Posted by: bkivey | 20 April 2015

One Day Vacation

This is a busy time of year for me, and days off are subject to job scheduling. I try to schedule one day off a week, but during busy weeks, that’s not always possible. There’s been a lot of work lately, so a week and a half ago I decided to take Sunday 19 April off. Work was becoming a grind, and I needed some time.

While reading one of the area’s independent papers, I discovered that there was a sci-fi film festival during the week at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s (OMSI) IMAX theater. A dozen different films were showing at various times during the week, and I noticed that three of my favorite sci-fi films were showing Sunday. Score! A quick call to the box office secured tickets for the bargain price of $7 each. Although I own copies of the films I wanted to see, and have seen each of them at least half a dozen times, the opportunity to see one classic and two near-classic sci-fi movies on an IMAX screen with big sound was far too good to pass up. The movies are listed in the order of viewing.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

This genre-defining film included many notable firsts, including the first completely electronic score. The story has been compared to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and make no mistake, the story is the star here. The pacing is pedestrian early on, but picks up almost imperceptibly as plot elements are introduced. Dialogue and acting are above average, especially compared to the sci-fi films of the time. Part mystery, part drama, with some humor thrown in, events build logically and with increasing speed to the denouement.

The Academy Award-nominated special effects hold up very well some 60 years on. Along with their technical proficiency,a large part of the appeal of the effects is that they serve the story, rather than serve as a distraction from weaker elements of a movie. The print shown was excellent: clear and sharp. I’d never seen this movie on the big screen, and it was a real pleasure to revisit this classic the way it was meant to be seen.

Fun fact: for several years one of my vehicles sported a ALTAIR4 license plate.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The first Star Trek feature film opened to much fanfare in 1979, and disappointed nearly everyone. Instead of the beloved TV show adapted to the big screen, fans were assaulted with an overblown, turgid, glacially-paced abomination. The second film addressed those issues, and it’s been said that the second film is what the first film should have been. My opinion is that the first film could be flushed, and the franchise would be better for it.

Ricardo Montelban reprises his role as Khan Nonian Singh, probably the most interesting villain in the original Star Trek milieu. Strong, intelligent, and ruthless, Khan is given enough of a background in Space Seed to make him more than one-dimensional. While Montelban totally chews the scenery, making Shatner look almost restrained, he does bring the character to life. All of the primary cast members are present, although Uhura, Scotty, and Sulu are pretty much pushed to the side. The pacing is much closer to the TV show, bringing energy to the production.

The story is almost a remake of Moby Dick. The primary conflict is between Khan and Kirk, but there are subplots of friendship, purpose, and the subtleties of decisions, experience and knowledge to flesh out the story. During the movie, there was a cringe-inducing moment when early on, Kirk asks Spock “Aren’t you dead?” Ouch. You could hear the gasps in the audience. In 1982, that was foreshadowing. In 2015, it’s poking a fresh wound. I saw this as a first-run movie, so the print on display was disappointing: muddy and jittery. Still, it was fun to watch old friends again.

Fun fact: In the movie, Khan recognizes Chekov. In Space Seed, he never sees Chekov.

Serenity (2005)

In late summer 2005, I chanced upon a show on the Sci-Fi (Syfy) Channel that was unlike anything I’d seen. A large ensemble cast on a rickety space freighter wearing Wild West clothing and talking in a weird mix of frontier American West and Mandarin committed a heist. I was hooked in five minutes. A week later, Serenity was released, and I saw it twice. Since then, I’ve obtained the 14 TV episodes and one movie that comprise the Firefly/Serenity franchise. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi shows.

Firefly premiered in 2002, ran for 14 episodes (13 aired), and was never seen again on network TV. Serenity was produced in response to the massive sales generated when the series was released on DVD. The original cast returns for the movie, with the addition of Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, a person you do not want to cross. The story (and franchise) are what you might get if Louis L’Amour collaborated with Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg. While there are plot holes you could fly an Alliance cruiser through, the dialogue and characters are what make this movie go. The Firefly/Serenity productions are insanely quotable, a tribute to Joss Whedon’s ear for dialogue and eye for character.

As might be expected for a modern movie, the print was clear and sharp. The major criticism from the press at the time was that the movie didn’t rise above its TV origins. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (see Wrath of Khan) if that’s what the fans want. The movie stays true to its roots and characters, satisfying the fan without alienating those unfamiliar with the franchise. I hadn’t seen this film in a couple of years, and I was taken by the texture of the production, in that production values are high, and most scenes have a kinetic component. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the movie was released, but a lot of fun to see one of my favorite sci-fi films in the IMAX environment.

Fun anecdote: The couple behind me in line had never seen Firefly or Serenity.  Because Serenity is something of a cult movie, I asked them why they chose to see it. They’d wanted to see Wrath of Khan, but couldn’t get to the theater in time, so Serenity was their ‘settle’ movie.  I explained a bit about the movie and the franchise, without giving away plot points. I hope they enjoyed it, and maybe the movie recruited a couple more browncoats.

Wait, there’s more!

The title of the post is ‘One Day Vacation’, not ‘Three Movies I Saw in One Day’. I had to do something between movies, and the Mariners and Blazers were in action. I searched for the nearest bar, and hit upon The Firkin. A pleasantly seedy neighborhood dive, I went there for lunch after the first movie. They have a decent beer selection, and big slices for reasonable prices. Watched the Mariners for a while. They were losing 10 – 5 when I left (and eventually won 11 – 10). During the second intermission, I returned to watch the Blazers get embarrassed by the Grizzlies in first round playoff action. Had an interesting conversation with a couple of musicians who’d showed up for open mic. I was tempted to return after the last movie, but it was a fair drive home, and work the next day. The Firkin appears to be something of a nexus for the local dope scene, as every time I passed by the outdoor patio, people were pulling out bags of weed. Not my drug of choice, but weed is virtually legal in Portland (the cops aren’t enforcing the law) and will be actually legal 1 July.

