Saturday, December 23, 2006

Modern Santa debuts in Civil War political cartoon

Santa, as we have come to know him, first appeared on the cover of the Jan. 3, 1863 Harper's Weekly magazine in a Thomas Nast cartoon.

It wasn't a pretty sight as the big elf actually appears to be hanging an effigy of Jefferson Davis.

Davis was the president of the Southern Confederacy; Nast was a Northerner working for the abolitionist Harper's Weekly.

Santa? Well, he was up for grabs.

There's a lot more going on in the cartoon, as described on the web site of the Son of the South.

I have gleaned some other mildly irreverent facts about Christmas from a card I used to send out called "The Truth about Christmas."

Illustration courtesy
Son of the South
Civil War site,
used with permission

• The Christian church didn't celebrate Christ's birth until the 4th Century A.D. Deaths of martyrs, not births, were celebrated before then. The Easter season was BIG, long before Christmas.

• The Bible doesn't mention a date for the nativity. December 25 was probably appropriated from pagan worship, and many Christmas rituals are derived from pagan observances of the winter solstice.

• The earliest mass exchange of gifts and the commercialization of Christmas started in the mid-Nineteenth Century.

• Thanks to the "Christmas Spirit," as much as 50 percent of sales in some retail categories occur between the end of October and December.

May our celebration of this season, with its many traditions, renew our efforts to bring Peace on Earth.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Reflections in Time's mirror

So Time magazine's cover says that "You" (who, me?) are the "Person of the Year."

According to Time, each of us deserves the recognition because we are empowered by the medium I'm using right now to reach you...and that you can use to reach me.

We are empowered by our new webs of connection.

But the fact is that once we log off, it's back to reality, and reality these days is a dangerous place.

War, terrorism, global warming and, yes, nuclear annihilation. You know the list.

Look into Time's cover, which is a literally a mirror. There is a warning there. Our focus on self and cyberspace may threaten the future of the planet.

Certainly this medium motives, educates, informs, mobilizes and inspires. It forges friendships and creates new communities, of a sort.

But it also diverts, distorts, deceives, demeans, trivializes and addicts.

The Internet will be what we make it through our choices as individuals, and as a society. What we say and portray, and read and see in cyberspace increasingly will determine what we do in the world beyond the margins of Time magazine's cover and the frames of our computer screens.

Will the web, with all its power and allure, engage us in or disengage us from the work we need to do?

A couple nights ago, I was reminded of our vulnerability as I was reading Lewis Thomas' "Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony."

Thomas was a research pathologist, medical school dean, and astute essayist. His essays often illuminated the "big picture" by looking at small things, including cells, insects and words.

He died in 1993, an eon ago as technology shapes time.

One essay in "Late Night Thoughts..." (the book was a score at the Hillsdale Holiday Book Sale), offers this about the state of pre-Internet humanity:

"So far, we have learned how to be useful to each other only when we collect in small groups — families, circles of friends, once in a while (although still rarely) committees. The drive to be useful is encoded in our genes. But when we gather in very large numbers, as in the modern nation-state, we seem capable of levels of folly and self-destruction to be found nowhere else in all of Nature....As a species, taking all in all, we are still too young, too juvenile to be trusted."

Thomas wrote that 20 years ago, but his words resonate with the questions I'm asking: Have we, as a species, matured in two remarkable decades? Will the Internet make the difference? Will our social and technological evolution be joined in time to save us?

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Unity? Vision? We got it, now show us the money!

In yesterday's "In Portland" section, Fred Leeson has written a hand-wringer about the plight, and potential, of West Portland Town Center. That's where Barbur and Capitol Highway converge in a messy intersection near the I-5 on-ramp headed south.

The center has no center. It defies affection. The WPTC, along with "the Barbur corridor," were never included in the Southwest Community Plan because folks couldn't agree on what to do about them—nor did they much care.

The business association along Barbur was a disgruntled handful of guys who gathered at the Golden Touch largely to carp about City Hall. Their vision extended as far as their omelettes and hash browns.

But now the Barbur/WPTC area is getting some outside attention because TriMet is making vague mutterings about running light rail out Barbur (Don't forget a spur to PCC Sylvania!).

Moreover, high-rise development along Barbur is looking more and more attractive and lucrative (vis. the South Waterfront and the Pearl). The tacky thoroughfare holds promise for lofty, tony habitation and commerce.

Ever check out the knockout view of Mt. Hood from the top of the I-5 rise?

Despite the promise, businesses and residents remain tepid about doing anything.

So here's what gets me...

WPTC's doldrums are in marked contrast to the craving for change in the Hillsdale Town Center. Here we carry around a list of action items: a civic plaza, a solar-heated cover for the farmers market, a master plan for the Hillsdale Triangle, expansion of DeWitt Park, undergrounding Capitol Highway utilities, and sidewalks on Sunset.

