Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014: The Year in Instagram Cat Photos

O Hai! #cat #Cathursday #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Around this time last year, I was one blog post shy of 200 for the year, and I decided to wrap things up with a big collection of Instagram cat photos. As it stands now, I'm one blog post shy of 400 for the year, and I think maybe I'll continue the tradition and finish off 2014 with another bunch of cat photos. Because everyone loves cat photos, or at least everyone who matters does. There aren't quite as many as last year; he's gotten pretty good at recognizing when I'm trying to take his picture, and then he always moves or runs off or stops doing whatever it is I wanted a photo of.

If only he had some inkling of what a cushy life it is to be an Internet celebrity cat. The world-famous Grumpy Cat is said to be worth upward of $100M, believe it or not. That would pay for a lot of bonito flakes, and a bonito flake concierge/sommelier to curate them on the cat's behalf. Believe me, I've tried to explain this opportunity more than once, but he remains as uncooperative as ever. Possibly even more so.

#Caturday in the sun. #cat #neko #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Sleepytime #cat #neko #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Sofa? Cat fort. #caturday #cat #neko #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Apparently this is comfy. #Caturday #cat #neko #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

#caturday #cat #neko #CatsOfInstagram

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on


A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Spending #caturday in a drawer

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Getting an early start on #caturday...

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Zzzz.... #cat

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Graaaaa!!!!! #cat

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

christmas in vegas (instagram)

Conservatory #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Andy Warhol mannequin, Polaroid museum #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Night #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Pretty sure we're not in Portland anymore... #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Chandelier #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

More chandelier #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

This seems ok. #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Airport sunset #vegas

A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on



A photo posted by brx0 (@brx0) on

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dekum Court Triangle

Today's mystery spot comes to us via a reader suggestion. Back in December 2012, Gentle Reader av3ed left a comment about a strange bit of open space in NE Portland, in the triangle formed by NE Saratoga, Dekum St. & 27th Avenue. The triangle is ringed by regular 1970s suburban houses, and then in the center there's a parcel of empty land (the comment called it a "triangular park-like green space"), with a pair of narrow access corridors between the houses. I'd never heard of the place before, so I looked up its PortlandMaps entry and noticed something very peculiar. It doesn't list an owner, and doesn't list any taxes being paid on the place. I've never seen that before. So I had a mystery on my hands.

So I drove by and took a photo of the "main entrance" corridor on Saratoga, which looks like a narrow weedy vacant lot between two houses, with a gap in the sidewalk where the corridor meets the street. I didn't stop and go in, since a.) I had no idea who owned the place, and b.) going in would have involved bushwhacking through tall grass and blackberries and mud and probably random garbage and whatnot. It didn't look promising. And really, the mystery is the interesting part here anyway, not the place itself in its current form.

Thanks to the library's Oregonian database, I was able to tease out the unusual backstory behind the place. Just north of here is the Portland Housing Authority's Dekum Court project, which began as WWII emergency housing, as part of the same effort that build other public housing projects around the city, notably the large project at Vanport City. Dekum Court was originally built as housing for NCOs stationed at the nearby Portland Air Base, which is today's Air National Guard base at the Portland Airport. The project was also significantly larger at the time, and included the area now built up with 1970s houses. This detail will become important shortly. After the war, residents of the surrounding neighborhood feared the complex would be turned into low-income housing and fought against it for years. The project was declared surplus after the Korean War and, as expected, was handed over to the Portland Housing Authority. Neighbors were angry, but could do nothing to stop it.

The buildings at Dekum Court had only been designed with a five year lifetime in mind, so by 1970 the complex was showing its age and the housing authority began a project to demolish and rebuild it in several phases. The housing authority director labeled the project a "slum" in 1971, while lobbying for funding for the second and third reconstruction phases. The authority then accelerated the process of boarding up and demolishing up to 75 existing units, with a pledge to build new units once funding became available.

But just then the Nixon administration placed an 18 month moratorium on construction of new public housing, leaving the site as vacant land for an extended period of time. The surrounding neighborhood had never come to terms with low-income housing in their midst, and the delay gave neighbors time to organize against the proposed replacement. By 1976, the rebuilding proposal was stalemated, as the housing authority fought with the Concordia neighborhood association about the future of the land. The association wanted either a park or low-density, single-family private homes, basically anything but new public housing. Neighbors worried about crime, noise, traffic, and most of all they feared upsetting the "racial balance" of the neighborhood, which was a semi-respectable way of saying they didn't want any more black neighbors. The authority insisted its hands were tied, as the 1955 purchase deal with the federal government bound them to use the area as public housing for at least 40 years. The director hinted darkly that if they did get permission to use the land for something else, they'd choose the biggest revenue-generating option, which would be high-density apartments. And then there would be over three times as many people here as there would under the public housing proposal. Nevertheless, the article suggested the association would likely win the battle eventually.