I got to spend a warm, sunny day doing things I like to do. It was a nice break between two hectic weeks.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 16 April 2015

Tax Day 2015

Today is Tax Day in the US, the day Q1, Federal, State, and local taxes are due, As a business owner, I have more control over my tax outlay than an employee. This year I only overpaid my Federal taxes by a little bit, meaning I didn’t send more money to the Feds than I had to. My State overpayment was significant, so I’ll be revisiting that area this year. The only local tax I’m responsible for is to the local transit agency, and there’s no provision for quarterly payments there; it’s all got to be paid annually. It’s not much, bur paying is a privilege reserved for business.

Although taxes are due today, Tax Freedom day has not yet arrived. According to the Tax Foundation, Americans won’t start working for themselves until 24 April. If the Federal borrowing liability is included, the date stretches out to 8 May.  We’re working 30% of the year to pay The Man before we get to pay ourselves.

But we do get a lot of infrastructure, a reasonably secure place to live, wholesome food and water, safe workplaces, and the best damn military money can buy. It’s not like our money is being frivolously pissed away . . . oh, wait.

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has published his “Wastebook’ annually for the past five years in an effort to highlight egregious use of public funds. The 2014 edition highlights 100 Wall of Shame projects and fiascos. A large portion of the waste comes from pork barrel projects, while smaller percentages stem from ill-conceived or misguided projects, and cases of government employees straight up using public money for personal gain. Some examples appear to be funded just because some agency can. If you ever hear a government employee complain that budgets can’t be cut, refer them to the Wastebook.

Florida Congressman maintains a page on his official website detailing government excess, and it’s a long list. I would hope that because the House of Representatives is responsible for funding Federal programs, the Congressman is taking an active role in reducing spending.

Closer to home, the State of Oregon is no stranger to wasteful spending. Some examples I’ve posted on:

Columbia River Crossing

In 2001 the states of Oregon and Washington determined that the I-5 Columbia River crossing needed to be replaced. The crossing consists of two truss bridges side-by-side, with the original span built in 1917, and it’s sister span completed in 1958. Total project cost was about $150 million in today’s money. Concerns over traffic density and the bridge’s inability to withstand a major earthquake were the motivations behind the $4 billion (with a ‘b’) replacement. 13 years and $175 million later, we have warehouses full of paper, and nothing else. The project was terminated in 2013.

The bridge and approaches are a traffic nightmare, site of a more-or-less constant traffic jam during business hours. It’s very likely the whole thing would fall into the river during a major earthquake, but that type of temblor is a once-in-500-year event, with the last one occurring in the 1700’s. Even a new bridge would suffer significant damage in the predicted 9.o quake. Why not wait until the event occurs, then replace the bridge outright? If experience from the 1989 Loma Prieta quake is any indication, a post-earthquake bridge would be built significantly faster than the projected 5 – 7 years of the CRC project.

Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network

In 2005 the Oregon Legislature decided to build a communications network to allow first-responders statewide to communicate with each other. Originally slated for a 2013 completion, the project carried a near $500 million price tag. By the time I wrote on it in 2010, very little work had been done, certainly not enough to achieve the original timeline. The Governor eventually nixed the project, deciding on a smaller system for ‘only’ $200 million.

Portland Water Bureau

The Portland City Council has something of a reputation for treating earmarked public money as a slush fund to enable pet projects. There has been no worse offender than the Water Bureau and its former head, Councilman Randy Leonard. During Mr. Leonard’s tenure, the Water Bureau engaged in a series of projects tenuously associated at best with the Bureau’s core functions. An entire new bureaucracy, the Office of Healthy Working Rivers, was created.

After a scathing report released by the City Auditor in 2011, and the emergence of Water Bureau irregularities as a campaign issue in 2012 and 2014, the Bureau appears to be more focused, or at least better at concealing corruption. Randy Leonard left office in December 2012, and the Office of Healthy Working Rivers has since been dismantled.

Columbia Biogas

In 2012 the Portland City Council decided it would be a good idea to fund a biomass plant in partnership with Columbia Biogas, claiming $8 million annually in ‘avoided costs’. Problems developed when Columbia Biogas pulled out of the project, and an independent audit revealed expected savings some $7.9 million less than claimed. The project was abandoned.

Convention Center Hotel

I haven’t written on this, but the MO is the same. For years regional government Metro has wanted to build a 600-room hotel next to the Convention Center. Proponents argue that a large hotel is necessary to secure national conventions, while opponents argue that there are a number of hotels in close proximity to the Center, and if there were a market for a large hotel, a private company would build it.

Metro has partnered with Hyatt Corp., and most of the legal obstacles have been cleared. Metro plans to issue taxpayer-backed bonds for $60 million of the $200 million project cost. If the hotel doesn’t perform as advertised, and national conventions fail to book the Center, then the new hotel is going to cannibalize existing business. It’s entirely possible Portland could see a net job loss in the hospitality industry. If the hotel closes, taxpayers are going to be stuck with $60 million in non-performing bonds, and a building that’s going to be almost impossible to sell.

