Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: A Comparative Moment

Thirteen hundred years ago...

* the Venerable Bede was alive and writing his history of England
* Charlemagne was just coming to power
* the Umayyad Dynasty was undergoing power struggles in its Middle Eastern heartland and tremendous expansion abroad, including in Spain
* the Chinese were inventing gunpowder
* the Tibetans were preparing an invasion of China (questionably advised, considering the previous piece of information?)
* Kyoto was founded

And in Oregon, the spectacular Newberry Crater complex of volcanoes was erupting:

Also, of course, various Native American tribes dwelled in the region, establishing, among other things, trading networks that extended from the rich Columbia River Basin hundreds or even thousands of miles in most directions.

When we read on a placard that a volcano erupted "1300 years ago" it can be hard to gain much perspective. We have no written records of what was happening in the Northwest in 700 AD, although we do know civilizations flourished. The far West can seem so removed from the rest of "civilization" that it becomes obscured as a place of mythic size and proportion, with similarly shadowy history. Once we place such significant events in global context, though, the picture becomes more clear. Our dramatic landscape tells stories as one part of an interconnected globe. Hence the value of comparative history!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Muse of the Week: Restoration

This muse is coming a day early... our wedding anniversary is tomorrow, and with it comes two days (hooray!) of kid-free time. I was surprised to find an article this morning in the NYT on the re-designation of the Los Angeles River as a navigable waterway, and even a recent float trip down one of its sections. Those familiar with the LA Basin will know the Los Angeles River as a sometimes-stream, sometimes-trickle through concrete culverts down the heart of the city. The concrete is designed specifically to channel water quickly through the urban area and out to sea -- a hedge against the occasional possibility of a flash flood and resultant destruction. Unfortunately, all that concrete has had a predictably destructive impact upon the viability of the waterway.

These recent efforts to reclaim the Los Angeles River as a river, and not just a glorified culvert, are part of a larger move toward reclamation and restoration of waterways throughout the West. Dams such as the Condit Dam in SW Washington are scheduled for breaching to restore traditional fish runs; urban waterways such as Portland's Willamette River are increasingly used for recreation; battles play out in farming country as southern Oregon and northern California attempt to reconcile 100 years of reclamation policy -- and 100 years of farm and ranch families' livelihood -- with the needs of the region's struggling wildlife population.

The issues raised by restoration efforts are complex. Our efforts to deal with them, however, reflect a broader understanding of all the dimensions of our livelihood in the West. After all, the West was built on resource exploitation. This exploitation has brought wealth, power and prosperity; it has also brought the destruction and elimination of much of what built this wealth and power in the first place. Only a conscious effort to manage the resources of the West will enable us to continue to live profitably -- not just in monetary terms, but in terms of quality of life -- in the future.

There is beauty even in what human hands have manipulated. My husband and I used to take walks along Ballona Creek, another concrete-lined waterway that courses through Culver City and Playa del Rey, and on out to the Pacific Ocean. Concrete, yes; but also home to flocks of pelicans, other shorebirds and the grand sweep of sky and water so unique to the Pacific coastline. Perhaps our growing understanding of restoration and reclamation will bring waterways like the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek into a more natural state. Appreciating them for what they are is probably the best way to begin. With conscious effort and enlightened policy, we can begin to create a West that can sustain and flourish for decades to come.

Ballona Creek, Fall 2004

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Old MacDonald

There was a great article in the Oregonian this morning about a stolen, and then abandoned, goat on the lam in SE Portland... it had been taken from a fenced, vacant lot upon which a herd of goats had been released to act as natural lawn mowers. The Portland Police took the burglary call seriously, the goat was located and returned, and all is well. (Now, people, leave those poor goats alone!)

Anyway, this got me thinking about the stories my step-grandfather told about herding dairy cows through inner NE Portland during his childhood. The whole back-to-the-earth movement in these gentrifying parts of Portland, with all the urban farms and chickens and so on, is really just a reemergence of what used to exist in these parts of the city.

