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
I can't be the only one who noted the story about Alexander Herrera, the Alaska Airlines passenger who was charged with trying to open an emergency exit door on the plane on May 27 while it was still in flight 10,000 feet above ground, not so much for the incident itself, but for what happened the next day when he was brought before federal magistrate Janice Stewart for a bail hearing. Judge Stewart denied bail to Mr. Herrera because he has no ties to Oregon and might not show up for trial here. The published reports I've read don't say whether Judge Stewart called Mr. Herrera, in both senses of the term, a "flight risk."
It occurred to me today to compare these three situations:
1. The government cannot require Americans to buy health insurance (so saith two federal judges out of four, so far) because the government is not extending any privilege in return.
2. The government can require people who want to enjoy the privilege of driving on the public streets to obtain and pay for a government-issued driver's license, because it is a privilege and not a right to drive a car on a public street.
3. The government requires people who want to fly on a commercial airplane to obtain and pay for a government-issued driver's license, passport, or identity card, and can prevent commercial airlines from offering their services to people who don't pay for a government-issued identification card, even though the right to travel, in the abstract, is a right and not a privilege.
During a recent visit to a Southern city of some size, I noticed that there were no panhandlers or homeless people visible on the street. My guide explained that the long-time mayor was a law-and-order type, and had instructed the police force to escort homeless people from downtown to a social services center, some miles away from downtown, where they are fed and housed for the night. The assumption, I gathered, was that anyone who was on the street asking for money needed help, and the city would provide that help, but not in the tourist district. It's a soft approach, and one that Portland might well consider -- that is, unless we're not interested in being a tourist destination.
It's been a while since the Intrepid Traveler (a long-time friend of the Laquedems) has appeared in these pages, not because she hasn't been traveling, but because I haven't been keeping up with her. The last time she appeared here was in 2004, when she was in the Yucatan, just missing being robbed by the revolutionaries. She expected last month's trip to be less eventful: not a trip to frontiers of unsettled politics, but a cruise and tour of the cities and villages of Chile. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck while she was in the country. She writes: "We are in Santiago. We would have gone to northern Chile and wait it out there until flights resumed, but, lo and behold, they had a large earthquake there yesterday. The plates are really moving and I want to get out of Dodge." (Intrepidity has its limit, which I think is around 7 on the Richter scale.) She continues: "All old buildings here are roped off and most are greatly damaged. I fear that most historic churches will be demolished. They are in sad shape and will probably never be safe to enter. Even the major cathedral is closed."
How accurate are the news reports? She writes, "The news just shows all the ransacking and looting and people protecting their property with guns. All stations [the I.T. means the stations in Santiago, not the television stations in the United States, which she can't see] get caught on one subject and leave most of the story untold. I get most of my info from taxi drivers, but I think they know more than what is on the news. Most lines are down on the outskirts, and all the passenger overpasses are capsized or broken apart." Help is coming from other countries: "On our bus yesterday there were three doctors from France and one from China. A Russian plane landed this morning with generators and electrical stuff."
As with her 2004 trip, the Intrepid Traveler's report of this one helps me keep things in perspective, and not to complain so much about the rain and the evening traffic jams.
So I consoled myself when the TSA's representative took my toothpaste away. Metro takes discarded paint and blends it into a sort of gray-brown, which it sells for a very low price as an alternative to throwing it in a landfill. It occurred to me that my humble tube must not be the only Crest or Colgate to be confiscated for the safety of all who fly. As I watched my dentifrice disappear, I had the vision of a new brand of blended toothpaste, perhaps called "TSAfeteeth," assembled by the government and sardonically made available in the federal prisons for the use of persons caught sneaking mouthwash onto airplanes.
You can get on a plane in Canada without taking off your shoes at the security gate. As Richard Reid tried his hand (or, rather, his foot) at terrorism on a plane bound from France to the United States, our shoe-removal policy wouldn't have caught him unless France had adopted it. No one in our government can propose changing the requirement that passengers in the United States take their shoes off at the airport, because he or she would be blamed if a second person should try Mr. Reid's technique with deadly results, but it does raise the question whether we are being too protective, or whether Canada is not protective enough.
