Trick or treat
My beautiful Halloween crew.
|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
To order, click here.
One of the raps this blog gets is that it's too negative. Trust me, I really try to keep on the sunny side, but I've always had an angry, cynical streak -- I was "snarky" before that word even existed. And when you live in a place with, ahem, shall we say, an eccentric local government, it doesn't always bring out the best.
Let me give you an example. When I read one news story last week, I started off penning some nice, innocent, light-as-a-feather commentary:
Congratulations to the beleaguered Buckman neighborhood in southeast Portland. The city has committed to repair the community pool in the Buckman School, at a $400,000 price tag. I wish the city hadn't hemmed and hawed about it all summer long, but it's nice to know that the pool will be fixed, and it is expected to be reopened this coming spring.I could have hit the "save" button and left it there, but that little voice in my bad ear said, "Parks? This is about parks? Come on, man, what are you waiting for? This isn't a press release. Let 'em have it." Whereupon, the following flowed out:
Gee, whaddya know, that will be right around the time that a certain parks commissioner will be in the heat of a serious re-election battle. I'm sure he'll be glad to show up and cut the ribbon. Maybe he can even dodge questions about whatever happened to the community center that was supposed to be built in the old Washington High School. That place can be turned into a refugee center (er, I mean "displaced-citizen-who's-just-as-good-as-you-and-me-and-deserves-our-respect center") in a matter of a few days. But finding money to make good on an old, old promise to the neighbors seems to take decades.Whoa. At that point, I'm thinking, it's time to cut this post and run. Get thee gone, Satan! But the little voice keeps going:
They have $3.3 million an acre for contaminated parkland in the SoWhat district, but they don't have money for the Buckman community center. Maybe they ought to have the PDC start building condo towers in Buckman -- then you'd see some quick action. Opie would dash off an application to the Kroc Foundation, and next thing you know there'd be a swell workout joint for the condo dwellers fresh in from Marin County -- complete with city-subsidized botox injections and free wine and cheese.I dunno, folks. As anyone can plainly see, I have issues.
The Oregonian's anti-meth zeal morphed into a really nice piece of journalism yesterday, as investigative reporter "Maximum Maxine" Bernstein masterfully revealed that the Portland Police Bureau's recordkeeping system is state-of-the-art for the turn of the century.
Unfortunately, it's last century.
People are still writing things out on paper, often by hand, cranking out faxes if they're in an ambitious mood, and having paid staffers run around driving dead-tree written reports all over town in city cars. (Be thankful they're not still on horseback.)
If someone steals your property, the only way for our bluecoats to work on your case is to sift through piles of written forms manually. Little is being collected, compiled, or sorted with even a minimum of electronic aid. We're way, way behind other bureaus in the region -- especially the smaller ones, which seem to have their tech houses in relatively good order. Our police appear to be at about a seventh-grade computer literacy level.
And there's not much hope for improvement on the horizon in Portland. Rather than buy a proven, off-the-shelf product, the city's apparently decided it's smarter than the market when it comes to computers. And so it's custom-designing its own system.
I repeat: Portland. Is designing. Its own. Computer software. Can you say, "Water billing system fiasco?"
Meanwhile, we're going all out to create a cloud of wi-fi so that bloggers can blog from the sidewalks, and the kids can send instant "U R so hott" messages to each other all day long. But when it comes to giving our frontline law enforcement officers even minimum computer assistance in solving and preventing crime, we can't get our act together.
Wow. Thanks, Oregonian, for an important story. That alone made this Sunday's paper worth buying.
Wyman Winston, a key figure in the Portland Development Commission "Coachgate" caper of last summer, is out of his $136,940-a-year job as deputy director of the PDC. Winston was the guy who needed a "management coach," and when his in-house coach hired an outside coach to help with the coaching, well, the baloney hit the fan. All three of them are now out the door, along with the executive director and two of the board members who were supposedly overseeing the whole thing.
Thanks again, Mayor Potter. But now let's see the PDC bring in some real urban renewal and economic development for the parts of the city that need renewal the most. (Hint: A bad-news convention hotel and more condo towers aren't impressing anyone.)
"Is there a law against a bear running around in your yard?" Perkett says. "Doesn't she have rights as a bear?"
Amanda Fritz's candidacy against Dan Saltzman for Portland city commissioner is for real. Her website says that she's got 551 of the 1,000 contributors' checks for $5 she needs to qualify for the city's new "clean money" taxpayer subsidy of her campaign. She was hoping to get all 1,000 by tomorrow; it looks like she'll miss that deadline, but come up with the requisite number of checks fairly soon.
On her site, she also takes a swipe at the OHSU aerial tram, which is encouraging, and despite her obvious fondness for the "clean money" system, she makes a very intriguing contrast to her opponent. This one's going to be fun to watch.
Speaking of "clean money," I keep hearing that the Arlington Club set -- no, wait, excuse me, the face cards fronting for the Arlington Club set -- have a petition drive going against "clean money" under the name "First Things First." But I haven't seen hide nor hair of such a group on the web yet. Anyone know where they are or how they're doing?
UPDATE, 11:15 p.m.: Her contribution meter just went up to 601 today.
You runners, bikers, and walkers out there: Here's a neat tool that takes the guesswork out of estimating the distance you cover on your favorite routes. I was pleased to find out that I had underestimated my favorite loop by two-tenths of a mile, although I had overestimated one of my more ambitious runs by more than a quarter-mile. (The website may still have some bugs, but the basic pedometer feature seems to be running fine.)
Another nice thing about the site is that it's so much easier to think, talk, and write about getting exercise than to actually get it! (Via Frenzied Daddy.)
In neighborhood graffiti cleanup news, there are a couple of positive developments to report. The Qwest folks have cleaned up the collection of inane tags that they had picked up on the back side of their "phone hotel" building on NE Stanton Street between 23rd and 24th Avenues. Thank you!
And closer to home, the green Postal Service utility mailbox on our block -- a prime target for vandalism over the years -- has been removed. I have a can of drab green paint that I have been using to cover up the mess every so often, and I just bought a new refill. I don't know what I'm going to do with the paint now. But I'm not complaining.
I sure hope that the post office, and not some meth-crazed metal thief, is responsible for the disappearance of that box. Either way, I'm equally hopeful that our mail carriers can get along fine without it.
I love Tony Bennett.
Sources at the White House are whispering this evening that President Bush has already selected his next nominee for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "It's a true conservative -- someone the President trusts implicitly," one high-level administration official reported. "And it's another woman, which should help with the nomination."
The sources said the nominee had already been cleared with leaders of the far right element of the Republican Party. "When we circulated a bunch of names on the hill, a few of the more conservative members responded back with this name as an alternative. The more the President thought about it, the more he liked it." And although the candidate's experience with constitutional law is limited, the aide said, "she'll bring the fresh outlook that we're after, without all the baggage of trying to protect White House secrets. It's clear from her career background that she's decisive and authoritative. She's recognized around the world as a prime mover in law and policy within the executive branch. She's guided our country at the highest levels for nearly 20 years."
I must admit, it's a dynamite choice.
It's property tax time again. Miraculously, this year's tab is down 8.18 percent from last year -- based on the expiration of some Portland school district levies. So there's a few extra hundred bucks we get to send to the oil companies (and a few more bucks that the feds and the state are going to get, since our income tax deduction for property taxes will decrease).
You wonder whether the school board will try to get those dollars back on the property tax bill; I doubt it, since Super Vicki & Co. say they want to try for a regional income tax for schools instead. I'd support such a tax, but I doubt that it would have much of a chance of voter approval. We'll have to see.
