Friday, November 16, 2012


Bombs are once again flying across the Israel-Gaza border in both directions, leaving death, injury and destruction on both sides. This same kind of action happened almost exactly 4 years ago, and I wrote about it then.

It's easy to play the blame game in this situation, and I'm not going there. As far as I'm concerned there is enough blame to go around, and playing that game is a key element of the death spiral. In my opinion, this death spiral has no end.

No end, that is, until peace-loving people in the region decide to try something very, very different. The primary players in this "something different" have to be individuals, not organizations. And it can't just be the people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; others in the region need to be involved. Remember, I said peace-loving people, not haters or terrorists or militants on any side. And I specifically said people, not organizations, because for the past 64 years these organizations have failed to find a resolution to the conflict.

What is needed is a Peace Spring movement, in some ways similar, and directly related to the on-going Arab Spring. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects everyone in the Middle East (and beyond), and so everyone in the region needs to be part of the resolution. Imagine hundreds of thousands or millions of people in the streets of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and beyond demonstrating for peace. And not just peace in general, but a lasting peace based on specific principles (see The People's Voice and the Geneva Accord for examples).  Democratic rule means that governments listen to citizens.

People power is needed to resolve this conflict because organizations such as the State of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah, the United States, the United Nations, religious sects and others are too entrenched in their own ideologies to participate in something different. People power is messy business, and the key will be for leaders to emerge who can provide coordinated focus and direction, find bridges between conflicting ideas and opinions, and move the process forward.

If this sounds far out, it is. But business as usual is not acceptable. The people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank are locked in a death spiral, and every flare up is more dangerous because each time the weapons are larger, more sophisticated, and more deadly.

Imagine, if you can, a new Middle East, where everyone is a partner in a movement that benefits everyone. Where the rising tide lifts all boats. The people in the region, and their descendants, deserve no less.


Monday, November 05, 2012


Dear President Obama:

I learned from a news report last night that at least 10,000 families are homeless in the aftermath of the storm Sandy; their homes are either not inhabitable or gone. Winter weather is closing in on the east coast, in fact, a Noreaster storm is expected to hit in the next couple of days, bringing cold, rain and possibly snow. How will these storm victims be housed?

The devastation caused by "Superstorm" Hurricane Sandy, like that from Hurricane Katrina, can bring out the best in people, as evidenced by the outpouring of donations and volunteerism. Because of adequate advanced warning and forecasting about Sandy, local, state and federal agencies were able to plan for the storm and it's aftermath, although we know that nothing is perfect. As recovery efforts move forward, it is painfully obvious that very many people are desperate and suffering, and their futures look bleak. I think we need a different response.

It is time for you, Mr. President, to make a bold move that not only will help these storm victims, but will put into place a new system of disaster recovery; I'll call this the Disaster Recovery Administration. Let me explain with a couple of examples.

1. Above is a photo of a street curb in my Portland, Oregon neighborhood. One response of President Franklin Roosevelt to the Great Depression was the creation of the Work Projects Administration. This federal program put many thousands of people to work building public infrastructure throughout America. The program provided jobs for unemployed people, and built up needed public infrastructure.

2. When the United States entered World War 2, the federal government let contracts to shipyards around the country for war ships and liberty ships, like the one pictured above. Thousands of people were employed to build these ships, and some shipyards completed a new ship every 1 or 2 weeks. This massive effort helped win the war.

The Disaster Recovery Administration would be a federally-funded and administered program that would employ thousands of Americans to rebuild areas destroyed by a natural disaster (we're sitting in Portland waiting for the monster earthquake the experts say is due). Certainly the United States is capable of quickly building quality housing for 10,000 needy families in New York, New Jersey and other areas destroyed by Sandy, as well as re-building public infrastructure like roads, bridges, and utilities. Planners, engineers, architects and other professionals need to be brought in to design "hardened" infrastructure and buildings that have a chance of withstanding the next big storm, and the effects of climate change. And designs for buildings and infrastructure can be based on more sustainable designs and materials than previously.

This work would be contracted to private businesses, with care taken to include a large number of small businesses. Incentives should be given to businesses that hire veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have skills in logistics, organization, crisis management and nation building projects.  I see this as a win-win for America.

Mr. President, I believe that you have the authority to create this program. I've heard  that the damage from Sandy is estimated at $50 billion. This is a large sum, but we know that $trillions have been spent on 2 wars without a blink by Congress. Certainly you can push legislation through to enact this new program.

The time to act is now. This disaster calls for real leadership and good government, not partisan politics. It is up to you, Mr. President, to put a program like this in place, and to put it in place immediately.

Thank you.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I'm going to dwell on this one for a bit. I posted a video on FaceBook by Winning our Future, the Newt Gingrich SuperPAC. The video is beyond disturbing; I think it is hate speech.

