This page contains all entries posted to Jack Bog's Blog in July 2005. They are listed from newest to oldest.
June 2005 is the previous archive.
August 2005 is the next archive.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.
The Oregonian keeps rubbing Portland's nose in its outlandishly expensive police and fire disability and pension system. Today's angle on the story was to make it personal -- intensely so -- in the direction of City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who's been both an overseer and beneficiary of the system at the same time for many years.
Fireman Randy's many maneuvers in support of the cushy pension program over his long political career are laid out for all to see. It's not a pretty picture. "Awkward" is how I believe he describes his posture. That's putting it mildly. The gory details reviewed today include several instances in which his duties as an elected official and his own private interests appear to have been in hopeless conflict. The unspoken point of the piece, and it's a valid one, is that the good commish may be a fox in charge of henhouse security on this one.
Unfortunately, there are some eye-popping cheap shots thrown in along the way. For one thing, the article does little or nothing with the fact that another of our city fathers, the mayor himself, also has a huge snout in the police pension trough. If Leonard deserves some roughing up over his conflicts, you wonder why the mayor gets off without a mention.
Even nastier, the piece digs into some of Randy's past personal problems, including some fairly dramatic episodes with alcohol and allegations of domestic abuse. Ostensibly, it's relevant because the piece is partly about his own disability pay as a fireman. But from any objective standpoint, it's just piling on, in the tabloid tradition. It's literally as close to asking the guy, "When did you stop beating your wife?" as I have ever seen a newspaper come.
I guess this is the new hard-hitting Oregonian -- go over every last pickle on Don Mazziotti's expense accounts, see if they can catch Ernie Kent acting like a bachelor, dredge up the file on Leonard driving after drinking many years ago. Let's get the wives' names into the articles, too.
What heroic journalism. Imagine if they had been half that nasty with Neil Goldschmidt and Bob Packwood.
UPDATE, 5:35 p.m.: I should have known, Randy's got a response up on BlueOregon already.
Few things get my mind off my troubles as well as a friendly poker game does, or a couple of days at the beach. So it was our extreme good fortune to combine the two as the usual poker suspects from Portland trekked over to the coast for the first-ever road game -- Beach Pokerama 2005.
Ate serious good food. Sloshed down the finest red wines. Had a cigar, even. Won $20 over two nights. Took a hike along the spectacular coastal cliffs. A million stars Friday night. Brilliant sun. Breathtaking views.
Most of these buddies have been playing cards with each other for around 25 years. Funny how the topics of conversation have changed over that time. Now it's vacation home ownership, world travel, even some talk of retirement creeping in.
It's a very uncertain world out there these days. But when that last card comes over and you know you've got "the nuts," life is still really good.
A week without comments on this blog has been a real breath of fresh air. No offense to you, dear readers, but it's been more fun guessing how you are reacting to what I am writing than it is reading what the more vocal of you have to say. Plus, no arguing with people -- very good for the soul. I may make the "comments hiatus" a recurring event.
Anyway, I've thought long and hard over the past week about what my new comments policy should contain. There have been a number of problems with the comments on this blog lately (besides the perennial hassle of spam), and I've been working on a plan to make the troubles go away.
I greatly appreciate the vast majority of comments that my readers have left here. But there are an increasing number of posts that I find inappropriate, and I've decided to take action. Here is what I have come up with. It's probably unnecessarily detailed, and even so it leaves out the obvious prohibitions on incivility, profanity, and defamation. But the executive summary is "Be succinct, be civil, be reasonable":
1. Comments may be no greater than the following maximum lengths: 150 words for a first post by a commenter in a thread, and 50 words for any subsequent post by the same commenter in the same thread. Multiple postings that aren't broken up by a comment by someone else are treated as a single comment for this purpose. If you have more than that to say, you need to have your own blog, to which you can post a simple link in the comments here if you wish.
2. A commenter may comment in no more than one new comment thread per day.
3. Off-topic comments that make the same point that the commenter has previously made on this site are not welcome.
4. Comments that relate to my workplace are strictly prohibited.
5. Comments that make ad hominem remarks about other commenters, or particularly about me, are forbidden.
6. Comments that violate these policies wil be removed. Commenters who repeatedly have their comments removed will be banned from further commenting.
7. I reserve the right to remove any comment or to ban any commenter from commenting, or from accessing this site altogether, for any reason, or for no reason.
8. Please hit the "Post" button only once, and wait. Software and server limitations make the process slow sometimes. Hitting the button again doesn't speed things up; it posts the comments twice, which only I can fix. Multiple copies of the same comment will all be removed.
Comments will reopen with new posts beginning Sunday afternoon. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Another challenger threw his hat in the ring today against Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman in his upcoming re-election bid. Sandy Leonard (pictured right), a resident of the Lair Hill neighborhood and second cousin to current Commissioner Randy Leonard, announced his candidacy surrounded by well-wishers at the Subway sandwich shop at NE 72nd Avenue and (appropriately enough) Sandy Boulevard.
"I want to represent all of Portland," said the candidate, a retired cabdriver whose only prior experience with elective office came with two terms as a second vice president of the St. Stephen's Knights of Columbus in the mid-1970s. "The incumbent only seems to care about the people who use the sewers."
Leonard said he believes he can make a difference on the City Council. "My cousin needs all the help he can get over there with those crazies he has to work with," Leonard declared. "Look at the thing in the paper yesterday. He says he's going to go take a sledgehammer to those houses that that guy is fixing up without a permit. Back in the day, Randy and me busted up a few places together, if you know what I mean."
The diminutive Leonard says he's also concerned about the erosion of the city's many grand traditions. "We're losing what makes this place special," he said. "I went down to the Jefferson Theater the other afternoon, and I got lost. I think they knocked it down for condos. That place held a lot of memories. I used to tell the wife I was going to that jazz-pizza joint they had in there, but I'd always catch the latest flick."
Leonard said he thought his candidacy would attract younger voters. "Right now they're mostly worried about getting shot when they leave the bars," said Leonard. "I can relate to a good bar fight, but nowadays it's a lot more dangerous." At which point he attempted several stanzas of 50 Cent's "In Da Club," much to the chagrin of the two teenagers who were busy assembling Leonard's order, a footlong sweet onion chicken teriyaki on wheat with extra mayonnaise (not toasted).
Leonard told reporters that he planned to take tax money to finance his political campaign, under the new "voter-owned elections" system. "It's about time I got something back for all the taxes I'm paying. I'm not on the gravy train like Randy and the Chief. But I need to get a bunch of $5 checks together in a hurry," he observed. "I figure the guys at the Eagles are good for about 20, and the bingo ladies may cough up another 10 or so if the Mrs. twists some arms. After that, I'm thinking about hitting the karaoke joints."
Plus, it looks like the Macy's down at the Valley River Mall in Eugene's going to close. Ah, such is life in big corporate America. Eventually there will be just three department store chains, to go with the three banks, three grocery chains, three insurance companies, three radio station chains, three accounting firms, etc.
Interesting story in The O this morning about the continuing uglification of Portland. In addition to tax-subsidized condo skyscrapers, we have "infill," which is another word for building oversized particle-board cheese boxes on every available lot -- even moving grand old houses to make room for them -- and calling them "townhouses."
The majority of Portlanders don't seem to want these, but that does not appear to matter. Metro wants them. Developers want them. People moving here from the San Fernando Valley want them. Commissioner Sten wants them. So we get them. All the 200 sheep down in the Planning Bureau say baaaaaaaa. They act like it's a force of nature. No, it's a force of bad government.
