Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bit More on Portland

I missed Friday cat blogging last week, so I'll save that for this Friday unless there's overwhelming interest in the story of Emma and the Plastic Bag.

Other things about Portland. For those of us in California, Portland is an incredibly white place. That doesn't mean that there aren't people of color there, but they are much fewer in number and percentage than in California. It's not awful, but it is a little strange. Portland also has the same urban ills as California cities--gentrification, homelessness and so on. The City Parents of Portland twice passed anti-homeless legislation, but the court there ruled it unconstitutional, so the homeless have re-established themselves at the waterfront. The now- being-discussed latest incarnation of this is legislation to keep doorways clear and prevent the blocking of thoroughfares. Now any urban street is going to have blocked thoroughfares as large numbers of people more from place to place, so the enforcement of that legislation would necessarily be selective. The solution would be to provide housing, but that costs money and requires an allocation of space to poor people. And that's not what Portland's "sustainability" is all about.

This isn't Portland's problem alone. This month's Sunset Magazine ran a piece on communities where people could live without having to use the car too much. Davis, California, was featured. (Davis is about 20 minutes west of Sacramento.) Now Davis is a really nice place to live. It features a university, walkable streets (except on the hottest days), and lots of recycling and composting. But it's also very expensive, so much so that many of the people who work there can't participate in the sustainability because the housing there is far more expensive than janitors, baristas and clerical workers can afford. Communities should not be rewarded for providing sustainability to the well-to-do, while requiring that the majority of the workforce live elsewhere--and drive to work, as public transit serves the residents rather than those who have to commute to work.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Jury Duty

Nothing strikes more fear into the hearts of the citizenry than the appearance of an official "jury summons" in the day's mail. The citizen sees herself being herded like cattle, subjected to hours of boredom punctuated by silly questions designed to elicit "bias" with respect to the parties in the action. For those of us who have somehow earned the enmity of either the prosecution or the defense in particular actions, it's a long, slow slog to being "thanked and excused." Prosecutors don't want me on murder cases or three-strikes cases, but defendants don't want me on child molestation or rape cases. I don't know who wouldn't want me on a fraud case, but I may, some day, find out.

The very first time I was called for jury duty, I spent an entire day in San Francisco's Jury Assembly Room, and read an entire book. I was lucky--in those days you could be forced to come every day for an entire week. When the citizenry began rebelling by not showing up, California switched to the "one day, one trial" system, which at least limited the amount of time people could be kept waiting.

But that doesn't mean that you're free after one day because you can be part of a jury panel suffering voir dire, which always seems to go on forever. And the questions! I mean, how many people in this day and age are going to say, in a room full of strangers, that they're biased against African-Americans or police officers or whatever. It reminds me of the days when airline ticket agents used to ask if I'd had my eye on my luggage since I packed it. Well, I suppose my cat could have planted a toy in my suitcase while I wasn't looking.

Judges have taken over voir dire, as the process had become so involved that questioning the jurors took days. (I remember once being asked what magazines I read. I tried to provide a comprehensive list, wondering all the time if I'd be convicted of perjury if I forgot one.) This time, the questions for a murder case were only one page. Do not believe, however, that this is for the convenience of the jurors. It isn't. It's to keep the judge from falling asleep.

And some of the questions! The defense attorney in my most recent brush with the legal system asked if I "was acquainted" with neighborhoods like Oak Park and Del Paso Heights (two of the more perceived high-crime areas in Sacramento). I asked what was meant by "acquainted", as it could mean whether or not I had lived there, or whether I'd read about them in the newspaper. Amazingly, once the defense attorney clarified the issue, the majority of the panel indicated no knowledge of these neighborhoods. Do they not read the newspaper? Or (perhaps, especially) watch television news?

Then there are the hardship applications. Because those aren't handled administratively, people with problems can't be excused without being interviewed by the Court. This means that several hours are taken up with these applications. I think that about a third of my panel was excused for hardship. More time was taken up questioning jurors who didn't want to discuss their answers to voir dire in public. (I'm a lot more sympathetic to this, as one of the questions was whether the prospective juror had been the victim of a crime. Many people might not want to discuss these in front of a room full of strangers.) What all this meant, though, was that most of the jury panel had a three-hour break, long enough for a French-style lunch.

What makes this waiting possible is that jurors don't get compensated for their time. If, for instance, courts had to pay jurors the median wage, the courts would have long since figured out a more efficient process. Jurors wouldn't be called in until needed, and they'd develop a process for weeding out those who couldn't serve without having a lot of expensive people waiting around. Couldn't the panel fill out the voir dire questionnaire online or by mail? This would enable those who couldn't serve to present their case without having to show up at all, and enable people with privacy concerns to discuss their situation without taking up hours that the vast majority could be spending on the sofa with bon bons. If you pay me nothing, it's easy to make my civic duty an onerous burden; if you have to pay me $20 an hour, you're going to come up with a more efficient system.

What's most noticeable, though, is that judges have become much better behaved. It used to be that judges would ream out the prospective jurors, particularly those they didn't like. I once had a right-winger try it on me, but I'm a big girl and can take care of myself. But I once was on a panel where the judge's behavior toward another juror was so appalling that I very nearly wrote a letter to the Presiding Judge complaining about the judge's conduct. (While the prospective juror was not the brightest penny on the block and was making a dumb argument, nearly reducing her to tears was thoroughly inappropriate.)