On my recent trip Up North, I noted that traffic in central Vancouver was terrible, even on Sunday. I figured that this was mainly because most of the downtown streets are two-way and few have left turn signals and left turn lanes, resulting in people who want to turn left blocking a lane of traffic behind them. Portland, fortunately, adopted a one-way grid in the 1950s and turned other streets into one-way couplets (though in a burst of agnosticism the City Parents changed NW Lovejoy and Marshall back to two-way streets so that the streetcar could block 100% of through traffic instead of only 50%).
One obvious difference is that in Vancouver and environs, the city and province were widening roads, adding signals, and in general making improvements so that the streets could handle more cars. Our fair city fiddles with its roads so that they can handle fewer cars, a quirky approach to dealing with the natural increase of the population.
Not Her Majesty the late queen of England, but the eponymous city on Vancouver Island, to which I recently repaired for a short visit, and which I think of as the queen of tourist cities in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle has more attractions, and Vancouver has better food, but Victoria's British air (in many senses) gives me the impression of having traveled to a foreign country, one that doesn't unduly challenge my linguistic limits.
I am an Anglophile. Victoria gives me the Anglophile's fix without the jet lag. I had figured that Victoria had always been Vancouver's prim younger sister, but I learned differently on this visit.
A Canadian friend in Vancouver asked me how I liked Victoria, and I gave vent to Anglophilia. "That's great," he said, "but Victoria adopted that British guise for the tourist trade. It was a rough and ready town until it put on that patina of fake Britishness." Well, it works, at least for me, and for the patrons of the many tour buses and international parties I saw. Nevertheless I started to see Victoria, not as a far-flung Bastion Of The Empire, but as a larger and more aesthetically consistent version of Leavenworth, Washington (the town that transformed itself, sort of, into a Bavarian-kitsch ski village).
This sparked an idea. Portland is not a big convention town and doesn't attract enough out-of-town business to keep the convention center busy. (Building the convention center hotel is not the answer, but that's for a different post.) Why not? The main reason, I think, is that we're just plain dull. Victoria is a smaller city, with weather that's no better than ours, but seems to get a steady stream of visitors and meetings. We could do the same. The answer, I suggest, is to adopt another nation as our own. (This will make the sister city folks look like pikers. Dream big.)
We can't have Britain; for one thing, Victoria's claimed it, and for another, it's too hard to compete with an area named "British Columbia." Bavaria is taken. How about France? We have a Rive Droite and a Rive Gauche; we can match the Parisian "quartier latin" with our own "quartier rose," and we can mimic the numbered arrondissements of Paris with the numbers of our legislative districts. We even have islands in the middle of our river, even if one is a gravel pit and the other is an industrial district.
Some years ago Metro adopted an official seal in English and French; let's continue, s'il vous plait.
As most lawyers know, it's expensive to get a client's case to the United States Supreme Court, and half of the clients whose cases are heard Up There are disappointed with the result.
A more satisfying way to get there is to rent the place for an evening. I did not know that the Supreme Court was in the catering business, and perhaps they aren't, but I (and 150 others) enjoyed a reception in the west and east conference rooms of the Court, followed by dinner in the upstairs hall outside the courtroom itself. Security was visible, as you would expect. A German Shepherd sniffed our bus for bombs when we were several blocks away from the court building, and we went through the usual metal detectors before we were allowed into the building. Once inside, though, the visit was worth the minor inconvenience -- the metal detectors seemed not to detect anything and appeared to be far less sensitive than those at airports -- and we had our pictures taken in front of the courtroom. (That's me on the left, being inconspicuous.)
Although security was relaxed, I must have looked like a suspicious character, for I ate my dinner under the watchful and unblinking gaze of this old fellow, who used his time on the court to change the institution from being an occasional arbiter of disputes to being the ultimate interpreter of the constitution and federal law.