Friday, September 29, 2006

another friday link farm

Ok, let's try this again. A few days ago, I started yet another pile-o-links post and never got around to hitting 'publish', primarily because it would've been like the third or fourth in a row, and it just felt wrong somehow. Now it's been a few days, and Firefox is full of tabs I can't quite bring myself to close, so I figure, what the heck.

So to start out, here's the original list, followed by a list of new items.

  • If you like cute echidnas as much as I do, and I realize you probably don't, here are four more echidna photos for your enjoyment, or at least for mine.
  • This is a very, very fat squirrel.
  • The development community seems to have fixed its great flaming eye directly on the Hawthorne area. Here's the latest about the stupid parking meter thing that they just refuse to drop.
  • A bit about the recent John Kerry / beer bong photo. I sure do miss Democrats running the show.
  • A new multi-year low for SCO: $1.66 per share, closing at $1.69. Awesome.
  • A ligher shade of umbra
  • Eek! Jesus Camp! Run away!

Today's link farm:

  • Another cute echidna. Seems there's no shortage.
  • Music from a French electronica act known as Echidna (also see here.)
  • Our Glorious Leader, as translated by Little Richard. It all makes sense now.
  • The latest snarkiness on the Pacific Northwest Food Scene (TM). Everyone said they loved that Hebberoy guy until his restaurant empire imploded. Now the knives are out. Ah, fickle fate...
  • An Oktoberfest update from The Brew Site.
  • The Bad Astronomer posts about a new lobbying group called Scientists & Engineers for America, set up primarily to oppose the Bushies' ideological meddling.
  • I wouldn't be so fast to join up, though, if I were you; very soon, Dubya's going to have even more draconian powers to drag people off the street and imprison them without trial, purely on vague national security grounds.
  • Another piece on the same issue. How did we get to a point where everyone knows the bill is a disaster, everyone knows it's un-American, undemocratic, and uncivilized, and yet nobody can stop it. The only people with the power to do so (Congress) all believe it's political suicide to oppose Bush on any issue, at any time. Even now, after everything that's happened over the last half-decade.
  • Here's a cabbie from Uganda who's probably on George's evildoer list now, too. Read what he has to say about Idi Amin back in the 70's. Eerie, isn't it?
  • And as usual, there's nothing on Earth more completely freakin' useless than the "Democrats" in Congress. All they do is keep on keepin' the powder dry, and going along with whatever the R's want with barely a whimper. Pathetic.
  • The next war: Kazakhstan? Well, maybe not, but still, everyone says this Sacha Baron Cohen guy is the ultimate comic genius, brain the size of a planet and all that, but do we really need to go around spreading even more ignorant stereotypes about Muslim countries? What makes that such an ultra-smart idea, exactly?
  • See, that last bit was a half-joke, because everyone knows the next war is with Iran. Maybe I'm cynical, or paranoid, or just pessimistic, but to me it's felt like a done deal for a long, long time now.
  • After 95O+ sols of driving on Mars, the Opportunity rover's arrived at Victoria Crater, sending back some fairly dramatic photos. The folks over at are completely geeking out over it -- and I mean that in a good way.
  • And here's the first hi-res image from the newly-aerobraked Mars Reconaissance Orbiter. Coolness.
  • Maybe, just maybe, the city isn't selling off chunks of Mt. Tabor Park after all. Or at least they backed down very quickly. Probably the latter, in which case I'd like to take full credit for the about-face. You're welcome.
  • Excerpts from yet another hardline Bush speech. He's not quite using the 't' word yet, but it looks like he's edging ever closer.
  • In Bob Woodward's new book, we learn a couple of things we knew already: Rummy is Clueless and Bush is Increasingly Removed from Reality. Still, the new book may go a small way to redeem Woodward after his last two books fawning over Dubya. I'm sure it must've seemed like a good idea, or at least a lucrative idea, at the time...
  • So these days we've got a handle on the incompetence side of the Iraq equation. And here's another bit about the corruption side of things.
  • I hate to end on a down note, so here are some cute cats on Flickr.

Updated: Ok, ending with cute cats after all the political nastiness just isn't working. Here are three more pieces about echidnas:
  • a closeup photo of echidna spines
  • "Free the Echidnas!"
  • "You can't pull an echidna backward through a cardigan."
  • another friday imagedump

    It's Friday, plus September's almost up and I'm nowhere close to using up my free Flickr quota for the month. I admit that's not much of an organizing theme, but hey.
    Maybe there's sort of a fall theme going on, although it's really more of an unavoidable fact of nature than a theme. It's not like I can do spring photos right now, not in this hemisphere at any rate.


    Part of the Big Pink building.

    lovejoy column

    One of the surviving Lovejoy Columns, looking very out of place in the middle of the Pearl District.


    Some red berries.


    Moon over Rusting Chunks No. 5

    shadow, hawthorne bridge

    This is just a shot of the Hawthorne Bridge, but I thought it looked cool for some reason. I'm not sure why, exactly.


    Some orange berries.

    bleak plaza

    A rather bleak-looking 60's era plaza in an office park downtown, off 1st Avenue just south of I-405.


    A bit of existential graffiti.


    A palm tree in the Pearl District, on a cold rainy day.


    The old Pearl meets the new.


    More existential graffiti, this time with a typo.

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    dahlia @ doug fir, 9/27/06


    Finally made it to another Dahlia show, at Doug Fir last night. I'm not enough of a dork to bring a digital camera to a concert, so this is the closest I've got to photos. Sadly, I am enough of a dork to bring a Blackberry to a concert. Feel free to mock me, if you like. As usual, I got there wayyy early, and sat around typing up a blog post, because I thought it would be awfully l33t to blog from the Doug Fir. Also, I was one of the first people there, so I was feeling a little neurotic. I actually huddled in a far corner of the lounge, furiously thumb-typing away and sipping at a vodka tonic. In that would-be post, I complained about my punctuality neurosis, I complained about geezers hogging the swimming pool that morning, I complained at length about having to wrestle with the company teleconferencing system most of the day and not being able to find anyone who understood how the damn thing worked, not even the corporate phone administrator or the building receptionist. I went off on a deadly serious tangent about gentrification in the neighborhood around the Doug Fir, and reminisced about how the whole area was a no-go zone just a few short years ago, although the developers' future plans for the area also made me really nervous, etc. The idea behind the post was to explain why I needed so badly to lighten the fuck up and click everything else off and just dance for a while, but at that point I was still part of the problem, not the solution. I was actually getting more withdrawn and neurotic as I kept typing. The result was quite a sour, bitter piece, and luckily I wasn't getting any cell reception down in the lounge so I couldn't post it. So I did a "Save as draft", and figured I'd include it in a post today, but today I deleted it by accident. It's probably just as well. There's really no need here for a rant about my uber-punctual German Calvinist ancestors, or little old ladies in water wings. I was even about to start whining about the Dahlia dynamic duo, er, trio blowing off my friend request on MySpace, like that sort of thing actually matters or something. Sheesh. The lost post was fairly long, and I've probably missed a few of its not-very-salient points. I might be able to recover it by grabbing a memory image off the BB using some of the RIM developer tools, and grepping the resulting binary file for the word "dahlia". That would pretty much be for pure geek value, though. This post exists in lieu of that post, and I like this one a lot better.

