Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 5, 2012

The Whatcom Excavator Abuses Flowcharts

As loyal readers know, I am a bit of a fan of charts. More than that, I am a chart elitist. There, I have thoroughly doomed my electoral future. I can see the attack ads now. Anyway, I often build charts of data, or thoroughly mock terrible charts from other people.

So imagine my befuddlement when I was reading the Whatcom Excavator and found this.

The Whatcom Excavator flowchart

Before I even get into the context (spoilers: it doesn’t help), what stands out about this chart? It is a mess. The whole point of a flowchart is that there is some sort of flow. That arranging the people and connections shows more information than just vomiting them up on a white space. By using color, arrows, and position on the graph, you can convey how various concepts are connected. For instance, here is a flowchart of X-Men characters.

X-Men Flowchart

At a glance, you can get a pretty good idea what they are trying to convey and what relation most of the concepts have to each other. Why? They have labeled the lines connecting people and grouped them in bundles that make sense. They used color and alignment to convey, frankly, a great deal of information.

I intentionally chose a confusing example to show just how crazy this Whatcom Excavator piece is. I keep going back to their flowchart . . . no . . . let me rename that. Their SWAMPchart and asking myself, “Why does the Governor’s Office and the County Council have a direct line to Gaia? Did I blackout and miss the part where Gov. Gregoire appointed Captain Planet head of the Department of Revenue?”

According to their blog post, this SWAMPchart shows the secret cabal of elected officials, activist and organizations (is that what “No County Planning?” counts as?) that have emailed each other about the Reconveyance. You remember the Reconveyance right? That screaming deal where Whatcom County turns a good chunk of the land around Lake Whatcom into a fantastic park that will drive tourism to our area and protect our water quality? A deal so good that conservative county councilman, and secretive emailer, Sam Crawford supports it? A deal that cost Tony Larson his seat on the council because he was too partisan to see the good business sense in keeping our drinking water clean? Yeah, that Reconveyance.

The writers of Whatcom Excavator, which has now been added to our blogroll on the right, make the case that there is a secret conspiracy by all these groups to support this deal. Apparently, some local activists emailed a few proponents with questions and concerns involving a draft proposal of the deal. Now there is nothing illegal about a political email landing in a public officials email box, that happens all the time. What is illegal is if they respond to the political nature of the email. Which none of these public officials seemed to do.

Personally, I’m delighted that local activists would engage with public officials, and draw upon them as sources of information. That is the point of public service. I’m sure if Greg Brown, Republican activist, who I suspect is the main writer for the Whatcom Excavator, could email the Parks Director with his thoughts too. That’s the big scandal they are reporting on. A handful of local proponents of the project sent in their thoughts and persuasive arguments to each other and occasionally sent them to the Parks Director at the County. Quick! Get me a fainting couch! There is a conspiracy!

But back to this hilarious SWAMPchart. If you were to arrange all these crazy ideas onto one chart, and were going to do it right, here’s what you do:

Reconveyance Conspiracy

Notice, I cleaned out the truly bizarre boxes (Gaia? No County Planning?) and simplified others (Do Dan and Lisa need separate boxes? Last time I checked, they were still married and quite a united front.) I also kept the color scheme consistent; each realm of people – activists, city, county, state – have a single color. Finally, I added a legend so you know which lines mean what. Seriously, it wasn’t that hard of a remix, and it gets the point across that these people are all talking to each other about the Reconveyance and most of that conversation flows through Mike McFarlane’s email box. That’s the point you are trying to make, right Greg Brown “Editors of Whatcom Excavator”?

Okay, enough graphic ranting. If you want to speak out about the Reconveyance, or as I like to call it, the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve, please attend the county council meeting this Tuesday and make your voice heard. They are holding the final vote on this project, it is not a done deal yet, and I believe that it is a healthy investment in our future.

So please, attend and share your thoughts. Just please don’t do it with a SWAMPgraph. 

