Book Review: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridhadaras

Winners Take All (full title Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) is a difficult book.  In many ways, it feels like a book that doesn’t want to be read despite the necessity of doing so.  It’s bitter, almost acerbic and its writer Anand Giridhadaras is unafraid of speaking his mind.  Winners Take All is a book of harsh truths, but it reading it, and thinking about what it has to say feels like taking long needed medicine.

Continue reading “Book Review: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridhadaras”

National Museum of Brazil Burns Down, Nearly 20 Million Artifacts Lost

On September 2nd, 2018 at about 7:30 PM local time, the National Museum of Brazil caught fire.  The fire spread with alacrity as the building was filled with wood and parchment.  Local firefighters were unable to effectively combat the blaze, as nearby fire hydrants were dry and the nearest source of water was a lake close by in the Quinta de Bao Vista urban park.  Despite the best efforts of both firefighters and museum employees, the fire consumed the entire main building of the National Museum.  All three floors of the museum’s main building collapsed and the building was gutted before the fires eventually subsided.  The National Museum held over 20 million pieces ranging from natural history to mineralogy.

King John IV, the Museum’s first royal patron.

Even the main building of the National Museum was regarded as a national treasure.  The building, whose English name can be translated from Portuguese to Saint Christopher’s Palace, was built in 1803 on the site of a former Jesuit farm.  While it was originally the manor house of a prominent Lisbon merchant, the mansion would grow to prominence in 1807.  As Napoleon marched across mainland Europe in early 1800, he set his sights on Portugal, owing to the country’s alliance with his hated enemy Great Britain.  The Peninsular War soon turned into a series of victories for Napoleon’s France and their Spanish allies and by November the French were ready to march on the capital of Lisbon.  On November 29th 1807, Prince Regent John IV made the decision to flee the country on behalf of Queen Maria I.  Queen Maria, Prince John and their household of roughly 15,000 men and women fled Lisbon with the aid of the British Navy.  They made for Portugal’s largest colony in Brazil.

The Bendegó Meteorite.  It survived the fire with no major damage.

Soon after arriving in the country, Saint Christopher’s Palace was donated to the royal family.  Prince John (soon King John) ruled from the new Imperial Palace from 1808 to 1820.  In 1820, hoping to boost the esteem of Brazil in the eyes of the world, created the Royal Museum of Brazil and went so far as to donate the Palace to the fledgling institute as a sign of his faith in the establishment.  Interestingly, the museum’s collection would fluctuate, grow and adapt with the changing of emperors.  Under the watch of Brazil’s first emperor, Pedro I, the museum was a haven for naturalists and biologists.  At the turn of the century, Emperor Pedro II shifted priorities and as an amateur enthusiast himself drove an interest in the growing fields of archaeology and paleontology.  The net effect of this created a museum with an incredibly broad collection of artifacts and exhibits.  The biodiversity of Brazil was celebrated alongside Egyptian artifacts and several mummies.  The largest meteorite in Brazil was cataloged along with feather art of indigenous peoples.


Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces in the museum’s collection was Luzia Woman.  Luzia, whose name is a homage to Lucy, the remains of an Australopithecus found in Ethiopia, is a skeleton from the Upper Paleolithic era.  Most notable is Luzia’s amazingly intact skull which has been used to digitally reconstruct what Luzia and her people may have looked like.  Luzia is important because it’s believed that Luzia arrived in Brazil as part of one of the first migrations into South America, roughly ten thousand years ago.  This would make Luzia Woman the oldest recorded human remains in South America.  Unfortunately, Luzia was on display on September 2nd and she is believed to have been lost.  Not all of the news is bad.  Many of the museum’s collections, in particularly the collection of vertebrates assembled by the museum, were not housed in the main Palace building.  Such are the small favors in the face of this disaster.

