January 2003

Wed Jan 01 01:41:34 PST 2003

This is mostly a test to see if an entry gets created in the new year properly.

Just got back from a New Year's party at Dr. Jeff's in Southeast. The bus ride over there was interesting; I'd swear the driver was on some sort of consciousness-altering substance by the mood she was in. Had to wait a little on the way back as the buses are only running half-hourly by that late (or should I say early) hour.

The party itself was a pretty low-key affair, though most people drank way more than I did. I've never seen the point of having more than a little alcohol, perhaps because it really doesn't do much for me except make me sleepy (then I awake with a headache).

Wed Jan 01 10:16:21 PST 2003

Well, wouldn't you know: there was a bug in the code that came up when the new year rolled around. Java's Calendar class wants the month field to be 0-based when setting it, unlike all the other fields which are based just like they are when writing them (i.e. 1-based except for the hour). A nice little bit of polymorphus perversity to trip one up. Apparently both 11 and 12 map to December, so the bug didn't manifest itself yesterday.

Despite being tired, it ended up being about 03:00 before I fell asleep this morning. Looks like another rainy day in paradise today (and I don't mean that sarcastically; I like rain).

Wed Jan 01 13:58:46 PST 2003

14:00 hours and I should be at a party on the east side, but I'm still baking cookies to bring there as a gift. Wonder how far behind schedule I'll be this time?

It didn't help that it was the first time I tried that recipe, and (a) I made one substitution, (b) every recipe I've gotten off that web site hasn't worked as advertised even when I do follow the instructions. And I don't think it's my oven: despite its vintage age, its thermostat and not one but two oven thermometers are in near-perfect agreement. Thankfully, it seems as I've managed to adjust the cooking time so the result is acceptable, so what follows is just a simple matter of baking.

On an entirely different note, let's hope that in 2003 the peace movement, Colin Powell and other more moderate voices within the US government, and skeptical foreign governments around the world continue staring down the war-mad Bush Administration. As bad as things are, I think that we'd be in a much worse situation right now had it not been for the combined efforts of the three factors I just cited.

Wed Jan 01 20:29:56 PST 2003

It was an interesting party, located at a largely intact mid-century house in the enclave suburb of Maywood Park, a collection of several dozen blocks entirely surrounded by Portland. A friend at the party told me it used to be part of Portland until the neighborhood, angered after building the I-205 freeway tore a big chunk off of it, decided to secede. About 50 people showed up, not all Faeries.

I forgot once again to discuss with anyone how the recent solstice party and circle underscored once again my differences with Pagans and Wiccans. The focus on an astronomical cycle and the returning of light is completely different than what I am in tune to. I don't see the lack of light itself as a problem: it's just the way winter is at this latitude.

For openers, the astronomical cycle is only loosely tied to the cycles that really matter, the ones of the weather and the living world. The onset of the winter rains never happens on the same day or in the same way, and despite all the efforts at weather forecasting, there hasn't been much success its long-term forecasting. But eventually (pace a drought year) there comes a time each fall when a "mean-it" rain falls. There's something colder, wetter, more permanent in the air than there is when a stray storm makes it this far south in July or August. You know that things have changed and you're now experiencing what the dominant weather pattern is going to be for the next eight of nine months. Storm follows storm and the woods get ever more drippy, the lawns of the cities ever more squishy.

If you keep trying to emphasize how spring is coming when it's deep in winter, the hidden premise is that there's something bad or wrong about it being deep in winter. Instead of celebrating what is, and living in the present, one is focusing on how awful the present is and living for the future. That's not the kind of mental space I want to be in.

Not only that, focusing on winter being the "hard" season is wrapped up in the cobwebs of ancient anthropocentrism. Maybe back in the days of pre-Christian Europe such a focus was inevitable (heck, it was inevitable even through most of the Christian era in Europe), but in the modern developed countries, it's not as if winter brings with it the threat of famine any more. And for many local organisms (such as fungi, mosses and epiphytic ferns) the winter wet season is the rich time of year, not the lean one!

Moreover, I personally have never understood the appeal of sunny places where it's perpetually warm. I disliked the Bay Area (regarded by many as excessively cloudy) because it was, to me, obnoxiously sunny and the more southerly latitude there made the sun stronger. I think it's absolutely great that for most of the year I never have to worry about getting sunburnt.

Why not celebrate winter, the peaceful quiet of the long nights, the dripping forests with mosses and ferns that grow ever lusher with each passing rainy month?

Every tour I've taken of a cave has involved turning off the lights at one point to show how absolutely, completely dark it is underground. It's a darkness unlike anything one experiences anywhere else. The best was of an undeveloped cave in Tennessee where I got to experience five minutes or so of absolute darkness and stillness. But even that ended all too soon, and we were back underway, hurrying through the rest of the tour and on our way back above ground.

Thu Jan 02 08:45:51 PST 2003

Tom Tomorrow lays it on the line with another scathing insight. Not that it's particularly hard to see or anything, just conspicuously missing from the mainstream media (you know, the one called "liberal" by conservative knowitalls).