Getting back to the property taxes, during the last tax year (July 2004 to June 2005), we noted how large a chunk of the property tax dollars that we pay to the City of Portland goes toward "urban renewal" and the police and firefighters' pension fund. Things haven't changed much in that regard this time around. Here's the tale of the tape for the current year, and last year:
"City of Portland" - 46.68% this year, 46.43% last year
"City of Portland Child Loc Op" - 4.14% this year, 4.11% last year
"City of Portland Parks Loc Op" - 4.01% this year, 3.99% last year
"Portland Police/Fire Pension" - 23.76% this year, 24.30% last year
"Urban Renewal - Portland" - 19.17% this year, 18.99% last year
"City of Portland Bonds" - 2.24% this year, 2.18% last year
Total - 100.00%
It's still 19 cents on the dollar for "urban renewal," and 24 cents on the dollar for bluecoat pensions and disability.
The check's due November 15 -- a sure sign that the holiday shopping season is about to begin.
A truly hectic week has precluded my mentioning here that I had coffee a while back with an old acquaintance for whom we're most likely to be voting in the future. It's Rey Ramsey, who's gone on to fortune and fame since I knew him as a rookie lawyer two decades ago.
Rey's now got two incredible gigs. He's the CEO of something called One Economy, whose mission is largely comprised of helping low-income people access technology. Among One's projects is an interesting website called the Beehive. He's also the chair of the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity International. Before this, he was the president of a Maryland-based nonprofit outfit known as the Enterprise Foundation. He splits his living time between Portland, where he has a (gulp) groovy condo in the Pearl, and Washington, D.C.
Rey is the ultimate political animal. On the blue side of things, he's connected all over, every which way. Here in Portland, the voter's choice these days seems to be limited to the socialist world of Erik Sten and the old boy network epitomized by Neil Goldschmidt. Ramsey's got it covered on both sides. He served in Goldschmidt's gubernatorial cabinet as housing director. But he's also buddies with Sir Erik, and he was right on board supporting Sam the Tram. When it comes to being on the inside in Portland and in Oregon, you can't do much better than that.
Hanging out in D.C., Rey's playmates include the top echelon of our bedraggled Democratic Party, and he appears to be something of a front man for Hillary. Wow, Goldschmidt, Sten, and Hillary -- the complete trifecta of politicians I wouldn't miss. But there's something about our personal contacts that puts Rey in a different class. When we talk, it's a Newark guy talking with a Philly guy. We both get it.
One of these days, he'll finally run for some office or other around here, at which time he'd be a hard candidate to resist. So if you didn't already, now you know about him. You read it here first.
Gotta dig out my copy of "She's Gone," by Hall and Oates.
Or "Eve of Destruction." Something tells me the next pick is going to be even worse for us lefties.
The Portland City Council is so funny. A week ago today, the commissioners were making a big deal about their calling a six-month moratorium on property tax abatements. Commissioner Sten was pouting, doing his best Opie imitation, about how he couldn't promise anything to the developers any more, now that Dan Saltzman is up for re-election and actually has to vote against the most egregious tax giveaways once in a while. A six-month cooling off period was just what the doctor ordered, to make sure that no more votes came up between now and the primary election, which coincidentally is just over six months from now.
That was comical enough, but it gets better. Yesterday comes news that Trammell Crow, whose abatement application for its proposed Alexan luxury high-rise apartments in the SoWhat district went down in flames a while back, somehow, miraculously, through a stroke of amazing good fortune, just so happened to get an application for a new abatement filed one day ahead of the start of the moratorium. By golly, they squeaked in under the wire, they did -- lucky them. Which means that there will indeed be a vote on whether to give Trammell Crow a new abatement. Only after we've made that decision will there be no more for six months.
Isn't it rich?
When it comes to developer welfare, our elected representatives really aren't very good con men. I remember the day they voted to allow construction of the aerial tram [rim shot]. Old Vera strutted around clucking, "You'd better come in on budget! Fifteen million dollars, and it had better be a picture postcard, just as you've promised!" How ludicrous. Everyone knew the $15.5 million was a bald-faced lie. (Actually, the first lie was $10 million, but at least Governor Neil and the other pushers of the project had owned up to a 55 percent overrun before the crucial council vote.) Now we're up to a $45 million black hole, and they haven't even put up the first girder.
The same with last week's big show: Look, everybody! Moratorium on property tax abatements!
Sure, until just after the next election. Oh, and by the way, here's a pet group we'll let in at the last minute. Everybody else, though, listen up, we're getting tough!
You have wonder why the Portland Development Commission loves Trammell Crow so much. In my last round of commentary on the Alexan, I discovered that that firm manages the so-called Merrick luxury apartments over by Burgerville on NE MLK Boulevard (also tax-abated, thank you), and many ex-tenants of that facility apparently are unhappy with the service they received there.
So what does Trammell Crow have its hand out asking for this time? A rehash of its Alexan proposal, but that's really just frosting on their cake. It will go along with the spectacularly sweet giveaway they're getting on some fine downtown real estate at SW Third and Oak. The PDC bought the property for $1.2 million, but all of a sudden, an appraisal has come in that says the parcel is in fact worthless because of some vaguely stated problem or other. And so Trammell Crow gets the property for free -- free! So that they can renew our urbs by putting up, just what Portland needs, another condo tower! Great. And we property taxpayers, who see a huge chunk of our property taxes go to "urban renewal" (it's roughly 20 percent of what I'm paying the city this year), in effect are just giving them the land.
Sheesh. I wouldn't mind so much these guys' ruining Portland, if they weren't making us all pay for it.
What public good will come of the Third and Oak handout? Why, if the new condo monstrosity on that corner is a hit, it will pave the way for that other condo tower that's planned for down by the Burnside Bridge -- you know, the one that's running Saturday Market out of the only home it's ever known.
No development proposal in Portland is complete without some obviously bogus design story, and the Third and Oak tower comes with the recurring snow job about the super-duper "narrow design" that will make it light and graceful. "These buildings will be so skinny -- like needles! Or the teeth of a comb! It's like Vancouver, B.C.!" Wonderful. I seem to recall the same line being thrown around about the SoWhat towers. Take a ride down I-5 and see for yourself, folks. They look like big, fat ugly boxes to me.
Yep, it's a funny show here. All that's missing these days is Randy Gragg's Pimm's-Cup pretention. Oh, well. You laugh to keep from crying.
Thank God, the last dirt street in the Pearl District has been paved over. I was starting to get a little worried, but they did it. Sam the Tram cut the ribbon on it himself last week. I saw the picture in The O as I took the recycling out last night. (I can't wait 'til that paper actually gets a website so that some day we can actually look at photos like that on our computers.)
Anyway, three cheers for the City Council. We wouldn't want any of the beautiful people to get their Blahniks muddy running between Starbucks and the wine and cheese places. And how sweet, they put the railroad tracks they dug up over in the new "park"! You know, the one that can't handle dogs?
Now, all you folks out in Portland's neighborhoods who have been living with unpaved streets all these decades, don't be jealous. This is a sure sign that we'll be getting to you soon. I believe we've got you in the budget for fiscal year 2082. If you would like to see the asphalt rolling out sooner, I'd suggest you sell your house to Homer Williams for a condo development, which reduces the wait time to roughly six weeks.
He was determined to stay in there forever, apparently, but Gus Whitman has finally made his entrance into the world.
His dad cried.
He's a lucky boy.
There are so many goofy things to blog about in Portland. I didn't even get off the pickup curb at the airport after a long weekend away before inspiration hit me. I looked up, and there, blocking my view of the multi-million-dollar glass canopy that we taxpayers built over the airport driveway (part of a $147 million construction juggernaut), are yards and yards of heavy black canvas netting, draped above to save us from being rained on by -- yes, bird poop.
You see, when designing the airport garage project (which literally turned fatal at one point -- three guys died in 1997 building the thing), no one among the Port of Portland's dozens (if not hundreds) of engineering geniuses realized that every sparrow for 50 miles around would love a perch (and a toilet) like this. Nice and dry, well-ventilated, plenty of light, soothing hiss of traffic below... mmmmm, really relaxes those birdie muscles.
So they saved us from getting rained on by rain six months out of the year, only to have us rained on by bird feces 12 months out of the year. We build a glass canopy, then have to install black canvas low ceilings so that you can't see it. Only in Portland.
