The This American Life spinoff Serial, following a reporter’s investigation into the conviction of Adnan Sayed for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, has become a pretty big deal. It’s all over social media. It’s become the most popular podcast in the world. A subreddit has sprung up to analyze the most minor details. Slate launched its own podcast dedicated entirely to talking about the Serial podcast. So did the A.V. Club. Parodies have sprung up. The backlash has begun, inevitably producing "think pieces" about whether it’s “problematic.”
But for me, the series’ greatest work has been to highlight a huge systemic flaw, not in the justice system, but in the human mind: Memories are awful.
Science has known this for a while. Whenever we replay memories, especially important ones, we have a chance of altering them. But as Serial's Sarah Koenig and the hordes of amateur gumshoes back home try to make sense of the case, this fundamental problem keeps looming larger and larger.
The murder is 15 years old. It happened in 1999, way back when I was writing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace fan fiction about my middle school. That’s a massive gulf in time, and that time has a cost.
Adnan says he can’t remember many details of that day, details that, if he’s innocent, could help exonerate him. From the very first episode, Koenig talks about this problem, about how hard it is to remember details of a random day, even if your freedom depends on it.
In that episode, we learn that a girl named Asia wrote a letter, a year after the murder, supporting Adnan’s alibi that he was in the library that day. Fifteen years later, Asia confirms it. But the reliability of that testimony is suspect. Not because Asia has a reason to lie, but because events of one year prior, let alone 15, are difficult to remember. We learn his track coach can’t remember if he showed up for track that day, a crucial component of his alibi. There’s the mutual friend who remembers Adnan hanging out at her apartment on the night of the murder, and remembers Adnan was acting strangely. But it’s difficult to tell how much that had to do with him smoking weed, and how much that had to do with a decades-old memory filtered through the haze of Adnan’s conviction.
But even more disturbing are the memories that seem just completely wrong: There’s the student who claimed, 15 years ago, that a neighbor boy told her that Adnan had opened a trunk and shown him a body inside. But then when Koenig calls up that boy, he doesn’t recall that moment at all.
Koenig uses these issues to cast doubt not so much upon the case against Adnan, but the legal system itself. It’s tough to tell when witness inconsistencies are lies, and when they’re faulty memories. In the latest episode, posted yesterday, she interviews a detective explaining how police sometimes give an unrecorded, dry run of a confession, better to iron out inconsistencies.
Sometimes the problem is not that we don’t remember. It’s that we remember, but remember wrong. In fact, even the most vivid memories, the ones tied to emotion, the ones we think are seared into our brains, can quite quickly get distorted.
Coffee and cats. What a nice, warm, cozy combination.
This complementary pairing of kitties and caffeine in the form of cat cafes, a trendy concept that originated in Taiwan a few decades ago, is rapidly taking off around the world. The United States welcomed its first "cat-fe" last month, with the opening of Oakland's Cat Town Cafe, and other West Coast cities are already following suit. Both Portland and Seattle are set to each welcome a cat cafe sometime next year. (More about that below.)
While it's assumed cat lovers view cat cafes as one of the best cultural trends to have ever gained traction, others will scoff. Why would you go somewhere to hang out with cats if you already have cats at home? Why would you would want to eat or drink in a room filled with cat fur and other potential contaminants?
Lots of reasons, it turns out.
The draw for these cultural oddities in the large metro areas where most cat cafes are located isn't limited to the quiet and calming companionship the feline species offers. In high-density population areas where having a pet may not always be allowed due to tenant contracts, such as in Japan — which has the highest number of cat cafes at more than 150 — the concept is appealing to busy professionals who can't make the commitment to owning and caring for a pet.
Besides offering a soothing escape from life's daily hustle, many cat cafes are also part-time adoption centers. Oakland's Cat Town residents are all adoptable, should a customer become so enamored they can't bear to part with the friendly feline they've met over a latte. The intent behind placing adoptable cats in a more relaxed setting like a cafe — in contrast to a crowded, loud shelter — is also a way to showcase cats needing permanent homes in a more uplifting and positive environment. Leading up to Cat Town's debut on Oct. 25, co-founder Ann Dunn said the cat cafe concept is also a "way to lure people in that’s sort of passive."
