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Jack Bog's Blog, by Jack Bogdanski of Portland, Oregon

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June 2003 Archives

Monday, June 30, 2003

Recently overheard

"I went to his funeral because, as Yogi Berra once put it, 'If you don't go to the other guy's funeral, he won't go to yours.'"

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Happy birthday, Judge Goodwin

A spirited group of about 100 friends, family members, colleagues, and former law clerks gathered at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland today to celebrate the 80th birthday of Judge Alfred T. (Ted) Goodwin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Goodwin, who lived in Oregon all his life before moving to Pasadena in the 1980s, was on hand with his wife Mary and children Meg and Carl to accept the good wishes of his ardent fans. Ex-clerks came from as far away as Hong Kong and Tokyo just to be part of the festivities.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder hit the nail on the head as she praised Goodwin for being "off the charts" on "CPC." These are the three attributes to which the court most aspires: collegiality, productivity, and courage. To these Los Angeles corporate law star Ted McAniff, Goodwin's first law clerk and now a law professor at the University of Oregon, added the three G's: gentleman, generous, good. Other Ninth Circuit judges with accolades for Judge Goodwin included Edward Leavy and Diarmuid O'Scannlain. Among the impressive facts recounted was that Goodwin is apparently the only judge still working who has served on a state trial court, a state appellate court, the federal district court, and the federal court of appeals. Formerly the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, he may well have more judging experience than any other person alive.

The birthday gifts included the latest issue of Western Legal History, the journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society. It contains a series of tributes to Goodwin, including one I wrote on his contributions to the federal tax laws (which need all the help they can get). Only a few copies of journal have yet arrived, including the two given to the judge and Mary, but I eagerly await receiving mine.

The party featured both laughs and tears. Portland lawyer Charlie Adams choked just a little as he told the story of how Goodwin hired him as his law clerk, even though at the time Adams was so disabled from a sawmill injury that he literally had to stand up or lie down throughout his year of duty in the judge's chambers. Decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act told American employers that they must do the right thing, Goodwin instinctively did it.

After the series of scheduled speeches, an open mike coaxed about a dozen walk-ons to the podium; here even the unflappable Goodwin started to get misty. There could have easily been another dozen; you could almost hear the guests playing their own Goodwin anecdotes in their heads as they sat around the birthday cake. So many wonderful stories, none needing any embellishment, about Judge G and the three G's.

If I were to get up and tell my Goodwin story (which I didn't), the main theme would be how knowing him has changed my life. The judge wasn't my first choice for a law clerk's position, and I wasn't his first choice for the job, either. But another, more desirable clerk candidate had jilted Goodwin that year; she was snatched away by another, seemingly more desirable judge on the East Coast. In turn, that East Coast judge jilted me. Goodwin and I met for a wonderful interview in San Francisco, and once our respective recent rejections and common journalistic backgrounds were on the table, I think we both realized we could be a great match. I had never been to Oregon before, nor had he ever hired a guy from Newark, but we both took a chance, and the rest is history, good history, for me.

The plan was for me to come to Portland for just a year, to clerk for Goodwin; then I was to head down to L.A. to work for McAniff's firm. But I loved Oregon immediately, and ironically, a year later, I was putting down roots here while the judge transplanted his main base of operations to Southern California.

The story could go on and on. The clerkship was the most memorable of any job I've had so far, and the judge earned a lasting place in my heart. It's 25 years later, and I'm still here, loving my Oregon home. I look around with gratitude to him for so much of what I've got.

I'm not alone in this regard. Last night, about 30 or so of his former law clerks gathered at a cocktail party, and although we mostly didn't know each other, we discovered that we had all had the same great experience, at the rate of two or three clerks a year. A lot of the judge has rubbed off on us, and the world is a better place for it. A sizeable number of us are now teaching in law schools, and so one never knows where the Goodwin influence will stop.

A genuine eastern Oregon cowboy -- he still has a place in Sisters -- the judge today received a large framed print of perhaps the most famous photograph ever taken of him. It was back in the early '70s, when National Geographic did a spread on the then-largely-unknown province of Oregon. The theme was how different it was out here, and as an example, NG ran two pictures of Goodwin: a little quarter-page black-and-white shot of the judge in his robes on the Oregon Supreme Court (his thumb marking a place in a volume of the Oregon Revised Statutes, as I recall); and facing that, a full-page color photo of him roping a calf at a rodeo in Prineville. His smiling face is perfectly framed in the lasso loop -- none of which had to be staged, of course, because that was "Tex" Goodwin's life, and a cowboy he remains to this day. (Of course, the gift was of the latter photo.)

One of the speakers at the party was Sid Lezak, legendary former U.S. attorney for Oregon. Sid noted that when he ran a Google search for Goodwin, he found so many rants about the judge's decision on the Pledge of Allegiance last summer that it was hard to dig through them to find anything else.

Let's change that, starting right here. Happy birthday, Judge Goodwin, and thanks for everything.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Welcome to my nightmare

All of a sudden, the local press is all over one of my favorite rant topics: tax giveaways to well connected, rich developers in Portland. There was this piece in the Trib yesterday, and both this and this in The Oregonian.

I've been making my own observations on the subject for quite some time. Try here, here, here, and here.

So go get 'em, folks. And hats off to Commissioner Randy Leonard for being the lone ranger who'll call these guys out on it. Vera, Erik, Earl, even Francesconi -- they're all in on the scam. They'll be knocking each other over competing for Homer Williams's campaign money.

It's time for a change.

Add Portland blogger

I just noticed that Illusionaire has some interesting stuff to say. I'm filing her under "Hap'nin' gals."

Friday, June 27, 2003

Planned outage

Serious home improvement matters will make it mighty tough for me to fire up the old internet again until late Friday. By then it will be the weekend for many of you -- not your prime time for blog-reading, I know.

If you won't be back 'til Monday, have a wonderful last weekend of June. The rest of you hard core readers, see you Friday night or Saturday.

Don't forget the "Other Blogs" link up on the masthead. Lots of great writers and thinkers on that list.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Hot vs. not

Byron White was overruled today, but Myron Bright's still making law.

Supreme Court Lite

Well, this morning's proceedings in the Supreme Court weren't all they were cracked up to be. The Court decided not to decide Nike's "commercial speech" case. It sent it back to the California courts. Technically, the "writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted." Translation: Why did we take this case to begin with? Get it outta here!

