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

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February 2005 Archives

Saturday, February 26, 2005


It's time for our weekly Marqui post. Marqui is the software company that's paying me and some others to mention them and link to their product demo once a week on our blogs. For that, they pay us good money. And we can say whatever we want about them.

This makes two and a half months of Marqui shilling, and we're fast coming near the end of our three-month contract. Apparently, the exposure Marqui has gotten for its pay-to-blog program has been satisfying -- they let us know this week that they're planning to continue the program for the foreseeable future.

As we re-up, though, our blogging commitment (and pay) will be cut back some. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's been fun so far, and so I'm thinking, what the hey, let's go forward with these folks if they formally ask me to. They've been nice enough to put me on a panel at this upcoming event, and although a few readers have squawked, I don't think any real damage has come from my Marqui posts so far.

Maya hee!

The story of the "maya-hee maya-hoo maya-ha" lip-syncing dancer guy just gets more and more fascinating every day. I linked to this guy's performance quite a few weeks back. He's taken a catchy Romanian pop song by a group called Ozone and made his own little homemade video, which centers around him grooving to the tune at his desk in front of his computer.

Somebody sent me a link via e-mail over the holidays, and I couldn't help but admit, it was a fun page to open, and so I invited our readers to do the same.

Well, I wasn't the only one. As I noted here last week, the whole world's caught on, and the traffic at the site showing the video has been phenomenal. It's reached the point at which even local newscasts around the world are running clips from the video.

Today our understanding of the story reached a new level, as The New York Times reported on its front page that the "doughy guy" in the video is actually a young man from Saddle Brook, N.J. (where several of my cousins grew up, and where I actually ate something called Junket Rennet Custard once). And he doesn't like the attention he's been getting any more. He just cancelled his appearance on the "Today" show. He wouldn't talk to the Times reporter. He's moping around the house in Saddle Brook, and his immigrant grandfather thinks he's crazy.

As a guy who has done goofy things myself in front of the computer over the years, I want to send what the kids call a "shout out" to this fellow, who's made a little internet history for himself. To you, Gary Brolsma of Saddle Brook, N.J., let me just say: We love you, man! You are truly funny. It's a gift. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have spent the last several weeks walking around singing to myself: Maya hee! Maya hoo! Maya ha! Maya ha ha! At the very least, Ozone should put you in its next vid.

Come on out and bask in the sun, dude.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Far East

Among the e-mail messages in my inbox today were "legislative updates" from State Reps. Greg Macpherson from down in L.O. (a former partner of mine) and Jeff Merkley of east Portland (whom I've never met).

Macpherson writes that the Oregon legislative session so far is "lethargic," and that's too bad, in his view, because the state's tax system is so screwed up. But he's tried to shake things up by introducing bills that would crack down on abusive corporate tax shelters (trust him when he says, there are many) and require that applicants for professional licenses prove that their state taxes have been paid.

Good moves, Greg. You might want to expand the categories on that last one to include all public employees. You shouldn't get hired in a government job unless you're clean on taxes. I noticed a few weeks ago that the guy who's running the very questionable "Portland Family of Funds" is allegedly into the state big-time on many tens of thousands that his old company withheld from people's pay but didn't get around to sending to Salem. Nice. Makes you wonder how many other such leading lights are drawing a government paycheck. Oh wait, his isn't a government paycheck -- the Portland Development Commission handed him ownership of the fund, too. Double nice.

Merkley, the House Democratic leader, sends along some pornographic photos of the spea -- only kidding, sends along some thoughts regarding the growing social problems of "Far-East Portland." That's what he's calling the area east of 82nd Avenue. He writes:

Seeing the story back in January, I urged Portland Mayor Potter to establish a commission to study and recommend significant changes in policy to stem the deterioration of neighborhoods in Far-East Portland. I would like to encourage you to join in asking the City to pay attention to, understand, and address the issues facing Far-East Portland. To send an email to Mayor Potter or any of the City Commissioners, please click on the links below.
I've often referred to the east side of town as "the Idaho side." But now I've got a polite but snarky moniker for the portion of the east side that I usually refer to as "Felony Flats." Thanks, Rep. Merkley.

Now if both you gentlemen would figure out a way to fund government operations without turning this town into Elko, Nevada, we'd all be grateful.


b!X sends along the following rejoinder to yesterday's photo from Lars Larson:

Unhappy customer

And here I thought I was a grouchy old coot. Check out Pankleb's measured response to a little incident down at the old dry cleaners.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Don't ask

Google searches are amazing. Have you ever put in a phone number? It's a reverse directory. I remember back in my newspaper reporter days, when my employer used to pay big bucks for a print version of that sort of directory, just for our local area.

But Google has its limits. For example, if you're looking for a photo of celebrity chef Ainsley Harriot, not all of the results you get are what you're looking for...

A present from Lars

Lars Larson (the real one) sends along this photo to brighten everyone's day:

Baby, we were born to sue

Here's a conference (pdf) that I wish I was attending today. I am not making this up.

