Friday, October 28, 2011

Muse of the Week: Fresh Air

On the way home from the gym today I had the opportunity to listen to a few minutes of an interview with Rob Cornilles, the Tualatin businessman who is a candidate for the Republican nomination in the First District congressional special election (replacing the disgraced David Wu). I admit the primary ballot I returned on Wednesday didn't list Cornilles as an option, but that said, I found my spirits buoyed by several of his comments. Most notably, he had absolutely no hesitation affirming that he had refused to sign onto Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge--which would put him in the company of about 6 current GOP members of Congress. Asked if this bothered him, he replied no, not at all; he was running to represent the people of a notably eclectic district, and he felt such a pledge would counteract his ability to do this well.

Three cheers for representation! Regardless of the election's outcome, we need more elected officials on both sides of the aisle who think first of their constituents and who refrain from hobbling themselves with didactic positions. Informed policy-making is a complicated task. Pledges such as Norquist's (or, indeed, such pledges on any position, right or left) are profoundly counterproductive in achieving policy success. Perhaps the current environment of discord and disgust will lead toward more candidates willing to take such stands. I hope so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: The Fed Again

While perusing the Oregonian's latest "Occupy Portland" photos just now, I came across one showcasing a sign stating "End the Fed." For reasons I outlined here following a ridiculous statement by Rick Perry in August about Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's "treasonous" activity, criticism of the Fed from the right or the left on the grounds that is somehow betraying the American public is ridiculous.

Yes, the Fed makes mistakes. Sure, decisions could have been made differently, both now and at various points throughout the Fed's history that would have alleviated suffering. (The 1930s spring to mind as a far better example of unfortunate Fed decisions than the present situation, however.) Human frailty aside, the Fed and the governmental administrative structure underlying the American banking system is one of the the 99 percent's best friends. The wisdom of bank bail-outs and corporate decisions can be debated endlessly, but the fact remains that because the Fed and associated institutions like the FDIC exist, citizens' money hasn't disappeared when banks have failed. The money supply hasn't been tampered with according to the individual whims of banks and other profit-making institutions. We need the Fed. The 99 percent --and the other 1 percent, too -- would be far better served by reasoned, informed discussion based upon the public interest than we are by the hyperpartisan, context-free banter that presently masquerades as a national debate.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Muse of the Week: Emotion

Like most of us on the West Coast, I awoke yesterday morning to news that Muammar el-Qaddafi had been killed in Surt by rebel forces and/or a NATO airstrike. I admit my heart jumped for a moment, pleased as I was to contemplate a Libya no longer wracked by civil war or the bizarre and weirdly personal violence perpetrated by its mercurial dictator. Then, later in the day, I clicked on a slide show to the side of Qaddafi's NY Times obituary and saw the photo of his lifeless body. Yep, that looks like him, all right. Another, disquieting pair of feelings struck me: sympathy and sadness. I didn't want to feel sympathy for this monster of a despot. And yet, viewing this battered wreckage of a human life, it struck me once again that the loss of life--any life--is sad. Qaddafi's death may save thousands, and I'd hesitate ever to argue that the sacrifice of his life was worth it. I'd say it was. But however delusional and destructive he was, he was a human, too.

Today, news headlines report that Qaddafi's body is being preserved pending an investigation into the circumstances of his death. International observers have called for an inquiry into whether he was killed as a result of the airstrike or other military engagement (an act of war) or summarily executed (vigilante justice). Again, I find my emotions conflicted. Much of me wants to say it doesn't really matter. He was a terrible, terrible man. Despite the sadness of losing any human life, he needed to removed forever from hurting his people, and his death has accomplished that. However: I hope for a world that protects human life under universal principles of justice. It perches us upon a slippery slope to argue that justice can be overlooked in one case because the individual involved is reprehensible. If we want to rise above the type of brutality that characterizes the reigns of dictators everywhere, we must place ourselves upon a higher pedestal.