Let's start with the Winning our Future Mission Statement from their website:


"It is not 'can any of us imagine better?' but, 'can we all do better?'"  Abraham Lincoln, 1862

At Winning Our Future, we believe our nation to be the most successful civilization by any measure in all of human history,  Therefore, she is worthy of protection from the ideologies that seek to undermine her standing as a force for good in the world.   We can escape neither our history nor our duty.  Our solemn obligation is to perpetuate the virtuous principles that have made America a beacon of hope for all who commit to ascend to her ideals.
Political leaders and their decisions can make any place prosperous and free or poor and oppressive.  Therefore, strengthening our foundation in the bedrock of freedom demands leaders who understand without apology why America is great.
We seek to disrupt the status quo in Washington DC, and displace those elected officials - without regard to political party - whose chief aim is to diminish freedom by expanding government beyond its Constitutionally limited role.  Our goal is to defeat them, their ideas and their agenda and replace them with individuals who will preserve, protect and advance America as "the last best hope on earth."
America can do better.
At Winning Our Future, we will work tirelessly to deliver the leadership this great country deserves.
Now here is a link to their video (I don't yet know if this has aired on television). You need to watch it; it is just under 3 minutes.
I used pause and start to isolate a number of images, and these need to be highlighted for this discussion. Most of these appear for a fraction of a second in order to be planted in your mind but not dwelt on.
0:48 in the section labeled World Chaos, following images of angry Arabs demonstrating, blowing things up, tearing an American flag apart with their teeth, and etc. is a quick flash of an evil skull superimposed on the face of the Statue of Liberty.
1:10 in the Energy section, long lines of cars at gas stations and other images are followed by a quick shot of blood-like oil dripping down an Obama American flag logo
The Religion section - 
1:31 an image of 2 gay men being married, 
1:31 a quick image of a fetus in a womb is followed by a photo of Obama speaking at Planned Parenthood
1:35 is an image of an American Atheist billboard questioning religion
1:38 is an image of a church superimposed with the text "Church Converted to a Mosque"
1:40 shows a large wooden cross being cut down with a chainsaw, and then a quick image of a Newsweek cover with a bloody-faced Jesus
1:57 is a relatively lengthy video clip from the Democratic national convention when there was a floor vote about having the word "god" in the platform. The camera lingers on two people who shout "NO!," one of them a woman holding a sign that reads "Arab American"
2:10 in the Health Care section, a small TV set showing Obama and Biden embracing is destroyed with a sledge hammer
The final text of the video: "A vote for Romney is a vote for America."
The disclaimer at the bottom, explaining that the video is not produced by a political campaign, is almost unreadable. 
I think a lot of the above is hate speech. It is anti-Arab, anti-Muslim. It is anti gay. It conveys the message that non-Christians are attacking Christianity. A large number of the images are very violent. The musical score is very ominous.  And all of these horrible things are because of Obama. 
I think that things have gone too far in political campaigns. Yes, this was produced by a SuperPAC, but why does that really matter? There should be some kind of boundaries set for political ads, and enforcement of these rules. 
Am I the only one disturbed by this ad? I hope not.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


For many years we have had a photograph of my in-laws sitting at a restaurant table. The year was 1944 and they were in their mid-20's. In the background, at a table behind the very beautiful smiling couple, is a man sitting alone. I have wondered for all these years what his story was. Recently, as I looked once more at the photo, his story came to me and I wrote it. Here it is for your enjoyment:

Monday, October 08, 2012


Here is a video of a recent campaign speech by Mitt Rmoney. This is one of the big Republican lies of the season, the Myth of Job-killing Taxes. According to this myth, raising taxes on small business owners (or owners of small businesses) will keep them from hiring more employees. You see, my friends, the majority of owners of small businesses are taxed on their income (this part is true), and raising the income tax rate on these folks will make them not hire more people (this is a huge crock of poop).

I am the owner of a small business. I previously owned another small consulting business for 21 years, and employed as many as 16 people at any one time. I can tell you exactly how many times my hiring decisions were influenced in any way by my income tax rate: ZERO. Hiring decisions are based on existing and projected work load, work capacity of existing staff, and sometimes on opportunities to add a new product or service.

Mathematics needs to be applied here. Let's say that for every new hire I make an additional $30,000 profit for the year (I'm making up a number here). If my income is taxed on this number at 35%, I would pay $10,500 in income tax, leaving me with $19,500 in my pocket. If I'm taxed on that profit at a rate of 40%, I would pay $12,000 in income tax, leaving me with only $18,000 in my pocket. Oh no, I better not hire anyone because I will make only 18,000 additional dollars this year instead of 19,500! Damn job-killing taxes!!!

What amazes me is that anyone believes this myth. As an owner of a small business, I'm speaking out; I hope others will do the same.

(Can we get someone to scoop up this stinking pile and get it out of here?)

Thursday, October 04, 2012


OK Democrats, untie the knots in your panties, stop hyperventilating, and lay off of Jim Lehrer. Obama did not lose the 2012 election.

In debate number 1, we saw a desperate Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, adopt the persona of a pit bull (sorry pit bull lovers) to try to save his campaign. He came out swinging wildly at every pitch. He came off as a rude bully.

The Democrat, Barak Obama, was cool and seemingly having trouble engaging the way we know he can. He, like Romney, also ran over the allotted times, but was polite to the moderator as he did so.

Although style is the metric most commentators are focused on, the meaningful difference was substance: Romney dished out falsehoods and outright lies, Obama laid out facts and mostly truths. (Note: I tend to overlook the occasional blurring of fact in these events; after all, can anyone REALLY remember every single number and date and name, etc.?) The majority of media outlets I've looked at have done the fact- checking and have said that Romney was not being factual regarding a large number of his talking points.