But in Leeson's story, Metro Counselor Robert Liberty, who represents this area and knows Hillsdale's desires well, says that unless WPTC and Barbur show some enthusiasm, "unity of vision and purpose," don't count on Metro to put any money into the area.

Don't believe it, West Portland. Here in the Metro-designated Hillsdale Town Center we are bursting with vision, purpose and enthusiasm...and we are still begging for funds to move us forward.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Portland values: Another voice

More from the massive visionPDX response book....

The outreach questionnaire asked how Portland can be improved. Going through hundreds of pages of responses, I came across this "voice."

I think there is a serious split in the community along racial lines, and that more emphasis needs to be placed on making sure those who aren’t white and middle-class get more attention paid to issues of educational excellence and opportunity for their children as well as support services for their communities. There need to be more sincere outreach to the city’s black community, to bring people into the public discourse and decision-making positions in the city.

This was not a lone voice. Many others underscore the importance of educational opportunity and complained about inequity in the schools.

Your turn: How can Portland improve? How can Hillsdale improve?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Valuing Portland: Can you relate?

From my big visionPDX binder with all its hundreds of responses about the future of the city, I've retrieved a few comments about Portland.

Those of you who filled out the questionnaire last summer and fall, may recall a question about what you value about Portland.

Here's what one person wrote. Can you relate?

No, really, can you? Will you? Comments please!

I value that people wait for the crosswalk to say “walk” before they cross.

I value that people thank the bus driver for the ride when they get off the bus.

I value bike traffic in the morning.

I value the parks and the access to nature, the water and the woods for myself and my dog.

I value the arts and culture and local food and beer and wine.

I value running into people I know on the street.

I value a big downtown university.

I value crossing a river on a historic bridge everyday.

I value farmers markets and beer festivals and salsa dancing under the bridge.

I value the diversity I find—the hipsters and punks and businessmen, gays and straights, newcomers and fifth generation Oregonians, all on the same streets in the same neighborhoods.

I value cops on bikes…..


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sgt. Westerman of Hillsdale injured

We are hoping for a quick recovery for Portland Police Sgt. Scott Westerman, who was injured while pursuing a suspect Sunday.

Westerman, a Hillsdale resident, was for several years assigned as liaison officer in Southwest Portland. Since being promoted and transferred, Scott has recently become quite active in the Hillsdale Neighorhood Association.

We wish him a speedy recovery.

For details go to KGW-TV's web site.


Frost Etchings

These photos speak for themselves. I took them this morning after a brisk, chilly walk on our frosted trails.

In the middle of the seasonal frenzy, I hope you too find time to reflect on the beauty around us.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's all downhill from here, or is it?

Lance Johnson wants to shoehorn 10 small lots with houses and duplexes on a large lot that now is the site of his house and large lot in Hillsdale.

His proposal came before a City of Portland hearings officer today, and some of us expressed what is politely known as "concerns." Bottom line is that we opposed Johnson's plans.

The division would take place in the Hillsdale Triangle, which is the land between SW 18th, Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway (see map. The darkened parcel is Johnson's). Much of it has been zoned for higher density, in keeping with the "Town Center" concept. Higher density is well and good, and inevitable, particularly in places that are as well served by bus lines as Hillsdale is. The "up zoning," which was approved 10 years ago by the City Council as part of the Hillsdale Town Center Plan, allows Johnson to push for his lot division.

The problem is that his development doesn't take into account his neighbors or a rational approach to what should happen in the triangle as a whole.

Clearly a master plan for the triangle is needed, which is what representatives of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association advocated today. (I was one of those testifying. I am a HNA board member.)

Johnson's immediate problem has to do with sewage. Excrement, as we all know, is subject to the laws of gravity. Gravity and the flow of excrement initially forced Johnson to propose raising the grade on the sloping property, to the detriment of potential neighboring development. It also jeopardized preservation of trees on his site. Accordingly, city planners recommended against Johnson's current plan, and Johnson has been forced to revisit to the drawing board. He's hopeful because City engineers say that rather than raise his lots, he might be able to sink the sewer, to 30 feet.

That is deep doo-doo indeed.

The Neighborhood Association wants the whole project rethought to take into account the need for open space and pedestrian paths in the triangle.

And some neighbors may want to invoke restrictive private covenants that require a majority home-owners' approval of lot divisions within the 40-year-old subdivision.

Johnson clearly has his hands full. The good news is that he is forcing everyone to come to terms with the potential of developing the Hillsdale Triangle.

His goal, and ours, should be to do it right.

For now, the hearings officer has "left the record open" until the end of January. What the record says then will determine what he decides about the Hillsdale Triangle.

If we, or Johnson, don't like his decision, we can appeal to the City Council. Ideally, it won't come to that.