Libya faces a golden opportunity to create a new society forged upon justice and good government. I pray they can accomplish what they have set out to achieve.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Nifty Web Site

Apologies for the muse-less previous week. Our DSL box gave up the ghost Friday morning and we've been offline since then, but the new box arrived yesterday, my saintly husband spent a significant amount of time on the phone with Frontier last night, and as of this morning I am happily emailing and blog updating from home. Our local coffee shops are wonderful places, but my Mr. Coffee is far less expensive.

I confess to a certain paucity of inspiration, likely deriving from the reality that my attentions are rather stretched at the moment among a variety of enterprises. However, I recently found the coolest timeline of Portland's architectural heritage. I highly recommend taking a look!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Train Robbers

Oh, look, here it is Wednesday again. This has been one of those weeks that proceeds at the speeds of light and molasses simultaneously. I can't believe it's Wednesday, and yet yesterday felt much later in the week than Tuesday. Ah, well. Time for my weekly digression into local historical matters, and while I try to refrain from using my handy "This Day in Oregon" book too frequently I couldn't help but enjoy yesterday's entry:

"The last great train robbery in the United States took place on Oct. 11, 1923, in southern Oregon. Twins Ray and Roy DeAutremont and their younger brother Hugh held up S. P.'s southbound train #13 in tunnel 13. The brothers jumped the train just before it entered the half-mile long tunnel, assuming that the blast of the explosives they planned to use would be muffled inside. Actually it acted as an echo chamber especially since they used much more dynamite than necessary, blowing not only the door off the mail car, but destroying the car itself, any money inside and killing four men in the process. The brothers fled and hid out in the woods. Ray and Roy were finally captured in 1927, following the most extensive and expensive manhunt in the U.S. up to that time."

With names like Ray and Roy DeAutremont, it's easy to see why slightly later criminals with more mellifluous names such as "John Dillinger" became the stuff of legend instead (although Dillinger's prominence was aided as well by the growing stature of the FBI).

Even so, this story of inept train robbers gives me a wonderful opportunity to share one of my favorite historical films: "The Great Train Robbery," filmed in 1903. This early film was produced by the famous inventor Thomas Edison, who just a year before had lost a court case that would have granted him a monopoly over moving picture technology. Other companies would grow and become increasingly dominant in the industry, but it was Edison cameras which captured many of the first significant events on film, from the Spanish-American War in Cuba to the actual assassination of President McKinley. (It's worth noting, however, that 'footage' of the US Navy at war in the Philippines was actually produced with toy boats in what was essentially a bathtub.) "The Great Train Robbery" is silent, choppy and admittedly cheesy from a contemporary perspective, but the film is well worth viewing with an eye toward the experiences--or lack thereof--early viewers brought to the piece. Watch it to the end and I defy even the most jaded of modern mediaphiles not to flinch.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Muse of the Week: Shuttlesworth

Rest in peace (or rather, dance in heaven), Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth: NPR obituary.

The death of Steve Jobs, also on Wednesday, was a loss; he was a visionary and his company makes beautiful, functional tools. But Fred Shuttlesworth? He was a hero, speaking truth to power in the face of overwhelming brutality. We as a society should know the names of more of these men who stood with King and played their own vitally important leadership roles.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Crossing the Mighty Columbia

Searching for inspiration, I took yet another look at my handy, dandy "This Day in Oregon" book and found a fascinating little tidbit that might place into perspective the commotion over a potential toll on the Columbia River Crossing bridge.

"Oct. 5: On this date, 1846, John Switzler was authorized the operation of a ferry across the Columbia River opposite Fort Vancouver for a period of five years. His toll rates were as follows: footman, 25 cents; horseman, 75 cents; one wagon with yoke of oxen or team, $3.00; horse or cattle, each 25 cents; sheep or hog, 12 1/2 cents; 100 pounds of freight, 25 cents."

Of course, people weren't commuting across the Columbia River daily in 1846. Even so, using a formula based upon nominal GDP per capita, 25 cents in 1846 is equivalent to about $116 today. (See this Web site for a really cool calculator.) Makes a couple bucks seem quite a bit more reasonable, eh?