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KUOW Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

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  • Just as Seattle sues over car theft, another Hyundai is stolen

    KUOW Blog
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    Seattle is suing carmakers Hyundai and Kia for an ignition issue that makes some of their vehicles targets for theft. Both say they are working on software fixes now.

    Consuelo Crow looked out her window Tuesday morning to where she parked her Hyundai Elantra.

    "And there was nothing but a pile of shiny glass," she said. All that was left were the scattered remains of what had been her car window. The car itself had clearly been stolen.

    Hundreds of Seattle residents know all too well the feeling Crow had that winter morning. Hyundais and Kias were stolen 197 times in December alone, according to the Seattle City Attorney's office.

    But this was the first week Crow heard of the viral videos circulating that show how easy it is to steal Hyundai and Kia models made from 2011 to 2021.

    It takes a screwdriver and USB cord, the videos boast, and it's led to an uncontrolled wave of joyrides and complete theft of the cars in the past year.

    Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison says the companies could prevent theft by recalling these cars and installing common anti-theft devices, but that they've failed to do so. She is suing both companies in federal court.

    "Manufacturers have chosen to not install what is almost universal in anti-theft technology in these models of their cars, when it has been shown how easy it is to steal them, and so really it is making our roads less safe," Davison told KUOW.

    From July 2022 to July 2023 Seattle had a 620 percent increase in reported thefts of Hyundais and Kias.

    "As a result of that," Davison says, "our police force has had to tackle a huge rise in vehicle theft with already stretched resources. And now, frankly, Seattle taxpayers are shouldering the burden of that increase in theft."

    The same companies are already facing a consumer lawsuit over the theft issue, in Iowa.

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  • Four white men who attacked Black DJ sentenced for federal hate crime in Seattle

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: Tyrone Smith, right, describes impact of 2018 racist attack as four defendants are sentenced for a federal hate crime on Jan. 27, 2023. Smith was joined by his fiancée and  the FBI's Rick Collodi, left.
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    Tyrone Smith, right, describes impact of 2018 racist attack as four defendants are sentenced for a federal hate crime on Jan. 27, 2023. Smith was joined by his fiancée and the FBI's Rick Collodi, left.
    Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

    Four white men were sentenced in federal court in Seattle Friday for a 2018 assault on a Black DJ in the city of Lynnwood. All four were convicted of committing a hate crime and making false statements. The man they attacked said his life is forever changed.

    The defendants are Jason DeSimas of Tacoma, Washington; Jason Stanley of Boise, Idaho; Randy Smith of Eugene, Oregon; and Daniel Dorson of Corvallis, Oregon.

    Meanwhile the man they attacked, Tyrone Smith, spoke publicly outside the federal courthouse. “It’s a lot that I’ve lost,” he said.

    Smith said the defendants’ actions changed him from an outgoing person who DJ’ed for his friends for fun, to someone who struggles with anxiety and uses a cane to walk.

    “As we can all see, it’s been a long road for me,” Smith said. “But I had enough courage to come down and make sure this process was handled and justice was actually served.”

    Federal officials said the four defendants admitted to being members of a white supremacist group. They were taking part in a larger white supremacist gathering on Whidbey Island at the time of the attack.

    Nick Brown, the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, said seeking consequences for the attack was a high priority for the Justice Department and the FBI.

    “A number of white supremacists targeted him, attacked him, and have forever altered his life,” Brown said. “And whenever we have a case like that, we want to do everything we can to make sure those individuals are held accountable and that we treat hate crimes as the virus that it is.”

    Rick Collodi, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Seattle’s field office, said the defendants tried to conceal their actions, but the truth ultimately came out.

    “The defendants chose to assault him because of the color of his skin — a crime motivated by hate,” Collodi said. “Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s civil rights program because of the devastating impact they have on families and communities.”

    He said hate crimes can be difficult to investigate because they must demonstrate that the crime was motivated by the offenders’ bias.

