Time to vote…

by Steve, April 29th, 2007

Ballots are arriving for the May special election in Portland. Don’t forget to vote for Ruth Adkins for school board! Ruth represents an opportunity for a fresh start and a new direction at Portland Public Schools. Even if you don’t vote for anything else on the ballot, please mark this one and drop it in the mail. With the departure of Vicki Phillips and the district in near chaos, we need Adkins’ vision, leadership and common sense more than ever.

Thirteen Reasons Vicki Phillips Needed to Go

by Steve, April 25th, 2007

The news today that Vicki Phillips is stepping down as Portland Public Schools Superintendent comes as good news to those of us who have been critical of her leadership.

Perhaps her three-year legacy can best be summed up in three words: Jefferson Cluster Fuck. The planning for Portland’s only majority black high school and its feeder schools has been an abysmal failure of imagination and leadership. With only token community input, Phillips produced a disjointed plan that the community overwhelmingly rejected. The Jefferson campus was to be segregated by gender, with Tubman Middle School closed and the building used for an all-girls 7-12 school (two miles from the actual Jefferson campus). The boys would get their 7-12 school in Jefferson proper (shared with three other 9-12 “acadamies”). You see, you can’t trust young black men around young women. Also, you need discipline, so these 7-12 schools would require uniforms.

It is inconceivable that this type of plan would have been floated for a majority white school in Portland. It is further inconceivable that this was floated as a way to increase attendance and save Jefferson. Inconceivable, I tell ya!

But it gets even better. In order to add to the chaos, Ockley Green, the other middle school in the cluster, was converted to K-8 (how does that articulate to a 7-12 high school?), with plans to turn all the grade schools into K-8, too. Or just close them (this part they didn’t say out loud, but it’s been widely suspected that schools that are too small — or too close to Ockley — don’t have a part in this bizarre plan).

Because of tremendous public outcry, and underwhelming applications to the gender-segregated 7-12 schools, that part of the plan was delayed until the 2007-08 school year. We can only hope that with Phillips’ departure (and her hand-picked Jefferson principal floundering on administrative leave — see number two below), this asinine plan will be scrapped.

So here, in the spirit of Thursday Thirteen, are Thirteen Reasons Vicki Phillips Needed to Go. (Many thanks to the Neighborhood Schools Alliance for keeping such good tabs on Phillips during her stint here.)

1. The Jefferson Cluster Fuck, as detailed above. This alone was enough to disqualify her from further employment.

2. Leon Dudley, while technically part of the Jefferson Cluster Fuck, deserves his own item in the list. The district paid a head hunter $30,000 to help find him, but evidently they failed to take into account his troubling work history before offering him the job.

3. Her affinity with church-based education, exemplified by her attempt to sneak a church-run alternative school (to be housed at Jefferson) past the school board after they had unanimously rejected it as a charter school.

4. Sadly, this is part of a pattern of channeling taxpayer education funding to church-based organizations.

5. Her emphasis on closing down small, neighborhood-based, walking-distance schools, in favor of large, centralized schools.

6. Her alliances with conservative business interests and right-wing think tanks.

7. Her outsized PR budget.

8. Her general shoddiness in including the community in planning school closings.

9. Her general shoddiness in including the community in planning school boundary changes.

10. Her duplicitiousness on racial segregation. At the beginning of her tenure in Portland, she made a speech to the City Club of Portland decrying the trend of resegregation, correctly pegging it to liberal school transfer policies. (I can’t find the transcript anywhere, darn it.) But her policies, particularly with regard to Jefferson, seem designed to perpetuate segregation.

11. Her mismanagement of a $6.2 million federal grant that nearly led to its termination.

12. Her mis-diagnosis of declining enrollment as an artifact of demographics, and her failure to identify and address the true causes.

13. That hair. Good God, woman, are you hoping to get an award at your high school reunion for the one who looks the most like her senior portrait?

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last one.)

In all seriousness, I had high hopes for Phillips, as did many of my fellow Portlanders. And I realize that with unstable and inadequate school funding, there’s only so much you can do. Still, Phillips managed to blow it in ways nobody could have imagined three years ago. Good riddance.

Happy 4:20

by Steve, April 20th, 2007

4/20Hi guys! You know what day it is, right? It’s 4:20! Party on, dude!

