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

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March 2011 Archives

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nuke plant neighbors totally trashed

Their whole village is now a permanent exclusion zone. They can't even bury their dead.

Cha-ching! More Portland water bill money wasted

How about $50 an hour to one of Fireman Randy's pals to write the history of the water bureau? Then they'll hire some kid to Tweet it, 144 characters at a time for the next three years.

Misery loves weirdness

Portland is the second most miserable place in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. They looked at unemployment, gas prices, and housing values. Fools that they are, they did not count streetcars as a plus. Phoenix came in first (that is, worst).

Duck and cover

The dude running the University of Oregon has decided to back off from his crazy plan to have the state borrow $800 million, hand it to him, and give up taxpayer control over the university. Compared to having his backside handed to him by the legislature, pulling back is a smart move.

He says he'll bring the proposal back to Salem next year. Yeah, sure -- if he's still around, if the state's finances don't fall apart any further... And the big "if," of course, is whether the voters are foolish enough to go along with it. Sounds dead in the water to us, as it should be. Where do these CEO types come from?

A visitor from the Bronx

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The radioactive milk is here

It's coming from northwest cows now. But don't worry -- it's not that radioactive. The risk is low. Not nonexistent, mind you, but low:

The problem arises when materials that emit beta particles are ingested or inhaled. Iodine 131 is chemically identical to normal, nonradioactive iodine and thus is absorbed into the body just as normal iodine is, mainly in the thyroid gland, where it delivers a concentrated dose to that small organ and can cause cancer.
So go ahead, give it to your kids to drink. And remember: safe... clean... cheap... nuclear power.

Amanda vs. Randy -- pass the popcorn

We've been waiting for this for a long time: Portland city commissioner Amanda Fritz, who's coming up for re-election, has begun calling out commissioner Randy Leonard, who's also up for re-election, on some of his more outrageous stunts. Twice in just two days! And given the two very different personalities at play, both under hot lights and campaign stress, things could get colorful indeed.

We noticed the first incident last night -- Nurse Amanda pointing out that Fireman Randy's spending water bureau revenue on whatever he darn well pleases is inappropriate:

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said it seems that Water Bureau employees have a lot of time on their hands. Fritz called for more City Council oversight.

"It's not an appropriate use of ratepayer money," she said. "It's not even remotely connected with the provision of providing water for Portlanders."

Whoa! You tell 'em, Ms. Fritz!

Then today she publicly points out the folly of the Fireman piling up new equipment for his other pet bureau, the fire bureau, with no people to run the equipment. That's exactly what he's done with his fleet of spendy fireboats, and now he's pushing the same program with emergency response vehicles:

Fritz and Saltzman wanted to know how much sense it made to buy new vehicles without first establishing a funding plan for deploying those vehicles. Fritz started her line of questioning by saying the city currently has two emergency vehicles similar to the four the city wants to buy. One of those vehicles is not in service because of staffing issues, she said.

"If we purchase them right now, we don't have the bodies to go in them," Fire Chief John Klum acknowledged.

Commissioner Randy Leonard appeared irritated by Fritz and Saltzman's questions. (He at one point noted, quite correctly, that the conversation was happening in open session in front of reporters!) But his objections mostly stemmed from the fact Leonard considered the staffing question to be a matter of collective bargaining with the firefighters union, meaning it shouldn't be discussed publicly. "This is not Wisconsin," Leonard interjected at one point.

It's about time somebody on the council said something. You go, Nurse Amanda. We won't be voting for Fireman Randy for anything, ever again, but if you keep this up, we'll definitely be in your corner.

Lots of smoke in Cylviagate back room

Here's Oregon attorney general John Kroger and then-governor-elect John Kitzhaber privately discussing an ongoing criminal investigation that targeted, among others, Kitzhaber's girlfriend on suspicion of official corruption -- nearly a month before the sitting governor got the details, and more than a month before the public got them. Kroger and his chief criminal lawyer twisted Kitzhaber's arm to get the girlfriend, Cylvia Hayes, to pay back money she got under a questionable state contract. She never did, but Kroger and crew let her slide anyway.

When Kroger runs for re-election next year and governor in 2014, do you think he'll get Kitzhaber's endorsement? Too funny. Sing with us, kids: "It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all...."

Mac the Attacked still cares

Run out of public office by the government employees' unions in 2008 for daring to reform their pensions -- even modestly -- former Oregon Rep. Greg Macpherson nonetheless continues to take an interest in what's going on in Salem. The latest edition of his occasional report on the legislature can be found here.

30% bonuses for losing the state's money

That's the way Ted Wheeler's "Masters of the Universe" investment advisors roll. Ted Sickinger of the O lays it out:

The investment officers are among the best-paid employees in the state. They earned an average base salary of $162,462 in 2010, plus incentive pay averaging $39,326, or 24 percent of their base salaries. Those incentive payments have proven controversial not only because of their size, but because the investment officers have earned them rain or shine, including years when the pension fund has lost money and the state faces major budget problems....

Investment officers are eligible for bonuses if the five-year average return for the specific fund they manage ranks in the top 45 percent of similar funds managed by other states. The bonuses increase on a sliding scale up to 30 percent of base salary if a manager's performance ranks in the top 15 percent of pension funds with more than $1 billion in assets.

Half of the investment officers earned the full 30 percent maximum in 2010.

But hey, they deserve it, don't they? If we need to cut budgets, guess we'll have to lay off some cops, teachers, public health doctors, and prison guards so that these guys can keep making their big bucks. Without them, the world will end.

We wonder how other states do this. Perhaps the bosses at the O will give Sickinger some rein to take a look around.

Portland auditor: City spending water, sewer bill money illegally

Here's a most interesting development out of Portland City Hall: Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade has issued a report that concludes that the city's water and sewer bureaus have been breaking state law and the city charter in the way they have been spending water and sewer revenue on items that have little or nothing to do with provision of water and sewer services. In addition, she says, these unrelated expenditures may well cause the city to be in breach of various covenants that the city has made in its agreements relating to its various loans from bondholders.

These ideas are not new. Critics of the city's skyrocketing water and sewer bills have been saying the same things for years. But to have it in black and white, straight from the auditor, is a real story.

Quite a few spending items are called out in the report, but the two worst offenders are the water bureau's "green house" project and its takeover of what is now Rose Festival headquarters. Not only are these projects "not directly related" to water service (and that's putting it mildly), the money spent on them was neither in the water bureau budget request or in the budget passed by the City Council.

Griffin-Valade does her usual best to bend over backward for the commissioners. She refuses to admit that the very nature of these expenditures makes them illegal, but dwells instead on whether budget procedures were properly followed. And she leaves out at least one glaring item: the reported practice of having water bureau employees enforcing the city's sign laws and requirements regarding sale of diesel fuels. These are not "policy choices"; these turn water bills into illegal taxes, and could put the city in default on its bonds. Apparently, however, it would take a judge to say so.

The document, which seems like a blueprint for a lawsuit over existing practices, is here. It's worth downloading for use in the upcoming city elections. The responses included from the two city commissioners in charge are particularly illustrative. Legend Dan Saltzman over at sewer basically says, "You've got a point; we can do better." Fireman Randy's response is a little different: "You're wrong; anything is related to water services if I say it is, and I don't need no stinkin' budget." That's exactly the attitude that she's talking about.

Japanese nuke operators seem out of their minds

You've got to wonder why the world is letting a soon-to-be-bankrupt private company preside over potentially the worst environmental disaster the human species has ever known. Especially since they are showing that they are completely out of touch with reality. The CEO just checked into a hospital for "exhaustion," and one of his underlings is babbling somewhat incoherently:

"We have no choice but to scrap" the No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 units at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Tsunehisa Katsumata told a news conference....

He said the No. 5 and 6 units were still operational, but said any restart of those would depend on consultation with the government and local residents.

The fact that this fellow is suggesting even the remotest possibility of ever reactivating two of the reactors at Fukushima shows that his company is lying, crazy, or both. It's going to have to be nationalized, and the sooner the better.

Sadly, the pool of money to pay for suicide mission workers is not endless. At some point, the desperate work of preventing an even more major nuclear catastrophe is going to have be done by people who must follow orders, in high-risk situations, at low pay. I believe that's what they call the military. And don't be surprised if they're wearing U.S. uniforms -- the World Police Force® will probably be involved. Heaven help those service members and their families -- and all those who have died and are about to die in the name of "cheap, clean, safe" nuclear power.

UPDATE, 4:45 a.m.: Oh, and now they're going to cover the damaged reactors with cloth to keep the fallout down. Whatever, guys -- that should be really interesting during typhoon season.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This never would have happened in Portlandia

They all would have been wearing seat belts. Or would have been hauled by tricycle!

Bicycle Rex: "I didn't read my voter's pamphlet statement before I signed it"

His stoned-out television campaign ads seem to have been more telling than anyone first thought.

Reactor meltdown has broken through steel floor, expert thinks

Now there's probably superhot radioactive lava sitting on a concrete pad, he says. And he should know -- he was the "safety expert" at General Electric when they built the Fukushima reactors.

If you keep cooling this deadly mess with water, maybe the concrete will hold up. Maybe. "But it's not going to be good news for the environment." Ya don't say, pal. They oughta lock you up.

Short timers

Two in one day -- Karol and Zari are both bailing.

The funky drummer

He's still around, and getting by. But so many owe him so much.

Cha-ching! City of Portland borrows $112.8 million over two weeks

After a hiatus of several months, the City of Portland has gone back to its credit card ways, with two new bond issues, totaling $112.8 million, issued between March 10 and March 23. Of this amount, $82.8 million was borrowed by the city for the water bureau, and the other $30 million was for central east side "urban renewal." City Hall has a new "debt manager," B. Jonas Biery -- the last person in that position, Eric Johansen, has been moved to city treasurer -- and the new guy has dug right in, putting the city further into hock. That's Jonas's job.

The money was not borrowed cheaply. The water bonds will bear interest at various rates as high as 4.86% for 25-year debt, and there's a killer 6.25% interest rate being charged on some 10-year "urban renewal" money. Ouch. Although the water bonds, secured by a first lien on the city's water supply, got the highest rating, Aaa, from Moody's, the "urban renewal" bonds, which are payable only out of rising property taxes in the central eastside "urban renewal" district, rated an anemic A2 -- five notches down from Aaa.

What will all this new borrowed money be spent on, you ask? It's pretty hard to tell exactly from the bond sales documents. The money borrowed through the water bonds, we're told, will "finance a portion of the costs of the Capital Improvement Program." But that "program" is loosely defined as any one of a myriad of activities that have something to do with water:

So yeah, it's $82.8 million, and it will be spent on whatever -- water, o.k.? You got a problem with that?

With the $30 million of central eastside "urban renewal" bonds, you get a bigger clue from the offering document what the money's for. But the real capper: It's already been spent! The city already borrowed it long ago under one of its shadowy lines of credit (probably with its favorite bank buddies, Bank of America) and burned it on this:

The new bonds are just to pay down the lines of credit with a permanent loan.

Elsewhere in the document, we get to see what some of the area "urban renewal" projects were: the Eastbank Esplanade, the inane eastside streetcar, the infernal Burnside-Couch "couplet," and handouts to folks like Tazo Tea, the Oregon Ballet Theater, Rodda Paint, Hooper Detox, and the S.D. Deacon construction company. About $5 million was spent on creating housing.

When the city draws on its backroom lines of credit, there's no public disclosure whatsoever of how much is being borrowed, or for what purpose. Then the balances on the lines of credit sit and fester for years (earning interest for B of A or its ilk) before the city starts paying the money back. It's hard to tell from the sketchy bond document, but is it possible that we haven't even started paying back the money borrowed for the Eastbank Esplanade, which if you haven't noticed has already started coming apart in places?

And looking at the list of beneficiaries of city largesse, it becomes clear that quite a few private pockets have been lined. The fact that interest on $15.6 million of the debt is not tax-exempt shows that there was a substantial private benefit. Ain't that the Portland "urban renewal" way? Go by streetcar, people! Our kids will pay for it, if they can ever find a job around here.

Wyden selling his Portland condo

Our post of yesterday, taking another cheap shot at Sen. Ron Wyden, has led to an interesting discovery: He's apparently listed his condo on Portland's Washington Park for sale. At a time when some of us are questioning whether he really lives in Oregon any more, that's a development worth watching. Where is he going to claim residence next?

Our latest ruminations started when we read this feature in the Wall Street Journal, in which Wyden's wife, New York City bookstore magnate Nancy Bass Wyden, shows off her prowess using books as decor items. It's odd that she treats books as part of the furniture -- make up your own joke about her spouse here.

But anyway, with a wife and two toddlers ensconced in a very lived-in-looking apartment in Manhattan, we continue to wonder how Wyden, who spends most of his time in Washington, D.C., can still be claiming an Oregon residence. We checked the state's voting records, and they show the senator as living in a third-floor condo in this building, right next to Washington Park in southwest Portland.

Checking a little further on that address, it turns out that the unit is a two-bedroom, 1,070-square-foot number that sold (apparently to Wyden and his then-spouse) in 1997 for $125,000. And Googling just a bit further, we find that it's currently on the market -- has been for a few weeks now.

Here's a version of the real estate listing, and don't miss out on the virtual tour here. The place looks completely unlived-in, and certainly without that Bass touch. Heck, one of the few books on the shelves is actually placed upside down! But there are a lot of men's clothes in one of the closets -- the only sign of life in the place, really. No sign of two-year-old twins, that's for darn sure.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see whether the senator continues to vote from this address. Or where his next Oregon address might be. Meanwhile, we continue to ruminate on the Oregon voter registration law, which we discussed last week in connection with questions raised about the residence of the state university chancellor:

An elections official may consider, but is not limited to considering, the following factors in determining residency of a person for voter registration purposes:

(a) Where the person receives personal mail;

(b) Where the person is licensed to drive;

(c) Where the person registers motor vehicles for personal use;

(d) Where any immediate family members of the person reside;

(e) The address from which the person pays for utility services; and

(f) The address from which the person files any federal or state income tax returns.

Wyden clearly flunks (d), rather notoriously. How he might score on the other five factors is open to discussion. For example, Multnomah County sends the property tax bills on the Park Place condo to 312 A St. NE, Washington D.C. 20002-5938. That's the yellow building in this Google street view -- a residence that Wyden apparently also purchased in 1997, for around $1 million.