Despite its previous warning about the deed, the authority quickly got approval to sell the land, and started courting apartment developers. This triggered a second fight with the neighborhood association, as neighbors lobbied to rezone the land for single-family homes instead. The association prevailed in December 1977, and the land was officially "downzoned" by the city planning commission. The land was sold to J.W. Brayson, a homebuilding firm, in April 1978.

After yet another neighborhood battle, the homebuilder sold five lots back to the housing authority for use as a playground, but other than that the area was developed as a typical 1970s subdivision. Which looks a bit strange here in the middle of inner NE Portland, surrounded by century-old bungalow homes. The developers did a couple of odd things here. First, the subdivision was just called "Dekum Court", same as the controversial housing project that had been all over the news the past few years. If they'd talked to anyone who'd passed Marketing 101, they would have been told to choose a different name, any name other than Dekum Court.

Second, the subdivision's street layout formed a large triangle bordered by 27th, Dekum, and Saratoga. The developers built houses around the perimeter of the triangle and left a big unbuildable "donut hole" in the middle, i.e. the mystery spot this post is all about. Through all of the years of discussion and handwringing, this unused chunk of land never came up once in the discussion, at least not in the newspaper. I do know it isn't the isn't the playground space that the neighborhood argued over; the playground lots are on the north side of Saratoga, next to the present-day Head Start center. Although at present there is no playground there.

As for who owns this remnant land, a clue comes from a March 2012 meeting of the Concordia neighborhood association, with a brief item that appears to concern the mystery triangle here:

Further discussion Dekum Court/Housing Authority request: Who does the land belong to in that area? The housing authority owns 5 lots in 54 subdivision lot. It is a “planned unit development” and includes a 54 unit subdivision. Each of the owners of the subdivision own a divided interest in this parcel of land that was intended as common open space in the original plan. Dekum Court HOA (to be reconstituted) and housing authority are going to take look at property and come back and look into ideas on what to do with the land. In future could come to us and CU to help with area.

So this tells us the Dekum Court subdivision was supposed to have its own HOA, complete with a private community park (albeit one the city owns a ~9% stake in via the housing authority). The subdivision I grew up in out in Aloha had a similar HOA-and-parks arrangement, on a larger scale, and it seemed to work out pretty well. But here, the HOA fell apart at some point long ago, and the park never happened at all. And now, four decades later, today's residents aren't sure what to do with the place. I couldn't find a follow-up item indicating they'd come up with a plan, so I suppose it just stays a weedy lot for now.

Weather Beacon

[View Larger Map]

This blog has visited downtown Portland's Standard Plaza a couple of times, once for Ring of Time, the Guardian-of-Forever sculpture in front of the bulding's 6th Ave entrance. The 5th Ave. entrance was briefly home to Tri-Met, a relocated piece of transit mall art that's since been relocated again, reportedly to MHCC in Gresham this time. Today we're visiting the building again, but this time we're interested in the roof of the building, home to a 50 foot tower with a weather beacon on top. The beacon is a multicolored light that gives a rough, low-bandwith idea of the current weather forecast: It's red if temperatures are increasing, white if decreasing, and green if staying the same. It blinks if precipitation is expected, otherwise it's on solidly. This being Portland, it spends most of its time green (90% of the time, according to a 2012 article), and usually blinking. You wouldn't know that from my photos. When I take a photo of it, inevitably either it's just blinked off, or it's impossible to tell whether it's lit or not due to the light & angle. Somehow I've never managed to take a photo of the beacon that I like, which is the main reason this post has been sitting around in drafts for ages. If I do get better photos at some point, I'll just add them to the set and delete all this griping about it.

Anyway, the beacon was added to the shiny new Standard Insurance building in 1963, and officially dedicated on July 24th by a former Miss Raindrop, whatever that is. The Standard building was already the tallest in town, and the beacon gave it a little extra height and put a landmark on top. An article about the new building notes that keeping the beacon up to date involved phoning the Weather Bureau three times a day for the latest forecast. Meanwhile the operators of the Weather Machine in Pioneer Courthouse Square rely on once-daily updates, the lazy schlubs.

The current beacon replaced a similar 1950 beacon (which used the same weather code) on the company's previous offices at SW 9th & Washington. The older building was sold to a medical group, and the new owners considered a few options for repurposing the old beacon, such as indicating births for the year, or traffic fatalities. (The giant Vulcan statue in Birmingham, AL served as a traffic fatality indicator for many years, which always sounded really creepy to me.) Eventually the doctors chose "none of the above" and dismantled the old beacon in 1965.