The day's real news -- and it's big -- was that the Court threw out Bowers v. Hardwick, its 1986 decision that said states could outlaw private, consensual homosexual sex. Today, by a 6-3 vote, the Court declared that Bowers was wrong, and that the due process clause keeps the government out of your bedroom even if you're getting it on in there with a consenting adult of the same gender. That is major news, but we all knew this case would stir controversy. Warning: If you don't want to raise your blood pressure, you may want to leave the AM radio off for the next 24 hours or so.

The day's major dud was the absence of any retirement announcements. Traditionally, these have been made at the Court's last session of the term, which was today. No one said anything about retiring this morning. But that doesn't mean there couldn't be a press conference sometime in the next week or so in which one or more Justices pack it in.

Pro's and con's

It's NBA draft day, and I could hurt my jaw yawning about it. Tonight's the night when young basketball stars who want to become professionals are selected by various pro teams. This year, a kid who just barely finished high school will be the no. 1 pick. Which bad team he will play for is definitely less interesting than the fact that Nike's already agreed to pay him $90 million (yes, that's U.S. dollars) to endorse its shoes. Of course, the kid's no stranger to money -- he already got his high school team disqualified for the season by accepting a Humvee in exchange for his talents.

The draftees get younger and younger. At the rate they're going, in a few years, the teams will be paying millions for frozen embryos.

A special sideshow to the circus is the participation by Portland's own Trail Blazers team. The former general manager, Bob Whitsitt, recently announced his resignation after setting new standards of arrogance and stupidity that have alienated the once-faithful fans. But there's no new person to replace him as GM yet because the fellow the Blazers reportedly offered the job to has decided -- get this -- he would rather be the scouting director of the New Jersey Nets than the GM of the "Jail Blazers."

As they say when one of the players gets hit in the groin, oooooh, that's gotta hurt.

So Whitsitt will run the draft, but this time, they swear he's turning over a new leaf. No more "head cases" with off-court problems. Only men of character need apply.

At least, players who haven't done hard time by the age of 18.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Post time

O.k., there's less than eight hours before the news is expected to come down. No hanky-panky with the dateline of this post, either. Here are Jack Bog's official odds of Supreme Court justice retirement announcements on Thursday:

Rehnquist 5-2
O'Connor 4-1
Stevens 8-1
Ginsburg 20-1
Here are selected quinelas:
Rehnquist/O'Connor 8-1
Rehnquist/Stevens 14-1
Rehnquist/Ginsburg 50-1
O'Connor/Stevens 20-1
Scalia/Thomas 14,000,000-1
The Rehnquist/O'Connor/Stevens trifecta is 80-1.

Another Portlander in the blogosphere

I just noticed (because he sent some readers my way) a blog called Worldwide Pablo, put out by a fellow resident of the Rose City, Paul Nickell. Well, one good turn deserves another, so I invite you to check him out.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Supremes

Even if you don't follow legal news much, this is a good week to check out the doings at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court wraps up its business for the season every year at the end of June. (In the old days, it knocked off the first week in July.) Then it takes the summer off from hearing and deciding cases, and reassembles the first Monday in October. (This year, it's going to make history by coming back early -- right after Labor Day -- just to hear some important campaign finance cases in time for Campaign 2004.)

The Court usually leaves its bombshell opinions for the end of the term, and this year is no exception. Monday we had the Court decide that Congress can force public libraries to install porn filters on their web browsers as a condition of receiving federal funding. The Court by a razor's edge also ruled Monday that affirmative action for racial minorities in university admissions is o.k., so long as you don't come right out and explain to the public the exact mechanics of how you're taking race into account.

It's amazing the influence that just two of the nine justices can have. For example, the crazy compromise line drawn in the affirmative action cases was the work of Justices Breyer (standing far right) and O'Connor (seated second from right). Justices Rehnquist (seated center), Kennedy (seated far right), Scalia (seated far left) and Thomas (standing second from right) would likely have banned virtually all affirmative action programs, and Justices Ginsburg (standing far left), Stevens (seated second from left) and Souter (standing second from left) would probably have o.k.'ed virtually all of them. Only Breyer and O'Connor said some were permissible, some weren't. But that's now the law of the land.

Tomorrow will be the last day of this term, and there are a few interesting cases due to come out. I'm no constitutional scholar, but I'm going to be watching. The Court will revisit its dogma on the right to privacy -- specifically, whether states can outlaw sodomy between consenting adults of the same gender. And Nike's before the Court with a "commercial speech" case, fighting the State of California for the right to defend itself publicly when accused of labor abuses. Who knows, maybe the Court will say something that will help the frustrated muralists on the east side of the Morrison Bridge here in Portland.

Even more significant for Thursday, however, is the anticipated announcement of a retirement or two from the Court. Chief Justice Rehnquist has had a rough year health-wise, and he's expected to say "so long." Most of the other justices aren't exactly spring chickens, either, and so be prepared for a colleague to join him in retirement. The White House is no doubt licking its chops for one or more Supreme Court appointments, but if all it gets is a replacement for Rehnquist, that shouldn't be too big a deal. In case you haven't noticed, he's a pretty right-wing influence on the Court already.

Probably the best place to be to follow the action tomorrow morning will be Howard Bashman's monster law blog How Appealing. The guy had more than 20,000 hits on Monday alone, and I'll bet he breaks that record tomorrow, particularly if there's a retirement announcement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Success story

Nice piece in the Tribune today about the many merchants who are making a go of it around the now-hap'nin' intersection of 28th and East Burnside. Includes a handsome picture of Joe Esparza, who goes way back in that neighborhood and whose Tex-Mex soul food is still exquisite. Where else do you go for ostrich enchiladas and a stiff margarita, amigo?

The Trib article made a nice point, too. The folks down there have done it all without the help of the city's obscene Real Estate Developer Welfare program that props up houses of cards in places like the Pearl or the Son of Pearl (North Macadam). Unlike Vera and Neil's real estate cronies, Joe Esparza don't need no stinkin' handout.

Here comes the sun

Looks as though it will be with us for at least a few days. Yeah.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Baby, what'd I spray

Portland bloggers are buzzing about the mural war that's raging down by the east side of the Morrison Bridge. It seems a business owner there is trying to have some artists put up a mural on his building, but they don't have a permit. So the city keeps painting over their work, and now the artists are painting slogans over the city's coverup. Nyah nyah.

Naturally, there's a lot of rhetoric flying around this dispute. Freedom of expression, property rights, government regulation of commercial blight -- it's all there. In this kind of setting, opinions are like intestinal tracts -- everybody's got one -- but I can't resist chiming in.

All the parties in this picture are wrong in one way or another. The artists, first and foremost, are all wet. They're whining that the city covered up their art, but the city has every right to do just that if they put the art up illegally. For example, if they were painting on property without the owner's permission, including public property, the city would be completely justified in covering it up. The right to make art is far from absolute.

