11/26/2016

Anyone Wanna ‘Fess Up?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:12 pm

Would the person(s) who sent me this amazing Man Crate of exotic animal jerky care to admit to it, so I can thank him/her/them properly?

UPDATE: Turns out it was the awesome folks at my place-o’-employment. Thanks so much everyone!

Man Crate

9/1/2016

Has Anyone Else Noticed….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:16 pm

That Aaron Paul

aaron_paul

Looks for all the world like Chris Hardwick’s parallel-universe evil twin?

chris-hardwick

Sorry, didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.

7/17/2016

Beg Pardon?

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:44 pm

Like so many of us, I have become altogether too dependent upon the (hopefully) beneficent ministrations of the fine folks over at Amazon Prime. I have surrendered a small but not insignificant portion of my free will to their mind-croggingly vast inventory of must-, might-want-to- and why-in-God’s-name-would-anyone-wish-to-have items for just about any occasion or predilection. In the process I have also become somewhat indentured to Amazon’s recommendations, based on carefully-tuned algorithms, lovingly coded by the finest Morlocks of our generation to suss out my every whim and tempt me at every click. Sometimes, however, they seem to get it hilariously wrong. Like this time, just f’rinstance.

I’ve been looking for a new charger case for my Samsung Galaxy S7. A fine phone if ever there was one, but unfortunately the un-augmented unit has woefully underwhleming battery capacity. In the eternal race for slimmer and slimmer phones—presumably so that they are easier to lose a grip on and unintentionally deposit in the john whilst trying to Google your Facebook—Samsung, like all phone manufacturers, has had to sacrifice something, and that something is battery life. I, with my Swift Premium Brown ‘N Serve Sausage fingers, am not particularly interested in owning a phone slim enough to use as a scalpel, but I do want the horsepower, high-quality camera and other features that come with the latest line of phones.

The compromise comes in the form of a phone case that contains an additional lithium-ion battery. There are lot of them to choose from, now that the S7 has been out for a bit. I have one of the earlier varieties now, and it’s okay, but it doesn’t do a lot to actually protect the phone, so now that the market has matured a little I went on another expedition into the Amazon to see whether I could find something a little more to my liking. There are a few newer, reasonably-priced battery cases out now, and while perusing the selection, I came across this:

Say What?

Amazon, far be it from me to question the power, the precision, the overwhelming efficacy of your digital minions who plumb the vasty deeps to bring me the most relevant cross- and up-sell offerings this side of Heaven. At this point, I am entrusting you with more and greater insight into my habits in all areas of my life than it is possible that I with my meager meatware am able to achieve. And yet, in spite of all the computational dei running through your machinas and all of the demographic scintilla you weave into the fabric of commerce every second of every day, of this I am relatively certain: I have pretty much locked down the act of taking a whiz. But thanks anyway.

10/30/2015

Another Great Pumpkin Pogrom

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:06 am

Pumpkin Pogrom 2015

Many thanks to all who participated!

11/7/2014

Just a Passing Thought

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:44 am

There has been a lot of chatter lately about the Authorization for Use of Military Force. I have little to say on the matter, save this: I don’t feel comfortable with any governmental doctrine whose acronym sounds like a monster swallowing the world in one bite.

*AUMF*

10/27/2013

Pumpkin Pogrom 2013

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:08 pm

Many thanks to all who participated. Click on a picture to get the full-sized version.

Pumpkin Pogrom 2013Pumpkin Pogrom 2013Pumpkin Pogrom 2013

7/8/2013

From This Year’s Independence Day Celebration

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:32 pm

This was without a doubt the most hazardous July 4th we’ve ever hosted at 121….well, technically it was only almost hazardous. Two aerial fireworks managed to go waaay off course and fly into the garage, nearly tagging two of our guests, both first-timers. Ah well, try not to hold it against us, guys….