Wish I had thought of it. (Via TaxProf Blog.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

February perfume

If you're in the Portland metro area these days (and probably elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest), don't miss the winter-blooming daphne. It's in all its sweet-smelling glory right now. So if you happen by one of these bushes, get close and take a good whiff. It's so good for your soul.

It's also o.k. to clip some blooms and bring them inside. These plants just get stronger when you do that.

So will you.

I'm feeling lucky

Amidst all the talk about "fixing" Social Security, I can see that the folks who are now in their old age will be well protected by the greying, but still mean, pit bulls at the AARP. And the youngsters in their 20s will have plenty of time, between now and their retirement, to undo whatever mistakes they're talked into by Karl Rove.

But there will be a group who gets the royal shaft -- workers too young to be grandfathered into the old system they've been paying into for decades, and too old to undo the short- to medium-term damage that will surely be caused by the dismantling of the New Deal.

And guess who that will be.

My prediction: People born in 1954.

Like me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dumb Idea of the Week

A couple of members of the federal congressional delegation from the great State of Washington are about to introduce a bill to force Oregon to tax Washington residents who work in Oregon more favorably than us Oregonians.

Hey, if you 'Couverites don't want to pay income taxes like the rest of us who work here, stay home. You say you're getting such a raw deal having to pay tax in both states, but how come the parking lot at the Costco out by the Portland Airport is always full of cars with Washington plates? Let's face it, you're beating the Washington sales tax (and cheating on the Washington use tax) on half of what you buy, so quit the whining.

Finally, show me where Congress has the authority to tell Oregon how to tax nonresidents who have Oregon-source personal service income. The commerce clause? Not with this Supreme Court.

Senator Cantwell and Congressman Baird, you've now gotten your measly little news coverage and whatever political mileage you expect to get from it with your constituents. Please cut the comedy and get back to work.

Hoarse of the same color

The annual battle with the Portland Crud wears on. There's been a respiratory bug running through our house for more than a month now. Today it's made it to my larynx, depriving me of a voice.

I guess I was asking for it last night when, in honor of the late John Raitt, I performed show tunes for the wife and kids over dinner. I ran the table, with gems from any number of shows. "Dough, a Deer" started me off, but in no time I was onto "O What a Beautiful Morning." I had to waffle on the lyrics to "Clang Clang Clang (Went the Trolley)," but otherwise my dulcet baritone warblings were impeccable. I think my best number was the theme from "The Sound of Music." What a beautiful song! And thanks to Sister Michael Charles, I knew every word and note.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the music to that show. And so much other wonderful music. "Carousel," "Oklahoma!," "The King and I," "South Pacific." And Rodgers, so many other great songs -- "The Lady is a Tramp," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Hammerstein, "Ol' Man River." It was worth wasting my vocal cords on those guys.

Later today, though, it will be time to pay the piper. I've got three hours of tax law to teach, and at the moment, I haven't got the instrument to do it too well.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A bright golden haze on the meadow

Condolences to the family of Broadway star John Raitt, who died yesterday at age 88. Raitt was a little before my time, but his performances on the Great White Way are legendary. "Carousel," "Oklahoma!" -- they were his shows when they first hit the stage. He was a looker, and a great baritone.

I remember some years back, when he performed on the Letterman show with his daughter, Bonnie. He still had that huge presence, and he wasn't shy about upstaging his now-more-famous offspring. They are a special family, and he will be missed, even by those of us who were too young to catch him at the height of his career.

That AMT feeling

I can't believe it. I did a rough draft of my income taxes last night, and I discovered that I'm subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT)!

Egads. This is the shadowy federal tax that middle- and upper-income folks have to pay when their deductions get too large. For me, the culprits are the dependency exemptions for the kids, and the huge deduction I get for all the state and local taxes I pay here in Portland -- the highest of any town west of the Mississippi. Although those dependents and taxes are deductible for "regular" federal income tax purposes, they're not deductible for purposes of the AMT.

And if the AMT is greater than your regular tax, you have to pay the AMT. That's why they call it the alternative minimum tax.

Guess it's time to join the chorus that's seeking repeal of the AMT. Either Congress is serious about the deductions for dependents and state and local taxes, or it isn't. And it's time to reform the tax system in Oregon, and Portland in particular, so that we aren't all penalized by the AMT and have to send even more money to the feds.

Oh man, do I ever sound like a Republican now. The AMT -- I still can't believe it. Better check those numbers one more time.

Funny how one's academic views of tax policy tend to change when one's own wallet is being tapped.

UPDATE, 11:23 a.m.: How interesting. I just noticed that the Times has a front page story on this today. (If you get an ad, the escape to the story is in the upper right-hand corner.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Low mileage, one owner

If you've always wanted a Mercedes SUV, here's one for sale that you might take a look at. This little honey was found in an estate.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

And now a word from our sponsor

It's time to do my weekly duty by Marqui, the internet software developers who are paying me good money to mention and link to them on this blog. I'm happy to do so, particularly this week, when they've given us so much food for thought.