No mention of the fact that the population within the city limits is actually declining. I wish the libertarians had a petition about this one.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is that it was written by somebody other than Randy Gragg, whose word processor has a limiter installed that does not allow the word "ugly" ever to be typed. He must be packing for Harvard.
As well it should. Just the other day our four-year-old and I took a walk in the late afternoon sun, about 10 blocks or so over to the coffee shop and library branch. Through her eyes, I saw all sorts of things that I otherwise would have blown right by. When we got home with all our great finds, I realized it was the best thing I'd done in quite a while.
Don't get too cocky, though, folks. Jersey City is No. 9, and having gone to school and worked there for nine years, I can tell you that there are parts of that town where you should run, not walk, and it's not for the recreational benefit.
UPDATE, 6:06 p.m.: I am reminded that there is an entire blog devoted to walking around the Rose City.
The Oregonian is nothing if not dedicated. For example, in today's edition we see that they sent not one but two reporters out to essentially rewrite last week's Willamette Weekarticle about the strictly platonic friendship that Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto recently struck up while on the job.
The first day of the two-day Oregon Bar Exam is now history, and our correspondent SCM over at Menagerie, who's taking the darn thing, has actually blogged about it. From her post, I see that no tax question was asked. Too bad -- she would have aced it.
Back in Mizzou, Mellow's doing the same. Enjoy pulling that plug Wednesday afternoon when it's over, friends!
I was just cleaning off some of the Tivo backlog, when lo and behold, I watched The Daily Show episode, I think from last night, in which host Jon Stewart interviewed arch-conservative Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. It was actually one of the most engaging public affairs segments I have seen on television in some time -- the perfect blend of light and dark, with the conversation covering many bases before it reached the impasse. I felt as though I got to know both of these guys better.
The rap these days is that in some age brackets, more people get their news from late night talk show comics than from any other source. So what? In this case, that was not such a bad thing.
Regular readers know that I moan a fair amount about the crummy business climate in Portland these days. But it could be worse. Back in my old hometown of Newark, N.J., the business news gets worse every day. A large employer just announced it's packing up shop, leaving its blue-collar workers in the Ironbound section with the choice of a tough relocation or the loss of a weekly paycheck.
Nasty story in the paper today about a 19-year-old child care worker at a 24 Hour Fitness here in the Portland area who's accused of sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl placed in his care. As a former member of a 24 Hour club, I'm not surprised. I eventually got disgusted with the inattentive, self-absorbed, unprofessional behavior of the young people who worked there. The place was filthy most of the time, and when someone actually picked the lock on my locker and stole money out of my wallet one evening while I was working out, the kid at the front desk simply could not have cared less. The sum total of his response was something like "Wow, that's a drag, dude." And back he went to whatever the curious agenda of a staff member there might be.
24 Hour got its name when it used to be open 24 hours a day. No longer, apparently. Perhaps it should change its name to 24-and-Under Fitness, because no one over that age is likely to be satisfied with the place.
One of the great things in modern life is having a capable physician that you can count on and trust. I am blessed to have just such a doctor, and today it was time for my regular routine visit, to see how my 51-year-old body is doing.
Thank heaven, the answer appears to be, pretty much fine. Not what it was when I was 21, or 31, but not bad. There are a couple of things to watch, and there are some choices that only I can make, but I'm letting my man Dr. Lou take the worry out of things for me.
I had a few really good numbers that I'm bragging about. BMI of 23.8, chol. 185, LDL 109, ratio 3.1, PSA a mere 0.71. And how's your C-reactive protein? I'm down there at 0.6, which Lou tells me is good.
Generous with his time, not working for the insurance companies, keeping up on the latest, listening carefully, helping me put (and keep) things in perspective. Ya gotta love the guy. I couldn't ask for better.
One of the ways college kids made money back in my youthful days in northern New Jersey was to "shape up" at one of the many local warehouses and shipping terminals. When one "made the shape," he was presenting himself for work loading or unloading trucks. The pay was halfway decent, and therefore very good for a college kid, but the work was backbreaking awful and often took place in the middle of the night.
I never shaped up -- not even once-- because I had the good fortune to land myself a job as a newspaper reporter about halfway through college. But my cousin James, of Parkway Rest Stop fame, shaped up one summer and now lives to tell the tale. A dang good one, too. As with his boot camp stories, let's hope there are at least a few installments on this one.
Tracy Smith, the management consultant whose conduct as a $94,000-a-year employee of the Portland Development Commission resulted in her recent suspension, resigned on Friday. Parts of her story (including a scoop about her questionable moonlighting acitivities) were chronicled here back when they were breaking last month.
Ms. Smith was ratted out by PDC consultant Anthony Harris, whom she hired to "coach" a guy that she was supposed to be coaching herself, deputy PDC director Wyman Winston. After Harris's own problems came to light and Ms. Smith refused to circle the wagons around him, Harris leaked some of her e-mail, in which she allegedly pressured Harris to pressure Winston to give her a raise.
Winston was docked a couple of weeks' pay from his $132,914 salary (and "suspended," which I guess could mean some golf time), but "Coach" Smith is out of there. Presumably Harris is long gone, too.
Next Monday, two more Vera Katz appointees to the PDC board (including chair Matt Hennessee) will officially leave, new CEO Bruce Warner will arrive, and the Potter Era of urban renewal will finally begin in earnest.
Although there are still lots of serious concerns about the PDC, we've got nowhere to go but up. Send out the clowns.
Well, I've been sued. As have about 389,000 other Roman Catholics here in Western Oregon. The federal court overseeing the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Portland has decided to turn the case into a "defendant class action," in which each and every member of the congregation is a defendant.
It's a virtually unheard-of type of court proceeding -- and doubly so since people are now being dragged into court because of nothing more than their religious affiliation.
This development is going to cause all sorts of confusion and fear among the faithful when they start getting the letters breaking the news to them. "Greetings! You're now being sued individually by the people who were sexually abused by priests when they were children." Imagine an elderly pensioner or recent immigrant trying to figure that one out. There will be lots of misunderstanding. And worry. And other very un-Christ-like feelings.
Even the calmer souls are going to have some serious questions. Can individual parishioners be held liable and forced to pay damages? So far, the story in the media is that they can't.
Well, that's a relief. But the problems don't stop there. Does this mean that when Catholics now fill out credit and insurance applications which ask if they're parties to any lawsuits, they now have to say "yes"? Do you know what that will do to the prospects of getting speedy approval? Or does the archdiocese suggest that Catholics simply lie and answer the question "no"?
Is causing further anxiety and outrage on the part of rank-and-file Catholics the latest archdiocesan strategy? Is the idea now to try to get the folks in the pews all upset at those evil, evil former altar boys who dare to point their fingers at the priests who molested them as children?
If so, it may backfire badly. Consider this: Churchgoers have the right to "opt out" of the class. If they do, we are told, the plaintiffs will then sue them individually.
And to me, that's where it could get interesting. I'm no expert on these matters, but what if a sizeable number of parishioners opted out, got sued individually, and then conceded the case? In other words, what if, as a party to the lawsuit, a parishioner appears and waives any claim she might have to anything that the church has? What will be the consequences if a group of Catholics go to the court and say: "The victims are right! Pay them what they are owed. If they're being unreasonable in their demands for damages -- and some of them probably are -- then their cases need to be tried. And if that means the archdiocese's dirtiest laundry gets aired out in public, so be it. It would be very healthy for all concerned if all the facts of these cases came out."