All across Brazil, the outpouring of emotion has been felt.  President Michel Temer has called the losses to Brazilian culture “incalculable.”  But these sentiments ring hollow to many within the country.  In 2016, the country passed a bill that froze social spending in the country for 20 years.  The effort was made to fight a recession in Brazil, and only allowed social spending to rise to match yearly inflation levels.   That said, even two years ago critics were calling the effort draconian.  Now two years later, protesters are already blaming the austerity measures for the destruction of the museum, claiming the fire was a tragedy that was preventable.  The museum had seen its own funding cut by roughly 520,000 Brazilian real (a little over 125,000 US Dollars), and maintenance had declined significantly prior to the fire’s outbreak.

I’ve been thinking about journalism a lot lately, for obvious reason.  I’m of the opinion that the purpose of journalism isn’t just to report the news of the world, but to provide context for that news.  That context is the service that journalists provide to their community.  Like many people, I was caught completely by surprise when I heard the news about the National Museum and I was unprepared for how it affected me.  I volunteer at two museums right now.  The closest thing to a “beat,” on this website is my reporting on the events of those two museums.  A lot of my nostalgia from growing up is related to museums.  The Balboa Park complex in San Diego, the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, and the Pink Palace in Memphis among others.  When my family visited relatives in Fairfax, Virginia we almost always took public transit into Washington and visited at least one of the Smithsonian museums.   I have distinct memories of all of these places and they are a large part of who I am.

I would have never considered visiting the former Imperial Palace but I still felt an immense sense of loss upon hearing this news.  Even if I’m not Brazilian I can empathize with this immense loss of culture and shared knowledge in the fires of September 2nd.  Because what was lost wasn’t just Brazilian.  The coffin of Sha-Amun-en-su was on display in the National Museum and the collection contained frescoes and pottery from the Mediterranean.  I’ve already touched on the immense collection of indigenous artworks from the Inca, Nazca, Wari and other peoples from South America.  The context of this loss is universal because the National Museum’s mission is universal.  The recovery of the National Museum will take some time, but it will happen.  There has already been an international outpouring of support from professionals across the industry and fields of research.  That’s why I chose to write about this tragedy.  That’s why I want to be a journalist and to those who work in the National Museum I say: Meu coração vai para você.

Thanks for reading.

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”

John Donne, Meditation 17. 1624.

Portland Art Museums holds Week-Long Exposition of Art by Staff and Volunteers

What are the benefits of working in your workplace?  Healthcare and dental should go without saying.  But what about extra perks?  Maybe you get the occasional tickets to a sporting event, or discounted prices on affiliated products.  But how many people can say that their employers have created an art show to show their works as a sign of thanks?  Well, this week the Portland Art Museum is doing just that.

The Rental Sales Gallery during opening night.

On August 25th, the Portland Art Museum kicked off a week long celebration of staff and volunteer art work with a show at the museum’s Rental and Sales Gallery or RSG.  The RSG is a small storefront in an apartment building just across the street from the museum on 10th Street.  The RSG is like any commercial art gallery, and normally features a variety of works owned by the museum but not on display.  These pieces are either rented (for a standard duration of about 3 months) or sold.  While it’s hard to divide the largely open gallery space of the RSG into sections, most of the “main gallery,” has been set aside for the week of August 25th-31st to display the works of the Portland Art Museum’s staff.  The staff pieces are also identifiable via unique name labels to distinguish them from the gallery’s usual fare.

Victorian Couch by Paul Scarpelli

On Saturday the 25th, starting in the early evening the Art Museum opened the week long exhibition with an open art show.  Attended mostly by museum staff, family, friends and museum regulars, the small space of the RSG was completely filled.  Snacks were placed out, replaced with admirable speed and the open bar was kept busy.  The walls of the RSG were covered by dozens of pieces submitted by the staff.  What’s more the type of art and who submitted it was of great interest.  While much of the pieces were paintings, many were multi-media pieces, utilizing a variety of mediums to convey the image.  Still others were high gloss photography.  A few were more bizarre.  One employee submitted a series of pieces that resembled tribal fetishes, built from wood, twine and hemp.  Another brought in an illumination in the style of Medieval literature.  One employee from the museum’s security department even brought in photos of Victorian furniture and woodwork that he’d spent the past three years building.