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  • Can Washington's capital gains tax survive the Supreme Court?: Today So Far

    KUOW Blog
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    • Arguments for and against Washington's capital gains tax are being heard by the state Supreme Court.
    • The Bellevue School District is considering the closure of three elementary schools because enrollment is down. Where are all the kids going?
    • I don't know who needs to hear this, but it should be said...

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for January 27, 2023.

    Will Washington's capital gains tax survive the courts? It's an important question, because lawmakers are currently making state budgets in Olympia right now, and some are counting on that tax to make the numbers work. But a challenge to this tax has made it all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

    In 2021, Washington passed a 7% tax on the sale of stocks and bonds worth more than $250,000. Anyone familiar with tax battles in Washington knows that this is very tricky legal territory. In short, Washington's courts ruled in the 1930s that income is property. The state constitution says all property has to be taxed equally. That's why McMansions are taxed the same as the shack on the other side of town. Because of this legal setup, passing taxes on anything that relates to income has been difficult in Washington. And the profits made off assets like stocks and bonds could be considered income. Lawmakers had an idea, however. They got a capital gains tax through by calling it an "excise tax," not "income." So it's taxed like a good or service would be. The folks challenging the capital gains tax argue that this is just word manipulation and capital gains income is just income. A lower court has already ruled in favor of opponents.

    Still, how well these arguments hold up remains to be seen. The Supreme Court will have the final say and it just heard arguments this week.

    The Bellevue School District is considering the closure of three elementary schools, a move that has spurred deep concerns among parents.

    School districts from Northshore to Shoreline and Lake Washington have experienced student enrollment declines of 2–5%. Seattle has seen a decline of about 7%. In Bellevue, it's worse — more than 9% over the past three years.

    The above mentioned enrollment declines were brought up by Bellevue Deputy Superintendent Melissa deVita at a recent open house to discuss the developments with families. A core issue is that some schools are well below their capacity, yet the district is paying to keep their full operations up and running.

    "The question really comes down to what is the priority in our school district?" deVita said. "Is it the location of the school building, or the services our students receive when they arrive at school? We cannot keep the same service levels in all of our schools if we keep the same number of elementary schools that we currently have, and allow our enrollment to drop down as low as 200 students per school."

    Floating around Bellevue's situation are many possible factors: lower birth rates, the rise in housing prices and the cost of living, the pandemic, etc. But KUOW's Soundside points to another possible cause: Private schools. Bellevue doesn't seem to be losing kids in the K-12 age range. So where are all these kids going to school? Soundside notes that private school enrollment has shot up across Washington state over the past three years, with more than 8,300 (11%) ditching public school and going with a private option. Local private schools also tell KUOW that there have been considerable spikes in enrollment in recent years. Public school funding is partially based on the number of its students, so fewer kids means less money. Check out Soundside's full story here.

    I just have one last thing before I get to the Friday Five. There's a story on KUOW.org that I just have not been able to shake. It's not local, but it will keep me up at night. Some folks are suing the company that makes Fireball whiskey because they found out the mini-bottles of Fireball don't actually have any whiskey in them. Unlike the large bottles of cinnamon-flavored whiskey, the tiny bottles just have wine and malt beverage, and cinnamon flavor. What?! The irate consumers argue this amounts to fraud. I don't know who needs to hear this, but if you're worked up over the quality of Fireball — the whiskey equivalent of Cheez Whiz in a can — it's time to stop and take a hard look at your life, and maybe come to terms with some regrets. You might also need to hear that Cheez Whiz isn't exactly cheese; Axe body spray will not actually prompt hordes of potential mates to uncontrollably chase you down and cuddle with you; and when when Milli Vanilli sang "Girl you know it's true," they weren't being very truthful (it's still a catchy tune though).

    The Friday Five: News you may have missed this week, and other cool stuff

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  • WSU removing Covid vaccine requirement for most students

    KUOW Blog
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    Washington State University will nix its Covid-19 vaccine requirement for most students.