The state income tax returns would be interesting information indeed. Is Ms. Bass paying Oregon income tax on her worldwide income? That would be surprising. For state tax purposes, the two of them could be declaring separate domiciles -- he in Oregon, she in New York -- not unheard of, but not commonplace, either.

Finally, a retraction: The other pot shot we've been taking at Wyden for a while now -- that he isn't a Democrat any more -- needs to be withdrawn. He's a Democrat like President Obama is a Democrat -- champions of corporate America under a fake progressive banner. With friends like these two, the little guy doesn't need enemies.

The Fugitive, 2011

Richard Kimble didn't have Twitter.

Radioactive seaweed reaches British Columbia

But don't worry -- it can't hurt anything.

Oh, and there's now plutonium on the ground outside the Fukushima reactors -- but hey, some of it came from nuclear weapons testing many years ago. Nothing to be concerned about. Go on about your business.

They still have no idea how they are going to bring this accident under control. They have to douse the reactors with water constantly to prevent a catastrophe, but that creates the highly radioactive water that is pouring out of the reactors and making it impossible to get close enough to do anything else. They're talking about draining it all into storage tanks somehow, but who are they kidding? No one can get within a few feet of this water for more than a matter of minutes without killing themselves. Eventually, they're going to have to just drain the bad water into the ocean and keep dousing while they try to think of something else to do.

But hey, who are we to ask questions? Let the nuclear experts take care of this. A nice private utility company controls the ecological future of our corner of the planet. They can be trusted. And so can the government. Eat, drink, and breathe all you want. Take off your tin foil helmet and forget about it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where "green" will take us

In its most extreme form, the "sustainability" movement, as implemented by the planning bureaucracy and the Blumenauer politicos, could turn cities into nightmarish places in which one's freedom of movement will be restricted to a government-controlled rail system. That assertion sounds like the ranting of a right-wing kook, right? Until you read stuff like this.

It's time for your average Joe and Jane to wake up and think about where our current eco-fads are leading us. I want my offspring to have free access to -- and even own! -- a personal motor vehicle. And be able to use it. This is not a negotiable issue. On this one, it really is for the children.

Japanese nuke water now on ground outside plant

The situation in Fukushima keeps going downhill. But don't worry! It's just like a chest X-ray.

Another good reason to do your taxes early

You might end up like this guy.

[Via TaxProf Blog.]

Portland trade mission arrives in Germany

The City That... Works?

We're not sure how far down this path we want to go, but our Wednesday photo of a City of Portland Development Services car blocking a fire hydrant inspired another reader to take this snapshot Friday evening, near SE Grand and Washington, and send it along with a caption:

Taken at 8:02 pm this evening. Office of Sustainability vehicle in an area with about eight bars around it. Looks like wicker baskets stacked in the backseat. I know the staffer is out doing the people's work!
Now, now, reader. Some city officials get to take company cars home with them on a regular basis, for perfectly good reasons. For example, as a senior policy mucky-muck at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, you never know when you might be called in for an emergency charrette!

At home with the Gatsbys

But her husband lives in Oregon. Honest.

Change you can hardly notice

Here's graphic evidence.

U.S. atrocities in Afghanistan

Here's a gravely troubling story -- and don't click on the photo links unless you want to be even more horrified.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fukushima: the latest aerial tour

Still lots of nasty stuff coming out of the Japanese reactors, with no sign of the nuclear geniuses ever being able to stop it:

Meanwhile, from the Washington Post, an explanation of how the highly radioactive water is pouring out of the reactors -- it's likely due to broken seals around the control rods. In other words, the reactors are no longer sealed, and any water that goes in and doesn't boil off as highly radioactive steam is going to drain out into uncontained areas as highly radioactive liquid.

There's little doubt that this one is going to outdo Chernobyl in terms of radioactivity released.

From another angle, here is a map of where the airborne particulates will be falling. After a few months of that, we'll see how "not worried" the powers that be are. That is, if the radiation monitors around here are even working.

Hit the road, Jamie

When we did this, it appears we weren't alone.

You know who's a cool guy?

Brad Stevens.

Latest Japan nuke threat: It's the water

The nuke people keep telling us how different Fukushima is from Chernobyl, but there are a lot of parallels. In Chernobyl, the graphite that moderated the nuclear chain reaction exploded and caught fire, spreading toxic radioactivity worldwide. In Fukushima, the water that was supposed to cool the reactor core and help moderate the reaction interacted with the zirconium shell on the fuel rods and caused several hydrogen explosions. And now nasty radioactive water, straight out of the reactor cores, is puddling up inside the reactor buildings and making it impossible for crews to get in there and undertake their desperate measures to prevent an even worse catastrophe:

Tokyo Electric Power Co said radiation in the water of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was measured at more than 1,000 millisieverts an hour. That compares with a national safety standard of 250 millisieverts over a year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a dose of 1,000 millisieverts is enough to cause hemorrhaging.
There's similarly wicked water on the floor in the turbine room of reactor no. 3 as well. That's the place where two workers wound up in the hospital after wading into the puddle the other day. Reactor no. 1 is reportedly in the same position.

A lot of radioactivity has already wound up in the ocean near the triple-meltdown scene. Some of it may come from airborne contamination that's fallen or gotten washed down in rain, but given the huge volume of water that's being pumped onto the deadly mess inside the reactor buildings, a lot of it's got to be straight runoff:

Growing concern over food safety spread to the fishing industry over the weekend, when officials said seawater samples taken 30km off the coast of the Fukushima plant contained 1,850 times the normal level of radioactivity.
The nuke people are going to tell us that the ocean is huge, and dilution is the solution. But it's unlikely that the public will be able to buy that for long. You look at maps like this one, and this one, and you start to realize how bad this is eventually going to get.

Meanwhile, if you look quickly before they take it down, you'll find this on the New York Times site:

And then you read that they've found Chlorine-38 in the water on the reactor 3 basement floor. That particular radioisotope has a half-life of only about 37 minutes. Which means there's probably still a nuclear reaction going on inside that reactor. Google "recriticality," and try to have a nice day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Portland's on the cutting edge for mass transit

Literally. Too many streetcars, not enough cops, make for a lawless atmosphere.

Live long and prosper

And so he has. Leonard Nimoy turns 80 today.

Suck it in, Timbers fans -- your seats are 18 inches wide

Of all the critics of the pointless re-renovation of Jelled-When Field (formerly PGE Park) by the City of Portland for Little Lord Paulson, none are more strident than a guy named Peter Apanel. As he's consistently pointed out, all the millions being poured into the place aren't going to prevent it from being a darned uncomfortable place to watch sports -- particularly when it's sold out, as it will be for a lot of at least its first season of operation as a "major league" (by U.S. standards) soccer venue.

Apanel sent us a pretty revealing photo the other day, with an informative caption:

I've been waiting to see what they would do with the bench-style seats, and at this late date it's now pretty clear that they aren't going to widen the spacing.

The individual seats in the lower section measure 21" wide from the center of one armrest to the other, which is equal to the minimum width required in the MLS Venue Design Guide. And that requirement is based on data showing that the median adult measures 21" wide at the shoulders.

On the other hand, the bench-style seats allocate just 18" per seat location. So, for every seven tickets sold, only six adults, on average, will actually fit in any given row.

What's interesting about the photo is that it clearly illustrates that six individual seats take up the same width as seven bench-style seats.

Of course, none of this was a problem in the past because those bench-style seats were general admission, so everyone could spread out. But now most of those seats have already been sold as season tickets.

So, with 10,000-plus bench-style seats, up to 1,400 people with tickets won't have a place to sit.

He's got a point, of course. By our count there are 22 seats in each of the rows below, but 26 "seats" in the upper, bench rows. Pretty cozy -- the bench slots are 15.4% narrower than the seats with armrests.

Eighteen inches is the same width as a coach seat on a Boeing 757 aircraft.

But hey, let's hope for the best, Peter. Maybe the plebeians in the cheaper sections will all be skinny people. They'll be $10.50 lighter -- or maybe $60 lighter -- if they parked on the street.

Blazer heaven

It doesn't get much better than this, last night, from Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum. Bravo.

Don't blame TurboTax

The U.S. Congress isn't the only legislative body being irresponsible with its tax laws. We see that users of the popular TurboTax return preparation software have been complaining because TurboTax hasn't yet updated its Oregon program to reflect the latest tax law changes for 2010 returns.

We're no big fan of the level of attention TurboTax pays to state tax matters, but in this case, the blame is misplaced. The Oregon Legislature didn't get around to finalizing the tax laws for 2010 until March 8, 2011! Maybe two and a half weeks is a long time to wait for TurboTax to reflect the changes, but the fact that Salem is deciding how to tax transactions that happened 14 months earlier is the real disgrace. As my old Latin teacher, Eugene Sanzo, used to say, "There's something rotten in Denmark, and it ain't the cheese."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Have a great weekend

He gets more like Bush every day

It's uncanny.

Portland is a small town

Even the local media get into the act: One hand washes the other.

Wheeler keeps shuckin' and jivin'

Oregon's state treasurer Ted Wheeler's optometrist is doing an excellent job: Wheeler can read handwriting on the wall. Now he's ordering his "Masters of the Universe" investment advisor staff to file public financial statements with the state ethics commission. If he hadn't done it, the Legislature was probably going to require them to do it, anyway.

Basic financial disclosure doesn't do much, though, to cure the ethical problems created when these employees enjoy lavish travel and entertainment from private parties in connection with their official duties. And besides, the ethics commission has few resources and precious little appetite for controversy.

The only way to cure the problems is to stop the unhealthy practices. There are business-like ways to evaluate and monitor state investments. Golf junkets, luaus, and five-star restaurant blowouts are not part of that picture. And while they continue, the investigation into some of Wheeler's Masters continues. As it should.

Our modern world

They had quite a scare at the Multnomah County Courthouse yesterday afternoon when a suspicious backpack was found clipped to a signpost just outside the main entrance on Fourth Avenue. Bomb squad showed up, area was cordoned off, the whole works.

Turns out the pack was left there by a guy who had been denied entrance to the courthouse because the metal detector showed he had a box cutter in the pack. Without the backpack, he was able to go inside. As the police bulletin dryly put it, "Courthouse Security Unit staff are currently discussing with the owner alternatives for storing and securing personal property while conducting business at the Courthouse."

If you did stuff like this, you'd go to jail

When Congress jerks around with the tax laws, bad things happen. Generous wealthy people who have to deal with federal gift taxes for 2010 are supposed to file their gift tax returns by April 18 -- the same deadline as for their income tax returns. But because Congress took until December of 2010 to figure out what the law was going to be for 2010, the IRS couldn't get the gift tax return form instructions generated until last Friday, only a month before the filing deadline.

It gets worse: The rules that Congress finally passed are so screwy that even the IRS couldn't get them straight. The form instructions that the agency published were wrong, and the IRS was forced to take them down on Wednesday of this week. Maybe the IRS should send all the rich folks a request for an extension.

Nuke horror show worsens

They sent two nuclear power plant workers at Fukushima to the hospital yesterday after they waded into some water on the floor at reactor no. 3 that was so radioactive that it burned their feet or legs. The word is that the water contained 10,000 times more radiation than the water inside a normally functioning reactor would hold. That is leading the plant operators to suggest that the steel reactor core vessel has been breached.

If that's true, the superheated, melted fuel at the bottom of the steel vessel -- radioactive lava, more or less -- could come oozing out onto the concrete containment pad below it. Will the pad hold? Maybe. One U.S. government researcher has explained it this way:

In the unlikely scenario that the molten core material (corium) were to melt through the bottom of the reactor vessel and discharge into the containment, the material can interact with the underlying concrete basemat. This scenario has been under intense research for many years following the accident at TMI [Three Mile Island] with the intent of supporting accident management planning for existing plants just like the ones in Japan. This research has indicated that if water is present as an initial condition on the basemat floor, then there is a relatively high probability that the material can be quenched for a fairly wide range of melt pool depths. The Japanese have participated in this research from the beginning and are very familiar with these findings, along with their ramifications for accident management planning.
Nobody's saying that the concrete pad would or wouldn't hold in this case. But nobody will be getting anywhere near the molten fuel, wherever it shows up.

Now they're getting the U.S. Navy involved in barging fresh water to the site. They have to stop using seawater to cool the reactors because the salt is piling up inside the reactor cores. There's reportedly about 100,000 pounds of salt built up in each of reactors 2 and 3, and another 57,000 pounds in reactor 1.

There's also talk of raising the severity rating on this accident to level 6 on the international scale. Aside from revealing the Japanese p.r. strategy here -- break the bad news a little at a time -- that's a laughable development. Of course it's a 6, and it will probably go to a 7, the same as Chernobyl. Chernobyl released a lot of radiation, but the main fire there was extinguished within hours, and the entire blaze was put out in about two weeks. We reach the two-week mark of the Fukushima disaster today, and the end of serious releases of radioactive cesium and iodine is not in sight. And in Japan there are four very sick reactors to deal with, not just one.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maybe a new skateboard lane

Now that the streetcar project has screwed up auto traffic where I-5 passes the Rose Quarter, the City of Portland is planning more changes that will no doubt make getting through there in a car even more of a nightmare. And they're kicking off this next round of "improvements" with a three-day "Freeway/Local Transportation Interface Charrette." Good times.

ICE jail in SoWhat would hold some real sweethearts

An alert reader on the East Coast sends along a link to this story, to remind us of what sort of characters will be shipped in and out of Portland's SoWhat District every workday if the proposed immigration "processing facility" is allowed to be installed there.

Just the Prozac talking

As a followup to our poll of the other day, here is the photographic evidence from the other day's groundbreaking for the jackup of the Moody Avenue streetcar line. From the looks of things, the most medicated politician appears to be Congressman Wu, but actually, Mr. Blumenauer's looking a little spacey there too, isn't he?

Meanwhile, the righties are howling that all the "employment and innovation" talk from the event was simply hot air. The Moody Avenue project, they say, is really all about (a) diverting money to the mystery train to Milwaukie, and (b) raising the grade of the street so that OHSU won't have to excavate so deeply into the toxic muck that sits under the surface of some of its planned development sites.

If we had to bet, we'd say the critics give the far more plausible account of the motivation here. And as for results, we've all heard lots of talk about jobs in SoWhat, for a decade now. So far it's been a load of outrageously expensive bunk.