Not to mention what would happen if, God forbid, some kook decided to drive a truck in there and blow themselves and the rest of us to kingdom come. All those shards of glass raining down would make one heck of a killing field. And what's to stop that from happening? Um, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security? Our well-funded, well-trained, high-morale local police force? Our seamless local mental health crisis system?
As we wait a while longer for our ride, we ponder: Now we'll spend another $160 million, for yet another airport garage. Because we've got nothing better to do with Port money.
Our ride comes, and we come home and see that there are a few bucks right in our face, on the old property tax bill, for the Port. Must be for something important.
And so right back into the blogosphere we slide. It's too easy, really.
We're blogging from an undisclosed location tonight. Haven't done that in a while. Here are your hints -- don't click on the links until you've guessed where we are:
We'll be back in Portlandia late Monday.
UPDATE, 10/24. 11:26 p.m.: Sorry if that first link hangs you up. You can't go back from it (at least not in Internet Explorer) without triple-clicking the back button really quickly. I thought it was just the lame hotel computer I was on last night causing the problem, but I see now that the page in question gets you in its grip and won't easily let go.
I am not making this up: Michael Jackson has been called for jury duty.
Here's a good one. A professor of public administration from the University of Texas is coming to town today to debunk the rosy projections that are being tossed around about the Portland Convention Center Hotel -- the one that you and I are going to pay for as the city continues to throw good money after bad at the White Elephant.
The professor, Heywood Sanders, is the author of the important study that the Brookings Institution put out earlier this year, which shows that convention centers are bad bets for cities. They haven't panned out anywhere, St. Louis being a recent example of major disappointment.
Unfortunately, our city commissioners have all been hypnotized by the hotel deal, and it's going to happen no matter how wrong it is, and no matter how little the people of Portland want it -- just like the foolhardy Convention Center expansion. It's like addictive gambling -- rather than admit you did something stupid, you do something even more stupid trying to win your money back. And the fix is in, with Mr. Lloyd Center getting the pork. Hundreds of millions of public dollars, most of it probably local tax money, and complete property tax forgiveness -- rumor has it, the hotel will pay no property taxes at all for 30 years. This is what we're spending our hard-earned city revenues to create.
The flyer for today's talk says that the event is an attempt to relate to the "local debate" about the hotel. Boy, if Sanders can find a genuine opportunity to "debate" this, he's one smart professor. This deal was done long, long ago, most likely in one or more smoke-filled rooms, back in the Vera-Neil-Mazziotti days (when Commissioner Sam Adams was the mayor's economic development guru). There's simply no stopping it, which is such a sad statement about our city. If it's such a good idea, let's put it up for a public vote! In your dreams.
Anyway, Professor Sanders will be speaking at 2:00 at Portland State. I hope the poor fellow can at least get in and out of our downtown without being shot, violently attacked by a roving gang, stabbed, menaced, or involuntarily fondled. As for his message, it's dead on arrival.
Another fun night in downtown Portland. Go by streetcar!
Neat interview with, and good picture of, probable Oregon Supreme Court Justice candidate Jack Roberts -- here.
Growing up in a Polish-American household (one quarter, at least), we ate golabki pretty regularly. This is traditional Polish fare -- cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice, usually with some vaguely tomato-based sauce lightly spread over them. Cheap and good.
Polish is such a funny language. Consonant sounds that aren't contained anywhere in the actual letters creep into words. When spoken by a true Pole, "Bogdanski" came out sounding something like "Boydangski." And "galobki" sounded like "gwumpkie." I never learned how to spell the word correctly until a visit to the Portland Polish Festival a couple of years back.
There was even some sort of neighborhood joke (the details of which I forget) that ended with the punchline, "We want gwumpkies, we want gwumpkies." I think it might have been somewhat racist, as many of the jokes circulating around that neighborhood were in those days. I distinctly recall that it got quite a few laughs as we dug into the rolled-up meat and vegetable entrees, made of ground beef, maybe a little onion and rice, and generic store-bought Jersey cabbage, baked in a dish (Corning Ware in those days, no doubt). You got everything you needed for this meal down the street at the Foodtown, from that produce guy "Hy" (you talk about your ethnic slurs -- ask my relatives what they thought of "Hy").
Although we appreciated the gwumpkies (and their cousins, green bell peppers stuffed with the same ingredients), after a while they got a little too familiar. One evening, my brother (then maybe 8 or 10 years old) decided to go on strike against gwumpkies. He hated them, he said, even under the thick layer of catsup that he insisted on applying to every dish set before him. He was determined. He would never eat gwumpkies, ever, ever again.
Mom was equally adamant. "Those are perfectly good gwumpkies. Eat them!" she said. The starving children in China, etc. No way, he replied. "Well then, fine, go to your room, take your plate of gwumpkies with you, and don't come out until you've eaten them all!"
Off to the bedroom he went, dish of gwumpkies in hand. But he didn't eat them. Oh, no. Instead, he found a length of string in our desk drawer, broke out a bit of meat from inside one of mom's golabki, and tied one end of the string around that morsel of meat.
And he walked over to the fish tank. Yes, little brother was going to go fishing for our lone angel fish (or maybe it was a goldfish), using gwumpkie meat as bait.
He never did get the fish to bite, and as I recall, he never ate the supper, either. Mom eventually discovered his impromptu fishing expedition, scolded him again, and took the plate back from him. Wasting food was a major sin in our house, but I doubt that anyone actually ate those golabki. No doubt they were cast off to wherever Newark household garbage went in those days -- probably filling in a swamp somewhere nearby.
Little brother was in the doghouse.
Until the next morning, when the fish was discovered floating on the top of the tank. Dead. "You see, Mom? Those gwumpkies are bad for you!"
Even our mom, never at a loss for words, didn't have a good response for that one.
Anyway, all this golabki talk is prompted by the last couple of nights' dinners at our Portland house. At last Saturday's Hollywood Farmer's Market, I picked up a bunch of organic red chard, a wonderful vegetable. The sign above the bin suggested that you try chard instead of standard cabbage in a stuffed cabbage dish.
After I relayed this idea to my wonderful bride, she dutifully dug out a simple but elegant recipe for such a thing and put her personal touch on it. Within a couple of days, I was eating an updated version of the classic from Down Neck Newark. Red chard instead of stronger cabbage, ground turkey instead of beef, and sliced mushrooms out of the can thrown into the stuffing. She was cautioning that it was nothing, but she was so wrong. It was divine. And like so much ethnic food, it was better the second day.
Mmmmmmmmm... gwumpkies. Pass the pan, and praise the Lord.
Even Tony checks in with the Big Fella from time to time.
Amazing story in today's O: The Port of Portland is seriously thinking about moving its 265 employees out of its Old Town corporate headquarters and selling or leasing the building. Where will they go? To a new building out at the airport, the lower part of which will be another parking garage, for 3,500 cars.
Whoa. This raises some questions:
1. Who would buy or lease the Port building, at 110,000 square feet? Who's ready to take on Old Town's problems? Isn't there too much office space in Portland already? Surely the city government wouldn't be interested -- would it?
2. Is another parking garage at the airport really necessary? The story says that this one would be for long-term and overnight parking -- are we really so short on that out at the airport?
3. This project would cost $160 million. If the Port has that sort of money lying around -- and the story says it has $105 million of it in the bank -- aren't there more important aspects of the Port district's economy that need attention, besides airport parking?
4. Why can't the Port just stop with the constant airport "improvements"? Given Portland's economy, the place is already overbuilt as it is. And is adding another 200-plus commuters' cars every morning to rush-hour airport traffic a good thing?
5. The decision to build the garage appears to be a done deal -- the only open question is whether the office space will be included. Where was the public input on the garage decision?
6. How long before the Portland Development Commission gets involved, and makes a bad deal for city taxpayers on either the Old Town building or the airport property?
7. Could you convert the existing Port building to condos? Could you make it a farmer's market? Can you fit a fire truck through the revolving doors?
8. Instead of putting all the Port employees out at the airport, how about an aerial tram [rim shot] from Old Town to PDX?
