Saturday, March 31, 2007

Our neighbors the trees....

Greg Schifsky of nearby Bridlemile neighborhood e-mailed me recently to alert me to the annual state urban forestry conference on June 7.

The conference’s theme, he noted pointedly, is “How Trees Create Community.”

How indeed?

I shot that question back to Greg, who is known for his work restoring area streams—in large measure by planting trees.

“Significant large trees define all of our neighborhoods,” he wrote. “When a child grows up, a special neighborhood tree connotes a walk to school, play in the park, gathering in a safe haven with pals, or pinning up signs for a lemonade stand or garage sale.”

The largest of trees are landmarks for the entire neighborhood. Greg noted that the shade of trees gains significance “in an age of global warming.” Of course trees also aid the humanity by consuming the carbon dioxide we so massively generate and by pumping oxygen into the atmosphere.

After our exchange, I saw our neighborhood and its trees differently. I imagined Hillsdale denuded of trees—the way a hillside looks after a clear cut. I fear that blight, insects, landslides, poison or even human weapons could make my terrible imagining reality.

We take our trees for granted. Worse, we act in ways that endanger them. Just thinking of trees, and valuing them for their beauty and utility, broadens our sense of community. We humans are merely one group in a community of life. We ignore our shared place at our peril.

One final thought: Trees, our oldest life forms, bind us across time. In our own Hillsdale, one tree in particular spans no fewer than seven generations. The ancient oak on 29th Place sprang from its acorn origins before the signing of the U.S. Constitution. In relatively recent times, it has been lovingly cared for by its admiring human neighbors. Witness the cables that support its massive branches. Note the plaque marking its “heritage” tree status.

I’m not into worshiping trees, but I confess a reverence for this giant oak. When I meet newcomers to Hillsdale, I always acquaint them with this our most “senior citizen,” oldest neighbor and enduring friend.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Remembrance of an editor, teacher and friend

Dan McDonough died in Longview this morning after a long illness, but, as he told a friend recently, he had led a good, happy life and was ready for the next one.

His life was good for him, and it was good for those of us who knew him and worked with him.

Of all the people who have labored to teach me how to write, Dan was the most demanding and the best.

Dan anchored the copy desk at the Longview Daily News. Fate had placed us at an exceptional, family-owned newspaper at a challenging and exciting time — the era of the massive eruption of nearby Mount St. Helens. The paper won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the eruption and of the long recovery that followed it.

Hardly a sentence went into the proud little paper without Dan's overseeing it, or polishing it or massaging it. Dan reshaped a phrase here, inserted a comma there, and, when need be, demanded that his young reporters rewrite whole sections.

"SEIFERT!" he would bellow across the newsroom for all to hear. I'd drop whatever I was doing and jog up to where he would be staring at a computer screen filled with my flickering prose.

"Seifert," he'd say, "when are you going to learn how to use commas?" He had reached some breaking point, weary of putting in, or taking out, commas in my copy.

Other times he might question a date or the spelling of a name. He seemed to know the correct spelling of every person's name in Cowlitz County.

Sometimes he'd want to shift some buried anecdote or quote to prominence by putting it up near the story's lead. "This is interesting," he'd say, highlighting a paragraph with his cursor. And with the punch of a key, he'd inject, "Put it HERE!"

One day he bellowed out "Seifert!" and I jogged up ready to greet disaster. He looked up at me from the screen and said, "This is just a really great story — and well told. Good job."

Of course I learned as much on that visit to his side as I had on all the others.

Notice that I have used the words "learn" and "teach" in writing about Dan. Great editors are great teachers, although the opposite isn't necessarily true. I've held both jobs in my own life, and I have learned the limitations and potential of both.

And much of what I have learned about each, I learned from Dan.

After I left the Longview Daily News, I would occasionally see Dan at reunions of one kind or another. His Christmas letters were masterful and packed with news. He was 25 years my senior, and when he retired he grew to be a dear, supportive friend to me and many he mentored.

As the years wore on, we realized that Dan always had been a friend.

Kind, caring, funny, candid, wise — Dan had been all we could ask for in an editor; all we could wish for in a friend.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Vote to revise Portland's charter revision

Thomas Hobson, who ran a Cambridge, England, horse rental agency around the turn of the 17th Century, offered his clients the choice of riding only the horse presented to them or walking away on foot.

And so "Hobson's Choice" came to mean an offer of one option or nothing.

Any business offering a take-it-or-leave-it choice needs to track the results. Presumably if too many of Hobson's potential clients "left it," Hobson might reconsider his way of doing business.

Tom Hobson and his choice come to mind as we weigh another Tom-inspired choice: Mayor Tom Potter's Measure 26-91 charter revision on the May 15 ballot.

It offers a choice between keeping the our outdated "commission" form of government or instituting a "strong mayor"/city manager form as found in most American cities.

Under our current system, each of the five City Council members (including the mayor) administers separate governmental bureaus. Some call the commissioners' portfolios "fiefdoms;" others refer to them as "silos." I just call the whole concept "bad."

Note, by the way, that the five council members run for office, not by district, but city-wide.

Under the revision proposal, offered by the Mayor's charter revision commission, Portland's mayor would run the entire civic show acting through a city manager. The council, still five members elected city-wide, would decide policy questions and preside over the budget. The council also would have the final say over the hiring, and firing of the city manager and other bureau chiefs.

For reasons I'll get to in a moment, the proposal is utterly uninspired and unworthy of a city otherwise known for innovation and creativity.

In short, the ballot gives us a Hobson's choice between the present nag and the proposed one.

