Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Sacrificing" one's Palate for Chocolate

Just when I thought I might have put decadence behind me, the irrepressible Ted Coonfield, pictured here at the head of the table, invites me to a chocolate tasting (pictured here and below).

Ted has his fingers into everything including chocolate. And now he’s been taking an on-line chocolate-making, appreciation course.

So here we are, a few of Ted’s friends, invited over to hear what he has learned and to put our palates through their cocoa paces.

Ted is one of those bigger-than-life sorts. His voice is a mix of the lingering drawl of a transplanted Oklahoman, which he is, and the éclat of unfettered exuberance. It’s hard to get Ted down with a pen, but a broad brush sweeps over food, wine, old pick-up trucks (he has a restored ’53 Chevy), life on any farm, hippy lore, and good times in general.

And just when you think you have figured him out, he surprises you…again. After last night’s meticulously planned and graciously executed chocolate tasting/feast, he showed off an intriguing side table he had crafted from a wine barrel. And yes, he knew the vintage of the wine.

Anyway, back to the chocolate tasting.

Ted invited each of us to recount chocolate stories before we got into the tasting. Several were as rich and tasty as the morsels before us. Interestingly, many had more to do with chocolate smells than chocolate flavors. A refugee from the Bay Area invoked Ghirardelli Square, not the place, but the savory aroma of it.

Ted then led us through a chocolate multiple-choice quiz. What does M & M stand for. and who was the Tootsie Roll named for and which holiday results in the greatest chocolate consumption?

Then the real fun began. Nine of us pondered the virtues of 28 morsels of chocolate served in five “flights” (with plenty of water in between),

Lindt Extra Fine Dark Chocolate , Dagoba New Moon, Vairhona Le Noir Amer-Dark Bittersweet, Green & Black Organic Dark Chocolate, Santander Dark Chocolate Single Origin, Sharffen Berger Semi-Sweet Dark, Blanxart Chocolate Negro….

The chunks originated in places as diverse as Peru, Spain and Belgium.

We compared smells, textures, “initial tastes,” “meltability” and flavors (bitterness, sweetness, sourness and acidity).

At times a single morsel would collect wildly different opinions. One person’s “yuk” was another’s “divine!”

Strange to say, but after “Flight #4,” I could see why, day in and day out, people might be paid to do something like this.

But for one evening, this was a wild ride of cocoa exploration.

Just so the results of the evening’s careful deliberations won’t be wasted on the chosen few around Ted’s table, here’s the consensus favorite: Baratti & Milano Cioccolato Extra Fondante Amaro, which can be found at Zupan’s. (By the way, Ted recommends Barbur Foods for the best all-around chocolate selection. And, as a bonus, chocolate taster Mike Ponder recommends Barbur’s $3 Lebanese pizza.)

It is now the “morning after.” I did manage to get some sleep, though Ted warned us that our chocolate tasting, which began at 8:30 p.m. could keep us up. And yes, I am slightly hung over. I think it will be a while before I crave chocolate, even Baratti & Milano Cioccolato Extra Fondante Amaro.

But don’t hold me to it.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

On emptying pockets

Recently I’ve been trying to decide whether I have too many pockets or too few.

Over the last five years my pockets have bulged beyond baggy with the paraphernalia of my technology-captivated, urban existence.

Cell phone, PDA, credit cards, business cards with their own container, a pen or two, a coin purse, keys (my God, the keys! Two for the house, one for the car, one for a jointly-owned motor scooter, one for my classroom, and one for…well I’m not sure what it’s for but I carry it ‘just in case.’), an old pocket watch and a miniature yet utilitarian Swiss Army knife with tiny, but excellent scissors, plus toothpick, plus tweezers, plus small screwdriver, and, I almost forgot, a knife blade.

Oh, and a small pouch for my hearing aides and batteries. It turns out the infirmities of age require pockets.

Keeping all these items straight can be a minor, verging-on-major, production. I do a lot of pocket checking throughout the day.

Which has led me to wonder what it would be like to have no pockets, or at least empty ones.

Imagine leaving the house for a 30-minute walk empty-pocketed.

Surely this must be some form of modern nakedness.

No keys. (Relax. What are the odds of the house being burglarized in the next half hour?)

No wallet. (No shopping list. Nothing to buy.)

No identification. (I imagine a neighbor finding me sprawled out unconscious in the street. He is scratching his head: “It sure looks like Rick but it can’t be—he’d have some ID on him….”)

No cell phone. (Just like 10 years ago. I did it then, I can do it now.)

No knife. (I’ll trim my toenails later)

No business cards, no PDA. (This walk is for leisure and experimentation, not business)

No hearing aide/battery pouch. (A short walk, well within the life of my batteries.)

Such radical pocket pruning would put me in a very different place…right here in my neighborhood.

One day soon I’ll chance it.

And pocket the experience.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Coca-Cola's $600K PPS threat

Portland Public Schools is finding out just how hard—and expensive—it is to back out of its Faustian "pouring rights" bargain with Coca-Cola.