But seriously, folks, 4:20 entered the common vernacular some time after I was introduced to the (ahem) alternative culture it references. The Urban Dictionary has quite a few competing theories about the origin of the term, and Wikipedia has it in a more organized form.

On a serious note, it is a good time to reflect on the war that’s been forgotten in the shadow of the nonsensical “Global War On Terror”, the war on casual drug users. A recent study published last month in the Lancet finds pot less hazardous than booze or tobacco, and it’s well known that many of our leaders have at least “tried” pot (whether or not they inhaled). At least in Oregon, it’s not criminal to hold an ounce or less for personal use. But the US still has a ridiculous number of citizens in prison for personal use of recreational drugs.

While it’s obviously not a good idea to inhale too much of any kind of smoke, marijuana has well-known therapeutic effects. I don’t think it merits too much political capital (i.e. I’m not going to spend my life campaigning for NORML). But a little common sense in our nation’s drug policy would save lives, money and frustration for millions of otherwise law abiding, productive citizens.

Anyway, have a happy 4/20, and don’t forget to inhale.

Thirteen Great Things About North Portland

by Steve, April 19th, 2007

You may have noticed that I’ve gotten really bad about writing these lists. For a while, it was a good impetus to write every week, but lately I’ve been pretty uninspired. Also, I don’t exactly fit in with the “TT” crowd, and I’m not good about visiting everybody’s blog to leave comments. Most of my online reading is political, and my writing tends that way, too. That’s a whole different ball of wax than most of the TTs, which tend toward the personal. Plus, I haven’t even been able to come up with thirteen things the last couple of times. Lame!

But since I’ve written some pretty snarky things about North Portland and Portland Public Schools lately, I thought I owed one to North Portland. Here goes. (Let’s see if I get to thirteen on this one.)

1. Great transportation. We’re two blocks from light rail transit, just a bit more to I-5. We can be downtown in 10 minutes by freeway or 15 minutes by train.

2. Hockey. The home of the Winter Hawks is in North Portland, just four light rail stops away.

3. Real neighborhoods. The streets are laid out in a grid. There are sidewalks. Parks. Nice old houses. Tree-lined streets.

4. Great views from the bluff.

5. More and more, nice urban amenities like bakeries, restaurants and shopping within walking distance.

6. Socio-economic diversity.

7. My choice of churches on Sunday.

8. The Peninsula Park sunken rose garden.

9. The Peninsula Park Community Center and pool.

10. The Portland Ship Yard on the site of the old Swan Island airport. This is viewable from the bluff, especially from University of Portland. It’s pretty cool to see the big ships in dry dock, and the old, gigantic tankers in fresh water storage before they’re sailed or towed to Asia to be scrapped.

11. My lovely wife.

12. My beautiful children.

13. My happy home.

Edited Friday, 4/20/2007: I can’t believe I forgot the St. Johns Bridge.

36 Hours in North Portland: The Real Deal

by Steve, April 16th, 2007

While I appreciate the New York Times Travel section doing a flattering story on Portland (I’ve still got my ode to the “Ugly Beauty” that is Portland in draft form to be published here soon), I wish once — just once — somebody would write a story about Portland that didn’t gush about Powell’s Books, the Rose Garden, Saturday Market, and all the hoity-toity restaurants in the Pearl.

So, in response to the NYT piece, here’s my 36 real Hours in North Portland. Maybe Portland isn’t so Nice after all.


6 p.m.
The roses in North Portland’s Peninsula Park won’t be in full bloom for several weeks, but you can get in a game of foosball or ping pong at the community center at the opposite end of the park. Don’t fuck with the surly teenagers gathered by the playground on your way, and they won’t fuck with you. There’s no view of the skyline here, just a real slice of Portland life.

7:30 p.m.
Walk north on Rosa Parks Avenue, taking in the view of the parking lot known as I-5 North (things may actually be breaking free by this hour), and grab a cheap burrito at El Burrito Loco. Don’t be put off by the filthy-looking, crumbling facility; this place regularly scores above 90 on county health inspections. After your burrito, play a game of Street Fighter or Michael Jackson Moonwalker, or grab a candy bar from the quaint vending machine padlocked to the booth.