Here, of course, the property owner has given consent to the art work, but even that doesn't immunize it from regulation and removal. For example, just because Clear Channel has enough dough to convince some building's owner to turn her facade into an advertisement doesn't mean that the neighbors and passersby should have to look at it. The creeps from Wenatchee who started slapping up Las Vegas-style animated billboards around town back in '99 are a perfect example of the obnoxious, invasive commercialism that government has the right to restrict. (I had to laugh with guilty pleasure when one angry neighbor in the Sullivan's Gulch 'hood went out in the middle of the night on Fourth of July and literally shot the lights out on one of those animated boards with a shotgun. And more civil neighbors made enough of a stink that that one eventually came down. Good for them.)

The owner and artists down by the Morrison say that there ought to be a distinction made between commercial murals and noncommercial (or "artistic") murals, but there are a couple of problems with that. First of all, the line is hard to draw. How about a 10-story-high (no pun intended) depiction of Rasheed Wallace driving to the hoop (or more characteristically, lazily jocking up an errant 3-point shot)? Artistic homage to an athlete in motion? Or just an ad for the Trail Blazers, a commercial operation? And do we really want the likes of Mayor Katz, Commissioner Leonard, or the minions down in Planning Bureau Shangri-La making that kind of call?

There are also legal problems. It's been nearly three decades since the U.S. Supreme Court began foolishly going to the mat for the right to "commercial speech," and now that brand of "expression" enjoys well established constitutional protection. In the landmark case in the mid-'70s, the Court ruled that it was illegal for states to prohibit pharmacists from advertising prescription drug prices. That decision opened the door for a broad commercialization of many facets of American life. "Side effects are similar to sugar pill" -- you can thank the Supreme Court for your having to hear that one over and over as you try to watch something decent on television.

Here in Oregon, freedom of expression is even more absolute, all the way down to 18-year-olds dancing nude in front of their grandfathers' contemporaries in a bar. (No perverted Google search bait intended.) The Oregon Constitution, as interpreted by our State Supreme Court, is way out there on freedom of speech. So the City of Portland refuses to make distinctions between art and commerce, because it knows that if it did, the billboard weasels would sue the city's butt halfway to Madison Avenue and back, as they have done successfully in the past.

The ironic part is, I'm sure Justices Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, and perhaps others would like to pare back the "commercial speech" doctrine, which came in with a lot of other suspect First Amendment law (like the campaign finance morass) back in the '70s. I'll bet that some day, a municipality will get away with making this very distinction, but it sure won't be the City of Portland. The Oregon courts would get in the way.

So the artists and owner are wrong, and the Supreme Court is wrong, and the city may have its heart in the right place but can't do the right thing.

But do you know who's really wrong?

The Oregonian, for publishing a big color picture glamorizing the guy who was painting his words of wisdom over the city's coverup. Dangling at the end of a rope off the roof of the building, no less. All over the state, teenagers are looking at that picture today and saying, "Cool." The fact that the property owner gave permission in the case in point will be utterly lost on them. And thus a new round of obnoxious graffiti taggers is born.

Reprinting the guy's threats to go on an illegal tagging spree if he doesn't get his way was also a lame excuse for journalism. What lousy judgment on the part of the editors.

Don't forget to cybervote

Kari Chisholm's newsletter Politics and Technology has a new edition up, including a piece on tomorrow's MoveOn.org Democratic Presidential primary.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Sign o' the (bad) times

The disintegration of the once-proud Irvington Market is nearly complete. Today on a Sunday-coming-home-from-church shopping stop, we discovered that the Cheshire Cat deli and the flower mart there have gone the way of the complex's high-end produce operation -- namely, out of business. Newman's Fish Market is hanging in there valiantly, but with its neighbors gone, there are fewer features to draw customers in. It sure doesn't look good for that enterprise. I remember when Newman's was also part of a nice shared space on SW Macadam Avenue -- produce, flowers, and seafood. The components of the place shut down in that order, as I recall.

Ground hasn't even been broken on the new building down the street from the Irvington that's supposed to host a Zupan's Market someday, but I'm sure it will have a chilling effect on the neighborhood shopping landscape. Until Zupan's opens, there just won't be specialty food in the Lloyd District.

And there's still a cold wind blowing through the Nature's Wild Oats store at NE 15th and Fremont, too. Whenever I'm in there, it seems a lot lonelier than it used to be. Checkers are standing around with no customers to check out.

Irvington residents: If you want Newman's and Nature's to stick around, you had better make a point of shopping there again, and soon.

In grocery failure news on the other side of town, the owner of the Burlingame Grocery was convicted this week of torching his own business. The key piece of evidence was a security video that appeared to show the guy in the store just before it went up in flames. (It's in the streaming video report labeled "KGW-TV report" here, about 55 seconds into it.) His lawyers claimed you couldn't tell it was him. The jury apparently was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that it was.

Tough business.

Today's shopping trip did include one uplifting occurrence, though. I did get to see City Commissioner Erik Sten on his way out of Grand Central Baking. Funny, my good buddy Erik didn't recognize me.

Saturday, June 21, 2003


The Summer 2003 Oregon Bar Review Tax Lecture Tour has concluded. Four hours, 10 minutes in Portland today. Time to pull the plug and decompress -- for me, that is. Alas, the poor souls in the class have five more weeks of cramming before they take the test.

Friday, June 20, 2003

This just in

Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, the just-captured "ace of diamonds" from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, last night blasted his number-four status, arguing that he should rank higher than both Uday and Qusay Hussein in the infamous deck of cards.

"When the Americans told me I was number four, I practically fell out of my chair," Mr. Mahmoud told CNN's Larry King during an hour-long interview. "What were they smoking when they put together these rankings?"

From the Borowitz Report.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Working on the railroad(ing)

Now that the suckers -- er, I mean voters -- of Portland have voted in the local income tax, it's time for Vera Katz (the ceremonial mayor of Portland) and developer Homer Williams (the real mayor of Portland) to try to ramrod home Williams's North Macadam development plan, which will load up the south end of downtown with riverfront skyscrapers and run a hideous aerial tram from the waterfront to the med school on the hill.

The Oregonian reports today that the project is now suddenly on the "fast track" for City Council action, including a binding commitment to spend $71.9 million of public money to build the infrastructure so that the developer and his cronies (well spoken for by their lobbyist, ex-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt) can cash in on another Pearl District south of downtown.