Unfortunately the beacon isn't quite the local landmark it once was, now that taller buildings have grown up all around the Standard building. (The linked article is from 1985, and matters haven't exactly improved since then.) You can still see it from selected locations around town. It's no substitute for checking your phone's weather app, but it's nice that it still exists. There's something sort of cozy and retro about it, and its Twitter account (because of course it has one) is kind of fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


So it's December 20th again, which means this humble blog just turned nine years old, and I guess it's time for a birthday post. I don't always do these. I did one last year, and one in 2010 for birthday no. 5, and one close to birthday no. 3 to mark post no. 700, which for some reason seemed like a big milestone at the time. And then there's year one (when I had a nasty head cold), and of course the original post that got it all going, for good or ill. I thought there were more of these around, but apparently not.

In any case, I suppose it's time for a semi-occasional status update about what this humble blog is and where it's going. You may have noticed there have been a whole lot of posts here this year; in fact the current total for the year is slightly more than the previous two years combined, and it's the most I've done in any single year since this thing began. Couple of reasons for this: First, I've also picked up a couple of new ongoing art subprojects (i.e. things to track down and write about) this year, namely murals and City Repair painted intersections. Not only are they interesting new projects (to me), but it turns out the resulting posts are pretty straightforward to put together. Murals and painted intersections generally don't have a long history to sort through, or lots of trivia to triage. Writing to the point where I feel I've covered the subject properly usually doesn't take more than a few hours or more than 8-10 paragraphs tops. So I've done a lot of those this year.

Second reason is that my whole blog post procoess has become more streamlined and efficient this year. Explaining this is going to involve a peek inside the sausage factory, to give you an idea of how blog posts come about. I occasionally talk about my ginormous TODO list that I'm forever adding things to. For most of this blog's existence, the list was just a text file. Once it grew to a certain size, I broke it down into sections by geography, with list items color coded by subject: Parks were green, waterfalls blue, bridges red (due to the Broadway Bridge), art brown for no particular reason, and a couple of other color codes I've forgotten. There was also a code to indicate how far along an item was: "Need photos", "Have photos, but no post created yet", "Unfinished draft post", and "Draft post, but no photos yet", and a couple of other statuses. Items were removed from the list when a post was published. So that worked ok for a while, and I mostly retained the system when I moved everything to Evernote. I kept running into situations where I'd realize I'd just been two blocks away from an item on the big TODO list, and didn't realize it at the time because the list was unwieldy. So I switched to a Google map, with a placemark for each TODO item, which makes it easy to plan a route and hit six or ten TODO items where otherwise I might have managed one or two.

As for the photos themselves, I still own my DSLR but I don't always like lugging a big camera around, so most posts this year have actually been phone photos. Obviously it's a step down, camerawise, but it's quite a bit more convenient, since Flickr's Android app syncs your photos to your account automagically. There's still a chunk of busywork I have to do by hand: Creating a Flickr photoset with the desired photos; creating a draft blog post; adding an embedded Flickr slideshow to the post, along with any notes I have about the place or thing in question; attaching the location, labels, and maybe embedding a map if it's warranted. Once that's done, I save it as a draft, delete the placemark, and add it to a keeping-track-of-drafts Evernote note. That note is sometimes organized by done-ness, sometimes by subject, sometimes by interesting-ness, depending on what makes sense at the time. Once a post goes live, I take it off the list. For this system to work, it helps a lot if you're ok with arbitrarily large numbers of placemarks and drafts without feeling pressured or like you're falling behind.

It used to be the case that sorting and uploading photos was the big bottleneck. Now it's the actual writing that's the bottleneck, which is probably as it should be. I don't see writing as a chore; it just inherently takes longer than the photo stuff does. Particularly since I try to maintain some quality standards here. It would be the easiest thing in the world to cut corners and just write "dude check this out" with each photoset, if I wanted to go that direction. I like having a near-daily writing exercise, though, and taking shortcuts defeats the point. To give you some idea, I went back and forth for a long time about whether I could post the Lownsdale & Chapman Square posts without digging into the Oregonian newspaper database for the complete history of the two Plaza Blocks. I ended up skipping the history deep-dive because I really wasn't that interested, but it took me a couple of months of dithering to get to that point, and I still feel kind of bad about it. So I'm not going to totally rule out going back and adding it later.