    So I shut the BB off when it started whining about a low battery, and soon I noticed a few coworkers arriving, purely by random chance, so we hung out and gabbed about B-movies and restaurants and such for a while during the opening act, Stalking Jane. I'd never heard them before and I think I'm a fan now; I didn't have enough drinks in me to get up and dance just yet, but I enjoyed the set anyway. Then when Dahlia took the stage, it was time to just check out, lose track of the world, and get lost in the music.

    If you hadn't noticed already, this isn't really a review. I wasn't taking notes at that point. There's an eternal tension between truly being in the moment, and capturing the moment for posterity. You can dance, or you can blog, but you can't do both at the same time. 99.9% of the time, 24/6.999, I'm squarely on the 'blog' side of things, sitting above, or at least outside, the fray, commenting on the action in an amused and detached way. If I could have any one superpower, I'd choose to be invisible, and wander around observing people and making snarky and disagreeable observations about them for posterity. Did I mention I was a sociology major for a while? I could have done this for a living, basically. I'd probably have tenure by now, if I'd stuck with it. It presses my buttons. Well, 99.9% of the time. During the other 0.1%, you just have to turn everything else off and just shake that thang. So to speak. So I danced, and now I'm blogging about it -- the 0.1% having expired for the time being.

    So what I can tell you about the show is: Great music, great crowd, I love the new material, can't wait for the album to hit the streets, blah, blah, etc., etc.. Basically what I'm saying is that you had to be there.

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    My media empire grows a little more...

    This blog now has a sibling, devoted entirely to my morbid fascination with the ongoing SCO vs. Known Universe circus. If you've been following that stuff, you can now read all about it without having to wade through endless photos of flowers and snarky comments about our Glorious Leader and random babbling about cute echidnas and so forth.

    I used to post these news roundups on the Y! SCOX message board, but Yahoo tinkered with its message board system recently and made the thing painful to use. It had always been a love-hate relationship anyway, since the old board system had a nasty way of truncating posts without warning, arbitrarily rejecting perfectly legit urls as 'abuse' or 'spam' and threatening you with the Terms of Service; and even silently deleting posts if they contained links to anyone Yahoo viewed as a competitor -- at least we all figured that's why it was acting that way. An official explanation was never forthcoming.

    So after a bit of dithering, I finally got around to clicking "Create blog" yesterday. There isn't a huge amount of SCO news these days, so I won't post there anywhere near as often as I do here. But hey, it had to go somewhere...

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Yet another Mt. Tabor controversy

    staircase, mt. tabor

    View Larger Map

    A few photos of our fair city's Mt. Tabor Park [map], which is in the news once again. Word on the street is that the city's looking at selling off a chunk of it -- and to a creepy conservative religious college, no less.


    Naturally, Grandpa Simpson, er, Bojack, & Co., are going ballistic -- see the previous link, or this update. I try not to indulge in hysteria here, and sometimes I succeed, so let's all take a deep breath and try to puzzle out what's going on.

    greenhouses, mt. tabor

    One key point here is that the land under discussion is currently home to a Parks Bureau maintenance facility (above photo), including a bunch of greenhouses to serve the bureau's decorative plant needs across the city. On the map linked to above, it's roughly the area between SE 64th & 66th, just north of Division. It's not exactly the area you think of when you think about Mt. Tabor; I don't think it's even open to the public. This fact seems to have fostered the notion that it's not really part of the park, and what the city does with the land is none of the public's concern. You'd think the city would be a little cautious about this, since the park's one of the city's crown jewels, and the public went ballistic last time the Powers That Be tried to monkey around with the place. (Remember that ugly business about burying the reservoirs?)

    ducks, mt. tabor reservoir

    Sadly, the bureaucracy has precedent on its side. Some time back in the 90's, the city decided it didn't need Reservoir 2, at the SW corner of the park, so they simply demolished it and sold off the land. Now there's a charmless Beaverton-style subdivision there. The only remnant is the reservoir gatehouse, at the corner of SE 60th & Division, and it's been turned into a private residence. I have to admit I wouldn't mind owning that gatehouse building myself, but I don't understand why they went the subdivision route. Other than generating revenue for the city, I mean.

    Another account of the city's periodic real estate shenanigans, from a 2002 letter from area neighbors to then-Commissioner Jim Francesconi, who was responsible for the Parks Bureau at the time:

    Commitment to keeping public lands, publicly owned concerns all of us. When the Mt Tabor changes were brought before the Landmarks Commission, the first question the commissioners had was whether or not the reservoir land was to be sold. This was not unfounded, as Reservoir 2, another 1894 marvel was sold and developed in the 1990's. Those of us who have lived in the Mt Tabor neighborhoods for a long time have watched as part of the old nursery land (Mt Tabor Yard), technically part of the park,
    has been parceled out and sold for housing development. And recently, we have learned, an historic building in the nursery was demolished. We are interested in maintaining what is left of our green space and history. It is integral to our neighborhood and to the very city itself. We do not want to have what is left of our greenspaces sold or developed. We regret the move in this direction with the sale of Reservoir 2, the adjoining lands in Mt Tabor Yard, and the projected fire station to be built in Forest Park. As the Commissioner at the helm of parks, we hope that you will see fit to spend our tax dollars on protection of what little public land we have left and not continue the precedent of putting these lands up for development.

    With a recent history like that, public mistrust is inevitable, and well-earned. While I doubt anyone at City Hall is seriously considering selling off the whole park for development, they clearly don't have a stellar track record of acting in the public interest, especially when that bumps up against the self-interest of well-connected insiders.

    To me, and probably to most people, the land is part of the park, and if for some reason the city doesn't need it as a "backstage" area anymore, it ought to be turned into something the public can use and enjoy, not quietly sold off as surplus property. There's all sorts of things you could do with the area. Ball fields, open space for the off-leash dog folks, or maybe a greenhouse/conservatory people could visit and enjoy in midwinter. I've long thought it'd be nice to have something like that in town, somewhere to visit during the 9 months of the year when it isn't warm and sunny here. True, the place would be awash with tour buses full of geezers much of the time, but the inevitable gift shop might go a long way to plugging the hole in the city's parks budget, just on the collectible spoon and novelty shot glass revenue alone.

    For a little more background on the area, the local neighborhood association has a history of the park and its reservoirs here.

    Jack & friends suspect all sorts of dark fanciful plots, full of new aerial trams and condo towers and such. And in truth I wouldn't be surprised if money and insider connections played a part in this proposal, but this is a classic case where one shouldn't attribute to malice what one can attribute to stupidity. Recall that Dan Saltzman, the city commissioner responsible for the Parks Bureau, was also responsible for the abortive hide-the-reservoirs plan. He unveiled it as a done deal, not open to public debate, only to have the whole thing unravel at his feet. I mean, I think he's generally a decent guy, and his heart's in the right place when it knows what the right place is. He probably read somewhere that unveiling a grand plan and presenting it as a done deal is a mark of a decisive, forceful alpha-male leader, and possibly that's even true, generally. It's just that when he tries it, it's always a ham-fisted, politically tonedeaf effort on behalf of a poorly thought-out idea. And then when the proposal garners public mistrust, suspicion and hostility, he doesn't have the clout to push the thing through over everyone's heads. If you'd like an object lesson in the ungentle art of the fait accompli, you'd do well to look elsewhere. We are a city of process geeks, for better or worse, and when someone doesn't play the process game, with public meetings, "visioning processes", stroking the fragile egos of neighborhood association bigwigs and whatnot, people get suspicious. If you don't invite everyone to a grand open house right off the bat, people assume you're conspiring with greedy cigar-chomping developers. That accusation is true far more often than it ought to be, so it's only natural that people assume it's always the real motive. If it looks like you're trying to sneak something unpopular through before the public catches on, that's never going to boost your poll numbers.