Welches con man working NW 17th and Raleigh

An alert reader who works in the Activspace building at 17th and Raleigh in Northwest Portland reports that David Wilson, the notorious "Welches" con man, walked into his office yesterday, offering a handshake and starting his fraudulent spiel. Our reader, of course, sent him on his way, but expressed concern that Wilson will start working the parents at the newly opened kids' play space nearby at 17th and Quimby.

With this guy, there's typically some bar nearby that he's going to adjourn to after he dupes the next poor fool out of his or her money. Usually it's a joint with video poker. Anybody know which one he might be frequenting near this location?

"On-street parking should be $7 an hour"

That statement could easily be dismissed as a rant, but it was actually made, with a straight face, by Fireman Randy on TV last night. The City of Portland's jacked up the parking meters near Jelled--When? Stadium to $3.50 an hour so that the Timber soccer fans can be thoroughly soaked on game days and nights. According to the city councilman, the fee ought to be twice that.

Now, the average soccer game is 90 minutes, plus overtime plus halftime (or whatever they call those interludes), and so chances are you'd have to park for three hours to attend a game. And you should be paying the city $21 for the privilege of bringing a car, apparently.

And why's that? The party line from the Fireman vaguely has to do with fairness to people who live near the stadium, but let's face it, with thousands of fans descending upon the field and only a few hundred on-street spots, the neighbors are screwed no matter how much or how little the parking meters cost.

Where does this logic stop? Blazer games aren't any different. Come to think of it, neither is church on Sunday. Neither is downtown. Neither is Hawthorne Boulevard. Neither is the space in front of your house.

Heaven forbid that a person driving a car have even a lottery chance of getting a break in Portland any more. Nickel dime, nickel dime, nickel dime... it's a large part of why our city is dying a slow death.

Stand by for grandstanding

Fireman Randy and his Tweeters will be all over this in 3... 2... 1...

Actually, it would be a nice gesture, but what Portland could afford to chip in would be, if you'll pardon the expression, a drop in the bucket.

Two words: Hideaki Akaiwa

Hope it is true. That is all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

He's coherent enough

We needed a good laugh, and leave it to the internet. Kari and Carla over at BlueOregon have "interviewed" their hero, David Wu. And wow! He came out smelling o.k. The folks at the O rolled over in their hammocks and "reported" on it here.

Keeping in this same vein, Wu will be hitting underhand wiffle ball pitches Saturday morning at Beaverton Batting Cages. But only for a few minutes. He is also holding brief one-on-one conversations with constituents here.

Latest bike rage episode features cop biking to work

Here's the police's version of it:

Portland Officer almost struck while riding bike to work - 03/23/11

Early Tuesday morning March 22, 2011, a Portland Police Sergeant was riding his bike to work eastbound on Northwest Cornell Road when a motorist drove along side of his bike within inches of hitting him while riding. The driver, later identified as 68-year-old Larry Fornshell, passed Sergeant Santos and continued on. When both came into town to a traffic control device, Sergeant Santos rode to the right of Mr. Fornshell's car. Fornshell turned right, into Santos. Just prior to the intersection of Northwest 25th Avenue and Northwest Lovejoy Street, Mr. Fornshell stopped abruptly. Santos said he had to ride to the left of Fornshell's vehicle into the oncoming traffic lanes to avoid hitting Fornshell's car and slapped Fornshell's vehicle with his hand. When Santos and Fornshell came to the intersection, Fornshell put his vehicle in reverse and attempted to hit Santos on his bike. Santos jumped off of his bike and ran with his bike to the sidewalk. Fornshell then hit Santos' bike as he was holding onto it. Santos jumped out of the way to avoid being struck and Fornshell left the scene of the crash. Santos remembered the license plate number from the vehicle and called 911.

Last evening, March 22, 2011, Fornshell was located and arrested for the Hit and Run and Attempt Assault. He was booked into the downtown Multnomah County Facility on an Attempt Assault in the Second Degree. Detectives are looking to identify witnesses from the crash at Northwest 25th Avenue and Northwest Lovejoy Street. Any witnesses to this incident or anyone with additional information is asked to call Detective Kevin Warren at 503 823-3761.

Apparently the police sergeant's first name, omitted from the police report, is Joseph.

The glow of spring break

We thought we'd get away from the cares of the world for a little while today by heading out for a family lunch. We enjoyed a fine meal at this place, then stopped off at the drug store to pick up some stuff and look around. The girls wanted some of these little packets from Japan that look like they contain candy but are actually holding miniature cartoon toys and stickers, three each to the pack. The kids pungled up their money and each purchased a pack.

Here's one figure that jumped right out at us:

We're calling him "Radioactive Hyper Dude." So much for the escape. And now this.

Above the law

A reader snapped this photo of a parked car in Southeast Portland yesterday morning:

According to the reader, it's the work of "a lazy inspector not wanting to park and walk a block and a half down to those new 'move the house condo's' on 38th and Division. He got himself some princess parking right on the corner instead."

Now, when you mess with a fire hydrant, you're intruding into Fireman Randy's territory. Up until recently, Buildings was in his domain, too, but now that's been passed off to Legend Saltzman. Perhaps they ought to sit down for a chat about fire safety.

El Linchpin

Aerial tram fever is contagious, apparently.

State employees union: Raise taxes

Here's breaking news:

[T]he state's largest public employees' union released a report Tuesday pointing to ways the state of Oregon might find an extra $1 billion.

As one might expect, the recommendations do not include reducing worker pensions or benefits...

-- Improving collection of delinquent taxes and being more restrictive with tax credits and deductions. The biggest savings identified in the report is more than $522 million that could be recouped by eliminating or tightening tax credits or deductions....

Uh huh.

Tokyo: Don't let infants drink tap water

The depth of the tragedy is truly staggering. And it's no closer to being over than it was yesterday, or the day before that.

UPDATE, 6:38 a.m.: They're reporting that radiation reached half a sievert per hour -- 500 millisieverts per hour -- at one spot inside the Fukushima plant gates. Even a couple of hours of exposure at that intensity can cause radiation sickness. As we understand it, the legal limit for nuclear power plant worker exposure is 50 millisieverts a year. And so at Fukushima, the worker would get a year's worth of the legal limit in six minutes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rip City

Stop me if you've heard this one:

A young engineer was leaving the office at 5:45 p.m. when he found the CEO standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.

"Listen," said the CEO, "this is a very sensitive and important document, and my secretary is not here. Can you make this thing work?"

"Certainly," said the young engineer. He turned on the machine, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.

"Excellent, excellent!" said the CEO as his paper disappeared inside the machine, "I just need one copy."


Have you noticed how hard Comcast and its Xfinity brand are saturation-bombing our consumer consciousness these days? We noticed the other night that our favorite weekend sports wrap-up show on KGW-TV is suddenly being called the Xfinity something-or-other. Hey, they own the network now -- what did you expect? And the old Hollywood Video store at the corner of Sandy and Fremont now has Xfinity plastered all over it.

Xfinity sounds kinda creepy, doesn't it? Like a science fiction novel from 1970 or so. "How long will the plutonium contamination last, Captain?" "Xfinity, Corporal."

Here at blog headquarters, our Comcast experience hasn't been so uplifting of late. We pay these guys $10 extra every month on top of their normal internet charges, for something they call "blast" service, but our connection speed was more like "cough." After a while, it was not just slow, but intermittent. We tried the usual tricks -- reset the modem, reset the router, yada yada, but the craptastic problems persisted. With some trepidation, we picked up the phone for some customer support.

The first time we did this, it was late at night, and we got a gal in India whose best advice to us was to "delete kookies." The next time, they sent out a guy who asked us if the service was running fine at that moment, which it was. With that, he shrugged, climbed around on the outside of the house for a few minutes, and left; about an hour later, the 'net was down again. The third time, we decided in mid-phone-call with the Comcast guy to give things a chance to straighten themselves out.

Through all of these phone calls, of course, we were being bombarded with robotic sales pitches. Even when you knew the codes in advance and pushed all the right buttons to talk to a human being, it always took three minutes or more to get through to a person. "Did you know you can save money by bundling your internet service with your phone service?" Get out da way, lady. Even the live tech support people felt compelled to try to sell you something before they let you hang up.

On call no. 4, we finally got someone on the phone who sounded quite knowledgeable and interested. He told us that he could see that our modem, rented from Comcast, was the likely culprit. It was old, tired, and not responding properly to the Comcast guy's remote tests. And so finally, a couple of days later, we got a different technician out to the house, with this in his hand:

By golly, it's a Ubee D3.0. It's running a whole lot better than the clunky old RCA thingy he took out of here. The intertubes are now plenty fast. Nice to be getting what we're paying for, finally.

Speaking of nuclear waste...

Can you imagine what it would be like right about now if Opie was still around at Portland City Hall?

Oregon's lazy media

Here's a completely one-sided, uncritical warming-over of an advertising brochure by the Daily Journal of Commerce. Even if the reporter accepts the party line, the least she could have done was talk to someone about whether anyone else will buy it.

Meanwhile, the supposedly hard-hitting independent "reporter" on the Metro government payroll couldn't have written a puffier puff piece than this. Apparently neither Metro nor its outgoing CEO has any critics or skeptics. On with the Convention Center hotel!

Reader poll: Which guy will have the heaviest buzz on?

They're having a big ceremony down in Portland's SoWhat District today, cutting the ribbon on some more mega-million-dollar streetcar and light rail malarkey that the city desperately hopes will salvage the failed "vibrant neighborhood" that turned out to be a bankrupt flop:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will join Mayor Sam Adams next Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Southwest Moody Avenue project in South Waterfront. The project will rebuild Southwest Moody Avenue between Southwest River Parkway and Southwest Gibbs Street to support redevelopment of adjacent brown fields, and facilitate the completion of light rail and streetcar expansions to the east side. Also on hand to thank LaHood for $23 million in federal stimulus money for the project will be U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, David Wu and Kurt Schrader.
Wow, that's quite a lineup of "unique" characters, several (if not all) of whom seem out of touch with the realities of the day. Which leads to a burning question for our readers:

At today's Moody Avenue groundbreaking, which politician will be the most heavily medicated?
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
Portland Mayor Sam Adams
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. David Wu
Rep. Kurt Schrader
pollcode.com free polls

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Under control"? Give me a break.

Here are some aerial infrared photos of the four most damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. Reactor no. 3 is the most wasted, and its spent fuel pool looks the hottest from above -- 62 Celsius, or 144 Farenheit. Over where the reactor vessel sits, the temperature is more than twice that -- 128 Celsius, or 262 Farenheit. The top of the reactor vessel may have been crushed or broken off, and the spent fuel pool is probably leaking or missing a wall.

They have thrown away the manuals and are now winging it. Restoring electricity to the plant after more than a week is nice, but the reactor buildings and the equipment within them have been trashed. No one is trained to deal with this level of destruction. It is still an extremely dangerous, high-stakes experiment, despite what the nucle-heads are braying about it being "under control."

Japanese nuke cloud makes it to East Coast

But don't worry -- it can't hurt you. Honest.

On the flack track

Former Portland mayoral spokesman Roy Kaufmann has his second new job in three weeks, this time outside city government.

Transparency? City Hall hates it.

Oregon attorney general John Kroger's push to strengthen the state's public records laws is meeting up with some tough resistance. The biggest force against reform? The League of Oregon Cities, according to this (alas, pay-walled) article in the Bend Bulletin.

Meanwhile, even the government-friendly U.S. Supreme Court has been busy striking a blow for open government. The local bureaucrats in Oregon need to get over themselves.

UPDATE, 5:18 p.m.: Here's another battlefront in the ongoing war against the bureaucrats who just want to "do it in the dark."

DeFazio's got it right

Obama's a dud.

Green starts at home

We see that the Port of Portland and some other ne'er-do-wells (including Sponge John Bluejeans) are using the region's dead economy as an excuse to roll back environmental protection and land use laws in Oregon. Not all that surprising, but what's hilarious is Portland's "unique" mayor jumping up to speak on behalf of the birds and the bees. The mayor, as we know, is currently ramming through the Port's plan to pave over bald eagle habitat on West Hayden Island for some sort of shipping terminal (they swear it's not coal). If Hizzoner is so concerned about wildlife, the first thing he and Admiral Randy need to do is kill the Hayden Island deal. But of course, they won't -- the fix is in.

On the streets where you live

Oh, those troublemakers down at the U of O. Now they've caught wind that somebody's questioned whether the chancellor of the state university system, George Pernsteiner, should be voting, as he apparently does, in Eugene.

He's reportedly listed on voting records down in Lane County as living in the Eugene mansion that the state maintains for him, but he also allegedly spends quite a bit of time in a nice house that he owns in Southeast Portland, for which the state pays him a handsome housing allowance. According to a recent article in the O --

The chancellor says he probably spends a little less time in Treetops than in his Portland home, for which he gets an allowance of $26,000 a year.
Which is his "residence" for voting purposes? If it's Portland, he's apparently been voting in the wrong place for some time.

Here, as best we can tell, is what the Oregon statutes say about "residence" for voter registration purposes:

247.035 Rules to consider in determining residence of person for voting purposes. (1) An elections official, in determining the residence and qualifications of a person offering to register or vote, shall consider the following rules, so far as they may be applicable:

(a) The person’s residence shall be the place in which habitation is fixed and to which, when the person is absent, the person intends to return.

(b) If a person’s property is split by a jurisdictional line, the person shall be registered where the residence is located. If the residence is split by a jurisdictional line, the person shall register where the greatest value of the residence is located according to county assessment and taxation records.

(c) A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any location in this state into which the person comes for temporary purposes only, without the intention of making it the person’s home.

(d) If a person moves to another state with the intention of making a permanent home, the person shall be considered to have lost residence in this state.

(e) If a person goes from this state into any other state or territory and votes there, the person shall be considered to have lost residence in this state.

(f) A person who has left the place of the person’s residence for a temporary purpose only shall not be considered to have lost residence.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, a person who has left the place of the person’s residence for a temporary purpose only, who has not established another residence for voter registration purposes and who does not have a place in which habitation is fixed shall not be considered to have changed or lost residence. The person may register at the address of the place the person’s residence was located before the person left.

(3) An elections official may consider, but is not limited to considering, the following factors in determining residency of a person for voter registration purposes:

(a) Where the person receives personal mail;

(b) Where the person is licensed to drive;

(c) Where the person registers motor vehicles for personal use;

(d) Where any immediate family members of the person reside;

(e) The address from which the person pays for utility services; and

(f) The address from which the person files any federal or state income tax returns.