An Unusual Commercial

I’ve lately heard a radio spot touting the benefits of nuclear power. This struck me as unusual for a couple of reasons. In the first place, no sponsor is mentioned. The spot is 30 seconds of extolling the virtues of nukes. In the second place, Oregon is probably one of the toughest places in the country to sell nuclear. This is a part of the country that successfully shut down the one nuke we had.

I’m a proponent of nuclear power. The fuel has a very high energy density, so you don’t need thousands of acres of bird blenders to produce a lot of power. Nuclear power is ‘baseline’ power, in that it works regardless of environmental conditions (save earthquakes and tsunamis). And nuclear produces no atmospheric carbon. In fact, the ad touches on all of these points.

A lot of people view nukes as time bombs waiting to spew radiation on a defenseless populace. The fact is that deadly accidents are extremely rare. The worst US disaster at Three Mile Island failed safe. The other concern is what to do with spent fuel rods. Well-meaning but ignorant people have really bolixed up what should be a straightforward process. India, for example, has developed effective methods of recycling spent fuel.

Oregon gets 40% of its power from hydro. Adding three or four mid-sized nukes would provide all the power the state needs, with capacity to spare. Given that the state’s only coal-fired plant is going to be forced to close in a few years, I wonder if the local electric utility is starting a propaganda campaign to prepare the population for the nuclear option.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 5 April 2015

Easter Melancholy

Happy Easter!

1Now upon the first [day] of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain [others] with them.

2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

5And as they were afraid, and bowed down [their] faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

8And they remembered his words,

9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

10It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary [the mother] of James, and other [women that were] with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

12Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24:1 – 24:12

King James Version

The highlight of the Christian calendar, Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection transformed Christ’s followers from a band of rebels with heretical ideas into a religion, and provided pretty convincing evidence that He was who He said He was. The early Church had a rocky beginning, with leaders and layperson alike persecuted and executed. By the Western Middle Ages, the Church had become the dominant sociopolitical power in the Western world,, and had in fact started the decline into decadence. For the last several centuries, the Church has been a stabilizing force in quieting the baser human tendencies and steering them toward more productive and socially useful endeavors.

For the Christian, today is a day for joy and celebration. It’s a day to renew their faith in a way that Sunday service doesn’t quite do. But even on this day, Christians are aware of an increasing intolerance toward their faith: in Syria, Iraq, Armenia, and Kenya. Outside the US, the primary instigator against, and killer of, Christians, is Islam. Places where Muslims and Christians have peacefully coexisted for centuries are being turned into terminally inhospitable places to practice the Christian faith.

In the US, a place founded on religious freedom by predominately Christian individuals, the situation is only marginally better. Intolerance of Christians is almost exclusively the agenda of the LGBT Progressives and their water-carriers, the major media outlets. There has always been tension between these groups and Christians, but recently the tension has exploded into outright persecution. The flashpoint was Indiana’s passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, based on a 1993 Federal law. No matter that some 26 states already had similar laws on the books, it was somehow intolerable that a 27th State should enact such legislation. The cynical might note that this outrage came during the Hillary Clinton State Department email scandal. Leaving aside the very likely possibility that Progressive outrage over Indiana’s law has little to do with actual harm, and everything to do with protecting a Democrat, the Progressives have used this situation as a wedge issue to persecute Christians.

Let a Christian private business owner operate according to their belief, or let a private school (many of which are faith-based) fail to teach a pro-gay curriculum in California, and fire and damnation will ensue. But let a Muslim business owner refuse to serve an LGBT customer, and it’s crickets all the way.

There is an unholy tacit alliance between Progressives and Muslims regarding Christianity. Both seek to eliminate it: Progressives because Christianity threatens their secular humanist religion, and the Muslims because persecution of Christians and Jews is explicitly stated in the Koran. Progressives appear to operating on ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ principle, a stupidly ignorant modus operandi given Islamic teachings regarding the liberties of Western civilization. This does illustrate the basic bullying nature of Progressives, as the perception is that Christians are much less likely to make life uncomfortable for them than Muslims. That may change. And needs to change. Progressives may find that Christianity isn’t synonymous with ‘meek and mild’.

US Christians aren’t entirely blameless in the creation of the current climate of intolerance. Persecution of Christians has increased rapidly the last several years, yet no call to action from US pulpits. Most churches I’ve attended seek some sort of global humanitarian effort. What better and more pressing effort than protecting and empowering fellow Christians? Yet few, if any, churches are taking up this most important of causes. If the religion’s adherents are being systematically persecuted and eliminated, where then will the church be?

The primary persecutors of Christians do have the same blind spot: the inability to see that freedom and liberty are messy. The Muslims are out of this conversation, as there is little personal freedom under that religion. But Progressives, who purport to support liberal ideals (although they don’t), should understand that freedom means that others aren’t going to agree with you. This will make you uncomfortable. The current climate of religious intolerance violates not only the standards of human decency, but most of the First Amendment. The mature person would learn to deal with this in a constructive manner, but that’s not in the Progressive nature.

Opening Day

Today was the putative Opening Day for MLB. But there was only one game on the day. One game? On Opening Day? I understand that today was Easter, but should that really make a difference? If MLB wanted to honor the holiday, why not move Opening Day to 6 April?

Cards over the Cubs: 3 -0

Anyway, baseball is back. Now the year can really start.

Easter Meal

On the menu today was:

Pork Roast

Roast Vegetables

Asparagus with home-made Hollandaise sauce

Orange-cranberry dressing

2011 Chardonnay from a California winery

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 1 April 2015

White Privilege

White Privilege –  A term for societal privileges that benefit white people in western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.