Coke is trying to wrest $600,000 from the district.

Such are the perils of commercializing The Commons. See my previous post about a Portland Parks proposal that would expand commercialism in Portland's parks in exchange for cash.

The following press release from Portland-based Community Health Partnership outlines the school district's problems with Coke.

To let Coca-Cola know how you feel, call Matt Wilson, Coca-Cola Market Unit VP.

Portland, OR – Coke is showing its true colors by threatening Portland Public Schools (PPS) with a $600,000 fine for making changes this school year to the product mix sold in Portland schools.

Due to increasing concern about the epidemic of childhood obesity, PPS enacted a number of healthy changes this school year – including a policy dictating healthy beverage vending machine options – to make the nutrition environment better in all schools. Coke is now threatening PPS with a penalty that represents the salary of 15 to 18 first-year teachers.

“This is another example of the harmful power of commercial influence in our public schools" said Jeanne Roy, one of the founders of the Northwest Earth Institute and the Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools. "Coke is threatening PPS because Coke wants as many branded products as possible in front of the captive audience – our kids.”

Portland Public Schools is trying to create a school environment supportive of overall student wellness. In order to do this, PPS monitors and controls not only the foods and beverages sold in schools, but also food-based fund raisers, teacher reward systems and commercial messages promoting consumption of junk food. Coke should not force Portland Public Schools to sell liquid candy to our students.

“Portland Public Schools should not be fined for doing the right thing for the health of our students! Coke cannot be allowed to dictate the sale of unhealthy beverages to our students. This is exactly why we need a state law to set nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in all Oregon’s schools,” said Mary Lou Hennrich, executive director of Community Health Partnership: Oregon’s Public Health Institute.

The Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools works to promotes adoption of a model policy on advertising and commercial activities in Portland schools and raise awareness of the serious consequences of exposing our children to commercialism. Coalition members include pediatricians, a clinical psychologist, a former school board member and representatives of Northwest Earth Institute, Northwest Media Literacy Center, Community Health Partnership, Portland Council PTA and Rethinking Schools.

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Media Literacy group wants The Commons protected from commercialism

In a post two weeks ago, I wrote about the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation's proposal to sell naming rights to our public parks facilities in exchange for corporate money.

Are you really willing to accept the The Pepsi Community Center in Gabriel Park?

Now the board of the Northwest Media Literacy Center has taken a position against PPR's proposal and sent a letter of opposition to the City Council. I’m on the board and helped draft the proposal.

Unless you really intend for your tax dollars to provide billboard and other logo and slogan space for the likes of Nike, Pepsi and The Gap, I urge you to write the council (Mayor Potter and Commissioners Sten, Salzman, Leonard and Adams) as well as Parks Director Zari Santner to oppose the measure. The public comment period ends Friday, Feb 23.

Here’s what the NMLC board resolution says:

The Board of the Northwest Media Literacy Center (NMLC) urges the Portland City Council to reject a Portland Parks and Recreation proposal to legitimize and allow corporate sponsorships and commercialism in our parks and public facilities. The proposed policy would result in the selling of naming rights to public-owned park property and would allow commercial messages in our parks and recreation facilities.

• The NMLC board believes that parks facilities are part of the public Commons, which should be a “safe haven” from intrusive and rampant commercialization.
• We further believe it is the responsibility of the Portland City Council and the City’s bureaus to safeguard the entire Commons from commercial display, including sponsorship announcements, corporate naming, trademarks, logos and other commercial messages.
• NMLC is committed to teaching people—including public servants—to critically assess media messages in order to understand their impact on our communities, our society and our planet.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Silence from Salem

Perhaps someone with inside knowledge can tell me how to get the attention of my two state representatives, Sen. Ginny Burdick and Rep. Mary Nolan.

I have now e-mailed them twice, on Dec. 6 and on Jan. 20, about the need for media literacy legislation to help our children learn how to critically assess media messages.

At least two other states in the union have such legislation.

The second time I wrote, I even pointed out two Oregon bills that had been submitted back in the 2001 session but died there. Their language would give us a leg up on drafting legislation for this session.

All I have received for my efforts is stone silence.

Now that the Democrats are in power (I’m a registered Democrat, by the way), do my elected representatives feel they can turn their backs on their constituents?

Another state representative I have tried to enlist in this effort is Larry Galizio. Larry and I teach media at Portland Community College. We have talked about the need to make young people aware of the impact of media on their lives. Indeed, that is exactly what our PCC courses set out to do.

Larry has been slightly more receptive to my appeals—but not much.

A little political history is in order.

When he was first elected to the House in 2004, Larry narrowly won in his suburban Tigard district, and he joined the powerless Democratic minority. When I approached him about the legislation in early 2005, he said that he wouldn’t be of any help as the Republicans didn’t want him to accomplish anything that would help get him re-elected.

I bought that argument, although it did occur to me that he could have promoted the legislation and modestly given credit to a Republican.