First and foremost, they've been hired by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. This is an outifit that's preparing some big doings for Honest Abe's 200th birthday, in 2009. They're recommending the minting of an Abraham Lincoln bicentennial penny; the issuance of a Lincoln postage stamp; the convening of a joint meeting or joint session of Congress; creation of a major celebration at the Lincoln Memorial; and the acquisition and preservation of artifacts associated with Lincoln.

Their site's got some interesting stuff on it, particularly the text of Lincoln's big speeches. You can't miss with content like this:

Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all them to falter now? -- now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail -- if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later, the victory is sure to come.

Pencilling the Lincoln 200th onto our calendars reminds us that we're just now getting to the Lewis & Clark bicentennial, which kicks off in the here and now of '05. So when L&C were making their way up the Missouri, a little baby named Abe Lincoln was just a twinkle in his dad's eye. Somehow I had held those two eras a bit closer together in my own mind. Now I'm beginning to see the proper sequencing -- only 30 years from the Declaration of Independence to Lewis & Clark, but then another 55 to the heyday of Lincoln. Now that 30 years doesn't seem that long a time to me -- even 55 isn't the eternity it once seemed -- I see how young this country really is.

In another story fed to us by Marqui this week, they highlight another client, WVON in Chicago, a talk radio station devoted to African-America. Looks like a great spot on the dial, and their site is very smooth. They say they're saving some dough by having a couple of in-house people use Marqui, rather than hiring an outside web developer and standing in line to get that developer's attention whenever something needed to be done. Sounds good to me.

I don't understand hardly any of the in's and out's of "communications management suites," but I am beginning to see that Marqui has some really cool clients, for whatever that's worth.

Finally, there was this piece in the Online Jourmalism Review about the ethics (or ethical defects) of blogging for pay. At a time when the White House press corps is infiltrated with impostors and the federal government is producing phony newscasts, it's a real concern. Fortunately, Marqui comes out smelling like a rose, because all its paid bloggers are proudly disclosing that they're being paid to shill for the company.

Transparency, baby!

Last of the hardcore troubadours

Steve Earle was in town last night, and he put on another great show. This time he was in his revolutionary rocker mode, with a four-to-five-piece band and songster Allison Moorer in tow.

The first number, "The Revolution Starts Now," set the tone for the evening. Earle mined his most recent, politically charged, material, mixing in some stump speeches about the state of the nation. Obviously still smarting from the election, he showed no sign of letting up on his leftist crusade. "There'll be other elections," he reminded the audience. But although spirits rose when he belted out a few older favorites such as "Copperhead Road" and "You're Still Standing There" (with Moorer), overall the mood was pretty dark.

If you could call it a mood. The show was at the Crystal Ballroom, where everybody stood up, jostled each other around, constantly jockeyed for a line of sight, and tried to hear the music above the din of a Friday night bar crowd that was shouting into their cell phones and stepping on every quiet moment in the show with mindless chatter. Not the ideal place to hear a concert where the lyrics matter, that's for sure. Moorer's opening set, which might not have been too strong even in a more appropriate venue, was a near-total loss.

Oh well, revolution is messy. And so is rock and roll.

I got the biggest kick out of the few poor souls in the crowd who showed up with their cowboy hats and Bush-Cheney politics, expecting to hear a typical "country" show. I guess they had seen the Earle date listed that way in the paper, had heard that he was originally from Texas, and/or hadn't checked in with him since he sang "Guitar Town" nearly 20 years ago. The hardcore pro-union, anti-war rhetoric coming from the stage left them aghast. The looks on some of their faces after a while were priceless.

My favorite new Steve Earle line (he used several that I had heard from him before): "If you got a boss, then you probably need a union."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Blood pressure booster

Move over, George Orwell -- George Bush is here. Tony tells it (and shows it) like it is.

How dare she!

Portland schools chief Super Vicki takes a hit on the front page of The Oregonian today. The story's supposed to be an "analysis" of whether she allowed appropriate public input before announcing the impending closures of several schools. "She doesn't understand that Portlanders demand process," blah blah blah.

When you fire Neil Goldschmidt's brother from the outrageously overpaid position that he was handed by Neil Goldschmidt's wife, you can expect flak from The Oregonian. After all, it's the Official Publication of the Portland Old Boy Network.

Ignore 'em, Vicki. You go, girl.

You saw it here first

Last night I caught a broadcast news story about this guy.

A sound salvation

I've always wished that I had my own radio show. Having played with that medium extensively in my teens, 20s, and 30s, I miss the enjoyment that one gets by locking oneself up in a studio for hours at a time with the sole purpose of creating sound. It's easy to forget everything else while in there. Live radio is especially fun, but even recorded programming is a blast to make.

Although talk shows are interesting to do, it's playing recorded music that gives me the biggest kick. Without a radio station willing to give me a slot, I've DJ'd a few parties in my time, and those experiences have confirmed the draw that this particular activity has on me.

Well, now I see that it's possible to do it yourself on the web. "Podcasting" is the Next Big Thing, and I can't see myself letting the opportunity slip by.