Thu Jan 02 17:20:39 PST 2003

Earlier, I was going to post a rant that expounded on a few items I wrote immediately after the 9/11 attacks. I may still do that, but I'm holding off for now.

Instead, check out this charming little tale of what John Ashcroft's idea of antitrust litigation is.

Thu Jan 02 20:00:51 PST 2003

And now for a rant on state and local politics (no, this isn't the rant I was musing about earlier).

Oregon is experiencing its worst economic downturn in over a decade. Thousands (including yours truly) are out of work, the contracting economy and increasing demand for social services are straining budgets to the breaking point, and the less-fortunate among us are about to be dealt another especially savage set of cuts at the end of the month. Many of these cuts will actually make budget problems worse (case in point: cutting services to help drug addicts recover means more untreated drug addiction, which means more crime, and more policing, court, and prison costs -- and prisons in particular ain't cheap).

So what's our city government lobbying the state to do? Woo the Montreal Expos to Portland (check out this and this).

Never mind that the Beavers, our current minor league team, are one of the least successful PCL teams, on the verge of bankruptcy and unable to fill their stadium even though the team gives most of its tickets away. Never mind that baseball has never been a success in Seattle, a much larger metropolitan area that can draw fans from both Portland to the south and Vancouver, BC to the north.

They say it's gonna all come out of player salaries via earmarking income taxes and new city income taxes. Yeah, right. Point one, no independent study has shown that major league teams make a positive economic contribution to their regions. What happens is a substitution -- people substitute professional sports for other things they would have spent their entertainment dollars on. Point two, politicians are always in Cloud Cuckoo Land when it comes to estimating the economics of sports franchises. Weren't the Portland Beavers (you know, the same Beavers the city is considering taking over and running as a money-losing enterprise) supposed to be wildly profitable and pay for the renovations to the stadium they play in?

This has got to be one of the most mind-numbingly stupid ideas I have seen in a long time.

If you agree with me on this, and you live in Oregon, you might want to drop a line to your state legislators. And maybe also something to Senator Lenn Hannon, who's leading the fight against this idiocy (as he's done successfully before).

Fri Jan 03 11:23:42 PST 2003

And in the "Oh dear, I think there may be a skeleton in that closet. Better not look in the closet." department, we have this. Like father, like son.

And if you're feeling insufficiently nauseous and in need of a dose of self-absorbed Manhattan yuppiedom, try going here. I'll warn you that the site apparently doesn't work well with many browsers, but Mozilla seems to do fine with it.

Fri Jan 03 13:08:13 PST 2003

I hate UPS. My local delivery driver seems to think that leaving an "I was there" post-it is an acceptable substitute for attempting to deliver a package. Rare is the delivery that doesn't take two or three such "attempts". It's as if he's afraid to touch the building's entry system or something.

Yet again, I've been in all morning, only to find one of the aforementioned messages (which I've taken to referring to as "UPS spoors") on the front door. Guess it's time once again to put up the message pleading with him to please attempt the delivery instead of running away. I'm not making this up. That's what it sometimes takes to get them to actually attempt a delivery.

And have I mentioned that it arrived in Portland on the 31st of last month (already over three days since it was shipped "three-day") and has been sitting in a warehouse collecting dust for four days before they even made this first pathetic excuse for a delivery attempt?

With "service" like that, they should rename their "three-day" service to something else. May I suggest "eight to ten day", "over three day", or "we'll deliver it when we feel like it" service?

Sat Jan 04 08:31:34 PST 2003

Since I haven't put it up on the Net elsewhere, here's a review of Bowling for Columbine that I typed in last month shortly after viewing the movie:

Bowling for Columbine is probably the best discussions of guns and gun violence in America I have seen.

It's the first real attempt at explaining the problem without resorting to the standard liberal or conservative shibboleths: most of those are examined in the movie and found wanting. The answer Moore finds is a culture of fear, promoted by a ruling class using that fear to manipulate and control the population it rules. A number of anecdotal comparisons are made between the USA and Canada showing a general absence of that culture of fear in Canada. And the interview with Charlton Heston really underscores what a right-wing organization the NRA is, far from the simple Second Amendment civil-rights organization it tries to portray itself as.

This is as good a place as any for me to state my political biases: the gun violence issue, and the shallowness of the standard liberal explanations and proposed cures for it, is one of the reasons that I consider myself a radical and not a liberal. I think that any unjust, militaristic, imperialistic, oppressive society deserves to collapse unless it reforms its ways, and have no interest in papering over the natural consequences of those evils by resorting to authoritarian rollbacks of people's civil rights. It's probably one reason why I enjoyed the movie so much: one always likes to be told one is right.