The exhibition underlines why many employees and volunteers dedicate their time to the Art Museum.  To them, the Art Museum is more than a place of employ, it’s a place of inspiration.  And that the museum repays them for their service by giving them the same treatment as the artists whose work they look up to.  It’s even worth noting that many of the pieces on display from the staff are tagged with prices and are for sale.  After all, this is the Rental and Sales Gallery and the Art Museum is true to its word.  I’m not sure if these prices were provided by participants or if the museum went the extra mile to appraise the works individually, but it’s a nice touch.  That said, a handful of pieces are labelled as Not For Sale, indicating an intangible personal worth to the artist.

More Staff Art on display in the RSG.

In this regard, the Staff Art Show is perhaps the best benefit that the museum could provide for its staff.  For one week, the museum places its staff on the same pedestal as the artists whose work they display every day.  And if the opening show is a show of support than the closing art show, which is scheduled to happen on August 31st, is a downright endorsement.  On the 31st, during the Museum’s usual $5 After 5PM promotion the Museum is essentially turning the staff loose and allowing several to put on their own shows.  Staff will be putting on gallery talks, a poetry show and displays of artistry like drawing portraits of visitors.

It’s admirable to see an organization like the Portland Art Museum provide this sort of benefit to its employees.  And while this isn’t the sort of perk that every company can provide it does represent a certain outlook.  Employees, in any company, want to know that they are valued and respected by their employers.  In the Art Museum that respect takes the form of allowing the employees to express themselves along side the artwork they oversee every day.  This recognition should be a model for any organization, large or small on how to treat its loyal staff.

The Portland Art Museum Staff Art Show is running until Friday the 31st in the Rental and Sales Gallery at 1937 SW 10th Street.  The closing show begins on Friday, at 5PM.

OMSI Installs New USS Blueback Exhibit

Preface: I volunteer on a weekly basis as a tour guide on the USS Blueback.

On Monday 17th, The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry  (OMSI) unveiled a newly revitalized exhibit in the museum lobby dedicated to the USS Blueback.  The exhibit is expected to reconnect with the community and drive interest in one of the museum’s most iconic permanent features.

The USS Blueback (SS-581) is a former US Naval submarine that was graciously donated to OMSI in 1994 following a rigorous campaign by the city and the museum.  Prior to its re-purposing as a museum vessel, the Blueback served as a Fast Attack Submarine in the US Navy.  As the last of three Barbel-class submarines (though the second one to be designed and built), the USS Blueback was built in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Built in 1957 the Blueback (named for a breed of Chinook salmon) served in the Pacific after being commissioned in 1959.  Stationed between San Diego, Pearl Harbor and Yokuska, Japan the Blueback enjoyed a 30 year career before it was decommissioned in 1990.  When it was removed from the fleet, the Blueback was notable for being the last non-nuclear  combat submarine in the US Navy.  The USS Dolphin, a research vessel, was the actual last non-nuclear submarine in the US Navy when it was decommissioned in 2007.

IMG_20180817_172752 (2)
The Blueback (SS-581) seen from the walking path above its dock.

In 1994, OMSI towed the BlueBack to Portland, welded it to the side of a dock, and carved a large hole into the side of the vessel to install a tourist entrance.  Ever since, the Blueback has lived a second life as the most modern museum submarine in the United States.  The submarine is staffed by employees and volunteers that provide tours to museum visitors.  The average tour is between 40 and 50 minutes.  Guides cover the general aspects of the submarine including equipment and the life on board the boat.  On a monthly basis, the submarine provides a pair of days for guests to take technical tours of the boat.  These are approximately 3 hours long and go in-depth.  Both types of tours are popular, and while SS-581 might not have the draw of a USS Midway or Intrepid, the boat receives up to 500 people per day during peak season.  If there was one criticism to be made of the Blueback, the submarine didn’t have the best advertising.  It’s a big ticket feature of the museum but was hardly referenced amidst the advertisements for IMAX movies or the current Featured Exhibit.  But with the installation of the new lobby exhibit, the Blueback is poised to receive a new influx of interest from visitors.

