Saturday, November 22, 2008

ABC's Nightline features Hillsdale recyclers

Heather Hawkins and Renee Limon, who put out a great environmental web site, EnviroMom, have forwarded this link to an ABC Nightline story featuring them doing a recycling "intervention."

Four other Hillsdale residents are also in the story. The "star" is Jeanne Roy, legendary recycler, who produces a mere one garbage can of trash a YEAR. Everything else is recycled.

Mark and Wendy Lear and son, Ike, are the subjects Heather and Renee's funny and informational intervention.

Alas, Hillsdale isn't mentioned. Next time....

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Officials may have pinpointed slide's cause

A front-page article in today's Oregonian describes how new sprinkler system equipment may have been leaking and caused the Oct. 8 Burlingame Place slide.

The slide damaged six homes. One was demolished, and two others are beyond repair and three others have been deemed uninhabitable. Amazingly, no one was injured or killed.

The Oregonian story offers legal opinion that the probable solution now is for a small army of attorneys representing all the interests (including insurance companies and contractors) to sit down and figure out who pays how much to whom.

The story fails to report on the future of the closed stretch of Terwilliger Boulevard that is forcing hundreds of commuters to detour and is increasing traffic through the Hillsdale Town Center.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

A Different Perspective on Undergrounding

The Red Electric's Berlin correspondent, Lizi Zach, wrote the following in response to my protestations about the most recent "overgrounding" of utilities in Hillsdale:

In Berlin, everything is underground. The downside is that there is CONSTANT digging up of sidewalks and roads to make repairs on the pipes and electrical/telecommunications stuff. And it is EVERYWHERE in this city and it is a pain. It's just as much a blight as it is overground and, in winter, with snow and ice everywhere, it is a hassle and a hazard.

So, frankly, I don't know what the real solution is. Back to the Dark Ages, anyone? No running water, no telecommunications?

Side note: German friends and acquaintances who travel to the U.S. always remark to me afterwards how silly all the phone and electrical cables above ground look over there. They see it as a huge security risk — one colleague told me that during the Cold War, photos of the U.S. shown in Germany belittled how primitive the Americans were not to bury their wiring underground — and how naive: "Don't they know what an easy target they are for the Russians?"

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

On the Trail of the Liability for Liability

Hillsdale readers will find Steve Duin's column in today's Oregonian intriguing. It's the same topic of liability for hiking accidents that I addressed here earlier this week.

Duin builds his story around SWTrails' founder, president and driving force, Don Baack, who is also the president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association.

Duin makes the whole right-of-way/liability issue seem like a walk in the woods. He puts it in the same category as Don's stepping up and having SWTrails build a pedestrian bridge built in Stephens Creek Park.

If only ...

Mayor-elect Sam Adams is quoted as saying that he has been "pushing the legal shop to come up with something that works in the real world."

He could be pushing a wet noodle.

Let's see what the City's legal minds come up with in time for our meeting with City officials on Dec. 2 about this issue.

In the meantime, Duin can expect to hear from many property owners who, even if they are eventually freed of liability, don't like hikers skirting their property lines. Absurd, I know, but it's a fact. When the Portland Tribune wrote about this issue months ago, things got nasty and personal very fast in the on-line comments section.

Then there's the little matter of whether the volunteers' trail improvements are up to code. "Red Tape" alert, but several of the property owners will tell you that volunteer-constructed steps are too steep, handrails should be required, and railroad ties are slick and dangerous in the rain. All of which is why they didn't want to be stuck with liability for an accident waiting, as they say, to happen.

So the bright red ribbon Duin ties around the trails package is misleading. I'm certain he will hear from all those folks he didn't talk to. (I checked his blog at noon and there were no comments. Folks may be responding to him directly at

I hope that everyone concerned is at the table when we meet with the officials. Duin might like to join us.

Meanwhile, Don told me this morning that the City has assumed liability on many trails already. It can do so in Hillsdale too on a case-by-cases basis, he says. So why doesn't it? Could it be because the liability problem provides cover for the property owners?

Stay tuned.

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Democracy in Action — sort of

My friend John McCarthy has sent this link, which shows ballot evidence of folks struggling with, or screwing up, their right to vote in Minnesota.

The ballots reveal weird, but not entirely surprising voter behavior.