    The new Covid vaccine policy will go into effect over the summer quarter. According to Joel Schwartzkopf, who oversees Cougar Health Services, the move is prompted by changes to pandemic conditions.

    “Requiring the Covid‑19 vaccine for students was essential during the peak of the pandemic to help protect the health of our communities across the state,” Schwartzkopf said in a statement. “Our understanding of the virus and the tactics to combat it are evolving and we continue to follow the best available evidence from local, state, and national public health authorities, just as we have done throughout the pandemic.”

    WSU also says that the majority of its students are following vaccine recommendations anyway.

    While the rest of the university will have the vaccine policy change, the Covid vaccine requirement will stay in place for WSU Health Sciences students.

    According to the university:

    "WSU continues to recommend that all members of the university community get vaccinated against COVID‑19 and stay up-to-date on their boosters in keeping with recommendations from CDC. The university also encourages individuals to take appropriate precautions if they are feeling ill, such as wearing tight-fitting masks and staying home when sick."


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  • Aren't really rules at all

    KUOW Blog
    Illustration by Carlos Carmonamedina
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    Credit: Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR Public Editor

    By: Kelly McBride, NPR Public Editor

    The following is a segment from NPR's Public Editor newsletter

    American journalism has no universal set of rules. Every newsroom sets its own standards. This is sometimes perplexing for news consumers and even for journalists. As a journalism ethicist, I'm told by people all the time that they thought journalists weren't supposed to:

    • Show dead bodies
    • Report on a suicide
    • Name a rape survivor
    • Label someone as mentally ill
    • Name children accused of crimes
    • Publish hacked information
    • Name a mass shooter (which is the topic we are about to address)

    But newsrooms only have guidelines. When the founders of this country wrote the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of the press," they created a system where the only regulating forces on professional journalism are self-regulation, civil courts and public pressure.

    The only standards that can be enforced are those imposed from within, by the news organization itself. Although there are universal values that journalists agree upon, like truth and independence, across the thousands of newsrooms in America, there are thousands of applications of those values.

    An NPR audience member wrote in to discourage journalists from using the name and image of school shooters beyond initial reports.

    The audience member's reasons are solid: Researchers believe media coverage of mass shootings contributes to a contagion effect. With several recent mass shootings getting a lot of coverage, it's important for newsrooms to note their role in influencing this contagion.

    In principle, an internal ban on naming mass shooters could potentially undermine NPR's core promise to inform the public. And on a practical level, newsrooms are competitive and might never agree to unified behavior. One newsroom withholding a name would have no impact on whether the public actually knew the name.

    Does this lead to the lowest common denominator when it comes to standards? It has the potential to, unless news organizations can foster an environment where journalists understand the many values that underpin their decisions, the way those values compete with each other, and how to make thoughtful choices with clear journalistic intentions every time a question arises.

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  • Capital gains tax challenge reaches Washington Supreme Court

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: Solicitor General Noah Purcell argues in support of the capital gains tax before WA Supreme Court on Jan. 26, 2023.
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    Solicitor General Noah Purcell argues in support of the capital gains tax before WA Supreme Court on Jan. 26, 2023.
    Credit: Courtesy of TVW

    The debate over whether wealthy people in Washington should pay a capital gains tax has reached the state Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in Quinn v. Washington on Thursday.

    Supporters say it’s an issue of tax fairness. Opponents say this is yet another unconstitutional attempt to pass an income tax. This was the determination of the lower court, which ruled against the tax last March.

    Supporters of the state’s capital gains tax say the lack of an income tax in Washington has created a structure where poorer people pay a much greater share of their income in taxes than wealthier people.

    In 2021 lawmakers passed a 7% tax on profits from sales of assets like stocks and bonds over $250,000. They called it an excise tax on those transactions.

    Anti-tax groups sued, calling it an income tax. Former Attorney General Rob McKenna argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs Thursday, and said the excise tax label is incorrect.