What's the rush? All of a sudden the folks at the med school are rumbling about their "tight schedule" for building their research building down there, and of course real estate developers like Williams are always in a hurry to see how fast they can add another digit to their bank accounts. "Time is of the essence," it seems, to make them richer.

So hurry, Vera, hurry! Don't worry that you're committing $48.3 million of local public money for this little frill at a time when your city is supposedly broke. And that's just the estimate for the first four years. Don't worry that the budget calls for $23.6 million in federal and state monies that haven't been appropriated or approved. Just hurry, hurry, hurry, to break ground with Homer. Once he gets his first tower up in that vast industrial wasteland down there, all the other dominoes will fall his way.

Will the rest of the City Council go along with the sudden urgency? If Her Honor is voting yes, you can count on Commissioner Erik Sten (Tweedle-dee) to go along with her, so that's two votes in Homer's pocket. Perhaps Randy Leonard and Jim Francesconi have the guts to say no, but I fear old Dan "Low Profile" Saltzman has already been fed enough power lunches by Goldschmidt and Williams that he's probably a yes vote.

What a shame. Take a look at the chart, folks. I can't find it on The O's lame web site, but if you have the fish wrap handy, it's on Page A14. Especially you soccer moms out there who marched in the streets to save the schools. The city that just held you up for a big income tax increase now has $48.3 million lying around to build Son of Pearl down on Macadam. And when it's all over, the local taxpayer tab will be twice that.

These are the same politicians who are strutting up and down like peacocks croaking, "Not a penny! Not a penny of public money for the baseball stadium!" Oh, yeah, they're such stalwart guardians of public funds. They would never -- never! -- give it away to private parties in the disguise of economic development.

Am I the only one in the blogosphere who thinks this is arrogance of the highest order?

UPDATE, 6/20: My friend and research maven Rob Truman has dug out the details of the proposed public-private agreement, which are here.

The public and private budgets for the deal are on page 13.

Two down, one to go

Just got back from Stop No. 2 on my Bar Review Tax Lecture Tour 2003, this time in Salem. As in Eugene on Monday, I ran overtime -- 4 hours 12 minutes today, instead of 4 hours 15 -- but I was much looser, and at least I shared a few laughs with the assembled crammers.

So shamelessly did I pander to the young crowd that in one anecdote, I used the term "he was all like" to denote the concept "he said." Pitiful conduct in a man of my age. Then there was that troublesome quote I threw in from the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- not a shred of dignity left. Oh, well -- do the tax laws deserve any better?

The bar exam experience is so intense, it's unforgettable. When I tell the students stories about my own bar exams of 24 (Oregon) and 25 years ago (California), it seems like it was just a few years back. Twenty-five years from now, when my lecturing ties are all hung up and collecting dust, these students will still be telling their own tales.

Tom Waits guided me home (Small change got rained on with his own .38), and now it's time for a nap. It's over the hump and on to the home town crowd Saturday morning.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Greetings from Exit 15W

Hello to everyone who's stopping by after being referred here by the beach blog at NJ.com.

If you want a taste of a real Jersey blogger, don't miss Parkway Rest Stop.

Down the shore everything's all right...

The bright days

This is the best time of year in beautiful Portland. The sun sets after 9 p.m., and dusky twilight hangs around well past 10. The days are either toasty hot and dry (when it's sunny) or comfortable room temperature (when it's overcast). It rains some, but never more than a short, light shower. The nights are cool and eminently sleepable. If you leave the window open, you'll need some light covers.

Everything's in bloom, it seems, which drives allergy sufferers crazy but is a real treat for the eyes. The local produce comes on, and it's wonderful. The local strawberries are here now, but their stay is short. We eat as many as we can hold. The white ones we've been eating all winter taste like turnips by comparison.

But it's the light, the blessed light, that makes this time so special. Fire up the barbecue at 8? No problem, you've got a couple of hours to work with. Longstanding chore waiting for you outside? You've got 17 hours every day to get it done. Evening exercise? No need for the reflective gear or the sweatshirt.

Solstice is Saturday. Then we start back in the dark direction. But despite the trending away from the sun, there are many lazy, hazy, crazy days ahead. The drone of the baseball announcers is just now catching our attention. It will be quite a while before they're done, and by then the yellowjackets will be around to replace them. After Fourth of July, we'll have bankable good weather well into October, at which time we'll turn back the clocks and roll up the tents.

This year I'm determined to enjoy every minute of summer.

A day at the races

Some of the guys tried to capture some of that Southern Gentleman at the Track feel, but [possessing] neither white suits nor bushy moustaches nor the knowledge of where to procure mint juleps, had settled on the rather more unsettling tactic of wearing gaudy Hawaiian shirts and unpocketing other affectations like cigarillos and straw hats. This had the net effect of making us look like the aftermath of some terrible cultural collision site, like a Tongan Airliner crashing into a Taco Bell in Chinatown.
Head on over to Izzle Pfaff and have a good laugh with him. Inspired blogging.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

On his desk

Here's some paperwork from Dick Cheney's personal to-do list.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Hosted bar

It's that time again. All over the country, people who want a license to practice law (mostly newly minted law school graduates) are cramming for the bar exam. The exam tests applicants on a broad variety of legal topics over the course of a two-day ordeal (or longer, depending on the state) at the end of July. The preparation process typically involves a privately run exam preparation course known as the "bar review," which meets five or six days a week for about two months.

Here in Oregon, the test sometimes includes questions about federal income tax law. That's where I come in. Each summer, I give lectures on that subject in Portland, Eugene, and Salem to prospective bar examinees. I pick up some good dough for the college fund.

The format for my labors is straight, stand-up lecture. No questions, just the professor up there rattling it off. I get four hours to try to tell a condensed version of the stories that I spend 56 hours on during a regular semester.

It's tough on the audience, and tough on the lecturer. Plus, for me, unlike them, the speech can be bracketed by hours of driving back and forth from Portland to Eugene or Salem.

Even after a half-dozen years at this, I'm still worn out after each lecture -- particularly Eugene, which is two hours away on I-5. I schlepped down there last evening and got back this afternoon. To make matters worse, somehow I managed to run over my allotted time by 15 minutes, so my "rap" was actually 4 hours and 15 minutes long. The audience was polite, but they really dislike it when you run over. I'm sure I'll be reading about that on the evaluations.

I blame it in part on Bush and his congressional cronies. They just changed the rules (again!) 2½ weeks ago, and the written materials that the students have are all out of date. The only one left to steer them straight on the new stuff is me. That's a good 5-10 minutes extra right there.

Besides, there are some topics that I just have to cover. If I left them out and they wound up being on the test, I'd never forgive myself.

At least they got their money's worth.