That's not to say the film is without its faults. To pick an example, Moore's stunt at the K-Mart headquarters trying to get the corporation to stop selling ammunition at its stores really fell flat for me, especially in light of a scene earlier in the film. Moore walked into a Wal-Mart in Canada and walked out with several boxes of ammo. Yet, as he says time and time again in the film, Canadians aren't pumping discount store bullets into each other at anywhere near the same rate Americans are. Why he suddenly abandons the probing for deeper social causes for the standard shallow liberal rhetoric of blaming guns or those who sell them (or, in this case, the ammunition they use) is beyond me.

One thing I would have liked would have been for Moore to interview the president of Handgun Control, Inc. and make him squirm as much as Charlton Heston did. The movie did bring up, and dismantle, enough standard liberal shibboleths on the issue that there would have been plenty of fodder to do just that.

But, all in all, well worth seeing. I'd especially recommend it for the NRA crowd: it's not all the standard "we need tougher gun control laws then everything will be OK" argument that you've heard so much of already.

Sat Jan 04 17:49:31 PST 2003

So, with the latest revelations about US aid to Iraq, just how are we supposed to have any confidence in this current "war on terrorism"? I mean, if recklessly following the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle got us into the hole we're currently in, how is following it further (see: Pakistan, Turkmenistan, the Karzai faction in Afghanistan) going to accomplish anything but digging the hole deeper?

Not to mention that the whole Iraq thing is mostly a distraction from the job of getting those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. More on that soon.

Sat Jan 04 23:08:47 PST 2003

And in the "I'm surprised there's one still around" category, I just learned this evening that the Simpson Timber Company is, in the twenty-first century, still operating a working logging railroad.

As a fan of retro-technology that warms my heart, even though it is apparently the last remaining such railroad in the USA. I had assumed that logging railroads didn't last much beyond the early postwar years.

Sun Jan 05 11:28:01 PST 2003

Last Friday, I started seriously thinking that it would be better if I did have an external link or two pointing to this blog. So I decided that if I still felt that way Monday, I would.

Today, I feel so more than ever, so I just finished making a few tweaks to the Java code (multilingual date/time strings, support for linking to the most recent entry) that generates it.

Sun Jan 05 12:12:10 PST 2003

And now the rant I've been promising:

Under the risk of seeming self-important by quoting myself, let's crank up the Way-Back Machine and revisit some of what I wrote immediately in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

But in the long run, by far the most important question is "Why?". Before continuing, I want to stress that nothing can justify such enormities as happened this week. There can be no valid excuse or extenuating circumstances. But there are valid explanations.
It's pretty obvious that this most important question isn't being asked by those in power. ("Axis of evil?" Give me a f*cking break!) Worse, anyone who does ask it falls afoul of a kind of neo-McCarthyism and is branded a terrorist sympathizer or apologist. Just how absurd this attitude is can be underscored by observing that any police detective worth his or her salt always attempts to uncover the motive for a crime. In fact, it's pretty much self-explanatory that any detective that doesn't should be fired or disciplined for his or her incompetence.

Police departments also routinely use their knowledge of criminal activity and motives to advise citizens on how to avoid becoming crime victims themselves. Nobody accuses them of "sympathizing with criminals" when they do this.

Yes, that's right: those entrusted to address a national security crisis that has killed thousands are falling short on basic standards of investigation and response that any small-town police department would consider to be self-evident.

Sun Jan 05 19:33:47 PST 2003

Just got back from seeing Rabbit-Proof Fence (warning: that site requires Flash), an emotional tale of three Aboriginal children who ran back home from confinement in a government boarding school. It was every big as good (and emotional) as I expected it to be, even though it does apparently take a few liberties with the truth.

I didn't notice it in the movie credits, but it is based on a book written by Molly's (one of the three children in the film) daughter. Molly and Daisy, two of the three, make an appearance at the end of the film.

Mon Jan 06 08:45:27 PST 2003

... And we're live!

Mon Jan 06 08:59:31 PST 2003

I may have to eat some of what I said earlier about Gawker. If they include links to sites like this, their case of yuppie-self-absorbtion disease can't be completely terminal. Yet.

It's enough to make me seriously think of collecting some pictures about similar historical relics here in Portland.

Mon Jan 06 13:34:31 PST 2003

Consider how Iraq (which doesn't have nukes) is constantly the subject of US sabre-rattling, while North Korea (which does) is the subject of gentle diplomacy, and Pakistan (which also does) is regarded as an outright ally. Isn't the ultimate lesson to other nations that you better get off your lazy buns and develop nukes of your own if you want to have a ghost of a chance of being treated as a sovereign nation instead of a vassal of US hegemony? Or, to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski:
[Kim Jong Il] is rationally crazy. The lesson of North Korea for other Third World dictators is to go nuclear as rapidly as possible, and as secretly as possible, and then act crazy so as to deter us.
Somehow, that doesn't exactly instill confidence in the future of our national security. Of course, if my goal was not national security but instead creating and perpetuating a state of permanent war so I could have the populace follow me, sheep-like, wherever I wanted to lead them, I'd be quite happy. Full article the quote comes from is here.