All good stuff for the chancellor to produce. On the final point (d) just quoted, one clue in Pernsteiner's favor comes from the recent O article:

It could be less expensive to give up Treetops and put Pernsteiner up in a hotel when he's in Eugene, though that would be hard on his family.
In these cash-strapped times, maybe the state should fire the maids who tend to the mansion and let it go back to the family of the person who gave it to the state. For what they're paying the mansion maids alone, Pernsteiner and his clan could be put up in a perfectly nice leased house or apartment somewhere else in Eugene. An added bonus: The mansion could go back on the tax rolls.

State Marine Board chief to Adams: Dream on

Another one of the Portland mayor's priceless ideas -- the one that would give Admiral Randy's naval empire something to do -- is apparently going nowhere fast. The head of the state Marine Board is telling the Samster the same thing the FBI is telling him on the joint terrorism task force: Come off it.

Big East not so big after all

In the national college men's basketball tourney, the Big East conference sent an unprecedented 11 teams to the big dance. Nine of them got mowed down the first weekend, and the other two advanced by beating Big East teams themselves. This is leading many (including Sir Charles Barkley on the telly) to observe that the conference was overrated. The Atlantic Coast Conference, meanwhile, has three teams still going, out of just four who entered. The Mountain West Conference accounts for two of the Sweet 16, out of three entrants.

Latest game at Fukushima: Watch the smoke color

Today gray smoke has been coming from Fukushima Daiichi reactor no. 3, whose roof and upper walls had been completely blown apart last week. That probably means something's burning -- who knows what?

Over at reactor no. 2, where the building's not too badly damaged but there's still a meltdown accident in progress, the smoke is white. It's probably just radioactive steam from the damaged reactor vessel -- what a relief!

Keep watching the smoke, folks. Maybe they'll be announcing a new Pope soon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bar and Hil's excellent adventure

Help me with this one: U.S. military intervention in the Libyan civil war is justified because...

Green, sustainable death

Here's an interesting juxtaposition of messages on a certain Japanese website:

And in another black-comedy moment from the disaster, the government over there has announced that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will probably have to be decommissioned now. Gee, fellas, d'ya think? Don't make any rush decisions here.

Food irradiation, Fukushima-style

Radioactive fava beans have found their way from Japan to Taiwan. Iodine and cesium -- it could have come from only one source.

It's quite possible that the Japanese agriculture industry is about to take a major hit. The corporate and government instinct will probably be to downplay it, but that could really backfire.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nukes detected in Tokyo tap water

They're telling people it's still safe to drink it, and apparently it's got a long way to go before they say otherwise. But of course, the nuclear disaster is nowhere near over.

March madness

It's spring break, and for America, that means it's blood-for-oil time. Time to start bombing the despots we don't like if they're sitting on black gold. Eight years ago it was Bush (a 1 seed) vs. Saddam (a 16 seed). Twenty-five years ago it was Reagan (a 2 seed) against Gaddafi (a 15 seed). Now it's Obama (a 4 seed) against Gaddafi (a 13 seed).

Reagan managed to kill a few of Gaddafi's wives and children, and apparently that made us all safer. Wonder who'll die this time.

"Email" loses its hyphen

As do "cellphone" and "smartphone." And do you know the way to Kolkata?

Copping some rays by the pool

Here's a good graphic illustrating what all it looks like at a spent nuclear fuel pool inside a reactor such as the ones that are acting up in Japan. That is, how it looks when it's not seriously damaged. For one thing, the cranes at reactor no. 4 in Fukushima have reportedly been destroyed, and so there'll be no moving any spent fuel any time soon. And some think that the steel and concrete wall or floor of that pool has been breached -- a situation that doesn't seem to have any precedent or ready-made solution.

The caption to the last slide in the graphic also sounds ominous. Splashing cold water on hot fuel assemblies cracks their protective cladding and guarantees that they'll be releasing radioactivity more copiously from that point forward.

Even if things settle down there -- which is far from assured at this point -- Fukushima seems likely to be a dangerous place for many decades to come. Check the expiration date on those iodine pills.

Latest from Japan: radioactive milk, spinach

According to one report, the contamination on the spinach was found 65 miles away from the damaged nuclear power plant. But "don't worry -- it's less than a CAT scan."

Meanwhile, a new 6.1 earthquake with an epicenter close to the plant can't be helping the desperate efforts to prevent further atomic catastrophe.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Have a great weekend

Not much news from Fukushima

There's not a whole lot of news out of the Japanese nuclear disaster zone today. New efforts are being made to bring the situation under control, but they're far from a sure thing. Today the Japanese admitted that the Fukushima meltdowns merit at least a 5 on the international scale of nuclear accident severity. That's what Three Mile Island was, whereas Chernobyl was a 7.

The Fukushima accident has already emitted far more radioactivity than Three Mile Island did, and there is much more to come.

One of the biggest problems at the moment is an apparent leak of water out of the spent fuel storage pool next to reactor no. 4. If the spent fuel rods catch fire, which some experts think is possible, that could be a Chernobyl-level fire, maybe worse -- although there might not be as big an explosion as in Ukraine, which might keep some of the cloud out of the upper atmosphere.

One other revelation of the last day or so is that in addition to the spent fuel pool in each reactor, there is a large common fuel pool behind reactor no. 4, from which waste is moved from most or all of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. More than half the spent fuel at Daiichi is in that common pool. There are more than 11,000 spent fuel assemblies at the site -- nearly 1500 in the stricken pool inside reactor no. 4. A typical assembly holds between 64 and 81 waste fuel rods, each assembly weighing around 380 pounds. The radioactivity in the spent fuel is intense -- enough to kill a human being at close range in minutes.

UPDATE, 4:54 p.m.: BTW, the first of the plumes has reached America. Sacramento wins the prize.

Countdown is on for mighty Peacocks

Our alma mater, St. Peter's College, takes the floor in a little while against the Purdue Boilermakers in the national men's college basketball tournament. The game, in Chicago, is set to tip off at 4:20 our time. It's a major longshot, but the boys from Jersey City have been known to pull the upset now and then. This one would be one of the biggest, if not the very biggest, in school history. Go Peacocks!

UPDATE, 6:44 p.m.: Ouch!!!

He likes 'em good-lookin'

Like an impetuous child who won't go to his room and be quiet, Portland's mayor keeps whinging about the design on the gazillion-dollar interstate bridge project. Rather than have the new span be relatively cheap and just get the job done, he's insisting that his more expensive and complicated pet design be adopted instead.

Here's a letter he's showing around that he wrote to the governor on the subject. Pretty comical -- he ran out and hired a high-end outside lawyer to help him argue that building the cheaper version is going to cause all kinds of legal problems. And of course, he's always got somebody in the city attorney's office who will make whatever legal argument he orders up to suit his purpose du jour.

The funniest part is where he tells the guv that there isn't enough public support for the cheaper bridge, and if only the guv will see the light and build the prettier thing that the mayor wants, everything will run much more smoothly. "Put a bird on it, or I'll sic the Portland architects on you."

Assuming the governor has any common sense, that document is already on its way to the nearest recycling depot. Or maybe he should take it home to Cylvia and they can hang it on the fridge. The kids have had their tens of millions of dollars of fun playing with their modeling clay. Now it's time for the grownups to build a freeway bridge.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A "clarification"

Earlier this week we posted a forwarded e-mail message that we had received from a reader. The e-mail message appeared to be from Gerry Williams, chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission. It outlined quite directly the utter vulnerability of Oregon to earthquake damage and resulting harm to humans. Toward the end of the message, its author was vocally critical of the twisted priorities of the state government, which ignores those risks while building a college basketball arena.

We agreed with those sentiments, and were happy to publish them. But now the back-pedaling has begun. The reader who sent the message to us -- who is identifying himself as Joe Schafbuch -- now informs us that maybe Williams didn't actually say what the e-mail said he said. Schafbuch now writes:

Let me correct the item I forwarded as it doesn't reflect the total overview of the issues but just highlights key elements from the commission's report. The remarks about public funding of arenas, school children and Phil Knight are not part of the Advisory committee's report and were added to the thread as it was forwarded from recipient to recipient.
When we asked Schafbuch who did write what the e-mail attributed to Williams, Schafbuch replied:
The email highlighting the issues facing Portland was orginated by Mr. Williams (from the report below) and forwarded to me with additional comments by other receipients of the original email. ( I did clean up the email prior to forwarding to you because of the randomness of statements and the NSFW statements that had been attached). The last couple of paragraphs represents my position in response to the issues presented from the report. I'm sorry for any confusion.
The whole thing seems curious. In his original e-mail message to us on Monday, Schafbuch had written:
I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your entries throughout the day. In regards to the disaster in Japan, my good friend, Dr. Gerry Williams sent me this email (below) that I thought I would share with you and possibly your readers. It’s quite a report if something similar hit here locally.
The forwarded message (which we reprinted) then appeared, all in a blue font, with Williams's name signed, also in blue, at the bottom -- immediately after the comments about the spending priorities:

Whatever happened, Schafbuch is now apparently telling us that Williams didn't write at least the last part of the e-mail message we published. For what it's worth, we relay that point here.


As this page clearly shows.

Lost comrades mourned at disaster site

Although their mission was futile, they gave it their all.

We are the world, we are disasters

Here's an interesting site from Hungary, featuring gloom and doom from all over.

Take a copter ride over Fukushima

On the left side of this page are some video clips of a recent fly-over.

They never give up

The newspaper folks still think they're going to get you to pay for content. Good luck with that.

Maybe the Times should hold a weekly bake sale.

I'm sorry I voted for Tom Hughes

And I will never vote for him for anything ever again, after this. The guy just doesn't get it. Bye, Tom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Radiation plume to visit Los Angeles first

It should be there by Friday, according to this report.

Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable.
"Extremely minor health consequences"? Does that mean that many people will have minor problems? Or that only a couple of people will get cancer?

And after that, it looks as though we're next, here.

"Everything's fine," but...

... the feds are doing what they should be doing. "Out of an abundance of caution." Whatever you need to say, folks -- just get on with it.

Another bad turn in the nuke disaster story

The U.S. nuclear authorities say it's worse in Japan than the Japanese are letting on. At some point, they may have to abandon the Fukushima plant and let it unleash whatever hell it wants. Apparently one spent fuel pool has no water left in it -- and there's no containment around it, either. That means the whole site may soon have to be evacuated.

It's a coyote's life

A reader writes:

Spotted this fella this on the bike ride in this morning. Around NE 20th and Siskiyou. I doubled back and rode about two blocks alongside. He didn't seemed unnerved about me or the car traffic. Spotted him or a buddy a few months back on Regents, staring at a couple walking their newborn.

Another decent source of meltdown info

MIT has a website going on the Japanese nuclear disaster.

Those nuclear sweethearts

The boys at Tokyo Electric have quite a track record.

How nuclear power will make a comeback

The new plants will be applying for a LEED Platinum rating.

He got Wu-zy

More dirt on Rep. David Wu: He had a little car crash last year. Allegedly gave a phony address to the police. The woman whose car he totaled says he smelled boozy. He admitted to drinking. The cops gave him a field sobriety test, which they say he passed, and they let him go.

The story is troubling, and it raises a burning question:

If you had to let one of them drive you somewhere, whose car would you get into?
David Wu
Sam Adams
pollcode.com free polls

Best info yet on meltdown status

An organization called the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum has prepared a useful table that shows where the various Fukushima plants stand at this point. It's pretty grim.

In two of the three reactors that were going when the earthquake hit, the water has drained out of the reactor core to the point that half the fuel is uncovered. That means it has melted or will melt. In the third reactor, the water apparently dried up entirely but is "recovering."

In one of the three reactors that were down when the earthquake hit, the water in the spent fuel pool is low. If the waste rods are exposed to air, they will burn, and there is no containment around them. They are already suspected to have been "damaged," which could mean they have burned. Three of the four buildings just mentioned are severely damaged; the other (where the water in the reactor dried up for a while and is "recovering") is listed as slightly damaged. Damage to the containment is suspected in two of the three reactors that were working when Mother Nature made her statement.

None of this changes our worry level in either direction, but it's helpful that someone has prepared what appears to be a fairly authoritative scorecard.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oregonian: Don't bother buying iodine pills

The local doctors know better than the surgeon general, I guess.

Lesson of Fukushima: Pay more taxes

Even a liberal like myself thinks this is just plain goofy.

Sane advice about fallout and health

Here is a level-headed discussion, unlike the "Don't worry" garbage flooding Portland's media.

What if the nuke operators just give up?

At some point, it could very well happen. You can't fault the individuals involved, but at some level there has to be some responsibility for continuing the fight.

Does Japan have an army? Does it have helicopters? Should they be next in line?


If you're going to cite "experts" on the Japanese nuclear disaster, you might try identifying at least two. Preferably try to include one who hasn't made a career out of playing with a toy reactor. If you try really hard, you might interview a scientist who actually opposes nuclear power! Or maybe a marginal leftist like the U.S. Surgeon General.

But hey, I understand -- you've got a lot going on with the Charlie Sheen story.

Wu: "My e-mails are secret"

Good luck with that one, Dave.

Slipping away

There's a fire in one of the Japanese reactors -- the one in which the spent fuel pool is in trouble. If the spent fuel burns, the consequences will be dire indeed. The smoke will be every bit as treacherous as what rained down on the Northern Hemisphere after Chernobyl.

The Big One in Oregon will be worse

A reader passes along an interesting local angle on the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster story. Here is an e-mail message that the reader says he's received from Gerry Williams, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission:

As of yesterday’s reports there were some 1000 dead and another 10,000 missing in Japan. In China a couple of years ago, thousands, many of whom were school children, were trapped in collapsed schools and died. In Haiti and Chile and New Zealand, thousands more have died in the past 18 months!

[T]wo weeks ago I sent a five-page letter outlining Oregon’s seismic vulnerabilities based on the previous three years testimony before our Commission. What you saw in Japan is nothing compared to what will happen in Oregon. Here are a few of the highlights from that letter (If you would like the original, I would be happy to send it to you – it’s a public document):

-- The 8.9 subduction zone earthquake that hit Japan on Thursday night (our time) had about ½ as much energy as the 9.2 quake that we expect from the Cascadia fault off of Oregon sometime in the next 50 years.

