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Tuesday, August 9, 2005

The New York Times jinx

Sports fans the world over know all about the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Whenever a sports figure gets his or her picture on the cover of SI, there is a moment of extreme pride, but then some tragic turn of events quickly befalls him or her, often with career-ending consequences. The hapless victim is never the same again.

I haven't followed all the instances of this in recent years, but I do remember this cover, whereupon the team in question immediately fell into the tank. They promptly lost four or five straight, as I recall.

On the local political scene here in Portlandia, there's a new jinx in town, and it's the New York Times. Our local politicos fall all over themselves, and spend hundreds of millions of our tax dollars, in the hopes of achieving positive mention in The Newspaper of Record. When they get quoted as the archons of our Urban Utopia, it gets them hotter than a $20 pistol (quite a few of which seem to be going off in our exquisitely well-planned and traffic-becalmed downtown, it seems). For a moment, the quoted City Hall denizen feels like Neil Goldschmidt without the statutory rape history. But lately, well, those mentions have been followed by heartbreak.

The star-crossed visionary who has suffered the bitter fate of the new jinx is, of course, Commissioner Erik "Opie" Sten, the lovable kid who always seems to be leading a trendy charge that The Times finds interesting, but ultimately isn't going anywhere. Most recently, Sten took some credit in this story (alas, these are just archive digests now, unless you want to pay to read the whole thing) for the "fact" that Portland had reduced its greenhouse gases below 1990 levels:

''Portland's efforts refute the thesis that you can't make progress without huge economic harm,'' says Erik Sten, a city commissioner. ''It actually goes all the other way -- to the extent Portland has been successful, the things that we were doing that happened to reduce emissions were the things that made our city livable and hence desirable.''
Now, apparently, somebody's actually bothered to check the numbers, and the story's not true. Not even close. The tighty-righties are going nuts over it, cluck cluck.

Before that, it was the city's PGE takeover, which this story picked up on:

Erik Sten, a city commissioner, said he had the votes on the five-member commission to authorize revenue bonds quickly to acquire the utility's assets, actions that would not require a popular vote. He said the city could retain existing management or hire one of two dozen utility companies that have contacted the city about managing Portland G.E.

''The city can run Portland G.E. better,'' Mr. Sten said, and ''charge lower rates'' because it would pay state, but not federal, taxes. He asserted that unlike Texas Pacific, the city has an incentive to make long-term investments in the utility to ensure reliable high quality electric service, which is crucial to the local economy.

We now know where that was headed.

Before that, it was this one -- trying to force AT&T Cable (now Comcast) to lease its high-speed internet lines to its competitors:

Erik Sten, a Portland city commissioner, said today that the city had not decided whether to appeal the decision, in part because city officials viewed it as a partial victory. "If the decision is interpreted as we think it will be," he said, AT&T will be deemed to be a telecommunications service provider and thus required to open access on a national level.
Nada. No way. Zilch.

It's hard times in the Sten camp, but now he's come out fighting on the police and fire disability fund. Suddenly, the good commish has got all the answers, and heck, we ought to hustle them right up for a public vote and be done with it.

Sounds a little like Al Gore's internet. Of all the people to be taking credit for reforming the system, forgive me if it's just a wee bit hard to swallow that the guy with the most seniority on the City Council is suddenly jumping on the bandwagon. Where have you been on that one for the last 10 and a half years, while the existing mess was being made, guy?

Comments (31)

Even if the OSD were off by a bit, emissions are still down considerably from past years, supporting Portland's claim to be Kyoto-friendly.

You might also want to disclose your involvment with the Trib story.

Even if the OSD were off by a bit, emissions are still down considerably from past years, supporting Portland's claim to be Kyoto-friendly.

That's about a good a spin as you can put on it, I guess.

You might also want to disclose your involvment with the Trib story.

You're right. I was "involved." A reporter called me, and I said what I actually think, and he printed it. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Um, doesn't that PDF link show that in Multnomah Co., per capita emissions are down like 13% since 1990? I think that's pretty impressive.

Sten is a mo-ron, no doubt about it. I remember his fears that AT&T would be the be-all end-all for high speed internet access in the US and Portland unless the city stepped in with its suit. That thought is so laughable now as to be a little sad, actually. As though AT&T could somehow prevent any and all innovation or new market entrants...

He frankly belongs in Congress, where 95% of votes are party line and he wouldn't be able to do much damage. But Earl looks pretty comfortable where he is. So I'd advise Erik to cool his heels until, oh about 2034 or so. Earl will be dead by then, carted out of the Rayburn Office Building feet first. But then, Erik, it's all yours!