After our niece Anastasia (okay, she’s really our friend Shawn’s daughter, but that whole crowd is like family to us) narrowly avoided a Close Encounter of the Burned Kind, she retreated indoors. After a particularly rambunctious 500-gram cake seemed to—finally—spend itself, Don, Rob and I (none of us the petite type) all sort of crept towards it. Noting our progress from the living room bay window, Anastasia was overheard saying to no one in particular, “sneaky potatoes….”  😆

Other than that, it was lots of fun. Much food and good cheer. We got to show off our new patio, which worked exactly as planned; we easily seated 8–10 people outdoors, and everyone seemed to enjoy the new setting. Many thanks to everyone who came out.

Here’s a clip of one of Don’s FrankenFireworks, two 200-gram cakes duct-taped to a 300-shot Saturn Missile Battery. I think it was one of the missiles that almost took out our niece. 😯

11/6/2012

Election Eve wisdom from “Da Youf”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:31 am

Got this from my father via email. Apparently he and my Mom were chatting with my thirteen-year-old niece Lucy last night when the subject turned to the upcoming election.

Lucy is quite erudite, in her own very special way: she has an amazing grasp of language, with an insanely outsized grasp of wordplay and deadpan comic timing. When my parents asked her what she thought of the presidential candidates, she replied, “Romney is boring. He sounds like a teacher lecturing on the history of dust.”

What about Obama, they asked?

“I like him,” she said; “he has big ears, which is funny, and makes children laugh.”

From the mouths of babes, indeed. Here’s to you, Babe. 😀

And to All, a Good Election Night.

10/29/2012

Pumpkin Pogrom 2012 Was a Success!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:00 pm

Pumpkin Pogrom 2012

Many thanks to those who participated!

5/22/2012

If You Watch Only One Video Today….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:19 pm

Watch NAACP President Benjamin Jealous on the Rachel Maddow show, explaining his and the Association’s recent endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Hardly a dry eye in the house.

3/26/2012

More Birdiegazoo

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:26 pm

Margaret and I have been watching a sparrow family as they’re sprucing up the birdhouse in our back yard in preparation for baby season. The entrance is a little svelte for the male, and watching him get in and out of the thing with a beak full of nesting material can be a laff riot. Here’s a bit we captured on video this Saturday.

3/14/2012

Pretty Much the Ultimate in Food Fright

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:30 pm

My buddy Shawn sent this my way this morning. Ye Gods and severed digits!

Welcome to The Morgue Bakery

As Shawn himself suggested: PTSD much? Still, you can’t deny the craftsmanship. I’d really like to check the place out (next time I’m on one of my many trips to Thailand), but I’m not sure I could actually bring myself to sample the wares. 😯

3/12/2012

Lend a Hand (In a Sparkly Glove)

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:32 am

Keith Knight, author of such comix as The Knight Life, K Chronicles and (Th)Ink, has started a Kickstarter campaign to support his planned graphic novel, “I Was a Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator”. Keef is a comic genius and an all-around good egg, so please consider kicking something in.

2/29/2012

Leaving Las Vegas

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:30 pm

When Margaret decided to attend this year’s Western States Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, she asked if I would like to come along. The price they were offering for air fare and hotel was pretty damn good, so what the heck, I decided to tag along, We met up with a couple of friends—a fellow WSU Vet Med graduate and her husband, both friends of ours—and made a week of it, the two docs attending classes while Don and I sampled the fleshpots of Sin City. In the evening we’d all get together and take in some of the night life of the Strip. We got back Friday morning. I pretty much had to jump back into work with both feet right away (even had to borrow an extra foot to cover the spread), hence the tardiness of this entry.

This was my first trip to Vegas, and I came away from it with a number of valuable lessons under my ever-tightening belt:

♠ Even if you can see it from where you are, you can’t get there from here on foot. Again and again, I and my cohorts were fooled by the combination of crisp desert air and the city’s built-in reality-distortion field, meaning that things that seemed just a hop, skip and a jump away by foot turned out to be a long, exhausting, Bataan-style death march from where we started. Adding to this was the collective efforts of the Vegas hospitality industry to make sure that the shortest distance between two points is a bizarre slog through a rat-warren of slot machines, craps tables and Yard-O’-Margarita stands. Protip: if you need to get to another building, take a taxi. If the place you need to get to is on the other side of the same building you’re in, find the nearest exit and go around the outside; you’ll easily shave half the time off your journey, and possibly save a few bucks—or brain cells—in the process. And unless you really need to do business outside of the downtown core, do not bother with a rental car; chances are you will spend more time parking than you would walking.