So right now I have eleven drafts and eleven days left in the year, and a goal of zero drafts by New Years. To be honest I'm not sure I'll pull that off, since most of the remaining items are posts I stalled out on months ago. Sometimes I had too much material, other times I couldn't quite bash the material into a coherent shape, and sometimes I just had the tone all wrong and need to rewrite everything. So one post per day is optimistic, and furthermore I'm on vacation the rest of the year and I just might decide I don't want this kind of pressure while I'm on vacation. Though I'd still like to hit the magic 400 mark, at least.

So at whatever point I do hit zero drafts, I get to turn around and repopulate it from the other drafts folder. Oh, I didn't mention that part. Back on October 1st I noticed I had 99 posts in Drafts. That felt like a lot, so that's when I decided to aim for zero drafts by year's end. But I didn't want to stop taking new photos, so I grabbed the unused Drafts folder of a disused sibling of this blog and started filling it up instead. And, um, it's up to about 130 drafts now, mostly art and murals. So I already have a lot of material lined up for next year.

Regarding next year, I have a very short list of goals. A target number of posts is not one of them. I tend to think of this year as an aberration and not a number to match or beat. 200 would be fine. Burning through the drafts I already have and taking the rest of the year off would be weird and out of character, but fine. Anyway, goal number one is to avoid starting posts in a formulaic way. "Here are a few photos of..." has been done to death. "Our next adventure..." and "The next installment in..." are better, but still overused. Second, I should really bring back the DSLR photos sometimes. Photography is part of the fun of this blog, but I've kind of lost focus on that lately, so to speak. Third, use fewer qualifiers, like the "kind of" I just used. Fourth, travel more, so I have more travel photos. I've said before that the prospect of travel photos gets me to travel, but that didn't exactly happen this year, and when I don't have travel photos, I end up tracking down ugly local bridges nobody cares about and writing about those instead, and I did a little too much of that this year. Oh, and fifth, I should probably improve my KML skills. A while ago I wrote a small program to convert GeoRSS (which I get from exporting this blog to a big XML file) into KML for use in Google Earth and whatnot. I ran the program against a recent export and ended up with over 2000 placemarks in the file, which actually made Google Earth crash. I understand there are smarter ways of organizing KML than a flat list of placemarks, and it appears to be time for me to learn more about that.

Anyway, that's the birthday post for this year. This time next year it'll be a full decade of humble blogging, which is kind of frightening. I suppose that's going to require a retrospective over the previous ten years. I feel old and tired already just thinking about writing that post.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pioneer Courthouse Square expedition

[View Larger Map]

Several months ago, I had what I thought was a great idea. I was nose-down in work projects and didn't have a lot of free time to go take photos, so I was looking at what else I could do with photos I already had. I did a bit of digging out old film photos and scanning them, and that was kind of fun, but I also realized I had a lot of photos from places that weren't obscure enough to merit posts here, including Multnomah Falls, Chapman & Lownsdale Squares, and the subject of today's adventure, Pioneer Courthouse Square. So I gathered existing photos into Flickr photosets, created draft posts, and... promptly moved on to more compelling topics, by which I mean places and things that haven't already been written up in every single Portland tourist guide ever written. So these posts all lingered around in my Drafts folder until now, and I'm dealing with them now because I'm trying to get to zero drafts by the end of the year.

So with that not-very-inspiring introduction, let me tell you a couple of things about Pioneer Courthouse Square. Some people (myself not included) call it "Portland's Living Room". It's a brick plaza in the heart of downtown Portland, across the street from the historic federal Pioneer Courthouse, hence the name. It hosts concerts and farmers markets all summer, and the city's official nonsectarian Holiday Tree (as well as the Holiday Ale Festival) each winter, and some Rose Festival flower displays each spring. When there isn't an event going on, it's kind of a weird empty space, and people tend not to linger in the flat, open part of the square. That's the big defect of the place, and a major reason it's not my favorite public space in the city. The other sorta-defect is that the restaurant space in the NW corner of the square has been occupied by a Starbucks for nearly the entire lifetime of the square. If I recall correctly it was the first Starbucks in Portland, dating back to the late 1980s, so it's technically a historic Starbucks, but it's still just a Starbucks.

Every Portland history book will tell you the story of how, back in the mid-1980s, today's square replaced an ugly surface parking lot. Which in turn replaced the Victorian-era Hotel Portland, an ornate Second Empire structure that was either amazingly beautiful or a haunted Gothic horror, depending on your aesthetic preferences. The hotel in turn displaced the city's New England-esque Central School Building, because tearing down a school to make room for a swanky hotel is an entirely reasonable and legitimate thing to do. I have yet to learn what (if anything) was here before the school went in. I thought about digging in and researching it, but given the prominence of the square I assume someone has already done the research, and the reason I don't already know the answer is that the answer isn't very interesting. It was probably just wooden pioneer shacks. Saloons and a general store, most likely. Possibly some farm supplies or something.