The new exhibit was built for $120,000, with 50 percent of the funding come from a grant from the State of Oregon.  The space was built from the ground up in what used to be the queuing area for the submarine tours.  In the past, the sub queue consisted of several nondescript benches and a mock-up of a submarine hatch.  While there was some signage it wasn’t particularly noticeable amidst the larger background of the museum.  In contrast, the new exhibit is vibrant and visually pops.  Most of the exhibit on the Blueback is cast in appropriately dark blues.  Against the bright red of the OMSI lobby, it’s instantly noticeable and eye catching.  The exhibit itself consists of a newly redone mock hatch (now outlined by a life-sized picture of the kind of the metal surrounding a hatch on-board) and a large, beautifully drawn diagram on the sub, complete with an internal cross-section highlighting the multiple compartments in easily defined colors.  Flanking the diagram are older pictures of the sub throughout its life span.  Surrounding the dark blue wall are pictures of sea life, painted directly on the windows behind the exhibit.  Even approaching the museum from the rear entrance, you can see the back of the exhibit and an inviting advertisement for the Blueback tours.  But in addition to showcasing the boat and making a case to buy a ticket, the exhibit also fits into OMSI’s broader philosophy of hands-on learning.

A young guest demonstrates the hands-on buoyancy demonstration.

Built into the exhibit are a pair of hands-on features that educate visitors on aspects of the submarine.  The first, moving from left to right, is a very narrow wheel filled with water.  Inside the wheel are a trio of smaller circles decorated like little submarines.  Just like the larger apparatus, the little subs are filled with varying amounts of water, illustrating how submarines like the USS Blueback can adjust their own buoyancy by filling or emptying their ballast tanks.  The entire apparatus can also be rotated to demonstrate how the subs will drift to different depths within the tiny aquarium.  The second feature is a complicated game of sounds.  The game uses sounds recorded while using a passive sonar system and challenges the listener to match sounds with their sources.  A keen-eared guest will have to identify a variety of sounds including tug boats, dolphins, humpbacked whales and even popcorn shrimp.  With brightly color buttons, a large chunky interface and flashy lights, this portion of the exhibit is guaranteed to attract younger guests in particular.

The exhibit isn’t without some minor flaws.  On my visit, the sound-matching game broke under the strain of what was assumed to be some particularly enthusiastic young guests.  And while the presentation of the exhibit is spot-on, I’ve heard criticism.  The exhibit elaborates on the design and construction of the vessel but it doesn’t touch upon the Blueback’s military history.  But whatever the case, this new exhibit demonstrates a new show of commitment from the Museum as a whole.  It’s a gesture of good faith to continue marketing the Blueback as an attraction at OMSI.  Which is fantastic, because the USS Blueback is an iconic part of the east Portland waterfront on the Willamette River and deserves to have an audience for as long as possible.

Tours of the USS Blueback happen daily, starting from 10AM and continuing until 5:30 PM through summer.  Tickets are $6.50 and can be bought at the museum or via the OMSI website.

Book Review: The 2020 Commission Report by Jeffery Lewis

Author’s Note: One of the primary purposes of this website is to demonstrate my range as a writer.  So this time, I’m trying something brand new, and I’m publishing a literary review.  Enjoy!

Jeffery Lewis’ 2020 Commission Report ( full name: The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, shortened for…obvious reasons) is a fascinating experiment.  Described as a novel of speculative fiction, the book is pastiche of the 9/11 Commission Report.  Of course, it’s also worth remembering that The 9/11 Commission Report was itself an improbable literary success when it was released to the public in 2004.  Critics of the time praised the factual Report as a sort of real life thriller.  This new novel is presented in much the same way.  Released 3 years after the fictional events of the novel, the Report chronicles the events of March 2020, wherein an unfortunate airline malfunction leads to a brief but devastating nuclear war between the US and North Korea.