And you'd better believe there are very strict health regulations in place at these food-with-cats hybrids, at least from what we know about state-side businesses. Food must be prepared in a completely separate area from where cats are housed.
Before you get too hyped about heading to the Cat Town Cafe, or any other international versions, make sure to check the cafe's website, or call, to see if reservations are needed before your visit. To prevent a mass of excited, squealing humans from scaring and overwhelming their furry residents, cat cafes in Europe (like this one in London) and Cat Town only allow a predetermined number of guests into the cat's lounging quarters at once. Most cafes also have a set of basic guidelines all customers are asked to follow when interacting with the cats.
While Cat Town became the first to actually open in the U.S., other Western cities aren't far behind. Another Bay Area cafe, KitTea, was set to open in San Francisco this summer, but hasn't announced yet when it will officially open.
Closer to Spokane, Portland is set to get its own kitty coffee house with Purringtons Cat Lounge. The business's site says it's set to open in early 2015, and is partnering with Oregon's Cat Adoption Team (CAT) to house adoptable kitties alongside its espresso offerings. The cafe is to be located in the Northeast Portland area, at 3529 NE Martin Luther King Blvd.
Meanwhile, the Rose City's northern rival Seattle is not to be outdone, and plans for its first cat cafe, Seattle Meowtropolitan, are in the works. The couple behind the concept, which is planned to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors by housing adoptable cats, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign and they're hoping to open the cafe sometime in mid-2015. A location hasn't yet been determined.
As amazing as it would be for Spokane to have its own cat cafe, I have my doubts that a city our size could sustain a business concept like this in the long-term. Do readers agree or disagree? Why or why not? Would you visit a cat cafe as a tourist in another city? Have you already been to one? We'd enjoy readers' thoughts on the subject. Please comment below or email me, at [email protected].
Also, don't forget to check out the results of the 2014 Cat Friday Halloween Cats Photo Contest! The results were posted last Friday, and we're still waiting to hear from our winner.
Last year, we tackled how online innovations gave rise to anonymous confession pages that allowed bullies to lob any insult at any person, risk-free.
And a lot of older types don't get just how much that sort of anonymous social sabotage can hurt young people. Social media is not a hobby or a game: It’s an entire sector of life, often even more crucial than home life or school life. Meanwhile, the regular introduction of new communication apps — Instagram! SnapChat! — introduces entirely new social navigation challenges, and new avenues to bully.
Most recently: Yik Yak.
The name sounds like the sort of fictional social media app that would show up on The Good Wife, but it’s totally real. Like Twitter, users post short messages. Like Reddit, users can up-vote messages they like, and down-vote messages they don’t. Enough down-votes, and the message disappears. Users can easily search messages from location, like Washington State University or even a specific classroom.
And then there’s the feature that makes all the difference: “The wonderful thing about Yik Yak: it’s anonymous,” a Yik Yak message from the WSU area said today. “The terrifying thing about Yik Yak: It’s anonymous.”
There isn’t even a username associated with each post. They just appear, as if summoned from the ether.
So, like Juicy Campus before it, Yik Yak has become a sensation at universities like WSU. It’s been that way all semester, says Sarah Temple, a WSU senior working as the WSU Panhellenic vice president for membership education.
At first, she says, the messages seemed pretty harmless. But as the semester wore on, the messages began to take on an edge.
“There were some that were sexual in nature,” Temple says. “Some referred to alcohol. Some very degrading to both men and women. When it was less about honest, light-hearted fun, we really had a problem with that.”
In particular, she says, messages began slamming specific fraternities and sororities, even specific individuals. “I think it was focused on our Greek community,” Temple says.
It got personal, she says.
Enter #ReleaseTheYak. Temple says she first saw it three weeks ago on a Delta Gamma member’s Instagram feed. Soon the organic campaign became official: Students would post photos of themselves deleting the Yik Yak app on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram under the hashtag #ReleaseTheYak.