    Oh, about the other photos: Photo 1 is of the long, narrow stairs between the upper and lower reservoirs. The stairs are quite a workout. Not only are they long, without a single landing on the way up, they also get increasingly steep as you near the top. Photo 2 is looking southwest from the upper reservoir, with the lower one in view along with a tangle of Oregon Grape and various vines. The ducks in photo 3 were at the lower reservoir, just steps from a sign forbidding visitors from feeding any wildlife that might be present. Apparently the city tries to capture any beasties that hang around here too long, and I don't know what becomes of them after that. Probably they just truck them somewhere and release them, but that seems kind of silly for a bunch of plain old mallard ducks. They aren't exactly rare or anything. And duck can be awfully tasty. So who knows, really?

    Friday, September 22, 2006

    ...wherein I seek my lost relevance...


    Another day, another semi-random link dump. I seem to have fallen into a blogging rut: When I'm not posting amusing riffs on misc. news items I've run across, I'm posting riffs that try to be amusing but fail miserably. As I've mentioned before, I often feel guilty that I don't cover weighty political topics more often. We live in in the midst of a global crisis, no, crises, and nobody can afford to take things lightly, but I do anyway. I shouldn't, but I do. I try to justify it by saying I live by the old H.L. Mencken quote:

    The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe--that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

    While we're talking about Mencken, I'd like to recommend his essay "Gamalielese", if you can find it. I don't see it on the net anywhere, so I suppose it's still under copyright. Search your local library. It reminds us that Dubya wasn't the first brain-damaged wingnut to occupy the White House, although Warren G. Harding was merely stupid and corrupt, and he didn't actually go around starting wars in every corner of the globe and then bungling them. In lieu of the actual essay, perhaps you'll enjoy this post about ol' Warren G.. In a similar spirit, you might also enjoy James Thurber's take on Admiral Byrd exploring the south pole and claiming large chunks of Antarctica for the grateful US taxpayer, but that may be even harder to find. (And again, nothing on the net anywhere.)

    On an unrelated-but-serious note, the photo is of the never-used cooling towers for the cancelled Satsop nuclear complex, part of the ill-fated WPPSS (pronounced "whoops") project. If you're driving to the Olympic Peninsula, you can see them near the town of Elma, on US 12 between Aberdeen and Centralia. I realize they were never used, and there's nothing radioactive about them, but I still get a case of the creeps every time I see them.

    So anyway, I don't really have anything original to contribute on the political front right now, but I've interspersed a few serious-ish items amongst all the frivolity, just to break up the rhythm a little. So without further ado, let the links commence:

    • Happy birthday, Bilbo & Frodo.
    • Every day, a new haiku about beer. Finally, poetry that doesn't make me cringe.
    • Today's cute echidna.
    • Audio clips and quotes from Tron, the best SF movie ever. Don't even try arguing the point with me. Sure, the plot's corny, but Metropolis is much, much cornier and far less coherent, and everybody forgives it because the visuals are so great.
    • Tron may have to give up the crown soon, though. Turkish Star Wars 2 is on its way. With genuine CGI and everything, apparently.
    • Local businesspeople don't think the downtown retail environment is doing very well. Funny how the same urbanist types who freak out whenever a business opens in the 'burbs don't bat an eye while their beloved Pearl skims off the top end of the retail trade downtown.
    • OTOH our local craft brewing industry just had a great first half of '06. I'm happy to say I've done my part to help out with those numbers. Mmmm.... beeeer....
    • The very latest in local Republican sleaze.
    • The Guardian informs us that, like the Northwest, the UK has its share of bike Nazis and creepy nuclear bungling.
    • Friday's cephalopod pic from Pharyngula.
    • Microsoft is thinking about a free web-based version of MS Works. I didn't realize there even still was such a thing as MS Works, but then, it's been about 10 years since I've bought a PC with Windows on it, so maybe I'm just not up on this stuff. On one hand, I think MS considers Works their cheap-n-crappy alternative for home users who can't afford MS Office. On the other, I seem to recall that it does most of what an average home or office user might need to do, without all the dancing paper clips and cryptic toolbars full of esoteric options and whatnot. Still, what you really want is OpenOffice.
    • Mars Express has taken some new pics of the notorious non-face on Mars. The Bad Astronomer marks the occasion by making fun of that Hoagland asshat. I've been rolling my eyes at Hoagland since his "alien spaceship in Saturn's B ring" days (what ever happened with that, btw?), and it just never gets old. The BA story's been linked to by Slashdot and Fark, and now by me as well, so Phil's pretty much hit the trifecta here. (Ha, I kid! What is this 'Fark' of which he speaks? I bet there's no such thing.)
    • Jesus appears to the faithful in ever-more-mysterious ways.
    • Well, nothing else is working, so maybe this will save the world. It's worth a try, anyway.
    • From World-o-Crap: Batman vs. the Nazis. They just don't make movie serials like they used to.
    • Preemptive Karma and Empire Burlesque cover Dubya's recent "Third Awakening" creepiness.
    • But there's plenty of religious ickiness to go around: Two more PK bits, covering Der Pope and Ahmadinejad (and the fundies who fear him).
    • And a deeply scary and unsurprising WashPost story about bungling and cronyism in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Ideology and blind loyalty win out over basic competence. Film at 11.
    • Willie Nelson getting busted for possession is another "film at 11" item, but check out the photo of his stash. Dang. I never touch the stuff, myself, but even I'm impressed. Free Willie!
    • Grandpa Simpson, I mean, Bojack wonders who Storm Large is. It's one thing not to be hip to that noise the young'uns are jiving to these days. I fall squarely in that category myself. And I never saw a single episode of Supernova. But not even knowing who Storm is? That's just... unpatriotic.
    • Olbermann is at it again. When's he going to learn how to cravenly suck up to power, the way real journalists do?
    • Suddenly, the wingnuts love the International Criminal Court. Some of the time.
    • The latest mission update for the DSCOVR (nee Triana) probe: Still gathering dust in a warehouse.
    • On YouTube, a snippet of the famous "Turkey Drop" WKRP episode. But be warned, the period hairstyles are most alarming.
    • Another movie I'm afraid to see. Radioactive carnivorous flying brains are one thing, but red state true believers are another thing entirely. Yikes!
    • SCO hit a new 52-week low today. $2.01. That's still overpriced by about $6, but it's a good start.
    • Karen Armstrong has a piece in the Guardian about anti-Islamic prejudice. Sure is too bad that "religion of peace" (as in any religion) is an oxymoron. And that comes on top of being false, and anti-rational. I try to take a pragmatic position here: if it's false but Mostly Harmless, I'll let it pass without serious criticism. But when people devote their lives to murdering one another to appease some imaginary Bronze Age desert boogeyman in the sky, well, I just sort of have to draw the line.
    • And yes, it is possible for a religion to be Mostly Harmless. Fundies tend to have a cow about pagans and call them all sorts of ugly names, but if you add up the body count over the last 2000 years, the Christians hold an insurmountable lead. As far as I can tell, the worst offense our fair city's local pagan community has to answer for is some truly dreadful amateur poetry.
    • Lately I've been waking up to Lebanese coffee from Cafe Najjar in Beirut. I found a packet of their vacuum-packed, ground coffee at a stall in Pike Place Market last time I was in Seattle. I've used up nearly the whole packet, and so far the coffee doesn't appear to contain any WMDs. If you're shocked by that, or you think I'm being brave or foolhardy by "risking it all" here, well, I feel sorry for you. Truly. It's your loss, not mine. The other ground coffee in the house right now is French Market Coffee from New Orleans.
    • A few Flickr links that're about to spill off the 200-photo limit, while I dither over whether to buy the "premium" account: [1] [2] [3] [4].