    “There’s nothing new under the sun when it come to this issue, in the sense that trying to call an income tax an excise, trying to tax income by imposing an excise on the privilege of receiving income has been tried several times in this state by state Legislature and it’s been struck down every time,” McKenna said.

    The state constitution says property taxes must be uniform, so the property of wealthier people can’t be taxed at higher rates. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 1933 in the case Culliton v. Chase that income is property and therefore any income taxes are subject to the same constitutional restrictions.

    The Washington Supreme Court could agree with the Douglas County Superior Court and find the tax unconstitutional. Even if the court determines that the capital gains tax is an excise tax, justices had a lot of questions about whether the state could legally tax transactions that occur in New York and elsewhere outside Washington when people sell off assets.

    UW constitutional law professor Hugh Spitzer, who spoke at a press briefing on behalf of backers of the tax last week, said a second path would be for the court to determine that the capital gains tax is not an income tax, but instead a legitimate excise tax. That would be a relatively narrow decision that would allow the tax to survive.

    But it wouldn’t touch the consequential issues around whether the state constitution prohibits a progressive income tax. A third pathway would be for the court to revisit the Culliton case from 1933 which struck down a voter-approved graduated income tax.

    Justice Debra Stephens asked attorney Paul Lawrence, who argued in support of the capital gains tax, “Can you address how we look at a bench of nine second-guessing a former bench of nine on arguments that were raised and dismissed in prior cases?”

    Lawrence responded, “I think the second part of your question is the problem here. The arguments we are raising and the arguments on why Culliton is wrong have never been thoroughly discussed by this court.”

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  • WA could expand resources for solving cold cases with Indigenous victims

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women group members including Earth-Feather Sovereign, right, lead the march during the 'Cancel Kavanaugh - We Believe Survivors' march and rally on Thursday, October 4, 2018, in Seattle
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    Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women group members including Earth-Feather Sovereign, right, lead the march during the 'Cancel Kavanaugh - We Believe Survivors' march and rally on Thursday, October 4, 2018, in Seattle
    Credit: KUOW photo/Megan Farmer

    Washington state lawmakers are considering a proposal that would create a cold case unit for missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.

    The Washington State Patrol’s list of missing Native American people includes 136 names of men, women, and teenagers.

    RELATED: Washington's Missing Indigenous People Alert system goes live

    Last year, the state Attorney General’s Office established a task force to look at how these cases are being handle and recommend changes. The task force produced a series of recommendations for state leaders.

    House Bill 1177 follows up on one of those recommendations, and proposes a cold case assistance unit dedicated to the issue.

    The unit would work on cases with local and tribal police, and prioritize jurisdictions with limited resources for these investigations. The unit would also include a liaison who could work with impacted families and keep them updated. Before that could happen, investigators would have to make requests to reopen cases in each jurisdiction.

    A House committee voted to pass the measure forward Thursday.

    In 2018, a report found that Seattle had the most missing and murdered indigenous women of any U.S. city, and Washington had the second-highest number of any state.

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  • How are tech layoffs impacting downtown businesses?

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Leyla Farange stands behind the counter at Gyros Place in the food court under Twitter's old offices at Century Square across 4th Avenue from Westlake Park.
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    Leyla Farange stands behind the counter at Gyros Place in the food court under Twitter's old offices at Century Square across 4th Avenue from Westlake Park.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

    Behind the scenes as we report on the downtown economy

    Reporter's Notebook, January 26, 2023

    Wednesday was my "spot duty day," when I cover something in a short format story for KUOW's newscasts.

    With all the news about tech companies laying off employees, I wanted to see if that’s having an impact on local businesses. I visited the food court in Century Square, where Twitter used to have its Seattle offices.

    But the impact, business owners there told me, was less significant than I expected.

    “That didn’t affect me at all,” said Leyla Farange, who owns Gyros Place.

    The reason, she told me, is that those Twitter engineers were hardly ever in the office anyway. So for a long time, they have not been coming downstairs to get lunch.