Anyhow, Eugene's done, with Salem and Portland still to go. Time to open the windows, let in the delicious, cool, Portland summer night breeze, and count some sheep.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The old block

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. This is my third year as a parent, and I've got to say it's the greatest. How's that for a lame understatement? Hey, sometimes words fail.

When I compare my life now to my life as a single guy, or married without children, it's night and day. Sure, there were many, many wonderful times in the old days, but they've got nothing on what's happening around here now. I am so thankful to, and for, my wife and daughter.

This is the first Father's Day without my own dad, who passed away last July. Although we spent most of our lives separated, he was there for me in a good way through my grammar school years. A lot of him rubbed off on me and my siblings -- some of our best attributes included.

Toward the end of his life, finding a gift for him to mark an occasion was always tough. When we found something he liked -- Harry & David's pears, wool "truck driver's" caps, polo shirts -- we tended to repeat ourselves. He was the quintessential creature of habit, though, and so this was perfectly fine. I think the last great gift we found for him was pillows. He didn't think anyone knew he needed new ones. We got them before he ran out and bought them for himself. He'd do that -- go out and buy himself an appliance in late November, rather than hint around for it as a Christmas present. Whaddya gonna do? We'd buy him another sweater.

The last time I saw him was at the nursing home where his life ended. He hated it, but he knew his body had failed him to the point that he had to be there. He put on a game face and did his best to tough it out. On his good days, he was still the same funny, smart, world-wise guy he always had been, which had a way of endearing him to everybody. When he could see through the haze in his brain, he was still cheering people up and offering to help whomever he could.

As John Hiatt, who will be in town this week, explains it in a great song about some of this:

Well the sun comes up and you stare your cup of coffee, yup
Right through the kitchen floor
You feel like hell so you might as well get out and sell
Your smart ass door to door

And the Mrs. wears her robe slightly undone
As your daughter dumps her oatmeal on your son
And you keep it hid
Just like your dad did

So you go to work just to watch some jerk
Pick up the perks
You were in line to get
And the guy that hired you just got fired
Your job's expired
They just ain't told you yet

So you go and buy a brand new set of wheels
To show your family just how great you feel
Acting like a kid
Just like your dad did

You're a chip off the old block
Why does it come as such a shock
That every road up which you walk
Your dad already did?
Yeah, you've seen the old man's ghost
Come back as cream chipped beef on toast
Now if you don't get your slice of the roast
You're gonna flip your lid
Just like your dad did, just like your dad did

Well the day was long, now supper's on
The thrill is gone, but something's taking place
Yeah the food is cold and your wife feels old
But all hands fold as the two-year-old says grace

She says "Help the starving children to get well
But let my brother's hamster burn in hell"
You love your wife and kids
Just like your dad did

Friday, June 13, 2003

Why people voted for Nader

I guess Rep. David Wu over on Portland's west side (and beyond) wants the Bush Tax Cut Carnival to tap another keg of deficit. He's just introduced H.R. 2081, which would cut the capital gain tax rate on sales of investment assets held more than five years from 18 percent to -- get this -- 5 percent!

So if you make a living by the sweat of your brow, you pay tax at up to 35 percent, but if you can afford to live off investments, and you're so loaded you can let the goodies on your pile age for more than five years before selling them, the profits you make should be taxed at 5 percent.

Apparently it's tough being a real Democrat when your district includes the conservative suburbs and a chunk of farm country.

Thursday, June 12, 2003


The Portland City Council has appropriated another $350,000 to continue its ridiculous pursuit of a municipal takeover of Portland General Electtric. That brings the tab to $850,000 and counting. How's the plan coming along? Sorry, the negotiations with the Enron bankruptcy folks are all secret. You'll just have to trust that the same City Hall financial wizards who brought you the renovation of PGE Park and the Oregon Convention Center expansion are hammering out a great deal for Portland's taxpayers.

I'll never understand this one. Here's a crew that can't run a water bureau, about to take the cash-strapped city government into all the risks of the cut-throat energy business. Maybe their hearts are in the right place -- they want to try to keep ratepayers from getting ripped off, and let's face it, under Enron's ownership PGE seems to have done just that. But our beloved politicians give us no confidence whatsoever that they'll meet their goals. Under Commissioner Erik Sten's plan, the city won't actually run the electric system. Oh, no, some private utility company will do that. And somehow, I guess, when it comes time to sign a deal with the city, that private utility will suddenly stop thinking about exorbitant profits. Yeah, right.

That private contractor will be so happy. It'll have all the upside of an operations contract with the city -- I'm sure it will come out with a sweetheart deal that would make a defense contractor proud -- and none of the downside risk and hassle of actually owning the system. If and when times get tough, the operator can walk as soon as its contract expires, while the taxpayers of Portland are left to mop up the mess.

This is progress? This is worth $850,000 to chase around? It reminds me of the Commish's other big windmill tilt -- his legal battle to force the cable companies to lease their lines to other broadband providers. That went over like a lead balloon, and I'm sure it cost in the healthy six figures to mess with. But that's nothing compared to the PGE takeover plan. The city's broke, folks, but we have $850,000 for this.

The city's dedicated financial consultant on this deal is Goldman Sachs. Of course, that firm's fingerprints are all over the Enron debacle. I guess they've reformed overnight, too.

Jim Francesconi was smart enough to vote against this one. Put a plus next to that guy's name the next time I try to figure out whom to vote for for mayor.

Mayor Katz's comeback? Well, $200,000 of this $350,000 has already been spent; only $150,000 is for new work.

Wow. $200,000 spent, even before the funds were authorized.

What this town needs are some local leaders who, sometime in their recent past, have actually run something real.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Here comes the Oregon sales tax

When people like State Sens. Avel Gordly and Max Williams start teaming up, look out. And they're both now officially pushing a sales tax.

Meanwhile, another camp offers a "business tax" -- a flat-rate tax imposed on the gross receipts of all businesses. But since businesses pass that tax on to consumers, it's just a hidden sales tax. And for better or worse, it may manage to tax internet sales and out-of-state sales of some Oregon companies in a clever way.

More importantly, sales taxes (up-front or hidden) are regressive. They shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the poor. Proponents always say there'll be exceptions for the "essentials of life," but then the list of "essentials" winds up not to include things like underwear, toothbrushes, school supplies, and toilet paper.

The Trojan horse is now at the gates. By manufacturing a schools crisis, right-wingers have got even the soccer moms crying out to let it in.

You'll be sorry.

Kim Jung-Il and Hillary

From today's Borowitz Report:

"You should have seen the look on his face -- if looks could reprocess spent uranium fuel rods, that's how mad he was."
He he! That's two good ones in a row.


