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

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December 2007 Archives

Monday, December 31, 2007

Mmmmm... bait

Here's a headline sure to get readers' attention in these parts. (Via Bean.)

Phrases that you don't often hear together

"Portland Trail Blazers" and "first place."

O.k., maybe in sentences like "I don't know why the Portland Trail Blazers traded for that idiot [fill in name of Jail Blazer du jour] in the first place." But this time, it's something completely different.

When was the last time the Blazers were tied for, or in sole possession of, first place in their division later than Christmas? Seems like a l-o-o-o-ong time ago.

The only thing they'll touch is your wallet

Here's an interesting Whole Foods story.

Pill Hill follies

While most folks were enjoying the holiday weekend, a couple of items relating to OHSU made the O.

One was a screamingly funny editorial yesterday about how the institution's aerial tram [rim shot], like its new health club building in the SoWhat district, is a smashing success. Whoever wrote that one must have joined the rest of us and cancelled his or her subscription to the paper, because he or she missed the story two months ago in which the highly overpaid head of the organization declared a fiscal crisis, and talked ominously about some sort of 20-month period, at the end of which he hinted that the place might be out of cash.

That being the situation on the hill -- with the med school selling off its graduate campus to raise money, and putting its plans for a glorious new campus on the Schnitzer property on indefinite hold -- the ridership figures for the tram would seem like mighty cold comfort. Even if they're real.

I remember when the O editorial page (overseen by the spouse of an OHSU flack, I kid you not) was pushing the Goldschmidt-Katz-Williams-Hoffman propaganda line that SoWhat would be the "linchpin" of the state's economic future. Ten thousand biotech jobs, and all that. Now that it's clear that the soulless condo jungle and mud pit is nothing like what was promised, they've just changed the tense on their editorial from the future tense to the present, without regard to the facts. Farce of the lowest order.

Given the mess that the condo market's in these days, you wonder how the developers down there can make the payments on their construction loans. If there's one thing the tram isn't creating, it's positive cash flow.

The other big OHSU news, of course, was that they lost their big lawsuit. On Friday the state Supreme Court threw out as unconstitutional the obscene $200,000 liability cap that OHSU docs have tried to hide behind after they commit malpractice. The OHSU boys and girls are screaming that the ruling is going to bring all of state and local government crashing down, but that seems unlikely. The folks who are most worried about huge liabilities are the docs, not the street sweepers and park rangers.

As some of the justices on the court complained, this is something that the legislature should have taken care of a long time ago. Even if it's going to take a constitutional amendment to get this fixed, the legislature is where that process ought to start.

In theory, state lawmakers could attend to this in their upcoming regularly scheduled "special" session. For one thing, a $2 million cap, automatically indexed for inflation, could be in place by this coming spring. But alas, that would require a degree of responsiveness and professionalism that many of the members of the legislature do not appear to have.

Maybe they thought that the court would rule in OHSU's favor, and they could wash their hands of it. But now it's clear that that isn't going to happen. The court threw it right back in their laps.

While they're messing around with it, good for the malpractice victims who might actually get their due from the money-obsessed tramsters. As Granny Bogdanski used to say, "God don't punish with a stick."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Would you believe?

It's established that two people met at a party. One, A, says that at that party, he told the other, B, a disturbing fact. B says that neither A nor anyone else ever told B the fact.

Now, only one of their accounts can be accurate. But even if one can't figure out which one that is, can both A and B still be "credible"?

"Mr. Leonhardt and Gov. Kulongoski have differing recollections of events that occurred more than a decade ago," Mullmann wrote. "I find that both Mr. Leonhardt and Gov. Kulongoski are credible in their recollections."
An odd way of putting it, to be sure. Remember, neither A nor B is saying "I don't remember." A is saying, "I remember -- I told him," and B is saying, "No one ever told me." It's hard to believe both statements simultaneously.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


A federal judge's ruling suspending Oregon's domestic partnership law, which was supposed to take effect this coming Tuesday, is a bitter disappointment to so many people. Thank goodness, it is only a temporary setback. Even if the folks seeking to overturn the law get the matter on the ballot, Oregonians will vote to support it. And so by this time next year, if not sooner, there will be domestic partnerships in this state, as there should be.

That's cold comfort today, of course.

One maddening question that bothered me when I first heard about the judge's injunction yesterday -- it must have been an oral ruling, as I don't see links to a written opinion anywhere -- was how he could forbid implementation of a state law that had been duly enacted, just because of some hassle over signatures on petitions seeking to repeal that law. Upon further reflection, I see how the judge could reach that conclusion. Under Oregon law, if I'm getting this right, when enough signatures are turned in to challenge a new statute by referendum, the law is automatically suspended until the ballot measure is voted on. (That is, unless the legislature had declared an emergency, which it apparently did not do in this case.) And so if the opponents' signatures are good, which they claim they are, there will be no domestic partnerships until after the November election, anyway.

Seen in this light, the judge's action yesterday is at least slightly less outrageous than it first sounded. But it's still a shock. And of course, highly ironic coming from a Bush appointee, what with the administration's supposed deep respect for the sanctity of the actions of state elections officers.

The other thing I'll say is how once again, the electoral process in this country is showing itself to be badly, badly deficient. Not only can't we count votes securely and honestly -- we can't even agree on how to check the signatures on the petitions by which we decide what we'll be voting on. Nearly every election -- even every potential election -- turns out to be a lawsuit. It's a disgrace.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Have a great weekend

Boys will be boys

Here's a Christmas story that's far from the North Pole.

Major meteorological alert

A large, bright, unfamiliar yellow ball has appeared in the skies to the east of Portland this morning.

Guerilla warfare, retail edition

At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.
And it's not just here -- it's all over.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Portland debt clock ratchets back slightly

Just a note that some new information has come to our attention that causes us to re-set our City of Portland debt clock, always ticking in our left sidebar. The actuaries who estimate the city's unfunded police and fire pension and disability liability have determined (page 15) that the amount of that liability as of July 1, 2007 was $1,919,501,000. That's a mere 6.5 percent increase over the year before, which is pretty good considering that the three-year compound growth rate was 14.63 percent a year, and the seven-year compounded growth rate was 10.14 percent annually.

The new numbers were disclosed to the city in late September, but they were apparently just made public a couple of weeks ago.

We've re-set the police and fire pension portion of the clock to the new July 1, 2007 figure, and ratcheted the annual growth rate down to 6.5 percent, which is probably optimistic. The city still owes close to $8,100 for every resident, and so I wouldn't break out the champagne.

As the planet groans

In a city as "green and sustainable" as Portland says it is, I can't help but wonder why something still hasn't been done about an obvious environmental problem. A reader writes:

Just a heads up that the Qwest Dex delivery people are out in full force. They dumped 20 bags of phone books at my building on SW Curry on Christmas Day. Just this afternoon I caught them trying to drop some phone books off at my building on 17th and Hawthorne. I turned them away, and then they lied to me that they had talked to my tenants and "they all told us that they needed new phone books." I insisted that we certainly didn't need any and they moved on. 30 minutes later I went out to check the mail and -- sure enough -- there were 30 bags of phone books neatly stacked in the entryway of my apartment building. Happy Holidays from Qwest, I guess. They were driving a 1980s white van with Ohio plates PFF 1799. If you see them around let me know as I have 330 pounds of trash for them.
We've blogged about this before. Not only do we now get three phone books at our house every year from Qwest (one of which is immediately tossed), but there's at least one more that shows up from some other company during the year, only to go directly to the recycling bin.

Why can't the city come up with a system under which, at a minimum, people can opt out of getting new phone books unless and until they ask for them?

TurboTax Oregon kicker hassles aren't over

You know that mess that appeared when hundreds of Oregonians discovered that the computer software (such as TurboTax) they used to prepare their state income tax returns mistakenly donated their "kicker" refunds to the state school fund?

It hasn't completely gone away.

A new page has appeared on the state Department of Revenue (DOR) website, entitled "Kicker Donation FAQ." It indicates pretty clearly that some folks who claim they didn't elect to donate their refunds still aren't going to get them back.

Here's the line, right at the top, that's gotten people's backs up:

If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not. By law, the department cannot issue your kicker to you in that case.
And later on, in the Q&A, it says:
3. I filed using 2-D Barcode. Will this apply to me?

We won’t refund 2-D and other paper returns showing the box checked. A 2-D barcode return is paper so the taxpayer must sign it before sending it to us. If the taxpayer checks the "donate" box and signs it, that confirms that the taxpayer chose to donate their kicker.

It sure looks as though the DOR is making a distinction between electronic filers and paper filers who used TurboTax, and that's not going to be a popular decision among the latter group. Especially since some of them definitely could have filed such a return without knowingly ever checking that box. At first, I thought that the revenuers were going to treat e-file and paper TurboTax users equally, but I see now that I was mistaken.

We've been through this before in several installments, but let's see if we can get the pertinent details out in one place to make the situation clear. If you use TurboTax to print out a paper return and manually sign it, there are three different screens on which you can check the box -- the interview, the information worksheet, or the on-screen return. And on one of them, the on-screen return, the box is not labeled in any way. A user could easily check that box inadvertently. Ever had your laptop register a click when you were just trying to move the cursor with a touchpad? I know I have, many times. If you did that in TurboTax, and it checked that box, nothing on any of the three screens would alert you to what you just did. There would be an "X" floating alone in space on the on-screen return -- even the word "kicker" does not appear -- and nothing would be checked on either the interview or the information worksheet.

Now granted, when you printed out the paper return and signed it, there would have been a box that said "Donate Kicker," and it would be checked. But should a taxpayer have to read the printed return form all over to confirm that it matches exactly what he or she already saw in the on-screen return? Apparently, the DOR is saying that he or she must. To me, that sounds unfair.

"If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not." Is that really true? If you checked an unlabeled box with a stray click and didn't notice the error, did you really "make" an "election"? An election is a conscious choice, not one made by mistake.

"If the return you submitted shows the kicker box checked, you did make the election, whether you intended to or not." Isn't that every bit as true of an electronic filer as it is of a paper filer who used software? It's hard for me to see how a taxpayer who filed electronically has a better claim to correcting a mistake than a paper filer who used TurboTax.

"If the taxpayer checks the 'donate' box and signs it, that confirms that the taxpayer chose to donate their kicker." If they inadvertently clicked on an unlabeled box, did the taxpayers "check" the "donate" box? Or did they just check "a" box?

If the DOR is indeed making a distinction between e-filers and paper filers, and if it indeed holds up in court (where it will surely head), I'm sure there will be some taxpayers who will be looking to the deep pockets of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, for a remedy. I can't say that I'd blame them. That on-screen form should have matched exactly what was going to be printed out. Either that, or clicking on that box should have opened a big electronic dialog box seeking the user's confirmation.

On a broader scale, any such distinction would make for some fairly shaky precedent. Is an electronic signature on a tax return somehow less valid and binding than a manual signature? Stay tuned.

Musical interlude

Given the weather forecast for Portland, and the paucity of bloggable news items coming from governments at all levels, here are the words to a little ditty by Portland jazz great Dave Frishberg that combines those two themes:

We must have lunch real soon. Your luggage is checked through.
We've got inflation licked. I'll get right back to you.
It's just a standard form. Tomorrow without fail.
Pleased to meet you. Thanks a lot. Your check is in the mail.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Your toes and knees aren't all you'll freeze
When you're in it up to your thighs.
It looks like snow, but you never know
When you're marooned in a blizzard of lies.

You may have won a prize. Won't wrinkle, shrink or peel.
Your secret's safe with me. This is a real good deal.
It's finger lickin' good. Strictly by the book.
What's fair is fair. I'll be right there. I am not a crook.

Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Better watch your step when your old dog Shep
Can't even look you in the eyes.
You're cold and lost and you're double-crossed
When you're marooned in a blizzard of lies.

We'll send someone right out. Now this won't hurt a bit.
He's in a meeting now. The coat's a perfect fit.
It's strictly fresh today. Service with a smile.
I'll love you darling 'till I die. We'll keep your name on file.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you're in for a big surprise.
When you're marooned, marooned, marooned
Marooned, marooned, marooned
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
A blizzard of lies.