With a music show, though, there's the sticky question of copyright. To play your typical recorded music, you need three or four licenses from the big bad licensing agencies. As best I can tell, the licenses run about $1200 a year, even for a guy with a small blog. Of course, if the show's a hit, there will be bandwidth repercussions as well, and the whole thing could wind up running a couple of grand a year to do without legal hassles.

That's pretty spendy for a hobby. Something to brood about, though.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Our troubled times

You don't have to believe in the war to appreciate this.

It never stops

Ah, spring is in the air. The time of year when Portland bureaucrats' thoughts inevitably turn to screwing the neighborhoods on the east side.

The latest? Close Buckman Pool, and maybe Pier Pool too.

I guess the idea is that if the kids from those neighborhoods want to learn how to swim, they can hitchhike over to Gabriel Park.

Unplugged again

More on the upcoming Springsteen CD and tour: It's an acoustic album, more or less, and he'll perform solo or with a small band when on the road.

If he makes it to Portland, I guess it'd be at the Schnitzer, and not nearly as much fun as an E Street Band show in the big arena. But still worth going to.

I skipped the "Tom Joad" tour, which sounds like it will be the forerunner of this one. At the time, it seemed to me that Bruce had just run out of steam, which saddened me. But "The Rising" showed that the guy still has fire. So if he wants to turn it down to a low burn, I'll be there.

It's the same old song

The beat goes on The beat goes on Cranes keep buildin' condos in my view La de da de dee La de da de di

The Portland City Council will give in today and let the money-hungry developers down in South Waterfront build fatter, taller condo towers than they promised when the project was first approved. The council made the developers spend two more weeks hassling with the neighborhood associations, but now that's done, and so it's onward, upward, and outward. You can still see the mountains in postcards, kids.

The beat goes on The beat goes on Cranes keep buildin' condos in my view La de da de dee La de da de di

Next up, another tower at SW Third and Oak. A $3.3 million public subsidy, 10 years of tax abatements, less affordable housing than they originally promised (er, actually, none), the usual scam. Gotta have an apartment with a view for Nicolas Cage's mother. Fireman Randy might make a face, Opie might make them come back in two weeks, but it wil all go through.

And the beat goes on The beat goes on Cranes keep buildin' condos in my view La de da de dee La de da de di

Then there's the "Portland Family of Funds," the "spinoff" from the Portland Development Commission that's under investigation on suspicion of being bad public policy, if not downright illegal. Oops, those five projects they promised to close on the po' side of town by the end of last year? So far they've closed none, and three of the five cannot be realistically said to be more than pipedreams at this point. Just be patient, MLK. These things take time.

Yeah, right. Look at those cranes on Macadam go when one of the Goldschmidt clan wants something.

The beat goes on The beat goes on

"Spinoff" -- that's a good one. Create a government bureau and after a couple of years hand it on a platter to some of the guys who work there. They make millions. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Cranes keep buildin' condos in my view La de da de dee La de da de di

Then there's Vanport Square, the one bone that the PDC has thrown to the inner northeast recently. Still stalled. Existing property still being mismanaged. Public relations still a disaster.

And the beat goes on The beat goes on Cranes keep buildin' condos in my view

Don't forget the east side of the Burnside Bridge. Condo towers, of course, it goes without saying. But the current scam is to delay awarding the deal, in the guise of public input, until the PDC can figure out a way to give it with a straight face to the developer they've already picked out of the three bidders.

La de da de dee La de da de di

Urban renewal, Portland style, is a very sick puppy. Mayor Potter, it's up to you to administer some serious medicine. Please don't wait too much longer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bruce time again

In the e-mail today comes word that my rock and roll hero, Bruce Springsteen, has a new album, "Devils and Dust," coming out on April 26. There'll be a tour to promote the CD. I hope they plan to make it this way. Last time, we had an unforgettable night -- typical Bruce.

Hello, I love you

Funny story in the paper today about how Portland Water Bureau employees are now answering the phone by saying, "Portland Utilities."

Makes you wonder how they'll be answering the phone in Commissioner Saltzman's office after the next City Council election.

Some other suggestions for better city call center pickup lines:

Mayor's Office: "Travel Bureau."
Planning: "Condo Towers 'R' Us."
Portland Development Commission: "West Hills Welfare."
Commissioner Leonard's Office: "Imus in the Morning."
School District: "Department of War."
Police Bureau: "If you are calling to turn yourself in for a violent felony, please hang up and call back between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I blame Larry

I should have known things were going to go wrong on my recent road trip on Continental Airlines. I had an uneasy feeling right from the start of the first flight segment, when the instructional safety video came on.

On Continental, the passengers are greeted by a video message of a half-minute or so from the CEO, before they start up on how to fasten your seat belt. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to being welcomed aboard by Gordon Bethune (left), the head honcho at Continental. Vaguely Southern-sounding, leathery, senior, just a little rough around the edges, Gordon gave you the impression that he could fly the plane himself, load the bags, take the engine apart, and tell you a few excellent dirty jokes off camera that would make you forget what a small space your seat was. "You're on a modern jet aircraft," he'd say, leaving us to imagine him on a crude prop job way, way back there. You knew things would be o.k. all the way to Newark, or wherever.