Wikipedia

“White Privilege’ is a term often used by people of color and SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) to denote the perceived privilege White people enjoy in terms of access, employment, and general social acceptability. It is not complimentary. The contention is that by just existing, a White person is able to enjoy a more amenable life than a person of color. There is some controversy over the term, even in the Progressive ranks, and a purview of the Wikipedia article gives a good overview of those controversies. But there’s a glaring omission from that article, and every other discussion I’ve heard on the subject. The ‘What’ is addressed ad nauseum, but never a mention of the ‘Why’.  And the ‘Why’ gives insight into why the concept of White Privilege is flawed.

To the extent White Privilege exists, why is this so? It didn’t just come out nowhere, No Biblical figure came down from the mountain with White Privilege codified in stone. No one talks about this, because any discussion is immediately imputed with racist overtones by non-Whites and White SJWs. Well, I’m going there.

Biology. The biological imperative is Grow or Die. Every lifeform seeks to expand it’s domain and secure resources for it’s offspring. Organisms that can adapt and expand their domain succeed; those that can’t, don’t Humans have been amazingly successful at this, to the point that some think we’ve been a bit too successful. Humans are the apex lifeform on the planet. Say what you will about the weight of numbers of microbes and insects, you can purchase control agents for them at any grocery store. While, as some fear, we may be supplanted by constructs of our own creation, there aren’t any terminal biological threats to humanity,.

Even among species, there are sub-species that are more successful than others. ‘Success’ defined as resource procurement. In the Northwest, the non-native barred owl is rapidly supplanting the native spotted owl for habitat. The whole concept of ‘invasive species’ describes transplanted  organisms that take over a locally native species biological niche. Tennyson’s ‘red in tooth and claw’ describes the process of natural selection. Humans are part of the natural world. It’s irrational to think that we are somehow immune to natural law.

In all of human history, the ‘tribes’ that spread their influence the farthest came from northern Europe. There have at various times been other peoples that controlled large areas of the globe, but for sheer persistence and influence, no one has come close to those from northern Europe and their progeny in the United States and Canada. This is a matter of historical fact. If this makes you uncomfortable, that’s not my problem. As they say in sports: scoreboard. And that does make a lot of people uncomfortable. So much so that there is a constant assault on Whites for being successful in implementing the biological directive. So we have the basis of White Privilege. They are the most successful tribe of humans. And the mediocracy that make up most of the population (regardless of race) have an instinctive dislike of success by others. Like crabs in a broiler, they’ll try to pull the escapees back. But as I mentioned earlier, there is a major flaw in the concept: Asians.

Prior to contact with Europeans, Asian cultures were ancient, technically savvy, and doing quite well for themselves. For much of human history they were world leaders in culture and technology, and remain so to this day. The Mongols conquered large areas of the planet, but had no staying power. The Chinese were content to insulate themselves from the rest of the world, despite having much to offer. Currently they are the manufacturing engine for the Western world. The Japanese had a go at regional domination, but that didn’t turn out well. What the Asians (and I’m including the Indians from the subcontinent) did do was glom onto the Western culture of opportunity and technical prowess and make it their own. They have been enormously successful as a result.

‘White Privilege’ seems to be a code phrase for ‘competence’. Whites have it. Asians have it. Interesting how when ‘people of color’ reference themselves, Asians never seem to make the cut. So White Privilege is apparently something that can be obtained by non-Whites. But ‘acting White’ is strictly verboten in the activist world. I would submit that a large part of White Privilege exists today due to Western programs like affirmative action and other race and gender-based social subsidies. Consider:

You’re a hiring manager, and you have several candidates to choose from. Let’s be diverse and assume that you have a White male, White female, Black male, Asian female, and Latino female to choose from. You’ve already eliminated those candidates who majored in anything with ‘Studies’ in the title, so you’re reasonably certain the remaining candidates have some job-related skills. Without an interview, whom do you think is most likely to be able to do the job? The PC answer is ‘all of the above’, but that’s not how our society is set up, nor how people operate.

Assuming all the candidates went to schools of roughly equal quality, it’s almost certain the White male received no special treatment, indeed, may have had to overcome some ‘soft’ discrimination. But he probably knows his stuff. The Asian female, while likely the beneficiary of some help, is going to be perceived as intelligent based on her race. Not PC, but that’s the reality. Everyone else is likely to be considered to be a product of social promotion to one degree or another. Not fair? No. But that’s the reality of race and gender-based programs. They cheapen the real accomplishments of people. Every program that seeks to elevate a person of a particular race or gender entrenches the concept of White Privilege. For the professionally aggrieved activist seeking power, that’s what they need. Reject it.

Non-Whites are incessantly indoctrinated by those seeking power into believing that they can’t accomplish without someone’s help. That’s an extremely toxic message to a human being. Most American’s want to see people do as well as they can. If you’re not White, and want ‘White Privilege’, you can get it. Get educated in a useful field, expect that people will treat you with respect; treat them the same, and do your best, It works.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 29 March 2015

Oregon Coast

I recently had a job in Depoe Bay, OR. This wouldn’t normally be cause for comment, let alone a post entire, but there were some interesting circumstances in that after the job we had a chance to play tourist.