I write to protest calling Erik Sten, “Opie” as I believe it tarnishes one of the great TV shows in American history. Mayberry was lacking in diversity, but so was Friends; the town still represented goodness and the simple life. We now have a modern version of the Simple Life in which Otis, the town tramp, has been replaced by two tramps named Paris and Nicole. Let’s not drag Erik Sten into the mix.

Forgive me if I am incorrect (it's been a while since college) but isn't calling Sten "Opie" an example of an ad hominem attack?

You know, I was thinking that maybe he was getting a little old for that nickname. But then Grampy became mayor, and it was too good to let go of just yet. Plus, Fireman Randy's veering off in a Barney direction.

When the council meetings come on cable access, I just start whistling Andy's theme.

Wow--a whole bizarro Andy Griffith world replacing Maayberry with Portland--who gets the honor of Aunt Bee (Vera? Minnis?), Floyd the Barber (Sam Adams, one of his next gigs will be to cut hair at Bishops' on 28th), which obviously makes Saltzman, Gomer Pyle and his erstwhile bro, Goober Pyle.

In all fairness to Opie, he isn't sitting down and imbibing muscle relaxers; which brings me back to Gomer/Goober; what the hell has he done the last few years? Just curious--


I think this is the season after Aunt Bea died. Andy's gal pal tried to fill in, but Opie was troubled.

I think Saltzman's more Goober than Gomer -- he's not on every episode.

Now over at the county, there's Petticoat Junction, but that's another thread entirely...

Hey, if Sam "Vera who?" Adams can get elected on a "I'm an outsider who wants to shake up City Hall!" ticket, why can't Sten portray himself as a crusading reformer?

This whole Mayberry thing is fascinating since it seems to resonate, but my suggestions:
Gomer - Sam Adams - His gee whiz attitude at his accomplishments and willingness to work in BurgerVille commends him to this character
Goober - Saltzmann - Same level of verbal skills
Opie - Let stand as Erik
Aunt Bea - Vera since she rode herd on Sam et al in City Council
Andy - Pushing it since he seemed a noble character, but Potter (sherriff in town?) Then again, Andy was the womanizer, so maybe Giusto.
Leonard - Leave as Don Knotts because of the parallels in their own self-delusional megalomania.

Floyd I would leave alone since he seemed slightly pedophilic to me, due to his strange obsession with cutting Opie's hair.

Let's also remember what became of the cast post the show--

Barney evolved into Mr Roper, Andy G.-Matlock, Gomer got his own gig and tons of weekly verbal abuse; Aunt Bee became a recluse with a bunch of cats ("YIKES" exclaimed the Vera collective), and Opie went on to become Richie, understudy with Corman and ascended to Hollywood royalty (sans hair)---maybe Jack is right about "big ideas Sten"--Eric needs a dose of Mayberry and small policy baby steps before screwing with the big nasty-wasty multinationals

That's one of the worst, most self-serving press releases I've seen in a while. Cascade Policy's breathless "Carbon dioxide levels much higher than previously announced" is laughable. They correctly note the addition of 74,000 tons to the previous estimate. That puts the city's emissions almost 68,000 tons over 1990 levels. Whoa! Why, that's more than **0.7%** ! Fire up the presses, boys, we got ourselves almost a ONE PERCENT INCREASE! In FOURTEEN YEARS! Whooo-hoooo!
Maybe when I'm bored tonight I'll look at the rest of that in-depth deconstruction of the city's report, but I am not encouraged. Blecch.

Yeah, but you know, if the city is going to put out big bragging press releases claiming to have beaten the 1990 numbers, it could have at least checked its arithmetic. I'm sure the tighty righties had little or no interest in the numbers until our City Hall "experts" made it an issue.

I agree the bragging was misplaced, but I'll assert in response the following two points:

1) The anti-bragging is unsupported, especially when presented with a blatantly misleading (nay, false) headline.

2) Maybe the city couldn't show a big decrease from 1990-2004, but the numbers they presented (and that Cascade relied upon) show two things: a) an overall no-change in the emissions, and b) an initial increase of 7.8% over 10 years followed by a 6.5% decrease over the next 4. Just how many big cities in the U.S. (or anywhere) do you expect have that kind of distribution?

and that Cascade relied upon

Just for the record, Cascade (with whom I don't often agree) also has big issues with the way the numbers were compiled.

Considering the Cascade Policy Institute is a Libertarian organization, it's not fair to call them "tighty-righties."

Moreover, the "Smart Growth" Koolaid-drinkers are all hailing the OSD report as proof their Orwellian policies work; ignoring the fact the report uses flawed methodology and bogus math.

Considering the Cascade Policy Institute is a Libertarian organization, it's not fair to call them "tighty-righties."

Really? Know any leftist libertarians? If you asked Rush and Lars, they'd probably tell you they were libertarians.