The Palestinians and the Israelis are still killing each other, even though that champion of Middle Eastern peace, George W. Bush, is telling them to stop.

Maybe they read about his execution chamber in Cuba and didn't want to miss out on the action.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Today's quiz

The IRS screwed up when it processed our income tax return. It sent us a check for $165, to which we were not entitled.

What would you do in this situation?

(a) Keep the money for personal use.
(b) Give the money to a good cause.
(c) "Flow" it to Tony Pierce.
(d) Void the check and send it back to the IRS.
The correct answer is (d). Not only is it the ethical thing to do, it's also the smart thing. If we had kept this money, with our luck the IRS would discover its error a year or so from now, and then start dunning us for the $165 back, plus interest. No thanks.

Of course, there's no guarantee that this won't be the first of a chain of mistakes by our good friends at "the Service," as they like to be known. The "customer service" fellow I talked to on the phone about the error -- a young man sitting in Philadelphia -- started out absolutely sure that we were entitled to the money. And even when I showed him the error that the tax system had made, he was still talking a mile a minute and not listening much.

I'm hoping that the mailman will now be taking this little hassle out of my life forever. But I wouldn't bet my life's savings on it.

Now I've seen everything

Today the hit counter service reports that someone was in here looking for Matt Whitman nude.

"I was gulping for air"

In the publicity coup of the year, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was chosen today to narrate the audio book version of Senator Hillary Clinton's best-selling memoir, "Living History."
Another funny story from the Borowitz Report.

Monday, June 9, 2003

So many fine blogs

Emily Pollard at Strangechord.com has been blogging for nearly two years. The first time I read said weblog was today, but it surely won't be the last.

It takes a vicious

I had talk radio on for a little while in the car today. There's a hot local story that I'm {cough, cough} interested in, and I scrolled around on AM for a while to see if anything was up.

What I found instead was audio bile. I switched around but couldn't find anything but nastiness. Some guy, maybe Rush Limbaugh, talking about how he doesn't care whether poor folks use their tax credit to feed their kids peanuts and popcorn. Dr. Laura telling someone, "You people may think you're married, but you aren't." Then Sean Hannity letting callers have 30 seconds apiece to dump on Hillary.

I confess I actually enjoyed that last part a little. Before I put on some much more interesting FM jazz, one guy told Hannity: "I hate Hillary just because she's am-bitch-ous."

Saturday, June 7, 2003

The real reason

I just now took a look at the op-ed page of Wednesday's Times. Either our carrier missed us that day or somebody swiped the paper from the walk in front of our house, so I didn't get Wednesday's paper until it arrived along with Thursday's. I'm just now catching up.

Anyway, Thomas L. Friedman has an exquisite column there about the Iraqi war and the misplaced emphasis on the WMDs. He asserts that there were four reasons for the war -- the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason, and the stated reason. His take on the real reason really rang true with me:

The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't enough because a terrorism bubble had built up over there — a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured. This terrorism bubble said that plowing airplanes into the World Trade Center was O.K., having Muslim preachers say it was O.K. was O.K., having state-run newspapers call people who did such things "martyrs" was O.K. and allowing Muslim charities to raise money for such "martyrs" was O.K. Not only was all this seen as O.K., there was a feeling among radical Muslims that suicide bombing would level the balance of power between the Arab world and the West, because we had gone soft and their activists were ready to die.

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world. And don't believe the nonsense that this had no effect. Every neighboring government — and 98 percent of terrorism is about what governments let happen — got the message. If you talk to U.S. soldiers in Iraq they will tell you this is what the war was about.

Of course, Tony Soprano explained this to us (albeit in words of fewer syllables) in this blog back in January.

Friedman's is a very thought-provoking and administration-sympathetic piece. You righties out there who like to trash the Times at every turn ought to give it a read.

Ray of hope

From yesterday's Trib comes news that the Hooper Detox Center has resumed 24/7 service, thanks to the passage of the Multnomah County income tax measure. For a while there, badly inebriated folks were being left out on the sidewalks between the hours of 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. because, wouldn't you know it, street alcoholics and heroin addicts don't keep to an abbreviated schedule.

If you voted for the tax, you should feel very, very good about the restoration of full-time service over there.

Death to America (but no death tax, please)

Tung Yin of the University of Iowa law faculty has a great observation on his blog this week:

Just a thought: how much better off would the world have been if Saudi Arabia had a high estate tax rate? After all, the money that Osama bin Laden uses to finance Al Qaeda comes from the money that he inherited when his father died.


Portlandweb[dot]net reports that Portland's Mount Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs are going to be designated as some sort of historic landmarks, and it concludes that therefore, they won't be buried after all.

That sounds like jumping to conclusions, but if you're interested, pop over here and take a look for yourself.

After not blogging for months, that site may have broken a really big local story.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Wasted in the heat

The other day Oregonian columnist Steve Duin remarked that in his many years in Portland, he's rarely attended any events related to the Rose Festival. I'm in the same camp these days -- although I made that scene in my first few years here, it's been more than two decades since I've shown my face at a Rose Festival event. When festival time arrives, like many year-round Portlanders, I'm usually thinking about getting out of town.

Today I made a rare exception and headed out with my daughter to the waterfront carnival. I knew we picked a tough day to try this -- the mercury hit 98 degrees in late afternoon -- but I'm always trying to do my paternal duty.

The "waterfront village," as it's now known, was cleaner, somewhat better furnished, and less populated by lowlifes than I remembered it. Back in the days when it was called the "fun center," this event was so rough that people died there a couple of years in a row. I'd definitely hesitate before going down there at night, but during the day today, it was downright mellow.

That was the good news.

The bad news was that I had forgotten how expensive everything was. A ride on the carousel: $3.40. Lemonade: $2.50 or $3.00, depending on where you went. Cotton candy: $3.00 or $4.50. Beanie babies for sale in the tent, $7.00 apiece. Heaven knows what one of the big rides, a full meal, or a beer would have set you back. And after 5 p.m., it looked like admission was posted at $5.00. Of course, budget another $4.00 or so if you bring your car. It's a wonder how outfits like this stay in business.

We walked the length of the midway and back, ignoring the many dentally challenged carnies who were doing their best to have me pay in the neighborhood of $5.00 to try to toss a large rubber basketball through an oval-shaped, highly taut hoop in order to win a Sponge Bob doll. My little companion told me that the fast and frightening adult rides made her dizzy just looking at them. I guess that stage is still a few years away for us.