And on a more mundane note, posting a notice pleading with the UPS driver to actually attempt a delivery instead of just leaving a UPS spoor worked, and I'm now in possession of the tripod I ordered late last month.

Tue Jan 07 21:36:50 PST 2003

According to an article in the Northwest Examiner, the neighborhood newspaper for Northwest Portland, the local Wilbur-Ellis fish meal plant is closing.

What's the big deal about that? When I first visited Portland in 1987, there was no such thing as the Pearl District. It was just the southern edge of the Northwest Industrial District. With the exception of a few intrusions like Powell's Books, it was a gritty neighborhood of railroad yards and old brick factories and warehouses. Powell's, in fact, was right across the street from the Henry Weinhard Brewing Company, and the store was often permeated with the fragrance of brewing beer. Thirteenth Avenue wasn't even paved, and a branch of the Portland Terminal Railroad ran down it. If you were adventuresome enough to drive it, you had to weave around rail cars parked on sidings.

Step forward fifteen years, and the brewery is now the Brewery Blocks Redevelopment Project, on its way to becoming yuppie-trendy housing and businesses. Thirteenth, long since paved, is now lined with trendy shops and galleries. Except for a few blocks near its northern edge, where rain water fills the potholed gravel with puddles, the odor of fish offal hangs in the air, and parked rail cars linger along the siding for the fish meal plant. Not for much longer, it seems. And the plant is the last customer on the 13th Avenue spur, so when it goes, so goes the one of the last bits of freight trackage in a neighborhood that used to be dominated by a rail yard.

I'm going to have to load my camera with black and white film and document this bit of history before it disappears.

Wed Jan 08 12:08:21 PST 2003

Once again, Tom Tomorrow uncovers another disturbing news item. I have to remember to check the White House Press Briefings page more often. It's been a fertile source of grist for my mills in the past.

I'm taking a mini-break from paper-mail processing and bill paying to play a little with the new Safari web browser. At first glance the 1.0 beta version seems to do a good job of displaying pages, though I sort of doubt it'll displace Mozilla, my current browser of choice. For openers, Mozilla supports platforms other than the Mac.

It's yet another somewhat disturbingly dry and clear day, though the latest local forecast promises a return to more normal conditions by the weekend. I'm going to try to take advantage of the dry weather to photograph the last relic of the old Portland still left in the Pearl District I wrote of yesterday.

Thu Jan 09 00:04:33 PST 2003

Has anyone else ever noticed how relatively free Monster is from recruiter (or, to use a somewhat coarser term, pimp) listings, while Dice is thoroughly infested with them?

Despite my personal experiences with headhunters (let's just say I can count the number of positive experiences I have had on the fingers of no hands), such listings could conceivably be of use if they contained valuable information not generally available elsewhere. Unfortunately, they usually don't: many of the jobs the recruiters are listing are also openly advertised by the employer. Further tipping their hand, the same job appears listed multiple times, with a different headhunter's name on each listing.

They're the job seeker's analogue of con-men, feeding vulture-like on publicly-available information in the hopes that some sucker, er mark, er client, will accept their "offer you cannot refuse". If one ever gets hired that way, one's employer has to cough up a hefty finder's fee to the headhunter. And guess who's salary is lowered so the fee can be budgeted, proving once again the old saw about fools and their money?

Thu Jan 09 10:23:46 PST 2003

According to a worker I talked briefly with while photographing the Wilbur-Ellis plant this morning, they have until May to vacate, and will be moving to a new plant in the far northern edge of the city. So there's a few months to get down there and see what all the Pearl used to be like.

Update: I got the color pictures I took of the old plant and digitized the best of the bunch. They're available here. It's going to take a while to get the black-and-white ones developed.

Thu Jan 09 18:32:05 PST 2003

At the risk of sounding like an old codger before my time, why the heck would anyone want a smart toilet when the plain old-fashioned "dumb" kind work perfectly well? Or a smart refrigerator magnet or a smart mantel clock?

I deal with computers all the time. I've programmed them for years. And even I have precious little use of patience for over-technologized gadgets that are too smart and feature-ridden (yet at the same time very poorly designed) for their own good. Case in point: digital watches with zillions of bizarre features I couldn't care less about (but have to be aware of anyway lest the watch unexpectedly enter one), and don't even have the common decency to let the user set them backwards as well as forwards (makes going off daylight savings time or heading west across a time zone real fun).

"The smart toilet idea is not too far-fetched when you think about it in terms of medical analysis," Bajarin said. "What if my toilet had a digital sensor that determines blood alcohol level and that's sent wirelessly to my car. If my blood alcohol level is above a certain level, my car won't start."
Snort. Yeah, right. And when your wife accidentally spills cologne or rubbing alcohol into the toilet you end up late for work because the damn thing decided it knew more than you did. Or when your car has a configuration error and gets the data from your neighbor's toilet. Or when software displays the reliability we've all grown to expect from it and a bug makes either car or toilet malfunction.