Buck-a-Hit Day final tally

Just for the record, yesterday the last of the checks went out to the charity beneficiaries of our Buck-a-Hit Day fundraiser on December 18. Including matching contributions from three of our readers, the final totals were as follows:

Oregon Food Bank$2,565.00
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter691.00
Sisters of the Road653.00
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Oregon Chapter500.00
Human Solutions442.50

Thanks again. And don't forget to head over here today and say something nice in the same spirit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dogs down the home stretch

The streak continues! No, not that other one... I'm talking about two weeks in a row in which I have picked winners in the pro football underdog pool. I knew the Redskins could take the Vikes, and I picked up 6½ points for getting that one right. With that victory, I jumped a few spots in the rankings. There's no way I'll win the money for the best year, but the pride is back.

Now it's on to the last weekend of the regular season, where most of the games don't mean much, and so just about anything can happen. Most of the best teams have little to gain if they win, and a lot to lose if somebody important gets hurt or worn out.

The Giants-Patriots game is the headliner, of course, since the Patriots are going for the perfect season record. Do you think it matters enough to the Giants, who are guaranteed a playoff spot, to want to spoil that?

As best I can tell, there are four other games to watch. Tennessee will make the playoffs if it beats Indy (playoff team), and won't if it doesn't. Cleveland will go if Tennessee loses, but it doesn't matter whether Cleveland beats the Niners (season long since over) or not.

Washington, Minnesota, and New Orleans all have to win to make it. If Washington wins over Dallas (playoff team), they're in and the other two aren't. If Washington loses and Minnesota beats Denver (going nowhere), Minnesota is in. If Washington and Minnesota lose and New Orleans wins in Chicago (done for the year), New Orleans is in.

The pool will go on in the playoffs, but the spreads will be smaller and there won't be many games to pick from. So here's the last real dance. Do you see an underdog (in caps) who can win its game outright? For convenience, I've placed an asterisk on the four teams with something potentially on the line, and a pound sign next to playoff teams who may want to rest up for the money games ahead:

14 NEW YORK GIANTS# vs New England# (Saturday)
10.5 SAN FRANCISCO at Cleveland
9 DALLAS# vs. Washington*
8 OAKLAND vs. San Diego#
7.5 BUFFALO at Philadelphia
6.5 TENNESSEE* at Indianapolis#
6 JACKSONVILLE# at Houston
6 ST. LOUIS at Arizona
6 KANSAS CITY at New York Jets
3.5 DETROIT at Green Bay#
3.5 BALTIMORE vs. Pittsburgh#
3 DENVER vs. Minnesota*
2.5 TAMPA BAY# vs. Carolina
2.5 MIAMI vs. Cincinnati
2.5 SEATTLE# at Atlanta
2 CHICAGO vs. New Orleans*

That wedge in there with Dallas, Oakland, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Jacksonville in it is pretty intriguing to me. And remember, I'm on a streak! Readers?

I come to praise the ump, not to bury him

Here's an interesting challenge for you sports fans out there. This blogging referee will give $1 to the Special Olympics for every person who says a nice thing about one or more referees in the comments section of his blog tomorrow. He's setting a limit of $250, but are there even 250 people on the planet who have something nice to say about sports officiating? I'm thinking maybe a haiku about Nestor Chylak.

Besides, you would think that a referee would be donating money to assist blind people like himself, heh.

Could be a long day. Then he's going to pick the best comment and give some more dough to that person's favorite charity. I hope he's got instant replay.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It's o.k. to be jealous

I got this for Christmas, and you didn't:

Merry Christmas


Monday, December 24, 2007

Dad was a heavy sleeper

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means, "God with us." And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tree Day

In the late '50s and early '60s, we always had a real Christmas tree at our house. And we always got it at the same place: from a guy named Whitey who sold them out of his driveway just up the street from us.

Whitey's real name was Dobrzelecki (pronounced something like Dub-zha-LECK-ie). His day job, as I recall, was somehow involved in selling produce and maybe flowers at a farmer's market in a nearby neighborhood. In those days the dads around our way identified themselves by which branch of the service they had served in during World War II. Our dad, who had been a mailman on Guam in the Navy, always made a little face when he mentioned that Whitey had been in the Merchant Marines.

Anyway, early each December, Whitey would bring a truckload of Christmas trees to his house and sell them there. As soon as the trees appeared in his yard early in December, the place would be swarming with neighbors purchasing theirs. Whitey, his wife, or his oldest son Danny would show them all to you, and then you'd check out the price tags wired around the trunks at the bottom. It was cash on the barrelhead, and definitely first come first served. Like everything else at Christmastime, there was a lot of competition for the choicest stuff. And so everybody got there early and bought their tree the first weekend, if not the first day, Whitey had them on display.

The thing was, few people wanted to put their tree up that early. The things would dry out quickly -- who knows how long ago they had been cut by the time they reached the east side of Newark -- and the prevailing wisdom was that if you set yours up in your house and decorated it too early, you'd have a mostly bare tree and rug full of pine needles even before Santa got there. Besides, Christmas trees were a real fire hazard back then, even more so than they are now. We were past the stage where people lit candles on them, but the electric lights were big and hot, and the wiring wasn't always the best. I remember one kind of light that was a series of narrow chambers of colored glass with a clear liquid in them, which lit up, and then bubbled after they had warmed up a bit. A pretty sight, but I can't believe they'd be UL approved today.

For these and other reasons, our parents were not too eager to get going early on this. But hey, no problem, Whitey would hold the tree for you until you were ready to pick it up. He'd tie it up and lay it on a stack along the driveway there, with your name written on the tag on the other side from where the price was.

Once you had your tree on the pile, you could go back to parties and shopping and whatever else you wanted to do most of the month of December. Our visit to Santa was always on December 8, because at our Catholic grammar school, that was a holiday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. You'd go to church in the morning, and by lunchtime you'd be on Santa's lap in Bamberger's. You could put the tree out of your mind. You wouldn't have to go back for it until you were ready for it.

Our folks never waited until Christmas Eve to brings ours home, but there were quite a few December 20-somethings. The lights and ornaments would come out of the basement, and up onto the tree they'd go. We'd have our three Christmas albums cranked up: Mitch Miller, Andy Williams, and that other one.

We used tinsel liberally. In those days, it was made of tin or aluminum foil, cut into long, thin strips. Supposed to represent icicles, I guess. Some people swore that they threw the stuff on the tree, but that always looked like heck. At our house, you placed the tinsel on the branches ever so carefully, just a few strands at a time, until they were just so.

It was all fairly idyllic, except for one year. We got our tree home from Whitey's, set it up in the stand, got a little water on the base, and after a few minutes noticed an odor.

A familiar odor.

A badly familiar odor.

One of the cats at Whitey's had decided, sometime in the month of December, that he needed to mark his turf.

I'm sure we all waited a while to see if it would subside. Maybe sprayed a little room deodorizer around. But come on, people, this was some potent stuff, produced by a danged Down Neck Newark alley cat. Few smells on the planet are meaner. After some intense consultation with the other grownups in our crowded four-plex, our folks decided that the tree had to go, and they'd have to see what kind of deal could be worked out with Whitey the next day. I can't imagine that swear words were not said.

As I recall, there ensued some debate around the house as to whether Whitey was at fault for our problem. Did the sale come with an implied promise that the tree would be cat-pee-free? Did we assume that risk, as we knew how the trees would be stored? Would it matter if it was a cat that wasn't even Whitey's? Did Whitey even have a cat? (I think he had a German shepherd.) Was this an unavoidable act of God? Nowadays there might be a lawsuit over such matters, but back then people lived in uneasy peace with life's little insults all the time.

Now normally, we kids would always be invited along to Whitey's to pick out, and pick up, our tree, but we stayed home for that particular return visit. Whitey was understanding and apologetic, but not surprisingly, all he had left at that point was a scraggly, small old thing that nobody else had wanted. Not only had we lost a day of tree-trimming opportunity, but now we also had the lamest tree on the block.

Of course, we made do.

Early in the '60s, mass-marketed artificial trees showed up. Lights got smaller and cooler. I remember one year when our uncle upstairs even invested in one of those all-white tin trees that you set a lighted color wheel in front of so that it changed colors. It was the latest thing, in those days. But it was a long time before we would say goodbye to Whitey's lot. We always did well down there.

Except for that one year.

UPDATE, 1/29/08, 4:25 p.m.: An update here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Speaking of tax reform

Here's a potential gold mine for Portland and Oregon.

Shows you what they know

The reference in this story in the Times to Portland, Ore. is wrong. It didn't happen here.

Ignore that small guy with the hook

Over on The Huffington Post, someone seems to have gotten a little ahead of himself, wouldn't you say?

Jeff Merkley is challenging Gordon Smith for the U.S. Senate in Oregon. Jeff is currently the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, which just completed the most progressive and productive legislative session in the last 30 years in Oregon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Welcome to our Cyber-office Christmas Party

What are you drinking?

Bernie may be retiring

"I need to spend more time with my babes."

Must have been the French brandy-soaked cherries

I dreamed I was hanging out on a street corner in a bad part of Jersey City chatting at length with Mike Huckabee.

Open invitation

It's a big day for holiday parties. We're having one ourselves here later today. Try not to pass out before 2:30, and come on back. BYOB!

Two days off a year

If you're in Portland, and you're in charge of what used to be called your garbage, then you know that the heaviest time of year is right around the corner. So don't blow this:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

About time

Finally, a concession from the White House on greenhouse gases.

In sports news

A bizarre case out of Tar Heel country.

Memo to Democratic voters in states whose primaries matter

Here's Reason No. 1 why I really, really don't want to have to vote for Hillary Clinton: She and her husband are crooks.

Greed, stupidity, or what?

Tonight a pro football game was played in prime time, and it wasn't on cable TV unless you paid extra for it. Which genius executive type made that call?

Kicker kave-in

This just in from the Oregon Department of Revenue:

If you didn’t check the box on your tax return to donate your kicker and you received a notice from us saying your kicker was donated to the State School Fund, you may ask for your kicker back by doing all of the following:

1. Make a copy of the front page only of your 2006 Oregon tax return (Form 40S, 40, 40P, or 40N) that shows that you did not check the "donate kicker" box; write "kicker" plainly across the top of the copy of the return.
2. On the back of the tax return copy, write: "I certify that I did not check the box to donate my tax year 2006 kicker to the State School Fund."
3. Sign and legibly print your name, and include the date. If you filed jointly, both spouses must sign and date.
4. Mail the copy of your tax return with the certification statement on the back, along with the letter you receive from the department, to:

Oregon Department of Revenue
PO Box 14600
Salem OR 97309-5049

Please do not e-mail or fax us this information.

Your envelope must be postmarked by February 1, 2008.

We will send your kicker to you within 3-4 weeks from the date we receive your information. If you owe a debt that the state of Oregon collects, your kicker could be smaller than expected.

UPDATE, 12/27, 2:29 p.m.: Not so fast! The hassles are not entirely over. More here.

No, they can't take that away from me

Looks like Sheriff Porno Pants will get to keep the jails after all.

I'm going to my next neighborhood association meeting

I think we need one of these.

Parole violator sentenced to home detention

... in your home!

Come as you are

We're having a Cyber-office Christmas Party here tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Don't miss it!

As in so many other areas, the internet provides a superior alternative to real life. At our cyber-party, it won't matter:

- What, if anything, you're wearing.

- How drunk your date is.

- Who your date is.

- Whether you can remember anyone's name.

- Whether you can remember your own name.

Should be fun. Stay in your cubicle and party at the same time!

For the record

None of the members of our local judiciary is an "evil, unfair witch" who is "seemingly mentally ill."

EPA to states: Back off on CO2

Looks like those California greenhouse gas emission standards aren't going into effect without a court battle.

TurboTax and the Oregon kicker, Day 4

The exchanges between the makers of TurboTax tax return preparation software and Oregon taxpayers who say that that program improperly donated their state income tax "kicker" refund to the State School Fund have reached an apparent impasse. We blogged about the brouhaha here and here, and today we have just a little more to add.