Casinos and casino resorts are by no means places to “relax”. I came away from my week at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in dire need of a vacation. The hotel itself was lovely; possibly the nicest we’ve ever stayed in.

The view from our hotel window

The Mandalay Bay is an imposing structure of interlocking monoliths of bronzed glass and concrete. It features over 20 restaurants, an embarrassment of  bars, an attached mall, a decent aquarium, spas, pools, theater spaces and countless other diversions. Its largest and most prominent offering, along with that of all the other resorts on the strip, is without a doubt neural attenuation. The place is an absolute riot of blaring sound, flashing lights, gaudy colors, whirling patterns, psychic strip-mining and aesthetic insult. Part carnival, part Pachinko machine, and part focus-group-derived common-sense obliterator. Simply traversing the lobby to the elevators leading to one’s hotel room is an ordeal. It is telling that, despite my having slept upwards of ten or twelve hours a day while staying at the Mandalay Bay, I nonetheless came home and slept twelve to thirteen hours both Saturday and Sunday.  I didn’t really notice until we had been home for half a day and had nothing more obnoxious or overbearing than the occasional phone ring or yowling cat to deal with that my aural pathways were finally, slowly opening back up again, allowing me to hear things that had been heretofore too modest in pitch or amplitude to make it through the brain callus I had rapidly acquired over the previous week: rainfall, for instance, or birdsong, or the sound of my own thoughts.

I’ve never wanted to play a video game less in my life than I do right now; I just spent a hair over a week living in one.

Las Vegas is an awesome place to get fat. Sure, it’s not an original observation, but I can now say from personal experience that Vegas is a food-lover’s paradise. And not just in a schmancy, high-toned, savings-account-hostile way, though that certainly dovetails nicely with our experience there. We tended to eat at the various casino resorts, in medium- to high-end eateries, and didn’t once get away for less than a hundred dollars for 4 people (and that was at Starbucks, ba-doom TSISH!). Fortunately, every meal was worth it, with one possible exception I’ll get into a bit later. Our epicurean adventure included Noodles at the Bellagio, China Grill at the Mandalay Bay, and renown Cooking Channel whore Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caeser’s Palace, where I just about gorged myself to death on a mind-blowing and gut-busting 22 ounce rib eye, easily one of the top 5 steaks I have ever had in my life. But even for the underpecuniated there are a wealth of places for good eats: Nathan’s Famous, In-N-Out Burger, and just about any other chain you can think of, plus local favorites like Lotus of Siam, Terrible’s and tons of others. In fact, just about the only dining experience one should avoid altogether is the classic “Vegas Buffet”, despite its venerable place in Sin City tourist lore. The buffet at Treasure Island Casino is the very living embodiment of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”; 3 or 4 hectares of the mediocrest food that money can buy.

This is not to say that there aren’t lots of fun things to do in Vegas besides eat. Hence the next axiom on my list, and perhaps the least useful in a day-to-day context (at least if you’re lucky):

Despite the ginormous size of its ordinance, a Thompson submachine gun is amazingly easy to control. Don and I spent a delightful yet expensive couple of hours at one of Vegas’ smattering of Class III gun ranges, the Guns & Ammo Garage. For 170 bucks I got the option of firing three different models of my choice; I selected a Heckler & Koch MP-5,  an AK-47 and a classic 40’s-era Thompson submachine gun. All were capable of full-auto fire, which we were allowed to do under the close supervision of a highly-trained babysitter. The MP-5, a 9mm submachine gun that fires from a closed bolt, was very lightweight and almost surgical in its performance (Don had a similar experience with the Uzi he chose). The AK-47 was a royal pain to control, both figuratively and literally. That overpowered 7.62mm bottle brass really dug the thing into my shoulder, and my target grouping looked like a sneeze. But the Tommy Gun: that thing was stunningly easy to keep centered on the target, possibly because the thing weighed about as much as a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, which really helps to absorb the ol’ recoil. With very little practice it was possible to put a burst of 5 or 6 rounds through a space the size of a playing card. Here’s Don playing with his:


Of course, Washington isn’t a Class III state, so there’s no way for me to get my hands on a full-auto submachine gun….unless of course I were to find a pre-1994 Thompson at a gun show, which would mean it was grandfathered in under Washington State law. And, of course, assuming I found a new place to live, since Margaret would throw me out on my ass. But that thing was so cool….