      Updated 9/14/2013: I was working on an art post about Cobbletale and vaguely remembered I had an ancient 2006 photo of it, and I wondered where I'd used it. Turns out the only place I'd used it was in the "A few Flickr links" item above, where I merely linked to the photos and didn't even bother inlining them. Not sure why I did that; it's possible we still had dialup back then, I'm not entirely sure. In any case, I'm fairly sure that any reasons I may have had then are obsolete now, and I'm going to go ahead & inline those photos, dammit. So here they are, in all their circa-2006 point-n-shoot glory:




      Rose, 12th Avenue

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    interwebbage du jour

    I'm working valiantly to reduce the RSS backlog I accumlated due to being out of interweb range for several days. Here's some of the more interesting stuff I've come across since yesterday's link dump:

    • Today's weird Japanese video
    • The age of glossy OPML startups is upon us.
    • From /. : The Poincare Conjecture saga takes another ugly turn.
    • Talk radio wingnut declares war on lesbofascism. So guys, the line to audition to play Marshal Petain forms on the left. And no cuts. Thx. Mgmt.
    • In fact, the jihad is already starting. See? SEE???
    • In retrospect, it was inevitable: A New Zealand horror movie about carnivorous sheep.
    • Rest in peace, Crimson Executioner.
    • The latest research on wine chemistry. The article mentions that it may eventually be possible to create synthetic wine that's never been near a grape, much less a rustic Tuscan village. Take that, yuppie twits! I should note that the equivalent happened in the beer world years ago. We call it "Coors Lite", when we have to.
    • SCO's anti-Linux jihad takes yet another turn for the worse. Jeez, how many turns for the worse is it going to take, already?
    • Today's dinky Linux gizmo. Awwwwww.....
    • The Guardian scratches its head about LA for the umpteenth time. Personally, I'm rooting for the pink crown rot virus.
    • From Treehugger, another fun thing to do with old shipping containers. Plus yet another piece about green roofs. Oh, and bicycles.
    • The experts seem to think they've discovered a slab full of Olmec poetry. Totally unreadable, of course, since we don't actually know the Olmec language. But hey, if it's really poetry that's probably a good thing.
    • Seems that the poor US education system has certain advantages after all. Really I ought to be ranting about petty bureaucrats and the abuse of power, but it's just sort of funny. What I really want to know is: Did the customs guy himself know the right answer?
    • Yet another reason not to eat sea turtles. It's actually altruism on their part: They're absorbing the heavy metals to help protect their silly two-legged landbound friends. I'm sure that's what's going on.
    • Once again, lurid fiction becomes medical reality.
    • HumuKonTiki proposes a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels to connect all the world's home tiki bars. May I suggest... a swoopy 50's mole machine, perhaps?
    • Got beer? Got a helicopter? Brilliant!
    • It's official: Thailand is weird.
    • Today's cute echidna.
    • The Guardian bravely attempts to include differential equations in a business article, and almost succeeds. Don't hold your breath waiting for USA Today to follow suit.
    • George Allen rides again. As usual, Jon Swift has all the gory details. It all makes sense now. Thank you, Jon!
    • Jared Leto is teh sux0r. Whoever he is.
    • The Portland Streetcar is coming to Lake Oswego. It'll be the funnest, most awesome six hour commute you've ever had.



    View Larger Map

    As promised, here are a few vacation photos from around Lake Quinault, up on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, mostly near the historic Lake Quinault Lodge.


    The frog might be a Northern Red-Legged Frog. It leaped across the trail right in front of me, which was a little surprising, hence the shaky photo. Still, it's an awfully cute frog.





    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Alone at Tanner Springs

    marigold, tanner springs

    The park was empty, on this grim, rainy afternoon. The lone marigold in the pond was the only clue anyone had been there all day.

    rainstorm, tanner springs

    I was last there one month ago, almost to the day. Today there was far less water in the pond, and both the algae and goldfish have vanished. I gather the city pays close attention whenever I complain. Ok, the lilypads and spiderwebs were gone as well. So they might've overreacted somewhat. But then, I'm notoriously hard to please, and at least they're trying.


    The bottom photo is a detail of the fence along the park's east edge, made of rusty rails from back when the area was a working railyard, with some bits of art glass inserted here-n-there. Through the fence you can barely see a tiny bit of the Lexis condo building. Aside from contending for the most godawful stupid name in the entire Pearl District, it's also a mildly unusual structure: While most Pearl towers are fake stucco and/or brick over concrete, the Lexis has a sleek metal (titanium?) skin over... plywood. Yes. It was originally built as an apartment building, and I distinctly recall seeing a local authority on the real estate scene say it couldn't be converted into condos because it wasn't built to the usual condo standards. Ahh, but recall that there's one born every minute, and so the place was converted almost as quickly as it was built. I wouldn't live there, not even if there was a smoke detector every six inches. But that's just me, with my weird priorities. Sure, it may be an overpriced deathtrap, but it's a super-desirable overpriced deathtrap in an excellent location. Condos here are guaranteed to keep appreciating at 20+% per year from now until Doomsday, or until someone smokes in bed (which is essentially the same thing.) Who could ask for anything more?


    Ok, I'm back from the wilderness now. It's a miracle of modern technology when you can blog from a boat on a remote lake in the back of beyond. But when you can't blog from a boat in the middle of nowhere, it's much, much better. It's good to take a vacation every so often, just to get a little perspective back.

    This isn't my "What I did on vacation" post yet, since at the moment I'm simultaneously tired from the trip, and busy catching up with work. This post's called "keepalive" because I sometimes humor myself thinking that some sort of unspecified, unspeakable catastrophe will happen to me, or to this blog, or to my multitudes of Gentle Reader(s), if I fail to post on a regular basis. It makes life more interesting, and it's always nice to feel one's services are required, after all, even when it isn't "true", strictly speaking. I had a cat once who would occasionally decide the linoleum floor in the kitchen was hot lava, and he'd cross the room by leaping from one area rug to another. This post is sort of like that: We'll probably all avoid the hot lava regardless, but why chance it?

    While I was away, this humble blog registered visitor #5000, according to the nice folks at Sitemeter. Turns out visitor 5000 showed up here via Technorati, arriving at my recent post marking visitor #4000, specifically the part about recent arrivals from Technorati. And the great wheel of creation turns again, with these recent Technorati arrivals, plus other Technorati and non-Technorati stuff to pad the list up to a respectable length, including a couple of weird search engine hits I got recently.