TurboTax says it can't see how the software could have checked the "Donate Kicker" box on the tax return unless the taxpayer checked that box in one of three places: in the "Interview" conducted by the program, on the "Information Worksheet" that the taxpayer can use instead of the "Interview," or on the tax return form as it appears on the screen.

But several readers of this blog disagree. One wrote:

This return was prepared using TurboTax Deluxe, the store bought version. After completing taxes, I created a PDF from the software and printed paper forms from the PDF. Filed paper copies by US mail and did not receive kicker check. I did not notice that "Donate Kicker" box had an X in it before mailing forms. I had NOT put an X in that box when I was working in the software, so I assumed my kicker was not being donated.
The fact that this taxpayer filed on paper and now complains about the problem is interesting. The official Oregon Department of Revenue statement about the situation makes it sound as though the issue is limited to those who filed electronically, as opposed to using software but filing a hard copy:
If you e-filed your 2006 tax return and believe your kicker refund was donated to the State School Fund in error because you didn’t check the box to donate your refund, please know that this issue is our highest priority.
Has the DOR somehow determined that hard copy filers could not possibly have a valid complaint?

The DOR notice also asks taxpayers to report "whether you used the online or store-bought version." With TurboTax, as I recall, even if you buy the software on a CD, only the federal return is included -- the software relating to state taxes must be downloaded from a TurboTax website over the internet. One state typically comes free with the federal product, but it's not actually in the box.

In any event, today's bottom line is that this incident has boiled down to a he said-it said over what particular taxpayers actually did while running TurboTax. One reader writes:

Jack did not show that people who did not check the box on the information worksheet had the box checked on the paper PDF with the barcode. But I can show that is exactly what occurred to the return my wife prepared using Turbo Tax. And no, we haven't changed anything. And yes, we e-filed. And yes, it was early -- which gets back to my prior point that there was an update at some point that corrected the glitch.

If we donated it voluntarily (which we did not) or through our own error (which we did not), I can accept that. That is not the case, however, and there will be some kind of resolution one way or the other whether it comes from the state or from Turbo Tax/Intuit.

Not a very touchy-feely statement.

Just to add some more fuel to this fire, an alert reader who didn't have a problem volunteered to reinstall TurboTax 2006 fresh on his Mac and see what the default setting on the "Donate kicker" box was. He reports:

Continue reading "TurboTax and the Oregon kicker, Day 4" »


Here's a cool story.

Titanic deck chairs rearranged

Our Congress waited until yesterday -- December 19! -- to make retroactive changes to the federal income tax law, effective as of last January 1. Let's see, the IRS has already printed up all the 2007 forms under the old law... guess it's time to throw those out and re-do them, two working days before Christmas. And taxpayers now have a sum total of five business days to re-do their year-end tax planning.

How considerate of the toupees and pants suits on Capitol Hill -- to interrupt their busy schedule of dishing out tens of billions to Cheney so he can make the world hate us even more (another $70 billion yesterday). Isn't the Democratic Congress wonderful? Once they got in, everything changed for the better.

Anyway, all they did on the tax front was jack up slightly the exemptions from the hideous alternative minimum tax, which was originally passed 38 years ago to "soak the rich" but now soaks people who are middle-class by anybody's definition. Don't get excited -- few people who had to pay the AMT last year will be off the hook this year, but at least there shouldn't be too many people having that sickening experience for the first time this year. (Unless they got a big raise, of course.)

Oh, and the Republicans clearly won the political battle over this. The tax "patch" was passed without spending cuts and without any revenue-raising measure to make up what was lost in the budget. Ah, well. Just call the Chinese and borrow another $50 billion. As Billy Joel once said, "Sometimes a fantasy is all you need."

Slam dunk

Teacherrefpoet's comment on Buck-a-Hit Day is the runaway winner of our comment contest, and so he gets to direct where we send some of the money raised that day. Lucky him -- the original deal was that he'd get to direct where $250 of the contributions went, but now a generous reader has agreed to match that amount in a gift to the same charity. And so TRP is actually sending $500 in the direction of his favorite nonprofit.

Given the content of his comment, his favored beneficiary is fairly obvious, but we'll ask him to e-mail us off-blog with the name and address of that outfit. We'll post it in an update below, and we can then send it to our anonymous matching donor as well. Congratulations to him, and thanks again to everyone who visited, donated, commented, and voted, both on Tuesday and yesterday.

Every 'dog has his weekend

As noted here earlier, we finally picked a winner in the pro football underdog pool last weekend. We went with our gut instinct -- Carolina over Seattle -- and we were right. We even got to catch the end of the game on the tube and whoop it up a little, which is what the pool was supposed to be about.

We're waaaaaaay out of the money, but happily we've stopped our descent into the cellar of the standings. And who knows? Maybe we can sneak up a few more notches this weekend. See any underdogs on this list (in caps) who can win their game outright? The number to the left of each game is how many points I'll score if I pick that 'dog and it wins:

22 MIAMI at New England
13 OAKLAND at Jacksonville
10.5 CAROLINA vs. Dallas (Saturday)
10 ATLANTA at Arizona
9 CHICAGO vs. Green Bay
8.5 NEW YORK JETS at Tennessee
8.5 DENVER at San Diego
7.5 ST. LOUIS vs. Pittsburgh (Thursday)
7 HOUSTON at Indianapolis
7 SAN FRANCISCO vs. Tampa Bay
6.5 WASHINGTON at Minnesota
5 KANSAS CITY vs. Detroit
3 CINCINNATI vs. Cleveland
3 BUFFALO vs. New York Giants
3 PHILADELPHIA at New Orleans

Anybody else think the 'Skins look good for Sunday night? Can KC win at home against Motown, with both teams playing for next year? How about the Rams getting it done at home against a strong but fading Pittsburgh? If that last one looks good to you, better speak up quick: Kickoff is at 5 this afternoon.

I'm thinking even Houston has a shot. Indy's a lock in the playoffs already, and the Colts might phone this one in. Anyway, readers, as usual I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Both teams played hard

There's a lot we could write about tonight's Blazer game, but to do so at this time would spoil it for this guy. And so we're self-censoring for his benefit.

Smart growth may be hazardous to your health

Given today's weather, I wouldn't necessarily have fire danger on my mind, but an alert reader sends along a link to this story about the City of Portland apparently violating state building codes and allowing untreated wood frames in mid-rise buildings where steel is required.

Anything for the developers -- indeed, that should be the city motto.

Buck-a-Hit bonuses!

Ah, the spirit of the season is upon us. Today not one but two readers have added substantially to the funds we collected here for charity yesterday on Buck-a-Hit Day. One who got busy and missed the chance to donate threw another $200 to the Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter. And another has agreed the match the $250 that we are donating according to the wishes of the winner of our ongoing comment contest.

That brings our total for the day to $4,851.05. You guys are amazing.

Cyber-office Christmas Party this Friday afternoon

We were thinking the other day that people who work from home don't get the joys and tribulations of an office Christmas party every year. And why should they be deprived? And so on Friday, we'll be holding our first-ever cyber-office Christmas party on this blog. The function will start at around 2:30 p.m. and go to whenever. It's BYOB, so get your favorite holiday libation ready and join us on line. We'll have YouTube videos to keep us entertained, and we'll probably play a few games. After everyone's had a few, we'll all join virtual hands and tell stories of Christmases past, present, and future. We'll ask readers to share with us their own amusements. At the end of the festivities, no one will try to follow you home, because you will already be there. And hey -- no need for scented gum or Altoids! Hope you can make it.

Reader poll: Who left the best comment?

Yesterday's Buck-a-Hit Day was a nice success, and as a group we're going to give more than $4,400 to Oregon charities as a result. But there's one bit of unfinished business: We have yet to designate where $250 of the charity loot will be going. That decision will be made by whoever wins our contest as author of the best comment posted here yesterday. And the judges in that contest are you.

We never said what "best" was supposed to mean, and so you can vote based on any criteria, or none at all. Here are the contestants, in chronological order:

Continue reading "Reader poll: Who left the best comment?" »

Gordon Smith steps in some doo

He'll be hearing about this one for a while.

Buck-a-Hit Day tally: $4,401.50

Our fifth annual Buck-a-Hit Day was successful. We were shooting for $4,000, and we reached $4,401.50 before the day ended. Many thanks to our generous readers, and to the special friends of this blog, Greg M. and Mr. Fearless, who along with us are matching the gifts of others. After some diligent ciphering, the final breakdown of gifts from all sources is as follows:

Oregon Food Bank$2,565.00
Sisters of the Road Cafe653.00
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter491.00
Human Solutions442.50
Charity to be named by winner of comment contest250.00

Next we've got that comment contest poll to get going on. Meanwhile, if you missed the boat on our day of giving, nothing's stopping you from heading over to the charities' own sites and making a gift:

Sisters of the Road Cafe
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter
Human Solutions
Oregon Food Bank

Thanks to everyone who visited, donated, or commented here yesterday. We couldn't do this nearly as well without you.

UPDATE, 12/19, 3:50 p.m.: Bonuses! Here.

More on TurboTax and the Oregon kicker refund

Reports that tax preparation software such as TurboTax mistakenly donated taxpayers' substantial Oregon "kicker" refund checks to the State School Fund have really piqued our interest. We posted about the story yesterday, and a TurboTax vice president even responded to comments on this blog last night. But obviously, despite his protestations, there is something wrong. It seems unlikely that hundreds of Oregonians who used that program all screwed this up.

My family used TurboTax to file our tax returns last year, and our kicker check came through fine. But in the interests of investigative blogging, we thought we'd retrace our steps and try to figure out where the program may have gone wrong for other folks. We still don't have much of a clue, but backtracking helped us see where the problems might lie.

First, since different taxpayers use TurboTax in vastly different ways, let's recap our situation. We don't file electronically, for a number of reasons. For one thing, we don't like making life easier for the government, which e-filing definitely does. And we'd never post our financial data on someone else's server (like that of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax). To us, that's just inviting trouble. Therefore, we download TurboTax onto our home PC, prepare our returns on our own machine, print them out, sign them manually, and mail them in to the revenuers via U.S. Mail. We pay by check. Since our tax situation is of average to above-average complexity, we file the long form, Oregon Form 40. We are Oregon residents all year, and so we don't use either the nonresident or part-year resident form.

We never get a refund (except belatedly, via the kicker), and so we never file our state return before the week of April 15. And when TurboTax hounds us all through tax filing season to let it update various files on our computer via the internet (which can be time-consuming), we always let it do so. Thus, by the time we filed our 2006 return, our version of the TurboTax Oregon software was as up-to-date as we could get it before the filing deadline.

Since I'm a tax lawyer, I don't bother being "interviewed" by TurboTax. I believe I'm familiar enough with the tax law and with the program (I've used it for more than a decade) that I can bypass the interview and go straight to filling out the forms myself. You don't have to enter every single line on the tax return form -- TurboTax remembers you from last year, entering in all your basic information from past returns. And if the same number belongs in different places on different forms, then once you fill it in once in the right spot, TurboTax places it everywhere else it needs to go. Beautiful. Most of the state return is driven by data from the federal return, and so there's not a whole lot to do once you get down to the state return.

But there are a few things to watch out for.

One of the basic forms in the Oregon software is something called the "Information Worksheet," and that's where a line appeared last spring for those who wanted to donate any kicker to the School Fund. It's the first line in "Part VI - Other Information":

If TurboTax was set up correctly, by checking that box, one would have expected that the box on line 7e of the Oregon long-form tax return would be checked. Here's the official version of that line on a standard Oregon income tax return form:

As you can see from the first image above, we didn't check the box on TurboTax, and so that box should remain unchecked on the state tax return that TurboTax spits out. But on the form it shows on the screen when you tell it open Form 40, not only was the box not checked -- the box didn't appear at all:

Just for kicks, last night we went back into our fully functional version of TurboTax and checked the box on the information sheet, just to see what would happen on the form TurboTax produced. And so we checked the box and saved the file. When we opened the return form, at that point there should have been a notation that we were donating our kicker check. But in fact, line 7e still didn't appear:

And so it would seem that even if we had wanted to donate our kicker check (which we didn't), we may not have been able to do it on TurboTax.

