to some environmental group.

What is the big fucking deal, people? This is one of those small steps that requires minimal effort but has a very respectable return.

I just can't for the life of me understand why people are flipping out about this.

Posted by Gitai | April 24, 2008 3:32 PM

Who is this Joni Balter cow? Does this person even know that her arguments sound pro-environmental ? (I don't live in WA so I don't check out the op-eds.)

ps to everyone who says ECB needs to calm down...
It's a blog. If ECB was a writer on the editorial staff, her arguments would be edited down for space and passion, but it's a blog. Blogs are where writers (and others, of course) go to blow their collective stack. If ECB starts writing for the Times or PI, then you can get after her if this keeps up. But it won't. So there.

Posted by PJ | April 24, 2008 3:33 PM

@16 You're using a car. You're going to hell. You should walk to the store. No excuses. You're so not green.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | April 24, 2008 3:35 PM

Militant vegetable growing? Pygmy Goat Policy? Please save us Joni!

I'm all for more "Conlin Unplugged. Right on, ECB.

Posted by iwanttobealion | April 24, 2008 3:40 PM

I find that ECB makes a lot of sense when she's not talking about Metro buses.

Joni Balter is a tool.

Posted by genevieve | April 24, 2008 3:47 PM

@18 When I was single, I walked to the store, but I was in college and lived on pasta and eating out. Now I cook everything and I'm married to a fat man.

Posted by Gitai | April 24, 2008 3:47 PM

18: I walk and use reusable bags. Not a big deal.

Posted by Jay | April 24, 2008 3:58 PM

Joni Balter is insane. In the late nineties, she, Egan and family had a sabbatical in Italy, which she wrote about in the Times. Turned out that there are too many Italians in Italy for her taste as the series of columns were one tirade after another about how awful Italy is. In case you didn't liver here then, have forgotten them or missed them check out this classic rant on drivers, bike riders and safety.

I suppose working with Jim Vesely, the littlest man in Seattle, literally and figuratively, would drive anyone around the bend.

Posted by ratcityreprobate | April 24, 2008 4:03 PM

Heh, Erica, Hernandez is right. This is where you really shine. And Joni sounds like the biggest tard in tardsville.

Posted by arduous | April 24, 2008 4:08 PM

Good article, Erica.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 24, 2008 4:29 PM

ECB and ratcityreprobate@23 are right on about Balter, as well as the rest of the out-of-touch Times Ed board.

Balter claims she likes clean energy, but she and the rest of the Times ed board took a scorched earth approach to opposing I-937 back in 2006. I-937 set a quite reasonable energy conservation and renewable energy standard for the state. Balter has also been the print media's biggest opponent to Sound Transit, and transit generally.

Posted by Bill LaBorde | April 24, 2008 4:29 PM

here is MY joni story. i went to a mutual friend's wedding reception 20 years ago and her husband kept giving me 'baby, i wanna fuck you' looks. can't imagine what he does nowadays.

Posted by scary tyler moore | April 24, 2008 4:31 PM

For some reason, this thread makes me wanna choke a seagull.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 24, 2008 4:37 PM

What the hell is Balter even talking about? She doesn't like people who grow vegetables? Pygmy goats frighten her? She doesn't want a container to toss her potato peels and coffee grounds into? (I've been recycling kitchen waste for about a year now. I'm the world's laziest person, but it's no harder for me to toss the food waste into the little compost bin the city of Auburn provided than into the trash.)

I'm really not at all certain what she's even objecting to. And I've never understood the Great Plastic Bag Flap. Don't want to pay 20 cents? Then bring your own bag. Want a bag? Pay for it. What is the issue?

Still and all, it makes me kind of tired and cynical that no one dares mention the Great Environmental Elephant in all our living rooms. None of the switching-to-fluorescent, recycling, riding-the-bus changes are going to make all that much difference if people continue to do the single most environmentally damaging thing of all; having more offspring than needed to replace natural attrition. We need to stop reproducing exponentially. Resources increase arithmetically. Population increases geometrically. That is not a good long-term equation for the future of humanity. The best thing any of us can do for the environment is not have multiple kids - certainly not have massive litters like the Quiverfull nutbars.

Posted by Geni | April 24, 2008 5:23 PM

Well, of course, the best thing you can do for the environment is kill your children.

Then yourself.

Preferably with those taxable plastic bags.

But I guess we're all like those hypocritical biddies at the Columbia Tower Club......

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 24, 2008 5:31 PM

Balter sounds lazy. Lazy in intellect. Lazy in imagination. Lazy in the butt.

Posted by homage to me | April 24, 2008 5:37 PM

30: Well, mainstream environmentalism is about human adaptation to the environment to sustain the planet with ourselves on it. So I guess you're just an idiot or an ideologue.

Posted by Jay | April 24, 2008 5:43 PM

28: Your posts make me want to choke you.

Posted by Jay | April 24, 2008 5:45 PM

"militant vegetable growing..."

Does this have something to do with zucchini?

Posted by Y.F. | April 24, 2008 5:45 PM

Militant vegetable growing

The only thing i can imagine is that the evangelical movement teamed up with Monsanto to create a Vegetales army to cleanse America of the non-Christian socialists.

Posted by vooodooo84 | April 24, 2008 5:56 PM

Militant vegetable growing for me would be planting tomatoes to throw at Hummers.

Posted by RainMan | April 24, 2008 6:49 PM

Veggie Tales!!! "If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile, if you like to waltz with potatoes, up and and down the produce aisle..."

p.s. I still think ECB should learn to use jumps in posts so they aren't pages long on the main Slog. And her writing style is still like nails on a chalkboard to me. But, hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day so she has a tiny point about Balter's weird editorial.

Posted by PopTart | April 24, 2008 6:55 PM

Strong Work Erica. Thank you for tackling Joni's editorial, which does a HUGE disservice to us all. When supply chains break down and the only people with food are the nannys, I hope they let Joni eat her own god-damn kids rather then give her one sweet, locally grown potato.

Posted by Green and Mean | April 24, 2008 8:05 PM

Militant vegetable growing. There's a phrase I never thought I'd see. I never would have imagined that my little bed of lettuces would seem so cool.

Posted by Charity | April 24, 2008 8:10 PM

Thanks for all the attention today, Strangers. Appreciate the foot-rub. Still won't get you a job though.

Posted by HR | April 24, 2008 9:23 PM

Erica is such a shitface.

Can't you PLEASE use a jump so that I can scroll past all your petulant whining quicker?!

Posted by ecce homo | April 24, 2008 10:08 PM

Truly is outrageous to see a writer "using a bully pulpit...."

Offense one is the cliche.

Offense two is hypocrisy.

C'mon, Erica, saying a writer is "irresponsible" sounds a bit "disingenuous" coming from you and The Stranger.

Posted by Johnny Reddin | April 24, 2008 10:30 PM

Not to mention that she looks like Ed Begley Jr in drag and that's TOTALLY confusing me ... is this "Joni" person a Saturday Night Live skit gone terribly, terribly wrong?

Posted by Brad in Seattle | April 24, 2008 11:16 PM

Having once tended a p-patch plot in my neighborhood, I can tell you militant vegetable gardeners exist.

But at least they're growing something edible to stuff down their throats, instead of strident misguided blog posts about strident misguided Times columnists.

Posted by Joe M | April 25, 2008 9:38 AM

@33: Just for that, I'm tossing an empty six-pack ring into Elliot Bay.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 25, 2008 10:47 AM

Joni Balter is so out-of-touch with Seattle residents. Conlin should be applauded for moving these issues forward.

Posted by Gabe Global | April 25, 2008 11:34 AM

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