Fri Jan 10 09:14:47 PST 2003

As Mark Morford writes on SFGate:
We are, in short, going to attack and massacre Iraq for the oil reserves, to protect America's corporate interests, to feed the gaping maw of the military-industrial complex. Same as it ever was.

But let us be perfectly clear: We are most definitely not cranking up the appalling war machine for your sake, or for the country's protection, or for our commendable standing among our humanitarian allies.

Full article here.

Sat Jan 11 08:16:39 PST 2003

This sounds like a broken record in light of yesterday's entry, but it's worth noting anyhow:
They read good books, and quote, but never learn
a language other than the scream of rocket-burn.
Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad:
Elections, money, empire, oil and Dad.
      -- Andrew Motion (UK Poet Laureate), 2003
Full story here.

Sun Jan 12 09:54:53 PST 2003

Stayed up last night spending altogether too much time rummaging through the web archives of Metropolis Magazine. What got me there was learning that they run a cartoon by Ben Katchor each month. That alone would be enough to get me to send in for a subscription to the magazine (if I weren't poor). Moreover, the general subject it covers (architecture and urban planning) is one of my interests.

The biggest fault I see is that it is mainly concerned with modern design; historical design is pretty much missing. I'm not a big fan of modernist architecture: I view it as generally being in gross violation of the very "form follows function" mantra it claims to follow. (Flat roofs in rainy or snowy climates? Walls of windows in areas that have long, cold winters? Buildings without eaves or recessed windows so windows can be opened while it is raining? Sealed buildings with windows that can't be opened at all? That's functional? Oh, please!)

That said, I don't dislike all modernist buildings, and the designs featured in the magazine seem to be the better ones that avoid the sorts of gross mistakes listed above. One article mentioned how the whole residential construction process is geared towards mediocrity and any attempt to depart from it is frustrated and discouraged. The subject of the article was building a modernist house, but I think it's a general principle that applies to any departure from the norms.

Sun Jan 12 10:48:09 PST 2003

The other day, I received a call from former South African President Nelson Mandela who reminded me that the United States sets the example for justice and fairness for the rest of the world. Today the United States is not in league with most of our major allies: Europe, Canada, Mexico, most of South and Central America. These countries rejected the death penalty. We are partners in death with several third world countries. Even Russia has called a moratorium.

The death penalty has been abolished in 12 states. In none of these states has the homicide rate increased. In Illinois last year we had about 1,000 murders; only 2 percent of that 1,000 were sentenced to death. Where is the fairness and equality in that? The death penalty in Illinois is not imposed fairly or uniformly because of the absence of standards for the 102 Illinois state's attorneys, who must decide whether to request the death sentence. Should geography be a factor in determining who gets the death sentence? I don't think so but in Illinois it makes a difference. You are five times more likely to get a death sentence for first degree murder in the rural area of Illinois than you are in Cook County. Where is the justice and fairness in that -- where is the proportionality?


"In fact the most glaring weakness is that no matter how efficient and fair the death penalty may seem in theory, in actual practice it is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and against racial minorities." That was a quote from former California Governor Pat Brown. He wrote that in his book -- Public Justice, Private Mercy. He wrote that nearly 50 years ago -- nothing has changed in nearly 50 years.


Another crime victim came to our family meetings. He believes an inmate sent to death row for another crime also shot and paralyzed him. The inmate, he says, gets free health care while the victim is struggling to pay his substantial medical bills and, as a result, he has forgone getting proper medical care to alleviate the physical pain he endures.

What kind of victim's services are we providing? Are all of our resources geared toward providing this notion of closure by execution instead of tending to the physical and social service needs of victim families? And what kind of values are we instilling in these wounded families and in the young people? As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.

Full text here.

Mon Jan 13 11:36:06 PST 2003

In a Washington Post article on Gov. Ryan's commutations and pardons we have the following sentence:
Death penalty opponents such as Amnesty International have already begun pressuring President Bush and governors nationwide to join the rest of the world's "civilized" nations and reject capital punishment.
Really now, can't we make this a little more accurate by removing the phrase "the rest of" and getting rid of the quotation marks around "civilized". And it's not just the death penalty I'm talking about -- our government's reprehensible Conan-the-Barbarian-like foreign policy is hardly the conduct of a civilized nation, either.

As Gandhi is rumored to have answered when asked what he thought of Western civilization "I think it would be a wonderful idea."

Mon Jan 13 14:37:41 PST 2003

Harley Sorenson has a good article on class warfare here.

About the only thing I would have added is the transparent obviousness of how the Cold War was more about fighting class warfare at home than fighting totalitarianism abroad. I mean, nearly fifty years of being told how we can't afford a welfare state like the Western Europeans have because we're pulling more than our fair share of military spending (more per capita than Western Europe did) to keep the USSR contained. Then the USSR goes away and, whoops, no peace dividend, we just "must" balance the budget in seven years.