    But these restaurants are hurting, and badly, she told me, because of a much bigger change in the economy of downtown Seattle: Remote work and high food prices.

    Every morning, Farange starts preparing food for the day. There’s lettuce, which used to be $25 to $30 a box, but now is between $75 and $100 (if she can even find it). Meat is twice as much as it was prepandemic.

    She does this prep work Monday through Friday.

    “And with not everybody coming to work every day, you don’t know how to prepare for that day," Farange said. "I don’t know who’s coming to work or not. So there is lots of waste.”

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  • Excited for 5 p.m. sunsets in Seattle? Some folks aren't: Today So Far

    KUOW Blog
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    • Today is the first day since November that the sun will set after 5 p.m. in Western Washington
    • A proposal in Seattle would add caste discrimination to the city's civil rights classifications.
    • Seattle is suing Kia and Hyundai.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for January 26, 2023.

    Today is the first day since November that the sun will set after 5 p.m. in Western Washington. Ever since the winter solstice in December, we've gained a couple minutes of daylight each day. Today, the sun will set around 5:01 p.m. To a lot of people, this is warming news. There are others around Seattle, however, who embrace the dark days of winter. It's a phenomenon that Justin Shaw with the Seattle Weather Blog has noticed.

    "I think to all of us, it's this important, psychological milestone that, this evening, we will burst through," Shaw told Seattle Now.

    "We are coming out of that period between New Year and late January, where it's dark and gloomy, the holidays are over, the bills are due ... there isn't that much to look forward to ... I think once you hit that 5 p.m. time, it's a psychological barrier that says, 'I made it through the toughest month in Seattle' ... It's basically our first sign that winter's grip, long nights and short days, is starting to fade."

    Then there are those who Shaw calls the "vampires." He does a daily countdown on Twitter, marking the days until 5 p.m. sunsets. It attracts a few commenters saying "Boo, hiss, boo! Let the darkness reign! True Seattleites wouldn't be looking forward to the sun. Are you from California?"

    It may sound odd, but I must admit, I'm sort of one of them. I don't feel right unless I have a moderate vitamin D deficiency. And I have long complained that parasols should be more socially acceptable in our modern day. But I understand that the migraine-inducing sun is a big thing for some people. Enjoy.

    Check out Shaw's full conversation with Seattle Now here.

    A proposal in Seattle would add caste discrimination to the city's civil rights classifications. If approved, Seattle would be the first U.S. city to ban caste-based discrimination.

    There are a lot of ways you could liken aspects of American society to a caste system. Richard and Emily Gilmore are not likely hanging out with the Winslows or the Gallaghers (Shameless). ​​​​​​​Hank Hill probably isn't rubbing elbows with the Bluths, who in turn, have never even been to the part of LA where Fred Sanford lives. Still, this is not quite the same as India's caste system. India's social hierarchy has been around for thousands of years as a way to organize groups of people. This social order is too complex to dive into here. Today, caste discrimination is illegal in India, and the country has implemented a sort of affirmative action based on castes. It still influences society there, however. Indians working in Seattle don't want it to follow them.

    “When we Indians come to the U.S., we bring our biases with us,” said Samir Khobragade, a tech worker in Seattle. “And we get away with the discriminatory behavior because people in the U.S. do not know how to spot this discriminatory behavior."

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  • 6 Washington bars and restaurants on the 2023 James Beard semifinalist list

    KUOW Blog
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    Six bars and restaurants in Washington state have made it onto James Beard's 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists. Five of them are in Seattle. And that's just for starters. Washington's culinary artists are also represented on the list of outstanding restaurateurs and best chefs in the region.

    The nominations for local eateries include:

    • Outstanding chef: Renee Erickson, of The Walrus and the Carpenter
    • Emerging chef: Kevin Smith of Beast & Cleaver
    • Outstanding restaurant: Copine
    • Outstanding Bar: Rob Roy
    • Outstanding Hospitality: Nominees include Lark, in Seattle, and the Black Cypress, in Pullman.