9. Will the last employer left in downtown Portland please turn off the lights as you leave?
10. Does Port Commissioner Imeson's consulting firm have ties to any of the companies that are bidding on the garage construction?
11. Is this a thinly-veiled attempt to jumpstart the long-stalled Cascade Station project out by the airport? Is Trammell Crow (which reportedly holds "development rights" on 100 acres out there) pushing for the Port to move out there? Whatever happened to the Ikea store?
12. Will Randy Gragg weigh in on this from Harvard?
Portlanders, if you think your water and sewer bill is high, take heart: Part of your bill is going to go toward the downtown transit mall light rail project.
You'll also get to contribute through that "urban renewal" line on your property tax bill. I'm sure that's a relief to most of you.
Here's a milestone: After several years of staying away, I just bought a couple of Blazer tickets. My daughter sits through a lot of televised roundball with me over the long winter and spring months. Last year, during the pro playoffs, we started loosely following Houston Rockets center Yao Ming together. As the season ended, I told her, "We'll go see Yao when he comes here next season." And so we shall.
In my weariest days as a disappointed Blazermaniac, I said that I'd gladly come back to the fold once the most prominent ne'er-do-wells were gone. They don't have to win, I reasoned, they just need to not be louts. I do believe the craziest of the guys have mostly departed, and so now it's time to test the waters once again.
I suspect the Blazers are going to have their heads handed to them this year. But that shouldn't stop Portlanders from rooting for them. I remember the '80s teams -- guys like Mychal Thompson, Calvin Natt and Tom Owens. They weren't very good, but we still showed up to get out of the cold rains of our dark season, have a Weinhard's Ale, and cheer for the local guys. I hope my daughter and I get the same feeling when we visit the Blazers and Yao in a couple of months. I'm optimistic that we will.
Blah blah blah. It's another stinkin' 325-foot-tall condo tower, only this time the architects are going to take five or six lower floors for their offices, and then there's supposed to be six stories of luxury hotel sandwiched in. "Only" the top 18 floors are "apartments," with room service and a concierge. I'm sure there'll be a bunch of $5-an-hour underground parking, too, to offset the loss of the Jake's parking lot that the building will replace.
And of course, the first floor will be retail, sucking more life out of the already anemic core downtown area.
No word yet on how much public subsidy the new skyscraper is going to get. I can't believe that it's going up without some grease or other flowing from the PDC.
Apparently, it's been a banner year for the hotels downtown. Tourists and thugs, the 21st Century city.
A benefit art auction run by your friends is at once a wonderful place to be, and a dangerous one. Especially when the artists are still there finishing the works as you bid on them. As charitable impulses unite with the strong, positive vibrations that the artists create, a person could be tempted to blow some serious discretionary income.
At Pulse Saturday night, we bought two wonderful pieces, and in so doing helped out children with major heart problems. We had a blast on several different levels. And surprisingly, today there's not even a trace of buyer's remorse. We're still on a high. (O.k., a Sunday afternoon nap helped take some of the rough edges off.)
Our big purchase is an exquisite painting by Nancy Higgins. It's 20 by 20 inches, acrylic (I think) on canvas, in which she showcases her style of offering several measured, linear slices of Northwest landscape images within a single work. This photo of it sitting on our dining room table awaiting hanging doesn't even attempt to do the painting justice. It's gorgeous. We got to visit with Nancy and her husband for a while after we pulled the trigger on the maximum bid. Nice people. We look forward to visiting her in her studio to see what else she has been working on.
We're also excited about a piece we purchased by Josh Arseneau. It is mixed media, with gouache, watercolor, pencil and ink on paper. From his statement in the program, I think it's a partly autobiographical picture, in which the word "Vanitas" (vanity) plays a central role. When we get it unpacked and mounted for hanging in the attic office in which this blog is produced, we'll have to see if the artist will give us permission to show it here. It's strong.
Then there were the works we wanted to keep bidding on but, hey, resources are not unlimited. David Friedman created a huge, impressionistic (pointillistic, I think) piece that would have been wonderful to take home. Roderick Smith did a marvellous painting of mother and children that would have gone great in a number of locations in our house -- or most anywhere, really. Even the preliminary sketches and studies that were hanging next to it were worthy of prolonged attention. David Joseph Laubenthal's more abstract work was the first thing that caught our eyes when we walked into the place, and we were sad to say goodbye to it at the end of the night. Molly Reeves's character studies were noted for future reference, too. Maybe we could commission a custom portrait, but I'll tell you, one could spend a long time enjoying her version of any of the people she paints.
And we must have an Amy Ruppel. No two ways about it... er, what am I talking about? I don't know anything about art! Huh -- I guess I don't really need to.
Auditory Sculpture was the absolutely perfect soundtrack for the artists' work and the patrons' bidding. I usually pass on the electronica, but Pulse forced my ears open, and Keith Schreiner knows what to put in there. Can you say "podcast"? I'll have to call him.
The space, Staver Locomotive, worked extremely well, thanks to hours and hours of labor by talented designers and builders. A huge bonfire out front was a brilliant touch. Here we were in industrial Northwest Portland, 2005, warmed by a blaze that would have made the original inhabitants of the land proud. The food and drink was some of the best of Portland. And although we caught only a few numbers before the babysitter clock turned us into pumpkins, Pepe & the Bottle Blondes rocked.
After any charity event, the obvious question is how much money was raised. When we left, they were still counting, but it will be several tens of thousands of dollars, I'm sure. There were some very generous people in the crowd, to say the least. Really gratifying, especially for a first-time event.
Last but not least, our thanks to Kari Chisholm at BlueOregon, Jonathan Nicholas, the folks at Willamette Week, and Jim Redden at the Trib for helping us get the word out.
Pulse was everything we hoped it would be, and then some. Congratulations to the Oregon Chapter of the Children's Heart Foundation on a spectacular evening. We'll have stories about the event, including a recap of a couple of impulsive purchases on our part, later. Right now, believe it or not, I've got to get ready to give a talk in a couple of hours.
No, it's not at church, although for some people, the topic is something of a religion.
Steve Stark was in town yesterday, giving his course on public speaking to Portland-area lawyers, and when he was through, he dropped by our house for a few hours before hopping a red-eye back to Chapel Hill. Steve was my roommate at Yale for my one semester there 28 years ago. I don't think I'd laid eyes on him since.
Stark, whose book Meet the Beatles is out there and doing well despite the tons of other Beatle books on the shelves (including a new flurry on the way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of this), is between major book projects. Having just returned from three years living with his family in the English countryside, he is now a confirmed world soccer nut, and he may have something coming out on that. He's also written on the history of television, and I can't imagine that his fascination with American popular culture will ever go dormant.
There isn't much better than dinner with a long lost friend. In this case, we are exactly the same guys we were in '77. Only better.
The O had a couple of good local stories this week. One was on the City of Portland's paying private landlords for office space for its agencies while ample city-owned office space sits empty. (It might have been interesting to see the landlords' names as well as the names of their buildings, though. Bet there are some familiar names there.)
In the other story, Maximum Maxine revealed that the city's police and fire disability fund doesn't even bother trying to recoup the cost of claims from people who negligently caused officers' disabilities. Sometimes the officers collect twice; sometimes the negligent party gets away without paying the full damage that he or she caused.
Dumb and dumber. Good job by the local daily on both of these.
Just came back from a "Katie Couric." Everything's great. The drugs were cool. But I'm hungry.
All's busy today getting ready for Pulse, tomorrow evening's unique art auction and party to benefit the Oregon Chapter of the Children's Heart Foundation. My spouse is involved on the food end of things, and I can tell you that wonderful donated goodies are coming in from all over, including Fife, Grolla, Gravy, Higgins, Il Piatto, 3 Doors Down, Finouile, Farm, JaCiva's Chocolates, Nuestra Cocina, Portland Brewing, and Cha Cha Cha. An ocean of good wine has been donated by Ponzi Vineyards, DePonte Vineyards, Columbia Distributors, and Everyday Wine.