♠ The Bally “KISS” Pinball Machine is not as cool as I remembered. If you happen to find yourself in Vegas and you have an several hours to spare, I can’t stress enough your desperate, singular need to go see the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. The first hour-plus will be spent driving—and driving—and driving down Tropicana Avenue, absolutely certain that you have missed it and that the next recognizable thing you will come across on your journey will be the Utah border. Whence finally you get there, you will be treated to a sight rarely seen in these modern times:

Row after row of pinball machines, from the vintage to the completely contemporary. Including my old nemesis:

Ah, how I remembered this particular steed of the pinball stable. It harkened back to the days when I myself wanted to rock and roll all night and party ever-y day….or at least, get baked ever-y day and play pinball right up till the Pali Lanes closed for the night. Sadly, time had not been kind to this machine, which was in all likelihood a lackluster table the day it rolled off the assembly line; certainly in now way on par with contemporaries of its time such as Bally’s Six Million Dollar Man. Still, the experience was more than worth a few bucks’ worth of quarters.

There were other diversions to be enjoyed while we were there; we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Love, perused the Mandalay Bay’s small but nifty aquarium, and got in more people-watching than is entirely healthy for anyone. Much fun was had by all, and I don’t regret this trip one bit. But that being said, it is awesome to be home.

2/2/2012

In Case You Weren’t Aware Of It…..

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:56 pm

Michael Bloomberg has graciously offered to match funds on any donation to the national Planned Parenthood fund for providing breast health exams, up to 250 grand. Take a moment to donate if you think this just might be important. Also, why not take a few moments to let Susan G. Komen know how you feel about their chickenshit retreat from a vital women’s health service. And, if you’re feeling really plucky, you might also want to drop Representative Cliff Stearns a line and let him know what a pathetic, transparently dick maneuver his formal investigation of Planned Parenthood really is.

Komen better damn well pull their head out of their ass before long, or they are very likely going to find a good number of people dropping out of the myriad 3 Day events planned for this year, my wife quite possibly among them.

There is no emoticon for what I am feeling right now! 👿

UPDATE: Komen caved; hooray for our side! Going to have to keep an eye on them though….

UPDATE2: In other Susan G. Komen news, how’s this for awesome timing?

1/12/2012

My Family: Weird But Fun

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:32 am

I happen to be blessed with a truly award-winning array of nieces and nephews. There’s Ben, the intimidatingly intelligent civil servant with a heart of gold; Sam, the intimidatingly massive yet easygoing Marine veteran with a heart of gold; Caitlin, the headstrong artisan with a heart of gold; and Lucy, the quirky ingenue with a heart of gold. Between them they gots enough gold in their hearts to make even a Glenn Beck program underwriter green with envy.

I sometimes think back on the time I spent with my nephews during their early years. Ben and Sam are a good deal older than their cousins, and they did a lot of their growing up when I was still living in Hawaii, before and during my college years in Washington State. I’m afraid I wasn’t much of an uncle back then: broke, angry, clinically depressed and self-medicating with sacks and sacks of pot. Not often a huge amount of fun to be around unless you were a bit closer to my age and a bakehead. By comparison, my nieces have it pretty sweet with Andrew 2.0: (relatively) happy, (far more) mentally healthy, upper-middle-class and addicted to nothing but coffee. Ben, Sam, if you’re reading this, I apologize if I ever left either of you with the impression that I didn’t care about you. I love you and am heart-burstingly proud of you both. About the only thing I can make up for this late in the game is the change in my income, so if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, lunch is on me. 😉

As for the girls, I really enjoy being Fun Uncle to them. We get to see them about once every year or two and it’s always a hoot. Lucy is a truly sweet kid. Kind of off in her own world, but she checks in with us mundanes fairly regularly to let us know we haven’t lost her entirely. And her citizenship in that singular municipality has provided her with a truly awesome sense of humor and comic timing. She’s a gem.