In honor of the rescued goat and all those original "urban" farmers, here are a few fun photos:

[Photo credit] George Schreiber family and friends at their farm in the Albina District, 1910s-1920s

[Photo credit] Another view of the Schreibers

[Photo credit] This photo is captioned "Street Scene on the Peninsula [N Portland], ca. 1900"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Muse of the Week: Global Sports

The NBA Hall of Fame recently inducted new members, including Portland Trailblazer legend Arvydas Sabonis, the first Lithuanian player to be thus enshrined but one of a growing number of players to blaze the trail (pun sort of intended, but only because it's convenient) from Europe and other parts of the world and make their way in American sport. Ichiro Suzuki from Japan; Yao Ming from China; the list has expanded dramatically in recent years.

[Photo credit: Bruce Ely, The Oregonian]

Meanwhile, the United States is finally entering more fully into the most truly global sport--soccer/football--with the growing success of Major League Soccer. While the level of play still does not approach European leagues like the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Germany's Bundesliga or Italy's Serie A, older players with major stature are beginning to cross the pond. The LA Galaxy's David Beckham (England), of course, is the obvious example, but other players ranging from the New York Red Bulls' Thierry Henry (France) to the Galaxy's newest signing, Robbie Keane (Ireland), will continue to raise the league's international stature. Meanwhile, younger players from around the world are coming to the MLS and increasing our awareness of international sport. My own Portland Timbers boast players from all over the world, from Ghana's Kalif Alhassan to Columbia's Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza.

The globalization of sport has significant consequences. Competition within the strongest leagues is incredibly intense, bringing with it concerns about the future of the domestic game in these countries. England, for example, is beset with controversy about the success of the Premier League in bringing in foreign talent at the possible expense of young English players. Smaller or less financially robust leagues can suffer. The Scottish Premier League poses one such example.

On the whole, however, and certainly in the context of American sport, I would suggest that the stories of Arvydas Sabonis, other sporting pioneers and the MLS bode well for our understanding of the world around us. Historically, we have exhibited such a strong tendency toward gating ourselves off from the rest of the world. Our domestic sports leagues tend to further our tendencies toward exclusivity--the "World Series" of baseball, for example, much as I love the sport, elides the sport's multinational story. The stories of these athletes from elsewhere can help us more fully understand everything from foreign policy to the commonalities among people from different backgrounds.

The Blazers made Sabonis a first-round draft pick in 1986, the first European to be drafted; he did not arrive in the United States to play until 1995. What kept him from coming? Most notably, international politics. Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union. They didn't want him to go. Sabonis was instrumental in the defeat of the United States national basketball team at the Olympics in 1988. Today, Sabonis is a booster of the sport in a tiny country known in Europe for its basketball prowess. International power dynamics, communist repression, the emergence of a freer labor environment and the global spread of a sport founded in the United States... all in one 7-foot, 3-inch package. That's a pretty amazing history lesson!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Powered by Orange

Another interesting tidbit from "This Day in Oregon": "The cornerstone of the new building of the state agricultural college was laid, on the college farm near the city of Corvallis, this day in 1887, by the Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of Oregon."

This college would become Oregon State University. Go Beavs!

OSU was one of many land grant universities established following passage of the Morrill Act in 1862. The Republican Party of the 1850s and 1860s was descended from the Whig Party of the 1840s, a party advocating internal improvements, protective tariffs and developing America's infrastructure as a path toward growth and prominence. The almost exclusively Democratic antebellum South, on the other hand, favored low tariffs, as little federal government as possible and did not share the Whigs'--or later, the Republicans'--enthusiasm for technological development and infrastructure, because these were simply not necessary in a land-based economy that with low labor costs (i.e., slavery).

Once the South left Congress with the onset of Civil War, northern Republicans were suddenly in a position to pass all sorts of legislation that would previously have foundered on the shoals of sectionalism, including the Homestead Act (western settlement had been the hottest of hot-button issues when North and South were engaged in a zero-sum game of preserving "balance" between slave and free), the transcontinental railroad (before the South left, deciding which route it would take was an intractable problem), and the Morrill Act (scientific agriculture was the key to developing America's resources without the benefits of cheap slave labor). The results of the Morrill Act, in particular, range from Michigan State to Oregon State, and many universities in between.

See "This Day in Oregon" full citation Aug. 3.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Treason" and Responsibility

In the words of Onslow, one of my favorite characters on the British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances," oh, nice*...

Rick Perry Stirs Firestorm By Accusing Fed Chair Bernanke Of Near Treason

The article includes strong commentary from both sides of the political spectrum regarding what a ridiculous (and irresponsible) statement this was.