Depoe Bay is located about a third of the way down the Oregon coast, and is roughly equidistant between Lincoln City and Newport. It’s a straight-up coastal tourist town, and a popular spot for whale-watching. There is an observatory downtown for the express purpose of viewing whale migrations (note: no whales seen). There are also any number of shops to separate tourists from their money.  In that regard, the town is little different from any other coastal tourist spot. Other than whale watching, the town also claims to have The World’s Smallest Harbor:

Depoe Bay

 

The panorama covers about 180º, with Hwy 101 on the left. You can judge for yourself whether that’s the smallest harbor in your experience. The total surface area of the harbor is given as about six acres. Curiously, the Wikipedia entry for the town states that the all of the town’s area is land, causing me to wonder whether the harbor is actually part of the town.

Of more immediate note is the fact that if one arrives in town between 1500 and 1600, many of the restaurants are shut down. There are a few eateries open, but try to get parking, or service. Depoe Bay appears to have banned national chain restaurants, so good luck getting something to eat mid-afternoon. We had to go to Newport 12 miles to the South to find sustenance. Depoe Bay isn’t all that big. As far as I could tell, there’s only one gas station, and no grocery stores. I’m tempted to park a food truck on the strip, keep it open all day, and make all the money.

Not that driving along the Oregon coast on a sunny early Spring day is any great hardship. The coastline between San Francisco and the Washington peninsula is one of my favorite places in the world. The mountains and forests come right down to the sea, creating an interesting and spectacular dynamic that I never tire of. A good example is Boiler Bay between Depoe Bay and Lincoln City:

Boiler Bay

 

I don’t know why it’s called Boiler Bay. There is a good-sized State park here, with picnic tables, restrooms, and a grassy sward, but no informational signs that I could find. It is pretty.

Further up the coast is the mouth of the Siletz River with these interesting formations:

Siletz River mouth 1

There is an overlook here, with informational signs. These formations ( the highest is about 40 feet) appear to be formed by the last great earthquake and tsunami to hit the Oregon coast in 1700. A wider view:

Siletz River mouth 2

 

The estuary in the foreground is prime shellfish ground, and the beach on the right background is covered with huge pieces of driftwood (tree trunks, actually). There are people cooking their shellfish on beach fires in the middle distance. A real Oregon activity, that. While looking at this, I flashed on the propaganda angle:

“Americans must scrounge for food; cook over wood fires”

But no, just some folks enjoying a day out on a Northwest beach.

As much as I may disagree with the prevailing political climate in the urban parts of the Northwest, I still wouldn’t live anywhere else. The flora, fauna, geography, and climate are endlessly fascinating. I like living here. Not to say that other parts of the world aren’t equally appealing, but I’ve yet to see them.

Race to the Bottom

While at the coast, we saw the World’s Smallest Harbor at Depoe Bay, and the World’s Shortest River at Lincoln City. Normally, municipalities vie for the biggest and best, not the smallest and the worst. I wondered that we didn’t find a sign in Lincoln City advertising the world’s Smallest Penis. “Next left: Joe Blow, holder of the World’s Smallest Dong”. Yes, every man is really 13 at heart,

Posted by: bkivey | 28 March 2015

Losing My Religion

Over the past several weeks I’ve attended a couple of sporting events, and as is the custom in the US the National Anthem is played prior to the start of play. This tradition dates back to the late 19th century, and became firmly entrenched during WWI. The conventional wisdom is that Francis Scott Key’s composition is a battle song, and the singing of it in the home team’s venue amounts to taking the piss out of the visitors. For most Americans, it’s just something that happens prior to play, and a chance to express national pride.

Except I don’t know that there’s a lot of national pride to be had.

My problem is with the last verse: “The land of the free and the home of the brave”. I’m not sure that either applies to 21st century America.

Nearly half of the country’s work force is on some sort of government welfare. Whether it be food stamps, or assisted housing, or health care subsidies, or any of the myriad ways well-meaning people have intruded government into private lives. If someone else dictates what you can eat, or where you can live, or what health services you can access, or has any say in how you live your life, you’re not free. You are, in fact, subservient to some un-elected government bureaucrat. The greater your dependence on welfare, the less free you are. People who depend for their entire subsistence on government programs are little more than serfs. Yet the same politicians who rely on subsistence-level constituents for their power go to great lengths to tell those same people how free they are.

It’s a big, fat, lie.

As for ‘the home of the brave’? Leaving aside the undeniable bravery of the American military, contemporary elections have demonstrated that the average citizen is far from brave. Bravery is grace under pressure; courage to speak and act for what is right, rather than what is expedient. Yet throw a few thinly meated bones to the electorate in exchange for votes, and most people fall right in line. People are selling their birthright to the greatest civilization in human history for pottage. The infantilization of the American, indeed, Western, electorate the past 80 years has shown the truth of Benjamin Franklin’s observation on security and freedom.

So while standing at a sporting event, facing the flag, I couldn’t bring myself to perform the custom of rendering honors by placing my hand over my heart. And I felt badly for not doing so.

I was raised in a military family by two Southerners. In the US , it doesn’t get much more patriotic than that. I read a lot of history, and many of the great philosophical works on self-government in my childhood. As I became more aware of the historical human condition in adulthood, I gained a greater appreciation for the United States.  The founding ideal of the US as a place where free peoples could determine their destiny limited only by their ambition and ability was and is a powerful concept,unprecedented in human history.

But this is apparently a concept that can only be embraced by the few. Recent history suggests that most folks don’t want freedom; they want security, unmindful of the natural laws that govern the universe. Those who desire freedom are being crushed by those who don’t.

As proud as I am of my country’s myriad accomplishments, I look at the flag now and there are ashes in my mouth. Rampant government spying on citizens, oppressive regulation, weakness in the face of aggression, bullying of the populace, and the general tyranny of the mediocracy.