And just like any good meme, the idea has started to spread. University of Washington students have joined.
“In the last couple of hours, [Oregon State University] has now gotten on board,” Temple says. “Other schools have banded with us.”
Viral content, meet viral antibodies.
“Today @OSUGreeks is joining @WSUpanhellenic in the #ReleaseTheYak campaign because we support sisterhood and love, not gossip and negativity,” one OSU student tweet from today reads.
But so far, the efforts haven’t really seemed to stem a tide of WSU Yak messages: In the span of 10 minutes around 1 pm on Thursday, over 30 messages came from WSU. That’s the other problem with something being anonymous. It wouldn’t be hard for WSU students to righteously condemn the app, and make a big show of deleting it, while continuing to send messages under the table. They could keep spreading gossip, keep checking the app, keep slinging barbs or insults.
Most of the messages, however, weren’t particularly vile. “Horatio Cane is the most bad ass crime scene show character to ever exist.” “My friends in class aren’t here so I have to sit here drunk by myself.” “The clock tower being one minute late bothers me.”)
It’s mostly banal stuff. Questions about homework assignments, complaints about essays, meta-commentary about the app itself, and slightly risqué psuedo-confessions: “I finally had sex in every building on campus. I can now graduate” and “if you don’t smack my ass and pull my hair, you’re not doing it right.”
Even if some WSU students still use the app, Temple says, if the content has become less ugly, that’s a victory. At least, over this one specific social media app.
“We have some anonymous Twitter accounts that have done some very similar things,” Temple says.
RTs, many a Twitter profile inform us, do not equal endorsements. Neither, for the record, do Facebook friendships, nor Instagram likes, nor Pinterest pins, nor LinkedIn connections.
But during political season, when an association can make or break a candidacy, some politicians fail to understand that. By now, it’s too late to provide a corrective for this campaign, but hopefully this can serve as a warning for future generations.
Witness Rep. Matt Shea’s campaign against Josh Arritola in the 4th District. Shea has a lot of ways to tie Arritola to groups many conservatives despise — including Arritola publicly telling the nurses union he stands with them. (While he says he’s against Obamacare and for right-to-work, Arritola’s wife is a nurse, and he’s unapologetic for his support for them.) But Shea goes further than just pointing to donations, endorsements or campaign photographs: He goes to Facebook.
“In 2010, my then-opponent was a liberal, pro-choice, union-supported Democrat. She too, had a bad habit of lying about me and my record to gain support,” Shea writes in an email. “So, the fact that my then-opponent and my current opponent are friends makes perfect sense.”
As evidence, he posts a screengrab of Arritola’s Facebook wall, where —J'accuse! — he’s Facebook friends with Amy Biviano, Shea's Democratic opponent two years ago.
The anonymous attack website against Arritola goes even further, saying “according to his ‘Likes’ on Facebook, he is supportive of Mainstream Republicans of Washington State whose website (washingtonmainstream.org) states that Mainstream Republicans are Socially Moderate Republicans.”
Because many Mainstream Republicans are pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, the site implies that Arritola’s Facebook like of this organization overrides his public statements against all abortion.
The opposite problem can occur as well. Back in 2010, County Commissioner candidate Al French’s campaign ran into trouble with its interpretation of Facebook: French simply listed everyone who “liked” his campaign on Facebook as a supporter (though not an official endorser) on his campaign website. That including Roseanne Lasater, a woman who had a Bonnie Mager campaign sign in her yard.
Even in December, after the election, and 50 days after she requested her name be removed from the list of supporters, her name remained as a French supporter on the website. It was only taken down after the Public Disclosure Commission opened an investigation into whether French violated the law by, “with actual malice,” falsely claiming the support of Lasater.
“There were a couple of ‘em that were obviously in Bonnie’s camp that were trying to get information off my Facebook page, but I don’t know that,” French told the Inlander this summer. He added them to their list of supporters “and the PDC said, you know what, that’s not illegal.”