Which brings us to the present time, when "we" are being told to sacrifice for this "war against terrorism" (funny, there's no sacrificing being proposed for the rich, who have a nice big tax cut coming their way). And isn't it convenient how "terrorism" is a tactic that's been around as long as human history, making it unlikely to disappear (as communism inconveniently did).

Tue Jan 14 18:29:18 PST 2003

Not much to say today; been busy with errands I need to complete prior to leaving for Seattle to visit friends tomorrow. Which in turn means there probably won't be any entries added here until I get back Friday evening (at the earliest).

Fri Jan 17 22:07:52 PST 2003

I'm back from Seattle. One thing that caught my attention while I was there was this article by Christopher Hitchens in The Stranger, a free Seattle weekly.

I just don't get Christopher Hitchens. He seems obsessed with pointing out mostly imaginary flaws in the anti-war movement, to the point of being distracted from even bigger flaws in the pro-war side.

Now hear this. Ever since that [September 11] morning, the United States has been at war with the forces of reaction. May I please entreat you to reread the preceding sentence? Or perhaps you will let me restate it for emphasis. The government and people of these United States are now at war with the forces of reaction.
Reaction, as with conservatism, liberalism, and radicalism, is a political attitude defined in relationship to the status quo. As with the three other such categories, it is one that has been with us ever since the Enlightenment started making "politics" something that citizens could ponder and discuss, instead of being handed down from on high by a deity to hereditary monarchs. Barring a return to such an unenviable state of affairs, it is likely to remain with us.

"War on reaction" is an even more dangerous idea than the "war on terrorism", because "reaction" is an even vaguer and broader category than "terrorism". And, need I add, even more likely to create a state of permanent war. Didn't the likes of Stalin and Mao kill millions for nothing more than being suspected "reactionaries"?

About the "war", Hitchens further has to say the following:

This outcome was clearly not willed, at least on the American side.
Sorry, wrong again. Whether or not to wage a war in response to a national security crises (and how to define what constitutes the enemy in such a war) was very much willed and decided by the United States. Any attempt to declare otherwise is a poor substitute for constructing a an argument in favor of one's position with facts and logic.

Such an argument may, in fact, exist. Hitchens, however, certainly hasn't made it in this article of his.

Sun Jan 19 13:57:45 PST 2003

Last night I want on a long-awaited tour of Portland's "Shanghai Tunnels".

I'm not sure what to think of it. According to the lecture given on the tour, the history of the tunnels and the practice is almost completely oral (and by now the voices that spoke it are all dead), because a system of massive corruption and payoffs prevented it from getting in the media or other printed matter.

That alone causes my internal doubt-o-meter to start showing readings. Any time someone can't show documentation for a claim, it casts doubt on that claim. Plus, there's no marks where the walls of the "demolished" old holding cells met existing brick or stone walls (or, for that matter, the floor). The "holding cell windows" that remained do have pretty strong gratings on them, but those "remaining" walls are also the walls that separate the basements of different storefronts. Many of the passages between those rooms had been bricked up for security (you wouldn't want your storage space to be accessible by your neighbors, would you?). It seems reasonable that security gratings would be placed on the smaller openings for the same reason. It was pretty warm down there (in January!), so it seems reasonable that the ventilation provided by the gratings is the reason those openings weren't bricked up.

Moreover, San Francisco has some very similar legends. Both have stories of a particularly notorious saloon with multiple trap doors. Both have a notorious crimp, or shainghaier, nicknamed "Shanghai Kelly": San Francisco's is James Kelly, Portland's is Joseph Kelly. Both "Shanghai Kelly" characters sold sea captains dead men. In a legendary fable, both once even sold a wooden cigar store Indian into servitude.

So the curious can compare: A page detailing San Francisco's tales is here and a page detailing Portland's is here.

None of this is to say that shanghaiing never took place, or that the underground was never used by shanghaiers. It did, and it probably was. However, I'm skeptical of the veracity of the particular stories that were told, and the claims of the past activities that took place in the particular parts of the underground I saw.

Sun Jan 19 23:32:35 PST 2003

And a short note that yes, I was indeed at the big anti-war rally yesterday. The Oregonian had a police estimate of "at least 20,000" on their web site before that article was mysteriously taken down and replaced with another one with no numbers given. I'd say there was probably 20 to 30 thousand, myself. It's most impressive when you've been marching for an hour or so and are almost back at the starting point and look down an avenue and see a crowd of marchers still leaving.

Not to mention over 100 thousand in both Washington, DC and San Francisco. In other words we're becoming the mainstream. This gives me hope that this while ugly thing might in fact be stopped before it starts.

Mon Jan 20 10:37:02 PST 2003

According to reports from the BBC and the German wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur (1/7/03, 1/8/03), a senior Genoa police officer, Pietro Troiani, has admitted that police planted two Molotov cocktails in a school that was serving as a dormitory for activists from the Genoa Social Forum. The bombs were apparently planted in order to justify the police force's brutal July 22 raid on the school. According to the BBC, the bombs had in fact been found elsewhere in the city, and Troijani now says planting them at the school was a "silly" thing to do.
More here.

