Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha

If you read just one story about what happened in Haditha, it should be the Washington Post's article "In Haditha, Memories of a Massacre", by Ellen Knickmeyer. As the Haditha situation plays out, we're going to see the usual talking heads going on about chains of command and rules of engagement, quibbling over each comma and semicolon in the applicable rules and regulations, and speculating over who knew what, and when. I know this will happen, because it always does. We'd much rather argue over bloodless technicalities and dry legalisms than over right and wrong, so that's what we'll do. After a few 24-hour news cycles of this, we all get numb to the situation, it becomes the "new normal", the media proclaims it stale news, and we can all go back to fluffy celebrity gossip.

The Knickmeyer article is the antidote to this, for a terribly simple reason: It names the victims. They weren't generic "evildoers", fiendish cartoon Arabs with outlandish facial hair and nothing but murder on their minds. They weren't abstract statistics. Each one had a name, and each had a life story. Each of these lives was cut short on November 19th, 2005. In our name, with our tax dollars.

We'll see a lot of the "few bad apples" argument over the next few days and weeks, like we did with Abu Ghraib. And there's a kernel of truth to the argument, in that massacres of civilians are not standard operating procedure. If it was standard practice, we surely would have heard about it before now. The Bad Apple argument is fundamentally a defensive one. It lets the focus stay on alleged rogue elements at the bottom rungs of the chain of command, shielding higher-ups from any responsibility. By demonizing the direct perpetrators, it also lets us avoid the uncomfortable possibility that they were simply ordinary people pushed to the breaking point. We're lucky we'll never know just how many people would behave the same way under those circumstances.

Another thing we'll hear a lot about is the coverup angle. Ever since 1973, the very first thing you learn in journalism school is that it's never the action itself that's important, it's the coverup. It's always all about the coverup. It would be impossible to count all the generic coverup stories hitting the media since 1973, most tagged with the inevitable "-gate" suffix (lesson #2 in journalism school). If the initial scandal is something mundane like fooling around with an intern, or hiding bribe cash in your freezer, sure, go ahead, focus on the coverup if you like. But the lessons of journo school don't hold in this case. Any coverup would just be the panicked reaction of timid bureaucrats. The killings are the real scandal. Period.

If we're going to look at people higher up the military hierarchy (which is highly unlikely), the question shouldn't be how far up the coverup went, but how far up approval of the killings went.

What happens now? I'm a cynic, of course, but I think the answer will be "nothing". Everyone who has the capacity for outrage has been outraged nonstop for years now, and it hasn't helped yet. The 29-percenters out there will offer all sorts of lame excuses for what happened, and hold everyone blameless (except maybe a few token enlisted guys who'll take the fall). They'll harp on the ongoing investigation and demand that we reserve judgment and not dare to form an opinion until... well, until it all blows over, basically. They'll get on TV and explain how the only wrongdoers here are the liberal media types who made the story public, because everything's peachy keen so long as it all stays top secret. We'll also hear the refrain "the insurgents do this all the time", which I guess is supposed to make it all OK. If Zarqawi does it, it's fine for us to do it too, apparently. I guess I've got this crazy, funny, archaic idea that Marines ought to be held to a higher standard than that. I'm just weird that way, I guess.

Some hardcore chickenhawk types will go further and cheerfully approve of the massacre, probably on "they all look alike" or "they're all terrorists" grounds. Yes, they mean all of them are terrorists, and they all deserve the ol' Haditha treatment, especially cute little kids. What, you thought I was exaggerating? See here for more fun examples. I sure hope Shelby Steele and David Usher are happy now. If this isn't the red-blooded savagery they had in mind, I can't imagine what they must have meant. Something even worse, maybe?

Our Glorious Leader, in his cherished role as commander in chief, bears ultimate responsibility for the soldiers' conduct, although he can't actually be court-martialled for it. He's responsible in a formal sense, but he also bears responsibility because he fostered a situation where the ordinary rules don't always apply. Sometimes the Geneva Conventions are applied, and other times they aren't, and no clear guidelines are given about when the rules are really rules. Sometimes they apply, and sometimes they don't, and there's no guidance given so the average grunt can determine which is which. Bush openly scorns the notion of any kind of international standards of basic civilized behavior. He's pushed "terrorism" as the universal loophole, getting you out of any obligation you'd rather not comply with. He's encouraged people to wrongly blame Iraqis, and Muslims in general, for 9/11. If you demonize the "enemy" population, and incite US public opinion against them, atrocities of this kind are inevitable.

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100% Fresh PDX Pix

BachelorsButton2

Bachelor's button near SW Moody Ave., near Ross Island Bridge.

Esplanade Heron

Great Blue Heron directly under I-5, taken from Eastbank Esplanade.

MoodyWildflowers

Wildflowers near SW Moody.

EsplanadeBlackberries

Blackberry bushes blooming next to Eastbank Esplanade, with downtown in the distance.

Mmm.... Sunshine...

It's sunny outside for once. Too sunny to get any work done, and too sunny to tinker with a post about neocons I've been working on. So here I am, sitting on a park bench along the Eastbank Esplanade, enjoying the sun and moblogging just because I can. What I can't do is post photos from this gadget -- maybe someday I'll figure out a way to get the BB and the camera talking to one another, but it doesn't just happen right out of the box. So technology still has a ways to go. I'll just post some pics later. I'm sure that'll be ok.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ramble & Rose

rose5

This rose lives near SW 4th & Montgomery, in downtown Portland.


The courts in California have ruled that I would have a right to protect my confidential sources, if I had any. Woohoo!

Bad, bad Apple. Shame on you. Very naughty.


I occasionally do a Word of the Day thing here (very occasionally), and today you get two for the price of one, and both are Japanese loan words. Chindogu is the art of inventing things that appear to solve everyday problems, but aren't actually useful or practical. Such as a hat with a roll of toilet paper attached, for the convenience of allergy sufferers, for example. There's a whole subculture of people who do this for fun, and I can see how it could be fun. I didn't realize there was such a thing until I recently stumbled across (and bought) a slim 1995 book about the pastime, 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu, by the gentleman who originated the art. Fun! For more fun, visit the International Chindogu Society.

Sangaku are geometry problems traditionally presented on tablets in Japanese temples. Never heard of such a thing? You're not alone. I understand they're obscure even in Japan. Here's a site from Japan (in English) devoted to preserving the surviving examples of the art. There's also a book in English about sangaku (which is how I first heard of it), unsurprisingly titled Japanese Temple Geometry Problems. A few college libraries around have it, but it seems there was only a limited print run back in the late 80's, and I haven't been able to find my own copy yet.


While I'm braindumping about books and linking repeatedly to Amazon, I was at the Multnomah County Library yesterday and found a math book I've been trying to track down for a while, On Quaternions and Octonions, by Derek Smith and John Conway (he of surreal numbers fame), continuing on with my weird recreational math interests. It's fairly technical and I only understand bits and pieces of it right now, but I do like a challenge.


