Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled last week that: "the carrying of concealed firearms is not protected by the Second Amendment" and that "In Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275 (1897), the Supreme Court stated in dicta that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.” This, to me, is an important ruling.

The case was brought by a man named Gray Peterson who lives in Washington State. He applied for a concealed handgun license (CHL) from the sheriff in Denver, CO and was denied because Colorado law states that CHLs may only be issued to residents of Colorado. Mr. Peterson sued the Denver sheriff and Colorado’s executive director of the Department of Public Safety, claiming that denial of the license violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Here is the link to the court opinion, if you are interested in reading it.)

An interesting side note is the list of Intervenors in this case:


Who are all of these groups? Well, you now me, I always want to dig a little. How about the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation, right here in my home state?

The OFEF logo: nice assault rifle!
Their mission: Welcome to The Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation, a non profit 501(c3) organization created to provide gun owners with valuable resources in a hostile political environment.
Just as the Oregon Firearms Federation has proven itself to be Oregon’s only no compromise lobbying group, OFEF takes the same tough stands and serves as a vehicle for educating gun owners, promoting their rights and when necessary, fighting the freedom haters in court.
"Hostile political environment," "freedom haters." Love it! 
On their website, the OFEF mentions the Oregon Firearms Federation. Who is that? Their logo:
Look familiar? And the mission of the OFF:

Oregon’s Only No Compromise Gun Lobby

Gun ownership in the age of Obama is a risky undertaking. We hope this website will provide you with information you need to stay informed and safe while the most anti-gun administration in US history is in power. 
So the OFEF and the OFF are/is the same people/person. The address is the same for both organizations (a PO Box in Canby, Oregon). The OFEF is the legal arm of the OFF. 
I assume that the rest of the intervenors listed, with the exception of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, are all similar organizations. And I would guess that many, if not most of them, get funding from some larger sugar daddy like the NRA. 
These folks are organized; most gun-control supporters are not. Why not? 

Friday, February 22, 2013


We're green here in Portland, Oregon. We're green here in the Fish House. I'm green. So why is it sometimes so confusing to be green?

Let's look at the containers we get for take-out food or restaurant left overs. We have been to a few restaurants lately, and have come home with a variety of containers holding the left-overs. We emptied three of them the other day, and I was left puzzling over what to do with the boxes. This is what we had, and what I did:

BioPlus Earth#1 - this is a brown paperboard box with a shiny (plastic?) lining. Printed on the bottom is the name of the product, the chasing-arrows recycling symbol, and the following text:

  • Made from 100% recycled paper (average 35% post-consumer content)
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • For recycling information visit www........[web address]
Sustainable Packaging Done Right - Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

So, do I throw it in the recycling bin, the compost bucket, or the garbage? How would I know? It looks like plastic-lined paper. I certainly wasn't going to go get my computer and get online. I threw it in the garbage.

Plain brown paperboard clamshell box. This one had no printed labeling on it; however, upon very close inspection, there seemed to be some words embossed on the inside of the bottom (where the food goes). I rinsed off the food residue and then held it under a strong light, but couldn't read it. So I got a pencil and ran the lead back and forth over the embossing until I could make out the word "compostable." OK, easy! The funny thing is that the restaurant lined the box with a square of aluminum foil - I guess these containers leak through. So I put the foil in the recycling and the box in the compost bucket. This left me wondering what the true environmental footprint of this choice is, if you consider the cradle-to-grave of the paper box and the aluminum foil.

BioPak #1. Black paper box with plastic lining. This box, made by the same company as the first one, has the same messaging printed on the bottom, telling me that it is made from 100% recycled paper, made in the USA, and to go to their web site for recycling information.  Again, I have no frickin' idea what to do with this box, so again, into the trash it goes.

So, what is the correct, GREEN thing to do with these boxes? Did I make the correct choices? To find out, I went to the web site listed on the BioPak boxes; the company is FoldPak (a RockTenn company). They have a page about recycling, pasted here:

which basically tells me that, yes, their products can be recycled if my local recycler will accept it. Um, OK, that isn't very helpful. 

Next stop, my local recycler. I went to the Metro (Metropolitan Service District) website for recycling information. Aha! After clicking around a bit, I found the following info for Portland curbside recycling:


freezer boxes
Freezer boxes, butter boxes, ice cream containers, take-out containers (These are impregnated or lined with a plastic moisture barrier to keep them from disintegrating. They are also contaminated with food.)

So, I made the correct decisions after all. Two out of three takeout boxes were trash. So much for recycling. 

(A quick note: while having a beer with an environmental consultant friend last night, he told us about his recent tour of the composting facility contracted by the City of Portland for our curbside compost service. He was told that a very small percentage of the stuff delivered to the facility was actually compostable. One factor is that people toss a lot of inappropriate stuff into the compost bin. Another factor is that some items labeled "compostable" take too long to break down and don't compost in this facilities' process. Hmmm...)

Many years ago I decided that there are certain myths about recycling. One of these is that just because something is labeled "recyclable" doesn't mean that it is. Many items that are labeled as recyclable are only that IF you can find someplace to take them that will actually recycle them. 