More specifically, the PDC said it didn’t have a clear direction over whether campaign activity on the Internet counted as a “means of mass communication” subject to the state ordinances prohibiting false endorsements.
In fact, one name of a non-supporter is still listed as a supporter on French’s website for this campaign: Local hummus maven Victor Azar, listed in Lasater’s PDC complaint. Azar says he isn’t voting for French or any other incumbent this year.
“I don’t want my name being used in politics,” Azar told me. “I’m a non-partisan altogether. Yeah, I’m not voting for him, no.”
He friended French on Facebook, he says, but it was strictly business.
“I want everybody to be aware of my products,” Azar said. “But that doesn’t mean I endorsed the guy.”
Informed that Azar wasn’t a supporter, French wrote it down on a legal pad, intending to remove his name from the list. “If there’s anybody that’s still on there that doesn’t want to be, let me know and I’ll take them off,” French says.
Yet, to this day, Azar’s name is listed as a “supporter” on French’s campaign site.
In the large scheme of things, these are minor issues. But it gets at a bigger conundrum of this hyper-public, social media-saturated age. "Like" doesn’t necessarily mean like. "Friend" doesn’t necessarily mean friend.
Liking a Facebook status could mean you agree with the statement. But it also could mean you like the way it’s said, or you want to show support, or you have fat thumbs scrolling through a feed on your phone.
Friending a person on Facebook could mean that you are their friend and supporter in real life. But it also could mean you are their acquaintance, that you’d like to date them, that you met once at a party, that you want to keep close track of their statements, that you find their social media presence funny or mockable.
A local activist like Mariah McKay has 4,280 friends. Now, McKay is a pretty social person, but there’s no way she’s actually real-life friends with over 4,280 people. But for an activist, that's a pretty awesome tool to connect with all those people.
I friend Matt Shea on Facebook, I friend Josh Arritola on Facebook. I join Facebook groups about East Valley school politics, Complete Street design, The American Conservative, and the Idaho Democratic Party, but not because I necessarily adopt or agree with any of those views. It’s because I want to follow these people, hear what they say, and hold them accountable.
I accept almost any non-spam friend request, because I know extending my social network’s reach vastly increases the number of potential sources I can message without that message being dumped in the “Others” tab. Facebook chat has become a vital tool for a journalist: I was able to ask former councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin what she thought of Matt Shea while she was on vacation in Italy. That never would have worked if I'd avoided friending her because it would seem like an endorsement.
Many of us already live in a media bubble, with very little exposure to other points of view. The last thing we should have to worry about is being seen as endorsing the entire point of view of every person we "friend" or "follow."
Look, I’m sympathetic. The explosion of online methods of communication have introduced whole hosts of new semiotic riddles: Is that email sarcastic or serious? Is that winky-face because he’s into me? Is the animated pencil scribbling then erasing because he’s self-censoring? Is she now using squirrel emoticons on Skype instead of hearts because something subtle but profound has broken in our relationship, signaling a slow slide toward disengagement and contempt? (Probably.)
Heck, just check out this Key and Peele sketch about how easy it is to misinterpret text messages (language warning.)
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to all of this: If you’re wondering what someone's “like,” retweet, Facebook friendship, or text message means, all you have to do is ask them. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, that’s easier than ever.
It's here! Happy Meow-loween, everyone!
This year's Cat Friday Halloween Cats Photo contest received many amazingly adorable entries. As with last year, we're sharing all the submissions in today's post. But to reward our participants for their efforts — getting a cat to wear a costume and politely pose for a photo isn't easy — we're giving away a $20 gift card to one winner. Since we're a Spokane-based paper, we thought it appropriate to choose a gift card to a locally owned business catering to pets, and to a resident in our readership area. We intentionally left the rules pretty fuzzy at the beginning of the contest this year, because as with last year — who knew how many submissions we'd actually get? Surprisingly, the contest again received many entries from way outside of the Inland Northwest, which is pretty awesome.