Mon Jan 20 14:05:12 PST 2003

OPB Radio just aired a commentary about ethics by Rushworth Kidder, in part where he denounces the lack of ethics in present-day life and points out how technology is making society more vulnerable to ethical lapses.

I don't necessarily disagree with those two observations, but is it really a surprise that, say, college students now regard financial success as more important than developing a sense of personal values? Isn't self advancement (while ignoring "big picture" issues under the assumption that market forces will work things out OK in the end) pretty much the ideology of capitalism?

Certainly, there have been capitalists who have advocated moderating influences because they understood that their system wasn't workable in its "pure" sense. Interestingly, capitalism's intellectual founder, Adam Smith, was such an individual. But such arguments have been so routinely pooh-poohed by the defenders of giving the bourgeoisie ever more power that even institutions that used to routinely make them, such as the Democratic Party, are increasingly too timid to make a loud case for them.

As lamentable as the development is, I really can't see it as anything other than just the sort of development one would expect as such a value system matures. Consider it just part of the triumph of the conservative counterrevolution to the New Deal that started with Goldwater in the 60s and gained ascendency with Reagan in the 80s.

Tue Jan 21 11:31:01 PST 2003

So what's the deal with all the doofuses who take out want ads for "entry level" positions that require prior experience doing that sort of job? (The most recent Sunday Oregonian is full of the things.) Get a clue: it's either entry level, or experience is required.

What's next, want ads for flight attendants that are both taller than seven feet and shorter than six feet?

Wed Jan 22 17:51:41 PST 2003

Just got back from spending the afternoon at a City Council meeting where a resolution from Commissioner Sten condemning unilateral preemptive war against Iraq was debated.

It didn't come as a complete surprise to me that it was defeated. Though it is a disappointment, and hardly representative of the opinions of the city as a whole. Dozens of cities that are less liberal than Portland have passed similar resolutions.

The ugly details: Mayor Katz and (of course) Commissioner Sten voted for it. Commissioners Francesconi and Leonard voted against it. (Commissioner Saltzman, who had previously announced his opposition to the resolution, was not present.)

The mayor's vote was something of a surprise, because as the years have gone on, she's drifted further and further from her liberal roots to become something of a "new Democrat". Apparently, she had expressed negative opinions about the measure yesterday. Maybe all of us speaking in favor if it (dozens and dozens urging approval, only a handful urging rejection) did change her mind. Maybe she's eying another term in office and wants to get away from some of her "new Democrat" image. Maybe it's a combination of the two factors.

Francesconi's concerns about it not being the proper subject for a city to mess with don't hold water with me, for two main reasons.

First, the city had already spent an entire afternoon listening to the public comment on it, and Commissioner Sten had no doubt spent lots of his (and the other commissioners and the mayor's) time in lobbying for their support. There's no way to turn back the clock and un-spend that time. Since it's a non-binding resolution, the result of a "yes" vote (and the only incremental effort being considered at this point) is the publication of the resolution, hardly a major effort or distraction.

Second, it's not as if "refrain from commenting on national and international issues" and "be obsessed with national and international issues" are the only two options, with the former being the correct one. In fact, they're two sides of the same coin: neither one is a healthy balance. The point is to express concern over those issues of grave importance that require it; the only thing being voted on today is one particular resolution about a particular issue. Nothing more, nothing less. (Sten himself made this observation when explaining why he introduced the resolution.)

I have the least respect of all for Leonard's "I'm confused, so I'm voting no" explanation. If you're really confused and don't know which way to vote, abstain! (It's been pointed out to me that abstention may not be an option when voting on nonbinding resolutions.) On top of that, Leonard has used that particular cop-out multiple times before when voting on something. If he really has that much trouble making up his mind, perhaps he should go back to his job at the Fire Department and leave decision making to people who are more, well, decisive.

Thu Jan 23 09:36:53 PST 2003

Well now, isn't this special. An AIDS advisory panel member who calls homosexuality a "deathstyle" and argues that religious faith can cure being queer. As if anyone doubts that this nation is infested with creeping fascism.

Update: He's backed out.

Thu Jan 23 13:54:36 PST 2003

I have to admit I'm getting more and more fond of Safari. Despite there being a few rough edges (which are only to be expected in beta test software), it is one heck of a lot faster than Mozilla, which has been my browser of choice as of late. Today, I finally discovered the "Status Bar" option under the "View" menu item, which rectifies what had been my biggest complaint about Safari: not being able to see the target of a URL when I mouse over it without clicking.

An added plus is that Konqueror, the browser built into KDE, is set to benefit from the improvements and bug fixes Apple made to its rendering engine in the process of building Safari around it.

Fri Jan 24 23:59:35 PST 2003

Hurray! It looks like the public power campaign I've been doing some work for has got enough signatures to force a vote.