Then they might turn to the defense table and add: "Stop using us as a shield, Archbishop Vlazny. Take your lumps, pay our debts, and let's get it over with. Mortgage some property and sell some more, and settle these cases.
"You guys screwed up. People's lives were ruined. Don't make it worse by hassling all us little people over it."
It probably wouldn't have much legal consequence. But it wouldn't seem at all inconsistent with something a very bright man once said: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied."
Last year at this time, I was on blogging hiatus. Feeling a bit burned out on the whole process, I pulled the plug for five weeks or so. It was very beneficial.
It's midsummer again, and I'm feeling tired again, but to tell the truth, I'm mostly tired of reading and brooding about certain readers' comments. And so this week, I'm going to try something new. I'm not going on hiatus -- you are!
After this post, no comments for the next week. So get your licks in on this post, folks!
Life can be so good in these parts sometimes. Last night was an example. I barbecued some outrageously good barracuda(!) and cracked open a superb, impossibly cheap bottle of Spanish rosé. I also grilled a little Alaskan sockeye salmon, which our four-year-old loved. "This fish is like heaven with sugar on it," she said.
And she was right.
Then the sky turned a brilliant orange-pink, and a rainbow appeared off in the southeast, when it hadn't even rained. In the middle of the night there was lots of thunder, and a little lightning, and a couple of little spits.
And by the next afternoon, it was just another perfect, mostly sunny summer day in Portland, Oregon, America, Earth.
Just got done breezing through another week's inPortland magazine, included in the Thursday Oregonian. It vacillates between blandly chronicling, and basking in the glow of, what's become of the Rose City -- churches with condo towers over them instead of bell towers, guys who hope they can build aerial trams under budget, long listings of ridiculous housing prices. No thought given to the past or to the long-term future. What it all means is up to the reader.
It's like the Willamette Week, only with all of its critical faculties removed.
Apparently the folks in charge of the Enron bankruptcy carcass have no interest in entering into a sale contract with the City of Portland for Portland General Electric. City Commissioner Erik Sten is returning home from the Big Apple having had his fancy purchase proposal brushed off, if not laughed out of their office.
Now the talk among the City Hall bobbleheads (thanks to "Frogger" for that one) will turn to the city's condemning PGE, which seems highly unlikely.
Hey, Opie! We've blown, what, about $3 million of general fund dollars on this Big Idea of yours? And it's going nowhere. Can we redirect your Sprinkler of Tax Money to something more do-able, like, say, oh, I don't know, reopening the police precincts at night?
In truth, what the city should have been doing for the last six months is spending big bucks to pressure the Legislature to pass genuine utility reform at the state level. That way, when Enron's creditors get hold of the company's stock (or sell it to another Goldschmidt-esque group of private investors), they couldn't pull the stunts that Enron pulled when it owned PGE.
But that wouldn't get anyone's picture in The New York Times, and so instead we did this. Millions in exploratory costs down a rat hole, and the continuing risk that ratepayers will be abused by another group of owners. If this were a business, it would have been out of business long ago, and Opie would be looking for a real job, perhaps as a receptionist in a luxury condo tower.
There's an interesting little brouhaha going over in Depoe Bay. The local newspaper (the Newport News-Times) ragged on one of the local bloggers, and he or she (it's ostensibly anonymous, but surely not to people in that small town) is ragging back. Something about journalist ethics. Nothing like a small-town grudge to generate the written word.
They say they've arrested the guy who was harassing Mr. and Mrs. Lars Larson. If he indeed is the criminal, I hope they throw the book at him. I disagree vehemently with Lars on a lot of things; he's usually little more than a fear-monger. But people who play these kinds of games deserve punishment as well as treatment.
Last week I announced that I was signing the petition to force the City of Portland to put its proposed takeover of Portland General Electric (PGE) up for a public vote. But today I read this in the Willamette Week:
The public-relations firm Gard & Gerber -- which has long represented PGE and orchestrated a ballot campaign against a proposed Portland public utility district in 2003 -- announced that prominent local businessmen had formed the Committee to Support PGE. The committee includes Tom Walsh, the local frontman for Texas Pacific's failed effort to buy PGE, and former PGE president Dick Reiten.
Well, that's the end of that. My copy of the petition goes into the shredder. If it comes down to a battle between Sten and Goldschmidt, I'll take Sten. Not a happy choice, but that's life.
I've banned a couple of commenters here today. They both have been dominating the discussion, and today one of them exceeded the bounds of civility. No hard feelings, but it's time to let some other folks take the conversation in a different direction.
Well, I have now met the Beatles -- I've read the book urging me to do so by my old friend and roommate Steve Stark.
Of course, I'm biased, both by my friendship with Steve and by my love for the Fab Four. But I greatly enjoyed, and learned from, the book.
Stark's angle on the much-told Beatles story is that of a cultural historian. His main purpose here is to put the Beatles into a historical framework -- to identify the social and political forces that the group tapped into, and sometimes even set into motion, consciously or otherwise. With those larger currents in focus, Stark gives a pretty convincing analysis of why this particular rock quartet was successful beyond anyone's wildest imagination.
What surprises me most about Stark's account, however, is his exquisite treatment of the Beatles as people -- particularly John and Paul, who were the group's obvious leaders. Stark provides a detailed look at the two men's childhoods, which were not particularly happy ones. Both lost their mothers, and much of what both of them did in their careers as musicians was influenced by that sad fact. But John's reaction was very different from Paul's, as the author shows us in incident after telling incident. The book reminded me of something that's easy to forget -- how very young these guys were. But it also revealed something I hadn't ever given much thought to -- how wounded they were as people.
By the end of the story, as the group disintegrated, we find John and Paul both wrecks, and young George not far behind in his unhappiness. Only Ringo -- the last-minute add-in to the group, its oldest member, and the one on whom people placed the lowest expectations -- seems to have emerged from the experience unharmed.
Stark also shows how the Beatles busted their tails to get to where they got. He's particularly strong in his accounts of the group's roots in the basement and living room "clubs" of Liverpool, and their wicked road trips to Germany. I never really pictured John, Paul, and George as a bar cover band, bumming smokes and rides from people, but it seems they spent about as much time doing that as they did in the limelight of Beatle prime time.
Another thing the Beatles were about, at least for the first half of their career together, was teamwork. In much of this narrative, they are extraordinarily tight-knit -- a brotherhood, really -- which makes their eventual falling out that much more painful.
Stark is an exceptionally talented writer, and the flow of the book is seamless. What it isn't is hardcore musicology. So much could be said about the beauty, complexity, and innovation of the Beatles' music, but this isn't the place for it. Granted, Stark tells many fascinating stories behind the albums and singles. He does draw a number of comparisons of the Beatles' work with what came immediately before it. And he presents some interesting contrasts between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But he doesn't dig very deeeply into the lyrics and melodies, and he doesn't undertake any systematic critique of the songs. (When he does reveal his tastes, he's more of a Paul fan than a John fan.) Dissecting the sheet music is better left for the musicians and music critics, I guess.
If you're too young to remember the invasion of America by the Beatles, this book will help you understand why they were such a big deal. If you're old enough to have been there, you'll like the book, because it's all about you. Either way, Stark will likely make you a bigger Beatle fan than you were before. He does so by putting you in close touch with the rugged people whose imperfect lives were behind those saintly, happy, now-disembodied voices still emanating, 40 years later, from iPods across the universe.