A few Navy ships are around, a shadow of Rose Fleets past, but they're blocked off by imposing fences and a yellow line that surrounds them in the water. Cross either, and you'll be on the wrong side of the Patriot Act, I guess. A handful of Navy guys in their whites were on hand, and man, that was an eye opener. I used to think they looked a little young. Now I see that they're all just babies. God bless them.

There was some nice music (most of it made by high school musicians, on the afternoon shift), a neat free parrot show, and generally good vibrations all around. The searing sun pulled the crowd and the workers together. And the carousel rides we shared were very special.

But the day at the zoo last week was much more fun, a whole lot healthier, and a much better deal. Even giving the "waterfront village" the benefit of the doubt due to the record heat, I wind up with Duin on this one.

Tomorrow promises to see the hottest Grand Floral Parade ever. I mean that literally. Here's hoping that everybody plays it safe out there in the outdoor sauna.

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Go, Greg! Go, Greg!

From my friend Rep. Greg Macpherson's latest legislative newsletter:

Rep. Greg Macpherson led an effort in the Oregon House of Representatives to pass a bill expanding the protection of pedestrians in crosswalks. Senate Bill 315 requires motorists to stop and stay stopped when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk that has no stop light.

The bill replaces the current legal requirement for motorists to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

"The problem with the current law is that a driver has no obligation to actually stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk," Macpherson said. "Some drivers meet their legal obligation to yield by just steering around the pedestrian, which can be very intimidating."

Senate Bill 315 applies the requirement to stop during the time when the pedestrian is in the same lane as the [motorist] or an adjacent lane. As a result, the requirement does not apply to a vehicle that is in the right hand lane of a four lane roadway while a pedestrian is in the portion of the crosswalk that is in either of the two opposite lanes.

“Our public rights of way are for pedestrians as well as automobiles,” Macpherson told fellow House members. “To maintain our public rights of way for pedestrians, we must defend their ability to move from place to place without fear for their safety.”

Senate Bill 315 passed the House by a vote of 53 to 3 and is expected to be signed by Governor Kulongoski next week.

So long, old pal

One of the joys of being a tax lawyer is that you're an expert on something so arcane, so complicated, so disgracefully mysterious that the average person, even the average lawyer, doesn't argue with you about it. I pity my colleagues who teach subjects like Constitutional Law, because everybody and his brother thinks he's an expert in the area. You may be the world's greatest scholar on the First Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process, or the right to privacy, but you'll get an argument about your views wherever you go. Not so with tax lawyers. People actually quiet down and listen to you, because, though you may not know what you're talking about, they definitely don't know more than you do about it.

This is a sad week for some of us in the tax priesthood, because we're just discovering that Congress has done away with one of the craziest, most screwed up tax code sections ever written (and that's saying a lot), the "collapsible corporation" rules. Although they have a colorful history -- they were designed to shut down aggressive tax planning by such savvy taxpayers as movie legend Pat O'Brien -- these rules haven't played any meaningful role in the tax laws for more than a decade. But they've always remained on the books to puzzle all but the knowing few. The Bush tax cut legislation now does away with them, at least until 2009; even then, I seriously doubt they'll be back.

Before bidding a fond farewell to these rules, I'd like to go over their highlights just one last, tearful time. Folks, let us not forget this immortal sentence:

For purposes of subsection (a)(1), a corporation shall not be considered to be a collapsible corporation with respect to any sale or exchange of stock of the corporation by a shareholder, if, at the time of such sale or exchange, the sum of -- (A) the net unrealized appreciation in subsection (e) assets of the corporation (as defined in paragraph (5)(A)), plus (B) if the shareholder owns more than 5 percent in value of the outstanding stock of the corporation, the net unrealized appreciation in assets of the corporation (other than assets described in subparagraph (A)) which would be subsection (e) assets under clauses (i) and (iii) of paragraph (5)(A) if the shareholder owned more than 20 percent in value of such stock, plus (C) if the shareholder owns more than 20 percent in value of the outstanding stock of the corporation and owns, or at any time during the preceding 3-year period owned, more than 20 percent in value of the outstanding stock of any other corporation more than 70 percent in value of the assets of which are, or were at any time during which such shareholder owned during such 3-year period more than 20 percent in value of the outstanding stock, assets similar or related in service or use to assets comprising more than 70 percent in value of the assets of the corporation, the net unrealized appreciation in assets of the corporation (other than assets described in subparagraph (A)) which would be subsection (e) assets under clauses (i) and (iii) of paragraph (5)(A) if the determination whether the property, in the hands of such shareholder, would be property gain from the sale or exchange of which would under any provision of this chapter be considered in whole or in part as ordinary income, were made -- (i) by treating any sale or exchange by such shareholder of stock in such other corporation within the preceding 3-year period (but only if at the time of such sale or exchange the shareholder owned more than 20 percent in value of the outstanding stock in such other corporation) as a sale or exchange by such shareholder of his proportionate share of the assets of such other corporation, and (ii) by treating any liquidating sale or exchange of property by such other corporation within such 3-year period (but only if at the time of such sale or exchange the shareholder owned more than 20 percent in value of the outstanding stock in such other corporation) as a sale or exchange by such shareholder of his proportionate share of the property sold or exchanged, does not exceed an amount equal to 15 percent of the net worth of the corporation.
They just don't write 'em like that any more.

With six you get blogroll

I just came across an Oregon-based (but usually not Oregon-centered) blog at a site called, disarmingly enough, Happy Death. Quirky, punchy, lefty, interesting.

In other news, the blog at Portlandweb[dot]net has been downgraded, and its events calendar moved up. But at least there have been a few blog posts there lately.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Lost art

Working on a research project, I just picked up an ink pen and a wooden ruler and drew some lines on a piece of paper. What an unfamiliar experience! And oddly pleasurable.

I think of all the kids in the future who won't get to do this. Keyboards, mice, screens. Bleahhh!

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Cosi fan tutte

My friend and former colleague Gordon Smith (no, not that Gordon Smith, another Gordon Smith) has started blogging. His blog is called Venturpreneur, and it's supposed to focus on entrepreneurship, but already it's veered off topic a bit, and it promises to be entertaining.

Gordon is now teaching at the University of Wisconsin law school. He's a corporate guy, father of five, great scholar, proud Mormon.

Check him out. And hey, Gordo, how about a link?

UPDATE, 6/9, 11:00 a.m.: Ask and ye shall receive. Thanks, Gordon, and good luck with the blog.

Gremlins from heaven

Cousin James is having a heckuva day. Somehow his blog, Parkway Rest Stop, has erroneously hurdled to the top of The Truth Laid Bear "blogosphere ecosystem" rankings. That will bring in hundreds of curious readers, many of whom may get a taste of the PRS vibe and decide to come back later.