Continue reading “Book Review: The 2020 Commission Report by Jeffery Lewis”

After the Inferno

Benson Bridge – note the burned trees and blocking fence .

Despite an announcement in late June that the iconic Benson Bridge is now open, Multnomah Falls seems to only begrudgingly welcome visitors.  Entrance into the National Forest is difficult.  Heading east on the I-84, it’s almost impossible.  The only available parking near the Falls is in the Multnomah Lodge overflow lot and traveling from nearby Portland, the lot’s entrance is closed.  Further on down the road is Exit 35, which leads to all three of the Falls situated around The Lodge (Horsehead, Multnomah and Waheena).  The exit is open, but the road heading west, towards the falls is also closed.  As such, the only accessible path to The Lodge is via the Interstate heading west.  Once parked, the small space open to visitors feels cramped.  Fences block off huge swathes of the National Forest, all festooned with green signs that explain in white text the closure of the forest’s upper trails.  While the Lodge itself is open, along with its gift shop, restaurant and visitor’s center, it is clear that the park is still recovering from the devastation of 2017’s Eagle Creek Fire.  Forest service rangers lounge out in front of the Lodge, watching eager visitors make the meager hike up to Benson Bridge for a photo opportunity.  It’s hard to tell how many of the visitors realized that the majority of the National Forest is closed, since they show up in T-shirts, and baseball caps, carrying backpacks and pushing strollers.  But once you look at the forest beyond the paved path up to Benson Bridge, it becomes easy to see the lingering scars from the fire.

The roads leading to The Falls are blocked off on either side.

On September 2nd, 2017 a 15-year old young man was playing with fireworks in the Columbia Gorge.  The day was hot and dry, with temperatures climbing into the high 80’s and even cresting at 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  The young man (whose name has not been released to the public, per the juvenile criminal policy) was witnessed hurling a smoke bomb into the canyon below.  Almost immediately smoke began to climb out of the gorge.  Within minutes of witnesses notifying the Forest Service of smoke, six-foot tall flames were cresting throughout the Gorge.  The Eagle Creek Fire was quick, ruthless and tenacious.  By the dawn of September 3rd, the fire had grown to 3,000 acres and on the fifth, embers drifted across the Columbia River to spark a secondary fire in Washington state.  153 hikers were trapped by the blaze, forcing emergency responders and the Forest Service moved quickly to rescue all of them.  Luckily by the morning of the 3rd all of them had been bused out off of the trails.  Similarly, the small town of Cascade Locks, Oregon had to be evacuated due to its proximity to the growing inferno.  On September 6th, the Eagle Creek Fire merged with the growing Indian Creek Fire, thus putting 31,000 acres of land actively aflame.

The fire raged for the better part of a month.  By September 28th, close to 49,000 acres of land had been lost to the blaze.  Meanwhile, the Forest Service had only manged to contain approximately 46% of the fire.  Air quality had degraded for the Columbia River Gorge, and for the nearby cities of Portland and Vancouver throughout the month.  October brought some relief as the notoriously wet Pacific Northwest rainy season kicked in.  But it wasn’t until November 30th, a full 90 days after the fire was first started that the Forest Service announced the fire was 100% contained.  Through the hard work and dedication of hundreds of firefighters and forest service professionals, the fire had only managed to consume 50,000 acres of land.  In the end, the containment efforts cost the Forest Service over 20 million dollars.

Notice the rocky hillside beneath the largely depleted underbrush.