I don't have a favorite book, or top ten favorite books.
Best beginning: Man's Fate, by Andre Malraux. The book as a whole isn't my favorite, but any book that starts off with an attack by stealthy Chinese assasins can't be all bad.
Best ending: Looking for a Ship, by John McPhee. The book is a look at the state of the US shipping industry. At the end of the book, McPhee's travelling on a rusty cargo ship, and the engine dies, leaving it adrift in the middle of the ocean, end of book.
Most overrated writer: Alice Walker. Strictly for people who like their politics predigested and spoon-fed to them. Sort of a matter of perspective -- if you filed her books under young adult, there would be less cause for criticism. There's a reason Toni Morrison got the Nobel, and Walker didn't.


Several recent good books about beer and brewing:

The beer in front of me at the moment is a Ruth, from the nice folks at Hair of the Dog Brewing. And right now, at this very moment, I'm eating tater tots. Ok, they're organic tater tots. No foolin'. Along with a little sauce I whipped up out of some yogurt, black pepper, and vast quantities of garlic. Mmmm.... garlic.... I wouldn't go so far as to say tater tots are a regional specialty in this part of the world, since that woudn't be strictly true, but they were invented here. My foodie friends, and I do have them, tend to ignore the contribution of the humble potato to our "regional cuisine" (such as it is). When people blather on about Pacific Northwest food, it's inevitably the usual salmon, blackberries, mushrooms, basically a subset of what the Indians presumably ate (in a very different form) before the pioneers showed up, with some upscale herbs and greens and so forth thrown in to keep the rich Californians happy. This is mostly restaurant food, imagined into existence by people with the very best of intentions. Nobody cooks the stuff at home. It would be nice, to be sure, if we had distinctive, regional, traditional food here, but we don't. The area simply hasn't been settled long enough for that to happen, and for most of that time, food was just something to keep you going while you were out in the cold, damp forest chopping down trees. I don't pretend to have made a thorough study of what people actually do eat, but one theme I've noticed is "Chicken-n-Starch". It's chicken in some form, plus a starch of some kind, with a sauce of some sort. For a long time this meant fried chicken with jojo potatoes. For the uninitiated, jojos are just potato wedges, lightly breaded and then deep-fried. The breading usualy has a little black pepper in it, but they usually aren't all that spicy. They're sort of like jumbo french fries, but they're served with ranch dressing, not ketchup. I don't know why, that's just how it is. You don't see fried chicken and jojos at restaurants very much. You do see them a lot at grocery store deli counters, and little gas station convenience stores out in the middle of nowhere. Although even rural gas stations have embraced the newer chicken-n-starch that's become popular in the last 20 years or so, the chicken teriyaki rice bowl. When moving back here after living in the deep south for a few years, I knew I was back in Oregon when gas stations outside small towns advertised "Gas-Bait-Espresso-Teriyaki". You don't see that sort of thing in rural Georgia, generally speaking. The teriyaki bowl is really simple: Just grilled chicken over rice, with sweetish teriyaki sauce over the top. Sometimes you get veggies too, and maybe a little pink pickled ginger on the side, if the place is trying to be fancy. Sometimes it's called a "bento", which in local terms means the exact same dish served in a rectangular box instead of a round bowl. This wouldn't be called a bento in Japan, but no matter. I think the teriyaki bowl became so popular because a.) it seems like a healthier choice than fried chicken with fried potatoes, which I'm sure is true; and b.) it's nonthreatening, not a big challenge to the palate, and doesn't contain any weird ingredients. It's just chicken-n-starch in a new form. Nobody hates it. How could anyone get worked up about it? It's fine. It'll do. It's the default lunch choice for office worker bees everywhere, myself included. Although I go with the Japanese curry sauce instead of the teriyaki if there's a choice (and usually there isn't). I mean, my foodie chums love to go on about Asian influences, but somehow that always translates into sesame-crusted ahi tuna sashimi, or something along those lines, when the real Asian influence is sitting right in front of them, and they haven't noticed it yet.
Regional food isn't always an unmixed blessing. The most disgusting and unhealthy thing I've ever eaten was cooked up by a great aunt of mine in Pennsylvania. I forget what she called it, but basically it was white bread soaked in bacon grease and sizzled around in a skillet until it blackened up a little and got nice and carcinogenic. I think there may have been added salt, too, but this was about 20 years ago, so the details are hazy. I remember her saying that everyone used to eat it around those parts, including her late husband, who inexplicably kicked off from a heart attack in his mid-50s. She did use the past tense when talking about it; maybe everyone who ate it on a regular basis had a heart attack in their mid-50's. I probably took a few months off my life just eating it once to be polite. (Thereby proving that politeness sometimes does have a downside.) The most disgusting thing I've ever cooked was an unnamed dish I cobbled up once, quite a few years ago, when I didn't want to go to the grocery store. I've blocked out the complete list of ingredients, but there was corn muffin mix involved, and tomato soup, and a canned vegetable of some kind, layered into a baking dish and baked. Ack! Phbbt! Looking back on it, I assume I must've had a couple of beers before inventing this dish. I tried a bite or two, and my lovely and understanding spouse was willing to at least look directly at the thing (very briefly), and then it went into the fridge, to be disposed of after a decent amount of time had elapsed. My sister still teases me about a little dessert item I made once, long ago, involving minute rice and strawberry jam. But really, it wasn't that bad. It would've been even better if I hadn't bungled the minute rice. I'm a much, much better cook these days, so maybe I'll try it again someday, just for kicks, if I have nothing better to do.
One of my hopes when I started this blog was that regular exercise would improve my writing. I've looked over some of my recent posts, and it's not time to haul up the Mission Accomplished sign just yet. At least it's exposing certain tics and quirks that keep cropping up again and again.
  • Overuse of qualifiers, adverbs, and filler words. I recently caught myself using the word "apparently" twice in the same sentence, which I doubt was strictly necessary. Other favorites include "basically", "probably", "a bit", "kind of", "sort of", "it seems that", and others that don't come to mind immediately. There's no reason to say "I think" in a blog, either.
  • I'm also prone to long sentences full of commas. I haven't checked yet, but I'm sure there must be style guidelines about how many commas it's reasonable to have in a single sentence.
  • With all of those complex compound sentences, I can run into trouble making sure that plurals and verb tenses all match up properly. I usually catch this before a post goes live, but not 100% of the time.
  • The overall effect is that it looks like I'm trying to talk super-fancy, sometimes succeeding, other times not. I could do a better job of avoiding twee-ness sometimes.
  • I sometimes wonder whether relying on bullet-point lists is a sign of laziness. I've insisted before that it's a proper engineer's way to approach writing, but one peek at the Gettysburg Powerpoint presentation, and my doubts are renewed.