The event will take place at Staver Locomotive, an industrial building over back behind Montgomery Park near Portland Brewing. The festivities start at 5 or 7, depending which level of ticket you buy. There's still time to buy tickets; go here. Please do. I hope to see you there.
Thirty-five artists. Eight hours. One cause.
Savvy tech lawyer Jere Webb sends along a doozy of a story that should be of interest to bloggers, to their readers, and especially to those who leave comments on other people's blogs. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled last week that before an internet access provider like Comcast can be forced to disclose the identity of a customer who anonymously posted a blog comment that allegedly libeled a local politician, the politician must do more than show that he or she has a "good faith" claim against the commenter. The politico must make a stronger showing -- that his or her libel claim actually may have merit.
The case involved a defamation claim by Patrick Cahill, a Smyrna, Del. city council member (I think that's him on the right), against a person who posted allegedly libelous comments on a blog under the name "Proud Citizen." (The closest thing I could find to the site in question was this, and that's a bulletin board, not a blog, isn't it?) Anyway,"Proud Citizen" remarked that Cahill had "character flaws, not to mention an obvious mental deterioration." In a later post, he spelled the name of the councilman as "Gahill," which the latter alleged could be read as an accusation that he had had an extra-marital gay affair.
Since Cahill didn't know the commenter's identity, he and his wife brought suit against "John Doe." They also went to the blog's owner, Independent Newspapers, and got the commenter's IP address from them. It was a Comcast IP address, and so the plaintiffs next approached Comcast, asking for the name of the subscriber who was assigned that IP address at the time. (Actually, Comcast customers' IP addresses stay fixed for long periods of time, so it would take little or no sleuthing for Comcast to make the ID.) Under federal law, Comcast has to give the customer notice before it discloses such information, and in this case, "Proud Citizen" objected to being identified.
The trial court in the libel suit ordered "Proud Citizen's" real name to be disclosed, since the councilman had shown that his libel action was brought in "good faith." But the state supreme court reversed that ruling. To get the commenter's name, the supreme court ruled, the councilman would have to make a preliminary showing that his libel suit had merit -- a showing strong enough to overcome a motion by the other side for a summary judgment.
This typically means that the plaintiff must present at least some evidence that he or she would win in the libel suit -- in other words, he or she must make what lawyers call a "prima facie case" on each element of the libel action. In Delaware, if the aggrieved person is a public figure, such as a politician, among the things that he or she must show is that the statement in question was false; that it was a statement of fact and not merely a statement of opinion; and that it caused harm (typically, by injury to his or her reputation).
The bottom line? If the libel claim is silly or trivial, the aggrieved subject of the offending comment can't get the identity of the commenter from the internet access provider. If it's stronger than that, the aggrieved party likely can. At least, that's now the rule in Delaware -- we'll see how other states react.
Where do blog commenters get such protection? From the First Amendment, of course. As the Delaware court explained:
It is clear that speech over the intemet is entitled to First Amendment protection. This protection extends to anonymous intemet speech. Anonymous internet speech in blogs or chat rooms in some instances can become the modem equivalent of political pamphleteering. As the United States Supreme Court recently noted, "anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and dissent." The United States Supreme Court continued, "[t]he right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse."In a situation such as that of "Proud Citizen," protection of the speaker's identity was particularly crucial, the court said:
We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all. A defamation plaintiff, particularly a public figure, obtains a very important form of relief by unmasking the identity of his anonymous critics. The revelation of identity of an anonymous speaker "may subject [that speaker] to ostracism for expressing unpopular ideas, invite retaliation from those who oppose her ideas or from those whom she criticizes, or simply give unwanted exposure to her mental processes." * * * After obtaining the identity of an anonymous critic through the compulsory discovery process, a defamation plaintiff who either loses on the merits or fails to pursue a lawsuit is still free to engage in extra-judicial self-help remedies; more bluntly, the plaintiff can simply seek revenge or retribution.In a side note, the court suggested that the better remedy for the target of an offending blog comment isn't a lawsuit -- but rather to post a counter-comment on the same blog:
Besides the legal remedies available to a plaintiff wronged by internet defamation, the potential plaintiff has available a very powerful form of extra-judicial relief. The internet provides a means of communication where a person wronged by statements of an anonymous poster can respond instantly, can respond to the allegedly defamatory statements on the same site or blog, and thus, can, almost contemporaneously, respond to the same audience that initially read the allegedly defamatory statements. The plaintiff can thereby easily correct any misstatements or falsehoods, respond to character attacks, and generally set the record straight. This unique feature of internet communications allows a potential plaintiff ready access to mitigate the harm, if any, he has suffered to his reputation as a result of an anonymous defendant's allegedly defamatory statements made on an internet blog or in a chat room.Turning to the statements in the case at hand, the court held that they were not libelous, in large part because they were posted on a blog, and everyone knows that blogs and chat rooms are so full of unsubstantiated opinion and hyperbole that no one would ever take them as reliable sources of factual material. You can't defame a public figure by stating your opinion about them. And responsive comments from another poster promptly called at least one of "Proud Citizen's" comments out as unfounded. In the end, "Proud Citizen" was completely exonerated.
The full text of the court's opinion is here (pdf). Even if you're not typically inclined to read court opinions, as someone who reads blogs you should find this one of interest. See what the powerful men and women in the black robes are saying about bloggers, commenters, and readers like yourselves.
Hey, what's the deal over at Channel 8 here in Portland? The last couple of nights now, on their 11:00 newscast, they stop in the middle of a story and say, "You can read all about it in tomorrow morning's Oregonian." Then they show the next day's front page.
The other night, one of the beat reporters (I think it was Nicole "The Doll") even held up the paper for the camera. And she said (through those impossibly glossy lips), "Read all about it in tomorrow's Oregonian," at least twice. You wonder who's getting paid what to say what about whom. But it's kind of funny to have the newscasters in effect reading a paid ad in the middle of the newcast. You think they should have to flash something like "ADVERTISEMENT" along the bottom of the screen.
What next? Maybe that couple from Mattress World can show up on the set with their boys and jump around behind the sports guys.
Most academics loathe the U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges and universities. This annual exercise purports to take a look at nearly every undergraduate and graduate school progam in the country, and to rank them all, from the "best" to the "worst." In the lower echelons, the rankings are just large groups, listed alphabetically, but at the top, there's a precise-looking Top 40 countdown that would make Casey Kasem proud. The publications that include the rankings make U.S. News a ton of money every year.
The reasons why many in the higher education business detest this process (and I'm speaking here for myself and other academics individually, not for my employer or any other institution) are many and varied. Many academic leaders have spoken out against the practice. Occasionally a school is brave enough to refuse to submit information to U.S. News for use in its survey. For example, Colin Diver, the president of Reed College here in Portland, has aleady gotten a fair amount of play out of this new commentary in the Atlantic Monthly, blasting U.S. News and explaining why Reed won't send them the data they request from all the colleges. I'll let you read what Diver has to say, and if you're interested in reading other grounds for distrusting the U.S. News ranking "system," you can find a rich literature of criticism just by using some basic Google smarts.
Like it or hate it, though, U.S. News is the 6,000-pound gorilla of college and university recruiting. Schools may turn up their noses at the rankings, but you can bet that they are well aware of where they stand on the charts, and are ever happy to make moves that they think will jump them up. Unfortunately, a lot of game-playing comes out of this, and I doubt that it ever brings about much improvement in the participants' academic programs.
The most notable byproduct of the annual beauty contest is the flood of full-color glossy brochures that the schools send out to all those who are likely voters in the U.S. News surveys. During U.S. News polling season, I get one or two such publications in the mail from different law schools every day. I never look at them any more. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in production, printing, and snail-mail costs, and each brochure goes directly from my mailbox to the recycling bin in the split second it takes me to recognize it as the junk mail it is.