Among the conclusions to be drawn are:

• Think before you mark your ballot.
• Wash your hands before voting.
• Don't idly rest your pen on the ballot while you ponder your decision.
• It's not wise to use the ballot to act out just how clever you are.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More blight arrives in the Hillsdale Town Center

Today, walking down to Hillsdale’s commercial center, I noticed that workers were piggy-backing technological bric-a-brac on one of our utility poles again.

We have wires, barrel-sized transformers, defunct wireless cones and now — what?

Cell phone antennae of course. After I took this photo, workers attached a large equipment box the size of a three-drawer filing cabinet to the pole.


Of course, each of the several cell phone companies has to have its very own antenna.

Call it antenna envy.

Our Hillsdale commercial center is what Metro, the Portland-area regional government, has designated a “Town Center.”

Hence “the Hillsdale Town Center.”

The idea is to make the Town Centers pedestrian-friendly so that people walk to shops, schools and buses and leave their polluting cars at home.

Several of us believe that making our Town Center pedestrian-friendly involves making it attractive to walk around in. Actual sidewalks would be nice too.

We have street trees, although I noticed today that the one next to the new antenna-ized utility pole looks seriously stressed.

And some of us have actually had the audacity to propose undergrounding the utilities. No more poles, wires, transformers and, yes, cell phone antennae. The powers that be manage to bury all this stuff downtown, in South Waterfront and in the Lloyd and Pearl districts.

Why not here?

Could it have something to do with politics?

I’ve worked on and off for 15 years on the undergrounding issue. I used to joke that my goal was to see utilities in the Town Center undergrounded before I’m undergrounded.

It’s a joke no longer.

The “City that Works” needs to start working on undergrounding. A decade ago some of us, representing varied interests, including the utilities, suggested that fees should be placed on new technologies like cell phones (they were new back then). If they used the public right-of-way, they ponied up to mitigate the blight. The revenues would pay for undergrounding in Town Centers like Hillsdale.

Vera Katz was mayor at the time we made our report with its funding proposal. She assured us our suggesting would not gather dust on a shelf.

But that is exactly where it is today. While the dust gathers, the antennae and overhead wire blight spread throughout the City. And my own personal undergrounding becomes more real with each passing year.

On a brighter note. Clearly Hillsdale's pigeons are pleased with things the way they are.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MRI results deem Red Electric blogger "normal"

The hammering, rattling, humming, grinding MRI scan that I had last Wednesday (and wrote about here) has produced images of my brain that show it (and me) to be "normal."


I'm not sure how to take this, coming as it does with the authority of both science and technology.

I was hoping for a little better. Something along the lines of "truly exceptional!" or "fantastic!"

Nevertheless, given that the scan was looking for evidence of brain decay possibly leading to blindness, "normal" frankly sounds fantastic.

I'll take it.

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A Hiker's Liability

Over the past few months here in Hillsdale we’ve had a standoff between hikers and property owners living next to public right-of-ways that accommodate urban trails.

Seems that the City holds the property owners liable for any mishap the befalls a hiker on a trail running next to an owner’s property, even if the right-of-way is technically the City’s.

One property owner, claiming to be fearful of liability, has blocked off access to the right-of-way to hikers. He has also torn out steps that were installed to make passage easier. In their place, the owner has planted juniper bushes, making passage nearly impossible.

Now other property owners are raising similar concerns about liability associated with trails next to their properties.

On Dec. 2, the Pedestrian Office of the City’s transportation department is holding a meeting to address the issue.

So far it has been framed so that the liability gets batted back and forth between the property owners and the City.

How about this? The hikers assume the liability. They might carry an endorsement on their home owners insurance or even on their auto insurance. Or they might get insurance by joining a hiking club like The Mazamas or SWTrails. It shouldn’t cost more than a buck or two for an entire family. If a property owner stops them, they can simply pull out their insurance card and say, “Not to worry. I’m covered and so are you.”

I’m going to suggest the idea the meeting. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, let me know if you see any problems with the proposal.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Egged on by Orwell's eggs

If you’ve been tracking George Orwell’s 70-year-old journal entries, which are being cleverly presented as a blog, you will have found a succession of the same two-word daily offerings.

The two words are “One egg.”

It’s Orwell’s running tally of his hen’s production. Fascinating!

The fun part is reading the comments.

Today the two words elicited 27 responses.

I’ve been tempted to write “One Egg is Watching YOU,” but I’ll keep it in The Red Electric family.

Of course there is also “All eggs are equal, but some eggs are more equal than others. Take today’s for instance….”

Anyway, visit the site and read the comments. They’re a kick.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Magnetic resonating with Willy and the Poor Boys

I won’t tell you how much this costs — yet.