Random philosophy and whatever, basically, mostly inspired by annoying yuppie twits at the grocery store who stand in front of whatever I'm trying to get, mulling over their choices for what seems like an eternity, because every last decision is so damn crucial for these people:
  • It's a cliche to say so, but you really do only live once. And for a limited amount of time, too. Those minutes you spent blocking my way in the grocery store are gone, and you'll never get them back. And I won't get mine back either, you bastard.
  • Exploring the whole "problem space" of life just isn't possible. If you intend to go to a certain restaurant, for example, and it closes forever before you get around to it, it's not the end of the world. You can't eat at all the world's good restaurants, or eat everything there is that's worth eating. So there's really no point in giving yourself a coronary or looking like a complete ass while desperately trying to squeeze every last drop out of life. Because you just can't. Period.
  • You can do something and have the time of your life (or not), and then move on to something else and never do it again, and it's ok. Really.
  • There's always a point where, no matter how good something is, you stop enjoying each bite and start just shovelling it in purely out of duty or out of habit. Time to do something else.
  • Do something to make today be different than every other day of your life. Even if nobody else knows.
  • Every now and then, when deciding what to eat for lunch, deliberately pick the "wrong" thing, just to remind yourself the sky doesn't fall when (not if) you do.
  • The actual end of the world is the end of the world, and everything else isn't. And unless you actually die if you choose wrong, it's not a life-or-death decision, now is it?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Icy Moons

Rhea
Enceladus, Etc.
TethysNo, I didn't take these photos, for once. These are pictures of a few of Saturn's moons, taken by Cassini on Saturday, May 21st. The first pic is a nice crescent shot of the moon Rhea. The second is of Enceladus, Saturn's rings, and a second moon not identified by the original image caption. The third image is of the moon Tethys.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wingnut of the Day

Came across an alarming (yet somehow funny) article over at Preemptive Karma the other day, showcasing the latest, and looniest, entry in the Iraq blame game. A while back, Shelby Steele was arguing that the demise of "white supremacy" was to blame for the Iraq war going badly. Now we hear from one David R. Usher, described as "Legislative Analyst for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition, And is a co-founder and past Secretary of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children", who explains that the Iraq war would be going great if it wasn't for those awful feminists:

Shelby’s theory is wrong. The collapse of white moral authority is not the problem. The replacement of male authority with feminism is. To Steele’s credit -- he was gazing in the general right direction – but missed the real target. In America, there is one place where white supremacy and radical feminism existed: The Ku Klux Klan.
...
Liberal feminists believe that all violence is bad (unless it happens to be committed by a woman). Tralfamadore is a pain-free, hypersexual village of serial polyandry, where sustenance and protection comes from government, somebody else raises your children, and men get charged for it all even if they weren’t the father.

As I said when writing about Steele, the right-wingers have finally realized things aren't going so hot in Iraq, and they're Desperately Seeking Scapegoats. I find it really curious how one wingnut after another is coming forward, each having discovered that the whole Iraq debacle is the fault of precisely the same group he'd made a career out of hating well before the war ever started. What a truly amazing series of coincidences! It's uncanny, I tell you. Before it's all over, we'll learn that the quagmire is the fault of absolutely everyone except conservative white males, who are absolutely blameless, of course. Even though the whole thing was their idea in the first place, and they planned and executed the thing. Because, you know, when you make a terrible, stupid mistake, it's all the fault of the people who tried to warn you from Day 1. Not because the critics were right, of course, because no Real Man ever admits he's screwed up, but because the critics weren't being supportive enough, and didn't get on board to be part of the disaster.

Usher's central thesis, so far as I'm able to discern it, is that feminism is preventing this country from unleashing the full force of our red-blooded manly-man savagery against the Iraqis. He's outraged, furious, even, that feminists seem to oppose society glorifying war and death above all other things. Well, I would certainly hope that was true.

If you're morbidly curious, here are a few of his other columns, defending Michael Jackson, and the Duke lacrosse team, and bashing Amnesty International (Apparently they're contributing to an extremely-well-hidden epidemic of women beating up men. Jeepers!) And then there's a piece that I think is supposed to be about Valentine's Day, although it's so hysterical it's hard to tell -- it's titled V-DAY: LATTER-DAY FEMINIST PROPHET OF BAAL SPEAK if that gives you any idea. And he argues that the decline in military enlistments is because greedy military wives get their kicks by divorcing their overseas husbands and sticking them with huge child support bills, repeating the process as necessarry. Naturally he doesn't identify a single instance where this actually happened. It's just one of those things he knows is true, because it feels true to him. It has a feel of truthiness about it. Usher also hates gay people, of course.

I was about to make a cheap shot about his personal appearance, and how he's just upset that no woman will have anything to do with an ugly, scrawny little guy with an unconvincing combover and a bad attitude. But then I came across this FindLaw page about his ugly divorce and custody battles. Divorced in 1988, still fighting as of 2000. Oh, and here's a page from the Missouri Supreme Court about the case as well. From that page:

The trial court decided properly because no sufficient change in the circumstances of Mother or the children required it to award custody to Father to protect the best interests of the children.(FN20) It found the children suffered significant medical and psychological problems that were not caused by Mother's parenting and that Mother successfully addressed these problems. Mother secured counseling and drug treatment, enrolled M.U. in a residential treatment facility, and even moved closer to school to help M.U. attend. The evidence showed these efforts improved the psychological and academic well being of the children. The trial court also found Father was more insensitive to the fact that M.U.'s problems were medical and viewed them as predominately disciplinary in nature. It also found he did not adequately respond to Mother's request for help caring for the needs of the children by failing to attend school conferences and pay his share of medical expenses. It also concluded the children's best interests were better served by Mother because of the poor relationship between the children and their stepmother, Father's current wife.
...
The order requiring Father to pay the GAL and Mother's attorney fees is justified under both parts of section 452.355. Under 452.355.1, the trial court considered Father's statement of income and expenses and found he was financially able to pay the fees. It also chastised Father's motion to modify as "entirely without merit" and merely a retort to Mother's request for Father to assist her in addressing the educational problems of M.U. The order of the trial court was also justified under section 452.355.2 because Father owed Mother back payments for medical and hospitalization costs she incurred on behalf of the children.
This Court will reverse an award of GAL and attorney fees only for abuse of discretion, and Father does not show abuse.(FN21) For instance, he does not contest he owed back payments for support or that he was financially able to pay Mother's fees. Father merely restates his arguments that the overall judgment of the trial court was erroneous and his motion to modify custody should have been granted.


Yep, folks, we have a real winner here. The state supreme court wouldn't step in to soothe his fragile male ego, but maybe the military can do the job, and slaughter us a bunch of Iraqis, just to show the womenfolk who's the real boss around these parts. Sure, untold thousands of people have to die in the process, but that's a small price to pay for repairing one angry wingnut's damaged self-esteem, after all. (What, you don't agree? Why do you hate freedom!?)

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Two Roses

rose2

Two roses on SW 12th, downtown Portland.

rose3

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shooting the Sidewalk

the_end

Couple of sidewalk photos I took today. The above image is part of the sidewalk around 3rd and Yamhill or so, also known as "Street Wise", a public art piece by Katherine Dunn and Bill Will. It's a block's worth of amusing, offbeat, and just plain weird quotes set randomly into the sidewalk. I always forget where it's at, and keep stumbling across it when I least expect to. If I have time, I stop and read a couple. Seeing things like "the end of life as we know it" in the sidewalk is good for a smile or two. Here's a blog entry I came across with a few more photos of the piece.