Ah, but here's where the rub comes in: When you have the program actually print out your return, what you get on the resulting paper form is not what you see in the screen image. When we sent our version of the return with the "Donate" box checked, here's what actually came out of the printer:

This is exactly the situation that an outraged reader complained about here yesterday: What you saw on the screen wasn't what printed out. Bad move, TurboTax!

But other taxpayers who didn't get their kickers have been heard to complain that they never checked a "Donate" box anywhere -- including on the "Information Worksheet." In that case, the printed version should have left the box unchecked. Our backtracking can't answer why that didn't happen, but it does suggest that TurboTax wasn't handling line 7e of Form 40 as competently as it could have. Form 40S, the resident short form, also was missing line 7e on the version of the form that displayed on the screen.

Continue reading "More on TurboTax and the Oregon kicker refund" »

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Combining two major food groups

When it comes to mixology, you can't go wrong following the advice of Cousin Jim. The guy hangs at a veterans' post in New Jersey -- enough said.

One of his recent discoveries is chocolate vodka. Normally I'd roll my eyes at such a concept, but if James is a believer, I'm there. Our neighborhood liquor store didn't have it, but we found another store across town that did, and last week, amid major holiday chaos, we brought a bottle home. Tonight we cracked it open and gave it a try.

We followed a recipe on a little card that came with the stuff -- 3 parts chocolate vodka, 1 part raspberry licquer. (Finally some use for the Chambord that's been sitting in the back of the hootch cabinet for ages.) Mighty tasty -- like a naughty chocolate raspberry truffle -- although next time we'd cut the licquer in half. Shaken by itself over ice, the chocolate vodka is wonderful; can't wait to mix it with Stoli Vanil, or use it in place of the vanilla stuff in a "butterfly kiss" (with Frangelico).

But not tonight. Gotta save room for Christmas.

City cancels $167 keyboard tray deal

Looks like Portland doesn't need those ergonomically safe devices after all. Either that or they decided they could buy them without a public bid.

You think you've got it bad

It's been a rough year so far for Santa, too.

"TurboTax ate my kicker check"

Here in Oregon, lots of folks are discovering that they didn't receive their "kicker" refund checks from the state because their tax return preparation software, TurboTax, donated them back to the state without their realizing it. One reader wrote us this morning, copying us on an e-mail message sent to the Department of Revenue:

When I did not receive a kicker check in the mail, but instead a letter from the state thanking me for my donation to the State School Fund, I opened up my 2006 return in the TurboTax software, clicked on "State", and then on "view forms". The electronic form within TurboTax does NOT have an X in the box for "donate any kicker". However, I looked at the paper form that I printed and mailed to the state, and it did indeed have an X in that box, as did the PDF file TurboTax generates that I used to print the paper forms. I had not noticed this before I mailed the forms to the state, because I assumed TurboTax filled them in consistent with my answers and I did not review the printed forms in much detail. It is clear in the software, however, that I had specified I did NOT want to donate my kicker. It is clear that this was a problem with the TurboTax software. The kicker calculater shows my wife and I should be receiving $533. What process do I need to go through to claim that amount?
And he's not alone. Can you say "class action"?

I wonder if the state will let them all file amended returns, withdrawing their elections to donate.

UPDATE, 12/19, 12:55 a.m.: We have more on this story -- maybe more than you want to read, even -- here.

Outsmarting technology

What it takes these days just to wash your hands.

Helping Portland dig its deep hole

The law firm that does the municipal bond work for the City of Portland and many other governmental entities around Oregon and elsewhere is merging with another firm and being renamed again.

The new M&F Santaland

We ventured forth yesterday for some fearless Christmas errand-running. We always head out in high spirits, and usually return pretty sour. This time, except for a speed bump out at the airport post office branch, which didn't live up to its usual high standards, we did quite well.

We even stopped downtown, and enjoyed some exquisite parking karma to offset what we experienced down there last week. After subjecting ourselves to our annual three minutes of confused, deafening, mildly pornographic purgatory in Abercrombie & Fitch -- one of our nieces is a serious A&F shopper, and we dash in and out of there as fast as it takes to buy a gift card -- we ran over to take a look at the new downtown Macy's, in the historic Meier & Frank building.

First impression: Gack! Way too bright! They didn't spare the wattage. And hey, this isn't the old Post-World War II look and feel we remember, either. What happened to men's underwear? Replaced by a Clinique counter. Hmmmmm...

Up the escalators we went, and we'd be darned, right there as you stepped off onto the third floor was the gift we needed for that someone back east. Right size and everything. We called the Mrs. on the cell and confirmed that based on what limited information we could supply on the phone, this should work. Good price, too. And then we discovered that they were knocking another 20 percent off at the register. Suddenly, we're warming to this.

We blogged here two years ago about the demise of the Santa Monorail at the old M&F, and we thought we'd check down in the basement, where Claus now hangs, to confirm that Christmas As We Knew It is now dead. But we must confess, it was a pretty nice Santa scene, despite the absence of the monorail. We saw some reference to a "Monorail Memorial" on a store map, but that sounded much too bleak, and so we purposely didn't check it out.

Santa is doing his thing down there, all right. You have to walk through the furniture department to see him, but he's got a nice spot. Tons of fine ornaments for sale, too, and there was a nice lady of a certain age polishing them up and asking us what we needed. We were standing near several racks of ornaments with names emblazoned on them. In our house, you would need an "Ella" and a "Greta." They're wising up to the former, but the latter? Not common enough in these parts. Anyway, the fact that there was an actual adult there to talk about it with impressed us.

The only serious drawback we came away with was the display of fake reindeer. They had the Original Eight, bobbing their heads above their respective names, but where the heck was Rudolph? Nowhere to be found. Must be an intellectual property thing, I figured. Macy's doesn't have to pay these people, but maybe they'll be danged if they're going to be held up by these people.

Anyway, if you're like us, having grown up marveling at the wonders of department stores like Bamberger's, Kresge's, and S. Klein on the Square, you'll feel a little pang at the loss of the atmosphere of the flagship Meier & Frank store. But hey, you've got a shopping list, and a week to go before Christmas. If you asked your grandmother, what would she say? We know what our granny, who took us to the stores more than a few times on the number 1 and 34 buses, would tell us: "Sonny, times change. It's a nice store. Stop worrying about how it used to be and get your shopping done."

Best wishes to Bob Miller

I see here that Portland morning radio host Bob Miller is in the hospital with some nasty injuries he sustained in a crash on his motor scooter. Like a true nature's child, Bob is scheduled to go home on Thursday. Heal quickly, buddy, and next time go by aerial tram [rim shot].

Another heinous juvenile delinquent

First it was a suspension for wearing Tigger socks to school. Now it's jail for using a knife to eat your school lunch.

Welcome to Buck-a-Hit Day

Thanks for coming to this blog on our fifth annual Buck-a-Hit Day. Just by visiting here today, readers have caused us to give $1 to charity for each of them. We're making our $1,000 base contribution for the first 1,000 visits, and since we reached that mark 76 minutes before noon (record early time), we're making it $1,076. Great! You can track our total hit count for the day so far by going here; the controlling statistic is the fifth line down -- "Today."

Now that you've shaken a dollar out of us, please don't leave just yet. Don't miss your chance to subvert some of the action to your own favorite charity. The best comment left attached to this post will get to designate where $250 of our kitty goes. Make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, whatever -- the criteria for "best" are wide open. We'll pull out six or so contenders from the comments tonight, and hold a reader poll tomorrow to see which commenter gets to make the call. (Last year, it was Swankette, who steered our $250 to Sisters of the Road, which has become one of our main beneficiaries this year.)

Last but not least, here is your chance to help our charities. Please click on one or more of the four buttons below and give generously to the organization pictured. You'll go to a secure PayPal site, which will take your credit card info if you don't have a PayPal account. (Enter your contribution as the "Unit price"; leave the quantity, or "Qty," as "1." We pay all PayPal fees; every dollar you give goes to charity.)

No donation is too small! Total reader contributions of up to $1,500 will be matched, dollar for dollar, by some special friends of this blog, Greg M. and Mr. Fearless, and us:

For more information about these excellent charities, you can check out their websites here:

Sisters of the Road Cafe
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter
Human Solutions
Oregon Food Bank

If you'd like a receipt (contributions are tax-deductible for you deduction-itemizers out there), just leave a note with your donation, or email me here. Be sure to include in the note your name and address, and the amount you've contributed.

We have gotten a great response from readers so far, but more donations are needed. The Oregon Food Bank is proving to be everyone's favorite here today, but the other three charities are also quite worthy of your support (and perhaps more Portland-centric and less visible). Also, we've had a handful of big gifts so far, but not so many smaller ones. In recent years, we've had a lot more action in the $5 and $10 range, and that's made this event special. Please search around your seat cushions -- no gift is too small.

Regardless of whether you donate or comment, thank you for coming by today. If you are a newcomer to this blog, we hope that you will look around the site a bit (the archives are on the left sidebar, if you're interested), and come back again another day. And please don't hesitate to get out the word to others who may want to visit and give.

UPDATE, 4:38 p.m.: We have now met our match goal of $1,500 contributions from readers. Thank you! But please don't let that stop your from contributing. Sisters of the Road has its own 1-for-2 match in progress right now, and both Human Solutions and Children's Heart Foundation haven't done as well here today as we had hoped. So please keep on giving! And don't forget, our comment contest is still going on as well.

UPDATE, 8:02 p.m.: Donations and comments keep trickling in. Keep it coming, folks -- 'tis the season. And thanks to everyone who's participated so far today.

UPDATE, 10:57 p.m.: A beautiful day is winding down, and it's time to start doing some accounting and winnowing down the comments to the contest finalists. But I'd like nothing better than for you to interrupt me with a donation -- even a small one -- or a thought for the season, or both.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Eight in a row for the Blazers

This defies credulity, but let's go with the flow. The next victim is Toronto, who will be here on Wednesday. LaMarcus wasn't on the floor tonight, but they say he'll get some p.t. then.

I definitely screwed up when I prematurely pronounced the Blazers dead for another year. But at least I got this right.

The $167 keyboard tray saga continues

They've updated the bid documents again on the City of Portland's plan to acquire new adjustable keyboard trays for employees' work stations. Now instead of a contract for an "annual supply" of 600 trays, they're asking for a price agreement on a mere 250, plus installation.

Man, what is that smell?

UPDATE, 11/18, 12:36 p.m.: Looks like this monkey business has been cancelled.

Even Steven

The Blazers have now won seven straight games. They have 12 wins and 12 losses. Last night they beat up on a tired Denver squad that had just played the Spurs the night before. Tonight Portland is back home to play New Orleans (15-9, including 8-4 on the road), who had yesterday off after beating Phoenix on Saturday. So we'll see how much gas the Blazers have left in the tank.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who's been having foot problems, may see some action. He shouldn't be tired, but he'll be rusty, and probably playing a bit gingerly on that bad wheel. Should be an interesting game. I love the Blazers' streak, but I wouldn't put money on it continuing. If nothing else, stories like this are a jinx.

Sho 'nuff

It looks like Sam the Tram may have a serious challenger after all. (Via LND.)

The richest person in Turkey

... is a graduate of Oregon State University.

Tomorrow is Buck-a-Hit Day

Please return tomorrow for Buck-a-Hit Day, our fifth annual charity celebration. There will be a lot going on here that day, but for you, the reader, it's as simple as 1-2-3:

1. Show up, the earlier the better. You can shoot a dollar to charity just by showing up. We'll give $1 for each of the first 1,000 unique visits to this blog, and for every minute before noon that we reach the 1,000-visit mark, we'll give an additional dollar.

2. Give. Thanks to a couple of generous sponsors, we'll match up to $1,500 in reader contributions to our featured charities for the day. Just click on our donation buttons tomorrow, and give by PayPal or credit card.

