Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
This outlet of a clothing store called American Eagle has a hanging sign, like the other stores in the mall. What makes its sign different is that it's placed behind a pillar and above a balcony, safely hidden from the eyes of would-be customers. It's a refreshing return to the days when retailers disdained to ask for trade, but a little odd to see on the year's top day for retail sales.
Black Friday is what happens when PETA improves the running of the bulls at Pamplona. The sporting and daring among us can enjoy the frisson of risking a trampling, without any animals being put to the effort of encouraging us to make a dash for it.
In 1986, an Ohio man named Donald Miller, married with two children, disappeared without a trace. In 1994 his wife petitioned to declare him legally dead. An Ohio court declared him legally dead.
Despite being legally dead, Mr. Miller wasn't factually dead; he was quite alive. He reappeared in 2005, not knowing that he was legally dead, and tried to establish that he was in fact alive.
An Ohio court, sympathetic to Mr. Miller's plight, ruled last week that Mr. Miller was still dead, despite his personal appearance in the courtroom to argue that he was still among the living. The judge, Allan Davis, ruled that the statute of limitations to challenge a declaration of legal death in Ohio is three years, meaning that because Mr. Miller didn't show up by 2008 to argue that he was still living, he was incontrovertibly and unappealably dead, at least in Ohio.
Why "at least in Ohio," you may ask? It's because the federal government hasn't passed a Defense of Death Act. Until Congress passes a Defense of Death Act, the definition of death is left up to the states, and if Ohio chooses to define Mr. Miller as being dead, he can't insist that Ohio renumber him among the living.
Just because Mr. Miller is dead in Ohio doesn't mean he is dead everywhere. He might move to Indiana or Kentucky, or some state that believes in the Right to Life, and if his new state determines him to be living, he will be among the living, at least while he is within that state. If he has enemies remaining in Ohio he'd best stay out of the Buckeye State, for they might be able to kill him and have a perfect defense to the case: how can they kill a man in 2013 who died in 1994?
[Thanks to WTAE.com for reporting in the possible existence of Mr. Miller.]
It's odd that even though big business regularly complains about the national government, when the national government shuts down, Wall Street tumbles. The stock market is down about 5% since mid-September, when it became apparent that the House wouldn't agree to fund the government past September 30.
Although the Monsanto Protection Act, SB 863, which the legislature passed in its special session last week, appeared to come from nowhere, it was a remnant of the regular session earlier this year, when it made it through the Senate under the name of SB 633, only to die in the House. Its original sponsors were a bipartisan mix: Democratic Senators Betsy Johnson (Scappoose) and Arnie Roblan (North Bend) and Republican Senators Herman Baertschiger (Central Point), Bill Hansell (Pendleton), and Jeff Kruse (Roseburg). In the regular session, the Senate passed it on not quite party lines: 14 R's and 3 D's voted yes, and 12 D's voted no.
In the special session the bill passed the Senate on the same 17-12 vote, with one interesting switch: Senator Johnson, one of the sponsors of the original bill, voted against it. The final tally was unchanged because Senator Prozanski, who had voted against the first incarnation, did not vote the second time around.
Though designed to prevent local governments from regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the bill is written so broadly as to have some unintended effects, including on blackberries and bongs. I'll have some more to say about the bill's side effects presently.
When the Oregon legislature passed House Bill 2800 this spring, authorizing the state to issue $450 million in bonds to fund a portion of the Columbia River Crossing, it included a list of conditions that had to be met by September 30 for the state to be able to issue the bonds. Two of the conditions weren't met (approval by State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and the State of Washington chipping in $450 million), and so the state's authority to issue the bonds expired Monday night.
That doesn't mean the entire bill has expired, though. Section 21 of the bill (it's on page 10 of the engrossed version) requires the Oregon Department of Transportation to submit a report to the legislature every quarter on the progress of the bridge project, continuing through the end of 2023 -- ten years from now -- whether or not the replacement bridge is ever built. It's a wonderful legislature that can command a state agency to report every three months on the progress it's making on a bridge it isn't building. I'm curious if ODOT will outsource the progress reports to one of the legions of consultants who have dined well already.
As long as the House of Representatives doesn't want the government to work because a majority of the House members believe the government is too large, I'd like to revive my suggestion of two years ago that Congress reduce the size of the House by a meaningful percentage, let's say by a quarter, so that the House would have 325 members instead of the present 435. Each of the remaining members would represent about 1 million constituents and could boast about becoming 33% more productive. The savings in cost would be modest -- Congress isn't a big part of the federal budget -- but it would be a good symbolic move. The savings would allow the government to reopen the Panda Cam and several of our national parks, good places for the newly retired Congresspeople to go and chill out.
Cell phone companies occasionally send me solicitations to switch to their services, usually with promises of better reception, wider coverage area, or lower rates. Today's mail brought a cell phone company's solicitation, with a pitch that I'd never read before.
This one is from CREDO Mobile, a name that's new to me. It opens with "Dear Fellow Progressive" and leads with "If you get your mobile service from Verizon Wireless or AT&T, you should know that they contribute big bucks to radical right-wing causes." The letter states that since 2009, Verizon Wireless has given "an incredible $220,600" to members of the House and Senate Tea Party Caucuses, and AT&T has given "a massive $1,080,000."