Where we are now isn’t where we started. Change is a constant, but American society hasn’t changed for the better the last several decades; indeed, we are regressing to the historical mean. I’m gong to run my businesses, and live my life according to founding American principles, but the time is rapidly approaching where people like me will have no place here,

Posted by: bkivey | 24 March 2015

NCAA Women’s WWF

I attended Oregon State University; not because I had a burning desire to go there, but because it was the university of convenience when the company I worked for shut down. Since the engineering employment  opportunities were pretty slim, I went for a business degree, and the campus was eight blocks up the road. That said, I enjoyed my time there. I didn’t think that the quality of instruction was lacking, and it’s a gorgeous campus. I didn’t attend any sporting events while there: 40-hour weeks plus school will do that. I did attend a women’s basketball game soon after graduation, and enjoyed it.

During the 2014 – 2015 season women’s Head Coach Scott Rueck guided his team to a 26 -4 regular season. They were ousted in the first round of the PAC-12 tournament, but still managed a regional 3rd seed in the NCAA playoffs. Last Friday they beat South Dakota State to advance to the round of 32. The next game was on Sunday, and as I knew I’d be done with work by noon, and the game was at 1600, I bought the best ticket available ($23 inclusive of charges), and made plans to attend.

Since I last attended a game, the University had built a convenient parking garage amongst the sports complexes, and parking on game day is reasonably priced. The garage is situated so that there is easy access to the baseball, football, and coliseum venues. Much better than parking on city streets and hiking to the venue. No metal detectors at the entrance, and the view from my seat was excellent:

Gill 1503.22 seat view

Five rows up from the floor. Now this is more like it  Not the vertigo-inducing seats I can afford for pro events.

Built in 1949, Gill Coliseum is, frankly, a hole. The upper seats are black, and the upper walls are covered in half-tone grey images of former player. Along with the barely adequate lighting, the combined effect is that the upper reaches suck up every photon available. I doubt that even a white dwarf would adequately light this arena.

I had bought the ‘best ticket available’, and a perusal of the seating chart showed it in the Student Section. I wasn’t really happy with this, as the last thing I wanted was to wind up with a bevy of drunken, screaming 20 year olds while I was watching the game. These fears turned out to be ill-founded, as my seatmate was about my age, and most of the other fans within eyeshot were families or older individuals. Maybe ‘former student section’ was what the chart meant.

In my seat, ready to watch some Division I playoff basketball.

Observations:

  • When the teams came out for shoot-around, it was apparent the Beavers were significantly larger than their Gonzaga counterparts. The center was a woman 6′ 4″. This looked good for our side.
  • During the starting line-up announcements, the starting players were alternately called from each side, and the players shook hands at center court. Never seen that before.
  • The Gonzaga band were much better cheerleaders than their Beaver counterparts.
  • Gill Coliseum has the most uncomfortable seats known to man. The benches are solid plastic with a nominal concave curve to (I suppose) accommodate the human anatomy.  It doesn’t work. I wondered if this wasn’t a ploy to get people to donate to the Athletic Department for better seating. I’ve been to arenas with bench seating; this is the worst. Oregon State is the largest supplier of engineers locally; perhaps they should get on this.

Observations during the run of play:

  • The pick seems to be almost unknown in women’s college basketball. At the NBA level, when the ball is brought into the front court, the center will usually set a pick to free the ball-handler for a shot or pass. This almost never occurred during the game. Even when I played high-school ball, this was the usual opening move.
  • The Beaver’s went with the obvious play of putting their big center in the low post, then feeding her so she could loft the ball into the basket without much opposition. The Bulldogs caught onto this quickly, and started boxing out the lane.
  • The Beaver’s tried to counter the increased interior defense by spreading the offense so the Zags would have to come out and defend the perimeter. This only works if shots are falling, and for the Beaver’s, they weren’t. I considered donating to the Athletic Fund so the Beaver’s could buy a shot.

The Beavs were down 34 – 37 at the half, and looking at the stats, there was an obvious problem. 30 of the Beaver’s points came from just four players, while the Bulldogs had more balanced scoring. This indicates a lack of depth.

As one might expect from a national championship tournament, play was spirited. I credit the refs with not calling ticky-tacky fouls: they let the players play, but that’s the extent of my accolades for the zebras. And the beginning of a dark mood that settled on me and most of the crowd. People expect that refs will make bad calls in the course of a game: they’re human, and the occasional miss-call will occur. But for much of the first half, the calls against Oregon State were egregious. Or, more precisely, the non-calls against Gonzaga. Traveling? Walk all you want. Hacking? Flail away. On the other hand, defenses run by Oregon State were continually flagged. You could say that I’m partisan, and that would be true, but I was sitting close enough to see everything, and the video replays confirmed. Something wasn’t right in Denmark. It’s one thing to compete against the opponent, quite another to compete against the refs too.

The officiating was so lopsided that one began to suspect a fix. Fixing games through partisan refereeing has dogged the NBA. I’m no conspiracy nut, but if there is anything to the suspicion, it puts the NCAA’s anti-gambling message in a new and sinister light. Oregon State didn’t do themselves any favors (2 points off the bench?!) outside of intense pressure on the boards in the second half, but the officiating left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

Gill 1503.22 final score

Final score. Beaver Nation will have to try again next year. The women had a great season, and Coach seems to have the team on the right track. But can we please God get better seating.