Fire damage to a forest goes far beyond simply burning down trees.  Fire can cause damage to trees and other large vegetation but the most vulnerable plants are the moss, lichen and undergrowth on the forest floor.  Especially for forests growing in otherwise rocky soil like in the Columbia River Gorge.  This can cause even more damage to the environment as the undergrowth literally helps soil and larger plant life cling to the hillsides.  Without the “glue,” holding the forest together, stones and even trees are at risk of becoming unstable and falling into the Gorge.  Even before the fire, the lower paths heading up to the Falls were protected by large, steel fences, bracing against the danger of falling rocks and trees.  Now, such dangers are even more evident and debris is visible between the switchbacks of the trail leading up to the bridge.  While the trees and larger vegetation of the region largely endured the fire (though not without scarring) the forest floor was quite nearly annihilated.  But while the ground floor of the forest suffered the most damage, it is also beginning to show signs of recovery.  The forest floor around the Falls is lit up by a mosaic of the green of new growth.  Because while the undergrowth suffers the most it’s also the first to spring back from the damage.  Frankly, the contrast between the burned treeline and the recovering foliage below is quite beautiful.

Perhaps the most striking photo I took.  New growth surrounding a charred trunk.

That said, despite the ostensibly positive signs of recovery, the road is expected to be long and arduous.  Unlike some trails further into the Gorge, there is no plan to reopen the upper trails around The Falls, at least for the foreseeable future.  And yet, business doesn’t seem to have slowed.  Fire or not, The Falls are the most famous scenic location in the Columbia River Gorge.  The Lodge itself was commissioned in 1915 (it was completed in 1925) but at that point, Multnomah Falls was already a tourist destination and it had been a stopping point for both trains and river boats.  In the same year, the Lodge’s chief financier, Simon Benson (for whom the iconic bridge is named) donated 1,500 acres to the City of Portland.  The forest would be turned over to the newly created Forest Service in 1943 and in 1981 the Lodge was added to the National Register of Historical Places.  On my visit, the visitor’s center and gift shop were packed and the restaurant was doing brisk business, even boasting an award for 2018 service.  And none of this is to say that the forest as a whole isn’t open to explore.  While wandering the visitors center I struck up a conversation with a very nice volunteer named Ray.  Ray told me about the Dry Creek Falls trail a few miles east of Multnomah Falls, near the once evacuated town of Cascade Locks.  The trail back to Dry Creek Falls is part of the Pacific Crest Trail and the trail workers who maintain the PCT have worked hard to clear the trail for the season.  In June, the trail was reopened to the public to much celebration.

In some regards, it is easy to see why the Forest Service has been hesitant to reopen the trails in and around the Falls.  Wildfire season has only gotten longer and worse in recent years.  In addition to the Eagle Creek Fire, the state of Oregon reported some 1068 fires in the state.  This includes the Chetco Bar Fire in Curry County located in the southwestern corner of the state.  The Chetco Bar Fire started in early June of 2017 and consumed over 191,000 acres of land.  It wasn’t fully contained until early November.  The Chetco Bar Fire was only overshadowed by the Eagle Creek Fire because of the cause of the later.  There’s certainly something scandalous about the worst fire in the Columbia Gorge being started by an errant firework.  In contrast, the Chetco Bar Fire was started by a bolt of lightning.  Either way, the two fires were only a small fraction of the 2017 wild fire season, which saw a grand total of 451,863 acres burned over the course of the summer in Oregon alone.  And there’s no signs of abatement this year.  To the south in California, the Carr Fire is currently working its way through the northern portion of the state.  Having already burned through over 167,000 acres, it is already the sixth worse fire in state history.  The fire is only 47% contained and has amassed a count of seven deaths.  But even the Carr Fire’s path of destruction pales in comparison to the Mendocino Complex Fire.  Called the worst fire in modern state history, the blaze has engulfed over 290,000 acres and is showing no signs of slowing down.  Meanwhile, Oregon seems to have been largely spared from quite so severe a season as the state has only suffered about 262,000 acres lost.

