Saturday, August 25, 2007

At work with thoughts of war and peace

This Saturday morning as I cleaned up the flotsam from a week’s construction at our Quaker meeting house (above), it occurred to me how much it takes to build, and how our time and labor, far more than our money, bonds us to what we create.

And then I thought of war’s instantaneous destruction.

Its destruction of life. How much work we put into our own lives and into those of others, starting with the lives of children.

I thought of the destruction of those who escape death but live on in misery and anger, in hatred and pain.

To say they are the victims of war is wrong. War is a word for our own human failing. The death and destruction is not caused by some uncontrollable, outside force; it is caused by us, by all who declare, support and wage war.

Because of the physical nature of my labor at the meeting house, as I swept and shoveled and hauled debris, I thought most of the destruction of buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, factories and, yes, places of worship like this one.

When we destroy a place, we do not simply obliterate a building, a neighborhood, a village, a town, a city. We kill all that went into them: the dreaming, planning, building, caring, nurturing and using.

As I worked, I felt the preciousness of creation and peace, and rededicated myself — with each whisk of the broom and scoop of the shovel— to opposing the terrible destruction that we do to each other in the name of war.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Rembrandt and Baskin: Art in Times of Turmoil

The title on this post isn't the title of the Portland Art Museum's current marquee offerings, "Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art" and "Graphic Force, Humanist vision — Leonard Baskin works on paper," but perhaps it should be.

Leonard Baskin’s work from the last half of the 20th Century is in the museum’s basement print gallery. Rembrandt’s and that of many of his Dutch contemporaries is upstairs and sprawls onto two floors. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and the Dutch school get top and separate billing, and rightly so.

But viewed and considered together, the two exhibits are much greater than the sum of their parts.

I’m hardly qualified to “compare and contrast” the two (both seen in self-portraits here. Baskin shows himself has a priest, which he most definitely was not), but it did strike me that both artists were utterly immersed in their tumultuous times even as they challenged them in their own distinct ways.

Baskin lived from 1922 to 2000; Rembrandt from 1606 to 1669.

Both worked in several visual media, and overlapped in more than one. A comparison of their prints is particularly rewarding. The use of shading, and hatching and the portrayal of human expression call for comparison.

Both focused on communicating with and provoking viewers. They were passionate about their messages, but never self-indulgent.

Theirs was never art for art’s sake.

I am taken with the times of each.

I came of age during the ‘60s when Baskin produced much of his most provocative work. I remember Baskin from those days and how his unsettling prints resonated with the battles many of us fought — against war, injustice and racism.

Rembrandt’s times are important to me because they gave birth to the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. The works of Rembrandt and the Flemish artists around him provide windows into the world that Quakers were so at odds with. Yet the same world welded the Quakers to their testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality, community and integrity. The 17th Century was a world of war, depravity and social inequality. But it was also a world grown literate and questioning. Humanism and empiricism were on the rise. The early Friends and the great Dutch masters swam in the same waters.

So if you visit the museum, make the time to take in both exhibits and to consider them as one. There are no docents to connect the dots between them. You will be on your own, but be open to what they share. Let them speak to you separately — one floor at a time — and together, perhaps on a bench in the park outside, or over a cup of tea, or in the pages of a journal, or in a conversation with a friend.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Waiting at the station for the train to come in

The Seattle-to-Portland Amtrak train bearing my mother-in-law was running late, even later than the announced late arrival time.

With time to kill and my trusty Olympus Stylus Verve in my pocket, I decided to make a portrait of grand old Union Station.

It really begs for Edward Hopper's brush and palette.

The clock above the ticket counter runs on Amtrak time.

A "whistle-stop campaign" coach lacked only bunting and a candidate.

I basked in the glow of the station's neon and its reflection on the marble walls. "Railway Media" are DVD players and movies ("Happy Feet" and "Casino Royale") you can rent so you or your kids aren't forced to watch the boring scenery.

Trains eventually do arrive and depart. All ABOARD!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Towering Monstrosity, part II

My suggestion that planners install a sleek, aerodynamic windmill stanchion on Council Crest, rather than the proposed ugly "Erector Set" emergency communications tower, may not pencil out.

Today's Oregonian reported that high demand for wind turbines and towers has driven up their prices.

On the plus side, the story also reported that prices may come down as more manufacturers get into the booming wind farm business.

A graceful windmill-derived tower is still worth looking into for the sake of Council Crest— and the entire city, which will view whatever gets installed.

What will it be? Pleasure or pain?

Wherever they are, towers draw odd responses.

The Eiffel Tower is "skeletal" yet magnificent. What is its appeal? Its lights? Its history? Its accessiblity? The city and boulevards at its feet?

Would tourists flock to Pisa's tower if it weren't leaning?

I once lived in a house with a view of San Francisco's Mt. Sutro Tower. Try as I might, I always associated it with an alien creature from "War of the Worlds."

The Portland Airport's flight tower has architectural pretensions but reminds me of a monolithic bludgeon.

Closer still to home, our prominent Healy Heights tower, strangely, doesn't draw much comment one way or the other, except that it wipes out broadcast signals to our neighborhood.

A few years ago a "branding" consultant visited Hillsdale and exclaimed that the orange and white tower would make a perfect "iconic" brand for the community. The idea went nowhere, but until now I have never taken the trouble to figure out why.

The problem with the Healy Heights tower, like old bony on Council Crest, is that it screams "functionality." It's all about engineering and nothing about art.

At best, it's an architectural tease. The hungry eye is drawn up the soaring, arching legs only to be jolted by encrusted, spiky antennae and a visually disruptive platform beneath the final spire.