Actually there's bound to be a mystical way of using Street Wise to tell the future, by seeing which quotation either you, a friend, or some object, ends up closest to. Whichever one it is, that's your fortune for the day. You could throw spare change down the block and see where the pennies land. That would be simple enough. Or you could maybe get drunk, or spin around and get dizzy, and then see which quote you fall closest to. And if you happen to stumble off the curb out into the busy street, hey, that's your future right there.



parkingzone

The next photo is a closeup of one of the many small round metal plates in the sidewalk we ended up with after the city removed all our old-style parking meters and replaced them with green Euro-licious solar-powered kiosks. This particular one is at the corner of SW 3rd and Pine St., next to the Embassy Suites hotel, in case anybody wants to make a pilgrimage or whatever. Note the web address on the plate. Someday archeologists of the future will be able to date all sorts of objects based on whether they have internet addresses on 'em or not. Supposing that detailed domain registration records survive into the distant future, they may be able to take that Kozmo.com polo shirt and narrow things down to the exact year or two Kozmo was in business. Heck, they may even be able to get DNA off of it, and grow themselves a shiny new dot-com geek in a test tube. But that's all in the distant future, of course.

ParkingZone.com describes itself as "The Parkingzone - Parking Supplies for over 15 years". I have a real weakness for industry websites, trade magazines, and the like. Every time you come across one, it's a chance to learn a thing or two about the parts of our world that we all take for granted. I always end up browsing through 'em for hours on end. I didn't realize just how much equipment it takes to run a parking operation, but once you go through the catalog you go, yes, I've seen them using that, and that, and one of those. I suppose you could even sign up and buy your very own, if you were so inclined. Looking at the catalog, it appears that what we're looking at here is a "gorilla post mounting plate". A gorilla post is the technical term for a temporary post that mounts in the sidewalk (in the aforementioned mounting plate, obviously). So I suppose our city can now easily blanket a large area with temporary "No Parking" signs if need be. The ParkingZone catalog also notes that the mounting plates are only 3/16" thick, so that they meet ADA requirements about not presenting a tripping hazard for disabled people. And despite all that engineering, one of these bad boys will only set you back a mere $9.50 a pop. Which is about the same as a fancy mixed drink in a trendy downtown bar, and those actualy make you more likely to trip, not less. The world can be just so confusing sometimes...

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Portland Park Oddities

PrintingPressPark

A panorama of Oregonian Printing Press Park, in downtown Portland right at the west end of the Morrison Bridge. In fact it occupies a triangular scrap of unused land next to one of the eastbound bridge ramps. It's vastly larger than our world-famous Mill Ends Park, but it's still really tiny, and pretty obscure, too. You won't find it on the Portland Parks department's site, for the simple reason that it's one of the area's rare county parks. I imagine this is because Multnomah County owns the Morrison Bridge. The county doesn't actually have a proper parks department, so that the park is maintained by their bureau of Facilities and Property Management. Apparently they handed nearly all of their park responsibilities off to Metro's Regional Parks & Greenspaces Department some years ago, but they seem to have missed at least one. Which I guess is understandable, considering the size of the thing.

[Updated: More about Printing Press Park in a March '07 post on Portland Metblogs. Which got linkage at Welcome to Blog. Meanwhile, this page includes a poem about the place. The piece you're reading now appears to be the very last item about the park, by Google's mysterious reckoning. Since writing this post, I've learned it helps to include the name of a place in a post's title. That's likely to be much of the problem right there.


morrison_westbound

There's a similar parcel to the north, adjacent to the westbound Morrison Bridge ramps, but for some reason it doesn't merit a sign or name of its own.

1st_madison

Likewise, there's a much larger chunk of land around 1st and Madison next to the Hawthorne Bridge ramps, but nobody seems to want to claim it either. Even though it's got a very nice old tree growing there and everything.



naito_pkwy_i405

These next 3 photos are of another odd little area I ran across recently. The Naito Parkway overpass over I-405 is significantly wider than the actual road, and there's a strip of greenery the width of a couple of traffic lanes right there on the overpass. This actually continues north beyond the overpass for a couple of blocks. At one time this area was the interchange between Naito (then called Front Avenue), and the old Harbor Drive freeway that ran along the waterfront. If you stand on the east side of Naito and look downhill toward the river, you can still see the old freeway roadbed sloping downhill toward what's now the Riverplace area. When they tore out the old freeway, everything right on the river became part of Waterfront Park, but between there and the old Front interchange they basically just tore out the asphalt and abandoned everything, and even today the area remains more-or-less unchanged since the early 1970's. Naito Parkway south of the old interchange down to where it merges with Barbur actually is the last remaining vestige of the old freeway. Ever since I-5 was constructed, it doesn't actually get enough traffic anymore to justify being laid out as a freeway, and it's a massive barrier dividing the Lair Hill neighborhood in half, but leaving it as-is was (and still is) the cheapest option, so that's what ODOT (the Oregon Dept. of Transportation) went with.

naito_plants2

If you look closely among all the weeds, you'll notice that they're growing in what appears to be a series of raised planter beds. I imagine these had to have gone in after the interchange was removed, presumably with the idea that someone would be maintaining flowers in these beds on an ongoing basis. Clearly this hasn't happened for years, if not decades. I seem to recall reading that the green strip of land to the north belongs to ODOT, and presumably the overpass does as well, so we can probably blame the state for falling down on the job. I mean, clearly they have higher priorities, and rightly so -- this isn't exactly their core mission -- but if they can't afford to maintain it, why not hand it off to someone else? (See also ODOT's multiple vacant, weedy plazas under the Fremont Bridge approach, right near the Pearl District.) I'm not usually a big booster of the Portland Development Commission, but they've got their own designs on the area, and they'd at least make sure the grass gets mowed on occasion. Although you do have to admit these wildflowers aren't bad either.

naito_plants1



I've already written several times about the infamous sculpture Leland One, a.k.a. "Rusting Chunks No. 5". At the time, I'd tried to figure out just who owns the little plaza where it's located: The city, or the surrounding condo towers. With no success. I've since come across two documents referring to this area as "Portland Center Park", but the city parks website makes no mention of such a place. Ok, that's not strictly true. This map attaches the name to a different, nearby parcel of land -- one that appears to lie directly beneath a recent apartment complex, in fact. So the mystery continues.

It wouldn't be surprising if the city's just forgotten about it. I recall a story from the late 80's or early 90's where the city sent someone out to check on a park it thought it owned on the east bank of the river somewhere up in North Portland. The worker was astonished to discover that there was no actual park there, and there hadn't been for a long time, if it had ever really existed at all. But it still showed up on the city's property rolls, and it even showed up on published maps of the city. And no concerned citizens had complained, which to me is the oddest part of all.