Caitlin, however….Caitlin’s my buddy. I don’t know what I did to warrant such high regard from a bright, funny, socially adept nearly-sixteen-year-old, but whenever Margaret and I visit the islands she’s stuck to us like she’s held on with C-clamps and gypsum screws. I fully expected her to kind of lose interest in hanging out with me as she got into her teens—I may be lots of things, but “cool” by whatever the standards Da Youf adhere to ain’t one of them—but if anything she seems more enamored than ever. Which is fine by us. Something about her brings my inner goofball into stark relief; things just get a little nuttier when the two of us are in the same room. Throw my brother David into the mix and it’s a 24/7 fun-filled, hijinks-soaked caper-a-minute laff riot, complete with overturned cars and burning dumpsters. It helps that Caitlin is, like all of us Lenzers, intelligent and articulate (and modest, let’s not forget modest), so she’s more than capable of elevating the discourse when it’s warranted. She hopes to join Margaret in walking the Susan G. Komen 3 Day in Seattle this September, and we’re working to make that happen.

Caitlin also has a helluva creative streak….more like an avenue than a streak….coupled with a rather wiseassy sense of humor. She was the source of this amusing depiction of the relationship between myself, my wife and my laptop a few years back. This year, after we got back from vacation, both she and Lucy sent us thank-you cards for the (admittedly lavish) gifts we gave them for Xmas. Lucy’s note was sweet and funny, and I really need to write her back and let her know how much we liked it. But Caitlin’s….well, see for yourself.

Smart-aleck little punk….I do love her so. 😆

11/4/2011

A Milestone in the Evolution of Internet Culture

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:17 am

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present….

THE VERY FIRST VIDEO ON CUTE OVERLOAD THAT ISN’T TWENTY TIMES LONGER THAN IT NEEDS TO BE.

Mark you all this day, and commemorate it every year on this date.

10/31/2011

Well, Slap My Face and Swipe My Candy….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:56 pm

Given last year’s dismal then-new low of three Trick-or-Treaters, I didn’t hold out much hope for this year. By seven o’clock—well into the mooching hour, by my experience as a child—I had yet to see a single kid. Imagine my delight then when a—what term does one use to identify a large group of teenagers; a bother? An acne?—mass of Da Youf descended on our doorstep like a hormone-soaked wave crashing upon the shore:

Thirteen teenagers (the unmoving character in the background is Fernando, our zombie). All friendly, all, polite, and all, amazingly, in costume; not an underdressed sponge in the bunch. I was duly impressed When I complimented one girl on her Steampunk getup, one of her compatriots expressed appreciation that I was familiar with the term. To which I replied “I’m old, not ancient.” That got a laugh out of them.

All told, we got maybe twenty or twenty-five kids tonight, which is a dang good haul for this vicinity. Hope your Halloween was at least as fruitful….sans fruit.

10/30/2011

The Return of Roominations

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:01 pm

….but don’t necessarily get used to it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s been ages since I posted anything. I’ve been working like a 3-legged sled dog in the Iditarod, so if you’ve been missing the opportunity to bask in the glow of my dulcet prose, that’s just too baddy Daddy, so saddy.

In addition to cranking out this year’s catalog, of which I am fairly proud (renowned mushroom photographer and friend of FP Taylor Lockwood emailed the office to tell us that he liked the cover so much that he tacked it to the wall of his office, which is high praise indeed), two weeks ago I and my IT cohort moved the electronic guts of our call center from its long-entrenched farm setting to a proper GMP-compliant business park, sporting such uptown features as actual conditioned power and real business-class Internet access. This was a serious upgrade from our previous digs, and took a mammoth effort on the part of the entire staff to accomplish. And yet all of our preparation seemed to pay off in a move that went way, waaaaayyyy smoother than I think any of us expected. We’re still ironing out the wrinkles, but so far, so very much gooder (“more goodly”?) than it might have been.