Now all that needs to be done is to persuade the voters to vote their interest, and the one part of our electric utility that is disposable (i.e. outside investors siphoning off profits) can be disposed with. Unfortunately, we're talking about a country where the majority seems content to get screwed over by a for-profit medical industry just because it's privately owned and no sacrifice in support of profit is apparently too small.

And you can spare me the comments about wanting to create a Marxist-Leninist state where the big bad government runs the whole show. Many parts of the USA have publically-owned electric utilities; as do many parts of Canada, which also has a publically-owned health insurance system. Such things have been in place for decades, and the communist apocalypse has yet to happen. Might I suggest that it's simply not going to happen?

The simple fact is that there are industries (some -- by no means all) where public ownership has been demonstrated, time and again, to work better than private ownership. Electric utilities and health insurance are two such examples.

This is aside from how terms such as "private" and "free enterprise" can apply at all to an industry that gets a government-guaranteed monopoly and rate of return. And the major differences between how public ownership is implemented in Western democracies and how it was in the late unlamented Soviet bloc.

Mon Jan 27 20:54:04 PST 2003

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Just took a break from the Internet over the weekend.

Tue Jan 28 20:24:10 PST 2003

I hate to tempt fate, but I do believe the peace movement is starting to make Bush II backpedal from his we-want-war-no-matter-what stance. Consider the following from his State of the Union speech (italics mine):
The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups. We will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Conspicuous in its absence is any open rhetoric about going it alone if need be. Note also the emphasis on putting the matter before the Security Council (it wasn't too long ago that there were mutterings about not even bothering to do that). And the ultimate sanction is now "lead[ing] a coalition to disarm him". The coalition, of course, could be nothing more than the US, the UK, and perhaps Australia. But the tone is at least heading in the right direction. And the end goal (even in the face of noncooperation by Iraq) is not to overthrow Hussein or to conquer Iraq, but now to merely "disarm" its leader.

Moreover, Iraq occupied less than half of the speech. Most of it was preoccupied with domestic matters (which I may make some effort at deconstructing tomorrow). Bush II will probably never admit it, but it looks like the noise made by the antiwar movement (and the governments of France, Germany, Russia, and China) is starting to have an effect.

Wed Jan 29 12:14:51 PST 2003

Judging by the few of today's analyses that I've read, I appear to be pretty much alone in interpreting the parts of the State of the Union speech about Iraq as backpedaling. Maybe that's just as well, as continuing the public impression of intransigence will just lead to more pressure to back off.

Thu Jan 30 12:02:32 PST 2003

Since NPR just devoted Talk of the Nation today to it, one thing I'm skeptical of in Bush II's speech is the AIDS program he outlined.

One of the biggest problems facing poor countries right now is that they (or many HIV-infected people living in them) can't afford proper medications. These medications aren't intrinsically expensive to manufacture, but their price is sky-high because their makers still have monopolies granted under patent law.

Eliminating the patent protection for AIDS medications in Third World countries:

In short, a very modest, politically moderate, no-brainer of a measure. Which is why nearly every country in the WTO supports it.

Every country, that is, except for the USA. If the Bush plan involves dropping the USA's stonewalling at the WTO, then I applaud it. But if it doesn't, it's just another thinly-disguised plan to shovel our taxes into the bank accounts of the super-rich.

Fri Jan 31 09:21:56 PST 2003

Regarding the theft scandals, I grew up in Los Alamos in the late 70s and early 80s. I'm not sure if it's part of an unbroken chain up to the present time, but back then it was an open secret that most of the advanced entries in the local school Science Fair (which was and I assume still is a big thing in that community) were constructed with materials purloined from the national labs there. So it's not a complete surprise to hear the latest news.

Fri Jan 31 09:41:39 PST 2003

It's been a weird winter, thanks to El NiƱo. Much milder than normal, and many dry sunny periods that have left it feeling more like California than Oregon. But for the last few days we've been getting the sort of weather that we're famous for, and lots of it.

It seems more and more likely I may have to eat the words I wrote last Tuesday. Drat. And not just because I dislike being wrong.

Fri Jan 31 11:06:46 PST 2003

We're number seventeen! And soon to be number thirty-seven the way things are going.

Fri Jan 31 18:07:03 PST 2003

Yet another lie from the people who are bring us the War on Drugs. Well, not exactly a lie, just an extremely misleading way of telling a story.

He's not selling anything your average florist, garden center, or grocery store isn't selling. The same Papaver somniferum that furnishes opium also furnishes decorative pods for floral arrangements, an ornamental annual with attractive flowers, and the poppy seeds used to flavor bagels, muffins, and cakes.

The long-standing uses of the opium poppy plant have resulted in the drug warriors engaging in all sorts of unseemly hair-splitting. Basically, if you possess, grow, or use parts of the opium poppy plant and are ignorant that it's that kind of poppy, you're OK. Otherwise you're a druggie and a dangerous menace to society.

Harper's Magazine had a good article on this in the late 1990s. I'll try and look up the reference sometime.

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