Come to think of it, Washington County had a similar thing happen a few years ago, whien it discovered it owned a undeveloped parcel of land out near the Coast Range that was acquired as a park, given a name (which I've forgotten, but IIRC I think it included the word "Rippling"), and then promptly forgotten about. The county didn't have any money to run another park on top of the two it already has, so I think the plan was to fence it off and await a better budgetary climate in the distant future. In other words, it's been forgotten all over again. Updated: I came across a state legislative bill referring to it in passing as Rippling River Park [PDF]. The county's Parks Services website doesn't mention it, though.

Updated 9/23/08: It turns out the state had the name all wrong. It's actually Rippling Waters Park. And here are the two Oregonian stories about the place, from April 1999. Seems the county decided it had no money to maintain the park and elected to close it to the public, but then a few community groups stepped forward and volunteered to care for the place. That must've worked out ok, because a search on the right name brings up a few mentions of the place. Mostly habitat restoration and assorted environmental events, but I also saw a mention of a CD release party, which said something about a "secret Prohibition-era dance hall". I even found a couple of addresses, so you can apparently find the place at 3865 and/or 3761 NW. Gales Creek Road. So either one, or both, of neither of those may be the right address. This may bear further investigation.

Updated II: Metro's MetroMap GIS system identifies the place as tax lot 1N421D000600, and lists its RNO (whatever that is) as R770909. The street addresses I ran across are somewhat SE of where the GIS system shows the park at. Google Maps seems to agree with the GIS system; if you check the street view at this location, you'll see what looks like it might be the "main entrance". So now we know, maybe. I still think this bears further investigation.

Updated III: Ok, I found the park. I've been there. Didn't do a lot of exploring thanks to all the very serious No Trespassing signs, but I did take some photos & I put a post together for your enjoyment, or at least for mine: "Rippling Waters Park expedition".


The city intermittently gets concerned about undesirable people hanging around in its parks, and last year the mayor imposed a curfew in several downtown parks, including several well-known ones, and one referred to in the media simply as "an unnamed park at Southwest 14th Avenue and Hall Street". I've been there, and it's a nice little place, although it sits next to I-405 and (as usual) it could use a little TLC. Like the Rusting Chunks plaza, there's no city park sign out front, and it's not mentioned anywhere on the city parks website. The website's set up so you can find a park by name, but this place doesn't have a name, therefore it doesn't appear on the list. Hmm. Makes sense, I guess, sort of, in a way.

tags:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Meta Meta Matamata


This post is actually about a couple of metablog tidbits, but that's not a topic that generates a lot of images, and I haven't done any cute animal stuff for a while, so first let's do a bit of that. Allow me to present the matamata (Chelus fimbriatus), a very unusual turtle from South America. Ok, you could probably argue I still haven't done any cute animal stuff for a while. But it's a turtle, and turtles are great. Ok, most turtles. I'm not so sure about alligator snapping turtles. They scare me a little.

Also, there are exactly two towns on the planet named Matamata. It so happens that the Matamata in New Zealand was the site of Hobbiton in the LOTR films (something the tourists just go nuts for), while the Tunisian Matamata is where a lot of the Tatooine footage in the Star Wars movies was filmed. If you'd like to attract a successful major film production to your fair city, your best bet is to rename the place "Matamata". They're 2 for 2 so far, after all.

And now, after that brief foray into the real world, we come to the "Meta Meta" stuff, by which I mean blogging about blogging. So you can stop here if you don't care about that sort of navel-gazing. I mean, assuming you've even gotten this far. (FWIW I promise to at least not post any candid photos of navel lint. Because that would be wrong.)

  • You might have noticed that the contents of the right sidebar have evolved over time, with more links appearing under various headings, and a variety of odds and ends accumulating under "Blogospherica". The latest bit of Blogospherica is a link to Bloglines. I'd had several people show up here as a result of Bloglines searches, so I figured I'd go check it out. Besides the RSS reading stuff, Bloglines also gives you a freebie, bare-bones "blog", which doesn't even support user comments. I don't see myself doing a lot with it, since I've already got this ultra-featureful Blogger blog here, but the other blog lives at cyclotram2, in case you care, and I doubt you do. The blog page also has links to a variety of other feeds I have a hand in generating: Flickr spits out RSS for your photos, and YouTube spits out another for videos. And then del.icio.us exports your bookmarks as RSS too. I doubt any of these are worth subscribing to, but tinkering with RSS is mildly entertaining for the moment, so I'm doing it.
  • Actually the Bloglines thing is why this blog's Sitemeter (you know, this thing: ) is cranking like mad today. And sadly, it's not because I'm getting a lot of "genuine" visitors. No such luck. I wanted to see if anyone was ever visiting cyclotram2, and it seemed that the logical, well, only place to put the meter was in the blog description, since you don't get an editable template or anything over there. Little did I realize that c2 would show up today on Bloglines' "New Blogs" page, description line and all. So I'm getting "hits" from everyone who visits that page, which is not at all what I had in mind. I've pulled the thing back out of the blog description, but I think Bloglines is using a cached copy or something, because the hits just keep on coming. So I think I'm in for 24 hours or so of this. Gaaaaah!!!!
  • My web dev skills are vastly out of date, and I'm trying to catch up. Quite a few years ago I decided I wanted to deal in compiled, "real" code for a living, and tuned out the world of HTML. I figured that if I knew too much about it, sooner or later I'd get roped into doing it, and I really wanted to avoid that. That strategy actually worked pretty well, but now I feel like a real old-timer. So I bought a book today to help figure out this newfangled world of cascading style sheets and whatnot. Observant Gentle Reader(s) may have noticed that items in this list are denoted with squares instead of circles. Behold the majesty of CSS, puny mortal.
  • You might've also noticed I've been slowly tweaking the template for this blog. Most recently the background went black, and some parts of the blog lost their rounded corners. The black is because I liked it better, while the square corners are because the base template I'm using relies on a fixed-size image file to do those. I shrank the margins a few weeks back, and that threw the rounded corners off. It was easier to just get rid of them than it would've been to create a rounded-corner graphic matching my preferred page width. So now you know.
  • My Javascript isn't what it could be, either. I learned a little of it early on, and then learned a bit of VBScript later on, but I haven't messed with it in years. When I did that recent (and remarkably popular) post about ponies, I tried to set up a button or buttons to toggle the page's background color between black and pink, but I couldn't figure it out. I might not have cared much before, but I hate being thwarted by a seemingly-simple coding problem. I'm quite willing to accept that it simply isn't possible, but if that's the case, I'd like to at least know why.
  • My first real foray into web tinkering was also one of my first-ever C programs. This was back in the day of Netscape 0.9x, and support for bookmarks was still broken at the time. I'd gotten into the habit of cutting and pasting urls into an open Notepad window, and I eventualy wrote a little command line program to convert these text files into html. It seemed so complicated at the time. I even did a bunch of work to support the supposedly upcoming HTML 3.0 standard, which would include a ton of new tags for formatting mathematical expressions and so forth. I remember thinking they were really going to the mat to support a fairly esoteric set of new features, and I guess people must've realized I was right, because 3.0 never made it past the draft stage. That sort of took the wind out of my sails, because I'd done a fair bit of work (I thought) to support the new standard, and combined with the debut of functioning Netscape bookmarks, this spelled the end of my cheesy little program.
  • My main complaint right now is that I don't want to have to re-edit my blog template every time I want to add or remove a link to something. Surely there's got to be a way to host my links sections somewhere, and just pull them in when the page loads, like my list of recent del.iciou.us postings. Surely there's got to be a simple, and probably RSS-based, way to do this, though it seems like everyone's only interested in getting items in chronological order, not pre-categorized or structured as a tree or whatever. I mean, I'm not actually losing sleep over it, but it'd be nice, so I'll get around to it sooner or later.