Anyway, the reason I already had photos of the square is that I've covered some individual features of the square in previous posts. Somehow they seemed sufficiently obscure on their own, while the square as a whole didn't. Anyway, the previous posts include:

Also potentially of interest: Running Horses, a sculpture that used to be located in the square. It was moved to the Transit Mall several years ago, I think in conjunction with the new MAX tracks along 5th & 6th Avenues. Oh, and I have a few photos of that time in 2011 when the Stanley Cup visited Portland and made an appearance here. So yeah.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kiosk Kiosk Kiosk

Back in March of this year, I was walking past downtown Portland's tiny & neglected Ankeny Park when I noticed a big black plywood cube occupying the middle of the square, in front of the old fountain. It was obviously some sort of art whatzit, so I took a few photos and hit the interwebs to figure out what I was looking at. There were even free brochures in a box next to the cube, so I grabbed one of those too.

I was all ready to roll with an art post. I was going to brag about how I was on top of current events for a change. I'd figured out it was a temporary installation as part of this year's Portland Biennial, a big contemporary art event organized by Disjecta. I discovered it was called Kiosk Kiosk Kiosk and had a twin in Jamison Square. I found Twitter and Instagram photos of it. But then I dug into what the thing was supposed to be about, and the post quickly went on the backest of back burners. The art's been gone for months now, and I'm only now getting around to posting about it at the end of the year, as I'm cleaning out my Drafts folder.

You might notice the sides of the cube have words cut into them. These are brief quotes from a gentleman named John Zerzan, who advocates for a political philosophy called "anarcho-primitivism". The idea, I gather, is that ancient hunter-gatherer societies were an unstructured, leaderless utopia, and humanity must return to this primal utopian state. Getting there involves abolishing modern technology, science, medicine, agriculture, domestic animals, logic, mathematics, art, even symbolic thought. I am not making this up. I am not sure where they stand on abandoning bipedalism and going about on all fours. As a data point, Zerzan used to be buddies with Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, but they had a falling out and Kaczynski now calls Zerzan crazy. How this got into the local Biennial is anyone's guess.

The observant viewer will quickly notice that the kiosks are made of plywood (an industrial product), painted with spray paint (another industrial product), and presumably the words themselves were cut with a power tool of some sort. The pieces all fit together because they were measured (i.e. math was involved). These pieces were created elsewhere and presumably moved here with the help of technology of some sort -- even bikes and horses count as verboten modern technology if you're taking anarcho-primitivism seriously, as I understand it. The kiosks' existence was announced on the internet, which involved technology last time I checked. And of course they're art, and are all about symbolic thought & communication. They're literally covered in words. So the charitable course would be to assume this was was intentional and the art is an ironic statement about hypocrisy and political art, something along those lines. I'd call it reasonably clever work in that case, I mean, it got me annoyed enough to rant about it, which almost nothing does. Unfortunately I haven't seen any indication that that's actually true, though; as far as I can tell, the kiosks were all about true believers proselytizing in an especially ill-conceived way. Which is disappointing. Or maybe the ambiguity is intentional and part of the art too. I have no idea.

You can probably tell already that primitivism -- anarcho- or otherwise -- holds very little interest to me as an ideology. Software engineering is my day job. It interests me, and it's what I'm good at. I'm... skeptical that I would be better off junking it all and running around in a loincloth trying to spear a moose or something. And frankly the whole concept strikes me as yet another kooky idea from a bearded old white man who wants to play Old Testament prophet. It's the oldest and most tiresome schtick in the book. Apocalyptic vision of a hopeless future: Check. Ascetic hairshirt ideas in response, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth, ashes, sackcloth, etcetera: Check. Legions of adoring acolytes, who (presumably) will be spared the coming doom: Check. I yawn just reciting the checklist. This is far from the only contemporary example, obviously. See also the Dark Mountain Project, Edenhope, and the US Revolutionary Communist Party. Oh, and pretty much every religion ever.

Still, I can see how some people (likely of a young and impressionable bent) might be temporarily intrigued by the idea. And that's fine. I'd wager that all anthropology undergrads spend about a semester as anarcho-primitivists (albeit largely non-practicing ones), idealizing hunter-gatherer societies as the source of all that's right and good in the world. Sometimes it takes more than a semester to wear off. Occasionally it never does.