This time around, though, no Gordon. He's retired. So now we get Larry -- Larry Kellner (right) -- Bethune's successor.

Larry looks like a sycophantic bean-counter from Ohio somewhere, who doesn't really understand the business, couldn't relate to anybody in the back of the plane, got this job because he's somebody's nephew, and can't even switch gears on a 10-speed bicycle without a lot of clunking and clanking. It's unfair to judge him based on his looks, but that's the hit I get off the guy.

So when our itinerary went to heck because there had been a hard rain shower in Houston at some point or other many hours before we got there, I couldn't help but think: This never would have happened under Gordon's watch.

Trying to sleep on the Denver airport floor that night, I thought dark thoughts. Mostly, I don't want to fly on an airline run by Larry.

Are "donations" to bloggers taxable income?

Anyone who reads weblogs on a regular basis knows that many blogs contain buttons that readers can click to leave a monetary "donation" via PayPal or some other payment system. When the readers do so, are the bloggers supposed to be reporting the "donations" on their income tax returns?

My own view: Yes. For further discussion, go here.

Skin games

Interesting story in The O this morning about the copyright battle brewing over Nike's use of Rasheed Wallace's tattoo. It seems that the Southeast Portland needle artist who did the work wants a cut of the fee that old Ra has collected for the ad that features the tattoo. (The story wisely quotes a colleague of mine, who weighs in on the subject.)

What next? Barbers saying star athletes can't show their heads without paying a licensing fee? Dermatologists? Personal trainers? Rabbis billing male porn stars for... well, you get the picture.

Bright moments

Just before we left for home on our airline ordeal, my travelling companions took a first-place national prize at our conference for the written work they had submitted while we were still on the ground in Portland. This changed our attitude about the trip completely, and it put us in a decent frame of mind to cope with the shabby, shabby treatment we were about to receive from Continental Airlines.

The latter experience will soon fade from memory, but that trophy and the sense of achievement it creates will stand for decades. Good for my colleagues.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Q & A

Q. How long does it take to get from Tampa to Portland, Oregon by air?

A. Twenty hours, if you're on Continental Airlines.

Q. Will Continental "customer service" representatives be friendly to you if you have to sleep on an airport floor?

A. No.

Q. Will you receive compensation of any kind for your inconvenience?

A. No.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Good news and bad news

First, the bad news: The business part of our trip has come to an end, a bit sooner than we might have hoped. Now, the good news: It's sunny and clear, and the beach bars are open.

Well, here's another clue for you all: This afternoon, while at the Salvador Dali Museum, I received some unwanted negative commentary about my John Kerry t-shirt.

Another one gone

Sad news for the R&B world: Tyrone Davis has left us at the age of 66. Both of his hits "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time" and "Can I Change My Mind?" were in my box of 45s when I was a kid. Part of the soundtrack for a lot of adolescent exploration and discovery. And you know how that kind of stuff sticks with you.

Onward and upward

The first big day of our business trip at an undisclosed location went well, and now we're onto day 2. It's the kind of situation in which the better we do, the longer we work, and so let's hope we're not even halfway to the end. (Locational hint no. 3: We've been watching the sun set into the sea the last couple of evenings.)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Big day

The pedal hits the metal today on the business trip that has taken me and some colleagues to an undisclosed eastern location. (Hint No. 2: Last night's dinner was grouper.)

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

No need to ahsk

Here's something I've never done before: blog from the road. It's not that I haven't felt the urge on past trips. As readers know, the blogging bug has bit me pretty hard. But I rarely want to drag a laptop around with me, and I've never found a comfortable place with an available computer and a good high-speed internet connection.

Until this morning.

It's just before dawn at an undisclosed east coast location, where I'm conducting business on behalf of my employer. I woke up in a strange hotel bed after just a few hours of sleep. Aware that it might be hard to go right back to sleep, I threw on some clothes and checked out a coffee shop, with an internet access sign on the front window, that my workmates and I drove by looking for a restaurant last night.

It's great. Well lit, comfortable, good coffee, four decent PCs beckoning, and a T-1 line. Excellent.

So here we go.

For those of you who don't already know where I am, here's the first clue out of the box: When we hit town at midnight, there was only one place open to eat, Waffle House.

Now I had seen these places on previous journeys to this part of the country. Heck, there's a Waffle House sign at every interstate highway exit in the Atlanta area, where we spent a long weekend last fall. They're ubiquitous, so much so that when we passed an exit without a Waffle House sign, my wife shouted, with a southern drawl: "What? No Waffle House?" But the family and I never checked one out.

In contrast, one of the members of my current travelling party was raised in Waffle House Country, and last night he showed us the drill. The menu at Waffle House is a single laminated sheet, two-sided, that invites the patron to feast on some realy scary-looking grub. You know it's bad when the closest thing to healthy is a bacon salad or a chili salad. Did you know there are 3,454,681 ways to enjoy their hashbrowns? Anyway, for 10 bucks a person, we partook.