    Most of the search hits lately have been for the classics: Windows Registry coding tips, mock chow mein, ortolans, the South Waterfront district, Hercules vs. Hydra, silky anteaters, Kelly Butte, sidewalk ponies, Merche Romero, Saturn 3, and the upcoming UFO apocalypse. The hits just keep on coming. I've been doing this for maybe 9 months or so now, and I still can't get a handle on why some posts really pull in the page views, while others (some of which I really slaved away over a hot keyboard working on) never get a single search hit. Obviously it has to be related to how highly Google ranks the page vs. other pages on the same topic, but how that happens is a real mystery, and Google ain't sayin'. Well, whatever.

    So anyway, I'm back, and I'll probably post some photos when I have time this evening or something.

    Some "found on the interwebs" stuff to pass along, since I may as well run with the whole unstructured pseudorandomness thing today:

    • Nirvana's Nevermind is 15 years old this month, and I don't feel so young myself anymore. The baby on the cover is old enough to have a long juvenile record by now.
    • Also from the Mercury, a cat that looks like Orson Welles.
    • A Shakespearean Insult Generator. Bathe thyself, thou gorbellied, motley-minded moldwarp!
    • David Brin waxes nostalgic about the joys of line-oriented programming languages, by which he means the classic BASIC language so many of us learned back in the old-sk00l 8-bit days of yore:

      10 PRINT "HELLO"
      20 GOTO 10

      I have to disagree here. Sure, there ought to be languages easy and accessible enough that kids can learn them, but BASIC is bad for you. It teaches all sorts of bad habits, and it sure doesn't prepare kids for the modern, real world. Just about anything would be better, except maybe Perl, or Intercal. Even back in the day, LOGO was a good alternative to BASIC, and it's a real programming language, a cousin of LISP with some syntactic sugar. Or if we restrict ourselves to languages there's any chance of getting paid to code in, Java is much easier to learn than you might think.
    • I recently found a copy of Jerry Pournelle's 1984 book The User's Guide to Small Computers, a 1984 collection of some of his classic Byte columns. He discusses the era's programming language options, and as the book goes on you can watch him moving further and further away from line-oriented BASIC as his language of choice, as everyone who uses it will eventually do if other choices are available.
    • In October, First Thursday will feature hordes of rampaging zombies -- and not of the gazillion-dollar-condo-buying variety, for once. Grarrgh! Brains!
    • AltPortland has a new section on our fair city's handful of BBQ options.
    • Seems that the far reaches of industrial NW Portland are soon to be graced with the area's very first vegan pirate bar. Seriously. Their (heavily-flash-laden) website is here. Dialup users may experience a prolonged calming, Zenlike state while the site loads, and loads, and loads.
    • Seems there'll be a write-in candidate facing Leslie Roberts for that prized judgeship this fall. I don't know enough about the guy to make a decision at this point, but right now I'm leaning towards anyone-but-Leslie-Roberts.
    • The Portland Public Art blog has a recent post about Columbia River Crystal, which I posted about here. Check out all the security cameras. I guess I'm not the only person who thought that was peculiar. I didn't take any photos of the cameras myself because a.) I hadn't really figured out the photoblogging thing just yet, and b.) if you photograph security cameras, you probably stand a good chance of being labelled an "evildoer" and shipped off to Gitmo or a CIA black site behind the former Iron Curtain.


    • Issues of an early-80's journal devoted to the Motorola 68000 of fond memory yet green.
    • Yet another cute echidna. Awwwwwww....
    • And a much more technical piece that touches on the genetic makeup of monotremes. Seems they have multiple X (and sometimes Y) chromosomes. But at least they don't have Z and W chromosomes like birds do. That's just all messed up.
    • Landshark!
    • Over in the SCO universe, the Canopy Group has gotten a new lease on life with the dubious help of our friends at Solera.
    • In related news, SCO hit a new 52-week low while I was gone. $2.05. I can hardly wait for the $1 barrier to fall.
    • Also while I was away, a new ring of Saturn was discovered.
    • According to El Reg, the next generation of GPU chips may conquer the universe. Hmm. I'm firmly in the "Let's wait and see" camp, especially since right now you need to learn entirely new languages in order to code for these beasties. This sure does look purty, though.
    • New discovery: a baby Australopithecus afarensis.
    • And at Cute Overload, a cute lil' snuggle-bat.

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    ...wherein I conquer the moon...


    It's true. I've conquered the moon. This photo should be all the proof you need.

    I'll be off surveying my newly acquired realm for a couple of days, so don't be surprised if there aren't any new posts here until next week some time. I mean, I technically could, probably, but I expect my time will be consumed by assorted toadies and flunkies and grand viziers and other minions, along with the rest of the moon's vast population, all turning out to welcome their new Colossal Yellow Overlord. (If they know what's good for them, I mean.)

    Incidentally, the crater I'm sitting on is either Thornton or Pythagoras. It's hard to tell which, because I'm sitting on it, and I can't see the label from here. (Ok, so the first one is only sort-of named "Thornton", technically speaking.) Here's a recent photo of Pythagoras by the dearly departed SMART-1 probe. As you can see, it's not really the most comfortable thing to sit on, but hey, it's the moon, it's not like there's a wide variety of seating options. You don't even get a good choice of colors, unless you're a big fan of grey. Well, whatever. I conquered it fair and square, and it's mine now, warts and all.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Jewett Park excursion

    View Larger Map

    Here are a few photos of Portland's tiny Jewett Park, a pint-sized triangle of land at the intersection of Vista & Spring St., across the street from Ainsworth School, up in the West Hills. Here's a Google Map of the area, but you really can't see much from above. The photos above show essentially the entire park, and as you can see the place is basically 100% stairs.

    A 1998 Sunset Magazine piece titled "Step up to Portland" talks about the still-elusive Little Red Book of Stairs, and relays this tidbit:

    A set of stairs in Portland Heights is actually a park in and of itself. The 18 steps leading from a corner of S.W. Spring Street up to Vista are known officially as Jewett Park, named in 1974 after their creator, Bill Jewett. A bronze plaque next to the steps bears this inscription: "There is nothing like sitting on steps in the sun when one has the unparalleled pleasure of doing just nothing at all."


    Jewett Park

    The full text of the plaque, for dialup users who'd rather not download the larger & more legible version of photo #2 (I've added punctuation as needed, rather than mess around with HTML center tags and whatnot.)

    This little park is given to the City of Portland for the enjoyment of the children of this neighborhood in memory of my parents and brother: Stanley Guion Jewett, Leslie Weidler Jewett, and Peter Jewett, who lived next door for many years.

    William Weidler Jewett
    "There is nothing like sitting on steps in the sun when one has the unparalleled pleasure of doing just nothing at all."

    That's the only mention I've been able to find about the place anywhere on the net. The city doesn't mention it anywhere, which is a real shame. Its creation was obviously a labor of love, and it's a cozy, tranquil little spot, even with the traffic on Vista. It would be a nice place to sit and read a good book, if the sun was out. All in all, it's a very civilized little urban amenity. Poetic, even. And (so far as I know) it's unique to our fair city, but without the forced-smile quirkiness and cloying twee-ness of certain better-known "uniquely Portland" things (*cough* sidewalk ponies *cough*)

    Iron Fence, Jewett Park

    Iron Fence, Jewett Park

    Incidentally, I'm guessing that the Stanley Guion Jewett mentioned above might be Stanley G. Jewett, a wildlife biologist who cowrote several landmark books about the birds of the Northwest. But I could be wrong.

