Posted by: bkivey | 8 February 2010

Oregon Achievements

I am not affiliated with the medical profession, but I would guess that the most common injury suffered by citizens in the State of Oregon general and the City of Portland in particular would be hyper-extended elbow from patting themselves on the back. One of the first things I noticed about the culture of Portland was the self-congratulatory attitude held by many of the residents. Conversations with other transplants indicates that I am not alone in this perception.

In fairness, I find Portland to be a more livable city than any other place I’ve lived, a list that includes Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, and St. Petersburg, FL. There are many positive aspects to living in the Portland metro area. I have lived in the Portland area for four years and in Oregon for nearly ten and feel that in many ways I have found a home. But many folks who live west of the Cascades are rather provincial in their outlook; something I first noticed in Seattle but much more pronounced in Portland.

An article in a  recent edition of the Sunday paper focused on what a select group of Oregonians considered to be positive aspects of the state that set Oregon apart from the rest of the Union. Many of the examples cited have the distinct flavor of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear:

Locavores: There has been a growing movement to eat only food that is grown within some arbitrary distance of your home, say, 50 miles. The implication is people who eat food grown in Iowa are morally inferior to those who eat food grown in the Willamette Valley and that ‘the planet’ is more important than an efficient food distribution network. The fact is that there is not enough farm capacity in the entire Northwest to feed even the 2.5 million people in the Portland metro area, let alone the rest of the Northwest. If you want to engage in this practice, go for it. But don’t consider it to be good idea for everybody.

Streetcars: Many in Portland seem to be under the impression that light-rail transit was somehow revitalized in this area, an idea that will come as a surprise to cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. The price of a monthly transit pass in the Portland metro area is among the highest in the nation, equaling the price of a pass in Chicago and New York, and considerably more than a pass in San Francisco, all of which have superior mass transit systems.

Renewable resource development: In the last five years there has been a veritable explosion of wind turbine construction in Oregon and Washington. Some of the most picturesque places in both states now sport hundreds of wind turbines; structures that even the most ardent supporters concede do nothing for the natural beauty for which the Northwest is known. Considering that the average wind turbine produces about 1.5 MW (when the wind is blowing) and that the average capacity of a nuclear power plant in this country is about 1500 MW (regardless of weather) it seems that a rational person would prefer to have one nuke on the horizon rather than 1000 wind turbines. There has been increased agitation by ‘green’ groups to close Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant (550 MW). Because they do not offer any base-line power alternatives, one can only imagine that they wouldn’t mind seeing another 370 wind turbines constructed to replace the plant (when the wind is blowing).

Rural Oregon: The article cites the resliance of folks in rural areas of the state for having “… survived the demise of the timber industry, the drastic cutbacks in the fishing industry…”. What the article doesn’t mention is that the reason these folks have seen their livelihoods disappear is that the very people who are complimenting them are the same ones who caused the problems in the first place by supporting legislation to virtually eliminate the timber and fishing industries. “The planet’, you see, must take precedence over human endeavor, although there isn’t a logger, fisherman, farmer, or rancher alive who doesn’t know more about sustainable practices than any urban dweller, because their livelihood depends on it.

In many ways Oregon and the Northwest is a great place to live. It is a place of unmatched natural beauty, a high percentage of creative people, and a mild climate west of the Cascades. But Oregon is also plagued by 11% unemployment, one of the highest income tax rates in the nation, a growing budget deficit, an out-of-control public employee pension system, and an urban electorate that seems unwilling or unable to grasp the fact that reducing jobs in the resource sector of the economy and shifting the tax burden to ‘the rich’ and corporations is not a viable business model. Perhaps before people congratulate themselves on what a great place Oregon is they should give some thought on how to keep it that way.

Word Watch

In my correspondence with elected officials of various stripes one Congressional Representative used the term ‘external constitutents’. I had always thought that constituents were those citizens that were represented by a particular elected official. A little research found that the word “constituent” comes from the Latin meaning “one who elects”. So by definition the term ‘external constituent’ is non-sensical. I passed this little tidbit on to the Representative, but no word back yet.


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