10:30 p.m.
With one of the most extreme free-speech clauses of any state constitution, Oregon has an over-abundance of strip clubs. No pasties and g-strings here, my New York friends! North Portland (known as “NoPo” to the gentrifying hordes of yuppies moving in on the cheap real estate) has it’s entry in the naughty naked category in the Dancin’ Bare. Hop on a modern and efficient MAX train at Rosa Parks and Interstate, and find a seat next to somebody who isn’t slumped over, smelling like cat pee, beer or vomit. This might not be possible, so you may want to just stand by the door and breathe through your mouth. Get off under the giant statue of Paul Bunyan, grinning contentedly across the tracks to the lovely beige edifice that is the Dancin’ Bare. Mix it up with all the local color of Harley-ridin’, knuckle-draggin’ mouth breathers on offer at this fine establishment of gentleman’s entertainment.


10:30 a.m.
Nurse your Dancin’ Bear hangover with breakfast and a Bloody Mary at the Nite Hawk, one of Portland’s only restaurants with a unionized workforce. Just stumbling distance from North Interstate Avenue’s many neon-bedecked roach motels, the Nite Hawk has served customers at the corner of Interstate and Rosa Parks (formerly Portland Boulevard) since 1931.

12:30 p.m.
Head back up Interstate to Michoacan Restaurant, which doesn’t always score so great on the ol’ health inspections. Make sure to get plenty of fresh lime and chili with your meal to help fend off any microbes from improper food storage and handling.

2 p.m.
Why not both? Head a little further up Interstate and land at what the police warmly refer to as “The Gates of Hell,” better known to locals as Fred Meyer or simply “Freddy’s”. It looks a lot nicer since they knocked down the old shit hole facility that sat on the same site, but it’s still a haven for tweakers, shoplifters and street walkers. And it’s still chronically understaffed. But now they’ve got a Starbucks instead of Mickey D’s, so you can sip a latte as you stroll the friendly aisles, taking in the local color.

4 p.m.
Ask a Freddy’s clerk to get a bike down off the rack for you to look at, and when they’re not looking, make like the locals and run out the front door with it. Take a pleasant ride heading west on North Lombard, fighting traffic all the way to the Peninsula Crossing Trail. Take the trail north, directly to Portland’s main sewage treatment plant. Take a break there before returning your bike to the friendly security guards at Freddy’s.

6 p.m.
Head back down Interstate on the MAX and do cocktail hour at the the Alibi, a fabulous tiki lounge . They may not have the karaoke fired up yet, but this is a great place to see and be seen by other North Portland tourists. Don’t expect to see anybody there who actually lives in North Portland, of course.

8 p.m.
The cheap, strong drinks at the Alibi will probably have you pretty tanked up by now, so you might as well stay put and order some delicious fried food from the nearly spotless Alibi fryer.

10 p.m.
Hey, unless you really want to see some more of that action down at the Dancin’ Bare, you might as well stick around at the Alibi and watch the drunks embarrass themselves singing karaoke.


8:30 a.m.
Portland booze hounds don’t get up this early, so why should you? Sleep it off for a few hours. Most of the motels on Interstate rent hourly, so even if you sleep past checkout time, they won’t ding you for another full day.

9:30 a.m.
The meth monkeys in the unit next door have just rolled in after an all-nighter, and they’re having a knock-down, drag-out screaming fest. And looky here, the police just done showed up to take their two children into protective custody.

Print that, New York Times.

The Church, North Portland, and Me, the Atheist

by Steve, April 14th, 2007

St. Andrew'sThe Catholic Archdiocese of Portland dodged a major bullet yesterday, when a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that they don’t have to sell any properties to settle child sex abuse cases. In an answer to their prayers, they get to transfer church and school properties to the parishes. This is exactly what the gambled on when, in 2004, they were the first archdiocese in the US to file for bankruptcy protection in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits.

Wacky Mommy took one look at the picture in the paper of St. Andrew’s Church in Northeast Portland and said “I wish they’d make them sell off their churches, and then they’d have to open up store-front churches like all the other churches in North Portland.” You know, like “Christ Died For Your Sins on the Bloody Cross of Holy Redemption Church of God in Christ our Lord.” But seriously, the Catholic Church’s holdings, including St. Andrew’s (pictured above) are quite ostentatious compared to the rest of the churches in the neighborhood. Would it kill them to cough up a little more to atone for protecting child sex abusers for so long?