If that describes you, and yet you're somehow here on the internet reading this, I have a bit of unsolicited advice. A common criticism of all flavors of primitivism is "If living as a Stone Age hunter-gatherer is as great as you say, why aren't you doing it?". Proponents apparently argue this is an ad-hominem attack, and terribly unfair. I would suggest, instead, that it's your golden opportunity to convince a skeptical public that it's a superior way of life. This is the problem with any utopian idea of any ideological stripe: You can talk all you want about the idea's merits, but the bulk of society will remain unconvinced without a concrete example to look at. If you want people to abandon their suburban tract houses and minivans, and head off to the forest to forage for roots and grubs, you should expect a serious sales job; not everyone will simply take your word for it that this is the One True Way.

And the inevitable followup question: When the sheeple decline to wake up, despite your efforts, what does Plan B look like? That is, if convincing them fails, is coercion next? I realize that sort of goes against the "voluntary cooperation" school of anarchist thought. But if your overarching goal is to end civilization by any means necessary, and put an end to agriculture, technology, and medicine -- public opposition be damned -- I don't see how you can pull that off without it becoming a dystopian nightmare. People who know how to grow crops or mill grain would be enemies of the State (and you'd clearly need a State to police all of this, despite all the anarcho-talk). You'd need to drive people out of their evil, technologically-produced homes, take away their livelihoods, and even grab their pets away, all in the name of ideological purity. Use of the few remaining tools would be heavily regulated, lest it re-evolve into prohibited technology. Doctors, too, would be enemies of the new regime, along with anyone upset over the now-astronomical infant mortality rate. And then there's the really big problem, namely that you can't support the Earth's current population on nothing but foraged berries and grubs and the occasional squirrel, and your idea requires the mass starvation of almost everyone. In short, trying to put this into practice would win you an express ticket to a courtroom in The Hague, and the word "madman" next to your name in all the history books.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation

[View Larger Map]

Here are a few more old scanned photos from the Georgia coast, this time of the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, a state park near the small coastal city of Brunswick. This area was once a rice plantation, cut into a coastal salt marsh, and prior to the Civil War it operated on slave labor. I've read was one of the harshest slavery-based industries, largely due to disease and working conditions. The rice fields have long since gone back to salt marsh, but the (relatively modest) plantation house survives. The state delicately mentions that the plantation declined after the Civil War; apparently the economic model didn't pencil out so well without slave labor.

These photos are from the mid-1990s, during the brief "New South" era, back when the media kept telling us the South had finally gotten over its ugly past and was ready to join the 20th Century. We were just there to look at the salt marsh and didn't visit the house, but the exhibits we saw tried to play up the environmental education angle, and avoided talking about how the work got done, if they could avoid it. The only good thing I can say about denial, in this case, is that it probably replaced something else that was worse. I assume there would have been the usual cliches about how happy the slaves were, how benevolent the owners were, and how it was all one big happy Gone With the Wind antebellum family, full of cotillions and hoop skirts and genteel high society doings and whatever. This was almost 20 years ago and there's been a lot of backsliding since then; I'm still not sure they're ready to join the 20th Century. Under the current political climate, I suspect the signage will revert to the themes of the bad old days sooner or later, since there's a huge market -- ok, a huge Caucasian market -- for misty-eyed Old South nostalgia.

As far as I'm concerned, there's only one right way to deal with old plantation houses in the 21st Century. You bulldoze them -- yes, even the historic, extra-genteel ones; especially those ones -- and put up memorials to the victims of slavery and segregation, and you make sure every school kid in the region sees at least one memorial on a field trip, and you don't sugar coat it. You take away the space for people to wax nostalgic about those days, you make sure that isn't a respectable opinion anymore, and you try to prevent the bad old days from returning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lownsdale Square

View Larger Map

Our next exciting sideshow is from Lownsdale Square, one of the two Plaza Blocks in downtown Portland along with Chapman Square. From the city's description:

The Plaza Blocks were lively places where orators held forth and citizens assembled. They are characterized in part by several large old elms and gingko trees. Chapman Square, originally designed for the exclusive use of women and children, features all female gingko trees. Lownsdale Square was to be the "gentlemen's gathering place." Today the Plaza Blocks are still a busy gathering place, although men and women can now safely coexist in either of them.

As befits a Victorian-era manly-man city park, Lownsdale Square has a mens restroom, and a variety of war memorials: The Soldier Monument at the center of the square, along with the Ft. Sumter Cannons at its base, and the Fountain for Company H along 4th Ave. It has almost everything a hearty man of the 1890s might need, except possibly a section where gents with handlebar mustaches could show off their boxing and weightlifting prowess and generally try to catch the eye of the ladies in the next park over.