3. Leave a good comment. The author of the best comment tomorrow will get to designate where $250 of our charity donation pot goes. Comments will be judged by readers in a poll on Wednesday. Make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, whatever -- and benefit your favorite nonprofit organization.

For the rest of our contributions, the charities this year are:

Sisters of the Road Cafe
Human Solutions
Oregon Food Bank
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter

Got it? Great. See you tomorrow.

Who needs parks and 9-1-1 when you can have condos?

The Portland City Auditor's annual report on "city government performance" is out, and surprise, surprise, everything's great and everybody's happy. We won't spend time arguing with that today, but an alert reader points out an interesting chart from the report (page 8), which shows how much each city bureau spent per resident in the fiscal year 2006-2007, and how that amount has changed over the last five years (I assume that the "adj." means that the five-year change figures are adjusted for inflation):

PDC [Portland Development Commission]$300+80%
Fire & Rescue$209+6%
B.E.S. [Bureau of Environmental Services] $178 +5%
Transportation $173 +5%
Parks & Recreation $98 -4%
Water $68+6%
B.D.S. [Bureau of Development Services]$67 +12%
BHCD [Bureau of Housing and Community Development]$38 -3%
BOEC [Bureau of Emergency Communications] $22 -8%
Planning $12 -25%
OSD [Office of Sustainable Development]$10 +11%
TOTAL $1,513 +13%

Just look who's been getting the gravy over the last five years! The Portland Development Commission, up a whopping 80 percent; the Bureau of Development Services, up 12 percent; the Office of Sustainable Development, up 11 percent. Development, Development, Development. Indeed, the PDC money eruption is so huge, every other city bureau's growth in spending is below average! Meanwhile, spending on parks is down, spending on low-income housing is down, spending on emergency communications is down. The only bright spot, I guess, is the big decrease in the "planning" spending, which has obviously all been sucked up into planning a cozy retirement for Homer Williams.

If you don't think the City of Portland is off on a radical experiment with potentially dire financial consequences, you really need to stare at these numbers some more. Everything's all bright and shiny on the streetcar line, but the municipal government's financials are the picture of Dorian Gray.

That organic milk you've been drinking...

... may not have been.

Legal Tip of the Week

When turning in your driver's license for driving bombed, avoid doing this.

The other guy

While Steve "Maverick" Novick and Jeff "Old Boy" Merkley knock themselves out vying for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from the Beaver State, that independent candidate whom we haven't heard much from lately promises to make a small splash later this morning. Or so says this flyer we recently received:

John Frohnmayer, candidate for U.S. Senate and former head of the National Endowment For The Arts, will hold a press conference on his approach to Oregon's and our nation's healthcare crises Monday December 17th in Salem in the State Capitol Pressroom at 10:00 AM. If you are a part of Oregon's press corps or our national press corps and assigned to cover politics or health care issues then you should be there. If you are a serious player with a serious interest in solving Oregon's moral and economic health care crisis then you should be there.

"Oregonians have identified healthcare reform as a major concern but the Oregon legislature has failed to consider appropriate relief, and without significant pressure from its citizens is unlikely to do so in the upcoming 2009 legislative session," said Frohnmayer.

John Frohnmayer will address the most basic issue relevant to the future of health care reform in Oregon and our county, namely, should the private health insurance industry continue to be the model for health care reform in Oregon and America? All health care solutions for our state and nation's moral and economic health care crises are developed from the answer to this fundamental question. Come and find out the answer.

Given the thinly disguised rhetoric here, one can only assume that Frohnmayer will be pushing for a nationalized health care system. Perhaps along the lines of this piece from Saturday? If so, there's some good news for Gordon Smith -- lefty votes that Frohnmayer may be drawing away from the Democrats next summer and fall. We'll watch the wire to see what Frohnmayer says.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sneak preview

Just in case your radio is broken and you won't be able to listen to the latest broadcast blather from the right, here's a story they'll all be grinching about. But hey, it's the Portland City Council. No sense complaining. It's a hopeless case.

Another vice principal shows the kids who's boss

I hope they learned their lesson.


I finally had another winning underdog in the pro football pool today. It's been months since I last had one. It was all thanks to this kid, who was wearing an Oregon State uniform last year.

Living for the city

We attended a lovely cocktail party last evening at a home directly under the OHSU aerial tram [rim shot]. We didn't actually see the thing go over, but we could see the cables from our hosts' bedroom window during a tour of the house. Yep, we're told, the passengers do wave back, but you have to be careful where you walk when you're undressed.

Probably the worst of it is looking east down Gibbs Street and seeing the giant tower -- quite the ugly contraption. But hey, without it, OHSU would have taken all the money it has lying around and moved to Hillsboro. Plus, think of all the fun we'll have when the thing gets a little older!

Forget terrorists

The biggest threat to Portland's open-air reservoirs may be the sun.

The real ticketb*stards

We've lamented here a couple of times how unfair the online event-ticket-buying game has become. Certainly the official ticket sales sites, especially Ticketmaster, bear a lot of the blame. But outfits like StubHub, who use computer robots and even people in India to read and respond to the captchas, are even bigger villains. The situation is explained here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In with the Christmas cards

The registered Democrat in our house received a glossy four-pager in the mail today:

I figured hey, even though he's got no real opposition, the guy is up for re-election, after all. He must have a bunch of campaign money and figures he should blow some of it acting like he has a campaign.

Guess again:

Our next First Lady speaks

Midnight enchiladas in the White House kitchen are comin' back.


Interesting piece in yesterday's Times about Joe Biden. I thought I knew all about the guy, but about a third of it was news to me.

Yes, there's no place to park for the holidays

On Thursday, I was giving a speech downtown at noon, and I had to get back down to transit-challenged deep Southwest Portland immediately thereafter. And so I reluctantly drove my car downtown. Where I encountered, count 'em, four full parking garages: the Standard Insurance Center house garage, both Smart Parks on Fourth, and a private lot across the way from the more northerly of the Smart Parks. I finally squeezed into one of the last spaces in the Odious Tower, came back three hours later, and got tagged upon my departure for $14.25. Yikes.

We encountered a better scene yesterday as the kids and we headed over to visit the Santa at Lloyd Center. That Santa is a truly wonderful guy, and we pretty much lucked out on the timing of our arrival. Our wait was under a half hour, and it was a pleasure. As for parking, rather than deal with the rigors of the packed Lloyd lot, we forked a buck and half over to a parking robot on the street, and for that we got two good hours.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Six straight for the Blazers

They beat Utah for the second time in a week. Again without LaMarcus, who says he'll be back next week, but Martell took an IV to cope with what the Pepto Bismol ads used to call "distress in the lower tract." The Rip City squad is now just a game under .500.

The Blazers have a couple of tough ones ahead. They have to fly to Denver for a game Sunday (never fun), then come back home to host New Orleans the next night. On Wednesday they are visited by Toronto, which is also playing well of late. But hey, anything can happen. If you told me they were going to beat Utah twice and Golden State in between, I would not have believed you.

Fascinating Puzzle of the Week

Check out this newspaper front page. See anything there of interest?

Solution here.

Have a great weekend

First shoe drops

This week at OHSU: Austerity.

As soon as the Legislature is back in session: Bailout.

Meanwhile, from the Portland City Council: Continued drainage.

And of course, it wouldn't be OHSU without another linchpin.

The best Christmas greeting I ever got on this blog

That honor has to go to this one (although it was belated).

Buck-a-Hit Day V is this coming Tuesday

Please come back to this blog next Tuesday for our fifth annual Buck-a-Hit Day. We'll give $1 to charity for every unique visit to this site that day, up to a limit of $1,000. This year, we're sweetening the pot: For every minute before noon that we hit 1,000 unique visits, we'll add another dollar. Last year, we got our 1,000th unique visit at 11:15 a.m. -- that would have meant that we'd give $1,045. If we make it by 10:00, we'll give $1,120. And so on. (All times Pacific.)

In addition, we ask that readers consider pitching in with donations of their own to our listed charities, by clicking on a button on this site that day. We have matching gifts of $1,500 lined up from Mr. Fearless ($750), Greg M. ($500), and myself ($250), and so if readers are generous, together we'll wind up giving more than $4,000 to local helping organizations.

Here are our beneficiaries this year:

Sisters of the Road Cafe
Human Solutions
Oregon Food Bank
Children's Heart Foundation, Oregon Chapter

We'll have our comment contest again this year. The person who leaves the best comment will get to designate where we send $250 of the pot. (Only legit nonprofit charitable organizations, of course.) This year, we'll cull out a half-dozen or so of the best comments and let readers choose the very best in a poll on Wednesday. The topic can be anything, but some suggestions are holidays, nostalgia, the spirit of giving, peace on earth...

O.k., enough of all the details. We hope to see you again on Tuesday, plastic in hand, good comments in mind, and the earlier in the day, the better.

It's not funny

Well, o.k., maybe just a little bit funny.

A dirty sport, a dirty shame

It's baseball's darkest hour -- so far.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Add another $13.62 to your water bill

As if it weren't already large enough to bowl you over, your quarterly City of Portland water and sewer bill is about to have another $4.54 a month tacked on for transportation maintenance. They say that it's to "repave old roads, add crosswalks and fund other maintenance, safety and environmental work on existing roads."

None of it's going for the streetcar -- as you know, that $1.6 million-a-year operating cost (about to rise spectacularly) is funded exclusively by the tooth fairy.

Real life gets in way of blogging

Just when the publicity hits, I've got too much going on even to see it with my own eyes until it's old news.

Master of the big pitch

That Charles Lewis guy who's running for Portland City Council is one sharp dude. When it comes to working the media, he pulls out all the stops. He and his crew are going to rehab a bad-looking building at the corner of NE Williams and Killingsworth into a campaign headquarters, and the kickoff is Saturday. In a press release just out this morning, the campaign points out:

This event will feature several very visually appealing sections for photographs and television cameras. To begin with, volunteers will remove boarded up windows with crowbars and sledgehammers. At the same time, an additional set of volunteers will be installing new windows on another portion of the building, giving your cameras several very visually appealing shots within a limited time frame. Charles Lewis will be available for interviews throughout the event to talk about this platform proposal.
The proposal they're talking about is to form a Portland Community Corps, which would do good deeds around the Rose City in conjunction with AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National Service. It's an interesting concept. And no doubt Lewis will sell it well. The only question is whether his obvious talents for salesmanship will hit the bullseye, or backfire on him. Unlike this clown, whose foppishness some day won't be so funny, Lewis has got serious competition.

Get down off the couch

We didn't have a winner in last weekend's pro football underdog pool, but none of the players did, so that wasn't so bad. We picked it to be the week in which the Patriots finally took a loss; that was laughable.

This week, there are quite a few obvious losers, but maybe just one of them will shatter the conventional wisdom because their favored opponent will be looking past them. Remember, the 'dog (in caps) has to win its game outright -- the number is just here to denote how many points we will win if we pick it and it wins. Is there such a team on this list?

24 NEW YORK JETS at New England
12.5 ATLANTA at Tampa Bay
11 ST. LOUIS vs Green Bay
10.5 OAKLAND vs. Indianapolis
10 DETROIT at San Diego
10 CHICAGO at Minnesota
8 SAN FRANCISCO vs. Cincinnati (Saturday)
7 CAROLINA vs. Seattle
5.5 BUFFALO at Cleveland
4.5 WASHINGTON at New York Giants
4 JACKSONVILLE at Pittsburgh
4 KANSAS CITY vs. Tennessee
3.5 ARIZONA at New Orleans
3.5 MIAMI vs. Baltimore
1 HOUSTON vs. Denver (Thursday)

Given how late in the game we are, there wouldn't be much interest in any of the last games on the list, but even they look tough. Philly, Chicago, Carolina, Washington? Of those, only Carolina is at home. To our untrained eye, we'd say Carolina. But this is based on about two hours of serious NFL game-watching the whole season. No wonder we're out of the money.

We'll take a winner, any amount, any week. Surely you can steer us in the right direction.

Amen, Rev

Chuck Currie (with whom we share the blogosphere most uneasily) has some choice words for the top honcho at Tri-Met (a Neil Goldschmidt acolyte) here.