It's almost an anti-icon, which, I suppose, is better than nothing.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Right story; Wrong page

It's time to play "You be the editor" again.

Where would you put a story bearing the headline "'05 Incomes, on Average, Still Below 2000 peak"?

If you were the editors of the New York Times, you put it on the front page of today's business page, on the left, in a single column one-third of the way down the page.

Hardly prime journalism real estate.

But isn't this story of general interest? Isn't it worthy of the front page? Isn't it, at the very least, a political story? Note the politically pivotal year 2000, the year the Supreme Court elected George Bush.

Delve into the story and it becomes all the more newsworthy.

Remember the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which are still in effect?

Their unfairness is all right here. "People with incomes of more than a million dollars also received 62 percent of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends that President Bush signed into law in 2003.... 28 percent of the investment tax cut savings went to just 11,433 (My note: That's roughly the population of Hillsdale and Bridlemile neighborhoods) of the 134 million taxpayers, those who made $10 million or more, saving them almost $1.9 million each. Over all this small number of wealthy Americans saved $21.7 billion in taxes on their investment incomes as a result of the tax-cut law.... the nearly 90 percent of Americans who made less than $100,000 a year saved on average $318 each on their investments."

As you ponder these numbers, guess who is going to be paying for the war in Iraq for years to come.

The article, by the way, is written by David Cay Johnston, author of "Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else," a book guaranteed to make your blood boil.

In short, we've been ripped off in every which way by this plutocratic, power-mad administration.

Folks, it's time to get serious about impeachment, if only to air out the White House closets before the next resident arrives.

P.S. The good news is that the story was in the Times. Let's see whether The Oregonian considers it worthy of publication.

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Hillsdale Photo Quiz

This photo is a kind of indictment.

But of what? Against whom?

If you have been following reports on the Red Electric, you may recognize the evidence in the photo.

Pipes leading into the ground? Covered with duct tape?

The pipes are in Hillsdale, but where exactly? Why are they going unused? Who should be using them?

One in the middle, in the back, is being used.

By whom?

The questions can be answered.

But one question remains unanswerable: What will it take to persuade those, for whom these conduits were intended, to use them?

Stay tuned.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Towering monstrosity

The city is on the verge of replacing the ugly 439-foot, lattice communications tower on Council Crest with another equally ugly one (think Erector-set ugly).

Unless neighbors step up with a better idea (think "sculpture") at a hearing to be held Monday, August 27, at 9:00, 1900 SW 4th Avenue, we are stuck with this antennae-laden monstrosity in one of Portland's most cherished parks.

Bureaucratic tunnel vision is missing a great opportunity. The staff report is about as imaginative as an I-beam. The report, which is worth reading, imperiously and mindlessly blows off serious neighborhood concerns.

Interestingly, beautiful towers are popping up all over the state — in the form of windmills. The sleek stanchions topped by turbines and blades seem perfect for the new emergency communications tower. And because they are clearly being mass produced, they may be cheaper than the spindly folly planned for Council Crest.

If blade noise isn't a problem, the tower might even incorporate a wind-power generator, which would help the environment, set a civic example and produce revenue (how about for undergrounding utilities?).

Certainly the idea is worth investigating.

If you can't attend the hearing, you can e-mail your comments to the senior planning officer on the case, Sylvia Cate, referencing the Council Crest tower.

(Thanks, by the way, to Deb Scott's blog, Stoney Moss, for alerting me to the hearing.)

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Smoky Hearth owners explain Billboard ad

Last week I wrote urging that you "vote" on Oregon's proliferation of billboards since the passage of Measure 37. You can cast at least one vote by emailing the owners of one billboard message. The billboard's "tenants" are Don & Jeannine Hokanson of Smoky Hearth Pizza, whose sign looms over U.S. 26 outside Sandy. Don's e-mail is

Back in June, the Hokansons wrote the following letter to those who complained about their sign. I thought you might find it interesting and indicative of the couple's possible openness to reconsider.

Re: Smoky Hearth’s Billboard Advertisement
Dear Customer and Community Member,

Thank you for your comments regarding our advertisement on the new billboards off Hwy 26. Jeannine and I appreciate your concern for the corridor between Gresham and Sandy and recognize that it is only by community concern and direct involvement that such corridors can be protected.

Unfortunately, Measure 37 has had some unintended consequences for all of us, – including the new billboards. We would have preferred not to have billboards there. Perhaps someday decisions will be reversed and the boards will be removed. It is unlikely that the owner and operator will remove them willingly because of a local public boycott since most of the advertisers are state or national accounts and the signs are booked for several months in advance. We should point out that Smoky Hearth is not affiliated with either the billboard advertising company or the landowner. We are merely a client of the advertising company.

As you know, we pride ourselves on serving one of the best pizzas to be found anywhere in Portland and we strive to please every customer. We treasure referrals because they have been the key to our growth. We have been in business for two and a half years now and community support for our restaurant has been great, but our growth has not been as good as it needs to be. Smoky Hearth must grow in order to become financially viable. Since we are tucked in by the Cinema and off the highway, we are not able to get our name and message to the majority of the 50,000 people who travel on Highway 26 each day.

A billboard on the highway appeared like the only answer to achieving the growth we need to stay in Sandy. We understand that many of our customers will not like the billboard and some will decide not to return. We wished we had a better solution, but due to restrictive sign ordinances within Sandy, the billboard seemed like our only cost effective solution.

We appreciate your comments and hope that you understand a little better why we placed the advertisement. We hope that sometime in the future, we might see you in the restaurant again. Either way, we will remain fellow citizens committed to our community, our environment and our children.

Very Truly,

Don & Jeannine Hokanson
Owners, Managers

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