My personal involvement in the U.S. News process has proven to me that it is ludicrous. From time to time, they get my name on one of their lists, and they send me a survey form to rank all the law schools in America. Sometimes the assigned task has been to rank the schools' overall programs, but lately, since I'm a tax professor, they ask me to rate all the law schools based on the educational opportunities they provide in the tax area.
I get the form, and I stare at it in disbelief. There are nearly 200 law schools listed there. How many of them could I possibly know anything meaningful about? O.k., I teach at one of them. I attended another one, 30 years ago. I have friends who teach at maybe a dozen more. I have read recent books and articles by professors at maybe a dozen more beyond that. That totals up to around one eighth of the sample. How does that qualify me to say anything at all about who's the "best" and the "worst" in the much larger group?
And how many law schools have I actually set foot in in the past five years beyond my own? Five at most. How many have I visited recently to teach regular courses in? None. How many other schools' faculty meetings have I attended? None. What do I know about the true atmosphere for learning at other schools? Nothing.
Plus, am I going to say anything good about my school's competitors? Our admissions officers fight tooth and nail for good applicants sometimes, and for better or worse, U.S. News can be a deciding factor in the prospects' decisonmaking. Doesn't that make me just a little biased? It's like sending a survey out to the auto makers and asking them who makes the best car.
The same silliness applies to the other major constituencies that U.S. News polls about the law schools: practicing lawyers and judges. What do they know about the vast majority of the 191 listed schools? Indeed, what does anybody know about the current educational programs of more than a few schools?
This week, though, the U.S. News game reached a new depth in my eyes. In my mailbox was another annual peer survey package from them, and when I opened it, I found this:
Note what they're asking me to rank the schools about: trial advocacy. That's a subject I have never taught in my 20 years in academe, and about which I know precious little. I have coached a moot court team for a while, but that's appellate advocacy, not trial advocacy. And so to send me a trial advocacy survey is the height of incompetence.
Hmmm, what do I do with this form? I guess I'll throw it away. But if I marked it up and sent it in, it would count just as much as every other form being submitted by other academics, including those who had a clue.
My votes would be utterly meaningless. And theirs wouldn't be much better.
Here's a great photo, on an Oregon Live blog, no less.
I'm not too swift sometimes. The last few days I was wondering why the Portland Public School District was sending me e-mail messages touting the fact that my property taxes were going down this year due to the expiration of some school levies. Check out this sunny missive from the other day:
Portland, Ore. -- Multnomah County mails the first property tax bills starting Tuesday, and property owners in the Portland Public Schools district are in for a nice surprise: Unlike just about everyone else in the Portland area, they'll be paying less. Much less.Today it finally dawned on me -- that's just the sound of the first shoe dropping. The other one's about to fall soon: "Please vote for a new regional income tax for schools."
Two Portland Public Schools property tax measures expired June 30: the five-year local option tax that paid for some 200 teachers' positions and the 10-year construction bond levy. The Portland School Board chose not to ask voters to renew those measures last November, when the repeal of the local income tax was on the ballot. Without those taxes, Portland Public Schools will collect 32 percent less this year, a drop of $61 million.
That translates into significant savings for individual taxpayers. According to Dave Boyer, the county's Chief Financial Officer, the typical owner of a home assessed at $150,000 will see their school property taxes drop by $312, while school taxes on a $300,000 assessed home will drop by $629. (Note that on average the taxable, assessed value of a home in Multnomah County is just over 60 percent of its real market value.)
Oh, now I get it.
I just pulled an old-fashioned all-nighter on a professional writing project. This having a career is really cutting into my blogging. I've got three juicy blog topics ready to go, too. But not until I catch me some Z's.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles released an important document yesterday -- a report that includes summaries of the archdiocese's files on individual priests who were or are accused of various sorts of dereliction, most of the charges being child sex abuse. The document's release was forced by attorneys of victims who are suing the archdiocese for allegedly covering up the priests' misdeeds.
The report is appalling. Even with weasel words like "boundary violation," "involvement," and "mistreatment," it paints an ugly picture. And that's the sanitized version. You can imagine. (An earlier document, without the file summaries, was released last year, and a version of it now sits here.)
It sure would be interesting to read a document like this about the many cases pending in the Archdiocese of Portland. Come on, Archbishop Vlazny, whaddya say?
KGW's reporting (registration required) that Mayor Potter's about to announce a five-part plan to make downtown Portland safer. And that the plan is going to include a 9 p.m. curfew on the South Park blocks. Hard to believe that is going to be part of the plan, or if it is, that it will be enforceable.
But Sir Isaac Laquedem nailed it a year and a half ago. Like the related fire station relocation, it's all about moving everybody out of the way for another condo monstrosity. I'm sure a deal has long ago been made, and one of the usual suspects is just waiting and salivating. Yuck.
Taking a cue from Barry at Alas, a Blog, I have banned the words "poker," "holdem," and "blackjack" from my comments. Sorry, folks, but these spammers are some tenacious cockroaches.
I never watch infomercials. "Make millions in real estate without using your own money!" "There are millions of dollars of free government grants out there just waiting for you to take them!" Yeah, right... click.
But I'm seriously thinking of changing my viewing habits as I read story after story about the major giveaways to the local developer crew by the Portland Development Commission.
For example, last week they announced that they had closed on the sale of the bombed-out "Heritage Building" on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to a group of developers for, literally, one dollar. This is property that the PDC paid $400,000 for in 1999 -- now gone for a buck. That and $2.4 million in low-interest loans is supposed to get the new owners cracking, finally, on turning the property into something useful, after years and years and years of talking about it.
Back in 2001 (when the property was still being called the Weimer Building), the story was that the PDC was going to sell the building to a developer for around $500,000 (see page 4). "But just like everything else, I guess those crazy dreams just kinda came and went."
Gee whiz, hand me a $400,000 piece of property and lend me a couple of million on a subsidized basis, and I could probably build something nice, too. One report last May had the developers putting up a big $30,000 total of their own money. Where do I sign up?
I'm not saying it won't be nice to have some PDC money spent on something other than tacky condos. Or to get something good built around the nice folks at Hankins Hardware. But I am saying that the only way the PDC gets anything done any more is by giving away the candy store -- multiple candy stores, in fact. This kind of economic development is hardly anything to crow about.
In other PDC deal news, they're bringing a few dozen nice white-collar jobs to the Lents neighborhood -- by stealing them from Gresham! Take that, Lonnie!
I need professional help. I just gave my blog two "cron jobs."
How was your Saturday night? You can do better next weekend. On Saturday evening, Oct. 15, join 35 visual artists, musicians Auditory Sculpture and Pepe & the Bottle Blondes, and a host of good-natured partygoers for Pulse, a benefit for the Oregon Chapter of the Children's Heart Foundation.
The artists will be getting there ahead of you. They'll start at 1:00 that afternoon and each create a work of art to be sold in a silent auction that ends at 9. A sneak preview starts at 5; doors open for general admission at 7. The dance party should get going around 9 and continue 'til around 11.
The artists include some big names and some up-and-comers. I must confess to not being entirely "up" on the scene, but I'm told that among the more interesting participants scheduled to participate are Jef Gunn, Joseph Mann, Amy Ruppel, Trish Grantham, Randall Sims, and Elise Wagner.
The location is Staver Locomotive -- a huge model train mecca over in Northwest Portland back by Portland Brewing. Tickets and more information are available here. I know the folks who are putting this together, and some of the kids who will benefit. I hope we see you there.
In my many rants about the boondoggles perpetrated by the Portland Development Commission, I have noted that there are several other "semi-autonomous" (i.e., not really accountable) public agencies around that are easy prey for private looting. Among these are Tri-Met, OHSU, the Lottery, Saif, and the Port of Portland.
An interesting parallel between the PDC and the Port showed up today, buried at the very end of an Oregonian story about a whistleblower lawsuit. In the suit, the disgruntled former Port employee complains about favoritism within the Port among its personnel. The allegation that caught my eye (after being directed there by an alert reader) was this one:
In March 2004, Baynton, who is white, expressed concerns to Woodworth about an African American employee's being passed over for management consideration. Baynton told Woodworth that, unlike white managerial employees, African Americans were not given personal management coaches.Here we go again with the "management coaches." Which managers are so crummy that they need "coaches"? And who are the "coaches"? How are they hired? How much are we paying them, on top of the people whom they're coaching?