"You're right. I was "involved." A reporter called me, and I said what I actually think, and he printed it. Guilty, guilty, guilty."

I just wonder why he asked you. Oh well...they say the Trib is desperate.

I'm curious how believing in individual freedom and a free-market economy can be considered "conservative."

Most Libertarians are against the war in Iraq, are pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion. Gee, those sure are right-wing beliefs.....

O.k., you win. Now go away for a while.

Well, actually I think of myself as a leftist libertarian. Check out to see how such a thing might make sense.

As for the CO2 stuff, I have to agree with Jud. a 0.72% increase over 14 years is, in fact, something to write home about. That's not what they claimed, of course, so shame on them for exaggerating. (Intentionally or not.) But the CPI seems to have exaggerated as well, so shame on them too.

It's harder for me to believe the CPI made an honest mistake, because the numbers 9,622,453.3 and 9,690,948.8 are obviously in the same ballpark. (They might both be in left field, of course.)

Cascade is libertarian, not right or conservative.

The .72% increase is bogus. The methodology the city used was a joke. If you don't believe so, study it yourself. The reality is that CO2 emissions are much higher than this in Multnomah County, and even higher regionally. If you believe otherwise, you are only fooling yourself.

"hard to believe the CPI made an honest mistake"
-- What mistake did CPI make? The OSD's convenient miscalculation pushed their numbers to 1990 (the Kyoto target year), by omitting 74,000 tons... opps! Just how were 74,000 tons misplaced? I think CPI has the right to mention this. It was the OSD that made the "mistakes" here.

If there is any real reduction in the Portland area pollution I suspect that more likely a result of the large reduction in manufacturing.

I may be Barney but you remind me more and more of Ernest T. Bass.

If only life could imitate art.


Bix. Good link. I liked the comment made by Brett: "The causal link between anything the City has done and the reduction in emissions is highly suspect." (Then Brain embarrasses himself.)

What gets me is the general notion that an activist must act. Even an environmental impact analysis can include a no-action option. Everybody gets so rigid in their rhetoric that the speech of another is like an indigestible Hawthorn thorn that must be rejected and not even examined or consumed to extract something useful. A field full of Hawthorns is only good for small birds and rabbits, and other Hawthorns.

I posted on emissions here on July 30. I make an economic development based argument, as it seems all the rage today, at least the buzz word version. Think outside the box and have fun.

On the disability and pension stuff:

No one is entitled to a lifetime job. Pay on the "injury" and be done and keep the disability issue disentangled from the pension stuff.

Reading Opie's plan makes even this Jester nauseous. The least that the City Attorney could have done for Mr. Sten was to review the memorandum and either vouch for the legal propositions or . . . simply not sign off.

Split the pension and disability components into two different and distinct entities, for a start. As the link between the two seems to be the proximate cause of great confusion. Opie will just get more dizzy rather than less dizzy as he tries to get a handle on the nature of the problem, judging from his own words.

Yes, Chris, the methodology may be whacked. I'm not arguing with that.

Likewise, the CPI was right to point out the discrepancy. What I object to is them pretending that there's been a huge increase. It's a lot of tonnage, sure, but it's a really small percentage. You don't have to be a math geek to see that they're spinning the numbers as hard as they can.

Also, their use of the stated tonnage difference is a tacit acknowledgement that the study's numbers mean something. I suppose it's effective demagoguery, but it's bad reasoning: "These numbers are meaningless! And they show a huge increase!" The arguments don't make sense together. Just pick one, guys.

Yeh, CSI should have used the OSD miscalculation to reinforce the idea that the numbers are meaningless (rather than bringing it up as their first contention). Agreed.

CSI also should have made it clear that the huge CO2 increase was attributable to the flawed methodology, not the miscalculation. Although, as far as I know, Cascade has been the only organization to juxtapose the numbers 9,690,000 and 9,616,000 on their website. I think they have been quite eager to get this out.

I decided Sten is every bit as deserving of his own limerick as Randy:

There was a bold young man named Erik

Who presumed his causes Homeric

Ignoring pans of "infidels"
He kept tilting at windmills

And thinking the voters barbaric


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The New York Times jinx:

» On Legislation, Administration, And Erik Sten from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
In the wake of political stories in the Portland Tribune and The O... [Read More]

» Two Inane Observations from mellow-drama
I was over at Bojack's place, catching up on reading about what a godforsaken mess/great place Portland is, and noticed two things that made me laugh. First, how many other tax professors care enough about a vague manure smell in [Read More]

» Newsflash! An O editorial I wish I'd written from Metroblogging Portland
I meant to write a rant the other day about the story in The O the other day about the two young six-year-old girls who were molested by a transient registered sex offender. See, I'm the mother of a seven... [Read More]


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