    Stairs, Jewett Park

    If you're more into extreme action sports, this may not be the place for you, although it might be fun to jump down the stairs on a skateboard, maybe. Technically you're probably not supposed to do that here, so you didn't hear it from me.

    It's funny how something created as recently as 1974 seems like a relic of a bygone era. Today's overprotective parents would never let their kids anywhere near these stairs, at least without swaddling them in protective gear. As if kids had any free time to do "just nothing at all" anymore, which they don't. And then there's legal liability issues to worry about, and ADA compliance, and making it "elder-friendly", and there's the vociferous design-junkie community to pacify (and naturally they'll be demanding a kid-hostile "Tanner Springs II", with whirling razor blades this time if possible.), plus the bike fascist community to mollify, and on and on and on. Which is a shame, since these stairs are an interesting use for a weird sloping little parcel of land.

    Diagonally across Vista from the park is what's reputed to be one of the city's best pizza restaurants, cleverly hidden high in the West Hills. I haven't been there, but it seems to come highly recommended. And where there's pizza there's usually beer. If you decide to walk, or bike, or unicycle, or otherwise get here under your own power, braving the narrow little streets and giant SUVs and steep hills, you couldn't ask for a more civilized amenity than that.

    Alternately, TriMet Bus 51 runs right by the park on its way up to Council Crest, and there's a stop right at Vista & Spring St. If you're a tourist, or you have company in town and you're playing tour guide, you'll probably end up at Council Crest sooner or later anyway. Jewett Park is right on the way there, if you aren't in a hurry and it seems like your cup of tea. I realize it may or may not be. Suffice it to say that I can't think of anything snarky and negative to say about the place, which is quite unusual for me. You can take that as a recommendation, if you like, or as a sign that I've lost touch with my inner edginess, or that someone's bribing me, or blackmailing me, or impersonating me, or whatever.

    Updated 7/7/08: I recently realized I only had two photos of the park in this post, and they really weren't that great, so I thought I'd go take another batch and update this post accordingly. The full set's on Flickr here. The park itself hasn't changed a bit, not that I expected it would.

    ...wherein I notice the seasons changing...


    Dammit, it's autumn. It's official now, so far as I'm concerned. The top photo shows a wave of dark non-summery clouds sweeping into downtown today, right around sunset. Soon it'll begin raining in earnest. No more of this overnight drizzle nonsense; it'll be coming down in buckets, for days, no, for weeks at a time, and I'll have to keep explaining that, yes, that really is a color photo, it's just that everything here is grey. What, grey isn't your favorite color? Is that what you're trying to tell me?


    At least we get a bit of fall foliage first (photo #2), although it's nothing like what you'd see in New England or upstate New York. Somehow we make do.

    I realize I've been wringing my hands about the seasons a lot lately, as if there was anything I could do about it, I mean, other than buying a monstrous CO2-belching SUV. And with all this blabbering on about foliage and the seasons, I sound like I'm 70 years old, which I'm not. That, or I'm acting like I've never seen any of this before. Somehow having a digital camera and a blog makes you notice the little things more than you otherwise would. I categorically reject any suggestion that I've taken an interest now because I'm not a spring chicken anymore, or that I just don't have anything better to do. And shame on you for even thinking that. Bad! Naughty!

    Creatures with a bit more sense than us (oh, and wings) will be migrating soon. And on a not-entirely-unrelated note, it turns out that our fair city is the "Retail" Birthplace of U-Haul. Who knew? There's a historical marker and everything, although you have to trek out to 88th & Foster to find it. (Or so we're told, anyway. I just found this on the net, and that's all I know about it.)

    On a more unrelated note, I've finally figured out something that's been puzzling me for months now. At several spots along the streetcar line, and at other locations in the Pearl, there are these motion-sensored spotlights with solar panels attached, aimed at the sidewalk. Sometimes they trigger and click on when you walk by, which can be a little surprising. There's one on SW 10th around Stark or Alder or Washington that clicks on and illuminates a manhole cover in the sidewalk. The first time I saw this it startled me. I thought it must be some sort of inexplicable homeland security measure or utility maintenance aid or something. Turns out the spotlights are part of an art installation titled More Everyday Sunshine, by Harrell Fletcher. It all makes sense now. I had a feeling it might be art, but it isn't labelled anywhere, and the equipment for each light is quite utilitarian, so it was hard to be sure.

    Via RSS - 9/13/06

    I'd originally planned to take a vacation from blogging this week, since I had a self-imposed RL work deadline to worry about. But it just sort of hasn't happened. I have been slacking in my RSS-reading duties, and I've been trying to catch up, really really really, when I'm not grinding out Java. Right now I should probably be writing some unit tests, but that can wait for a few minutes.

    Without further ado, here's today's edition of "stuff found on the interwebs".

    • The latest cool Hubble photo: A photo of the planet Uranus with its moon Ariel, with the moon casting a shadow on the planet. This from beeeelions of miles away. Wow. Admit it, that rocks.
    • If you haven't seen it yet, here's Keith Olbermann's 9/11 piece. If you're a Dubya groupie (and you haven't already fled this blog in horror), you probably don't want to visit this link. At least if you want to keep on being a Dubya groupie.
    • A new Hobbit movie? Can it be? I eagerly, eagerly await big-budget Smaug goodness.
    • New info on how blogspam happens. Cheap Third World labor will be the death of us all, I tell you.
    • I've also fallen behind in my usual practice of linking to cephalopod items on Pharyngula. So here are the latest four items. All hail the Old Ones!
    • The latest research into the biology of B-Movie Monsters.
    • The Belmont Station blog has a video of people diving into a gigantic pile of hops. It's like porno for beer geeks.
    • And for Mac geeks, here's how to set up your own custom kernel panic screen. Not that I've ever actually seen a kernel panic with OSX. Sometimes I almost miss the days of "Sorry, a system error occurred. ID = -17". But the feeling passes quickly.
    • The latest physics crankery: The upcoming Large Hadron Collider could kill us all!!! Run for the hills!!!!
    • The Champagne of Blogs has a piece about homebrewing in the great outdoors, with tons of photos. Apparently the Metolius River makes an excellent wort chiller.
    • Four photos of echidnas.
    • The only known naughty limerick involving echidnas. They do have remarkable tongues, you know.
    • A post at Humu Kon Tiki explaining in great detail how to build a Tiki Bar. So now you have no excuse not to.
    • Baby skunks. Awwwwwww....
    • If you had a thing for Harmony from Buffy & Angel, November is your lucky month.
    • Slashdot helpfully points us at what was once The Ultimate Blog Post. That was until this post came along.
    • Also from Slashdot: Ding, dong, IRIX is dead. That's one less Unix to worry about porting to. Yay!
    • More cat-related items at Cute Overload & Pharyngula.