Every once in a while, The Oregonian's outgoing soul-patch-and-black-beret architecture-critic-who-rarely-writes-about-actual-architecture, Randy Gragg, gets it right. Yesterday was one of those days. But in typical Oregonian fashion, the most important part of the story didn't appear until way down at the end. As they say in the business, he buried his "lede."
The topic was a new political action group formed by Portland's "creative class" -- a self-identified group of designers and other right-brain types who have either helped Portland gain its reputation for hospitality to talented people of their ilk, or at least been attracted here by that reputation. They're wining and dining Mayor Tom Potter and knocking on other politicians' doors, demanding a better atmosphere for their design endeavors. (By the way, the group is described as "a Portland Development Commission-backed effort to figure out ways to support creative industries," and so I bet the food at the Noble Rot soiree with Potter was darned good and the juice was flowing, heh heh. Wonder if, as a taxpayer, I paid for it.)
It's about time the "creative class" folks got together and started lobbying for change, since quite frankly, their future here is not filled with promise at the moment. Simply put, there aren't very many good jobs for them in these parts.
And they're being used. For example, take the official myth that the alterations that are currently being made to the look and feel of Portland -- that is, the skyscrapers being inflicted on the city skyline by the PDC and the 200 or so paid city "planners" -- are somehow related to these people. We show them the shiny Pearl, which gets them here and starts them salivating, but after a few months they're waiting tables at Oba with no better options in sight. Meanwhile, the Usual Developer Suspects head off to the bank with the latest deposits from Retired California.
As I say, way down at the end of the piece, Gragg hits it:
At the Design Exchange event at Mississippi Pizza, a longtime and successful designer, Steve Sandstrom, maybe summed it up best. Promoting Portland as a whole right now is imperative to success, he argues, because nobody here is buying the services or wares.
"My biggest concern as a businessperson is, I don't have any clients in Portland," Sandstrom said. "Without more dollars being headquartered here, we as designers really have a challenge ahead."
No kidding. What the creative class really needs is to have some Fortune 500 companies come or return to Portland for their corporate homes. But will they? Not to Erik Sten and Sam Adams's Portland. Those guys have given up on real industry. Convinced that the only hope for the Portland economy is real estate speculation, the med school, and maybe tourism (if we can somehow get our 6,100 homeless residents to disappear), they're busy building condo towers, streetcars and aerial trams. And spending millions and milions on business-hostile socialist-looking projects like hassling the telecommunications companies and pushing public power on a public that doesn't want it.
I wonder if the creative class will ever be creative enough to see that.
Instead of blowing tens of millions on a Convention Center hotel, the City of Portland ought to build a huge corporate headquarters building somewhere within the city limits -- maybe over in North or Northeast Portland -- and offer any Fortune 500 company free office space for a couple of years if they'll just move a substantial number of executive jobs here.
Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Instead, we'll wallow in the aerial tram and the hotel, thanks.
But I will say one positive thing about the Portland City Council's current economic vision: It's nice having people with masters degrees waiting on you in the restaurants. They're so good with the wine list.
I've long testified on this blog to the joys of being a Costco shopper. Today The New York Times adds that it's also great to be a Costco employee -- so much so that the Wall Street analysts are complaining that the company is giving away too much money to its customers and workers. And yet its stock is outperforming the competition.
It happens every other summer. Some perfectly sensible consumer protection legislation is derailed in the Oregon Legislature by a Republican member of the House, from a rural area, whose constituents are so fixated on hating taxes, unions, and gay people that they don't even notice that he or she is taking money out of the pockets of people just like them and handing it over to corporate thieves.
It's official -- Portland schools superintendent Vicki Phillips (who lives in a nice, normal Northeast Portland house, by the way, not a mansion) has given us all permission to mow the chest-high grass and weeds currently growing on school grounds all over town. But don't use herbicide, Super Vicki says. That's taboo around where the kiddies play.
Guess the clover's going to win, then. Anyway, here's the announcement that went out this afternoon:
To our Portland Public Schools friends and neighbors,
If you've passed a school recently, you may have noticed that our grass is awfully long and the weeds are thriving. With all the cool and wet weather we've had this year, growing conditions have been perfect, and our school grounds are looking awfully shaggy.
We're gearing up to take back our lawns * and we would love to have your help.
Over the last decade, Portland Public Schools has cut our maintenance costs to less than the state average, so that we can put every dollar possible into the classrooms. We now have only two year-round groundskeepers to maintain the lawns, trees and plantings on 753 acres at close to 100 locations. In the summer we hire additional seasonal groundskeepers.
Given current conditions, I have asked our maintenance staff to add two additional groundskeepers for the rest of the summer, and we will purchase another lawnmower. But even with the extra help, we can use some help from all of you in the community.
If you would like to take an hour or two to clean up your neighborhood school, please do! Pull some weeds in the beds, or mow the grass. We'll still swing by for our maintenance, but help from the community would give us a real head start on the backlog.
Individuals can just get out there and help. But if you'd like to organize a group effort, call Stacey Balenger, at 503-916-3401, who can help coordinate. Should you choose to help, please follow Portland Public Schools policy by not using pesticides or herbicides (we used to use well over 7,000 pounds of herbicide a year; now we use next to none). And please, don't tackle any major projects, such as pruning, without checking with Stacey.
Of course, we urge the utmost caution as you volunteer, as the school district can't be responsible for any accidents and we definitely don't want anyone to get hurt.
You are also invited to participate in our special effort to spruce things up for the state of the school year: Community Care Day. This fifth annual event will be on Saturday, August 27.
On Community Care Day, Portland area faith- and community-based organizations, along with business partners, clean up our local schools. A morning's worth of effort shows students that adults care about them, and helps them start school in an environment that shows community pride in their learning. We thank our sponsors, including Best Buy Landscape, Thriftway, Qmedtrix, the Palau Organization and others for their help. (Community Care Day, a Portland Public Schools innovation, has won national recognition, and now takes place in Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts, too.)
Already, more than 60 sites have been confirmed for this year's Community Care Day. If you are interested in participating, please call Kathy Birch at 503-916-3310.
I know many of you, like me, are frustrated when we see shaggy lawns and sprouting weeds. Together, let's do something about it.
The University of Oregon has given its men's basketball coach, Ernie Kent, at least a mild vote of confidence as questions continue to swirl around his personal life. The university has rolled over his contract for another year while it continues to field press inquiries into Kent's off-court conduct. The embattled coach apparently agreed to an interview, then cancelled it and issued a press release that basically said, "I've got problems at home. Leave me alone."
While reporters from established media outlets continue to dig for hard evidence of wrongdoing by the coach, the blogosphere is rumbling with a new story that is bound to add fuel to the fire. According to knowledgeable blogs, in the 1980s Kent had another life -- as a woman.
"It was amazing," confided one blogger, who says he was a member of Kent's '80s entourage. "One night he would be on stage singing 'Slave to the Rhythm,' then the next morning he'd be in the gym working on his crossover dribble." The blogger noted that Kent's likeness in appearance to blues singer Lou Rawls has previously been noted on this blog. "Everybody from the old days laughed when they read that," the blogger said. "You were eerily close, but you missed it just slightly."
That was quick. Yesterday I dropped an e-mail line to the Ask the Voters First folks, asking for a copy of their petition to put the City of Portland's acquisition of Portland General Electric on an upcoming ballot. Today the postman had it for me already:
It's a two-page document -- one that I'm eager to sign. Maybe even collect a few additional signatures myself. Power to the people! No, wait, that's not how I want to put it...