Time to pay attention

The Blazers won their fifth straight game last night, the last two in back-to-back contests against legitimate playoff teams. The Portland squad seems to get off a run like this every December or January. Can they keep it going? Let's hope so.

They're pretty banged up now. LaMarcus's foot has joined his heart as an area to worry about, and now Martell has the flu. It's o.k., though, if they play .500 between several five-game win streaks. That's seriously good ball. We'll see what happens when Utah rolls into town looking for revenge tomorrow night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rose Garden to be renamed

It was just a matter of time.

You wish it would be something like Nike or McMenamin's. But you know it's going to be something like Comcast or Bank of America. Oh well.

Geezer's dream

This would have been something to attend -- a full-length concert by Led Zeppelin (Jason Bonham filling in for his late dad). The set list is here.

Another sign

We are very near the end of civilization.

Buck-a-Hit Day plans are shaping up

The pieces of Buck-a-Hit Day are falling into place. Next Tuesday, we will give to charity $1 for each visitor to this site, with a bonus if we reach our goal (1,000 visits) early in the day. Also, it looks as though we may have as much as $1,500 in matching donations for charitable gifts made by our readers on this site that day. That would be a $4,000 day, plus the bonus if we get to the 1,000 visitor mark early.

Help us reach our goal. All you have to do is come back to this site next Tuesday, the earlier the better. If you bring your plastic and pitch in, all the better, but at least just come visit.

Linchpin through the heart

Not everybody loves a S.L.U.T.

Hans Frank wasn't available

Remember when Time magazine named "You" as its "Person of the Year"? Here's another dandy.

More on those $167 keyboard trays

A while back we wrote that the City of Portland was going into the market for keyboard trays for employees' workstations. The estimated cost was $167 each, which I thought was a lot but readers assured me was a bargain.

Now the city has abruptly changed part of its bid solicitation. Rather than seeking a bid on an "annual supply" of 600, now it says it simply wants a "price agreement" with a vendor. Bids, originally due tomorrow, are now due a week from tomorrow.

Once again, a highly fishy smell rises from the old city procurement process. John Kroger: When you get in, be sure to send somebody up to take a look.

3 R's on the www

The Portland public schools have a new e-newsletter.

How to tell when you've failed as a journalist

When something you've written gets touted by the government entity that it was about.

A couple of Whole Foods honchos bail

Some insiders at Whole Foods sold off some shares last week -- one guy almost completely cashing out.

What? I don't believe it

You haven't signed up yet to attend this fine event at lunchtime tomorrow? All the smart people will be there.

Question of the Day

How many years in the slammer should this creep get?

If it matters to Oregonians...

In The Washington Post, it's a mysterious virus that presents a life-threatening health hazard, sending a shocking number of Oregonians to the hospital for extended stays and leaving at least one previously robust teenager with memory loss and an unknown medical future.

In The Oregonian, it's nothing to worry about, just wash your hands a lot and get a flu shot.

Sounds like Bob Packwood, doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Still streakin'

Time for another Blazer mood swing. Tonight they won a fourth straight game, on the road, against a decent team, the Utah Jazz. Portland did it without the services of big man LaMarcus Aldridge, one of their top players, who's now got what promises to be a nagging foot problem. The game was won with defense, which is to be expected since the Blazers are pretty spotty when they have the ball.

Martell Webster showed up and poured in 25 points, 15 of them on three-point baskets. Joel Wonder Bread blocked five shots and had 10 rebounds. Channing Frye missed a lot of shots but wound up with 10 points. He was in foul trouble, however, and played only 19 minutes. I dunno; I still miss Ime.

The Blazers come back home for another game tomorrow night, against Golden State, another playoff team. If they win that one, it will really be time to sit up and take notice. Utah will be in town seeking revenge on Friday.

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I'm talking Festivus, of course. Leave it LeLo and Gretchen to get into it. But hey, some of us celebrate (particularly with the Airing of Grievances) all year long!

"Today we're going on a field trip"

Here's a preschool I'd be a little leery of.

Modern miracles

I've been unfair to the fine folks at Oregon Health and Sciences University. I've been complaining that their wonderful new building in Portland's lovely SoWhat neighborhood was nothing more than a health club. But I was wrong. They're obviously performing valuable medical services there. Here's a fellow who recently stopped in for a lobotomy.

Bloggers, what's your PageRank?

Looks like we're a 5 on a scale of 10. (Via On the Vig.)

Don't take her home, that's a big mistake

Up in Seattle, they've got a new song for their streetcar: "Ride the S.L.U.T."

River advisory

Avoid contact with the Willamette River in Portland for the next 24 hours. There's been another overflow.

Greg Oden's big complaint about Portland

"The city is nice," he said. "The only thing is, they don't have any Wal-Marts near my house. I go to Best Buy or Target, but those places are pretty expensive."

Buck-a-Hit Day is next Tuesday

Next Tuesday, December 18, will be our fifth annual Buck-a-Hit Day, the day on which we give money to charity for every reader who visits this site. As usual, we'll also have a place where readers can donate to charitable causes themselves, and we'll match the contributions. (In both cases, up to specified limits.) Last year, the whole thing netted more than $3,500 for local charities.

We're still working out the details, which we'll be posting here over the next few days. If you're an infrequent visitor here, please come back next Tuesday and we'll give some dough to charity just because you showed up, and even more if you throw some change into the hat.

One idea we're toying with is to see how early in the day we can reach 1,000 unique visits. That might mean that the earlier in the day you swing by, the more money we give. More on that shortly, but mark your calendar to come back next Tuesday in the morning. It might mean a bigger buck for the bang.

In the meantime, if you'll promise to save some money for our event next week, a couple of media pals also have contribution drives going that might be worth a piece of your disposable wealth. Check out this program, or this one. See you back here next Tuesday.

Santa's upstairs neighbors are out of money

The downtown Portland Meier & Frank hotel project has defaulted on its construction loan and needs more public money to be completed. The city's low-interest loan on the project is slated to rise from $13.9 million to $16.9 million.

That's for now. Suddenly appearing "new historic tax credits" are supposed to "attract" another $1.6 million of new private money from sources not yet identified, in order to get the construction completed. Private investment for an over-budget luxury hotel as the area heads into a recession? Doesn't sound like such a sure thing to us. Not to mention how long it may take for a luxury hotel to ramp up with high-end guests in the current economic climate.

Ironically, while the project's financial troubles allegedly arise from a late change in plans -- to switch from a moderate-priced hotel to a boutique luxury hotel -- the new tax credits are supposed to be available because the hotel "falls within a low-income census tract." The rest of the explanation for the budget fiasco is truly aerial tram-like. Let's hope the final margin of error is not that bad.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The drumbeat gets louder

Repeat after me:

Green + energy security = nukes!

Sure, it's dangerous as hell. And sure, the waste is deadly. But you could fit it in a pickup truck.*

Save the polar bears, and the whales! Go green, go clean, with atomic energy. It's our future!

If there's a problem, FEMA will handle it. Terrorists are not an issue. Creating more radioactive material does not increase the threat of nuclear proliferation. Adding all kinds of heat to our waterways from cooling nuclear plants is not a problem. Our national infrastructure is in such great shape that transporting nuclear waste is not an issue. American corporations will get the job done right. The free market insures success. The agencies who supervise nuclear power will be tireless watchdogs who will stand up to industry. Besides, nuclear science has lots of good karma behind it.

Most importantly, remember that the advocates of nuclear have a long history of leveling with the public. You can count on them to tell you the full story of what they're getting us into.

* - A pickup truck that would kill you in a few minutes if you stood too close to it.

Save power

Turn yourself into a battery.

SoWhat Quotation of the Day

From a post over on Metroblogging:

It's all driven by careerism. Identify the kind of development planners most want on their resumés, and most likely to get wonks on professional association speakers lists, and that's what will get built next in Portland. Best for Portland? Doesn't matter. Appropriate for site? Doesn't matter. Wanted by locals? Doesn't matter. Ignores long-identified needs? Doesn't matter. Can we afford it? Doesn't matter. Cover article on international planning wonk publication? Start it tomorrow!

Busy morning at the bank

Lotta kicker checks coming in. My teller complained that she hadn't gotten hers yet.

Idiot wind

A reader who has a fair amount of experience with wind energy writes in to tell us he's concerned about the City of Portland's pipe dream of building and operating a wind farm:

It's pretty obvious that wind power has become the darling of the political establishment, which seems to view it as the answer to all, or most, of our energy and climate change challenges. It's hardly that, in my opinion, and the following are a few of the principal reasons why I think that is so, and why the idea of the city of Portland actually financing the construction of a wind resource is so scary.

1) For example, a 50 megawatt (MW) wind resource is not really a 50 MW wind resource. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, its a 15 average megawatt (aMW) resource. 50 MW is the capacity of the resource, i.e., the maximum amount of energy the individual turbines making up the project, in aggregate, could generate at their combined maximum output during any given instant. 15 aMW is an expression of how much actual energy is generated on an annual basis. Of course, the wind is not always blowing. In the Pacific Northwest, experience with wind turbines, beginning in about the late 1980s, shows that over the course of a year a wind power resource will produce an amount of actual energy that is equal to between 28 and 32 percent of it total rated capacity: so 50MW x 30% = 15 aMW. So when you read that Portland is going to build and use the output a 50 MW wind power resource to serve its electricity load, you need to understand its only 15 aMW -- a lot less than advertised. Do you think Sam Adams knows that?

2) Idle wind turbines can be a big problem. An intermittent resource such as wind needs to be "firmed up" to be useful. In other words, it needs to be backed up by additional energy resources that can be turned on and off (more or less instantaneously) to fill in the gaps when the wind turbines are not producing energy. This gets complicated, and has to do with the way electric energy is "scheduled" into the wholesale bulk transmission system, but long story short, in order to balance electric power loads with electric power resources, every energy resource is scheduled ahead of time (usually an hour ahead of actual delivery onto the transmission system). Obviously, that is much easier to do if you are running a coal resource than if you are running a wind power resource. So, if a wind resource schedules 25 MW onto the transmission grid next hour, but only generates 15 MW because the wind speed slowed, the other 10 MW has to come from somewhere else. The system must be kept in balance, every second of every day, both to make sure loads are served, and to keep the transmission system itself in balance. The PNW is blessed with a large hydroelectric system that, in general (depending on the time of year) can be ramped up and down quickly. This abundance of instantaneous generating capacity is useful to integrating intermittent energy resources such as wind. The problem is the hydro system, over the last 20 years or so, has lost much of its operating flexibility due to the competing demands for fish mitigation, leaving less operating flexibility left over to integrate or "firm up" wind resources. As more wind resources are built, while the hydro systems flexibility continues to wane, this creates a big problem. So what happens? Other resources, principally gas turbines, must be built to firm up wind. The Germans, who I believe have more wind generating capacity than just about any country in the word, have had to install massive amounts of natural gas fired generation to firm up their wind. So wind looks a bit less clean all of a sudden. I doubt Sam Adams has an inkling of this.

3) A strong case can be made that, in some circumstances, wind is dirtier than natural gas. This relates to point #2. Basically there are two kinds of natural gas fired energy resources: combined cycle and simple cycle. The latter is the type usually built as a firming resource to back up wind resources. Simple cycle is dirtier than a combined cycle resource. An argument can be made that a wind resource combined with a simple cycle gas turbine, designed, for example, to produce 100 aMW, will under some scenarios produce more greenhouse gas over the course of a year than producing the same 100 aMW with a combined cycle gas turbine. This an irony I doubt many politicians know about, including Sam Adams.

4) The wholesale power business in impossibly complex and highly risky. So this point is not so much about wind power as it is about whether it's such a good idea for the city to get into this game. Its not clear to me what the proposal is exactly, but it's apparently much more than simply signing a contract to buy output. I should wait to see what they actually propose to do, and assuming its covered in your blog, I can chime in with my two cents worth then. Suffice it to say for now that even in the best of circumstances, building a large resource is fraught with operating and market price risks. Based on what I have seen, I doubt the current members of the Portland City Council are equipped to readily grasp, let alone evaluate or understand how to mitigate, those risks.