Trojan Imploded

I woke up early yesterday morning and watched the big Trojan cooling tower implosion on TV. Yay!

A striking thing about the media coverage was how the everyone (including interviewees) tip-toed around whether the plant was a good or a bad thing. Instead they all just talked about how cool the implosion was, and referred to it simply as a generic "historic event", the "end of a local landmark", and so forth. Which isn't that surprising, I guess, and you have to admit it was a really cool implosion. There's no doubt about that. But it's also obvious that -- however you feel about nuclear power in general -- this particular plant was a complete economic debacle, and a millstone around the necks of PGE ratepayers. The thing hasn't operated in 13 years, and it's still costing us piles of money. But it isn't nice to talk about the huge price tag we're still saddled with, apparently, so nobody does.

I'm surprised that I've only seen a handful of international stories about the implosion, like this one from Australia's Adelaide Advertiser. And nobody outside the region seems to have picked up on the (supposed) Homer Simpson angle. I would've thought at least the BBC would've made a big deal about that. Oh, well. No biggie.

The Washington Post's article calls the implosion "ironic", since supposedly this country's going to get a fresh crop of shiny, new and improved nuclear reactors, Real Soon Now. The reactor industry's been saying this for the last couple of decades, and as yet the promised Atomic Wonderland hasn't materialized. They keep telling us that these hypothetical new reactors would be absolutely, positively safe and clean, and even economical, and maybe that's all true. But in the past the nuclear power lobby has earned itself a poor reputation, and a well-deserved one. They've always overpromised and underdelivered, and lied about it, and covered up their mistakes, and tried to intimidate their critics, and I'm not prepared to ignore their bad rep just because they now insist they've changed their ways. And they still don't have anywhere to put their nuclear waste, let's not forget that inconvenient little detail.

However, the big question right now is how long until we get cheesy TV movies exploiting the implosion footage. I bet we'll see this on the SciFi Channel before too long. I can see it now: Despite all the assurances to the contrary, the implosion releases radiation into the nearby forests, causing a banana slug to mutate and grow to enormous size. Then of course it slimes its way to Portland and attacks the city, until our heroes do it in with the one local product slugs love more than anything: Beer!

Mmm... Beer....

tags:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Trojan Implosion

In just a few short hours, Oregon's late, unlamented Trojan Nuclear Plant will be history. Well, ok, technically they're just imploding the cooling tower tomorrow. The actual reactor building won't be gone for another year or two, and the spent fuel rods will be onsite for a long time, possibly decades. And the construction bonds aren't paid off yet, either, come to think of it. But at least in a symbolic sense, the plant will be gone. When you drive I-5 to Seattle, or US30 to Astoria, you won't be confronted by that huge horrible grey concrete monstrosity anymore, and that's got to count for something.

It's a rare occasion these days when pro-environment folks are able to gloat a little and point out that we were right all along.

It doesn't look like the story's getting a lot of play outside the immediate Columbia River region so far. The Eugene paper has a couple of stories about it, but IIRC the Eugene public power board owns/owned a minority stake in the plant, so it's sort of a local issue down there. I expect that once they blow the thing up tomorrow, every local TV affiliate across the country will use the video clip as a bit of filler, since everyone loves a big implosion. If overseas media pick up the story at all, they'll use the Homer Simpson angle to explain why the story is "important", althought a recent story in the Longview Daily News casts doubt on the notion that Trojan was the model for Homer's Springfield Nuclear Plant. (Longview's the closest large town to the Trojan site, and the local paper has been covering the implosion story extensively.) Or maybe nobody outside the area will care at all. It's hard to say.

The PSU Vanguard managed to get an exclusive, final interview with the condemned cooling tower. The tower seems rather bitter about the whole thing, which I guess is understandable under the circumstances.

Good riddance, so far as I'm concerned.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lovejoy Fountain

lovejoy fountain, may '06

steps, lovejoy fountain plaza





Three views of the Lovejoy Fountain, in downtown Portland.

[Updated 9/06: 3 more photos, plus one of a bumblebee in one of the plaza's many concrete planters.]

Updated 8/25/09: Here's a Google map so you can see what the fountain looks like from space. If you're more interested in where it's at than what it looks like, you can always click the zoom-out thingy (i.e. the minus-sign button) a couple of times.


View Larger Map


Some other good pages about the fountain:
  • A piece by Walt Lockley, mostly about the much better-known Ira Keller Fountain, which he prefers.
  • The city parks department has a page about all the fountains it manages.
  • CLIP, the Contemporary Landscape Inquiry Project, at the U. of Toronto.
  • A student project at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
  • The abstract of a paper presented at the 2005 conference of the Social Science History Association (whoever they are). The article mentions in passing that the fountain was a big hangout for hippies back in the 60's. Hmm. That's the first I've heard about that, but it really wouldn't surprise me.
Incidentally, you often see the area referred to as "Lovejoy Square", and it turns out this is incorrect. The official name is Lovejoy Fountain Plaza, and the actual Lovejoy Square is a retail development in the Pearl District, way on the other side of downtown. So now we all know better. Yay!
My rather extensive Flickr photoset of the fountain is here. Enjoy...

WML FWIW

As you might have noticed in an earlier post, I've finally gotten one of them newfangled wireless doohickeys. I quickly noticed that this blog looks really terrible on said gadget. So I hunted around and came up with a solution that seems to work ok. I mean, I don't know why anyone else out there ought to care, exactly. Maybe if you're really bored or something, say, you're on the train to work and you forgot to bring a newspaper or whatever, I dunno. Anyway, the following link pulls in my RSS feed and transmogrifies it into WML, the native tongue of many mobile gizmos. Voila, le fromage

Enjoy! (Or not.)



Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Science & Politics Tidbits for 5-18-06

The science tidbits come first, because politics is mostly depressing, and matters far less in the long run anyway. Also, this order is the opposite of what the MSM always does, when they cover science stories at all.