We had a fantastic dinner last night -- not cheap, but fantastic -- at Grolla, over at NE 29th and Killingsworth. Great food, great wine, great hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. It was the last night of the spring-early summer menu -- the new menu arrives this evening. Foodies, check it out.
Have you had enough of Erik Sten's Portland yet? Dave Lister, a regular reader of (and commenter on) this blog, has. He's in the paper today, announcing that he's pulling his small business out of Portland. Says it will save him and his partner $5,000 a year.
Dave, a lifelong Portlander, will continue to live in the city, though, and he says he might run against Comrade -- er, Commissioner Sten. Lister would have my support, that's for sure. (Would that make me a "Listerine"? Never mind.)
Speaking of campaigning against Sten, two men from the Libertarian Party (of all people) are circulating a petition to derail Opie's megalomaniacal fixation on having a public utility district here in Portlandia, even though two out of three voters and most businesses in the region don't want one. No one thinks they can actually raise the 17,794 valid signatures it will take by the extremely short deadline of August 5, but they're going to try.
Two days, two different people pretending to be me.
First there was the spoof blogger, hissing away and slashing out at me with his sharp talons. Anonymously, of course. This just a few hours after I banned a guy from this blog for calling me a "dumbass" in the comments. Gee, do you think there's any connection?
No matter. As I learned long ago from the corrupt politicians of Jersey City: "Every knock is a boost; just be sure they spell the name right."
Then today I get this from a prosecutor up in Washington State, asking me if I want restitution from the creep who stole my identity five years ago. Like I ever want any contact with that person again. Sure, let's get my name and addresss back on the thief's mind, for when he gets out of jail and needs some more crank. Fortunately, my out-of-pocket losses were negligible. And the time I wasted can't be valued in dollars.
But let it be a lesson to you, folks: Do not ever, ever send a bank check to someone you do not know. Ebay buyers -- PayPal or money order only! Trust me on this one. You might even think twice about all those checks you're sending out to reputable companies to pay your bills. You are one mail theft away from a story like mine.
There's a fascinating story in this morning's O about a dynamic, creative, innovative new real estate development being planned for the Tek Woods property, out by the Nike compound in Beaverton. This one is really going to put the West Side on the map. Stunningly beautiful, culturally sensitive, ready to rake in the awards. Unlike the unimaginative sort of Pearl District developer, who can think of nothing but building a condo tower, this builder has a far greater vision:
Six condo towers! Woo hoo! And those Tek "Woods"? Hey, he says he's going to leave a full 20 percent of the trees standing! How thoughtful.
Is Randy Gragg at Harvard yet? We need him more now than ever to tell us about the "beautiful six-story, digitally fabricated, zinc-clad" wonder of it all. Move over, Portland Architecture! Here comes Washington County!
The streetcar and aerial tram can't be far behind. Taxpayers of Beaverton, congratulations!
There's a curious op-ed piece in the O today. In it, the president of the local gas company, who is a high-ranking member of Portland's business elite, loudly sings the praises of the Portland Development Commission, particularly the selfless volunteers who contribute to the agency's operations.
The recent financial scandals at the PDC are nowhere mentioned. And the serious questions that have been raised about the agency's dubious priorities and insensitivity to the values of the city's residents are dismissed with a terse brush-off:
Over the years, there's been disagreement about the short-term goals and implementation of PDC projects. In retrospect, I'm sure we would do some things differently, and some have voiced concerns in recent months.
What's the point of the column? It's a little hard to tell. The closest it comes to an actual punchline is near the end:
With many urban renewal districts waning, now is the time to embark on a serious discussion about the collective vision for the city's economic future and to ensure we're making the best use of the valuable tools we have to work with. This re-examination should be more than aligning bureaus and public agencies. I applaud the mayor's willingness to evaluate whether "business as usual" is good enough.
And my wish is this: As we review the PDC -- its mission, its goals and its operation -- let's remember Ira Keller and his vision. Let's remember the value of independent, citizen volunteers in shaping a city.
Portland wouldn't be the same without that remarkable, intangible and priceless asset.
Can someone who speaks West Hills please translate this for me? The best I can make out is that the Old Boy Network is sending a message to Mayor Tom Potter, that it wants the current bureaucratic structure for urban renewal in Portland left alone.
If that's what this is about, I disagree. The City/PDC organization chart needs a good redrafting. The current system lacks transparency and accountability, and invites waste and corruption.
As for "the value of independent, citizen volunteers in shaping a city," what about the scores of "citizen volunteers" who show up at meeting after meeting with PDC face cards and bureaucrats, only to have their suggestions trashed and their noses rubbed in the resulting mess? I'll take those folks over weaselly aspiring politicians like the current chair of the PDC (19 days and counting) any day.
In yet another stunning innovation, the City of Portland announced today a new spelling system that will reduce the cost of city agency signage. "The current regime has a lot of waste that can be cut out," declared Commissioner Randy Leonard at a press conference outside City Hall. "There are a quite a few letters that can be left out without changing the meaning. You know, like on the Prince albums, where 'to' is '2' and 'you' is 'U'? That is where we need to be heading if we're going to stay competitive in a global economy."
The changes are being introduced gradually, over a five-year trial period. "After that," promised Commissioner Erik Sten, "I'll be may -- I mean, we'll put it up for a public vote, or 'pub vo,' as we'll be calling it by then."
The first example was rolled out at the press conference:
A while back, I got an e-mail message from reactionary talk radio's Lars Larson, who was wondering why I had gone soft on him. When I lean to the right -- or at least toward the center from the PC lunacy that passes for Portland politics -- Lars has been known to read my prose on the air on his local show. Lately I haven't been supplying any grist for his mill. Well, I hope Lars (or whoever's filling in for him if he's out shooting Bambi's mother somewhere) will get on this story. It's an outrage.
Look at what our tax dollars are supporting now:
Can you believe it? A collector's coin, issued by the U.S. Mint, celebrating the life and career of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. My God, at a time when we're about to finally rid our judiciary of all the misguided left-wingers like Marshall, the fools at the Mint find some reason to make him out to be a hero.
It's galling. And in the fancy brochure they send out to coin collectors, they're actually talking about Marshall's famous decision in Marbury v. Madison as if it were a good thing. What nonsense. Constitutional review by an independent judiciary of the acts of the legislature? Letting a bunch of unelected judicial activists impose their will over the will of the majority of the citizenry? It's ridiculous, I tell you, Lars. Get on it.
And the rest of you, write your congressmen today. Tell the liberal creeps like Ron Wyden and Earl Blumenauer that we don't need a silver coin to remind us of one of the worst villains in our nation's history. We need to put a stop to this, and in a hurry.