Sadly, longer and more dangerous wildfire seasons are going to be a fact of life moving forward.  Such challenges are a direct result of Global Warming, as foliage and plant life becomes drier and bouts of precipitation less and less frequent.  There is no simple fix for this problem and the Forest Service and state firefighters are going to have to simply dig in their heels.  Unfortunately, even such an apolitical issue as fighting wildfires has become a partisan issue, with the president tweeting out his errant opinion on the matter late on Sunday August 5th.  While high profile, the president’s (now deleted) tweet was characteristically unfocused.  What’s more, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made his own opinion on California’s use of its reservoirs known by advocating for adjustments to the state’s laws regarding conservation and use of reservoir water.

A sign out in front of The Falls.  It includes a comprehensive list of links to groups helping the recovery effort

Which brings us back to Multnomah Falls.  Keeping the trails surrounding the Falls closed for the foreseeable future might be in the region’s best interest.  The Gorge’s recovery will be a long and arduous one.  And while some trails are expected to be opened by the end of the year, many have no opening date in site.  In the meantime, it is possible to help.  Nonprofits like Friends of the Gorge are doing their part to help raise money and awareness for recovery operations.  Charities like The Trailkeepers of Oregon have donated money and time towards helping the Forest Service clear and rebuild trails.  The residents of the Columbia River Gorge and Oregon as a whole are working with the Forest Service to shoulder the burden and continue along the long road to recovery.  Maybe someday soon trails to Larch Mountain, Devil’s Rest and more will be crawling with hikers.  And when they do, hopefully those trekkers will be more appreciative of this land and mindful of the effect that we can have upon it.

Thank you for reading.

A Political Vampire: Explaining The Cal 3 Proposal

Author’s Note: Wow, this one turned out to be some kind of undertaking.


On July 18th, the California Supreme Court announced that a measure voted upon during the primary would not be placed on the general ballot.   The Court wrote, “We conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election,” as part of their reasoning.

The Cal 3 Resolution or Proposition 9 is the latest form of a push to partition the state of California into multiple smaller states and in many ways it’s emblematic of our current political situation as a nation.  But in order to fully understand Proposition 9, it’s imperative to understand the history of the movement to divide California into multiple states.  And that’s a history that is older than the state itself.

Continue reading “A Political Vampire: Explaining The Cal 3 Proposal”

The Big Float, The Big Pipe and the Human Access Project

On July 14th, the City of Portland celebrated the 8th annual Big Float.  About 4,000 people (this writer included) made the trip down to Tom McCall Bowl at Southwest Columbus and Naito Parkway to, in the words of the event’s organizers, “give our river a hug.”  Sponsored by a number of local and international companies, including Subaru and PointWest Credit Union, the Big Float styles itself as a celebration of the Willamette River.  With food trucks arranged around the Bowl, live music on a barge and multiple “parades,” complete with marching bands to lead the way, The Big Float sets itself up to be the event of the summer.  What’s more the event and its organizers, The Human Access Project, have reasons to celebrate.

Continue reading “The Big Float, The Big Pipe and the Human Access Project”

The Mystery of the Granite Sarcophagus and Why It Matters

If the title of this article reads like something out of an old Doc Savage paperback or an old pulp radio serial, good that is by design. Because quite frankly the archaeological discoveries from last week are genuinely exciting. On July 11th, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that archaeologists had unearthed a massive granite sarcophagus outside the city of Alexandria.  At approximately 73 inches tall, 104 inches long, 65 inches wide and with a weight of 30 tons, the Sarcophagus sounds gigantic.  For context, the most famous sarcophagus, the one belonging to Pharaoh Tutankhamen is significantly smaller, since the smallest of the four shrines built around it has been measured to be only about ten inches longer than this particular find at 114 inches and about 58 inches wide.  In short, this is quite literally a big find and it is the largest Sarcophagus ever found within the vicinity of Alexandria.  The location, especially, is important but we’ll pivot back to that in a bit.

Continue reading “The Mystery of the Granite Sarcophagus and Why It Matters”