My, my. How un-"progressive" of this reader.

Pulling the linchpin

Here are a couple of interesting Florida legal websites that should see an Oregon counterpart any day now.

A streak

The Blazers beat the Milwaukee Bucks here at home yesterday, which makes three straight victories. The previous two were on the road in Memphis and at home against Miami. These three opponents have a combined win-loss record of 19-40 (.322 winning percentage), but hey, it beats losing to teams like those. The Blazers' record moves up to 8-12 (.400).

I just noticed that the Blazers will be playing Seattle at the Rose Garden on Christmas night at 5:00. Yikes. Turkey coma city.

For when you go green, permanently

I am not making this up: Biodegradable coffins, pioneered in England, are being sold in the United States by this Portland company.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Old Town ex-Port

The plan to move the Port of Portland headquarters out of Old Town and out to the airport is moving right along. Now they're selling their Old Town building and leasing it back for a short term while they build the new thing out at the airport.

The Old Town building, which they say cost $20 million to build in 1999, was sold for $29 million. With the lease back, it's not certain exactly how much was paid for what. To make matters cloudier, one published report sets out some screwy math on the deal. It's reported that the stated price works out to $160 per square foot, but the same story says the price is $29.2 million and there is 160,000 square feet of space. On my calculator, that works out to $182.50 per square foot.

The proud new owners are these guys.

The new Port headquarters, including a parking garage underneath, will cost $252 million, probably close to $100 million of which will be attributable to the new offices. Which begs one question: If the Port was getting by on headquarters that were worth only $29 million, why do they need to build a new one for three or four times that amount? Plus, it's at the airport, which severely limits its usefulness to any other potential owner. I guess part of the deal is to save some face for the Port and the city, now that the grand and expensive "urban renewal" plan for that area turned out to be nothing more than an Ikea with a mini-Jantzen Beach Shopping Center attached -- nothing that couldn't have been built if market forces had been left alone.

And who will do the construction? Do we even need to ask? The official construction company of the Goldschmidt Network, of course. Drinks all around at the Arlington Club, boys!

How'd you do on Bruce tickets?

Yesterday morning saw many of us sitting at our computer terminals buying tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert to be held at the Rose Garden more than 3½ months from now. For some reason Ticketmaster didn't have the show -- indeed, it looks like Portland was the only show on the tour that it didn't have. No, here in Stumptown the ducats were being sold on something called comcasttix.com. I am assuming that this is in keeping with the new Paul Allen-Comcast satanic alliance, which includes a separate cable TV channel for the Blazers.

But I digress. The comcasttix experience was every bit as ugly as Ticketmaster -- or Ticketb*stards, as they're sometimes known. On comcasttix, you had to try about a zillion times to get it to show you tickets -- the servers were too busy, no doubt -- and every time you tried, you had to play one of those "captcha" games (or whatever that word-identification puzzle thingie is) before you'd be shown anything, even the "too busy" message. Lovely.

Even worse, on my clunky little computer, when I used Firefox, I couldn't see the captcha images at all, and so I had to resort to the awful Internet Explorer to play along. I thought I'd take a shot at an actual seat on the lower level, rather than general admission standing on the arena floor, but that was a joke. After about 10 minutes of trying, I was offered two seats in the 16th row in the back on the side. I've learned over the years that the key to concert enjoyment is distance from the stage as the crow flies, and not necessarily altitude, and so I let those babies pass.

In the end, I got what I knew I'd get -- two on the floor, literally -- and we'll see how much energy we can muster on that spring break Friday to camp out for a spot near the front of the gym. I'm not even going to look at what the scalpers have for seats this time around. They'll gouge you, and for a Springsteen show, they never seem to have that much, anyway. The less I think about the ticket-selling machinery, the better it is for my soul.

I must confess that I have fallen down in my Springsteen fan duties and have not even listened to his new album. A friend has supplied a couple of bootleg CDs with recordings from the current tour, which sound pretty good, but I haven't gotten around to the studio record. Yet. By the concert, I'm sure I'll be singing some of the new songs at the top of my lungs. Last time around, I actually got into what was then the new stuff more than I did the old stuff. After you've seen Bruce do "Thunder Road" for about the 10th time, it's o.k. to take your potty break during that one. But "The Rising" at the start of the show -- it made every hair on your body stand on end.

Of course, if they start playing "Backstreets," all bets are off. Shut up and give me some room!

Winter is icumen in

It's getting on to be that time of year. Yesterday we searched around on the TV for a football game to provide the backdrop for our afternoon nap on the couch. Couldn't find one. And it just seems too early for college basketball. So we clicked around on the Muzak channels and found "Traditional Holiday." Don't worry, pretty much all the songs are still allowed to say "Christmas." But I conked out hard and didn't get too far past Andy Williams.

Now the old mercury's down to 27.0 F. And I see the neighbor around the corner's got his serious Christmas lights up. I'm making the proverbial "note to self" on that one, but it's getting tacked on top of a growing pile of such notes.

Dumped a bunch of food scraps into the worm composting bin yesterday afternoon. No sign of those boys -- I'm sure they're hunkering down deep. They don't each much this time of year, and heck, this morning the top stuff's going to be frozen anyway. Better find a bucket of leaves and give them a blanket.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The beat goes on

The New York Times real estate types were in Sisters recently.

Blessed curse

Our Oregon income tax "kicker" (refund) check arrived today.

Nice and easy does it

I'm not the world's most efficient Christmas shopper. I roam around and wind up covering a lot of the same ground twice every year. When it comes to making up my mind about that perfect gift, I usually have a hard time pulling the trigger. And with good reason -- when I've bought gifts impulsively, they've often been disasters.

Anyway, today I began my Santa forays in earnest, and I discovered a little pocket of gifty goodness that you shouldn't miss if you have people of the female persuasion on your list. You wouldn't think NE 13th and Fremont would be a place to find beautiful and distinctive jewelry, art, or clothing, but hey, you can't go wrong at either Splurge or a couple of doors down at Sofia. And you can have a glass of wine or a rare beer at Bodega. Avoid the crowds, head over there, and thank me later.

The monkeys are smarter

If you're an activist, the best thing you can do for animals is not act like one yourself.

The hitch with wave energy

It could be bad for salmon. Looks like they're going find out whether it is or not here in our backyard.

Friday, December 7, 2007

It was just a matter of time

Bush and the Democratic Congress have done away with the Bill of Rights. For more on this story, just click on the "usinfo.state.gov" link here.

It ain't Wonkette

Here's a new site that should help keep the blogosphere weird. It's by the director of the Congressional Budget Office. Party on, people! Woo hoo!

Have a great weekend

The way we were

Sifting through some back issues of local newspapers, I see that a new blog has sprung up about the history of the Alameda neighborhood here in northeast Portland. Cool.

Come gather 'round, suckers, wherever you roam

Have you been following this noisy sales ploy by a local homebuilder? It looks wonderful until you read the fine print (scroll down to section 3, "Reserve Price"). Ryan Frank of the O tells it like it is here. And if this document, sent to us by an alert reader, is authentic, it's pretty clear where the builder's heart is.

Everything is broken

More bureaucratic excellence chronicled here. Hey, let's build a wind farm!

Mess around, you'll end up in Dutch, boy

Here's a little lawyer dirt for your Friday: A couple of Washington State bond lawyers have gotten themselves in trouble with the IRS professional ethics officers in connection with some allegedly shoddy tax work that they did on a municipal bond deal up in Spokane that turned into a real scandal. The lawyers, Michael Ormsby and David Thompson, work in the Spokane and Seattle offices of K&L Gates -- formerly Preston Gates -- the same firm whose Portland office has a lock on the municipal bond work for the City of Portland and many other governmental units around the Beaver State. (Via TaxProf Blog.)

It's all the nacho cheese Doritos

America definitely has a problem.

Reader poll: How many fare cheats on MAX?

Fred Hansen, executive director of Tri-Met by virtue of being Neil Goldschmidt's cousin,* tells the City Club today how he's going to crack down on the thugs who are making a ride on the transit agency's MAX trains an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, adventure. One aspect of the new enforcement effort is a "zero tolerance" policy for fare evaders. Hansen estimates that fare evasion on Tri-Met overall runs 8 percent, but he has no separate estimate for MAX, which has no turnstiles and whose drivers never make contact with passengers. Recently, the Los Angeles rail system announced that it's installing turnstiles to combat what it says is fare evasion of 5 percent.

Both those estimates seem awfully low. Anecdotal evidence suggests a much higher rate of fare cheats on MAX. As today's Trib tells it:

Hansen estimates that around 8 percent of riders are not paying fares but says TriMet does not track light-rail evaders separately from those on buses. Agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the percentage of MAX fare evaders probably is higher that those on the buses.

Several law enforcement officials believe the percentage of MAX fare evaders is substantial, however.

According to Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, when one officer recently boarded a train and gave passengers the option of showing their tickets or getting off, more than half disembarked.

Since no one in power at Tri-Met seems to have even a guess as to the percentage of MAX riders who don't pay fares, we thought we'd ask our fearless readers to take their own stab at the issue (no pun intended):

What do you think the fare evasion rate is on MAX?
0-10 percent
11-20 percent
21-30 percent
31-40 percent
41-50 percent
Greater than 50 percent
pollcode.com free polls

* - Not to be confused with Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who is on the Tri-Met board of directors by virtue of keeping Goldschmidt's statutory rape secret.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How's this work?

The electronic reader board over the freeway tonight said, "I-5 at milepost 68 in Washington -- open for commercial traffic only." Are they turning back passenger cars? What's the deal with that?


I am not a big "personal responsibility" libertarian kind of guy, but when I see that we're going to start forcing lenders to freeze rates on adjustable rate mortgages, it gets my back up. I'd like somebody to order my lender to knock my mortgage interest rate back a couple of points, too. Where do I go to sign up for that?

Some -- repeat, some -- subprime borrowers were defrauded into signing up for their high-risk mortgages with "teaser" rates. But I'll bet most of them weren't. I'll bet most of them knew exactly what they were signing, or didn't think it mattered what the contract said. The government's new message that you needn't understand or honor your own home mortgage terms is just another step in the dumbing down of this country beyond recognition.

On its face, the mortgage "relief" effort looks like federal intervention on behalf of the little guy, but I'd look deeper before I'd accept that characterization. If the lender dudes actually wrote off everything that they already know is uncollectible, their stocks would plunge (as they should), and some seven-figure executive year-end bonuses would get pared back quite a bit. When that kind of threat is on the horizon, you know that it's George Bush to the rescue, for sure.

But get used to this, America, because it's just the beginning. Just as the sane people who took out fixed-rate mortgages are now going to pay for those who screwed around with ARMs, the sane people who put money away privately for their old age will soon have their Social Security benefits cut, so that the fools who didn't put anything away get the same standard of living in their retirement. There are so many indignities that middle-class families suffer in the Bush-Clinton Empire (27 years and counting). I'd like to kick my grammar school civics teachers in the shins right about now.

It's hitting the fan in Caracas

Get the word from Hugo.

The Ringtone Decade

I remember the heyday of Bay Area rock. Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Dead. Then came a second wave -- Greg Kihn, Huey Lewis, Journey -- that was an echo of past glories, but still quite good.

Nowadays they've entered the Bronze Age down there.

Some difference

Ah, the Democratic Congress. Once they took over, we were told, the Iraq Oil War would come to a close, and the assault on our civil liberties would end.

Yeah, right.

Blue Man, Dr. Wu, and the Faz were all in on it.

Don't click on this link, or I'll have to report you.

Coming soon to SoWhat

Homer and Dike's cash flow must be getting awfully tight. Here's an idea, sent in by an alert reader, to help move things along.

This, that, and the other

Here's some follow-up on three stories we have been pursuing since yesterday:

1. Last evening's post about the Huckabee-Chuck Norris video prompted an exchange in the comments about the IRS. I won't defend that agency too vociferously, but when it comes to screwing up the nation's tax system, the IRS is nowhere near the top of the list of mischief makers. The biggest a*sclowns in the picture are our members of Congress, from both parties, who make a worse and worse hash out of the tax law every time they touch it. It really is a national disgrace. The latest episode -- one of their more outrageously bad performances -- is chronicled here. And don't go pointing fingers at other parts of the country. Both our senators are on the Finance Committee, and Earl the Pearl is on Ways and Means.