    • Sometimes even giant natural gas tankers need to dress up and feel pretty.
    • A slideshow at KGW showing our shiny new OHSU tram cabins. The first photo is the only good one, and the others just show heavily-wrapped cabins (or something) being loaded onto a cargo ship.
    • For future reference: When you're trying to subdue an escaped alligator, it helps to have a roll of duct tape handy.
    • A couple of Blogspot referrer pages from when I hit "Publish" the first time: The Armchair Nomad and 12 Degrees of Freedom.
    • The cephalopod items at Pharyngula are coming fast & furious these days. Here's the latest.
    • Cleaned-up, "digitally remastered" photos of the surface of Venus, courtesy the Soviet-era Venera 13 and 14. The Venera 13 image is especially interesting, with barren, misty hills in the distance.
    • Also, MRO is finally done aerobraking. The Bad Astronomer geeks out over the occasion. And rightly so.

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    Obligatory & Reluctant 9/11 post

    I'm not exactly anxious to write about 9/11, but trying to ignore the date doesn't seem right either. Over the last five years the day's mutated into a sort of creepy fundamentalist martyrdom festival and Republican campaign rally. Each year we're asked again to collectively wallow in wounded national pride and endless self-pity and ugly xenophobia. I certainly don't think the day's main event ought be yet another divisive partisan speech by GWB, the guy who took this national tragedy, misused it for his own ends (i.e. Iraq), and then botched the resulting stupid, needless war. If I was mayor of New York, Bush would be politely and quietly disinvited to the day's events. No need to make a scene; it's just better if he's not in town to steal the limelight from the real heroes and victims of that day.

    What I remember about five years ago:

    September 10th
    On this, the vilified day of the "September 10th mindset", Portland's new MAX line to the airport opened to the public. This still strikes me a truly weird historical coincidence. I took a lazy summer's day break from work and rode the train out to the end of the line and back, and thought how much easier air travel was going to be in the future.

    September 11th
    I didn't really know anything was wrong until part of the way through my commute into downtown Portland from the westside. At the underground Zoo station, a National Guard soldier was standing on the platform, automatic rifle at the ready. At that point it just seemed kind of odd. It didn't seem like something they'd do if there was just a criminal on the loose. So I already knew something unusual was going on.

    When I got off the train at Pioneer Courthouse Square, there were a few people standing around looking bewildered, or I seem to remember it that way in hindsight. The newspapers on the stands at that point didn't have anything unusual to say, so I figured I'd find out when I got to the office. A few blocks from the office, a car drove by with the news on, blaring. I couldn't hear what was going on, but the voice sounded agitated, and people usually don't drive around with the news turned up to 11. Something strange was definitely happening. So I walked the rest of the way to the office very quickly. I got to my desk, pulled up CNN, and saw everything. It took a long while to sink in. The unthinkable had happened.

    September 12th
    Some things can't wait, even when terrorists attack. It was the day after, and I had a birthday present to buy. The salesclerk said she thought it was a life-affirming act, and five years on that's still the best description I can think of. The people in DC who insist 9/11 changed everything are wimps. They wet their pants every time someone in a turban says "boo", and try to pass it off like it's the macho way to be. It's not. You grit your teeth, you pick up the usual quart of milk at the grocery store, you celebrate birthdays, you go on with life even when it seems the world's wheels are flying off, and you don't demand a medal for it. And you mourn the tragedy, for real, without ulterior motives. You don't wring your hands with glee over the partisan advantage you've just gained, and the wars you can start now, and the laws you can ignore. That would be unthinkable for any normal person. Clearly we are not ruled by normal people.

    On the train home, several people were openly sobbing. I almost joined in, but saved it for later. Teardrops would've been bad for the giftwrap.

    The Sky
    I don't remember a lot about the next few days, except that the weather was warm and beautiful and impossible to enjoy. I'll never forget the sky, pure and blue and absolutely empty. Empty, and silent. The jets were gone, the small planes were gone, it seemed even the birds were gone, somehow. On the day they lifted the flight ban, a light propeller plane flew over the house just before dawn, startling me awake. There were still a few hours before the ban expired, but there it was. I've never heard a single thing about that plane, but I know what I heard. Doubtless it's all classified, and I'll never know anything more about it. I wonder what it was like, being in that plane?

    That day I stood and watched jets in the sky. Contrails really are remarkable things, and after a few days' absence, nothing could be more beautiful.

    The NYSE
    Or, my not-very-narrow near-brush with post-9/11 heroism. My company at the time had a small supporting role in getting the New York Stock Exchange back up and running again after the attacks. A couple of people were on call in case there were problems, but I wasn't one of them, and there weren't any problems. Once or twice I imagined being strapped into a C-130, crossing the otherwise empty skies, laptop at the ready, the free world's economy hanging in the balance. That was never a serious possibility, but I still thought about it. And I admit that, on some level, I kind of hoped I'd be needed in some capacity. (Although that would have meant that the software I'd worked on was being problematic at a critical time, and I certainly didn't want that either.) After 3+ years of war in Iraq, I feel like a chump for ever daydreaming like that.

    The Afghan War
    I was glued to the TV. I was glued to the net. Even now I'd probably do very well in a trivia contest if the category was "recent military hardware". We'd just come off the Kosovo war (remember it?) in 1999, where I'd come to terms with not being a pacifist, so I never had qualms about Afghanistan. I still don't, really, although I think Bush & Co. have botched the postwar period, if you can really call it postwar. Then Iraq happened, and I remembered why I was so skeptical about war in the first place.

    Updated 9/11/2011: I changed my mind about Afghanistan a few years ago. It began to seem like a pointless exercise even before Bin Laden was offed. That occasion would have been the ideal time to declare victory and come home. But the powers that be are quite adamant that we have -- at minimum -- three more years of war to look forward to. I can't imagine what's driving that, other than a particularly fatal form of bureaucratic inertia.

    My company's HR director(!) forwarded a chain email to the whole company. You've probably seen it, or one like it, one of those things that goes on about how we saved the world from the Nazis and Commies and Redcoats and Grenadians, etc., and we've done so much for everyone, and the entire world hates us for it, wahhh. This was a just couple of days after the attack, and bore no resemblance whatsoever to how the world was reacting.

    I was furious. I put together a long email with links to all sorts of news stories, with people all over the world condemning the attacks and expressing support for us, including such seemingly unlikely places as Iran and Cuba. I assembled everything, and replied to all. Soon my inbox was full with private thank-you emails, including one from the CEO himself.

    I felt vindicated at the time. But in the end, the laugh was on me. Over the last few years, the self-pity folks have remade the world into the place they always imagined it to be. And what a terrible place it is.

    I keep thinking it was the same day, but it may not have been, that a religious group laid siege to my MAX stop heading hope. They all had ashes daubed on their foreheads, and were going around silently handing out leaflets. The leaflets were crudely drawn, with a plane hitting a building, a couple bible verses from one of the Old Testament's endless lamentations over Israel and Judea, plus a bonus exhortation that the end was near and it's time to repent, and God had allowed the evildoers to attack us because of our sinful ways. I kept one for a while, as a souvenir of a deeply strange time. Some months later, I dug it out and looked at it, and immediately ran it through the shredder.

    Looking back, the whole episode was creepy as hell. So why is it, again, that these crazies get to own our entire Middle East policy, and nobody else can get a word in edgewise?