A while back, I wondered aloud which songs one would pick if one were trying to create a single CD (80 minutes max) that captured the essence of Motown. I set out a first draft of such a playlist, and readers chimed in with some helpful suggestions. After some further tweaking, I've settled on this. If you could program just one disk's worth to tell the Motown story, here's what it would contain:
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ain't No Mountain High Enough
The Four Tops, Reach Out (I'll Be There)
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
Martha & the Vandellas, Dancing in the Street
Marvin Gaye, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
The Temptations, My Girl
Mary Wells, My Guy
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, I Second That Emotion
Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours
Gladys Knight & the Pips, I Heard It Through the Grapevine
The Marvelettes, Too Many Fish in the Sea
Edwin Starr, Twenty-Five Miles
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Shotgun
Shorty Long, Function at the Junction
Martha & the Vandellas, Jimmy Mack
The Jackson 5, I Want You Back
The Supremes & the Temptations, I'm Gonna Make You Love Me
Marvin Gaye, I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Baby, Baby Don't Cry
The Temptations, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
Stevie Wonder, I Wish
Smokey Robinson, Being With You
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Someday We'll Be Together
This left out so many good songs that it wasn't hard to compile a second CD that ought to be included if there were room for two disks:
The Temptations, Get Ready
The Four Tops, Baby I Need Your Loving
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Where Did Our Love Go
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Tears of a Clown
The Temptations, Ain't Too Proud to Beg
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Shake and Fingerpop
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Ooo Baby Baby
Martha & the Vandellas, Come and Get These Memories
The Four Tops, Standing in the Shadows of Love
Diana Ross & the Supremes, You Keep Me Hangin' On
Jimmy Ruffin, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
Martha & the Vandellas, Nowhere to Run
The Velvelettes, He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
Martha & the Vandellas, Honey Chile
The Marvelettes, Don't Mess With Bill
Gladys Knight & the Pips, I've Got to Use My Imagination
The Temptations, Papa Was a Rolling Stone
Edwin Starr, War
Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Stevie Wonder, Living for the City
Gladys Knight & the Pips, Midnight Train to Georgia
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Your Precious Love
This was a fun project, given how much great music I've been listening to to make the choices. The Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, was nothing short of awesome. Hard to believe that the vast majority of these great recordings had the same musicians playing behind all the singers. Hats off especially to those gentlemen.
Before the summer's out, I'm going to try to get a similar list or two together for the other soul powerhouse, Stax/Volt. That will take a little deeper research, but hey, for this kind of punishment, I'm a glutton.
From my nephew, Gary, at the World Series of Poker:
All in -- I had AQ and he had KQ for a 25,000 chip pot. Flop 10 2 4. Turn A (yes !!!!). I now tell the dealer, Please don't throw a Jack, but he does not listen and I am eliminated when a Jack comes. I was speechless...
There's a term in poker called a "bad beat." I don't know if this loss qualifies, but it sounds pretty bad to me. Oh, well. To be one of the top quarter of players in the tourney at age 21 isn't the worst thing that ever happened to a guy. Congratulations to him on winning the satellite tournament that got him there, and on how far he got his first time in Vegas.
My nephew, the oldest member of his generation of descendants of my parents, has survived the first round of the main event at the World Series of Poker -- no limit Texas hold 'em -- currently under way in Las Vegas. He is one of the very, very youngest players in a field of more than 5,600, and he's such a smart and shrewd fellow that I believe he's got a long way to go. They'll be down to 1,700 by the end of the day, with him included. So what if he's got only $9,250 left? The sky's the limit!
From the liner notes of a 1988 retrospective album by singer-songwriter Tom Paxton:
Jimmy Newman was written in the late 60's at the height of the build-up of violence in Vietnam. I think the Tet Offensive had come (and that we had "won") and we were all beginning to see that this thing would go on forever if the people didn't force it to stop.
We will get there again, I'm sure.
On a more current note, Paxton posts some free music here. No matter what your politics, you may want to give a listen to "The Bravest."
The weekend is upon us. But if you'd like to keep that good-time weekday commute feeling going, here's a site just for you. (Via Mauled Again, whose author paid me a real-life visit this week. Good guy.)
An e-question for Portland schools superintendent Vicki Phillips: I know we're trying to send a message to folks about how dire things are financially, but do we really need to allow every grassy space owned by the school district to be overrrun with clover? It's ugly and it's hard to reverse. I know it's heresy, but could you please have your grounds folks (if you still have any) make a quick Home Depot run and pick up a few bags of weed and feed? Maybe not the kind you use over at the mansion -- a generic brand will do. Just a thought.
But upon my return home, I did open today's O to catch a hard-hitting front page story by the guy I like least in all of Portland media. That's right, readers, it's Randy Gragg, the O's architecture critic (or something like that), and, based on the way that paper operates, likely the nephew of editor Sandy Rowe. Anyway, the O ran a big front-page splash, with lots more coverage on the cover of, and inside, the enclosed InPortland magazine. In it, the Graggmeister, exercising his full journalistic might, informs us, that... wait a minute, stop the presses, get ready for a scoop, this is really a big one....
The Pearl District is a lousy place to raise kids, and very few people are dumb enough to try.
Holy moly! You don't say.
Even funnier than the huge play that this obvious fact gets, is the tone that's taken in Gragg's "analysis" of the situation. There's an aura of mystery and wonderment about it. How did this happen? We built huge condo and apartment towers with no real neighborhood around them, settled for a small concrete slab and fountain which we had the nerve to call a "park," and gee whiz, families won't live there. How in the world could this have taken place?
Gee, Randy, I would have thought that your hero, Charlie Hales, who was running a lot of things at City Hall when the Pearl "blossomed," might have told you the reason over coffee. Maybe he did and you were too starstruck to write it down. Or you could have kept talking to Portland's 200 or so paid urban planners, whom I thought we were paying millions to actually think about questions like these in a timely manner, until someone gave you a square answer.
Anyway, let me tell you why there are no kids in the Pearl District: Because families and kids weren't on Homer Williams and Joe Weston and Neil Goldschmidt's punch list of how to get rich down there. And when they said "Jump," Vera Katz and Sam Adams and Erik Sten all responded, "How high?"
And that's exactly why the South Waterfront isn't going to have any kids in it, either.
The article adds to the hilarity by contrasting the Pearl with a new development in Vancouver, B.C., where there are gaggles of youngsters living in the high-rises. Suddenly Gragg suggests that we ought to do (or should have done) what was done up there.
You see, that's the whole problem. When the Developer Welfare recipients have a "vision" for Portland, that's just how they sell it. We'll be another Vancouver, B.C. We'll be another Barcelona. To this day you can hear Tom Imeson whispering these sweet nothings to Sam Adams over the Caesar salad at Higgins.
What we should be doing is asking, how do we keep being Portland? What has brought so many immigrants to this place? What makes it attractive? What is its history? What are its core values? If we ask these questions, we do not get the Pearl or South Waterfront as the answers. In contrast, when we're always trying to be like somebody else -- and the identity of that somebody else changes depending on the latest spiel being ladled out by the condo moneybags -- we have every right to expect a massive planning failure.
The kind of failure that Gragg's story has belatedly noticed.
And of course, now that it's too late to do anything about it, the O is right on the case.
There I feasted on a fine Diestel turkeyburger at Burgerville. What a great burger chain, where even a guy who's pretty much off the red meat can act like he indulged a little. I laid off the Walla Walla onion rings, but I did get the sauteed Walla Wallas on the turkey puck. They even threw in a free sample of raspberry lemonade. The high school girls who were taking care of business behind the front counter were straight out of Norman Rockwell. We love you, kids!
Before heading back onto I-5, I had a life-changing experience. I bought a tankful of Fred Meyer gasoline. Yep, the Freddy's down that way done got itself a gas station out front. Ten cents a gallon cheaper than the name brands at freeway-side, plus another 3 cents a gallon off if you flash your Freddy's frequent shopper thingie, which of course I did. It's the coming thing, I guess.
Just got back to the Rose City from the lovely burg of Eugene, where I rumbled through a four-hour standup lecture on income tax this morning. The audience was made up of some of the poor souls who will be taking the Oregon Bar Exam in a few weeks. This was their last cram lecture. Now they get some time to try to pull it all together before they come up to Portland Airport for the test.