North and Northeast Portland are home to the only historically black neighborhoods in Portland. Store-front churches abound, but with gentrification pushing in (and Portland Community College’s Cascade campus expanding), they may soon be an endangered species. So while Wacky Mommy took the Wacky Kids to swim lessons this morning, I took a brief tour of North and Northeast Portland churches.

Christ MemorialFirst stop was the Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, with its adjacent “Future Home of Community Center & Basketball Pavilion.”Christ Memorial

Next comes what we refer to as the “LoveLee Ladee” complex, which includes both the Holiness or Hell Church of God in Christ and the Jubilee Tabernacle Full Gospel, Pentacostal Church.Lovlee Ladee We refer to it as “LoveLee Ladee” because of the painted-over sign above the entrance to Holiness or Hell, indicating it used to house a beauty salon, or, uh, well, you know.

Jubilee TabernacleThe entire complex used to be Holiness or Hell, but at some point the Jubilee Tabernacle came in.Holiness or Hell

Across the street from LoveLee Ladee is the Full Holy Ghost Mission Church of God in Christ, Inc., fronted by a lot of blacktop and a forbidding chain-link fence.Full Holy Ghost

A block further, we get a threefer: A More Excellent Way Christian Center, Northwest Voice for Christ Community Church, and The Ark of Safety Church of God Pentacostal, all housed in a building with a facade made to look like Noah’s Ark.Ark

Just a few blocks over, we come upon the Open Door House of Prayer.Open Door

I’m not posting pictures here to make fun of these joints. Even though I am a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, I respect the right of people to worship (or not) as they choose. And I am impressed by the humility of these neighborhood based churches, many of them unaffiliated with larger governing bodies. They stand in sharp contrast to the Catholic church, one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations on the planet. And every Sunday finds them brimming over with lively music and sharply dressed parishioners (oh the hats!).

The gentrification I mentioned before recently claimed the only black funeral home in town, and turned it into a pub. I’m not shitting you. Across the street from that is the Florida Room, a hipster restaurant whose reader board proclaims it as the Church of the Bloody Mary and for a long time also sported the message “Go Team Evil! Sin all the Damn Time!” This is just a stone’s throw from the LoveLee Ladee. Of course, as an atheist, I have no problem with this personally, but it is culturally insensitive (to say the least).

In ten years, there will probably be no more store-front churches in this neighborhood. The part of me that sees religious belief as the source of global strife doesn’t care. But the part of that appreciates diversity and humility is saddened.

Thirteen Ways my Life is Like Slap Shot

by Steve, April 11th, 2007

It’s playoff time, and it’s wall-to-wall hockey. Our local cable affiliate is carrying some of Shaw Cable’s coverage of the WHL playoffs. Vancouver just beat Seattle in game four, taking their series to 3-1 Vancouver. Now I’m watching the NHL Vancouver, tied with Dallas in the third 4-4. Damn, those NHL guys can skate.

Playoff hockey… is there anything better?

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No, it’s Thursday eve, and I’m supposed to crank out another Thursday Thirteen (turns out some of you expect these of me). So here are Thirteen Ways my Life is Like Slap Shot (the movie):

  1. “She’s not happy….” (Wacky Mommy that is.)
  2. She sits in the stands while I play my old farts beer league games and chats with the other hockey wives. “He doesn’t care for the fighting,” she tells them, “he told me.” And “He always says you can just screw so much and drink so much.”
  3. She told me the other day “If we got divorced, I wouldn’t have to watch so much hockey.” Did I mention, I never asked her to come see me play. Seriously, watching beer league hockey is like watching paint dry. She told me. And we haven’t been to a WHL game since February, I think. And she’ll never watch hockey on TV, unless it’s game seven of the Stanley Cup Final and I beg.
  4. Yesterday at the rink, there was a guy who shows up occasionally. He’s kind of slow, and yesterday he was being especially goofy, celebrating goals and shit (we generally don’t make a big deal of goals at stick time). One of the regulars said he always shows up drunk. I went up against him and hoo boy! did he reek of alcohol. So I’m thinking, if I board him, will he pee himself? Total Nick Brophy moment.
  5. If the mill closes (i.e. my software factory)… Fucking Chrysler plant here I come.

Ah, crap, that’s all I’ve got. I’m really getting lousy at this Thursday Thirteen thing. But five’s better ‘n none, eh?

Have a great week, and maybe I’ll post again before next Thursday.