Only the fellow who's a Waffle House veteran went for the breakfast section of the menu, which gets you a waffle and some grits along with your bacon, eggs, and hasbrowns. One of the guys had never seen grits before, and so this was a personal growth moment for him. Then I told my story about Taylor ham. As I suspected, no one, no one in the group had ever heard of Taylor ham.

Do you want your hashbrowns "topped"? the seasoned but friendly waitress asked me. Thinking about the heart-friendly options that I normally eat, I didn't even ask what that meant. I wasn't brave enough to go beyond a grilled chicken sandwich. I also ordered a half iced tea/half lemonade, whose taste vaguely reminded me of a zoo or a circus (and I don't mean that in a good way). Strangely, it grew on you as you drank it.

My colleagues and I chatted amiably as we downed our food. The place was empty except for two parties of two, one of which included a gentleman who was having a little trouble standing up, obviously after an evening in a bar. Shades of the White Castle and Blue Castle hamburger places after hours in my childhood haunts of Newark, N.J. I know where that guy's been, and I'm glad I'm not there any more.

But the best part of the Waffle House experience, in my view, was the music on the p.a., which was turned up pretty loud. After a few numbers drifted by in the background, there was a lull in the conversation, and we noticed that the version of Sade's "Smooth Operator" playing through the system wasn't the original. Indeed, a male voice was singing the song, and the new version had a bit of a country feel.

Then we noticed, the lyrics had been changed to "He's a grill operay-dahhhh, griiiiiiillll operay-dahhhh, grill operay-dahhhh, at Waffle House."

Ain't that America.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Planned slowdown

For the rest of this week, my posting here is likely to be very light. I'm takin' care of bidness elsewhere.

Try some of the blogs that I have enrolled down a ways over on the left sidebar. Some great writers, thinkers, sweethearts, and goofballs in those ranks. Or feel free to post a comment of your own on this post, about whatever, and get a nice thread going.

I'll catch you later.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Lifestyles of the Rich and Dead

Big tax news in Washington State last week: The State Supreme Court threw out the state's estate tax. That's the tax that wealthy people have to pay when they die, on the property that they leave behind. (Actually, you can't pay a tax when you're dead, but your family has to do it for you.)

Oooh, the "death tax," evil evil evil, right? Actually, no. Picture a guy like Bill Gates, whose net worth has grown by tens of billions in his lifetime. You know how much tax he's paid on the growth of his Microsoft stock all those years? None. That's why there's a death tax.

Interestingly, Bill's dad has been a major proponent of keeping the estate taxes on the books. Now, there's a family that's willing to chip in its fair share... eventually.

Anyway, to all you rich types in the great State of Washington, don't spend it all in one place.


You know you're a whiner when your four-year-old calls you out on it. Around lunchtime yesterday, our oldest chirps up, completely innocently and matter-of-factly, "Daddy, what were you whining about this morning?"

As usual, she was right. I had been moaning about our New York Times carrier's strange conception of "home" delivery. It seems this unseen person, who graces our street in the wee small hours each morning, feels that his or her duty is adequately discharged if the paper makes it as far as the public sidewalk. Now that is a good 20 feet from the front door, and on a rainy, cold morning such as the one we had here yesterday, that's a long way to go to get your Nicholas Kristof. So I let out my little complaint over my hurried breakfast, secure in the belief that nobody really paid much attention to it -- that it didn't have any real impact on anyone, other than my letting off a little steam.


Yeah, I whine. That's no news to regular readers here. But the last few weeks, I have felt particular justification for my self-pity. Lately I'm grinding out work day, night, and in between. Great stuff, but too much of it. It's a self-inflicted condition, of course. I've got what could pass for the easiest gig in the world, but I say yes to one extra thing, and then another, and then another, until it's too big a pile. I'm still learning how to say no after all these years. Or as one lawyer friend of mine once put it, "If you were a girl, you'd be pregnant all the time."

Years ago I roomed with a graduate student from Japan. He was studying physics while I was teaching law, and we were both in major production mode. When we would head back to the shop after dinner to pull an all-nighter or near-all-nighter, we used to kid each other about karoshi, the real-life Japanese problem of death from overwork. Neither one of us actually got close to that demise, but it felt like it at times.

Anyway, under the present circumstances, I just barely managed to get in a perfunctory mention of my sponsor, Marqui, Saturday night, and although that's all I'm bound to do to get them to pay me for the week, I usually try to do something more. I did get to playing with their "dabble mode" software again for just a little while today, and what can I say? It looks as though it will deliver on the promises made in their online demo. If I were running a company that had a website to which many of my minions were contributing, and if I needed to post information quickly in a number of different formats (press releases, e-mail, electronic newsletter, blog, etc.), it would be nice to have a toy like that to streamline matters.