We should simply not vote at all on Measure 26-91.

But would City Hall actually get the message of our discontent with both forms of government?

As a matter of fact it would.

The first sign would be the obvious "undercount," or entire lack of votes, on the measure.

The more important and constructive signal would be a big "yes" vote for a nearby measure, Measure 26-89.

In essence, Measure 26-89 is the "back to the drawing board" option. It calls for a new charter review commission to convene at least once every 10 years. That seems like a long time until you realize that the measure also requires a charter commission to convene within the next two years to deal with the old, or new, deficiencies created by the lame Measure 26-91 outcome.

So what should a new charter revision commission do once it gathers around the drawing board?

First, the commission itself should include numerous representatives from the neighborhoods, where the civic heart beats strongest. The charter commission that put forward this May's revision had a sole neighborhood-affiliated member. It produced a predictable result: its proposed council, like the present one, utterly fails to recognize neighborhoods as civic institutions or to give them any voice or power.

Any new charter should have a council big enough (think 15 to 25 members, versus the current and proposed five) to guarantee representation by neighborhood, or at least by regional neighborhood coalition. The majority of the council (Two-thirds? Three-fourths?) ought to be elected by and in neighborhood-defined districts small enough that neighbors can get up-close and personal with their elected representatives.

But all of this is for the drawing board. First we must refuse to ride the Measure 26-91 Hobson's-Choice horse and stride away from the voting stable having voted resoundingly for Measure 26-89 and a fresh start start for reform.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Intel CEO "worth" 123.6 teachers

Here's today's Red Electric episode on "This American Life."

Today's Oregonian brings news that Intel's CEO Paul Otellini was "penalized" monetarily last year for the company's poor financial performance and for not meeting goals. In 2006, net income for Intel was down 42 percent over 2005.

Being "penalized" meant that in 2206 Otellini eked by on a mere $6.18 million in compensation. The AP story demonstrates the utter cruelty of Intel's decision by comparing Otellini's pittance to the $16.1 million raked in by CEO Hector Ruiz of Advanced Micro Devices.

The connection? AMD is Intel's chief rival.


Now for the real comparison beyond the corporate bubble of competitive CEO "worth."

If you take Otellini's pauper's salary and divide it by $50,000, the wage a school district might pay a moderately experienced school teacher, you discover that Otellini, by American society's twisted market standard, is "worth" 123.6 teachers. Count slowly to 123 to get a full sense of the number. "One teacher...two teacher...etc."

Consider that 123 teachers are probably enough to staff five or six neighborhood elementary schools in Portland. You know, just like the ones the Portland School District has been closing.

Do the numbers on Ruiz's grotesque AMD compensation and you could probably throw in teachers for a couple of middle schools and a high school, as well as custodians to clean up after the kids.

Meanwhile, back at Intel and AMD, as they crunch the performance numbers and compare salaries, do Otellini, Ruiz and their compensation committee members ever weigh the debt—educational or financial—they owe teachers who helped them in their own lives?

One more note: Deep in The Oregonian story we get one more insight into Intel: Last September Intel's executives, while wringing their hands over up-coming compensation "penalties," announced they were eliminating 10,500 jobs world-wide.

I've raised this before, but it bears repeating: Let's hope that one day (soon!) folks will look back at this time as a shameful aberration—that they will have ensured that such greed and inequity will never happen again.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hope, joy found in Obama's books

My friend John McCarthy, who lives in Berkeley, has sent his thoughts on Barack Obama's books. I thought you would find his observations interesting:

If you have not read Barack Obama's two books
("Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope"),
I urge you to do so—as I've done over the past couple of weeks.

"Dreams from My Father," by the way, was originally published
in 1995—a decade before it lept to the top of the NY Times
Bestseller list following Obama's keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The books are fascinatingly
autobiographical and thoughtfully analytical about today's pressing world-wide social and political issues.

Now that Barack Obama is running for President of the United States, both books are "must-reads" for everyone who cares about the future of our country and the world.

We have had Presidents who were gifted writers and public orators,
as Barack Obama most certainly is, but I'm not sure we've ever had a
candidate so thoughtful and candid about his motives and origins,
so spiritually led in his choices, so hopeful about the possibilities for
improving our individual and collective lives, and so joyful about public service.

Moreover, here is a writer and candidate whose personal background makes him truly a world citizen.

And it is all laid out in these books.

Obama's writing suggests we now have a presidential
candidate who could well surpass John Kennedy's ability to
communicate with and inspire not only Americans, but people
all over the world who have been understandably disappointed
with American leaders for far too long. I feel a sense of hope and
optimism that I have not felt about American politics for many years
—not just with Obama, but also with Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore,
John and Elizabeth Edwards, and many others at both the state
and federal level.

I believe Obama has the additional potential
for uniting Americans and raising the level of political discourse.
We shall see whether he can do so over the next year—and
whether media coverage will help or hinder his efforts.

As you can tell, I'm clearly still in the honeymoon phase after reading
"Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" (whose title is
taken from a Chicago minister and friend's sermon that began leading
Obama to embrace the African-American Christian tradition after 30
years of more or less traditional liberal universalist skepticism.)

There will no doubt be disappointments down the road.
Perhaps some of you already know why I ought to be skeptical.

But enough of my own words. Read and see for yourself.
I'll be interested to hear what you think.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

In the Pink...

These scenes are from the same place—civicly speaking—as those shared yesterday.

Any guesses?

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Guess Where...

Okay, okay. We've been gone for a couple days.

Now for the fun part. Here are the photos. Where were we?