It's the last segment of another summer ritual for me, giving these bar review talks in Portland, Salem, and Eugene. It's draining for everybody involved -- both the candidates and me -- but my end of it is done now. Time for a celebratory glass of fine Oregon wine.
Eugene looked good and felt good in the 20 hours or so I spent there. I took a nice run along the Willamette last night -- even jogged around that absurdly large football stadium. It was funny: I saw exactly two other runners in the whole hour I was out on the trail. This in the running capital of the world?
There were quite a few harriers out there harrying(?) around the U of O campus this morning, though. And my speech was just across the street from the famed Hayward Field, a true track and field mecca.
I'm sure things are changing in that neck of the woods, but the changes are so slow as to be imperceptible from year to year. The people down there seem to like it that way. Can't say as I blame them.
I've been more or less oblivious to the news today -- I even had country music on the radio a lot of the time -- but I did catch a glimpse of the grim headlines on the laptop of one of the audience members. What a world.
While the City of Portland blows millions, on its way to blowing billions, all in the vain hope of taking over Portland General Electric, two members of the Oregon legislature have dropped in a bill that would eliminate some of the most egregious shenanigans conducted by PGE's former owner, Enron. Here's the press release:
SALEM -- Rep. Greg Macpherson (D-Lake Oswego) and Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) introduced legislation Wednesday that would require investor-owned utilities to pay the actual amount of state corporate income taxes for which they bill their customers.
"Our legislation says to investor-owned utilities, 'If you collect money from Oregonians to pay your state income taxes, you must pay the state the money you collect,'" Macpherson said. "In the past, some utilities have set rates that assumed much higher taxes than they actually paid. Rather than refund that money to rate payers, they simply kept it. This bill is about truth in utility rates."
Macpherson and Barker developed their bill after a legislative committee considered Senate Bill 408, which tried to address the issue of taxes covered in utility rates and the actual taxes that utilities pay to local, state and federal governments. The Oregon Constitution, however, requires that tax bills originate in the House of Representatives, rather than the Senate.
Macpherson explained that requiring utilities to pay Oregon income taxes on the basis of what they collect from customers would generate substantial additional revenue, possibly tens of millions a year. "Every extra tax dollar that the utilities pay is an extra dollar toward a full school year, home care for needy senior citizens, putting state troopers back on the road, and waging the war on methamphetamine," Macpherson said.
"Oregonians need the assurance that their utility payments go where they're supposed to go," Barker said. "It's just plain wrong if a utility over-estimates its Oregon tax liability, and subsequently over-bills Oregon's customers to cover that liability. It's doubly wrong if that money disappears before it gets to the state."
Barker said his and Macpherson's proposal responds to the experience of Portland General Electric (PGE) during the late 1990's, when the utility billed rate payers to cover its Oregon corporate income taxes. When PGE's parent company, ENRON, sustained losses on other operations, the companies' consolidated tax return showed that the losses offset the taxes owed to Oregon, which meant that they paid only the state corporate minimum tax -- just $10.
Barker's and Macpherson's legislation would apply only to the future, not to the years when ENRON filed consolidated tax returns with PGE. The bill now awaits referral to a House committee.
This is perfectly sane legislation that ought to be passed in, like, 10 minutes. Then the city ought to do what voters told it to do by a more-than-2-to-1 vote the last time a public power takeover was on the ballot in these parts. Namely, give it up!
Let's let PGE become a Portland-based public company again. It would be one of the few we have left!
Today we begin our fourth year of blogging. Thank you to all our readers for making this such an engrossing pastime. We are especially grateful to: those who have left comments (pro and con) since we gained that capability in the summer of 2003; the other bloggers who have kindly linked to this site from their own; and readers who have communicated with us by private e-mail as a result of something written here. Of course, we also thank our family, friends, colleagues, sniping targets, and other fellow earthlings for their tolerance of the excesses sometimes exhibited here. Take yesterday, for example...
Anyway, a year ago at this time, we signed off for a while, thinking that we might never return. It was good to take a break, and we feel another one coming on shortly. But in the end, let's face it, we are hopelessly addicted to this. So on with the show.
Last summer I bemoaned the fact that the last of the mom-and-pop corner grocers in our neck of the woods had been bounced so that the landlord could spruce up the property. Oh, it's spruced up, all right -- a graffiti tagger target of the highest order! -- and over the weekend one half of the frontage finally reopened. I'm pleased to report the arrival of a vital neighborhood service:
A gelato place!
Wow, that really enhanced my livability. Thanks to everybody who made it possible.
I wonder what the other side will be. Maybe a cell phone store! Hot damn!
For years, I've said that someone was going to get killed trying to cross Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland between 30th and 39th. The most dangerous spot I know of -- the place I've long predicted tragedy would happen -- is at 35th Place, where the Cat's Meow sits on the south and Noah's Bagels on the north. There's nothing to slow traffic down for several blocks in either direction, and the drivers hustle right through.
It turns out, I was off by several blocks. A pedestrian lost his life today across the street from Taco del Mar, near Artichoke Music, in the 3100 block. Reportedly the man stepped or dashed into the street right into the path of a westbound van. But I've seen many a close call over there where the pedestrian was clearly in the right.
As I understand it, the Hawthorne merchants and the Sunnyside neighbors have been after the city for years to do something to make that stretch of street -- a shopping and dining mecca -- safer. I remember when I talked to city transportation folks about this myself years ago. Could they at least paint a few crosswalks in the mid-30s? No, they told me. If we paint crosswalks, the city might be liable if someone got hurt or killed crossing in them.
Now that someone's died, even though he was apparently in the wrong, this part of Hawthorne will likely start to get some more serious attention. I'm sure there's some improvement plan or other on the shelf; there are a slew of such plans awaiting funding. Right after we build a couple more streetcar extensions, re-do the transit mall, and finish the aerial tram, doggone it, we're going to do something on Hawthorne.
UPDATE, 7/8, 2:50 p.m.: At the time this post was originally written, the identity of the accident victim was not known to me. Today it was confirmed that it was in fact the father of a colleague and friend of mine. I doubt that I would have written a post like this on the day of the accident had I known that. My deeest condolences to the Beloof family.
Now that Randy Gragg's leaving town for a while, the skyscraper peddlers who are wrecking Portland with their condo towers and other high-rise "strip malls on their sides" need a new outlet for their spew. So they've started a blog. Charlie Hales should be running the PDC! The condo buildings are all sleek and beautiful! How about some more $3 million "urban renewal" units? Bleh.
Not to be outdone, the apologists for the streetcar had to start a blog, too. It's here. The streetcar led to $3 billion of new development! And it pays for itself! Aerial tram! Feh.
Bookmark those sites in case you're ever in need of propaganda. For your one-stop dose of the truth, however, you can always check back here.
As you settle in as a new commissioner-designate on the Portland Development Commission, I'm sure you're getting lots of advice from lots of quarters. Front and center, no doubt, is the big snow job about how badly we, the taxpayers of Portland, need to hurry up and build a huge hotel near our white elephant convention center. Eventually we'll give the hotel away to a big corporation, and then, I'm sure they're telling you, the convention business that the convention center has never brought here since Bud Clark built it 20 years ago will miraculously materialize.
Mr. Kadri: Please don't do it!
Portland's never been a big convention town, and it never will be. I've laid out the reasons why here. And the situation hasn't gotten any better since I wrote that. It's gotten harder and harder to make conventioneering pay. Other cities have tried and failed. Please take a look at this study. Portland isn't going to do any better than anyone else.