    Blood Drive
    Like many people, I felt a need to do something about 9/11. Remember the huge, almost spontaneous blood drive right after the attacks? It wasn't a logical or a rational response, but it was necessary somehow, even if the Red Cross ended up quietly discarding most of the blood. I hesitated at first; I'd never done it before, because needles scare the hell out of me. Then I decided I needed to do it, precisely because needles scare the hell out of me, and this was no time for giving in to petty squeamishness. So I started looking around town for Red Cross vans and found one after a couple days. The nurse told me they were ok for blood for the time being, or something to that effect, and gave me a sign-up sheet so they could call me if they ever needed me. To this day, I haven't heard a word from them. If they called me today, I really don't know what I'd say.

    Day of Prayer
    There was a weekday shortly after the attacks, when the nation was encouraged to attend the church of their choice, for special memorial services and so forth. In hindsight it looks like an early example of the creepy Republican melding of war and religion, but we hadn't all cottoned on to them back then. This was in the middle of the day, and the office was encouraged to go. The usual HR rules were bent, as several people (including a few managers) sent out mails saying they were going to such-and-such church and they had room if anyone needed a ride. I thought about it for a few minutes. I am a confirmed nonbeliever, and have been since I was very young, although I was baptized Episcopalian back when I was too small to have a voice in the matter. And it's one of the few churches I still see as Mostly Harmless, so I did briefly consider going, but then I thought, no, as comforting as it might be, I'd still be pretending. I don't believe, and I don't want to believe, and just as it was no time to be afraid of needles, it was no time to be a hypocrite about core beliefs.

    Perhaps you've noticed I was trying extraordinarily hard to be all square-jawed and principled and more than a little self-righteous. I'm not bragging, nor am I apologizing, I'm just recording what I remember. And I remember thinking that was what the times called for. At least I didn't rush out and join the Army right after 9/11. I'm not criticizing people who chose to do that, but I know I'd be feeling extremely betrayed by a certain Commander in Chief, if I was in their boots. I'd feel I hadn't joined up to dodge IEDs in Fallujah just to boost Halliburton's bottom line. That would seem very, very wrong to me.

    In any case, I mention this particular incident because it was one of the first moments post-9/11 where the "unity" everyone reminisces about had broken down, and I couldn't participate in the big event without being a hypocrite.

    Flags Everywhere
    I also didn't join the rush to stick flags and patriotic slogans on every available surface. The flags were not an especially vivid memory for me right after the attacks; what I remember are the huge gas-guzzling SUVs with tattered, faded flags in their windows as the tanks rolled into Iraq.

    I'd like to give a good, principled reason why I didn't join the flag-n-banner brigade. I'd like to say something about scorning purely symbolic acts when real acton is required, something like that, but it wouldn't be true. The best I've got is that it just didn't seem like an authentic expression of how I felt, but I can't really explain why in any great detail.

    Instead, I found a beautiful, atmospheric photo of the WTC and made it my desktop background at the office, so that it was always right there. It stayed there until the Iraq war started.

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    OMG Broken Pony!!! LOL!!!

    omg broken pony

    If you live in Portland, and you've heard of the horse project, and you've ever wondered if it'll still be around in a few years, here's your answer. And that answer would be "no". Installing cute 'lil toy horses on our fair city's old horse-n-buggy rings is Art with a capital A. Going around replacing the broken ones every so often is Work. With a capital W. It's as exciting as mowing your lawn, and almost as creative. Someday the tedium will just be too much to bear, and the little ponies will go the way of the Church of Elvis.

    There's more about the sidewalk ponies here, and another photo (not by me) here, and another (also not by me) here. Oh, and more photos here, especially this one. (D'oh!) And just so we're all clear on this, despite my earlier mildly disparaging comments, I'm not actually in favor of people going around breaking anyone's art. While I can understand how all this aren't-we-special smugness could generate a backlash in short order, I'm absolutely not going to participate. Whether you agree with the artistic goals or not, vandalism just isn't very nice, I guess is what I'm trying to say here. Schadenfreude, on the other hand, is great fun, especially when the target's worked so hard to earn it. Quirkiness is fine. Deliberate, calculated quirkiness is kind of annoying. Add "cutesy" to the mix, and it's lethally aggravating. You could argue that I'm just being snarky and disagreeable about the ponies, which is probably true. Sadly, it is my way.

    [If you're curious about the title of this post, it's a reference to an earlier post of mine, which in turn plays off of Slashdot's big April Fool gag for the year. It's not a very good title, is it?]

    In any case, it's possible that the vandalism might, just might be an artistic act in itself. If artists never rebelled against other artists, we'd still be stuck with stupid bozotic allegorical paintings of Biblical scenes and Roman myths and fauns and cherubim and crap. So please, rebel, if you must. Just remember that if the public (i.e. myself, and anyone else who hasn't gone to grad school) supports you, or understands you, even, you aren't really rebelling, now are you? Let me appeal to our fair city's permanent inferiority complex: In a real city (i.e. Paris, Berlin, NYC, etc.), this would have still happened, but it would've happened for a reason. I mean, a reason other than "Whoa. Dude, let's break that."

    (I should note that I have a sad history of misidentifying quite ordinary objects and actions as conceptual art. So perhaps I'm not a reliable authority on the subject. Still, you have to admit the world would be far more interesting if I was right more often.)

    Some people (and I'm not one of them) might think this picture is Art as well. See, this horse is/was across the street from the mmm-tasty Pearl Bakery, in the heart of the artsy-pretencey Pearl District. I was walking by and decided to take a picture, because, well, the horse was broken and I thought it was funny. While I was doing so, a dumpy middle-aged couple wandered past, watching me closely. The way they were gawking, they must've been from the burbs, or from out of town, or they were rich Californians who'd just bought a gazillion-dollar condo in the Pearl. Apparently they thought they were observing an artiste in his natural habitat, like they were visiting the zoo, or witnessing the creation of the universe:

    Woman: Huh. Wow. I wonder what he's thinking about...?
    Man: Hoof... broken....

    And after that, an extended, slackjawed gape. Evidently, not only did they mistake me for an artist (the idiots), they also thought I was deaf. And blind. Which would be a real feat for a photographer, if I was one, which I'm not. I'm curious how they came to believe all that, but no matter. They continued watching me as they walked by, craning their necks to make sure they saw the crucial moment where I actually took this astonishing photo. And maybe they got their wish. I don't know; I wasn't paying attention at that point. Freakin' parasites. I mean, from the dialogue I heard it sounded like they'd possibly gotten the gist, or an inkling of the gist, of why I was taking the picture. But still. If you really want to know, be a civilized person and ask me directly, and I'll (pretend to) be happy to (attempt to) talk to you about it (maybe). Either do that, or shut the fuck up.

    Updated: It turns out that the Pearl Bakery location is a serious hot spot for plastic pony vandalism. Which sounds just absolutely dreadful, at least if you ignore the fact that three or four blocks directly east of here it's wall-to-wall hookers and crack dealers and drive-by shootings. Perspective can be a real bitch sometimes.

    Updated 9/1/10: Linkage + a photo credit from a blog called "The Sky Pukes Rainbow". Ok, cool, that seems to fit somehow.

    I'm not sure if the sidewalk ponies are still around these days as I haven't been looking lately and don't get over to the Pearl as often as I once did. The Church of Elvis, however, has returned. I didn't really expect to ever see that when I wrote this post.