I sure hope some enterprising journalist (or prosecutor) in town starts asking some serious questions over at the Port -- not just who had the beer, but something much more important. I'm suspect there are more sad parallels over there to the goofball antics of the PDC.
I linked to this story the other day. Just now I revisited the story and saw that it was linking me back in the "Who's Blogging?" box.
Does this mean I can tell my mom that I was quoted in the Washington Post?
... grass smoke.
Oregon: Things smell different here.
This blog is fast closing in on 500,000 unique visits, but the odometer is likely to turn over while I'm asleep. If you scroll down toward the bottom of the sidebar on the main page, to the little SiteMeter box; and if it happens to say "500,000" exactly, and you e-mail me a screenshot of it, I'll buy you a ticket to Pulse ($45 value).
UPDATE, 4:18 p.m.: We had not one but two readers who sent along the 500K images. Bill McDonald just saved the meter box itself as a picture:
Michael was also on at the time, and he had an entire screenshot for us. Here it is:
That's two Pulse tickets, or two $45 contributions in their names. Thanks, guys!
We racked up 100,000 unique visits in the last 90 days. At that pace, we'd have our one millionth unique visit here on Dec. 30, 2006. We'll see.
In three-plus years of blogging, I've never hit readers up for money. I don't run paid ads, and except for a few months when I was sponsored by Marqui, I haven't taken a nickel out of this hobby.
That's why I'm going to ask you all to bear with me for the next week or so as I hawk tickets for a charity event. It's a fundraiser, but it's not your average fundraiser -- not by a longshot. It promises to be a unique, artsy, musical, delicious, and very cool evening. It's called Pulse, and there's been a link to the official event website right up near the top of the main page of this blog for a while now.
Here are the bare bones of the story:
Thirty-five Portland artists (mostly visual artists) will converge on a large space called Staver Locomotive in industrial Northwest Portland on Saturday afternoon, October 15. Beginning at 1 p.m., they will each labor for eight hours creating one or more new works of art. Beginning at 5, guests will arrive and eat and drink as they wander around and observe. At that point, "Auditory Sculpture," a.k.a. local music adventurer Keith Schreiner, will begin making his unique brand of music to enhance what the visual artists are doing.
At 7 p.m., a second, larger wave of guests will show up. More food, drink, music. There will be a silent auction, ending at 9 or so, when all the art work created that day will be sold. After the bidding stops, Pepe and the Bottle Blondes will take over, and dancing will begin. Things should stay rolling until around 11.
There will be serious comestibles available. Everything is donated, and the proceeds will benefit a wonderful charity known as the Children’s Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter. This is a fairly new, local, nonprofit (501(c)(3)) organization set up to help fund research into diagnosing, treating, and preventing congenital heart defects. Of course, the prime movers in this effort are parents whose children have these defects. Years ago, these kids would not have had a childhood. Now they do, but there are many difficulties behind the brave smiles, and the future is not assured.
Tickets are not cheap. Guests who arrive at 7 or thereafter will pay $45 apiece. "VIP" types who show up at 5 for the sneak preview will pay $100 apiece. And then some of them will buy some substantial works of art, with all proceeds going to the cause. Did I mention it's a benefit?
I'm sure you get a million of these pitches. But hey, this one's coming from me.
O.k., that's enough for now. Be forewarned, however: I'm not done with my sales campaign just yet.
Some days you're better off skipping Oprah.
Letterman told a good one last night. Something like: "Harriet Miers has been nominated to the Supreme Court. She's never been a judge -- well, once in a bakeoff... but the folks in Congress are very frustrated with her, because she's never voiced her opinions. And I'm thinking, 'God, where do you get a woman like that?'"
Actually, she has been speaking her mind, and her assembled writings are here.
Well, kids, Grampy's home, and so now it's time for Sam the Tram to go on his own international junkets. But our fearless freshman commish isn't settling for a week in Mexico with the Royal Rosarians -- he's heading out for Prague, Amsterdam, and Melbourne on important missions.
Hey, don't worry, the city isn't paying his expenses. Outfits like the Portland Streetcar, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, and unnamed "private sources" are paying his way. That's reassuring, huh? For a guy who's all hot on the "clean money" and making neighborhood lobbyists register, he sure knows how to pick up a perk or two from people who are always hanging around asking the city for handouts.
No, I guess we taxpayers are just paying his salary while he takes all these "essential" trips. Just as we apparently pay for his time while he photo-ops flipping burgers and mowing lawns to show how he rubs elbows with us commoners. For 90 large a year, you don't expect the guy to sit in his office and actually work, do you? He's going to blog from the road -- that will have to be good enough.
You have to feel sorry for Saltzman. While the newbies cash in and go globetrotting, he doesn't dare go much past Beaverton for fear that Amanda Fritz will have his job by the time he gets back.
Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto surprised political observers today when he told a reporter that he may not seek re-election. In a brief interview outside Michael's Sausage, Giusto said he has been asked by federal authorities to join in a special national security strike force, the precise nature of which he could not disclose.
Sources close to the sheriff, however, said the mission involved a planned intervention involving a high-ranking Bush administration official with a substance abuse problem. "All I can say is, Bernie is going to be Bernie," the local source said. "If there's a pretty woman who's got a problem with her old man, the sheriff's ready to help. Helping people is what he does best."
A recent review by The Oregonian of Giusto's expense account and cell phone records turned up $5.19 of unsubstantiated meal charges at Burgerville, two bottles of Brut cologne classified under "ammunition," six instances in which the sheriff initialed an expense voucher rather than signing his full name, three expired holds on VHS tapes at the Multnomah County Library, and 116 phone calls over the past month between his cell phone and the private living quarters of the White House.
"We do individual things for individuals, whether they are people of position or not," the sheriff said as he jumped into a county police cruiser and sped off to an East County Junior League meeting. "It's not an issue, and I have no qualms."
A while back an alert reader pointed me to the Portland City Council's then-impending "emergency" action to spend $1 million of scarce parks acquisition money to chip in with the Portland Development Commission as they rushed to buy the Public Storage property in the SoWhat district for future use as a public park. (I believe this is the property in question on a map -- and here's the Google satellite image.) With all the capital needs our parks have these days, this seemed like foolishness to me, but then again, the whole SoWhat development seems the ultimate in foolishness, so it's not a huge surprise.
I blogged about it, and Commissioner Saltzman's office (in charge of parks) got all huffy and defensive, but the resolution apparently sailed through the council, 4-0, despite a cautionary speech by Saltzman's upcoming challenger, Amanda Fritz, who knows a thing or two about parks.
The same reader who threw the light of day on the rush-rush money resolution keeps whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Now he or she's asking me how the city and the PDC can justify the price that they're paying for the property, in light of the fact that by the PDC's own admission, the property is environmentally contaminated.
According to news accounts, the purchase price of the property is $7 million -- $1 million up front out of parks money, another $800,000 out of future parks funds, and the other $5.2 million paid by the PDC (which has a $200,000 EPA grant to abate some of the hazardous materials on the site). Our reader asks whether the price was lowered appropriately to reflect the environmental problems.
Indeed, how was the price arrived at? The buildings are going to be knocked down; all that the taxpayers get for $7 million is the land (burdened by demolition and cleanup costs). It's 2.1 acres. And so that works out to $3.33 million per acre for contaminated land, in Portland, Oregon, with buildings on it that are going to be razed, at additional public expense, ASAP. "It's a good deal, and we should be celebrating this acquisition," said Saltzman. This despite the fact that the property is on the county rolls at the following values:
Market Value Year: 2004
Market Land Value: $ 1,446,920
Market Improvement Value: $ 3,134,330
Total Market Value: $ 4,581,250
Land Use: MOORAGE ACCOUNTS; Zoning: CXD
Assessment Year: 2004
Total Assessed Value: $ 2,229,790
The total market value on the county tax records in the years 2001-2003 appears to have been $4,674,750.