However it happened, the attention is well deserved.

Hold on

Not a penny of the Multnomah County income tax has been collected, and already they're talking rebates.

Today comes news that there's more money for education in the governor's budget than county officials were expecting when they set the 1.25 percent tax rate. Speculation is that the county will rebate some of the tax if the state money comes through and income tax collections are as projected. One sobering note, however: at least one school official shares my suspicion that many county residents will refuse to pay the tax, thus requiring the county to chase them down.

Meanwhile, over the weekend we all shed a collective tear for the people who are going to get socked with both the new Multnomah County income tax and the Beaverton property tax increase. There are these quirky little pockets of Multnomah County that lie in the Beaverton School District. So some west siders will have to pay both taxes. The county commissioners say they'll try to work out some kind of rebate system for the folks who get tagged twice.

I'm not real enthusiastic about any of these rebate ideas. For one thing, they're expensive to administer. Also, they often don't work as intended -- for example, by the time the rebate goes out to the taxpayer, he or she is dead, or a rebate check goes out to a once-married couple who's no longer married, and one ex-spouse steals the other's share.

More importantly, the rebates send a signal to the public that the tax system is constantly in play, and that somehow there's a God-given right not to pay if there's no immediate benefit to the taxpayer. That's just plain foolish, as the Legislature is now acknowledging in reconsidering the state's silly and harmful income tax "kicker" program. (About which, by the way, Emma said some right-on things Sunday in The Oregon Blog.)

Like the state, the county and the schools should have modest, wisely invested cash reserves -- rainy day funds, as they're popularly known. If the county income tax allows these to come into being, I'm all for it.

As for the folks paying both taxes, I have a little sympathy, but not much. They got to vote on both taxes, and if they voted against them, they lost fair and square. Sure, they're paying to support more than one school district, but every homeowner in Multnomah County pays both a school district property tax and county taxes (property and now income) that also wind up in school coffers. The folks out on the Beaverton line who are complaining now don't pay any Washington County taxes that find their way to the Beaverton schools. The fact that both levels of tax went up at once is interesting, but it's not the most compelling case ever made for a tax rebate. Besides, the income tax is going to pay for things other than schools, which as Multnomah County residents these folks will be entitled to enjoy.

My advice to the county: Keep it all, we're going to need it.

"Insider," out

It looks as though the Martha Stewart indictment may be coming down any minute now. And that's not a good thing.

In other news, Richard Chamberlain has come out of the closet.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Hit me

Coming over the P.A. system in the produce section of my local Nature's Wild Oats store yesterday: James Brown doing "Payback."

Good God, y'all.

Perfectly good album

John Hiatt is one of the few great American popular songwriters working today. I didn't start to follow his career carefully until the early '90s, when I picked up his album Stolen Moments, which blew me away. Over the next few months, I worked my way backward in his discography, through Slow Turning and Bring the Family, which were also mighty impressive and have turned out to age even better than Moments. In the aggregate, this three-record output was nothing short of phenomenal. So full of life, so wise, so heartfelt. Hiatt's voice is not the easiest in the world to spend an extended time listening to, but the songs are so good, you just have to give it a chance, and when you do, it can grow on you.

Live Hiatt shows have never disappointed. The first one I caught was at the Melody Ballroom in support of Stolen Moments. In the full clutches of a big record company, Hiatt toured with Waddy Wachtell and the rest of a gorgeous band that played the heck out of that album, and some exquisite earlier stuff as well. The next show I caught was one of my oddest live music experiences ever. It was during a summer way overbooked with outdoor concerts in Portland, and a promoter group tried something called "roots" over a few nights down in Waterfront Park. Hiatt headlined for a three- or four-act bill, and there was nobody there. I mean 100 people max. He performed an excellent acoustic solo set, and those of us who were lucky enough to be there were just shaking our heads at the incongruity of it all.

Hiatt surfaced next as the opening act for Jackson Browne at the Washington Park Rose Garden. This time it was in support of Perfectly Good Guitar, a fine album but just not in the same league with Moments/Turning/Family. The place was oversold, people were jostling each other all night, it was hard to hear at times, and the crowd was mostly there for Jackson Browne to do I'm Alive and pieces of his great songbook. But once again, Hiatt and band discharged themselves admirably.

Fast forward to a summer night gig in Pioneer Courthouse Square with Wilco, Hiatt, and Los Lobos, in that order, a couple of years ago. Wilco was interesting, but the Lobos were flat, leaving it for Hiatt to steal the show. He had with him his backup band from the Slow Turning days -- the Goners, including a guy named Sonny Landreth on guitar and slide -- and they went nuts with both that album and Bring the Family. They were tight, talented, and clearly getting off on not having to carry a whole show. They killed.

Hiatt and the Goners have now gone back in the studio and come out with a disc called Beneath This Gruff Exterior. On this small-label offering, for the first time, the band gets its name in the billing with Hiatt. It's a great band to reunite in the studio, and Hiatt has brought them 12 songs that, if not his "A" material, are "A-minus" at worst.

Musically, no new ground is broken. The sounds are familiar to any Hiatt fan who's worn out his earlier albums. But that's a good thing. Give me Landreth on guitar for a batch of new John Hiatt songs any day.

Lyrically, Gruff Exterior is classic Hiatt -- at once deep, silly, cranky, wry, smart, cuddly, brutal, cute, clever -- with great tales of love, loss, nostalgia, and a bunch of other stuff that will take a dozen more listens for me to figure out. I must complain that whoever picked the song order for the CD got it all wrong -- the first two tracks may be the weakest -- but that's easily remedied in these days of the "shuffle" button. So far I'm partial to "The Nagging Dark," where Hiatt tells the listener "You can't run away from the nagging dark / You carry it everywhere in your heart / It finishes everything that you start," but then points out, "Hope is your finest work of art."

The rollicking "Circle Back" also brings on the goosebumps. Hiatt tells how he drove his daughter to college, and then "Drove back through an empty space / Thinkin' back to when she was a baby / Tryin' hard to see that face." Meanwhile the Goners bop on, with Landreth punctuating the fatherhood narrative with bright guitar lines that hearken back to Hiatt's new dad song, "Georgia Rae," made in the '80s when the now-collegiate kid was just tiny.

It's hard for me to be objective about John Hiatt, but this is an exceedingly pleasing recording. And after a listen or two, the "shuffle" button takes this good thing and somehow improves it.

Thus, in my recent CD haul from Music Millennium, I went three for three.

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