Outside of work (is there really anything outside of work anymore? I simply cannot tell) I’ve been indulging in a few domestic projects. One chief one was to finally address the problem posed by my cat’s constant desire to sit on my lap while I work. I can plompf myself down in one of our overstuffed chairs in front of the TV for hours and she won’t want anything to do with me, but sit in front of a computer keyboard and all of a sudden I am the cat’s pajamas….or in this case, the cat’s Snugli. She first tries to ensconce herself between me and my slide-out keyboard, resulting in the grandpappy of all PEBKAC errors. When that fails to actualize her goals she’ll most often attempt to perch herself between the back of my chair and the back of….well, my back. This works for about three minutes until she begins her inexorable scootch downward, prying open an ever-widening gap between me and my chair and forcing me to hunch forward in increasingly greater discomfort.

After about a week of contemplation and another week of testing, retesting, scrapping and restarting and re-re-retesting I finally perfected a carpeted wooden platform that clamps to the back of my chair, allowing Flit to rest sprawled out directly behind me or, just as often, plastered right up against my shoulders:

Took her about a week to get completely used to it, but now whenever I sit down to work she immediately gravitates to “the catform”, which is a great load off both my mind and my back.

Margaret and I also just barely managed to pull ourselves out of our stress-induced hermitage to throw our world-famous annual Pumpkin Pogrom, which we held last night. About 15 of our friends came over to eat chili and carve Jack-O’-Lanterns. Apologies to you if you were not on the invite list, but this is the kind of event that can really suffer if there is too great a participant-to-table-space ratio.

The hands-down winner this year was JauntHie’s zucchini slug, with baby pumpkins for eyes on Cyalume stalks and blinking LED spots on its back.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Lastly, if you have not yet seen MC Frontalot’s new music video “Critical Hit” of the most recent album Solved, I highly recommend that you do so, provided you are a fan of geek culture. Many thanks to YakBoy for turning me on to The Front.

That is all. More dispatches to follow as they become available. Please return to your homes and places of businesses.

5/25/2011

“Dear KIRO TV….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:06 pm

Some background is necessary for this one.

About two years ago, I was walking out of a local grocery store when I was approached by a volunteer from an organization called Restoration House Ministries. They were soliciting donations of food, clothing and money to provide shelter for homeless families.

I told the woman who had approached me that I did not give money to folks soliciting in public unless I recognized their organization, and that I would have to go home and check them out online. I then asked her if Restoration House might have need for an older computer or two, as I had lots of friends and relatives who probably had outdated but serviceable computers they would be willing to donate. She said she thought that would be appreciated.

A month or so later I found myself with an older Dell computer that a friend had donated to the cause, and called the number from the flier that the volunteer had given me. I received a call back from the director, Herman Akins, who delightedly agreed to come and pick up the machine that evening.

Herman was good as his word, and arrived later that evening to pick up the computer on the way to another fundraising event. When I saw the look in Herman’s eyes—the pleasure and the gratitude—as he looked at what I had offered to him, I felt a mixture of gratification and shame. Gratification that I had done something to make someone else so happy, shame to know that we lived in a society where the director of a homeless outreach program could be so overwhelmed by the gift of a cast-off POS computer that nobody else wanted.

Since then I have provided Herman, his wife Delores, and their two organizations—Restoration House Ministries and Project Reach—with 5 or 6 computers, donated by friends, family members and neighbors and refurbished by me. Most of these are being used by volunteers for clerical work, both at the Akins’ home and at the Freedom Church in White Center. Our long-term goal is to create a small community computer center at the church, where local folks can come and learn to use word processors, send and receive email, surf the Web, print job listings or résumés….opportunities that are often in short supply in that area. In a middle-to-upper-class neighborhood like ours, it seems as though every third house has an old Pentium 4 PC in the garage or in an unused spare bedroom, just gathering dust because the owner doesn’t know how or where to get rid of it. Folks are very happy to know that their outdated PCs are going to a worthy cause.