P.S. Just got an email back from the “Editors of Whatcom Excavator” in response to my asking if it was Greg Brown who writes for them. They said this, “No, he’s not an editor or contributor. The answer to your question is:  Publius.” In case you missed it, that is a sly reference to Alexander Hamilton’s pseudonym when writing the Federalist Papers. Interesting that a blog so committed to transparency and openness is so opaque about its contributors.



  1. I think there is a mysterious conspiracy to keep RWNJ’s from learning how to create graphs. Lucky for us there is Riley.

  2. Hilarious! Thanks for the funny note on all this. Yes, it is true: Dan and I have talked every day for 30+ years.

    Over the past few years, as the reconveyance has moved forward, hundreds of citizens have contacted their elected official with the vast majority in support. Since Greg and friends have all those emails perhaps they could provide the totals for all of us to see? I’ve heard that approximately 90% are in support of reconveyance but it would be good to know.

    What really stands out in what they’ve uncovered is the complete absence of personal gain from anyone who supports. Yes, I support because I don’t want landslides onto homes or into our drinking water source from clearcut logging on unstable slopes. The mountain bikers support because they want reliable low-impact trails on public land for local business and recreation. Others support the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve for a fantastic place to hike year-round. The city supports because this will reduce the amount of phosphorous going into the lake and cut down on algae and thus, water treatment costs.

    And of course, having a low-impact forest park with views for miles in every direction right on Bellingham’s doorstep is a great selling point for business! I applaud the county council for having the vision to see that this will be a true asset to all of us.

    Next Tuesday, 7 pm, Whatcom County Council will be the place to be as the final vote takes place!


    • Nothing to gain. Pretty good. It’s no secret to anybody that conservation’s a goldmine that keeps on giving.

  3. Well, someone needs to get Publius back on his meds…

  4. Crazy conservatives… why don’t they all move to Ayn Rand land?

    I’m down for any conspiracy that Conservation NW is a part of.

    As long as Pete Kremen and Gregoire and Mitch and Rand Jack are out there conspiring to thwart the stupidity of blind conservatism, I feel much safer.

  5. Conspiracy Chart or not, it is still illegal to sit down and enjoy music on Railroad Street before 9pm. Bellingham Police are on top of this crime wave. Live on Video. The Notorius Mrwtfchuck of Youtube fame, who has been hospitalized for video taping the BPD cops, arrested, prosecuted and finally case dismissed shows how Bellingham enforces its Dance MF Dance! law.

    Thanks Chuck and BPD and of course the Co-ed Dancers… Soon to be on the chart : dancing anarchists disguised as co-eds…

  6. What a very funny flow chart, Riley! Thanks for finding and discussing it. I was so impressed that it is now my desk top image on our PC.

  7. Riley – had a look through one of those disks yourself? There’s a really good quote from “The Devil’s Advocate” (Milton): “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” Here’s better one, more timeless: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” Abraham Lincoln.

    And one last parting thought to ponder, for those with an inkling of how loopy this scheme has always been for a fabricated Disneywild a stone’s throw from the freeway: “Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it.” WE are outta here.

  8. Hmm. I wonder if the author of this chart is the same author (or group of anonymous authors) responsible for the notorious chart printed at NW Citizen, back in 2010?

  9. […] the identity of the people behind the Whatcom Excavator. These so-called advocates of transparency, who I tussled with two weeks ago for their sub-par chart making skills refuse to publicly identify who they are. If you are going […]

  10. […] an F-bomb on live television at least twice and the Whatcom Excavator to already be drafting up more crazy flowcharts to justify how the Democrats are stealing the […]

  11. […] vote. Naturally, I will blog about the meeting. Hopefully, reasonable people will prevail and poorly-flowcharted conspiracies will be […]

  12. […] higher, there were alot of misconceptions about that deal.” I asked him if he believed the Whatcom Excavator-pushed conspiracy theories about the Reconveyance. He paused, “I was upset by some of those emails that came out. […]

  13. […] when it comes to the Chuckanut Community Forest, regularly comments at the Tea Party run blog The Whatcom Excavator, and donated $240 to the Pro-Coal PAC SAVEWhatcom (as well as Bill Knutzen and Ben Elenbaas). So […]

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