-- 1,170 public schools in Oregon are at a High or Very High risk of collapse in a seismic event – that represents a population of 300,000 students; we are now fixing those schools at a pace of about 10 a year;

-- There are about 1,000 dams in Oregon, many in the coast range, many of which will fail in a major earthquake;

-- ODOT has about 1,000 bridges that will fail in a major earthquake, and currently we are upgrading them at a pace of about 6 a year;

-- Oregon’s prisons have a total of one day supply of water and no excess sewer capacity, both of which will be lost in a major earthquake (though they will have ample food – several weeks or months supply);

-- The main fuel pipelines entering the state from the north cross into Northwest Portland’s "tank farm" where the fuel is stored in massive million gallon tanks. The pipelines are supported by fragile wood piles that date back to the 1920’s, and the tanks are likely to burst (if you saw the fires in Japan at their fuel storage facilities – multiply that by about 10 and you’ll get what Portland will face);

-- Power and natural gas utilities are unprepared for a major earthquake, and it’s likely power will be out for weeks and in some cases months;

-- There are hundreds of unreinforced masonry buildings, particularly in Northwest Portland’s Old Town -- most will collapse or be so structurally impaired that they will have to be torn down;

-- Tens of thousands of people will be injured in an earthquake (thousands will die immediately), but there is no excess capacity in Portland’s hospitals to accept that number of new patients;

-- Lifelines to the Oregon Coast will be shut off, bridges along Highway 101 will collapse, and portions of the roads will be impassable, making much of the Oregon Coast "islands";

-- The Portland Airport’s runways may survive, but it could be impossible to get to the airport from 82nd, 33rd, or I-205 due to bridge failures;

-- Most Port of Portland facilities were designed and constructed before modern (1994 and later) building codes;

-- Most bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland are not seismically safe – and most are owned by Multnomah County, not ODOT, and are not slated for upgrades any time soon.

An initiative passed several years ago mandates all schools be upgraded in Oregon by 2032, a two billion dollar program. As of this writing we have allocated a total of $15 million with another $7.5 million to be allocated (if the bond sale actually goes through) this spring. The State Treasurer has advised the state that we cannot issue any general obligation bonds without endangering our bond rating and driving up interest rates – making them more costly to finance. So schools, emergency facilities, dams and bridges are just going to have to wait.

However, in the last session, knowing that the economy was still taking a dive, the state used up $200 million of its bond capacity to finance a monument to Phil Knight at the University of Oregon – because Phil gave the athletic department $100 million – none of which, however, could go to pay any of the capital costs of the new Knight Arena.

It’s about values and money – and a guy like Knight who has the money, gets to dictate the values. Because apparently, the Oregon Legislature values U of O basketball more than the potential of losing 300,000 school children’s lives in a major earthquake.

And don't forget the $250 million in lottery bonds for the mystery train from Portland to Milwaukie, Gerry. Money that's so badly needed for things that are real.

File these away

The local "experts" on the nuclear disaster in Japan and its potential health effects on Oregonians had quite a day yesterday. The ones whom the local mainstream media bothered to call told us, to a one, that there was, and is, absolutely nothing to be concerned about. Go on about your business!

Is that right? We're sure that there are other experts who would beg to differ. None were interviewed or quoted by the Portland media, however. Maybe it was the long distance charges that prevented their being consulted.

Most surprising were the local "experts" who declared that even the worst-case scenario in Japan would not have health effects on people in Oregon. That's a pretty outlandish assertion, in that no one knows exactly what is eventually going to happen over there:

The fear is that a full meltdown will occur. The rods melt to a point where they breach both containment structures and escape into the environment, contaminating the soil and releasing radioactive particles into the air.

"The worst case scenario is ... the fuel rods fuse together, the temperatures get so hot that they melt together in a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechanisms," nuclear expert Joe Cirincione of the anti-nuclear group Ploughshares Fund told Agence France-Presse.

These radioactive particles are then picked up by winds, and depending on where they are blowing at any given time, a nuclear cloud could move across the Pacific to the west coast of the United States, causing possible health problems and contaminating food stocks.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, any exposure to ionizing radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer. And given the levels of radiation that are already being dispersed into the winds blowing our way, it's dishonest to say none of it will arrive in Oregon. Of course some of it will, and perhaps lots of it.

Anyway, a short time from now, if Oregonians are being told not to serve dairy products to their kids and to limit time outdoors, one wouldn't be surprised if yesterday's brimming-with-confidence comments will be quietly withdrawn. It's easily done. Try to find Vera Katz's gushing testimonial to Neil Goldschmidt from a half hour after he resigned from his role as Political Boss -- before we found out what that was really about. You won't find it easily. Ted Kulongoski's admiring statement from the same hour is also missing. So mark the following down now, while you have a chance. We'll start with the one we cited last evening, and then pick up some others:

"Even if there were to be a significant release from Japan, and that’s not expected to happen, we do not expect any health risk," said Gail Shibley with Oregon Environmental Public Health. "This is based on the specific type of reactors, the shutdown status of those plants and ongoing containment efforts."


Portland has its own nuclear reactor at Reed College and the director of the program there told KGW Monday that the chances of a massive escape of radiation from a meltdown of nuclear reactors in Japan were slim to none.

Stephen Frantz said that all signs lead to a meltdown of some level at the reactors in Japan. He predicted that the probable effect on health should that happen will be "zero."

That applies to both people in Japan, and Oregon.


Q: What if emergency crews are unable to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the reactor?

A: Even then, it's questionable whether dangerous levels of radiation would reach the West Coast because of the long distance and dilution that takes place in the atmosphere, said Kathryn Higley, a professor and head of the department of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics at Oregon State University. After the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster in 1986, RadNet stations in Oregon and Washington recorded an uptick in radioactive iodine-131 carried from Ukraine by high-altitude winds but not enough to pose a health risk, Leon said.


"Readings do not show any increase in radiation, and no increases are expected," said Oregon Public Health Division spokesperson Christine Stone following a Sunday morning conference call with health officials in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and parts of western Canada.

According to Stone, the officials said radiation monitoring equipment in all the states and Canada showed normal levels on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Increases are not anticipated, Stone said, although Japan is still struggling to prevent meltdowns in a number of nuclear reactors damaged by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.


In a news release, state Public Health Director Mel Kohn says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the all-clear.

"Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity," the news release says. "There have been no elevated radiation readings detected in Oregon and air samples remain normal. Given the current size of the release and the distance from Oregon, we do not expect that to change and there is no public health risk to the state."

If they said "Things are o.k. for now, but could change," you might buy it. But read those quotes. This is how people in authority act when nuclear power is involved. They lie.

Monday, March 14, 2011

State of Oregon: Everything's fine, don't take iodine

"Even if there were to be a significant release from Japan, and that’s not expected to happen, we do not expect any health risk," said Gail Shibley with Oregon Environmental Public Health. "This is based on the specific type of reactors, the shutdown status of those plants and ongoing containment efforts."
Desperate efforts that are failing, of course.

It's pretty amazing when they tell you, "No matter what happens, don't worry, you're safe." If you believe that, you get what you deserve.

Reactor "container" damaged at Fukushima

The third active nuclear reactor at Fukushima has had its hydrogen explosion -- just like the other two -- and there is now no serious question but that at least some fuel inside all three reactors is melting down. The latest report from Kyodo News is that the "reactor container" has been "damaged" in that third unit.

The problem is being described as a "defect" in the "suppression pool," which as best we can tell sits right beneath the reactor core.

Without cooling water on the rods inside the cores, they will reach temperatures high enough to melt steel. If superheated nuclear fuel pours out of the core, it will melt through everything it touches. Will there be fires? Will it melt all the way down to the core of the earth, as they told us in "The China Syndrome"? At the very least, the groundwater will be poisoned forever.

Another thing to think about are the spent fuel pools in the reactors. This is nuclear waste -- old fuel rods -- that's being kept in pools of water so that it doesn't overheat or start an unwanted nuclear chain reaction. The pools are in the same buildings as the crippled reactors, apparently on an upper floor. What's going to happen to those waste pools if the four to six inches of steel in the reactor core wall gives way, and the meltdown starts wiping out the concrete and earth below? It's anybody's guess.

UPDATE, 6:00 p.m.: Here's an interesting graphic. That's us off to the right of your screen.

Don't touch royalty

Jeld-Wen Inc., the Klamath Falls-based window and door company, has bought the right to put its name on the civic stadium owned by the City of Portland. It is paying Merritt Paulson for those rights.

How much is it paying? You're just a taxpayer -- you don't get to know.

They're everywhere

Even Reed College has a nucle-head. Really -- everything's fine.

"Urban renewal" about to get whacked in Chicago

First Jerry Brown is killing it. Now Rahm Emanuel is reforming it. But here in Portlandia, the kids are still putting a bird on it. How dopey.

A-park-olypse for Timbers fans

Parking on the street outside the stadium could cost them $60.

And of course, the soccer crowds are the perfect excuse for the City of Portland to jack up parking meter rates and extend parking meter hours for a big area around the stadium, every night, all year long.

This used to be such a nice, easygoing, livable place. Now it's a nervous breakdown.

UPDATE, 3/24, 3:22 a.m.: Whoopdee-do! Apparently the higher meter rates will only apply on game nights. But will the meters now run 'til 10 every night? That would be new, wouldn't it? It's what they did over by the Rose Garden.

There goes the neighborhood

Here's a section of Boston that doesn't want a Whole Foods store.

FCI could be a BFD

If the nuclear plants in Japan really do melt down, apparently it could be due to something called a "fuel-coolant interaction," or "FCI," in which superheated, molten nuclear fuel hits cooling water (which now is apparently seawater) at the bottom of the reactor vessel and causes a steam explosion. A fat reactor safety training course, put together by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2002, spends quite a bit of time on this possibility. You can read all about it on pages 228 to 246 (the last 19 pages) of this large pdf file (excerpted here).

The Wiki condensation of this material isn't that much easier to understand, but it says:

At the point at which the corium relocates to the lower plenum, Haskin, et al relate that the possibility exists for an incident called a fuel-coolant interaction (FCI) to substantially stress or breach the primary pressure boundary when the corium relocates to the lower plenum of the RPV [reactor pressure vessel]. This is because the lower plenum of the RPV may have a substantial quantity of water -- the reactor coolant -- in it, and, assuming the primary system has not been depressurized, the water will likely be in the liquid phase, and consequently dense, and at a vastly lower temperature than the corium. Since corium is a liquid metal-ceramic eutectic at temperatures of 2,200 to 3,200 K (3,500 to 5,300 °F), its fall into liquid water at 550 to 600 K (530 to 620 °F) may cause an extremely rapid evolution of steam that could cause a sudden extreme overpressure and consequent gross structural failure of the primary system or RPV. Though most modern studies hold that it is physically infeasible, or at least extraordinarily unlikely, Haskin, et al state that that there exists a remote possibility of an extremely violent FCI leading to something referred to as an alpha-mode failure, or the gross failure of the RPV itself, and subsequent ejection of the upper plenum of the RPV as a missile against the inside of the containment, which would likely lead to the failure of the containment and release of the fission products of the core to the outside environment without any substantial decay having taken place.

However, it is likely, as in the Three Mile Island accident, that any FCI that occurs will not substantially breach the primary pressure boundary, or lead to the gross structural failure of the primary system or RPV, and the corium will reach the lower plenum with the lower plenum remaining intact.

And if you throw ocean water into the mix, for days or months on end, will that make any difference? We doubt that anybody knows.

The worst may be happening in Fukushima

This report states that all of the cooling water is gone from Fukushima reactor No. 2, and the seawater pumping has failed. If it's true, we are likely about to witness something of great horror.

UPDATE, 5:12 a.m.: The latest word is that the seawater may be working again, but there was a period of full exposure of the rods.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

And now the third

The third of the three operating Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors -- the one that hasn't blown up yet -- is now reporting that its cooling system has stopped, according to Reuters.

At some point, this situation is likely to overcome the people trying to deal with it. Several of the workers have been hurt, many have been exposed to radiation levels beyond any reasonable measure of safety, and probably a few have been killed. Even if there's a way to prevent a catastrophic total meltdown, or two or three of them, there may not be enough crew on hand to get it done.

Meanwhile, the big U.S. aircraft carrier in the area is reporting elevated radiation levels offshore -- 100 miles away. But hey, everything's o.k. here on the West Coast of the United States -- don't worry 'bout a thing.

UPDATE, 3/14, 12:41 a.m.: Some additional food for thought:

More steam releases also mean that the plume headed across the Pacific could continue to grow. On Sunday evening, the White House sought to tamp down concerns, saying that modeling done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had concluded that "Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity."
Notice -- no assurance that you won't get any radiation, just that the government is going to tell you that it's not "harmful."
But all weekend, after a series of intense interchanges between Tokyo and Washington and the arrival of the first American nuclear experts in Japan, officials said they were beginning to get a clearer picture of what went wrong over the past three days. And as one senior official put it, "under the best scenarios, this isn’t going to end anytime soon."
And as for the effectiveness of the seawater pumping effort:
To pump in the water, the Japanese have apparently tried used firefighting equipment — hardly the usual procedure. But forcing the seawater inside the containment vessel has been difficult because the pressure in the vessel has become so great.

One American official likened the process to "trying to pour water into an inflated balloon," and said that on Sunday it was "not clear how much water they are getting in, or whether they are covering the cores."

The problem was compounded because gauges in the reactor seemed to have been damaged in the earthquake or tsunami, making it impossible to know just how much water is in the core.

Triple meltdown has real potential here.

The rest of the birthday party story

So there we are. I'm back in the car. I get the phone out and start scrolling down through dozens of e-mail messages to see if I can find the link to the party on E-vite. It takes forever, and all the while I'm hoping the hosts don't look out the window and see us out there, especially if there's no party.

Finally it shows up on the screen.

It's the wrong night. The party is the next night.

We back out of the driveway, as discreetly as possible, and drive away. Now what? We need dinner, me pretty badly. Where should we go? As we head over the Ross Island Bridge, still not sure what's ahead, the Mrs. has a smart idea: Let's try this place, where we had a great dinner a couple of months ago. She Googles around, gets the phone number, calls. They can take us. Excellent!

As we head in that general direction, another road block, at the corner of SE Milwaukie and Clinton. A train! No, a gott-damn train! We see the red lights start flashing, the bells are ringing, there's no way I'm going to try to beat it. But trains at that spot can be looooong, and they can leave you cooling your heels for an annoying length of time.

It turns out, it's just a locomotive. Through that stretch, there are signs warning that the engines might actually be robots, with no human operators. That could well have been the case with this one. It passes through quickly.