Another point: who was this Mitt Romney? Certainly not the same one we've seen campaigning for way too many months. This is the classic shaking of the etch-a-sketch, and a new figure is drawn. Obama many times pointed out that this Romney was denying the programs and ideas and statements of the previous Mitt incarnation.

In the end, it comes down to this primary point: there is a basic difference between the Republican and Democratic view of government. This was very evident in the debate. Viewers need to get past the theatrics and listen to the words. It is a huge and growing divide in this country, a divide that cuts to the very core of who we are and who we will become as a nation. Maybe we won't survive as united states - remember the Soviet Union?

Finally - lay off of Jim Lehrer. I think he did an OK job with the difficult structure imposed on him by the Committee, and against a relentless bully. Should he have yelled at Mr. Romney to "shut the fuck up!?" Did he have a cut-off switch for Romney's microphone (no)? Both candidates, as I said before, ran over their time limits - typical for every debate of this sort. But there were numerous times when Obama acquiesced to the moderators insistence that they move on; Romney shouted him down at every attempt.

So bottom line: what's important is whether or not the debate changed the minds of voters and tipped the election in a different direction. It might have, but then again, maybe not - time will tell.

And so we wait for the next engagement.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Once again it's time to hate: the United States of America, Israel, the Jews, the western democracies, anyone and everyone who isn't we the most righteous (pick one or all of the above).

You know what? Someone insulted bicyclists yesterday, so let's go burn down all the car dealerships. Someone made disparaging remarks about democrats, so let's go beat the crap out of anyone wearing red. Someone said that fish and chips actually have French fries, so let's go trash Paris. Yeah! We're righteous!

The time to hate seems to be any time, for any stupid reason. If I started a riot every time someone said anything anti-semitic, well, there would never be a calm moment in the world. The President of Iran says nasty horrible things about Jews all the time, in public, reported in the press. Let's go TP that mother-f**ker's house!

I'm really sick and tired of all this hate. I'm also really sick and tired of a small minority of people hijacking the spotlight and good will of the majority (keep in mind that there are a bit more than 2 billion people of the Muslim faith worldwide). The people using violence to carry out this most recent hate tantrum are criminals and should be treated as such. I'm glad to see high level officials and clergy in the countries where this hate is being demonstrated make statements about the unacceptably of this behavior. But it also bothers me to see them doing political posturing at the same time.

So, let's keep our cool and our perspective and continue to build friendships with people who aren't just like us. And please, no more hate.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


$219,000,000,000 and counting.  That is the value of the smartphone and tablet market for which Apple and Samsung seem locked in a duel to the death. Apple is suing Samsung for patent infringement. Samsung is doing the same to Apple. It is now in a court in San Jose, California. Some of the issues: Apple has a patent on the rounded-corner, rectangular shape of smart-phones. Samsung has patents on some of the transmission technology in smart-phones. Each side is spending many many millions of dollars on lawyers.

Apple claims that the Samsung smart-phones are illegal knockoffs of the iPhone. Well, in our household, we just happen to have one of each kind, and here they are:

   The one on the left is my Samsung Infuse; on the right is my wife's iPhone 3. Yep, they look exactly the same; the Samsung is a direct copy of the iPhone. Not.

What about the way they operate? The Samsung uses the Android OS (operating system), while the iPhone uses the Apple OS. I've tried both, and they are not the same. Sure, there are similarities, but there are many similarities between a Chevy and a Toyota.

We also each have an iPad; mine is the original (iPad 1), hers is the latest (iPad (iPad 3)).  We have not tried the Samsung tablets, but I imagine there are also many similarities.

So what's the deal here? Obviously, it is all about market share and profit. Data for the second quarter of 2012 show that Samsung has 33% of the global market of smart-phones, while Apple has 17%.  Apple has 62% of the global market for tablet computers, while Samsung has only 9%. And the value of these markets? That number with all the zeros at the beginning of this post: 219 billion dollars. Neither company can be satisfied with the numerous billions of dollars it makes every year - each needs more.

I would prefer if Samsung and Apple put more of their billions into supporting the products already in the hands of consumers, as well as pushing their industry into a more sustainable direction. Do we (the consumers) really need a new version of the iPhone every 6 months? Really? Do we really need to be hooked into an industry that tells us that the product we hold in our hand is obsolete almost as soon as we unpack it? What is the true cost of all these gadgets?

One true cost is the earth's climate. Here in Oregon, the battle lines have been drawn between the companies that want to export Montana coal to China through Columbia River ports, and the groups that oppose coal exports on the basis of impacts to local communities and to the climate. The irony I find is that all the smart-phones, tablets, and laptops used to post/tweet/facebook/email about this topic use gadgets made in China and other Asian countries that want our coal to power the factories making these devices. Would the demand for coal go away if we all stop buying these gadgets? (Probably not, but it's an interesting point to ponder for this discussion.)

So Apple and Samsung, good luck to you both. Unfortunately, the real loser in this will be the consumers. All the bull crap about free markets and competition flies out the window when billions of dollars are at stake. Neither of these monster corporations will lose as much as we consumers will.


Monday, July 30, 2012


During the run-up to the Republican nomination, when Americans were witness to one of the strangest circuses of modern times, I thought Mitt Romney was at least sane and intelligent, compared to the rest of the Republican clowns. I was wrong.