Now, are there other products and providers that will do the same thing? I have no personal knowledge one way or the other. It isn't my bag. Having wrangled a little with the technical side of my website for the first time in a long time late last week, however, I know how dependent I am on Movable Type, the blogging software I use. You get the hang of that after a while, and it sure comes in handy when weird things happen over at your internet host.

So many people's occupations and pastimes are becoming captives, or at least functions, of their software. It's influencing not just the way we do things, but also what we believe we are capable of doing -- what we are daring enough to take on. When I think about what I can do on my blog, I'm automatically thinking in terms of how to do it in MT. If MT won't cut it, I won't do it. Live presentation? PowerPoint's always hovering over the planning process. Images? Photoshop. And on goes the list.

Twenty years ago, this all was fantasy -- outrageous fantasy. There was that Charlie Chaplin commercial on the Super Bowl, and we all said, Huh? What a flop that's going to be. What are we all, nerds? Pass the Doritos. Now look.

It's fun brooding about, and playing in, cyberworld. You wonder how the history books are going to talk about computers 10, 20, 100 years from now. But it ain't all fun. Nope, there's also a lot of work to get done inside this box, as well as in the older world of flesh, blood, speech, hearing, gesture and sight.

So enough with the Marqui for another week. Back to karoshi.

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Falling down on the job

Time for another weekly post mentioning Marqui. This is the communication management software company that's paying me (and a couple dozen other bloggers) to mention it and link to its online demonstration once a week for three months. Nice people, great gig.

But I'm beat at the moment. As in, stone cold dead tired. I can't even see straight, given the string of long working days I've got just under my belt. It's all good, but there's a bit too much at the moment.

I've been dabbling on the simulation site Marqui has provided, to see what users see and feel when they use the Marqui services. But I looked down a couple of minutes ago and noticed that I had drooled on my hoodie. Night-night time, obviously.

So this is my place marker for this week's Marqui post, with the utmost warm and fuzzy feelings toward my sponsor. I'll expand on this, bright and early on Super Sunday.

Some serious blogging

Leave it to my cousin James over at Parkway Rest Stop. The guy is way above average in the creativity department. Now he's written the inaugural chapter of a "blog noir" project, in which a group of bloggers are each penning one chapter to create a dark detective novel.

If you've ever read Jim's adventures of Sgt. Jack Steele, you know he can really do this sort of thing. And man, he does it again with Max Robichaux.

You'll need some time and the right frame of mind, but if you've got both, you owe it to yourself to head over and check it out.

Please stand by

As I suspected, the "relocation" of the server on which this blog resides has led to a technical problem: the temporary (I think and hope) loss of a few posts and lots of comments. I'm working on restoring them. Wish me luck, and apologies to everyone whose writing has been deleted -- I hope temporarily.

UPDATE, 2/5/05, 3:21 a.m.: Everything's back, more or less. I've got my fingers crossed that we're done with the transition.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Don't worry, it'll be over soon

Via Worldwide Pablo.

Weird Science, 2005

The City of Portland is fighting tooth and nail not to have to install a $60 million treatment system on its Bull Run drinking water, to filter out a parasite as required by federal law. But it's spending $1.3 billion (not a typo), so far, to re-do its sewer system to clean up the Portland Harbor stretch of the Willamette River, which no sensible person will even get near for much of the year, much less ever drink out of.

I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for all this. But I'm just saying. Any sensible person looking at the big picture has got to marvel at this paradox.

UPDATE, 2/5/05, 3:19 a.m.: The comments to this post were temporarily lost in a relocation of the server on which this blog resides. When they were restored, the date stamps on the comments were changed.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

The City that Works... But Not For You

Margie Boule has a great column in The Oregonian today about the poor folks up on Willamette Boulevard in North Portland, who have one of the most unsafe streets anywhere in the city. Cars running up on lawns, hitting houses; everybody speeding; pedestrians getting hit while waiting for a bus. Fifty miles an hour is the usual speed on that city street. You take your life in your hands up there to get across.

Everybody agrees that what Willamette Boulevard needs is some speed bumps, circles -- you know, the "traffic calming devices" that we're so good at.

But the folks up there can't have them, because you see, the city's broke. Sorry, say the municipal bureaucrats, if you want speed bumps, you'd better head down to Salem and put in for a state grant.

Now, my City of Portland B.S. meter is pretty sturdy, but on this one, it's peaking so hard that smoke's coming off it.

No money for transportation? Gentlemen of the City Council, we are spending $900,000 a year (and climbing) subsidizing the downtown Developer Welfare Streetcar -- which is actually slower than walking. We are about to spend many, many millions of dollars on streets and sidewalks for the Wall of Thirty-Story Condos in North Macadam. And, my word, you could sell one -- just one! -- of those stupid California Pizza Kitchen Faux-Art Totem Poles that we've got standing in the Pearl to raise the money it would take to pay for those speed bumps.

But no. Neighbors of NoPo, just deal with it.

And then our beloved commissioners are shocked when guys like me say we'll vote to end the "urban renewal" pork train, if given the opportunity. Well, if it ever happens, fellows, don't say we didn't tell you why.