This isn't to say we didn't appreciate all the out-of-town submissions. Considering the success of this contest for two years in a row, we're already planning to up the ante next year and get some better prizes lined up. It seems dressing up pets for Halloween has become just as big of a deal as dressing your kids or yourself. The proof is in the results of this little contest, and others hosted by major cat culture sites like Catster.
And now, the costumed kitties!
And now, announcing the winner of this year's Cat Friday Halloween Cats photo contest, Oliver the Cat-osaurus Rex, from Spokane! Congratulations to Oliver and his owner, Chelsey. Please email me ([email protected]) with your top three favorite Inland Northwest pet supply stores, and we'll do our best to get you a $20 gift card to one of them.
Thank you to ALL cats who entered this year. We hope readers enjoy this year's line-up of fabulously costumed kitties. As a disclosure, Inlander staffers who entered did not qualify for the prize. For ethical reasons, we also did not include submissions by those who personally know this writer in the final contestant pool.
How can we make next year's contest even better? Please send us your suggestions or leave them in the comments. Also, remember to keep your cats indoors and safe tonight as festivities take place around your neighborhood!
With No-Shave-November starting in a few days, it's timely that Spokane-based startup Beardbrand, which sells products catering to the "urban beardsman," is competing on the Emmy-winning reality investment show Shark Tank. The episode airs tomorrow night, Oct. 31, at 9 pm, so those who choose to stay in and pass out candy should be able to catch its premiere on ABC.
Beardbrand CEO Eric Bandholz, who has since moved to Austin, Texas, is appearing on the show to introduce the company's mission and products — high-quality beard oils, mustache waxes and beard grooming accessories — to Shark Tank's investors, aka "sharks," who then have the option to invest in a percentage of the company.
Beardbrand's online store was launched last year, after Bandholz and company co-founders Lindsey Reinders and Jeremy McGee worked together during Startup Weekend Spokane. The company currently carries more than 25 products and has reached $1.5 million in annual sales.
The details and results of Bandholz's pitch are being kept secret until after the episode's first airing. It will be available to watch for free online one week after it airs on TV, or soon after it airs for viewers who sign into ABC's site through their TV provider.
Facebook and Twitter seem to be overflowing with other local media outlets' postings about ghosts and supposedly haunted Inland Northwest locales over the past couple weeks. With the big October holiday less than a day away, we decided it timely to revisit the Inlander's archives of creepy coverage, both lighthearted and serious, to get in the mood for All Hallow's Eve.
In the past year, freelance videographer Nathan Brand put together several heavily researched mini-documentaries for a short series he dubbed "Unsolved Secrets of Lost Spokane."
Episode 1 takes viewers into the basement of the old Dutch's pawn shop building to see its historic and creepy bear murals that once decorated a speakeasy and card room there.
Episode 2 is short primer on one of the region's earliest serial killers, known as "Bluebeard."
Brand also dug deep to uncover all the grisly details about early Spokane's infamous axe-murdering teen, Sidney Sloane.
Also earlier this fall, Brand took his fascination with unsolved murders and Spokane's darker past even deeper to investigate the unnatural death of prominent public figure, Spokane fire chief Al O'Connor, who unexpectedly dropped dead more than 30 years ago. The cause of his death still remains a mystery.
In time for the Halloween season last year, we also sought to enlighten readers about some of the Lilac City's best urban legends, like the haunted "Thousand Steps" at Greenwood Cemetery, some creepy, unexplained happenings at the Dania Furniture building, and downtown's resident theater spirits.
Our fascination with the lesser-seen and super-creepy underground sites around the region doesn't end there. Photographer Stephen Schlange was on a mission last fall to document what lies behind some of the city's locked doors that only a few are privy to.
Back in the early aughts, then-Inlander staffer Mike Corrigan penned a fascinating first-person account of his discoveries beneath Spokane's downtown streets in a piece titled "Speakeasy Spelunking."
Later, Corrigan went back underground to seeking for evidence of Spokane's Cold War-era nuclear bomb shelters.
Another past staffer uncovered the haunted histories of Spokane's most famed ghost-ridden sites — The Davenport Hotel and the Patsy Clark Mansion.
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