Romney is on a trip overseas to demonstrate his capabilities in foreign policy and relationships. Romney has succeeded - in pissing off almost everyone with insults and racist remarks.

Great Britain:
The Insult - the Brits had problems with their preparations for the Olympics that concerned the erstwhile POTUS. That did not play well in the host country.
The Racism -"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special," a second Romney adviser told the newspaper. "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have." (Source: ABC News)  In other words, a black President can't understand the secret code of white people. By the way, if you watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, you surely noticed that the thousands of British people who participated were a very diverse mix - it didn't look like Anglo-Saxonville to me. 

The Insult and The Racism - a double play! The Mittster pissed of Palestinians when he talked about the economic differences between Israel and the Palestinian Territories as being partially based on cultural differences. Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority said of Romney's comments: “It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” Erekat said. “He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.” (Source: ABC News)  At best, Romney's remarks were insensitive and simplistic; at worst, they convey a racist or cultural superior attitude. 

Poland: let's see if Mitt can pull off a triple-play! 

I guess I'm not in the mood to cut Romney any slack on this stuff. The level of rancor and racism in this country is high, and we need to call it out every time. 

Mitt Romney, the Presumptive Republican Nominee, appears to be not only insensitive and not very smart, but also has racial and cultural superiority issues.


Saturday, July 21, 2012


A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Second Amendment, Constitution of the United States.

I'll take a different tack here than most; if the Second Amendment really means that we all have the right to have firearms designed to kill people, then the Constitution needs to be changed. Period. 

Fact: the latest massacre, in Aurora, Colorado, was perpetrated by a person who had legal firearms. He had in his possession four weapons that he had purchased from local gun shops in the past 60 days, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. His arsenal included: 1) a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a drum magazine capable of holding 100 rounds that can fire 50-60 rounds per minute; 2) two Glock .40 caliber pistols, probably with 15 round clips; and 3) a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun that holds up to 7 rounds. The Colt rifle is the civilian version of the M-16 used by the U.S. military. The Glock pistols are popular among police. Both of these weapons are designed for one purpose: killing people. I'm not a hunter, but I assume that the shotgun is a hunting weapon. 

Does the Second Amendment really mean that we all have the right to own weapons designed to kill people? If it does, and I think it does not, then it needs to be changed. There is not one reason for any civilian to own a weapon designed to kill people. There is not one reason for it to be legal to sell these weapons to civilians. In other words, only the police and military should own these weapons (and if civilians didn't have any, then the cops wouldn't need them, either). 

Fact: we have had many mass shootings in this country; it has become all too common. Here's a graphic being used by many media outlets today:

This is nuts! What kind of country do we live in? Is this what the Second Amendment is all about? 

I know people who hunt and fish. They do this for enjoyment and for food. I don't have a problem with this. And by the way, they don't use M-16's. 

Can we prevent people from killing others with hunting weapons? No. Can we reduce the number of lethal weapons in our communities designed to kill people? Yes, and we should. It would take tough laws, made by tough law-makers who understand that it is OK to go against the NRA and other gun lobby groups. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have many people like that in Congress. 

This is nuts. 

Monday, July 09, 2012


The City's street cleaning program removes dirt and debris from City streets to provide a healthy, safe, and attractive environment for the citizens of Portland. Regular removal of leaves and debris is necessary to prevent stormwater drains from clogging, which can result in street flooding. Street cleaning protects water quality and minimizes the burden on the sewer system from surface debris. 

The above introduction is on the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation street cleaning web page.  I agree that clean streets are a good thing, and that the City should regularly clean them for the benefits listed. The only problem is that the City of Portland street cleaning program doesn't do any of the above. 

The method used to clean the streets is street sweeping machines; you've seen the vehicles with the large rotating brushes going down the street. The street sweeper recently went through our neighborhood; this is done 1 or 2 times per year.  

Here's a photo I took near my house soon after the sweeper went through.
Look closely and you will see the track made by the sweeper; it went around the parked cars.
Further into the web page cited above, the City states that 97% of the dirt and debris on the street is within 40 inches (3.3. ft) of the curb. A car typically takes up the area about 6 ft from the curb. So in other words, except when it can get to within 3 ft of the curb, the sweeper only gets about 3% of the dirt. On our block, there are typically no empty parking spaces, so the sweeper misses most of the street dirt. 

I wondered how much dirt and debris the sweeper leaves behind, and on the 4th of July, I had an opportunity to figure it out. On that morning, there were only 2 cars parked on our side of the street for the entire block. So I went our with a square-end shovel and push broom and did the street sweeping myself (I actually try to do this at least once a year). 

What I found was a layer of dirt against the curb, a lot of which had weeds growing in it. There was also debris: cigarette butts, scraps of paper and plastic, bits of metal; you get the idea. And also, a lot of oil and grease stains on the pavement - I couldn't sweep those. 

I shoveled and swept the area within about 3 ft of the curb on one side of the entire block - you remember that this 3 ft is where 97% of the street dirt is found. I piled all of it into a yellow plastic recycling bin. 

I then measured the size of the bin and did some calculations; I had 1.78 cubic feet, or 0.07 cubic yards, of dirt and debris.  The length of the one side of the street I cleaned was 250 ft, or 0.05 mile. 