The money we spent on the hideous convention center expansion, which was enough to make up the city's share of the cost of building a major league baseball stadium, is gone. We'll never get it back. The voters tried to tell Mayor Katz, her economic development chief Sam Adams, and Commissioner Sten that it was a big, bad idea. But they didn't listen, and they made a very unwise investment. For two years, the new wing has stood completely empty most of the time.
As a small businessperson, you are quite familiar, I know, with the concept of throwing good money after bad. There are so many places in our city that badly need renewal. Let's spend money in a wise way that will help the largest number of Portlanders. A hotel giveaway isn't it. Please cut our losses and take a stand against it.
Thank you, and best of luck in your term on the PDC.
The O ran a two-part front page screamer about the Portland police and fire disability system on Sunday and yesterday. It pointed out that lots of folks retire from the local forces on disability even though they're still able to be gainfully employed. One guy appears to be a bodyguard for Paul Allen. Another one joined the armed forces and served as a medic in Iraq. And yet they collect disability pay from the city, many for the rest of their lives. Some even get pushed off the force, even though they say they'd like to stay on and serve their bureaus in some capacity or another. Today, the O's editorial board is calling it a scandal.
When the O reporters stuck the needle into City Commissioner Randy Leonard, a former firefighters' union president, about this, he gave his usual response: Everything's fine with police and fire disability. Nothing's broke, and so there's nothing to be fixed.
I dunno. Those articles sure made it sound as if there were lots that could be improved.
There's a showdown looming on all aspects of the pension and disability benefits enjoyed by the men and women in Portland blue. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who's running for re-election and needs to bolster his portfolio quick, is making an issue of the fringe benefits that ex-cops and firefighters get. And it's easy to stir up the public if they look at the facts. The disability anecdotes are bad, but even the basic police and fire pension benefits are much more generous than most workers in the private sector could ever dream about.
As I understand it, after a certain number of years on the force, even if you're only, say, 45 or 50 years old, you can turn in your badge and start a lifetime of pension checks. You can take on all the new work you want, and the retirement funds keep a-rollin' in from City Hall.
Fireman Randy himself reportedly takes down around $48,000 a year in city fire pension, over and above his $89,000 salary on the City Council. Mayor Tom Potter, the ex-police chief, reportedly draws an annual police pension of around $91,000 over and above his $104,000 pay as mayor. Potter says he's in favor of reforming the system, while Leonard seems opposed, but you wonder why they both shouldn't have to recuse themselves from voting on the matter. On the other hand, I guess any changes that would be made wouldn't affect ladies and gentlemen of their vintage. Legally, they probably couldn't.
In any event, although I mostly plead ignorance on this, I suspect there are many state and local governments that also have very, very generous pension and disability systems for their police and fire officers. But as I've pointed out here before, in Portlandia the police and fire retirement fund makes up 24.3 percent of all the property taxes that I (and presumably others) pay to the city. Nearly a quarter out of every dollar is now going to the retired and "disabled" public safety folks, including to perfectly able, fully employed guys like Leonard and Potter, who are taking home two city paychecks each. Potter's add up to $205,000. That's a real eye-popper in my book. What they heck do they think this is, the PDC?
And no matter how good the officers may have it in other cities, I don't know of any other place that's so strapped for public safety funds that they close the police precincts after 6:00 at night and all weekend long, as we do here in the Rose City. Maybe we need to be a little more careful with the bucks.
Too bad The Oregonian ran the series on July 3 and 4, when readership was sure to be low. Oh, well. Methinks the pot has been stirred nonetheless.
Obie Benson, whose career as the bass singer in the legendary Motown group the Four Tops spanned 50 years, died Friday in Detroit.
Some obituaries can be found here and here. Benson, whose real first name was Renaldo, was apparently the member of the group who kept everyone smiling. Less known is the fact that he wrote the lyrics to Marvin Gaye's classic song "What's Goin' On." According to The New York Times:
One afternoon in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he was sitting with a friend, enjoying the street life. He was stunned when police descended on a crowd of hippies, pummeling them for no apparent reason, Mr. Benson recalled in an interview last year.
Returning to Detroit, Mr. Benson wrote the lyrics for what became the protest song "What's Goin' On." Knowing the tune did not fit the Tops' upbeat style, he offered it to Marvin Gaye, who embraced it despite the initial objections of [Motown mogul Berry] Gordy, who doubted the tune would sell, Mr. Benson said.
I was privileged to catch the Tops' last television performance with Benson in ther lineup, a few months ago. Who had them on? Letterman, of course. They rumbled through "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," my favorite Tops number, and although it wasn't as polished as when they first performed it nearly 40 years ago, it was every bit as exciting as an old Ed Sullivan show from their heyday. Everybody loved it.
And I doubt that anybody loved it more than Obie did.
You know, we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What's goin' on
I have eaten lunch within a few feet of each of them.
Justice O'Connor attended the same law school that I did. At reunions, law alumni from all eras have a box lunch under a tent outside the law school on Saturday before heading to the football stadium. One year in the '90s somewhere, there she was, back to back with me as we tore into some barbecued chicken. It felt so cool; of course, part of the coolness was to act like she was no big deal.
Mr. Vandross was at a nearby table in the fancy restaurant at the RiverPlace Hotel here in Portland one day in 1991 when I was in there wining and dining a prospective addition to the faculty of the school at which I teach. Back in the day when I chaired the faculty recruitment effort, we did pretty well, and it was partly because I could point out the many good things about Portland without even thinking about what a waste of money many of them were. Anyhow, being able to casually say, "Oh, look, there's Luther Vandross," as we left the place was just part of the sales pitch.
We landed that recruit, and she's been a star with us for more than a dozen years. Thanks, Luther.
Well, the former frat president, now our President, has his first Supreme Court vacancy. He'll probably have a total of three.
And so one of the ugliest, ugliest chapters in recent history begins.
[Bush] then met with top advisers who are going to help him in the selection process, including Vice President Dick Cheney; Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; presidential adviser Karl Rove; counselor Dan Bartlett; and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, the White House said.
The lefties are already screaming. You can't blame them. The O'Connor seat was the swing vote on so many issues. With her out of the picture and a young, hardcore Bushie in there, you will see all sorts of inroads made on cherished personal liberties.
But I'm not going to listen much to the hysterical whining that's starting up. Folks, once we Democrats decided to run a rich-boy windsurfer, JFK Lite, against an incumbent in wartime, this was pre-ordained. To me there is absolutely no surprise to any of it, and yes, the worst fears about the High Court are about to come true.
That's it for my lifetime -- maybe my kids will be smart and strong enough to reverse the course in about 30 years. Meanwhile, it's the Hoover administration, with a Holy War version of Vietnam thrown in. Happy Fourth of July weekend.
In a comment elsewhere on this blog, a reader makes a scary observation:
I was having a chat with one of Erik Sten's key staffers during a break while testifying at the voter owned elections council session. I won't name him, but his statement to me was "We will never have a Fortune 500 company in Portland again." His view was that real estate development and speculation would be the future economic engine of Portland.
Welcome to Orlando, folks. What a tragic vision (or lack thereof). On with the tram!
I got an important e-mail alert Thursday night from KXL Radio here in town, which informed me that on Monday, the very Fourth of July itself, there's going to be a MAJOR announcement (caps in original) about three of its tighty righty wingnuts, O'Reilly, Snow and Lars.
Oo, oo! I can't concentrate on anything else. Whatever can it be?