There are a few other less obviously gendered features to the place, as well. The Thompson Elk statue sits nearby in a traffic island between the two blocks. If you look closely you'll also see the tiny Benchmark Zero marker at the base of the Soldier Monument, if you're really into surveying stuff. And like Chapman Square, the park has many ginkgo trees, which drop large quantities of waxy nuts with a disgusting odor each fall. These nuts are reportedly quite delicious if prepared correctly. I actually wouldn't mind trying that, but I'm not inclined to gather them and try preparing them myself, and I'm not sure where one would go to buy them.

Chapman Square

[View Larger Map]

Our next adventure takes us to Chapman Square, one of downtown Portland's two Plaza Blocks. For much of the city's history, these two city blocks were the only downtown parks other than the Park Blocks. They also border several major civic buildings, namely the county courthouse, the Portland Building, the Justice Center, and the federal courthouse, and city hall is right next door. So you'd think they'd have a prominent role in the city, but you'd be wrong. The official holiday tree goes up in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Concerts are held there, speeches are made there, even a farmers market is held there. Large public events happen in Waterfront Park. Here, nothing. Office workers sit on the park benches and eat their lunches in good weather, and homeless people sometimes sleep in the park, and photographers wander around taking photos, but that's about it.

From the city's description:

The Plaza Blocks were lively places where orators held forth and citizens assembled. They are characterized in part by several large old elms and gingko trees. Chapman Square, originally designed for the exclusive use of women and children, features all female gingko trees. Lownsdale Square was to be the "gentlemen's gathering place." Today the Plaza Blocks are still a busy gathering place, although men and women can now safely coexist in either of them.

The gender segregation aspect is the one unusual historical detail about the two squares. A couple of vestiges of this remain: Chapman Square contains only a womens restroom, while the mens room is on the far side of Lownsdale Square. Macho-man Lownsdale Square also contains several war memorials, while Chapman has none. Other than that, the two parks are leafy, green city squares of a rather formal 19th Century design. An old chain sorta-fence around both squares tries to discourage people from hanging out on the grass, with mixed success.

To the south of Chapman Square is Terry Schrunk Plaza, which looks like a third Plaza Block but technically isn't. It's a federally-owned park on top of a federal parking garage, and it only dates to the 1970s, so it just doesn't count.

Instead of war stuff, Chapman Square is home to a silly guns-n-Bibles pioneer sculpture called The Promised Land, as well as a small Benson Bubbler in the center of the square, and a historical marker on SW 3rd commemorating the nation's first long distance electrical transmission, from the power plant at Willamette Falls to this very spot.

More recently, Chapman Square was the center of the city's Occupy Portland encampment in 2011, with a big communal kitchen built around the pioneers. That may have been the most excitement the square has seen in decades, and City Hall has been quite avid to prevent a repeat. Even now, they'll pepper spray you (or worse) if you so much as look at the Plaza Blocks while carrying a tent, or anything that vaguely resembles a tent.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pics: Multnomah Falls

About a year ago, I did a post about Shady Creek Falls, the smaller waterfall along the trail up to the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls. I realized at that point that I'd never actually done a dedicated post here about Multnomah Falls, and I semi-promised I'd do one at some point. So I duly created a draft post, added a photoset of all my Multnomah Falls photos (though I had fewer of those than I thought), and... nothing. The falls are one of the state's iconic tourist attractions, and I've had a year to come up with a fresh and interesting perspective on them, and I haven't come up with anything. I'm usually better at dealing with obscure stuff, and I hope that's not just due to the lack of competition. Anyway, like I usually say about famous stuff, you can Google it as well as I can.

If you're from out of town and somehow stumbled on this post among all the Multnomah Falls web pages across the interwebs, be sure to take the Columbia River Highway instead of I-84 if you have time. Quite a few other waterfalls to look at, several of which I like better than Multnomah, to be honest. Latourell Falls might be my favorite, unless maybe it's Elowah Falls. Anyway, be sure to spend lots of money at the Multnomah Falls gift shop while you're there. No sales tax in Oregon, dontcha know.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

White River Falls

[View Larger Map]

Today's adventure takes us out to White River Falls, an Oregon state park about 30 miles south of The Dalles, on highway 216 between Tygh Valley and Sherars Falls. This spot is out in the middle of Oregon wheat country, with dry, rolling hills, and it's surprising to find a substantial river here, much less a huge waterfall. The name is a clue: The White River flows east off of Mt. Hood toward the Deschutes, and glacial sediment in the water sometimes gives the river a milky look.

I really didn't know anything about this place until a coworker visited early this year. He somehow managed to break an ankle on the trail down to the base of the falls. He insisted it was still worth visiting, broken ankle or no, so I figured it might be worth a look. I wasn't disappointed. It's one of the secret gems of Oregon's state park system, and I absolutely recommend it. It's totally worth the trip. Just don't break your ankle. Or if you do, be sure to have someone else drive you home instead of messing your ankle up even further. Or if you absolutely have to drive home, maybe go see a doctor right away instead of waiting a week or two and self-medicating with cheap vodka. Don't be that coworker of mine, basically.