That sounds like a lot of money, but then there were a lot of Tea Party Caucus members. Wikipedia says that in January 2013 the caucus included 49 representatives and five senators. Taking that as the caucus's typical membership level, AT&T's contributions work out to be about $5,000 per member per year. Verizon's donations work out to be about $1,000 per member per year. That's a lot more than I give to our congressional delegation (sorry, Earl), but it's less than half my annual cell phone bill. AT&T's contributions work out to be about one cent for each of its one hundred million customers. Far from being generous to the right wing, it looks to me that AT&T and Verizon are being rather stingy. They're certainly nowhere close to competing with the Koch brothers.
The Austrian physicist and philosopher Erwin Schrodinger, in a famous thought experiment, asked us to imagine a closed box containing a cat and a timed device. The device may go off sometime between now and six hours from now, when we will open the box. When it goes off it will kill the cat. Whether it has gone off can't be determined without opening the box. Schrodinger asked whether, in that six-hour period, the question "Is the cat alive or dead?" has any meaning. In his view, which he likened to quantum states of particles, until the box is opened Schrodinger's cat is both alive and dead: in physical language the cat's two possible states exist in superposition until the box is opened.
In June, afte the Washington legislature rejected a measure to fund $450 million of the Columbia River Crossing, Governors Kitzhaber of Oregon and Inslee of Washington declared the CRC dead. Dead it may have been declared, but pieces kept on twitching, to the point that three weeks later Willamette Week called the CRC a Zombridge, as the CRC team continued to work on getting the DEQ to approve pier work in the river, and the Coast Guard continued its review of the CRC team's application for a permit to obstruct the river. Since then it's been announced that the two states' departments of transportation have agreed to pay off two businesses that the bridge would hurt, and the Oregon Department of Transportation has agreed to pay off a third business in the same situation. Governor Kitzhaber has made noises about calling the Oregon legislature into special session on September 30, ostensibly to deal with PERS, but the behind-the-scenes talk is that he will also ask the legislature to fund the CRC whether or not Washington chips in. And yesterday evening, the C-TRAN board (Clark County's trasportation district) voted to get back into the CRC planning process.
So: is the Columbia River Crossing alive or dead? Or is it, like Schrodinger's cat, alive and dead at the same time? We'll open the box on September 30 and find out.
As the Obama administration considers lobbing a few missiles at Syria to punish the Syrian regime (which we used to call the "Syrian government," or just "Syria") for allegedly using chemical weapons on its citizens, the New York Times this week posted a graphic (which we used to call "gory") video showing rebel soldiers executing seven Syrian soldiers. The video, which turned out to be not fresh news but 17 months old, sparked an argument that if the rebels are this brutal, then we shouldn't be supporting them by lobbing bombs at the government.
Two days ago Secretary of State John Kerry explained to MSNBC why the video should not deter our government from attacking Syria from a safe distance. I noted this quotation particularly:
Here is my translation of Secretary Kerry's statement:
If we do not kill some Syrian soldiers and nearby civilians with safe and effective American missiles in the hope that the Damascus PTA will take over running Syria, we will see more pictures and videos of Syrian rebels killing the same Syrian soldiers and nearby civilians that our missiles would kill more efficiently. If we do kill some Syrians with our missiles, their survivors will applaud our willingness to intervene in their domestic conflict and will become our friends when the war ends.
This is not striking me as a good reason to get involved in a war. I know the government is saying that we are not getting into a war with Syria, but I also know that our recent history suggests that, as with the famous brand of potato chips, we don't often stop with just one.
Identity crises abound this month. Paul Allen has sold the naming rights to the Rose Garden arena to the insurance company formerly named ODS Health Plans, itself struggling to reestablish its identity after changing its name to Moda earlier this year. This has sparked a protest movement, "Rose Garden Forever," wanting Mr. Allen's enterprise to turn down the $40 million and leave the name unchanged, or at least leave "Rose Garden" in the name somewhere.
It wasn't that long ago -- only in 1995, in fact, a Laquedemian blink of an eye -- that Mr. Allen ignited protests when he announced that he would name his new arena the Rose Garden, muscling over the famous Rose Garden in Washington Park. "How can he take this historic Portland name for himself?" Portlanders complained back then. Ah, well, we've got over it, and have accepted "Rose Garden" for its reference to our city's nickname, the City of Roses.
The hidden joke is not in the Rose Garden's name, but in the history of Moda's name. Before it called itself ODS, it was Oregon Dental Systems, a name it abbreviated to ODS as it moved into the broader field of medical insurance. Having now disposed of the last remnant of "Oregon" in its own name, to advertise that quirky fact to its Oregon customers, it's paying to remove the Portland reference from the Rose Garden too.
While at the Baldock rest area (the one on Interstate 5 a few miles south of Wilsonville) recently I saw, propped against a wall, a cardboard sign that read, "Pregnant, hungry, out of gas," next to a folded towel, a bowl, a small pack, and a few personal items, but no person. Curious, I looked around, and saw a group of four people a hundred feet off, one of whom appeared to be pregnant. A few minutes later, I noticed that one of the four, a well-nourished male, was now sitting on the towel next to the pack, but with a different sign that read only "Out of gas."
This piqued my curiosity. Perhaps the four are students of marketing, engaging in some research by testing different approaches and signs to see what provokes the greatest generosity from passing travelers. Or maybe they independently descended on the rest area and worked out a timeshare. The most likely explanation, I decided, is that they arranged a carpool, heeding Metro's precepts by reducing their vehicle-miles-traveled and panhandling sustainably.