I went in for an MRI the other day. Seems that I have telltale signs of impending glaucoma. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been putting in eye drops to bring down my interior eye pressure, but the ophthalmologist has concluded that we may need to be “more aggressive." He’s seeing a “thinning” of my optic nerve just where it goes into the cup at the back of my eye.

I see perfectly well, but there is blindness on my mother’s side of the family. My mother’s cousin, Charles, went blind over the course of two or three months. Charles adjusted to living in a dim, murky world for another 20 years. When visitors came to his house, he instructed them not to move anything. He had everything's place memorized.

I suppose I could carry the blindness gene. They say if you detect glaucoma early enough, though, it is highly treatable.

My ophthalmologist tells me the next step is to prescribe beta blockers, which makes me think of some kind of football formation. “Beta blockers left on three! Hupp, hupp, HUPP!”

The list of “possible” side effects is long but does not include face masking, unnecessary roughness or excessive celebration.

Before bringing in the beta blockers from the bench, the ophthalmologist decided to check to see whether there might be, well, “something else going on.” Hence the MRI, magnetic resonance imaging.

I think he and the massive cylindrical MRI machine may be looking for a brain tumor.

If I have a brain tumor, I’d be surprised. Sure, I have my moments. I left the car keys in the rear door lock the other day and then went mildly ballistic because I couldn’t find them.

And I blank out on names from time to time, but that’s mostly a function of knowing more people than I can absorb — at least namewise. Apologies to all, by the way.

When I was a medical/health reporter in what now seems like another life, I remember the controversy surrounding CT scanners. The problem was that these hugely expensive contraptions got (and still get) an inordinate amount of use. So much so, that the government for a while regulated how many of them could be in a community.

The suspicion is that they are prescribed as diagnostic tools in order to pay them off, and, after that, to make a profit. They also drive up health care costs. The other suspicion is that because they are available and work, they are being used as a defense against medical malpractice suits.

Enter Perry Mason: “You mean, doctor, that you failed to prescribe a CAT scan, which clearly would have alerted you to this horrendous, agonizing disabling disease that will cause $100 million in pain and suffering to my client for the rest of her life?”

You get the picture.

Are MRIs and CAT scans cost-effective? Suffice to say … yes and … no. It depends. What's the value of life or health etc.?

So I show up for the MRI and the young guy in the green scrubs asks what kind of music I would like to listen to.

How’s that?

Seems that I will be slid into this confined tube with earphones on. To be precise, with ear protectors on, because MRI scanners magnetically resonate LOUDLY to produce their 3-D images.

MRI could just as easily stand for Mighty Ruckus Intensifier.

For three minutes you are bombarded with the cacophony of a humongous coffee grinder. Then for five minutes, it’s an industrial-grade vacuum cleaner in serious need of repair. Then for another three-minute session, it’s a jackhammer.

Then its all three at once. It goes on this way for 35 to 40 minutes.

So I’m given a menu of music selections heavily weighed to Rock. Columns of Rock. metal, grunge, soft, classic. “Jazz,” my choice offers on choice. It lists one musician, predictably Wynton Marsalis. Mind, I have nothing against Wynton but why does jazz rise and set on Marsalis for so many in the Post-Reagan generations?

I chose James DePriest and the Oregon Symphony, just to keep things familiar.

* * *

The resonating has begun. The aural assault spins round my head. The jackhammer, grinder, vacuum cleaner reduce the orchestra to a distant whimper. After three minutes, all goes silent.

The technician’s voice comes through the headset. Technician ex machina.

“How are you doing, William?” (He’s reading my name from a chart. “William Frederick Seifert.” I don’t tell him I go by “Rick” because I’m hoping the “William” reference is a one-off.

It isn’t.

“You’re doing great, William.”

Actually, I’m not doing anything but lying on my back with my eyes closed.

“One thing,” I say. “Let’s dump the Oregon Symphony for Credence Clearwater.

“You got it,” he says as if taking an order for a hamburger and fries.

“Willy and the Poor Boys” ride to the rescue.

* * *

I haven’t received the scan results yet, but my guess is that the main thing the 35-minute clamor accomplished was another billing in the radiology department’s books.

“Could you tell me,” I inquired of the receptionist when I checked in, “what all this costs?”

I must have been the first to ask because she had to look it up in the computer.

“$2400 for your partial, head scan,” she said matter of factly.

I wonder whether Medicare pays Credence Clearwater Revival residuals.

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