Anyway, the state park system only acquired the falls in 1969. Before that, the site was owned by a local electric utility, and the falls were home to a small early 20th century hydroelectric plant. By 1960 the plant was considered obsolete (the article compares it to a Ford Model T), and it was taken out of service when the Dalles Dam opened. The old plant was just abandoned in place, though, and much of its infrastructure remains in place, including an old stone powerhouse with several vintage turbines inside. I'm actually saving that for a separate post, simply because I took way too many photos of both the falls and the hydroelectric ruins, and I'm fairly sure nobody would page through that large of a Flickr slideshow. I'm not sure people page through any of my slideshows to be honest, but it felt like a giant 80+ photo slideshow would be overdoing it.

The one unfortunate thing about the park is that the trail down to the river peters out part of the way down. It branches out into a bunch of use paths, and it's hard to tell which path is the right way down to the bottom, and you could easily break an ankle if you aren't careful. I had to backtrack a couple of times before I figured it out. Upgrading it to a proper trail wouldn't be that difficult or expensive, I imagine. The state may have realized that a nice paved trail to the bottom would mean more people visiting the rickety old powerhouse, and sooner or later someone would get hurt there and sue. And renovating and tourist-proofing the powerhouse looks expensive. They'd probably want to put a new roof on the building, and pick up all the sharp rusty tetanus bits lying around, and make sure there aren't any PCBs left over from the old electrical gear, and ideally turn the whole thing into some sort of interpretive center, possibly with a park ranger or at least seasonal volunteers. I think that's worth doing, but White River Falls is far away from the state's major cities and almost nobody has ever heard of it, so it's never gotten the same level of attention that a place like Silver Falls does.

Here are some assorted items about the falls, from across the interwebs:

  • Some general articles about the falls, most with the same obvious "hidden gem" angle I'm going with, at OregonLive, the Salem Statesman-Journal,, and Hikelandia.
  • A forum thread at Portland Hikers Field Guide with lots of photos.
  • A blog post about the falls by @BJDorr
  • From the library's Oregonian database, an 1893 proposed railroad from Portland to White River Falls (and presumably points east), on the idea that this was the only viable route through the Cascades in Oregon. This railroad was never built. The river-level route along the Columbia existed, so I suppose they were looking for a competitor. The current rail route over the S. Cascades from Cottage Grove over to Chiloquin / Klamath Falla came later, if I'm not mistaken.
  • A circa-1895 grist mill at the top of the falls, of which no obvious traces remain. It's a logical thing to do here in the middle of wheat country.
  • An Oregonian piece from 1903 about an early photographer going on a wagon journey around Eastern Oregon, photographing the area's unknown and overlooked sights, while also making himself available to do portraits. His wagon was outfitted as a complete photography operation, complete with darkroom, and decorated with examples of his work. That was probably quite a sight when it rolled into a dusty ranch town. Itinerant photographers were a staple of old classic Western films, and here we have a little evidence that at least one actually existed just like in the movies.
  • Historic Hood River has a vintage photo from the hydropower days, with a forest of wires connecting the hydro plant to the outside world.
  • The falls merit an entry in something called the Encyclopedia of Forlorn Places, thanks to the derelict powerhouse.
  • A WyEast Blog piece on the falls, concerning a rejected 2010 proposal for a new hydro project here, and a counterproposal for a major expansion and enhancement of the state park.
  • Incredibly, the falls appear in a large photoset of people kayaking over waterfalls. So either it's been done at least once, or someone has excellent Photoshop skills.
  • A kayak website informs us that the lower (and more kayak-able) cascade of the falls is proposed to be named "Celestial Falls". Which I guess isn't a bad name, assuming the lower cascade needs a name of its own.
  • During the 1980s there was a controversy around stocking the river above the falls with hatchery salmon. Apparently the state had decided that a good way to make up for all the habitat destroyed by dams would be to introduce salmon to places they had never been before. The idea was publicly broached in a 1984 Oregonian op-ed. A 1985 study by ODFW & the US Forest Service insisted that introducing salmon was a great idea, even though it would cost millions of dollars and would likely displace native trout species upstream of the falls. 1989 saw the final agreement to begin stocking the river, and that's the last I've seen about the idea. So I don't know whether it actually went ahead or not. The obvious problem, to me, with this plan is that baby salmon would eventually follow their seagoing instincts and head downstream to certain doom at the falls. None of the articles explain how the state planned to get around that little detail.