A standard dump truck holds about 5 cubic yards (cy) of dirt; that is about 75 of my yellow bins full of dirt. One dump truck at 5 cy would hold about 72 of my bins full of street debris. Or, if we consider both sides of the street, a dump truck would hold about 36 blocks worth of street dirt. The City of Portland has 4,700 miles of paved streets. Using the length of my block, 36 blocks would be 1.7 miles. Do the math, and you get a total of 2,765 dump truck loads.

2,765. That is the number of dump trucks full of street dirt that the City street cleaning program leaves behind every time they clean the streets, based on the assumptions of my small exercise and calculations. 

But wait - what about posting "no parking" signs so that the streets can be properly cleaned? In many cities, street sweeping is scheduled for specific days and people know not to park on those streets. Can't we do that in Portland? Apparently not. The second half of the City web site cited above lists numerous reasons (excuses) why the City of Portland can't do that.  And of course, as the City web site states: "Any attempt to provide a schedule online or through the mail would almost certainly result in a frustrated public because too many factors beyond our control always result in delays to our street sweeping schedule." We certainly don't want a frustrated public! 

Read the opening statement of this post again (go ahead, scroll up, I'll wait). Based on my small study, the statement is not true; the City does not really remove dirt and debris from the streets, they leave 97% of it. For me, this begs the question of "why bother?" Why continue a program that does nothing? Either do it correctly, or don't do it at all. 

We are very green in the City of Portland. We strive mightily to protect the water quality in our rivers and streams, to save the salmon, to improve our quality of life and the environment. We all pay stormwater fees, including the off-site stormwater fee that "pays for the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities that manage stormwater runoff from city streets." Part of the above is to deal with the water quality of stormwater runoff from streets. Effective street cleaning is one of the easiest and best ways to deal with water quality from street runoff - remove the contaminants before they go down the drain! 

Now, some of you might be wondering "what did he do with the yellow bin full of street sweepings?" I phoned the street cleaning department at the City of Portland and explained to a very helpful person what I had done. I said that I didn't want to put the sweepings into my green can (non-Portlanders; that's the can we put yard debris and food waste into that is picked up weekly for composting), and he said that was correct because "you don't know what's in it." "Oh, I do know what's in it," I replied. He asked for my address, I left the yellow bin out by the curb, and the next morning it was empty - a city crew picked it up for proper (hopefully) disposal. 

Should the City of Portland sell their street sweepers, re-assign most of the staff, and instead distribute shovels and brooms to every property owner? I think not. I think that the City needs to evaluate their street cleaning program and change to a program that actually meets the intended goals. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Some of you know that I've had eye issues lately. First it was cataract surgery, then an eyeball internal hemorrhage (vitreous hemorrhage, to be technical). Now I have impaired vision in one eye (retinal damage) that I try my best to ignore. And, of course, I joke about it: The Avengers movie was terrific in 2.5D!

A few minutes ago I was standing quietly on the back deck absorbing a bit of solar radiation and watching a chickadee watching me to determine whether or not it should risk a stop at the feeder. I thought about my vision for my vision, a bionic eyeball. When I had my cataracts done a few years ago, the doc talked to me about the different kinds of lenses from which I could choose - short- or long-vision. My response was that I wanted a Terminator eyeball, which, if you are a Terminator fan (the first one), you understand is an eyeball with many capabilities. I want one that will zoom in and out, snap still pictures and videos, measure distance between me and an object, maybe even measure temperature of an object (and no, I've rejected the see-through-clothing option from old comic book ads). I think I'll call it the iBall.

Here's a sketch of the iBall:

The iBall has a multi-sensor camera (1) in the front (note the interchangeable filter that allows the user to change eye color to match clothing). The on-board computer (2) processes signals from the iBall sensor and integrates them with signals to and from the brain (note: brain not included, sold separately). iBall options include the Smartphone Accessory, that allows sending and receiving vocal data; this includes an integrated antenna (3) (cleverly disguised as nasal varicose veins), audio receptor (4) that neatly fits inside the ear (note: ear not included, sold separately), and a microphone (5) (cleverly disguised as a skin mole). Future accessories will include an internet data module that can be added to the on-board computer and will allow net surfing, emailing, and watching movies. A major advantage of the internet accessory will be that the user can be on Facebook, watch a movie or doing any number of activities without anyone else noticing (user training will be available so users can learn to shake their head and mumble "uh-huh, uh-huh" while doing something else altogether).

And that is my Vision Thing for today. (Note to Apple, I get a major share of the profits!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012


We just finished a delicious lunch from our local Burgerville, a Pacific NW chain of drive-in/through restaurants. Burgerville has made a concerted effort to focus their business on people-planet-profits, and we truly appreciate their efforts. They source ingredients from local producers as much as possible, their beef, turkey, chicken, eggs are raised using sustainable and no-drug practices, and they use seasonal foods (right now they have Oregon strawberry shakes and smoothies (including dairy-free) and "golden-fried asparagus spears.") And did I mention that they now have gluten free buns available?

I have in front of me the packaging, which is truly impressive. The whole order was in a green plastic bag - certified compostable. The fries were in a paper bag labeled as made from 100% renewable resources, unbleached. The small paper bag with one of the burgers is labeled as "...made from 100% local, renewable resources, and uses 35% recycled content and recovered wood fibers. Inks are water-based and adhesives are starch-based." And it, too, is labeled as compostable. Ditto for the paper napkins, the paper burger wrapper, and the paper clamshell container. The only items I'm not sure about are the plastic fork and knife.