Science

  • Remember how your PE teacher, cross country coach, and the whole rest of the world kept lecturing you about the horrors of lactic acid? Turns out they were completely, totally, spectacularly wrong. Lactic acid is your friend. Thus pointing out yet again the dangers of relying on received wisdom from authority figures, even when they claim science is on their side. Scientists are prone to this as much as the rest of us, and the guy behind the new research had a hell of a time getting it published. Everyone laughed at continental drift too, back in the day. No word yet on whether food and beverages high in lactic acid will help athletic performance. If they need a human guinea pig to knock back a lambic or geuze or two and then get on the treadmill, hey, sign me up. I'm your guy.
  • The media's all over today's story about ancient humans and chimps interbreeding. I picked that particular story to link to because it comes with an amusing cartoon.
  • While that story's kind of gross (which is why they're printing it, of course), I can also easily see it being true, especially if there are bonobos involved. They'll bonk anything, anytime, anywhere, which is why you don't see them in the zoo even in enlightened cities such as ours. That might be just a little too educational for most visitors' tastes.
  • I can also see some people having more chimp DNA than others. Consider, for example, the strong evidence presented at BushOrChimp.com. They don't call him the for nothing, you know.
  • In other primate news, a newly discovered species of monkey, , which the locals just call "kipunji". It turns out the kipunji is the sole representative of an entirely new genus, the first one discovered in 83 years. And as is usual these days, this newly discovered species seems to be critically endangered, with only 500 or so left in the wild.
  • Also, some new research into the surprising linguistic abilities of Nigeria's putty-nosed monkey.
  • And an overview of ongoing debate over Homo Florensiensis, better known as the ancient "hobbit" people from Indonesia.
  • Switching to space news, here's the latest research. The newly-discovered solar system has three planets about the size of Neptune. The story mentions in passing that two are close to the star and therefore probably solid objects "like Mercury" (but vastly larger). Not so long ago it was big exciting news to find a large solid planet around another star, but not anymore. That's how extrasolar planet research works. You find one of a given type, and it's front page news. You find a second one, and already you and everyone else are terribly jaded about it. It's really sort of remarkable how fast this happens.
  • Speaking of Neptune, there may finally be an explanation for how the planet's moon Triton got into its peculiar orbit.
  • There's also yet another Titan flyby coming up on the 20th. Even I'm starting to get just a little blasé about these.
  • And here's a fresh new Silky Anteater item: Montclair State University in NJ has a page with some fun Silky-related games and activities for the kids. Kids these days, they just don't realize how lucky they are. Back in my day, we had no class materials about silky anteaters. Also, we trudged to school barefoot every day, seven days a week, five miles through the snow, uphill, both ways.




Politics

  • Well, the voters of Oregon mostly didn't listen to me. At least Erik Sten was reelected, just barely avoiding a runoff against The Burdick in November, but everyone and everything else I, ahem, "endorsed" lost by a huge margin. Which is about what I expected, really, and I'm not losing any sleep over it. To put a positive spin on it, I'm pleased to know that about 5-10 percent of everyone in Portland and Multnomah County agreed with me.
  • Admit it: Oregon politics are boring as hell. We collectively just don't have the same instinct for the jugular you see in more red-blooded parts of the country. Even our Republicans are less nasty than elsewhere. This is probably also why no Oregonian has ever been elected president, and also why we have only one Fortune 500 company based here. Even California is nastier than us, sometimes, as seen in this Wonkette piece titled "Best Piece of Direct Mail Ever", which indeed it is, in a morbid sort of way.
  • In other California political news, the Wonkette folks have just announced their official endorsement for governor of the state. Not to spoil the suspense, but apparently she's a famous, um, "movie star", sort of like Aahhhnold, in a way. This sort of thing would never fly here in Oregon. There would be dowdy Columbia Wear involved, and probably a great deal of shivering, and the whole effect would be ruined.
  • Two bits about Tom Friedman,everyone'ss favorite globalizin' windbag. His latest column rips into GWB over cronyism and bungling. But his own hands are far from clean, as seen in his ever-changing analysis of the situation in Iraq. It's just one decisive moment after another for this guy.
  • Following up on a story I was covering earlier, the EU's frozen the assets of top leaders of Belarus, following Lukashenko's reelection farce, and the subsequent arrest of opposition leaders.
  • Singapore had a somewhat farcical election recently, as well. The ruling party lost seats this time, but not enough to make any difference.
  • Let's wrap up with today's Reliable Source at the WashPost, but not because of all that political crap. Scroll down the page, past some random country music guy, until you see the National Zoo's new baby kiwi. Awwwwww.... (Although silky anteaters are still much cuter, of course.)



and now, the mother of all tag farms:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Next Blog

Here's the latest batch of random blogs, mostly the referrer pages of people who ended up here, with a few choice "Next Blog" hits of my own added in. This time I've attempted to categorize things a little, sort of. And as usual, the ones I felt were especially worthwhile are in bold.

But first, here are two more Random Blog buttons I came across:
Next Blog for WordPress.
Phil Ringnalda's RandomFreshBlog for weblogs.com.

Also, before we get started, the Wikipedia article on Graph Theory may be worth a read. Technorati says my indegree is up to a semi-whopping 4 now, the latest from a weird site about JelloTM recipes, of all things. This blog's also gotten a mention here, where it/I am described as "cyclotram who regularly writes about NOLA from Portland, OR.". Well, regularly may be pushing it a little, I think. But I feel honored anyone thinks my humble efforts are at all helpful towards rebuilding the city.

And now, on with our feature presentation:


Personal BlogsPoliticsMisc
  • Random Drift. About cats, with lots of cute photos. And the "fav blogs" column has links to even more blogs about cats. Awwwwwwww....
  • J'ai Faim, a new food blog with some delicious-sounding recipes. The top item right now is a recipe for Twice Baked Potatoes with Gorgonzola and Rosemary. I admit to certain biases here. You could probably talk me into eating a bucket of rusty nails, so long as it came with enough gorgonzola. (Mmm... Cheesy rusty nails...) And I'm confident that potatoes in any form would be even better.
  • Fast food poisoning blogs. New as of 5/19, not much there yet. But I do like the title, anyway.
  • Stone Channel Showroom & Warehouse, an architectural stone dealer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, showcasing samples of the various types of stone they sell. For some reason I really like this blog. Maybe it's all the abstract-looking stone samples against a black background. I'm not sure.
  • 35 Days in Europe, a travel blog, as you might've guessed from the name.
  • Studies and Opportunities Abroad for Eastern Europe
  • OCASIÃO - Imóveis. Another blog from Portugal, this one about commercial real estate or architecture (I think). Lots of photos.
  • Pics and Docs
  • The Great Below. I don't entirely follow what this is about, but the top post at the moment concerns the number 666, so this one's getting the boldface treatment.
  • Prabhupada Letters : Anthology
  • Deutsch A1i. From Colombia. Mostly in German. Clearly, I'm missing something here.
  • Playing Online Poker, in Russian (I think).
  • ramas y raices, a bit of genealogy from Argentina.
Blogs In FrenchNot Safe For Work

Hello Moblog World

Let's see if this mobile blogging stuff really works...