Recycling is an important component of getting to sustainability; but we need to be smart about it, and not just go with what feels good or seems to be correct. Is paper better than plastic for food containers? I think most people would say that paper is better; however, the data tell us otherwise. If you are interested, here is a case study by folks at University of Michigan, published in 1995, about paper vs. plastic clamshell boxes used by McDonalds. After studying the aspects of plastic-lined paper vs. polystyrene containers, McDonald's chose plastic. The public didn't like the decision because they felt that plastic = bad, paper = good. However, independent research, detailed in the paper cited above, tell a different story. The facts will very likely surprise you; plastic has a lower environmental footprint than coated paper sandwich boxes. 

Years ago, the City of Portland banned styrofoam food containers used by restaurants. So restaurant owners scrambled to find alternatives. The most common container following the ban was the clear plastic clamshell. These containers were not easily recycled (I found a place about a 1 hour drive from our house), and to this day cannot be put into the curbside recycling bins. So what was gained by the ban? I'm not sure if anything was gained. It was not, in my opinion, a smart decision, it was a "feel good" decision (we are sooo green). 

I'm not trying to be cantankerous in this post; I'm trying to present information that can help us all think more clearly about recycling and sustainability. As Kermit sings, it isn't easy being green!  

Sunday, February 10, 2013


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. 

And there it is, one of the most poorly constructed popular sentences in the English language. There are two major camps in the interpretation of this amendment: 1) those who think that it gives every person in the United States a constitutional right to own and keep firearms (usually without any limitations); and 2) those who think that the Amendment means that people have a right to own weapons if they are part of a "well regulated militia."

I personally think that the Second Amendment should be repealed; this would make our national discussion of guns a lot more objective and reasonable. But I don't really think the amendment will ever be repealed, so I offer the following rewrite, to be done as an amendment to the Amendment.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall be maintained by the federal government. The right of the people to keep and bear arms, under a well-regulated set of laws and rules to protect the health and welfare of the people, shall not be infringed.

Can anyone seriously argue with that? My amendment to the Amendment allows the federal government to establish and maintain our armed forces (armed). My amendment to the Amendment also gives people in the United States the right to keep and bear guns, but within a well-regulated system that is structured to protect people (including the gun owners).

Why is this so important? Simple answer: the staunch anti-regulation folks (the NRA, other gun organizations, self-proclaimed gun rights patriots, and etc.) use the Second Amendment as a crutch for their argument against gun regulation. Read any and every statement by the NRA and anti-regulation folks and you hear the words "second amendment," "constitutional rights," "free society" and similar. One example in the newspaper today is a statement by Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Association, commenting about a recent poll on gun regulation: "What isn't important to me is how many people have decided to give up their rights." In other words, he dismisses the results that show what percentage of people favor more strict regulation of guns, based on his "fact" that we all have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

If we pull the Second Amendment rug out from under these gun death deniers, they will be forced to talk about real issues, and will have a much more difficult time dodging the reality of gun murder and mayhem in this country.

My next task is to look at the best way to start a national petition drive in support of my amendment to the Amendment.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


The title of this post is the headline of an article in the Sunday February 3, 2013 New York Times. The article, written by Michelle Alexander, examines the issue of police not telling the truth, in their reports and in court.  Ms. Alexander cites real cases and public statements by current and former police about this phenomenon. She begins the article with a question for jurors: who would you believe, a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit, or a well-groomed police officer in a snappy uniform?

I was in just this situation last year as a member of a jury. The criminal case involved a very pathetic family, and an accusation that the older brother had threatened and beaten the younger brother with a pellet gun. The younger brother was a 21-year old who had been a heroin addict since the age of 17. The older brother had an admitted problem with alcohol and drugs. The mom spent her days in her greenhouse, growing "medicinal herbs" (marijuana). The step dad had recently been laid off from his job. Each member of the family testified, and each testimony contradicted that of the other family members. A police officer also testified; he had responded to the 911 call made by the younger brother following the alleged incident.

The instructions given to us, the jurors, by the judge were very explicit. We needed to base our decision on the evidence presented at the trial, and the only evidence presented was the testimony of each person who was called to the stand. In other words, who did we believe most?

At the beginning of our deliberations, all of us agreed that we believed the police officer. We also all agreed that every member of the family was lying, and our job was to decide who was lying the least. We concluded that the accused brother was guilty of all but one count.

Something about this jury experience nagged at me. First, it was obvious from the outset in the jury room that many of my fellow jurors felt that they had more important things to do and wanted to get to a decision quickly so they could leave. I was bothered by this because, after all, we were talking about a person and whether or not he would do jail time. I felt strongly that all the witnesses, with the exception of the police officer, were lying about something - it was really that obvious. I was uncomfortable with the thought that we had to choose who we thought was lying the least.

I did not, at the time, give a second thought to the testimony of the police officer. I did, however, wonder why the officer had not taken the pellet gun as evidence and have it examined for finger prints and the younger brother's DNA, for example (have I seen too many TV cop and lawyer shows?).  This did seem very odd at the time. There were other things that I thought the police might have, or should have done that could have provided some physical evidence for the trial, but I shrugged off those thoughts and focused on the lying game (not including the officer).

Were we jurors guilty of what Michelle Alexander calls out in her article? I think we were; we automatically assumed that a police officer would be telling the truth. This is not to say that in this case the officer was not telling the truth. This is a deeper issue, who should we trust, and should we always trust someone only because that person is in a position of authority? I think the answer is that we should basically, as the old cynical saying goes, trust no one.