Now, when we've had a fine meal at a restaurant, we're always a little apprehensive about going right back there. Sometimes the first time is a charm, and the return visit disappoints. Not in this case, not by a longshot. Every bite and sip was excellent.

My calendar malfunction meant that there was no way we were going to make the actual birthday party the next night. I had a work conflict, and we had already used up our babysitter chip for the weekend. But I salvaged a little. When my work gig got out, I managed to put in a brief appearance at the tail end of the birthday function, grab a plate of really nice food, and tell my story.

What I found out is that if we had rung the doorbell the night before, we would have encountered the birthday boy and his mate getting ready to head out to a nice restaurant themselves. Instead of an awkward bag of pretzels around their kitchen, we would have had a lovely meal in a friendly party of four. And so whether I rang the bell or not, it was going to be a good night. Did I make the right call? It's a tossup.

I brought home some birthday cake, and the Mrs. had some the next day. All's well that ends well. But when you start going to your peers' 60th birthday parties, a certain kind of stuff happens that wouldn't have happened when we were half our age.

Arrogance and stupdity -- a perfect match

I can't believe my eyes. I just saw a corporate ad on TV for General Electric. This, of course, is the behemoth company that built the nuclear power plants that have gone haywire and are killing people in Japan. In the ad, we're shown all sorts of products with the GE logo, and workers in various technical industries literally dancing, merrily, around them.

One breathtaking segment of the commercial shows a conga line of scientists wearing surgical masks. At one point, the music is interrupted by scary-sounding static that sounds like a Geiger counter. They all stop jigging around and look terribly worried. Then some guy adjusts the antenna on a transistor radio and the music resumes.

Ha! Ha! GE, you are so farookin' funny. You can kiss your nuclear power plant business goodbye for another 40 years, and it's not hard to see why.

Whoever's in charge of marketing at that company should be fired first thing in the morning. That ad should have been pulled, on an emergency basis, two days ago. You wonder how long it will take the idiots in suits to figure it out.

Up and coming

It's not quite there yet, but this is going somewhere.

And the full soundtrack is positively insane.

Yo, Pavo

Today college hoops fans find out who's up against whom in the big dance, the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Our alma mater will be in the pack. Go Peacocks!

UPDATE, 2:32 p.m.: They get a 14 seed, and play Purdue on Friday in Chicago.

The birthday party

Stuff happens. Like the other night. The Mrs. and I head out to a birthday party for a friend of mine. He's turning 60. He lives over in a still-somewhat-wild portion of southwest Portland, and I haven't been to his place in about 20 years. The babysitter shows up a little early, all face-painted from a high school basketball game. The kids are amped. I get the directions from Google Maps, and off we grownups go.

Twenty minutes later, surprise! Google Maps is wrong. It thinks our friend's street is a through street, but in fact it dead ends and resumes just down the road from him a ways, and we're on the wrong side of the gap. And so we're way off, lost, in the dark and rain. I knew the directions seemed wrong, but hey, over 20 years that neighborhood could have changed.

Unfollowed instincts do us no good now. I'm fumbling with the infernal cheap iPhone waiting for AT&T to work its constipated magic, and I can't come up with their home phone number despite best efforts. So I drive a different way trying to find his house. Google still has the red dot and the blue dot going, so maybe there's hope.

You know what's getting really bad in Portland? The quality of the street signs. They're so old and they've lost so much luster, you can't read a lot of them at night any more, even with your high beams on. God forbid they should spend money on replacing them when there are streetcars to be built.

So it's a struggle, but we finally find the other way into the street. It's a dark little road and the house numbers are hard to see in the night rain, but we finally find the house.

Which doesn't look like there's a party going on in it at all.

In fact, that looks like a TV light flickering in a darkened upstairs room that's probably a bedroom. The rest of the place looks dark. It's not a surprise party, and there aren't many cars parked outside. We're not early -- the party was supposed to have started 20 minutes ago.

Should I go ring the bell? If this is the wrong night, they're still going to be stuck politely inviting us in for a while, which they secretly aren't going to want to do. And we'll have to go in and maybe eat a handful a peanuts and have a glass of wine, when really we're both hungry for what was supposed to be a dinner party. In fact, my blood sugar level is running low enough that it's not that easy to think straight about the situation. There might be an E-vite invitation buried in my inbox somewhere, but with the iPhone being so slow, it would take a long time to look for it. The Mrs. is being extraordinarily gentle as my head gets ready to emulate Fukushima.

I get out of the car and walk up the driveway to the foot of the front porch stairs. Nah -- turn around and walk back to the car.

Would you ring the doorbell?
pollcode.com free polls

The rest of the story later today.

No big deal?

Here's the Fukushima nuclear reactor yesterday. And another one of these events is likely in the next day or so:

That's a nuclear power plant, folks.

Twenty-two people have been hospitalized for radiation exposure so far --

as many as 160 people may have been exposed to radiation around the plant, and Japanese news media said that three workers at the facility were suffering from full-on radiation sickness.
At least four people were injured in the explosion seen above. On top of everything else, God help Japan with this.

UPDATE, 8:20 p.m.: As predicted, another plant has exploded in much the same way. Here's the video.

Wipe out

Use your mouse to simulate the tsunami, eradicating big chunks of the east coast of Japan.

New slogan

"Tokyo Electric Power -- We Put the Fuk in Fukushima"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese losing control of another reactor

They will definitely pass Three Mile Island on the disaster scale. Will they reach the Chernobyl level? Anything seems possible at this point.

We're not hearing anything about the spent nuclear fuel on the Fukushima site. That's another source of serious problems if it loses cooling water.

[Consolidating Japanese nuke comments for the day here and here.]

Old boys of Eugene circling wagons against Kroger

It's hard to concentrate on much today beyond the forecast for radioactive rain, but there's quite a brouhaha going on down the valley in Eugene. Dave Frohnmayer, who really ought to be retired by now, continues to collect at least two paychecks at the same time, lately becoming a defender of state employees accused of wrongdoing. We wrote on Tuesday about his 30-page letter in one of those cases, involving a good old boy's boy.

Now another Eugene Republican, Jack Roberts, has jumped up to amplify Frohnmayer's accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, in an op-ed piece in the O. And today the state's attorney general (and all-around press release champ) rose to defend himself, and take a few swipes back at Roberts, in an op-ed column of his own.

To think that it's all over the governor's girlfriend and her money. I feel like I'm watching a grange hall production of The Iliad.

Anyway, to keep up on all the seediness coming out of state government in Eugene, you have to bookmark this guy, who's always got an interesting tidbit or two.

Map of the Day

Here's a good one, from this site.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nothing to see here, go on about your business

Because of the overheating, a meltdown was possible at one of the reactors, said Ryohei Shiomi, an official with Japan's nuclear safety commission.

But even if there was a meltdown, it wouldn't affect humans outside a six-mile (10-kilometer) radius, he said.

Prepare for meltdown

Things at the nuclear facilities in Fukushima, Japan are still going downhill.

Have a great weekend

No wolf

As best we can tell, the tsunami at the Oregon Coast turned out to be a dud. This is great news, of course, but it raises a concern: Every time a warning goes out and nothing happens, it's a few more people who are unwisely going to take a chance and ignore the sirens next time.

In any event, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and the emergency response all worked the way it was supposed to today. For that we can all be thankful.

Now about that little problem at the nuclear power plant... where do we go for the powdered milk and the iodine pills?

Time for some slow waves

The news of the Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami has been riveting, and it's kept us up half the night. Not only is the video footage stunning, but it's been fun watching the local TV news anchors tough through an unexpected five-hour, commercial-free telecast before the morning crews show up.

But alas, the human body requires sleep, and so we'll be in slumberland as the tidal waves hit Hawaii and Oregon. At last report, there was about an eight-foot wave at Midway Island. It's not clear what it will look like when it lands here.

Posting about any other topic seems a bit pointless until the tsunami event is past, and so we'll sign off here for a while, and wish the best of luck to everybody in the Aloha State and at the Oregon beaches. And of course, we extend our sympathies to the people of Japan, for whom the story won't be over in a few days, or even in a few months.

Mother Nature does the wave

Holy cow. Let's hope the tsunami peters out before it gets to our shores. And thoughts and prayers for the people rocked by the quake in Japan.

UPDATE, 12:51 a.m.: Tough news for the Oregon Coast -- the tsunami status just went from "watch" to "warning."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tri-Met gives up on collecting fares

The car-free kids have the story here, and their graph alone tells the story pretty well. Go by streetcar! It's pretty much free.

Wild night is calling

Saturday night the 19th could be pretty eventful. No, not this -- this.

Mission creep to the nth degree

This is classic -- the federal agency running the TARP program has its own police force, with guns, sirens, police cars, the whole works. What do they need all that for? You'd think they were running a water bureau.

Blah blah PDC blah blah

How much did this thing cost?

The focus of the Neighborhood Economic Development Strategy is to improve the City and PDC’s effectiveness in supporting neighborhood-based job creation and business development. The Strategy seeks to spearhead community dialogue, build community capacity and identify action steps to build a comprehensive Neighborhood Economic Development system in Portland. Ultimately, PDC seeks to expand its toolbox to partner with the community, neighborhood and business district associations and City bureaus in the development of an effective and community-engaged approach to city-wide, neighborhood economic development.
Never before have so many tax dollars been blown on so little. Let's take the money that's being spent on all this psychobabble and pave a couple of streets. Or feed a few homeless people. Or hire a teacher.

Change agents or paint crew?

The city charter review commission that Portland voters set up in a ballot measure election in 2007 is off and running, and it appears that the City Council is afraid to let it do its job. The review commission has the power to refer changes in the city charter directly to voters, without the council's approval, and like all control freaks, the council members are pressuring them not to upset all the pretty apple carts set up in and around City Hall.

Nurse Amanda has grabbed the reins and suggested that the commission stick to "housekeeping" measures, and the council has given the panel only a laughably small budget to work with, thus hoping to ensure that nothing will come of it. But it's not clear that everyone on the commission is willing to be limited in that way, and the folks at the Tribune are egging them on to tackling big issues. Former Mayor Tom Potter is also preaching that the group should adopt a broad scope for its work.

Will the charter commission take on the City Council and propose serious change? Here's the roster:

Steve Abel
Jeff Bissonette
Jan Campbell
Cassie Cohen
Ann Collins
Justin Delaney
Sue Diciple
Brian Heron
Rebbecca Kirk
Patricia Knoll
David Martinez
Bonny McKnight
Henry (Hank) Miggins
Lai-Lani Ovalles
Ayoub Ramjan
Shelli Romero
Tricia Tillman
Steve Weiss
Mark White
Anita Yap

Their biographies are here. Is there enough knowledge, independence, and gumption in that group to propose serious charter reform? With all due respect to the volunteer commissioners, we'd be more than a bit surprised -- but quite pleasantly so, of course -- if there was. There are no doubt a few folks on that list who either already owe somebody on the council a favor, or will eventually be asking the council for something besides a pat on the head. It's a small town.

And don't forget, Portland's idea of how to "shake up City Hall" was to elect Sam Adams.

Piling up the bad karma

Now that they've completely wrecked it for baseball, Little Lord Paulson and his minions are comparing Portland's civic stadium to Fenway Park. When their demise comes, it's going to be a spectacular.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Borrowing for maintenance

Not even routine maintenance -- we're talking deferred maintenance.

Are we ever in trouble.

Taxpayers, rejoice! Oregon is going broke more slowly.

The State of Oregon had its credit rating upgraded by Standard & Poor's today. It's now at AA+ -- just one notch below the top -- compared to AA, two notches below, previously.

This is good news -- it beats a downgrade -- but only mildly good. It means that as the state goes further into hock, the interest rates it pays will be a little lower. But as Treasurer Ted Wheeler's smiley-face press release indirectly acknowledges, there's a whole lot of new interest about to be paid: "The higher rating from Standard & Poor’s comes as Oregon is preparing to sell a number on bonds that were authorized by the 2009 Legislature, totaling more than $1 billion."

Getting an excellent credit score is nice, but that doesn't mean you should be clicking your heels as you sign away your life in IOUs.

Nor is a high bond rating much assurance that things won't go sour. Before the big crash of '08, outfits like S&P, who are paid for their work by the very borrowers they rate, had nothing but good grades to hand out to all sorts of securities that turned out to be junk. Don't believe everything that Wall Street tells you about the paper that it's trying to sell you.

The real irony of the day, though, is how quick the bureaucrats can tally up all the interest savings over the life of a long-term debt, and present the public with the full total in a lump sum. For example, Wheeler's press release says, "The estimated saving due to the S&P credit rating increase is $4.3 million for every $100 million in debt over the length of the bonds."

Try to get the politicians to give you that number -- interest over the length of the bonds -- when they're borrowing money for streetcars, aerial trams, soccer stadiums, and other frills. The interest on the crushing debt that they rack up for their pet projects is never mentioned in any budget for the project, ever. But when they knock a little off the interest rates, boy, are they quick with the calculator.

The other no. 2

In yesterday's post about the staff goings-on at the ever-more-pointless Portland Development Commission, we noted that Kimberly Branam would be one of two new deputy directors to car-hating CEO Patrick Quinton, but we didn't know who the other deputy was. An alert reader pointed out that it's Keith Witcosky, who has been serving as the in-house lobbyist for PDC. Now as deputy director, his duties will include communications as well as government relations, which is a definite leapfrog over John Jackley, who is still shown on the PDC website as "Director of Communications and Business Equity."

The O describes Witcosky as "politically savvy... a regular at City Hall and long ago a former advisor for Mayor Vera Katz." Ewwww.

Does Portland have enough police?

Many people are spinning Sunday's shooting of Portland police officers by an apparently crazed man in the Brooklyn neighborhood of southeast Portland. The folks who support the police no matter how badly they behave are shouting, "See? See? It's dangerous out there. This is why we had to kill James Chasse." Meanwhile, those who are most often critical of the Portland force aren't saying much.

Everyone is rooting for the most gravely wounded of the officers, Parik Singh, to recover following his surgery for a rifle shot wound in the abdomen. He's still hospitalized, and it sounds as though he is facing a long recovery.