Republicans, I have reason to believe, also want their kids to view media critically and selectively. This is not a partisan issue.

Anyway, last fall, the political landscape shifted. Larry was re-elected handily and became an important part of the majority,

So I figured he would be the perfect go-to legislator.

Silly me.

Credit where credit is due: after my e-mail earlier this month, he got right back to me.

But here’s what he wrote:


Have you contacted your Representative or Senator yet?

As Chair of the Ways & Means Sub (committee) I'm hesitant to introduce legislation that has a fiscal impact and isn't necessarily supported by the Education community. The DOE, OEA, AFT, etc....are all wary of unfunded mandates.

If you are unsuccessful with your Rep. & Senator, contact me ASAP as the deadline for filing fast approaches.


I wrote back that there needn’t be any funds involved. All I want is a volunteer commission on Media Literacy to get things rolling. And I informed him I had contacted Nolan and Burdick and heard not a peep from them. But I vowed I would do try again. I added that I would be happy to lobby for the legislation.

So I wrote Nolan and Burdick for the second time. As far as I can tell they are down there in Salem doing everything but answering their constituents’ mail.

Not that I buy Galizio’s tepid response. It sounds too much like buck-passing.

Meanwhile, all this is almost enough to inspire me to find a legislative candidate whose first pledge would be to answer constituents’ mail.

Former U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill once famously wrote, “All politics is local.”

Now I’m not so sure. To me, right now, “All politics is personal.”

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Snowstorm help for pedestrians, transit riders needed

Don Baack, president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and founder of SW Trails, recently wrote The Oregonian about problems pedestrians faced in the recent snowstorm. His brief article, seen below, has yet to appear in the newspaper.

The Oregonian on Jan 21, 2007 asked "Can We Do Better?" and then proceeded to write exclusively about cars, buses.

What about pedestrians? What about transit riders?

After Portland snowstorms, I find no one shovels sidewalks, especially businesses. The bus service is a mess.


Same old excuses: Snow is so infrequent that no one prepares.

That is no excuse. Our entire transportation system needs to be safe and secure during and immediately after snow and ice events.

Here are some inexpensive actions the City, County, TriMet and State of Oregon Department of Transportation can do to make our streets, sidewalks and walkways more safe and usable in bad winter weather:

• All agencies should plan together—and far ahead —for emergencies.

• Keep vehicles without traction devices off the streets so they don’t block buses. Use the Salmon Street "car pinball” film clip as a cautionary tale.

• When the situation calls for it, post via reader boards that vehicles without chains must exit the highway immediately.

• The City should use Public Service Announcements to remind businesses and individual homeowners of their responsibility to shovel their sidewalks and entrances.

•Adopt a policy to monitor and ensure businesses and individuals are levied stiff fines for not shoveling their walkways.

• Solicit well in advance offers from companies with small equipment, (read landscapers among others,) willing to plow facilities such as bridges and sidewalks along parks and other key pedestrian facilities.

• Neighborhood kids and NET teams should be organized to assist seniors unable to hire or otherwise get their sidewalks shoveled.

• Ensure individuals in each bureau or agency are held accountable for performance.

• Implement TriMet Manager Fred Hansen's idea of chaining up the buses in the field rather than having to tow them in. Train the drivers to put on chains. If truck drivers can do it, bus drivers can too.

• Map the snow routes on TriMet’s website.

• Figure out how to use TriMet’s GPS technology to avoid having two or three buses running on the same route. If one bus is delayed, adjust the schedule for the following buses so later arriving folks will get a ride without an extraordinary wait.

• Clear snow and ice from around bus stop shelters and approaches.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Portland neighborhoods going on line

Last Thursday evening nearly 40 neighborhood activists jammed into the Lovejoy conference room in Portland City Hall.

We weren’t there to lobby or petition, but to learn.

The lessons were about the Internet, and our teachers were experienced neighborhood web masters and web mistresses.

From the numbers in the room, it’s clear a lot more neighborhoods are going to be on line soon, adding to the growing glut of information—all of it competing for your attention.

Whether the content qualifies as “news” is another question.

The sites will certainly will be part of what has been awkwardly called “hyper-local” journalism.

The audiences, accordingly, will be relatively minuscule. And the journalists are bound to be amateurs, if for no other reason that there is no money in this. Minuscule markets mean minuscule advertising revenues.

But, like teachers, few journalists enter the field for the money. And a few of us who are semi-retired are willing to work for nothing or next to nothing. The rewards are a job well done, not big bank accounts.

On Thursday we were shown several neighborhood web offerings, some obviously better than others, but each had a lesson for would-be hyper-local journalists like me.

Links to several neighborhood sites follow. Check them out. They are a mixed bag. I’ll leave it to you to sort them out. Feel free to comment. As someone about to launch two neighborhood-oriented sites, I'd like to know your likes and dislikes.

Sullivan’s Gulch
Mt. Tabor

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