According to the county, the seller is a Glendale, California-based company called PS Partners VII Ltd. PS Partners appears to be affiliated with the large, publicly traded personal storage empire known as Public Storage. On that company's latest quarterly report filed with the SEC, it reports that it will book a $5 million profit on the Portland property (see page 13). Apparently, part of the "emergency" was that Public Storage had told its investors back in August that it expected to get its money by September 30.
The $7 million contaminated park block -- $3.3 million an acre. I can hear the boys down in Glendale laughing, all the way up here.
The folks at the University of Michigan Law Library have put together a nice page of links about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. It's here. There's not nearly as much to check out as there was with Justice Roberts, but at least it's all there for us in one place. (Via BoleyBlogs.)
Ms. Miers's nomination is the perfect symbol of the America that President Bush has created. As my dad always said, and it's truer now than ever, "Jackie, it's not what you know, it's who you know."
The New York Times has been running front-page editorials (disguised as news stories) the last couple of days about how many people are serving life sentences, without possibility of parole, in U.S. prisons. Some convicts rot behind bars from the time they're teenagers, even though they become model citizens in the joint.
The stories (which apparently will continue in a series) are filled out with photos of dead prisoners' coffins, and sympathetic profiles of the poor inmates whose only crime was being an accomplice to an armed robbery that turned deadly. In almost every case, the reporter insinuates that the prisoner may not actually have been guilty of the crime of which he or she was convicted. Today, on the second day, the story also begrudgingly included a picture of one of the victims -- a nice grandma who had her throat cut on a Super Bowl Sunday by one of the Times's youthful profilees.
You know what? I am buying not a single word of it. As my ex used to say, "If you're looking for sympathy, it's in the dictionary between 'sex' and 'syphillis.'" The facts of the story are very revealing, but the not-so-subtle message is bunk.
I recently bought a couple of cell phones and signed up for service from Cingular Wireless. One of the big selling points was the rebates I was going to get on the phones. Well, I got the rebates all right. But instead of credits against my monthly bill, or a check, I got not one, but two, of these:
What a pain in the neck. They usually didn't work the way debit cards are supposed to, which led to lots of confusion at various cash registers around town. In most cases, they had to be run as if they were a credit card. Some merchants' credit card gizmos flat out refused to take them. And the worst part was, once the balances ran down to under five bucks apiece, they were pretty much useless.
Let's say you've got one of these babies with $3.92 left on it. It's really, really hard to use that. If you buy something for less than that amount, a lot of merchants simply won't take plastic -- it's below their minimum. And if your purchase is more than that amount, you're supposed to ask the merchant to ring it up in two parts: one for $3.92, and the other for the rest of the purchase amount.
And so when my cards expired last Friday, there was still a total of five dollars or so that I was supposedly getting as a rebate, but that Cingular or its bank got to pocket.
Ripoff! Five bucks here, five bucks there -- you wonder what percentage of the supposed rebates they kept for themselves.
Where are the plaintiffs' attorneys when you need them? This one's a class action in the making. Somebody should give John Edwards a call -- on their Cingular phone, of course.
like a public employee whose pension benefits have been cut. Looks like Governor Ted's base is showing some cracks.
I came across a good blog on the OregonLive site the other night -- the one devoted to Old Town and Chinatown, and written by Larry Norton, a transplanted retiree lawyer from California. In a way, Norton seems like a poster child for the sad Katz-Sten vision of the New Portland -- an empty nester who burned out on the Golden State and whose arrival marks the end of the-Rose-City-as-we-know-it. But at least he's interested in his new neighborhood, willing to go to the meetings, perceptive, and a good writer.
One of Norton's current pastimes is sitting on a public committee of some sort that's studying the area where the Saturday Market currently sits. Apparently, the market is too real for the 200 development lackies in the Planning Bureau and the 200 minions in the Portland Development Commission, and so it's going to be moved out of its current home -- to where, nobody knows. I'm sure some Graggalicious Californication will take its place, and newbie neighbors like Norton will play the dupes for the Usual Suspects in the developer coterie, who will make out like bandits.
But what really struck me about a recent Norton post on the subject was a map that he produced, showing how much tax-exempt and tax-abated property there is down that way. The totally tax-exempt property is in red, and the somewhat tax-forgiven parcels are in pink. Check it out.
No wonder property taxes are so high. There are so few suckers left to pay them.
My recent post about Van Morrison's "Moondance" album brought several nice responses. One was from an old friend in Missouri with whom I hadn't conversed in a while. In his e-mail, he asked me to explain how I was converting some of my old vinyl record albums to digital files. Sounds like it's something he's interested in doing himself.
I'm happy to do so, because getting set up to do it was a lot easier than I thought.
Our story begins with a visit to Fry's Electronics down in Wilsonville, a big-box electronics palace that's so big I nearly pass out when I walk in. It's an odd place to shop, to say the least. The checkout stations and the customer service arrangement remind me of a gas station I used to hang around in in Newark, New Jersey in the late '60s. (Hey, they drink out of the Willamette down in Wilsonville, which could explain some things.) Trying to get someone on the phone at Fry's is a sick joke. But they've got the goods, and if you're willing to put yourself through a, shall we say, unique experience, you can come home with all the software and hardware you need for e-bliss.
I approached one of the younger salespeople in there one day and asked him what it would take to convert old analog music sources to digital files. His response was breathtakingly nonchalant: "Oh, yes, we have what you need. It's this Soundblaster unit. $39.99."
This thing is a small box that sits on top of my computer and connects to it by way of a cord that has RCA jacks on the Soundblaster side and a USB plug on the computer side. It's got another place for RCA stereo inputs, and you just connect your normal old-fashioned stereo source to it the way you would to an analog amplifier. The end result looks like this:
(Pardon the dust under there -- I'm overdue for a date with a dust rag in the home office. Too busy blogging.)
When I first got this baby hooked up, I connected an analog cassette recorder to it directly, and marveled as my computer was now "playing" tapes I had made in the '70s and '80s. The sound was just fine, and there did not appear to be any special software actually running as the sound passed through. The Soundblaster thingie seemed to have simply turned the computer into a part-time stereo amp.
To add to the excitement, I dredged out an analog-output DJ mixer that I had lying around, and hooked it up, so that now I could mix sounds going into the Soundblaster. But that's a frill that isn't necessary to convert your tracks.
Now to get to that process. A bunch of software came with the unit -- the most critical ones here being Creative MediaSource Player and Creative WaveStudio. To record something passing through the Soundblaster gizmo, you open up MediaSource Player; click the input to "line in"; tell it what kind of digital file you want coming out (for me, that's WAV); and click on the record button. At that point, what you're hearing through the computer speakers is what's being recorded. Here's what it looks like on the screen when it's recording:
When the song's over, I just click the stop button, and the program asks where I want to store the file (or whether to discard it). I save the file somewhere on the computer where I know I can find it -- Desktop works well. Now I've got a perfectly good WAV file, and if I click on it, Windows Media Player pops right up and plays the thing. Presto!
But what I get is a pretty low-volume version of the song. Rather than just turn the speakers up (which can be pretty jarring later if you forget to turn them back down), I use Creative WaveStudio to edit the WAV file. That's actually the most fun part of the whole process. You get to play recording engineer.
When you open up WaveStudio and open the newly created WAV file, it looks like this:
That, from left to right, is a graphic display of the sound file you just created. The red and blue are the two stereo channels. One of the "Task" functions available on the bar up at the top is "Volume," and you can play with that to increase or decrease the volume of all or any part of the file. If you highlight the whole file and increase the volume to, say, 200%, the revised file displays like this:
Portland city commissioner Randy Leonard is a gutsy guy. Anyone who would start a Water Bureau blog, with comments enabled no less, has brass stindeens.
I love it.