2. The nuke people were out in force in our comments yesterday, touting the wonders of "green" nuclear power, and continuing the industry's longstanding diversion campaign about the huge environmental and national security problems presented by nuclear waste. It wasn't until everyone else had gone to bed that I noticed this story about the latest on licensing new nuke power plants in the United States. It seems that rather than let the industry make it all up as construction goes along -- the way it's always been done -- nowadays the feds want just a handful of uniform prototype plant designs that they can bless or reject completely in advance. And the nuclear engineers don't seem capable of getting that done.

3. Finally, some inside information regarding our post from yesterday on the chichi (or is it foufou?) design competition for new "courtyard" housing projects in Portland. Although the vote tally from the online public competition is not being disclosed until it's final, our sources in the Planning Bureau tell us that one design is leading the race by a wide margin. They're looking into whether the design company is stuffing the internet ballot box or not. In any event, I can see why that one would be favored by the folks at City Hall: It epitomizes their vision of a well planned city.

A small business "bill of rights"? In Portland?

Could have fooled me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blazers' season officially over

Guess who's back stinking up the gym and polluting the minds of the young talent. My friends, another year is history. Maybe they'll trade this year's high draft pick (and it will be quite high) for a good veteran. Maybe Coach Nate will realize that the team has no offense, and he'll bring in a strong assistant who can show him how to create one. Maybe Travis Outlaw will wake up and develop some basketball IQ. Maybe they'll figure out which position Martell is any good at.

But I doubt it.

Each night I pray in thanksgiving for an abundance of good things in my life. If I stay awake long enough before I doze off, I include my being too cheap to spring for a piece of a season ticket after Gimpy Oden came on board. Last year was actually a better year to have been there.

Our sick nation, cont'd

We're very near the end of the empire.

Rods that won't be ramblin'

There's an interesting story up on LocalNewsDaily today about the impending demolition of another structure in the old Trojan Nuclear Power Plant complex. Alas, it might as well have been written by the PGE public relations department, as it displays a decided absence of critical thinking.

"I have to say this: If Chernobyl had containment like this, there would have essentially been no environmental impact offsite," said Jay Fischer, recalling the massive nuclear meltdown that occurred in 1986 in the former Soviet Union. Fischer is in charge of managing the storage system for spent radioactive fuel rods that remain onsite....

In June 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that starts the ball rolling toward a 2017 opening of Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

If the timeline holds, the first delivery of spent fuel from Trojan to Nevada by rail will happen in 2021.

But until the last of 34 concrete casks containing the spent radioactive wastes is removed from the site in 2031, PGE will continue as steward for the casks, each a part of what is called the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation.

"All of the nuclear plants across the country are certainly looking at that schedule, you can be sure," said Fischer of the 2017 opening of Yucca Mountain. Fischer manages the ISFSI.

The Yucca Mountain spent fuel "repository" is a political pipedream that will probably never become reality. The "timeline" has been changed just about every year for the last 20 years. Those spent fuel assemblies ain't goin' nowhere, my friend.

As for the plant having been able to withstand a Chernobyl meltdown, that sounds like another one of those myriad PGE Trojan lies that we heard over the years. The only good thing is that we didn't have to find out whether it was true.

At least for now. As our oil supply sources shut down on us, and the drumbeat of global warming grows ever louder, you can bet that the nuke boys and girls will be back strong, and soon. I'm sure there'll be another nuclear power plant on the Columbia somewhere before too long.

The real deal

There's only one line of work for grownups.

Dignity Village for all

While we're on the subject of designing the future housing projects for Portland, here are a couple of ideas that didn't get submitted to the competition here in the Rose City. Think stackable pre-fab cardboard pods, people. Green! Sustainable.

Every 'dog has its day

While a lot of college kids are wrapping up their gridiron seasons, the Big Daddies at Concussion Central just keep pounding on each other. And so we continue to try to pick a winning underdog out of the weekly pro football pack. After some early successes, we've been a miserable failure at this, even with the help of our faithful readers. But if you think you can select an underdog (in caps) that will win its game outright, do sound off in the comments. If I use your choice and it's right, I earn the points listed to the left of the game.

I won't win the season-long pool. But it's for pride at this point, people.

10.5 PITTSBURGH vs. New England
10.5 OAKLAND at Green Bay
10.5 CAROLINA at Jacksonville
10.5 DETROIT vs. Dallas
9.5 BALTIMORE vs. Indianapolis
8.5 SAN FRANCISCO vs. Minnesota
7.5 KANSAS CITY at Denver
7 ARIZONA at Seattle
7 MIAMI at Buffalo
5 ATLANTA vs. New Orleans
3.5 NEW YORK JETS vs. Cleveland
3 CHICAGO at Washington (Thursday)
2.5 NEW YORK GIANTS at Philadelphia

If the Bears are your cup of tea, do put in a good word soon, as the game's tomorrow night and I'd have to send that pick in before kickoff.

You can't get there from here

The severe impact of the hellacious storms that just blew through here took a while to sink in. The weather forecasters really messed with our minds last weekend, when they called for snow in Portland. As usual, they were wrong about that, and so a lot of us figured that they were also pulling our legs about the intensity of the storms that were about to barrel in. Even after the worst of the weather passed through on Monday, I was thinking that the news outlets were crying wolf.

But last night, on my way home, I saw a flashing sign over the freeway that finally brought home to me what a big deal this event was. It said something like "I-5 N to Seattle closed at milepost 68 -- take I-84 to US 97 to I-90."

US 97? I-90? Man, that's messed up.

Packin' 'em in

Remember the detached single-family home? The City of Portland's definitely getting out of that mode. Nowadays it's all about density -- between the city commissioners' ears, especially.

Anyway, if we're hellbent on building cigar boxes for people to live in, they might as well be groovy-looking, right? And so the city has commissioned a competition among various designs for "courtyard living." We all get a chance to marvel at the new spin on what in the 20th Century we used to call "the projects," and even vote for our favorite looks on line.

The competition website is fairly confusing, referring to various "winners" as if the contest were already over. But apparently, that's just the competition before a panel of distinguished judges. The public vote is still very much on, open until the 28th of the month. And there are couple of open houses scheduled for next week, at which the designs will be displayed in a single real-world space.

The entries are here -- you vote here. If those links don't work, you can start here and see if you can find your way.

There are some real beauties in there. Take the "earth box," six "family" units on 8500 square feet. Or perhaps this moonscape would be more to your taste. And what's not to like about a "sleeping pod"?

Interestingly, the folks out east of 82nd Avenue are getting a separate open house, and apparently designs of their own. How will the courtyard projects out that way differ from those in the rest of town? Thicker bulletproofing, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

O come ye, o come ye to Dubuque

We're breaking out the Advent calendar this week. Ours holds beautiful figurines of Nativity characters, one for each day 'til Christmas.

But maybe we should be breaking out a Presidential primary calendar. It's hard to believe, but the Iowa caucuses are 30 days away, and by this time five weeks from now, the polls will have closed in New Hampshire. (Michigan will vote six weeks from now, but it's not certain how much it will count.)

I will be so happy the day George Bush leaves Washington and goes back to his weird little life. I hope and believe that any successor will be better.

Name that whale

You know you want to.

Ah, the life of a Congressional staffer

Busy, busy, busy.

Shameless self-promotion

Tell your accountant, lawyer, and appraiser buddies that they need to attend this momentous event next week.

Where's the new PDC debt?

According to this report from the Portland Development Commission from last October, the city has a bunch of temporary lines of credit, for "urban renewal" projects, that are going to expire later this month. The plan was to issue new short-term bonds, in the forms of new and expanded lines of credit, that would replace (and greatly increase) the expiring ones. We haven't heard much about this refinancing since then. Does anyone out there know whether it's still on track? And if so, where and when are the offering documents for the bonds going to hit the airwaves?

Those darn bloggers are at it again

Now they're wrecking people's chances at a fair trial.

You can imagine the parallel years ago: "People using those newfangled things called 'telephones' are wrecking people's chances at a fair trial."

Tax dollars disappearing

Wow, the crisis in the debt markets is adversely affecting local governments from Florida to Norway. So many taxpayer investments have gone sour. Are there government entities in Oregon in the same boat? I haven't heard that there are, but despite my general belief in miracles, I doubt that all the political subdivisions around the state are going to get away unscathed.

Silly fur-creature

Here's a photo of that kitty who had the peanut butter jar stuck over her head for 19 days. By the time they took the picture, her human buddies had gotten the jar off.

Game winner

Regular readers here know I'm highly skeptical of Travis Outlaw, the Blazers' skinny, under-performing, big-contract forward. I've even seen firsthand how he can blow a game-winning shot. But hey, last night he got the job done. Good for him.

Monday, December 3, 2007

No nukes?

No matter. We're still going into Iran. The pretext is doubtlessly all worked out.

It's the oil, stupid.

They're coming for the bloggers

A town in New Jersey is suing to force Blogger to give up the name of an anonymous blogger who's been criticizing town officials.


Apropos of our current banner, here is a kitty story, with a big Portland angle, from the Times magazine yesterday.

Rare species

The other night the Mrs. and I were walking along Alberta Street when we spied a Christmas tree lot across the way. We've been buying our trees every year from a church lot near our house -- we recently switched from Doug firs to nobles -- and it's outrageously expensive, but convenient.

Anyway, the sign over the lot on that Alberta corner caught our eyes.

Me: "All sizes $10." Wow.

She: What kind of tree is it we get again?

Me: From now on, the $10 kind.

It can't happen here...

Can it?

Down in Florida, local governments' state-run investment pool has been doing so poorly that there's been a run on the fund as nervous government entities pull their money out. Oregon has a similar pool. I wonder how it's doing, but I'm afraid to ask. It looks like Mover Mike has been working on this topic, and at last report, he found no cause for alarm.

SoWhat poodle poop park design tab: $540,000 to $700,000

They're about to let out the contract for design of the "neighborhood park" in the SoWhat district. Looks like the winning bidder was an outfit called Hargreaves Associates in San Francisco. An interested insider sends along a pdf file that apparently contains both the ordinance that's going to be passed by the Portland City Council on Wednesday and a recent draft of the proposed contract between the city and Hargreaves. The draft contract calls for a tab of around $540,000, but the ordinance allows the expense to rise as high as $700,000. If our rough calculations are correct, the city will have spent upwards of $9.5 million on the park, even before ground is broken on it. This for a 2.1-acre park a block away from a noisy freeway. What a deal. Go by streetcar!

L.A. gives up, installs turnstiles at train stations

And that's with a supposed 5 percent fare evasion rate. Can you imagine what it would be on MAX in Portland?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hang in there, Larry!

And please -- we want you on stage at the Republican Convention next year!

Wretched refuse

This kid gives new meaning to the phrase "white trash."

Tick tick tick

Just a matter of time before this leads to a tragedy.

As we like it

The Beavers beat the Ducks, and Stanford beat Cal, and so all's well that ends well in college football.


Hey, Worldwide Pablo returned to the blogosphere with a post yesterday. Welcome back, buddy.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Black Jesus

I kiddingly call my congressman Earl the Pearl. He's an accomplished guy, but he can't hold a candle to the Original, who's being honored tonight. The guy had more moves than Ex Lax.

We all have days like this

Now that the blizzard's over

Prepare for the hurricane!

Old, but bold

We may have filled our hipness quota for the entire year in one night last night. The Mrs. and I attended a lovely cocktail party at Zaytoon on NE Alberta Street, and then we strolled a ways down the road for tapas at a joint called Lolo. Every sip and nibble heavenly. God bless our babysitter. Life is good.

No school December 25

It's Kwanzaa Eve.

You know the feeling

Every once in a while, you get hankering for peanut butter, and if there's any left in that jar at all, you're determined to get it.

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