One of the most interesting post-shooting statements was yesterday's release by the local police union -- enablers of all sorts of mischief, but they made an important point:

Portland Police Officers respond to calls like this on a daily basis and most of the time these incidents are resolved in a positive manner. However, we have become the last rung on the ladder for a number of resources such as homelessness and mental health issues because other resources have been cut drastically. Yet over the years many of our resources have been depleted by budget cuts which have resulted in staffing shortages. Shortages that we cannot afford because the Portland Police Bureau has 1.6 officers per thousand citizens, which is unacceptable. The national average is 2.6 officers per thousand and Seattle has 2.3 officers per thousand.
It's not clear what the shooting of Officer Singh had to do with personnel shortages, but it's a point worth considering nonetheless. Why are there so few officers per capita in Portland?

Meanwhile, the requisite internet search on Singh doesn't turn up much. He has a Facebook page that displays a dark profile photo, and shows him as single and interested in women. There is also a Heather Singh who was or is employed by the police bureau, and it would not be surprising if she and the wounded officer were once married to each other. At one time they reportedly had the same address in Beaverton. There was a delay in identifying the wounded officer, and some readers have reported that it was on account of the bureau having to notify his relatives overseas.

Boring meeting is anything but

Folks out in the boonies are tired of paying Tri-Met taxes for a bus that nobody uses, and many of them want out. Last week, in a narrow vote at a hot meeting, the burg of Boring set in motion the process of telling the transit district to go away.

And do you blame them?

Tom Mills, a TriMet service planner, presented a proposed change in schedule of Line 84 buses, adding four more stops in downtown Boring, where now only four people either get on or off the bus each day.

In the proposed schedule, which could begin in the fall, the 5:30 a.m. bus – the only bus that now comes to downtown Boring during a normal workday – would take the Kelso Road/Orient Drive route. That route also would be served by an afternoon and an evening bus.

For one bus, at 5:30 in the morning, you pay the same payroll and self-employment taxes as somebody in the Pearl District? We'd want out, too.

Tri-Met runs that bus down there just to suck up taxes. That's a ripoff that ought to stop.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Two more years for Nate

Will he be able to get the Blazers out of the first round of the playoffs? He now has three more chances.

Portland police brutality -- you won't believe the fix

I kid you not: stronger Tasers and nastier pepper spray. Our problems are solved!

Meanwhile, does the police officer who was shot more than 48 hours ago have a name? We all feel bad for the officer and his or her family, but hiding his or her identity for days on end doesn't seem to serve any legitimate purpose.

Who paid for this letter?

We've been following with amusement the circus surrounding Cylviagate -- the ongoing investigation into the highly irregular award of state business to Gov. John Kitzhaber's first lady-equivalent. As best we understand it, the current target of an outside investigation commissioned by outgoing Gov. Ted Kulongoski is a guy in the state's shadowy Energy Department named Mark Long. Long is the son of Stanton Long, a Goldschmidt crony who used to run a big law firm down in Eugene that cashed in on many a state contract itself. Now old Dave Frohnmayer is working at that firm, which is representing the younger Long in the investigation.

And boy, are they ever working (or is it milking) the case. Check out this 30-page letter that Frohnmayer and his colleague William Gary wrote to the investigator a few weeks ago. Thirty pages! Can you imagine what that must have cost in attorney's fees? (Although they had a secretary sign it for them -- what a class act.)

The scary thing is, Oregon taxpayers may be paying the bill. Didn't we read somewhere that when state employees get investigated like this, the state has to pay their attorney's fees? That's what's been happening with the expense account follies involving the "Masters of the Universe" investment advisors at the State Treasurer's office. Those scoundrels' lawyers are so spendy that the treasurer, Ted Wheeler, has actually called for the whole inquiry to be stopped because it's bleeding so much money in fees.

It would be really interesting to know what Frohnmayer charges for a letter like that -- and who's writing the check to pay the bill.

Comedy gold

The Trib's David Wu headlines of the last couple of days require no comeback to be funny:

"Wu dedicated to keeping his job in Congress"

"Wu tells forum: 'I want to turn this story around'"

No kidding.

Infill first, ask questions later?

Here's an interesting one from the annals of Portland land use: They're taking testimony on a studio apartment that's already been installed in a garage building back behind this four-plex. Given how much the City of Portland loves cramming people into the old neighborhoods, it seems a shoo-in for approval. But didn't the owner, who hails from Lake Oswego, break the land use rules? Don't tell us it's o.k. so long as you break them the way City Hall likes them broken.

"Kimberly's role will evolve over time"

The 32-year-old mayoral aide who's moving over to the Portland Development Commission is going to be a "deputy director" over there -- one of two (the other hasn't been identified, to our knowledge). But what she will actually be doing is shrouded in the following dense cloud of bureaucratese:

Kimberly Schneider Branam is joining the Leadership Team as Deputy Director for Strategy and Operations. While Kimberly's role will evolve over time, she will be responsible for ensuring that our project and program work implements the Economic Development Strategy and the key actions of the PDC Strategic Plan. One of Kimberly's initial priorities will be the completion and implementation of the Neighborhood Economic Development Action Plan. In addition, Kimberly will be working closely with Lew Bowers, Jennifer Nolfi and our Neighborhood managers on priority projects for the agency.
There ya go. A steal, no doubt, at $135,000 plus benefits.

The mayor is notorious for stuffing his buddies onto the payrolls of city bureaus, who then have no idea what to do with them except pay them. Remember the dude who wrote his goofy term paper and accompanying PowerPoint presentation on the sewer bureau's dime? "Senior policy advisor," my eye. Let's hope this isn't more of the same.

Would you want your high school graduation to be a Presidential speech?

Apparently not many high schools do. It certainly would involve a lot of rigmarole, and take the spotlight off the graduating class. We'd hold out for a lower-A-list celebrity -- Jon Stewart, maybe, or Serena Williams.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Peacocks win!

They get to go to the Big Dance once again -- in a year in which pretty much no one thought it was possible.

Goosed in the Hollow

The latest edition of Northwest Examiner is out, and having out-ed a prominent guy as an internet troll last month, editor Allan Classen is now back to banging on the Goose Hollow neighborhood association, which he portrays as pretty much in cahoots with Little Lord Paulson on his infernal re-re-do of Portland Civic Stadium. Classen's main point, that the fix has always been in on the stadium deal, is far from a new one. And the rest of his coverage of the subject this month seems like a slap-fight between members of the neighborhood association, which hardly seems worth all the attention.

Is there a kernel of something new and significant in the latest article that we are just not seeing?

Neighbors score big win over cell tower weasels

It looks like there won't be a hideous antenna array installed at NE 37th and Fremont (and four other locations) after all. Clearwire has backed off its plans for those locations. Plus, the one at NE Stanton and 24th seems to have fallen off the table as well.

I'll bet it has more to do with Clearwire's finances than it does about responsiveness to neighborhood concerns. But this is a major, major victory for the neighbors who fought these guys. Bravo!

Another spineless moment

Remind me again why we all got so excited to vote for this guy.

Sam Rand Twins: Full speed ahead with "urban renewal"

The media all duly reported last week that the City of Portland is leaving the Rose Quarter out of the Interstate Avenue "urban renewal" district. But getting lost in the shuffle is the fact that even without Vulcanland, the district is being increased in size by 430 acres. That's another two-thirds of a square mile of property-tax-sucking, particle-board-slapping, streetcar-infesting, character-wrecking monkey business that's sure to enrich or bail out some of our local real estate sharpies.

"Urban renewal" on the east side has provided little public benefit for all the bucks it has cost the taxpayers. It's time to contract it, rather than expand it. But no.

Fate of Portland water bills to be decided in Salem

The O has suddenly taken up the question whether all the bazillions the City of Portland is spending on ripping up its drinking water distribution system are really necessary. They ran two stories the last few days -- one on the ultraviolet treatment plant to be built at the Bull Run watershed ($500 million), and the other on the disconnecting of the open-air reservoirs at Mount Tabor and Washington Park ($400 million).

On the latter topic, the paper points out what we've all known for quite some time -- that the city isn't fighting as hard as many of us would like to avoid the major expense of building new water storage and disconnecting the historic reservoirs in the parks. But the tone of that article was that there's still some chance that the changes can be avoided, and that seems quite unlikely. The city is already building a huge underground tank at Powell Butte, and they aren't going to be selling that to the McMenamins for use as a giant beer keg (although that sounds kind of good, doesn't it?). They're also shopping for engineers to design the disconnection of Mount Tabor. It seems like a very done deal indeed.

On the ultraviolet treatment plant, however, there's some important news buried way down in the story. It should have been the lead, actually, because up until now we've never heard it from anyone: The feds have turned over the decision on the need for the plant to the State of Oregon:

Last year, the EPA agreed to let Oregon's Public Health Division decide on Portland's variance. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., at a recent congressional hearing that the agency wouldn't veto any state decision.

But EPA scientists will advise, and it's unlikely the state would ignore strong EPA misgivings. The city plans to submit the variance request this spring, with a decision expected by year's end.

It might be time for Portland water ratepayers -- who are already being hammered and are going to be hit with much worse -- to start showing up at state offices to express their views on this. If they expect City Hall to take a strong stance on their behalf, they'll be deeply disappointed. The water bureau has more important things to do -- like run a Street of a Dreams and enforce the sign ordinances.

In fact, even if the state gives the city a break, it wouldn't be shocking to hear the Portland bureaucrats say "It's too late to turn back now." When they're spending money on construction pork that nobody needs, that's a familiar refrain.

How your property taxes stack up

Here's a gizmo that the wonkier among us should find interesting. It shows property taxes in just about every county in the country, as compiled by the Census Bureau. Playing around with it, we see that in median tax per property, Multnomah County ranked 192nd highest out of 3,140 listed counties over the five year period 2005-2009 -- in the seventh percentile. As a percentage of median home value, Multnomah's median property tax was 1,186th highest (38th percentile), but as a percentage of median income, it was 218th (again, seventh percentile).

Washington County's ranks were 183 (sixth percentile), 1,344 (43rd percentile) and 382 (13th percentile), respectively. Clackamas County ranked 187 (sixth percentile), 1,489 (48th percentile) and 317 (11th percentile), respectively.

The high ratio of property tax to income is troubling, especially when coupled with Oregon's not-so-progressive income tax. Assuming as most economists do that landlords pass property taxes on to tenants in higher rents, it would appear that the lower and middle classes are paying a pretty price to live around here, particularly in Multnomah County.

Portland City Hall cover-up on Hayden Island

The Trib ran a story late last week that suggested what many of us have long considered obvious: The City of Portland is totally behind the Port of Portland's plan to pave over wildlife habitat on Hayden Island for some sort of shipping terminal, and the public process being conducted on the proposal is an utter sham. That proposition is to yawn over, but more interesting was a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes skullduggery that goes on at City Hall when people make public records requests:

"My inclination is to hold him (the reporter) off for a few more days," wrote chief city planner Eric Engstrom in an e-mail to Amy Ruiz, the mayor’s sustainability advisor, and fellow city planner Joe Zehnder.

Ruiz, a former Portland Mercury reporter, concurred, writing July 16 that the reporter was free to file a public records request, "and it might take us a few days to locate the records." At the time, Ruiz and her colleagues possessed the document on an e-mail file and could have made it available in a matter of seconds.

Staffers for the mayor and planning bureau agreed they wouldn’t release the task force report to reporters until midday on July 21 – hours after Adams intended to release his compromise solution for the jobs-vs.-environment dispute. In effect, that would head off any negative publicity about the task force’s dissenting views.

City Hall staffers then began discussing how they could justify withholding a public record, if asked. In a July 22 e-mail to City Hall colleagues, Engstrom advised that withholding the report was not "an attempt to suppress information." Rather, he wrote, the city responded in a "reasonable time frame," delayed in part by "busy staff schedules."

Having spent many years dealing with state and federal bureaucrats, we can honestly say that the culture at Portland City Hall has become the sickest we've ever seen. But take one look at who's in charge -- it is not surprising.

Will our crusading state attorney general, self-proclaimed champion of the state's public records laws, take any action in this case? If he did, it would come as quite a shock. If envelopes of cash handed to witnesses don't bother him, little white lies by the Amy Ruiz types won't, either.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You could be a contender

From ample experience with various games on this site, we know that many of our readers enjoy competing in predicting the outcomes of sporting events. With the college basketball "March Madness" business almost upon us, no doubt some readers are searching for good outlets for their sports knowledge.

May we suggest Jake's pick 'em contest over at UtterlyBoring.com? Real prizes, some of them Bend-centric but many not, and best of all, there's no admission charge to play. Limit: one card to a player, though, so pick carefully. Get signed up now; the teams and matchups will be announced this coming Sunday.

That's amore

The civil war in Libya is putting its pal, Italy, on the spot.

Reader poll: Should Texas secede from the United States?

Here's a good one -- a group of gubmint-haters in Texas want their state to secede from the Union. What do you think?

Should Texas secede from the United States?
pollcode.com free polls

Take me to the Pilots

... and to the Dodgers, the Mets, and 34 other teams over eight years. And a screen actor to boot! They don't make 'em like that any more.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More action with the '82 pennies

After we got the 1982 copper cents separated from the 1982 zinc cents in our pennies project, another sorting exercise awaited. It turns out that for both metal types in that transition year, there are both large date and small date varieties, as the Mint changed its master die for the cent in mid-year (with the change making the date smaller). Telling the difference isn't all that easy -- the large isn't that much bigger than the small -- but this site was quite helpful. Armed with a magnifying glass and looking at the "2" in "1982," we were able to tell how many of each we had. Here are the results:

MintCopper, large dateCopper, small dateZinc, large dateZinc, small dateTotal
* - None minted

We've also finished our pursuit of the impossible dream -- a copper 1983 penny. Out of a couple hundred 1983's on hand, none weighed 3.11 grams. The heaviest one we found weighed in at 41.9 grains, or 2.715 grams -- a little over the standard 2.5 grams for the zinc penny, but maybe it's just the dirt. Or could it be that there was a little extra copper left in the mix?

Best news we've read all day

And we've got more than a decade to work on our sales pitch.

Another true believer

New York City Hall's bicycle queen has her backers and detractors:

But among the city’s political class, Ms. Sadik-Khan has also become notorious for a brusque, I-know-best style and a reluctance to compromise.
Why is this not surprising?

Promises, promises

Here's an interesting take on the handing over of Washington High School to a developer for housing and commercial space: The president of the Buckman neighborhood association says she's o.k. with it, even though it means that the building won't house a community center. Apparently there's still hope that the city will build a stand-alone rec center on the adjoining lot.

She's got more faith in the city than we'd have. It's been seven years since the City Council agreed to acquire the property, and now they're talking about three to five more years of hemming and hawing before anything could be built. And only if voters citywide pass a property tax increase to pay for it. Uh huh.