The Holland, Inc., a Vancouver, Washington company, owns and runs Burgerville. A big thank you to the good people at The Holland, Inc.

Image from Burgerville website.

This post is not sponsored by anyone, and is not a advertisement. I just appreciate good businesses. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Someone brought a bag of multigrain chips to our house for a family gathering (our family can't gather without food). I munched a few, and they were OK, but not terrific. I think that they weren't terrific because they were developed to meet multiple dietary restrictions. Here is a panel from the bag label:

Now, I understand that people who have allergies, high cholesterol and various other intolerances or voluntary dietary preferences want to know what they are about to eat - or not eat. But seriously, doesn't this seem a bit far out there? Real food doesn't really need to be labeled with any information other than the ingredients. Even real processed food, for example: potato chips (potatoes, salt and oil), corn chips (corn and lime and oil), pretzels (wheat, leavening, salt) and etc. Yeah, I know, what about all the food additives - well, that's my point, isn't it? If food ingredients are simple enough because the food is real food, then I would think that every consumer is intelligent enough to read the short list of ingredients and know whether or not they want to introduce the subject substance into their digestive system.

The list of ingredients for the above multigrain chips: stone ground corn, high oleic sunflower oil and/or safflower oil and/or canola oil, brown rice flour, flax seeds, cane sugar, oat fiber, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, quinoa, soy flour, sea salt. (And, of course, because the attorneys insist: "Allergy information: CONTAINS SOY AND SESAME" - as if people who can read the allergy information statement can't read the ingredients!). So are all of the symbols shown above necessary? Of course not, except maybe the certified kosher symbol. Are we consumers so ignorant that we can't read a simple list of ingredients and make our own decisions?

The now mandatory Nutrition Facts box on all food labels has always perplexed me. I understand that some people need to calculate their intake of certain things for health reasons. I also understand that this legal requirement is meant to protect consumers from food manufacturers who put all kinds of stuff into our food - or don't. But I've wondered how many of us really understand the information in this box; I certainly don't. I always glance at the relative amounts of fats because I am blood lipid challenged, but as far as the rest - hmmmm, can't really say that it means much to me.

So we're back to the beginning; real food didn't used to need labeling.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


If you've ever taken a science or biology class, you have most likely heard the term biogeography, which is the geographic distribution of plants and animals on the planet. The typical, and classic, tales of biogeography ask the question about how plants and animals got to remote ocean islands. The study of animals on the Galapagos Islands is a particular favorite in this genre. We learn that insects, snakes, birds, even small mammals clinging to floating debris, like trees or mats of vegetation, might arrive on some distant shore by sheer chance. And of course, we also know that humans have transported many plants and animals on their ships and left them on foreign shores.

A story in the Portland, Oregon newspaper today is about a dock that washed ashore on a beach in Newport, Oregon. The concrete dock, measuring 66 by 19 by 7 feet tall, has been traced to Misawa, Japan where it was ripped from its moorings during the devastating March 11, 2011 tsunami. The dock is one of the largest pieces of debris that has recently started washing ashore on beaches of the eastern Pacific from Alaska to Oregon.

Fish and wildlife biologists in Newport worked quickly to scrape and burn living plants and animals off the dock shortly after it washed ashore. The goal was to eradicate these organisms common in Japanese waters that could become invasive species on this side of the ocean where many of them are not found.

I think this is an exercise in futility, because many thousands of floating objects, large and small, have traveled across the ocean from Japan to the west coast of North America following the tsunami, and most of these will have attached organisms. I am certain that biologists will be studying the effects of this biogeographic event for many years to come; in fact, I think careers will be built around it.

This event also begs a question I've always had: what is a native vs. non-native species? Scientists who study species migrations and origins have pondered this question. I remember one conversation with a colleague in this field who was part of a group that determined that a number of the "native" zooplankton species in San Francisco Bay were actually invaders from Asian waters centuries ago. So how long does a species need to live in an area before it is considered "native?"

Plants and animals have probably reached our shores from origins in Asia many times. A devastating storm or tsunami can result in trees, floating marine algae, and other natural objects being released into the ocean currents, carrying with them attached or clinging organisms. These "invasions" don't make the news, but they are a constant. Certainly the tsunami in Japan last year was a very major event that released huge numbers of organisms into the conveyor belt of currents that flow west to east across the north Pacific.

Biogeographic processes: a natural form of globalism.

It's a small world after all.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Noises. They surround us as part of the air in which we're immersed. Loud, soft, and often subtle, almost not there.

We have a new neighbor in our neighborhood. We've seen him before, but this year he's become the source of constant noise. He pounds on things; mostly wood. His hammering is one of the first things we hear in the morning as we're awakening, and it continues often throughout the day from different locations around our immediate neighborhood. We see him once in awhile, most often when he comes to eat in our yard at the suet feeder - that's right, he's a bird, a Downy woodpecker.

This little fellow makes a drumming noise by beating his beak against a tree or a wood utility pole. It's not an exceptionally loud noise, but it is noticeable. I stop what I'm doing when I hear him, and I listen in wonderment. I've read that woodpeckers drum to announce their territory. I've always wondered how they can do this and still have a functional brain! It's one of those strange facts of nature. I heard him the other day while I was in front of the house, and I finally found him at the top of a utility pole across the street. He clung to the side of the pole and beat his little brains out against the wood - over and over - until he decided it was time to move on. We're pleased to live in the middle of his territory so we can enjoy the noise he makes.