    The Pham family, owners of Phở Bắc Sup Shop, Phởcific Standard Time, and The Boat have also been nominated for "outstanding restaurateur."

    Five Washington chefs are in the running for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific. The category covers Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. Out of the 20 chefs in the running, four are from Seattle. The list includes:

    • Tony Brown, Ruins, Spokane, WA
    • Melissa Miranda, Musang, Seattle, WA
    • David Nichols, Eight Row, Seattle, WA
    • Mutsuko Soma, Kamonegi, Seattle, WA
    • Aaron Verzosa, Archipelago, Seattle, WA

    The James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony is June 5 in Chicago.

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  • Boeing faces crash victims' families in federal court

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Renton.
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    A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Renton.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Boeing is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in the case of two deadly 737 Max crashes.

    The 2018 and 2019 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. Boeing's 737 Max was grounded for nearly two years, pending changes to the flight control system that led to the accidents.

    Boeing had settled the case with Department of Justice, agreeing to pay $2.5 billion. Victims' family members say they were left out of settlement negotiations, though, and are now asking a federal judge to hold the company criminally responsible for their loved ones' deaths. They are accusing the manufacturer of deceiving federal authorities and concealing information about the 737 Max.

    Boeing pleaded not guilty at its arraignment in Texas Thursday morning.

    Richard Aboulafia, an aviation industry analyst and managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, says the case is unprecedented.

    "[There's] a possibility that it's just, basically, going to be an opportunity for everyone to speak their piece," Aboulafia says. "Beyond that, it's far from clear what the ramifications would be."

    After the government settlement, he says the perception was the company would be shielded from further prosecution.

    "A lot of people are scratching their heads over that," he says. "Could they charge them more money? Could people go to jail? I guess it doesn't seem terribly likely. But on the other hand, we're completely in uncharted waters here."

    Aboulafia notes Boeing has made changes to the so-called MCAS system that led to the 737 Max crashes, clearing the way for the plane to return to the skies. He doesn't expect the case will have any impact on sales.

    "Customers are sticking with the plane," he says. "There's still a pretty healthy stream of orders. I don't see how this is going to have any impact."

    That begs the question, though: "How does this play out?"

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  • Mike's adventures in art: Seattle comedy laughs on Cap Hill

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Black Out Comedy Show
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    Black Out Comedy Show
    Credit: Courtesy of Jaavan Jones

    If you are looking for some tips on how to experience art in the Seattle area, you are in the right place. In this weekly post, KUOW Arts Reporter Mike Davis gives you tips on what to do around Seattle over the weekend so you can have your own adventures in arts and culture.

    Comedy

    The Black Out, Seattle’s only all-Black comedy show, is at Olmstead on Capitol Hill every fourth Thursday of the month.

    “[The show’s] been selling out every single time, which has been great. The support has been awesome," said host and producer Javaan Jones.

    This January features a lineup of comedians from Portland, Oregon, headlined by Jaren George. You can see the full lineup online, but Jones says there will also be a few surprise guests that will stop by and take the stage.

    The Blackout Comedy Showcase, at Olmstead (314 Broadway East, Seattle), Jan. 26, 9 p.m.

    Theater

    I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, at the Seattle Rep is based on a novel of the same name. It tells the story of a teenage girl grieving the death of her older sister while trying to follow her own dreams of becoming a writer. Showing through Feb. 5 at Seattle Rep, 155 Mercer Street.

    This Bitter Earth, at Seattle Public Theater dives into politics and how the pressures of our politicized society can cause struggles within our intimate relationships. At the center of this story is an interracial couple who must overcome the delicate balance between passion and political priorities. Showing through Feb. 19 at Seattle Public Theatre, 7312 West Green Lake Drive North.

    Visual Art

    This is my pick of the week. If you do one thing in arts over the weekend, I’d suggest you head to the Seattle Art Museum and check out Anthony White: Limited Liability.

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