And just wait until the high school building has tenants. They're going to hate the parking situation -- all the immediate neighbors will, too -- and the thought of dozens of cars streaming in and out to go to a community center is going to bring lots of opponents out of the woodwork. Once again, private development is the certainty -- public benefit is the longshot. And on publicly owned property, no less. That's the Portland way.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ungovernable 2.0

Another epic in the making.

Have a great weekend

Chuckle of the Week

You'll be pleased to know that Mayor Creepy is helping the Multnomah County Library stay focused on youths.

Maybe he's asking for a pardon

The City of Portland says it is "negotiating" with the FBI about the city's participation in the joint terrorism task force. To the feds, it probably seems not unlike plea bargaining, only this time the suspect wants a security clearance.

It's not just the Jail Ducks

Most top college football problems seem to recruit quite a few student-athletes with criminal records. [Via Dwight.]

I'll major in what she's having

Here's some classroom "pedagogy" at Northwestern University that might better be left to independent study projects.

No wonder he sounds refreshed

Bob Miller at KPAM Radio has been sleeping in.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Auction chops-buster guy found guilty

He'll be honored as a martyr, but he's going to pay dearly for civil disobedience.

Kumbaya period ending in Salem

Not surprisingly, the claws are apparently beginning to come back out.

This just in from Iran

Oregon's crooked prison food guy, on the lam in Iran, says he wants a deal to come back and turn himself in. Negotiating with prosecutors from overseas, through the media, by e-mail? Fascinating.

Bad news on the food front

Alas, another choice Portland dining spot is closing.

All moved out

Tally ho! An alert reader has pointed out a report in the media that His Lordship Henry Merritt Paulson III and Lady Paulson III have successfully sold their former home in Lake Grove for $975,000. This presumably finishes their move into their new royal manor in groovy Dunthorpe (financed in part, it appears, by His Excellency Sir Henry Paulson II). May the peasantry rejoice.

We're bad, we're nationwide

The streetcar mania that is sucking the life out of Portland is now being exported to the nation's capital:

That DDOT is forging ahead is a good sign for streetcar proponents, some of whom fear Mayor Vincent Gray may target the ambitious, long-term capital program for cuts. Gray's transportation transition committee slammed DDOT under the former administration for having "no recognition of funding constraints," for undertaking large projects, including streetcars, "without credible funding sources," and for moving forward without adequate planning.
And who's presiding?
The streetcar program management team, named in September, is led by Portland, Ore.-based Shiels Obletz Johnsen, HDR Engineering Inc. and ZGF Architects LP.
They're gonna love us.

Portland mayoral race is on; WW endorses Saltzman

Observers of the nervous breakdown known as Portland City Hall are wondering what to make of the latest news from that quarter -- that the mayor has reshuffled a couple of bureau assignments among the other city commissioners. "Legend" Dan Saltzman picks up the permit bureau and the cable TV bureau from Admiral Randy and Nurse Amanda, respectively.

The mayor's explanation of his reasons for the changes comes, like everything he says, with a presumption of falsity:

"First, there is additional work required of City Commissioner Randy Leonard to implement the $72 million fire and public safety technology bond, which he championed and voters approved last November. His tenure as Commissioner-in-Charge of Bureau of Development Services has been marked by historic service and efficiency improvements.

"Second, Commissioner Amanda Fritz has completed reforms of the Office of Cable and Franchise Management that have improved the office's effectiveness, and significantly increased revenues to the City. Also, Commissioner Fritz has agreed to take on a significant new assignment. Portland's Equity Initiative will engage City government and community in changing the way the City does business, to better align with Portlander's values of increased opportunity for all. This will require extra efforts, working with our community to shape policies and implement the resulting work plan.

"Finally, Commissioner Dan Saltzman has stated his willingness to take on more work assignments. The assignment of the Bureau of Development Services is a very important and challenging assignment. Recently, BDS has taken the deepest budget cuts in the city while working to automate its services. And the Office of Cable and Franchise Management is a key regulatory platform to upgrade the technology available to our residents and businesses. I appreciate Commissioner Saltzman taking on these new assignments."

Along with the moving out of several of the mayor's staff people into city bureaus, he's obviously up to something. And the best explanation seems to be that he's getting ready to run for re-election, and probably setting Leonard and Fritz up to do the same. The primary election, at which city races is often decided, is 14 months away, and the dialing for dollars has already begun.

Meanwhile, the city's crusading (sometimes) alternative newspaper, Willamette Week, took the occasion of the shuffle to heap praise on Saltzman, their fair-haired West Hills prince. They reprinted their endorsement of him from two years ago, suggesting that Leonard is leaving the development services bureau as one of the "disasters" that Saltzman is often called upon to mop up.

It's clear that WW wants Saltzman to run for mayor, and if he does, he will get their backing. We can see their point. A normal person who spends decades studiously keeping his head down is probably a better leader than a person with deep personal problems.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Coming soon to C-Span

We wrote a while back about the latest twist in the WikiLeaks saga. Most disturbing were some dirty tricks being pulled by some well paid corporate spooks who were cozy with the federal government. Now the politicians are launching a public probe of the whole mess -- guess they're just waking up, or running for cover, or both.

Press release meter update: Kroger way out in front

We've just done the monthly update of our state politician press release meter. Through February 28, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger had emitted 23 releases so far for the year, followed by state Treasurer Ted Wheeler with 11, Secretary of State Kate Brown with 7, and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian clearly slacking with a mere 6. These folks still have three years and change to run for governor, and so the pace may not quicken for a while.

A new Portland law blog

Long may its author write.

Creepin' out

Several readers have asked our take on the sudden turnover of staffers in the Portland mayor's office. We're not sure what's motivating it, but it hardly seems a coincidence that the mayor's "chief of staff" (what pretention down there), chief spokesperson, and "senior" economic development staffer are all splitting the scene.

Whatever's behind all the moves, we note with some dismay that all three of the departed are taking gigs elsewhere in city government. And so the net result is likely to be more influence by the mayor, which is not a good thing.

Portland sign crusade being run out of Water Bureau

A concerned reader writes:

I keep waiting for you to post about [Portland city commissioner] Randy [Leonard] creating a position in the Water Bureau for somebody to inspect/regulate/enforce sign size regulations. I heard just a brief blip about it over the weekend on the radio, then nothing more.

The sign inspector positions have historically been [in the] BDS [Bureau of Development Services], until the two women filling the slots were laid off a year or two ago. Since then, nobody’s been enforcing/regulating signs, until now. Obviously, signs have nothing to do with the Water Bureau. However, the woman now appointed to the role is a good friend of Randy’s.... being a friend of Randy’s, she’s untouchable.

Supposedly the fines this person imposes are going to pay for her time. But why is the work being done out of the Water Bureau? The mission creep over there is breathtaking. Given the astronomical increases in the city's water rates, should the folks in that bureau be gallivanting around on the Admiral's latest pet peeve? It's almost as bad as them getting involved with citywide biodiesel rules, playing landlord to the Rose Festival, running builder demonstration projects, and doing all the other fun stuff that he dreams up for them on weekends.

A broken promise in Buckman

It was a little over seven years ago that the Portland City Council voted to start negotiating with the local school district to buy the long-empty Washington High School complex at SE 12th and Stark and turn it into a community center run by the parks bureau. It was a rare victory for the long-suffering Buckman neighborhood, which watched for years as the city built fancy swimming pools and other facilities in other parts of town while leaving close-in southeast residents lacking for recreational opportunities.

"It's already being built," said Francesconi, referring to the long-standing push for such a community center for inner southeast Portland. "You folks in the central east side have been building it." He also said making sure the community center happens is his "number one priority."

Saying that the City should do more of this sort of thing, Commissioner Leonard said, "I'm very pleased we've come to this opportunity." Commissioner Erik Sten added that this was "a terrific first step, and a long time in coming."

Mayor Vera Katz said that she has the responsibilty to see that the project goes forward, but cautioned that the process is just beginning. Funding, for example, will have to come from a "combination of a lot of different sources" because "there is no pocket left to pick."

Well, guess what. The city bought some of the property around the school, apparently for $2 million, tearing down the gym and some other structures, but didn't buy the main building itself. Several options were being discussed for the community center configuration, but now the school district's selling the structure to one of Portland's many apartment mongers, who is slated to turn it into "housing and business space" with the historic features of the building preserved.

One outraged neighbor writes us to complain that when the city was discussing a purchase of the main building for the community center, the school district was asking $8 million. But "once a developer weasel had been selected (non-competitively, of course) the price magically dropped to $2 million." The county tax assessor lists the real market value of the property as $3,308,270.

There has been some talk of having the parks bureau lease the ground floor of the renovated high school from the developer for some community center-type functions. That prospect has fallen by the wayside in the latest news report, but even if it's still on the table, it's a far cry from what the neighbors were promised seven years ago. It's sad that with all the money the city has for neon rose signs, streetcars, bike paths, bioswales, and so on, there's no money for a recreational facility in the heart of Portland.

It's also kind of odd that the public schools would sell the building to the developer, and then the public parks would lease part of it back from him. But isn't that the Portland way? The real estate sharpies get the taxpayers coming and going.

It could have been worse. When an old property is left to rot, Buckman usually gets a methadone clinic, a homeless shelter, or some other high-impact social service facility in its place. But more apartments? Sheesh. Thanks for nothing.

And get used to this. The condo scoundrels are licking their chops over lots of the school district's other properties, especially Lincoln High School. The sweet Washington High deal is the first of many to come. As they used to say at the old WaHi prom, the boys have already gotten to third base with the politicians.

Full employment for Portland!

And it's coming thanks to Google!

Thud. Thud.

After putting on the show of the season for us on Friday night, the Blazers have failed to show up in their two subsequent games.

Volunteer cops?

Don't laugh -- it's happening in some places.

One wonders what kind of posse would be assembled in Portland.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top 10 Other Things Tri-Met Buses Should Say

Tri-Met is testing new equipment on its buses, that will announce to pedestrians when the bus is about to turn. The buses will say, "Pedestrian, bus is turning. Pedestrian, bus is turning."

But if the buses can talk, why should they say only one thing? Here now are the --

Top 10 Other Things Tri-Met Buses Should Say

10. "Taxpayer, bend over. Taxpayer, bend over."

9. "Warning. Operator in bad mood."

8. "Cyclist, you are toast. Cyclist, you are toast."

7. "Guy in third row needs bath."

6. "WES works. WES works."

5. "Cars are evil. Cars are evil."

4. "This bus line is being discontinued for trains."

3. "Muertos a mi derecha."

2. "Driver is turning a page on his Kindle."

And the Number 1 Other Thing That Tri-Met Buses Should Say:

1. "Go by streetcar."

New York State moving toward bicycle licensing

It's "for the children"!

The few, the proud -- the Portland water guards

You won't get to carry a gun -- at least not yet -- but adventure awaits.

Library tax pitch changes key

The pitch that Multnomah County Library supporters made for last fall's ballot measure on a new taxing district for the library was disgracefully misleading. But it passed, and so now the truth can be told: Forget going back to the public every five years for more tax money (which it always gets) -- the library wants a permanent tax that voters don't get a regular say about:

With the current library levy, accounting for 66 percent of the library budget, set to expire in July 2012, the library continues to explore the pros and cons of forming a library district or renewing the levy. This process comes on the heels of the landslide approval in November of Measure 26-114 by Multnomah County voters, giving the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners the ability to forward a measure to a future election to create a library district.

Many library supporters view the current model of temporary funding, renewed every five years, to be unsustainable for the long-term health of Multnomah County Library.

If the library's doing a good job -- and there's no reason to think that it won't be -- going back to the voters every five years or so shouldn't be scary at all. But someone out there in the bureaucracy wants the freedom to do away with the periodic review by the public. Then the library can be like the sweethearts at Tri-Met, who have a permanent tax base and do as they please, the customer be darned.

It's a bad idea -- even when you tell the truth about it, which these folks definitely didn't do last fall.

Disconnecting the Mount Tabor reservoirs

One of the stories that got this blog off and running back in 2002 was the proposal to cover or bury Portland's open-air drinking water reservoirs in Mount Tabor and Washington Parks. To us, it seemed like a waste of money. The city water bureau, then run by Dan "Big Pipe" Saltzman, tried to ram through a plan to cover the Mount Tabor reservoirs. Saltzman finally backed off when some big shots told him he wasn't providing enough public process, but not before the city blew $4 million on a covers project. This included $425,000 or so for the covers themselves, which were auctioned off on eBay for around $23,000. And some water bureau employees were the winning lowball bidders! Good times.

After that fiasco, one might have expected a lot of hearings and public hand-wringing to take place before anything was done to alter the form or function of the reservoirs. But the extensive process never came to pass. When Fireman Randy took over the water bureau, suddenly it was a done deal that huge underground tanks on Powell Butte would replace the Mount Tabor reservoirs. Those tanks are now under construction, and the time has come to start hiring folks to execute the task of disconnecting Mount Tabor from the city's drinking water supply.

Here's the advertisement for bids that the city has recently put out, for "engineering design, land use review process, site development permit with conditional use process, and support services" in connection with the disconnecting of the reservoirs. And here's the list of four firms that have responded. The city advertised an anticipated cost of $500,000 for these services.

It's interesting that they're calling this project "Mount Tabor Reservoir Adjustments." So cute -- guess they don't want the public to know what it's really all about, which is disconnecting. At Portland City Hall, ignorance is most definitely bliss.

Is unhooking the reservoirs a bad thing? It will certainly be disruptive and expensive, and heaven knows our water bills are already rocketing to the moon. Some say that the underground tanks will be more susceptible to certain types of contamination problems than the fresh-air reservoirs are, and the critics make a good case about that.

Our biggest fear is that once the reservoirs aren't actually functioning, those two sections of prime city parkland are going to be fair game for all sorts of supposed improvements. We've already seen the city try to sell off parts of Mount Tabor Park on the sneak. One shudders to think what will happen when the reservoirs fall into play, which won't be too far off in the future.

Does the PDC owe Multnomah County property taxes?

Here's an interesting throwdown that wound up in the Oregon Tax Court. Multnomah County asserts that the Portland Development Commission owes property taxes on the low-rent Fairfield Hotel. The PDC says the place is properly classified as tax-exempt.

Who's right? The court didn't say -- yesterday, it threw out the county's claim because it hadn't given the PDC proper notice. It sounds as though another round is certainly possible in this dispute.

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