About a week ago, we went with friends to a musical theater production on what turned out to be a very stormy evening. Our wives left for home at intermission (it was a horrible production) in the one car we had shared. My buddy and I stayed to the bitter end; we had a wrong delusion that maybe the second act would be better - it wasn't. Afterwards we decided to walk to his house, and he would then drive me home. It was a beautiful, almost warm evening just after a large rain storm had passed through. By the time we got to his house I had decided to walk the rest of the way home, and so I set off into the dark night.

At about 10 o'clock I heard the first salvos of fireworks down by the river celebrating the opening of the Portland Rose Festival. The noise of fireworks in the distance is different from thunder because of the various types of explosives being used. The noises also echoed off the buildings of the residential neighborhood through which I was walking. The combination of darkness, dampness in the air, mild temperature, the smells after a rainfall, and the stark noise of fireworks made for a memorable walk. I stopped in the middle of an intersection where I could see some of the fireworks above the trees and houses from my location at a higher elevation.

As I stood and watched the fireworks for a brief moment, my thoughts went to a few years ago when we had gone down to the river to find a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks show. We ended up in a crowd on the floating walkway on the east side of the river, directly across from the fireworks barge anchored in mid-river. This was the closest I had ever been to large fireworks, and it was both fascinating and terrifying. The fascination was watching the dark shapes of the fireworks crew scramble around on the barge, the flashes of the explosions that sent each explosive payload skyward, and the closeness of the explosive displays almost directly overhead. The almost terrifying part was the noise, the flames, and the ash and glowing embers falling on us. I've never been in a war, but I suddenly experienced what was probably the closest I'll ever be to the sights, sounds, and physical feeling of explosive concussive force that I imagine is part of combat. I thought a lot that evening about the people who are far away from home, fighting in a war where the explosions are more than fireworks.  We agreed that we'll never get that close again.

When I got to Belmont, a main street, there was a small group of people standing on the corner where they could see the fireworks at the river end of the street in the distance, and I joined them just for a moment. Then I ducked into a pizza shop, got a slice to go, and munched my way home on the last leg of a very fine walk, indeed - noise and all.

We also had a thunder storm last week, which is unusual in Portland. We were sitting on our back deck in the sun, enjoying one of the first outdoor dinners of the year. In the distance, to the north, we could see dark clouds gathering, and when a breeze kicked up from that direction, we knew it was coming our way. The noise of a far away thunderstorm is a low rumbling that seems to roll towards you across the landscape and then pass like a slow freight train. It's a noise that was part of my youth in Chicago, where thunderstorms are common. I very much enjoy thunderstorms.

We finally moved into the house when the temperature dropped and the wind picked up; but I went back outside every few minutes to check the storm's progress as it approached. Storms have a special set of smells and sounds. Faint flashes of lightning were followed by rolling thunder, and I realized that I was counting the seconds between each flash and it's associated noise, something I had done as a kid to estimate the distance between a lightning flash and me. The intervals grew shorter until the storm was here, the rain was pounding, and the lightning flashes were very close. By then I was standing on the covered front porch watching the storm, enjoying the sights, smells and noises of a thunderstorm.

There are many other noises in our neighborhood, but these are a few of my favorites.

Friday, May 25, 2012


It's a good thing special interest groups are watch-dogging the government to prevent new taxes. A good example is right here in Oregon, where it looks like the Oregon Association of Realtors (OAR) will have a measure on the November ballot to prohibit any new taxes on real estate sales. To my knowledge, there are no proposals to impose new taxes on real estate sales; this is a preventive measure that would amend the Oregon Constitution to require a public vote on any proposed real estate transaction tax. The OAR lobbyist, Shaun Jillions (seriously, I'm not making this up), explains that the basis for this action is the 2010 approvals of ballot measures that increased the taxes on corporations and wealthier Oregonians. This made the realtors so nervous that the OAR wanted to get an oar in the water now (sorry - couldn't help myself) to prevent the state from generating revenues from real estate transactions. Oh, did I mention that the OAR has gotten money from the National Association of Realtors and assessments on individual realtors in Oregon ($1,000,000 spent so far) for this anti-tax measure?

So, in summary, the realtors are spending millions and Jillions to keep their OAR house in order.

We citizens are lucky to have this kind of help; I mean, who wants more taxes. I'm thinking there are a lot of other special interests out there who will be weighing in soon, for example:

- no new taxes on hair cuts, sponsored by the ABC (the Association of Barbers and Cutters), and their lobbyist "Curly" Q. Ball. This measure is likely to be opposed by the Brotherhood of Alpine-Like Domes (BALD); their lobbyist, Harry Less, claims that his constituents would favor a tax on hair cuts: "It's no hair off our skin!"

- no new taxes on toilet flushing (includes public urinals), sponsored by Citizens Representing all Personal Processes of Elimination and Removal (CRAPPER). The CRAPPER lobbying team of Ima Terde, I. P. Daley and John Flushing has been working for months, and has assured this blogger that their measure is "ready to drop."