Test test test
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

Otter & Puffin Videos

Three video clips taken at the Seattle Aquarium a while back. Woohoo, lookit me, ma, I'm vlogging!



A couple of river otters having a frolic.




Sea otter feeding time. Sorry I filmed it sideways. I'm still new at this.




A puffin, doing its thing.


tags:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lupines!

lupines2

Lupines near SW Harrison St. between Naito Parkway and Harbor Drive, in downtown Portland.

lupines1

I'd be remiss in my blogging obligations if I didn't at least mention the old Monty Python "Dennis Moore" sketch. And now I've done it. FWIW, I think it's really great how merely adding an exclamation mark to the title of this post makes it an instant Python reference. It just doesn't get any easier.

lupines3

If you're an MMF spammer, you may be eligible for a coveted Lupine Award (inspired by the Python sketch). Although if you want my opinion, MMF spammers really ought to set their sights higher, and try for Darwin Awards.

BTW, don't eat that lupine! They're poisonous.

tags:

Sunday, May 14, 2006

War-Gods of the Deep




Today's weird little movie is War-Gods of the Deep, a.k.a. The City Under the Sea, a 1965 Gothic tale of mayhem under the sea. It's a Corman film with Vincent Price, allegedly based on the poem "The City in the Sea" by Edgar Allan Poe. And on top of that, it was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who's best known for his earlier film noir work. You'd think all this would add up to quite a fine film, but I have to say that this one's less than the sum of its parts. Which is not to say it isn't worth watching, but I'd have to call it a curiosity, not a classic.

We can get the plot out of the way pretty quickly. Generic heroine is kidnapped by the baddie (Sir Hugh, the Captain), and hauled off to his weird lair in a ruined ancient city deep beneath the sea. Generic hero isn't ok with this, and makes his way to the baddie's lair, accompanied by his very British comic-relief sidekick, who in turn is accompanied by a pet chicken. Thrilling adventures ensue, including a long "fight" sequence involving deep-sea diving gear and crossbows. A couple of "gill men" make repeated cameos. There are several long scenes full of our heroes talking to various locals who reveal bits of the backstory, and nothing of any great consequence happens for quite a long time. After much aimless milling about, they eventually they locate the heroine, and our dynamic trio attempt to defeat the baddie and escape to the surface. Eventually they do. Also, an undersea volcano erupts and finishes off the undersea city, so we get some nice satisfying explosions right at The End.

That's basically it. There isn't much of a plot here. The poem isn't much help, either. It provides the setting, but the screenwriters then had to cook up the entire story, such as it is. The movie is a lesson in just how difficult it is to write Poe if you aren't Poe. I do give the filmmakers credit for some of the Gothic elements they dreamed up: The baddie and his henchmen have discovered the secret of perhaps-eternal life, but are condemned to remain forever in the city under the sea. Dry land is nearby, but the men can only go ashore for brief raiding parties, and then only at night. The bells that ring deep in the sea whenever Sir Hugh executes someone. The house perched on a cliff over the ocean, full of creepy guests and secret passages. The glowing undersea volcano and constant earthquakes, providing a constant sense of impending doom. A lot of the sets and visuals are pretty cool, including the main temple room (I'm guessing about the temple part) where Sir Hugh drowns his enemies. The water cascades down between the fingers of a gigantic hand, and of course the hand ends up falling on the bad guy at the end. Other nice visual bits include the matte of the undersea city and the super-cool deep sea diving helmets everyone was using. The US title of the movie is pretty great as well. As soon as I heard the title, I knew I absolutely had to rent the thing. And there's a short bit of Vincent Price reading Poe, which is never a bad thing.

Now for bad things about the movie. The worst, worst, worst thing about the movie is the interminable undersea "fight" sequence. Basically the filmmakers had a few people miling around aimlessly in diver helmets. They all have the same outfit on, and there's no dialogue, so you end up with no clue whatsoever about what's happening. The film tries to liven things up by splicing in some unconvincing reaction shots by our glorious triumvirate, and loud bombastic music to try to convince you something exciting is happening, all evidence to the contrary. This sequence goes on and on. I didn't time it, but I'd bet it ran at least 15 minutes. You keep thinking, surely they must be done now, but no. I don't know if they just needed filler material; or filming underwater was expensive, and they decided to get their money's worth by using every last minute of footage they filmed; or whether the public genuinely adored the novelty of this stuff back in 1965. But looking at it with 2006 eyes, there's just way too much boring undersea footage. And to top it all off, the undersea chase seems to be completely pointless, and our heroes end up back where they started after all that time. Although the pack of nefarious henchmen disappears from the story after this point, and we never find out what happened to them. Nobody bothers to say a simple "Whew, we lost them", or anything, so it's possible the scriptwriters just forgot about 'em after that. And those "gill-men"... Yes, they look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, except made by an 8th grade art class. If you watch the fighting closely, you can see a number of gill-man scales and costume bits breaking off. To be fair, lots of movies ripped off the gill-man idea, such as Monster of Piedras Blancas and The Phantom from 10000 Leagues. But if there's a gill-man evolutionary tree, the guys from WGotD rank somewhere near the very bottom.

I should point out that the film won no awards for acting. Vincent Price (as nasty old Sir Hugh) is his usual entertaining self, but it's all downhill from there. Both ex-teen-heartthrob (and non-action-hero) Tab Hunter, and alleged love interest Susan Hart can barely read their lines, much less sell them to the audience. He was supposed to be a big star for some reason, which explains his presence in the movie. And she got the job because she was married to James Nicholson, one of the film's co-producers. The love angle just doesn't work -- the only indication we get that they have anything in common is in the very beginning, where she remarks that they are the only two Americans among the house's guests, and she thinks they ought to be friends. That's pretty much it. And after the first few minutes, she's the only woman in the movie. A better movie might have given Sir Hugh a daughter or neice, and set up a rivalry for the affections of dreamy Tab Hunter. A better movie might even deliver a proper catfight. But not this movie.

Meanwhile, David Tomlinson (playing the English twit) is just an insufferable ham. You've seen him in all those 60's Disney movies, and in those he didn't share screen time with a chicken. Ah, the chicken. The business with the chicken is slightly amusing, very slightly amusing, the first couple of times it's inflicted on the audience. And then it happens again, and again. When Vincent Price notices the bird, his eyes light up and he hungrily exclaims "Chicken!". I had my hopes up the chicken might be a goner. But no. One of the reviews linked to below says the studio made the filmmakers add the twit and his chicken. They must've had the movie pegged as a ripoff of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, except without a submarine, or a giant squid, or any of the other things that made that movie so much fun.

So is it worth watching? Sure, so long as you don't expect a masterpiece. Or a film that makes sense, to be honest, so this may be a great movie to cook up a drinking game about. When you see the chicken, drink!

Other reviews of War Gods of the Deep:
Film Freak Central, RottenTomatoes, 1000 Misspent Hours, Eccentric-Cinema.com (with stills), Monsters at Play. DVD Drive-In, Imaginarium, and Bad Cinema Diary

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