UPDATE, 2/5/05, 3:10 a.m.: The comments to this post were temporarily lost in a relocation of the server on which this blog resides. When they were restored, the date stamps on the comments were changed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Remind me to do this if I forget

I'm so busy these days, it makes my hair hurt. But when things slow down a little (probably around spring break), one of the things on my to-do list is to head right down to the elections office and switch my party affiliation to Republican.

You see, with Howard and Hillary taking the controls of what was already a spacecraft in a downward spiral, the Democratic Party has no chance of calling the shots on federal public policy for many years -- probably a decade. So rather than waste time marching around spouting this and that "progressive" pronouncement -- which, although valid, has no chance of winning majority support -- I'd rather become a Republican and work to moderate that party's views from within.

One problem with this plan is what's happening in our own Beaver State. Here, the Demo's are currently in power, sort of, and it seems a shame not to be in with the winners. Granted, there's a lot not to like in the way those winners operate, and whom they're beholden to, and that's enough to push me away. But their GOP opposition is on a serious downward track of its own, due largely to the fact that its rudder is stuck at hard right. And while we're ahead, the last thing we lefties need to do is to moderate the Republicans.

If the best they can do is Kevin Mannix, though, they're no threat, and that's a good thing. On balance, the Blue Agenda for Oregon looks safe for quite a few more years. So the Democrats around here will be fine without me.

And besides, the feds are the big fish to fry. Social Security, war, taxes, birth control, establishment of religion, and don't forget, they've got Four More Years, at least, to come up with new stuff. For example, wait 'til you see what the Freedom of Information Act looks like after Mr. Rove and Justice Scalia get through with it. Yikes.

I've got to become a Republican and try to talk them out of it. But not a Rush-Lars kind of Republican. More like Bob Packwood without the unwanted tongue kisses, or my buddy Jack Roberts.

Testing 1-2, is this thing on?

Uh oh. I just got word that the server on which this blog resides is being "relocated." They sent me an e-mail letting me know whether I need to do anything to stay on the air, but I can't make heads or tails of it.

If you're reading this, I guess I'm still online. But for how long, and whether I'll be able to post new material, is all a bit of a mystery at the moment.

If I don't post again for a week, call... actually, I don't know whom you'd call, either.

Once a Blazer, always a Blazer

Cliff Robinson, erstwhile Trail Blazer rookie sensation once famous for punching female Portland police officers and terrorizing local motorists with paintball guns, has landed on his head again down in Oakland. Seems the Golden State Warrior center, who has been suffering from back problems of late, has just been suspended five games by his team for a substance abuse violation.

Uncle Cliffy, you is wack.

One shoe dropping

Nice article on the front page of the O yesterday about how many millions of dollars those public-spirited West Hills face cards will make if they're allowed to put their names on the Texas Pacific Group company that hopes to take over Portland General Electric.

Excuse me, let me set my watch. Now let's see, that means that right about tomorrow we should have an editorial in that paper taking all of the punch out of the story and explaining that, well, see, really, all executives make millions these days. So there's really nothing to be concerned about, just go about your business, it's still a great deal for the people of the Portland area.

It must be frustrating being a reporter over there. As hard-hitting as you try to be, the editorial board neutralizes most of what you were trying to say. It's as if they don't read their own paper. The Great, Schizophrenic Newpaper of the West. Practically incomprehensible.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

One out of every five property tax dollars

In response to b!X's good work on the urban renewal tax rules, I've stared some more at my property tax bill, where that suspicious line item "Urban Renewal - Portland" appears. I've been moaning that 7.89% of the bill goes down that particular chute. Which seemed like an awful lot.

But on closer inspection, the story gets even more troubling.

Property taxes go to all sorts of government spenders: the school district, Metro, the Port, Multnomah County, the Library, etc. Isolating the amounts clearly earmarked for the City of Portland, we see that of the total property taxes I pay, only around 41.55% goes to the city. The rest goes to the other local government players.

Now let's take a look at the dollars that actually go to the city. By my amateur calculations, based on the breakout on the tax bill, of every $100 in property tax that the City of Portland collects, roughly $19 goes to "urban renewal"! In other words, nearly one out of every five property tax dollars the city collects goes to that purpose. It's hard to see how subsidizing real estate development, particularly condo towers, should be that big a priority in these tight economic times. (Another $24.30 goes to "fire/police pension," but that's another subject entirely.)

Here's the number crunch -- the percentages that show how the city's property tax revenue (collected from me, at least) is earmarked to be spent, using as best I can the headings on the tax bill:

"City of Portland" 46.43%
"City of Portland Child Loc Op" 4.11%
"City of Portland Parks Loc Op" 3.99%
"Portland Police/Fire Pension" 24.30%
"Urban Renewal - Portland" 18.99%
"City of Portland Bonds" 2.18%
Total 100.00%

Urban renewal may be a good concept. But the way it's practiced in Portland may not be. And however it's done, we're doing too much of it.

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