- and finally, the word on the street is that CO2 (Community for Open Oxygen) is preparing a no-new-taxes-on-breathing amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would prevent any municipal or state levy on breathing. The husband and wife lobbying team N. Hale and X. Hale, who represent breathers throughout the state, are emphatic that government has no right to tax the air we breathe. "We've heard from reliable sources that regulators are working on a plan to monitor air consumption by citizens, based on the number of breaths per day" was the word breathed to me by the Hales.

No New Taxes!! That is the rallying cry being heard from border to border to border to border (there are four, after all) in Oregon. Thanks to all the organizations and lobbyists out there who are protecting us from our government.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Yesterday, May 15, was election day in Oregon. Very few people bothered to vote. This worries me.

Yes, this election was the primary election; the "real" election is in November. But a lot of important decisions were made in this primary, and these decisions were made by a minority of the eligible voters.

Let's look at the primary election for Mayor of the City of Portland. Portland is mostly in Multnomah County, but small parts of the city are in Clackamas and Washington Counties. Of registered voters, 28.5% voted in Washington County, 35% in Clackamas County, and 28.1% in Multnomah County.

A total of 86,893 votes were cast for the position of Portland Mayor (numbers as of this morning as per web sites for each county election office). I could not find the number of voters registered in Portland for this election, so let's use the number I did find: 352,041 registered voters in Portland for the 2008 general election. Do the calculation and we get 24.7% of the registered voters bothered to cast their votes. Pathetic!! 

There were three real contenders for the position of Portland Mayor in this primary election; Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith. Here are the results (again, as of this morning, as per the web site for each county): 

          Eileen Brady:          21,482 (24.7% of the votes cast)
          Charlie Hales:        36,226 (41.7%)
          Jefferson Smith:     29,185 (33.6%).

Let's look at the vote for each candidate as a percentage of the eligible voters, shall we: 

          Eileen Brady:           6.1%
          Charlie Hales:       10.3%
          Jefferson Smith:      8.3% 

So about 1/4 of the eligible voters determined who will be in the run-off election for Portland Mayor (the top 2 candidates: Hales and Smith). The candidate with the most votes, Hales, got votes from 10 percent of the eligible voters; hardly a mandate. 

I don't get it. Why don't people vote? This election decided a number of local, state and federal positions, as well as some local ballot measures and bond measures. If one-fourth of the voters bother to cast a ballot, what does that say about democracy? 

I've always thought that we should have a law that determines who has a say on government issues. If there is a public hearing on a specific topic, only people who have voted in the last election should be allowed in (with the exception of those too young to vote). Letters to elected representatives should be tossed if the writer didn't vote. Living in a democracy should have conditions - if you vote you have a say in things; if you don't vote - you have no standing. I've often wondered about people who show up for public meetings and hearings and give angry testimony against this or that - did they vote? 

I voted; I always vote. For me, voting is how I participate in the governance of this country, state and city. It's messy, and I worry about the big money and special interests involved these days, but I prefer this to the alternative.

Did you vote? I hope so.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Today, Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America - my President - your President - our President - made an historic statement; here are his words in an email I received from him today (many of you also received this): "Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry." 

This is truly a major moment in the history of our country. The momentum for this has been building for years, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many in our communities who have worked tirelessly to break down yet another barrier that has kept some of us separate and not equal under the law. This battle is not won, not yet; we need only look at the shameful votes in places like North Carolina that are last-ditch efforts to maintain discrimination. 

I celebrate this action by President Obama, taken at a very crucial moment in his career. His statement has now drawn a very distinct line in the sand that is the democratic footing of our nation. He has put the nation, and the world, on notice that the President of the United States of America will no longer tolerate or support indecision about this fundamental right for people to be treated equally by the laws of our country. The preludes to his statement were the decisions by his administration to not actively support the Defense of Marriage Act, and to end the shameful Don't Ask - Don't Tell policy of the United States military services. It is interesting, and amazing, that President Obama made the statement now, in the thick of a heated election campaign, and in the aftermath of the North Carolina vote (and previous similar acts by other states). 

Unfortunately, although many of us feel that this position is long overdue, it is very timely, and sends to each of us an urgent call to action. The position taken today by President Obama makes him an even larger target for the right wing, particularly the religious right in this country, to un-elect him in November. The Romney campaign will have to ratchet up the rhetoric and the attacks on Obama, using same-sex marriage as the cudgel. Even worse, the religious-right and other extreme right Super PACs will dump many millions into negative ads focused on same-sex marriage. 

Fellow citizens - it is time. It is time to stand behind our President - strongly, vocally, actively. Not just about this issue, but about all of the issues that are part of our core beliefs: excellent health care for all citizens, excellent education for all of our children, jobs (jobs!), equity - including the super wealthy paying their fair share, solid and tough regulation of the financial industry; you know the list.  

Finally - in case you aren't on a first-name basis with our President, and don't get all those personal emails from him like I do (and from Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and all the rest), here is the rest of Barack's email to me today. Enjoy it, and be proud to be an American today! 

I hope you'll take a moment to watch the conversation, consider it, and weigh in yourself on behalf of marriage equality:

I've always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution.

But over the course of several years I've talked to friends and family about this. I've thought about members of my staff in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships who are raising kids together. Through our efforts to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I've gotten to know some of the gay and lesbian troops who are serving our country with honor and distinction.

What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.

Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.

So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.