The Federal Reserve is not a partisan institution. It was created to deal with the needs of an expanding economy without leaving the money supply prone to the machinations of party politics [see "19th century, numerous catastrophic economic collapses during"]. Does this mean it is perfect? No. But is Ben Bernanke (originally a Republican appointee, as the article points out) going to throw the weight of the Fed behind an attempt to bolster any one politician's electoral changes in an "almost treacherous, treasonous" decision? I don't think so.

Treason is the gravest of political crimes. It is irresponsible and grossly unstatesmanlike to use such terms outside the bounds of a most heinous betrayal. Governor Perry owes the Fed, the country and his own party an apology for bringing it into such disrepute. The GOP can do so much better.

* insert tone of heavy sarcasm...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Muse of the Week: Recession (Again?)

Interesting article in the NYT about the parallels between our current economic situation and the recession-within-the-Depression of 1937-38.

The author makes some interesting points. As usual, there are elements of this argument that can be used to bolster both sides of the political aisle, but the central point is that when we too quickly turn our attention to post-recession issues, a fragile recovery can fall apart and send us spiraling downward once more.

The factor behind the second recovery of 1938 onward that is given too little attention in this article is the dramatic growth in military-related enterprises as World War II approached. We can take lessons from the 1930s, but we cannot use it as a uniform guide because the circumstances are just too different. It is easy for Americans to forget to that World War II was a serious international crisis long before we formally entered the conflict in late 1941. The Japanese began to overrun China in the early '30s; by the mid- to late-'30s Europe sensed the overwhelming danger Hitler's Germany posed; by 1939, the continent was at war. American industry fueled the European Allied war effort, in particular, years before we did any fighting--and furthermore, our military activity far outpaced the public rhetoric of 1939, 1940 and 1941, requiring additional manpower and materiel.

The last thing we need, of course, is (another) war. Our economic recovery must take place under the very different circumstances of protracted, limited conflict, a less cohesive series of security threats, a truly globalized international economic environment and in an era characterized by a more ideologically rigid, politically polarized party structure.

Even so, we would do well to carefully address the past parallels -- and important differences -- in our history. There are some positive signs, most notably in the Fed's understanding of the shortfalls in its 1930s fiscal policy shortfalls. Here's hoping we can continue to formulate more informed responses to the troubling dilemma in which we find ourselves.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mark O. Hatfield, 1922-2011

My favorite politician died yesterday (and I don't even self-identify as Republican). Mark Hatfield was not perfect, but he was a man of uncommon principle, decency and common sense. He stood up for those who could not defend themselves, from minority citizens in his home state of Oregon in the 1950s to those afflicted by war and poverty while in the Senate. He was not afraid to stand alone, but he also had the political savvy to know when to stand and when to compromise. He represented so much that I would love to see return to American politics. We are poorer for his loss, but I hope the news of his death and the recollections of his life in politics spur others to notice his legacy--and honor it with their actions.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Muse of the Week: Jupiter

I suppose some might accuse NASA of frivolity, but in my opinion it's nice to see that someone in this all-too-gloomy world can still have a bit of fun:

Lego figures to Jupiter on Juno spacecraft.

[Credit: Christian Science Monitor; click on caption for full story]

We are sadly bereft these days of larger missions and idealistic ventures, so preoccupied with fighting the "other" that we often fail to dream. If even one little kid sees Jupiter, Juno and ol' Galileo and decides she lives in a world of possibilities, this planet becomes a better place.

(Juno, by the way, is holding a magnifying glass and not a frying pan, as it first appeared to my eye. :-) )

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Rush!

The other day I (or, more accurately, the 5-year-old, who likes to go through the bookshelves) found a This Day in Oregon book a friend gave me a few years back. This nifty little volume is full of interesting tidbits, but I was particularly struck by the entry for August 1, two days ago.

"The schooner, Honolulu, docked on this day in 1848 in Portland. After quickly purchasing all the picks and shovels available in the town's two hardware stores, the ship's captain announced that gold had been discovered in California. Two thirds of Oregon's male population, including the future governor of California, left to join the rush, but not before buying out the captain's supply of implements at several times the original price."

Those Californians... they've been pushing up prices since the 1840s. ;-)

Source: James Cloutier, This Day in Oregon: Daybook of Oregon History Featuring Hugh Wetshoe (Eugene: Image West Press, 1982).