Skylights

I’m a bit of a weather junkie, and got to witness some interesting phenomenon on the way up Hwy 34 out of Corvallis on the way to the Interstate. There was this baby mesocyclone:

mesocyclone panorama

That’s a nearly 180-degree view. You can see the well-defined shelf cloud on the right, the rain in the northwest quadrant of the structure, and the tailing clouds off to the West. Nothing like it’s monstrous brethren of the Midwest, but interesting nonetheless. I hit the rain just north of Albany in Millersburg, and it was like driving through a waterfall.

 

The combination of clouds  and mountains formed crepuscular rays from the setting Sun. They were unusually well-defined, illuminating clouds to the East:

Illuminated cloud 1503.22

And forming bands of light across the sky:

Light ray 1503.22

Light ray 2 1503.22

This is actually not an uncommon sight in this part of Oregon, but still cool to see.

Posted by: bkivey | 20 March 2015

Motor Voter

Oregon governor Kate Brown (filling in for ousted John Kitzhaber) recently signed a ‘Motor Voter’ bill into law. Under the law, anyone receiving an Oregon driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote. As Secretary of State, this was one of Ms. Brown’s pet initiatives. No surprise that she jumped on the chance to enact it into law. I’ve never been a fan of these sorts of initiatives, because they lower the bar on something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

A Q & A gives the details on the law, and it all looks very aboveboard. The primary concern on these types of laws is that they open the door to voter fraud: whether by enabling non-citizens to vote, or enrolling people who are resting in peace. The State says that non-citizens won’t be allowed to register, but this reassurance rings a bit hollow given Oregon’s history.

Several years ago there was a ballot initiative to give non-citizens drivers licenses. A similar measure was defeated in the last election. The problem is that in the US a driver’s license (or State-issued ID card) is the de facto national identity document. You have to show one to get on an airplane, rent a car, or do any of a myriad of things, except, well, vote. Oregon state government was only deterred from issuing driver’s licenses to non-citizens after the Feds told them that Oregon citizens would face difficulty in boarding airplanes with a document that didn’t establish citizenship. There was a period of time when I was concerned that I would be a 2nd-class citizen in my own country because the state leadership was too stupid, or ideologically blinded, to see what they were doing.

The argument for establishing voter registration with driver licensing is that it makes the process easier. Easier than what? All one had to do previously was go to the county clerk’s office, show proof of citizenship and residency, and register. Changes in party or address can be taken care of online. In an election year, there are time horizons to meet, but elections occur at fixed times; it’s not like it’s a big surprise. I would argue that if someone can’t be bothered to expend the minimal effort required to meet the standard for voter registration, perhaps they shouldn’t be voting in the first place.

As for voter fraud, the State maintains that non-citizens with driver’s licenses and resident aliens will be excluded. Uh-huh. These safeguards are all dependent on state computer systems. Government computer systems are notorious for their ease of hackability and general insecurity. And what’s to prevent future Administration’s from playing games with the data? One of the things I learned in engineering school and later as a project manager was not to introduce more variables than absolutely necessary.  KISS is a good idea. Motor voter introduces variables into a system that was working pretty well.

Voting is a Western societal institution, but Progressives have no use for institutions save how they can be suborned to keeping them in power. The course is predictable. After a while, people will start to complain that excluding non-citizens and legal aliens is ‘unfair’. Why, they’re working  and living here, paying taxes; they should get a say in how things are run. There shouldn’t be any barriers to registration, up to and including someone getting off a plane and signing up to vote in the local election that day.

And it’s all bullshit.

A viable, dynamic, successful society requires standards, provided those standards can be reasonably met by the majority of citizens. The lower the standards, the lower the standard of living, and the less viable, the society that employs them.

Scott County, Tennessee

Occasionally I’ll be diverted by some random piece of information, and spend some time looking into it. I read an article that mentioned Scott County, TN, and took a passing interest. It turns out that Scott County seceded from the Confederacy, and was briefly it’s own self-declared country. So we have a county that seceded from an entity that seceded from a larger entity.  The climates better than Texas. Maybe a place to consider.

Posted by: bkivey | 14 March 2015

Pi Day

“Computer. Compute to the last digit the value of pi.”

Spock

The Ultimate Computer

Not even the M-5 could complete this impossible task, but a fitting quote for this century’s Pi Day. Every 14 March is ostensibly Pi Day, but today is the only time this century when the date approximates the value of pi to four digits. If one were to round up the fifth digit, then 14 March next year would qualify as a centennial Pi Day, but that’s just sloppy, although not as egregious as some attempts to set the value of pi to 3. The belief that pi could be set to 3 is based on another mathematical impossibility: squaring the circle. Irrational and transcendental pi may be, but it’s not 3.

Quote of the Day

I’m currently reading Plutarch’s Lives, and the first paragraph of the section on Pericles got my attention, perhaps because it so succinctly describes the vast number of people who waste their time (and other’s) on irrational matters.

Caeser once, seeing some wealthy strangers at Rome, carrying up and down with them in their arms and bosoms young puppy-dogs and monkeys, embracing and making much of them, took occasion not unnaturally to ask whether the women in their country were not used to bear children; by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who spend and lavish upon brute beasts that affection and kindness which nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind. With like reason may we blame those who misuse that love of inquiry and observation which nature has implanted in our souls, by expending it on objects unworthy of the attention either of their eyes or their ears, while they disregard such as are excellent in themselves, and would do them good.

Not much has changed in 2000 years.

Earworm

The other day I was afflicted with an earworm, this time Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman. It’s a decent enough song, but not when it won’t get out of your head. Since I couldn’t get rid of the tune, I decided to have some fun with it by imagining how it would sound in different styles.