Fast-forward—or would that be backward?—to the Saturday before last. While installing another PC out at the church, Herman took me aside and told me that someone from KIRO 7 Eyewitness News had contacted him, inviting him to come in for an interview to give his side of the story on a report they were putting together. He was obviously a little shaken by the prospect. I told him that I would be happy to provide a character reference if he thought that would help, perhaps in the form of a letter. He gratefully accepted my offer.

Later that week, I was contacted by Amy Clancy, Consumer Investigative Reporter for KIRO TV. She asked me a few questions about the letter I wrote, and invited me to add anything I felt might be relevant to the report. Not being at all certain what the focus of the report would be, I didn’t have a lot to add. She also asked for permission to post my letter online, which I gave. She then invited me to watch the report on the Monday edition of Eyewitness News, after which we exchanged some pleasantries and hung up.

I watched the report online Tuesday morning, and was not at all pleased at what I saw. Here’s a link to the report, Victims May Never See Donations Gathered by Local ‘Charity’. If you have not yet seen the report, and plan on reading further, you should probably go take a look at it; I’ll wait.

After I watched the report, I watched it again. And again. then I sat down and composed the following email. I post it here in the hopes that at least some small portion of the people who saw the initial news report might come across this while Googling Herman Akins, Delores Akins or Project Reach for more information. I think a real injustice has been done to an organization that lives hand-to-mouth, and that probably cannot survive an extended period of unearned ill will in the community.

 

To: Amy Clancy
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News

Hello Ms. Clancy,

I wanted to offer some input on your piece about Project Reach, This is Andrew, by the way; I wrote the letter in support of Herman and Delores that mentioned computers.

I was rather disappointed with your report on KIRO 7 Eyewitness News about Project Reach. It struck me as pretty solidly biased against Herman and Delores Akins and their work. For a report two years in the making, there didn’t appear to be a lot of actual fact-based evidence against the Akinses or Project Reach. Instead, the report seemed mostly to use the medium of television to concatenate a scandal out of a vapor of innuendo and hearsay.

Some points, in order of their appearance:

  • From the lead-in: “Many of the area’s best-known non-profits believe donations gathered by an organization called Project Reach don’t necessarily go towards domestic violence victims…” Actually, from what you put on the air, the total number of non-profits that believe this to be the case is two: CADA and DVS. Two organizations that might, in theory, have an axe to grind with Project Reach because of the perception that the latter is encroaching upon their “territory”. Unless you include New Beginnings, whom you did not report as having done anything other than deny a connection between themselves and Project Reach. When did two organizations officially become “many”? Furthermore, how did two organizations from relatively small, outlying communities become “Many of the area’s best-known”? If you have a substantial list of area non-profits that have called the work of Project Reach into question, why didn’t you mention them on the air?
  • My unalloyed sympathy for her aside, there was simply no point whatsoever in showing the anonymous domestic violence victim at the beginning of your report. This woman had not been personally hurt by Project Reach in any way, so her feelings on the subject of their activity in the area were no more or less valid than those of any other Oak Harbor resident you could have interviewed, say, in front of the Wal-Mart where the confrontation between CADA’s Margie Porter and the Project Reach volunteers occurred. But had you done so, you might not have had the opportunity to show that unfortunate woman’s quavering-voiced silhouette. A powerful image—and one that pulls at the heart strings—but not actually relevant to the question of whether Project Reach is misusing the donations it collects, which is after all the presumed focus of the report.
  • Regarding the issue of other organizations’ names listed on Project Reach’s materials: as explained to me by Herman, that list of names was put out to show other organizations that folks could turn to for help. That’s why the paper read “RESOURCES / REFERRALS” across the top. Certainly, if the paper had read “PROUDLY ENODRSED BY THESE ORGANIZATIONS”, I would assume that you would have shown that on the air. To the contrary, at one point you show the piece of paper in its entirety, and at the bottom in large bold letters is a disclaimer plainly stating that the listed agencies and organizations are not affiliated with Project Reach. But one would only be likely to read that part if one paused the video, as I did. Even given what you chose to show on the air, the worst that list of names should have indicated to the viewer would be the crime of bad spelling, and even that could be blamed on rogue spell-check software.
  • The claim made by Porter that, upon being asked if the funds collected by Project Reach at the Oak Harbor Wal-Mart would stay in Oak Harbor, Delores Akins said, “Well if you come back tonight I’ll give you some”. Assuming this actually happened, this statement is, in and of itself, completely neutral. Delores could have easily meant, “we appreciate and value what you do in this community and would be happy to make a donation”. But Porter’s—and by association, KIRO’s—interpretation is, “I’ll cut you in on the scam”. Presumably, had Delores actually said anything of the sort, Porter would have said so, and you would have reported it.
  • Addie Schille’s claim that the person answering the phone at project Reach asked “Where did you get this number?”. I’ll stipulate that “where did you get this number” Might not be the absolute best, cutting-edge-crisis-intervention-theory way to begin a call of this sort, but it is hardly by definition the cynical scam-in-the-making opening line that Schille makes it out to be on camera. I can imagine a lot of good reasons to start such a conversation that way. And certainly, Schille’s report that she heard “the woman” in the background urging the person on the other end of the line to get her phone number would seem a totally reasonable and strategically practical start to a phone call with someone who could be in jeopardy and who might possibly be forced to hang up at any time. But compared to a warm and matronly, “Are you safe?”, stripped of context and without any other data upon which to draw, it paints Project Reach in a bad light with very little in the way of facts to back it up.
  • As does the seemingly gratuitous use of that less-than-complimentary picture of Delores Akins looking up at the photographer outside of the Kennewick Wal-Mart. Perhaps it was necessary to use that photo because it was the only one taken that day that clearly showed Delores’ face. But you used it at least five separate times; I counted. It’s hard to tell the exact number because you dissolved from a medium shot to a closeup on a couple of occasions, but five seems like a decent estimate.
  • The claims by Porter and Abken that members of Project Reach were seen “giving out receipts for tax purposes”. Surely you are aware that many charities that are not tax-exempt 501(c)(3)s give receipts to people furnishing them with donations? Receipts are a typical component of modern transactions in which things of value are exchanged, be they groceries, pedicures or charitable donations. Neither party is reported as saying that they heard anyone from Project Reach actually tell a contributor that the receipt was for a tax deduction. By all appearances, this “fact” was simply inferred. But following the video where Abken makes this inference, you jump to the Charities Program Manager Rebecca Sherrell, asking her what amounts to a hypothetical question about an unsubstantiated claim. Taken in toto, this leaves the viewer with the impression that you have actually caught members of Project Reach breaking state law.
  • For all that this was an in-depth report on the activities of the “alleged ringleader” of a scam, and that said “ringleader” was willing to come down to your studio and speak to you in person, Herman was given, by my count, one minute and forty seconds of video in which to make his case. A great deal of which was given over to earnest and evocative but not particularly meaty prose. Herman may well have been a bit overwhelmed by the circumstances of the interview, and may have not explained himself perfectly, and I attribute some of what you showed in your report to that. Certainly, he did a much better job of elaborating when I spoke to him over the phone than what I saw of him on camera. But I also suspect that your interview was edited to make him appear more confused and evasive, because that better fit the narrative you had already constructed in the preceding eight minutes of video.
  • Finally—and while hardly chief among my issues with the report, this really got my goat—whoever KIRO TV appointed to scan and post my and other community members’ letters in support of Project Reach online did a stupendously unprofessional job of it. The letters were scanned extremely crookedly; they were also scanned in bitmap (black-and-white) mode, with a very high threshold, so that many of the letterheads and logos were lost and, in the case of the hand-written letter, the text was all but unreadable. This made neither the letter writers nor the clerical staff of KIRO TV look very good. We all took the time out of our busy schedules to write letters of endorsement for a cause we believe in; it would seem only fair that KIRO TV take the miniscule amount of time necessary to present our letters in as good a condition as they were provided to you.

While it is obvious that I was not a big fan of your report, I do appreciate you taking the time to contact me the other day prior to its airing, and also your time in reading this letter.

 

Regards,
Andrew Lenzer


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