Rap

I am the county’s bitch

And I drive that m —–f —–ing road

Lookin in the sky

For a suckass overload

That wire be tuning hard

Like some punk midevel bard

And now you know it’s time

To end this lame-ass rhyme

Social Justice Warrior (spoken word poetry)

I am public infrastructure repair person

And I drive my ecosystem destroying vehicle

Across lands taken from native peoples

I search in the Sun

For another example of imperialistic aggression

I hear the voices of the dispossessed in the wire

And it burns in my soul

About the injustices of capitalism

And power made by coal

Posted by: bkivey | 12 March 2015

My First NBA Game

I’m not a diehard sports fan, but I do enjoy watching anything done well, and I enjoy watching athletic competition performed at a high level. I’ve played several league sports, but I abused my body enough in my 20’s and 30’s to be chary of sustaining injury just to advance a ball. Now I’m content to sit and cheer on the home team, preferably with an adult beverage to hand.

Over the years and in different cities I’ve attended NFL, NHL, MLB, NWSL, and MLS games, along with F1 events, and have enjoyed the experiences. But I’ve never been to an NBA game. Because I live in the Portland metro area, this is something of a hole in my sports fan resume’. People here love them some Blazers, and in truth there’s a lot to like about our local NBA franchise. After the ‘Jail Blazers’ era of the Oughts, ownership decided that players that play well together were more important than simply recruiting the best talent available. Over the past three years the Trailblazers have assembled a core group of players that obviously enjoy the game, like playing together, and are fun to watch. They also win a lot of games. Going to a Blazers game is something of a right of passage around here, and in 8 1/2 years in the area, I hadn’t yet made it to a game. One of my goals this year was to rectify that shortcoming.

Wednesday 11 March the hated Houston Rockets were in town, the very same team that ejected the Blazers from the playoffs last year. Money and time were available, so I bought a ticket, and went.

I took public transit, because parking at events is expensive, and an all-day transit ticket is $5. It’s about a 10 minute drive to the train station, and an hour to the arena. I got off a couple of stops before the arena to eat. I stopped at Kell’s, Portland’s most authentic chain Irish pub, for a bite. The waitress gave me a look when I ordered iced tea rather than a pint. I had the Reuben, and it was OK for the price. Fueled and hydrated, I had a look at some items of interest across the street while waiting for the train.

The light rail stops directly in front of the Rose Quarter, which is where Moda Center ( basketball/hockey/general events), and Veterans Memorial Coliseum (hockey), are located, There’s a complex of shops and restaurants here, too,

20150311_185900

This used to be the Rose Garden, until a large national health insurance company bought naming rights. Yes, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in Portland that paying millions per year for naming an arena is maybe not the most productive use of healthcare dollars.

On game nights, there’s a lit cauldron:

20150311_190115

I’d never been inside the Rose Garden Moda Center, but figured it would be laid out like every other sports  venue. It was. There was an unexpected pass through metal detectors, but otherwise nothing unusual.

The view from my seat:

20150311_191007

I’m surprised there weren’t Sherpas and oxygen masks for rent. But really, the view wasn’t bad, and there are very few obstructed view seats in the place. There are spaces ringing the upper level for standing room only, and for $20 you can see a game: you just can’t sit down. I’ll note that this photo was 1/2 hr. prior to tipoff; nearly all the empty seats were filled. Even on a weekday, the Blazers can sell the house.

The game experience went about as expected. There was the usual amount of promotional activity during timeouts and intermissions; all entertaining. There was a halftime show by a gymnastics group from Union College of Lincoln, NE, which was fairly impressive and got a respectable amount of applause. The game was easy to follow even from my lofty perch, and I was mildly surprised to find that defensive sets and shots were plainly visible. This was the same feeling I’d had when watching NHL from the same tier of seats. You can see a lot more than you think you might from the 300 level.

The home team won. It was a close game through three quarters, but the Blazers pulled away in the fourth, although miscues allowed the Rockets to close the gap late. Some, um, unfortunate calls by the refs didn’t help. James Hardin can’t be too happy to play here: he was loudly booed every tine he touched the ball. Overall it was fun to see a game and players in person that I’d only seen on TV.

But the experience reminded me why I don’t go to live events more often. Mostly it’s the people. There’s a lot to be said for the collective experience, especially for a sporting event, and I try to let the little things slide, but sometimes, you have to wonder.

My seat was between two families. Family A, on my left, was two adults and one child of about 4. The child was old enough to appreciate what she was looking at, and her parents parented, in that they explained what was going on, and except for excessive talking during the National Anthem, indoctrinated her in the norms of society.

Family B, on my right, had some issues. There were two adults and three children, but they’d only bought four seats. The youngest child was maybe 2, and that was a problem. The plan was apparently to hold the youngest on laps for the game, but that didn’t really work out. The child couldn’t know where they were at, or what they were seeing, and they were squirming all over the place. The mother had her hands full the entire game with this child. The school kids in the row in front (attached in some way to Family A) were distracted by this child. What’s the point of going to an event if you can’t watch it, much less enjoy it? I was thinking: why didn’t they buy a seat for this child? It would have cost less than a babysitter.

It was a decent evening out  I like the Blazers, but I’m not a rabid fan. I couldn’t help but think that for the price of the night, I could watch four or five games at the local bar, with people who are just as good company, and who cheer just as loud. I’ll probably go to another game, but maybe I’ll spring for the 200 level

 

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