In my recent service, I was pretty sure that the judge didn't like me one bit and, had he been the prosecutor--he was a former prosecutor--would have bounced me from the jury in a New York minute, he managed not to sneer at me. (He'd heard of the organization I used to work for and managed not to refer to it as a bunch of "lefties.") More impressive, however, was the way he used the voir dire to insure that the prospective jurors were capable of sitting in judgment in a murder case. I don't know what he would have done if he found someone who wasn't capable of understanding the issues and instructions, but he made eliciting the information painless.

But jury duty is still a complete waste of my time. Either the prosecution or the defense will bounce me. I just wish they'd figure out a way to do it faster.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 6

The cats were so happy to see us back. Now they can go outside to the patio. They didn't miss their beloved humans, but our ability to open doors.

Twice in the latest Sacramento News and Review it was suggested that Sacramento had "world class city" potential because it possessed this or that. Sacramento will never be a world class city--not in dreams, not in a parallel universe, not ever. Just ain't gonna happen.

Neither will Portland, even though Portland has some things Sacramento doesn't, and those things make Portland a more interesting place to live. First Portland was created by cutting down forest, so it's surrounded by the remaining forest. Portland has excellent downtown transportation and a reason (shopping) to go downtown. Residents and tourists can travel free through most of downtown free, yes, free. But once you get out of downtown, and particularly in the southeast part of the city, you need a car. There are too few bus lines and the buses appear too infrequently to be useful for daily transit.

In addition, because the light-rail and streetcar systems work on the honor system (you get on without having to pay a fare or show a ticket), it's easy for the transit police to discriminate in checking tickets. We saw young, nonwhite and apparently poorer citizens being stopped by transit police at the stations outside the free fare area and asked to produce proof of payment. I probably could have traveled for years without being asked to produce a ticket.

Portlanders also dress better than Sacramentans. While Portland is as casual as Sacramento in dress, fewer people think that warm weather requires shorts and flip-flops. That doesn't mean that they dress up; they don't. It's just that their casual is better than Sacramento's casual.

Downtown Portland has most of the same shopping that you'll find anywhere--shopping has become very homogenized throughout the country. You'll find Macy's, Nordstrom's, Sak's etc. in a downtown mall that looks very much like the Westfield Mall in San Francisco (although it's actually owned by Clear Channel). And of course there was Cinnabon at the food court. We did find The Real Mother Goose, a craft store with some of the most expensive crafts around. Beautiful, but very expensive.

And of course, we made an expedition to Powell's Books, where I discovered that I could purchase as much as I wanted and have it shipped home. The staff there is used to book tourists and was immensely helpful. But even an entire day wouldn't be enough to skim their collection. Powell's has an outpost out on Hawthorne, which we visited, but it was nothing like the downtown store and really isn't worth the time.

Another find was the Saturday Portland Farmer's Market at Portland State University. Food vendors of all kinds--fruits and vegies, meat, fish, baked goods...And also reasonably good music. We stayed for about three hours and could have stayed longer, but we then took ourselves off to the Portland Saturday Market, which was not worth the trouble. Okay crafts, but nothing spectacular, and some of the jewelry was positively cheap-y. It was also 95 degrees and muggy.

And we went to the Pearl District, a redeveloped industrial area, which is now filled with some overpriced shops, a few decent, but not spectacular restaurants, a lot of condominiums and, of course, given the present economic situation, a growing number of empty storefronts. I read the local paper every day, and got the sense that Oregonians were surprised that the Great Slump was happening to them too. The Pearl District, though, is in less bad shape than the South Waterfront, where a number of projects are either in or heading for foreclosure.

And the South Waterfront was just kind of weird. We walked along a river trail and were suddenly deposited in what appeared to be a mall. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon where a walk along the canyon rim suddenly deposits you, with no warning, in a tourist district sort of like San Francisco's Pier 39.

More later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 5

I'm not at home this week, so the cats are being cared for by the Exploitable Teenager.

And if the Democrats can't get it together to pass a health care reform bill with a public option, they should just dissolve the party and allow something better to develop. Yeesh!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In a Rationally-Ordered World

the silliness over President Obama's speech to school children wouldn't exist. I mean, what do people think he's going to say? He'll probably talk about how great it is that they're starting a new school year, the importance of education, working hard, enjoying themselves, wearing their seat belts and eating enough fruits and vegetables. He may then remind them of the importance of personal responsibility and striving for success. These kinds of speeches are always like this. How many people are opposed to striving for success, ferhevensake? I do hope, though, that someone asks him why his children don't attend public school.

Once Evil and Stupid, Now Evil, Stupid and Creepy

The New York Times reported yesterday that the bright and shining fellows who brought us our present economic predicament have hit upon a new way to part Americans from their meager resources. Having trashed our tiny retirement accounts, the equity from our homes and taken our jobs, they've set their sights on the only thing left--our life insurance. Yes, if you have life insurance and are elderly and/or sick, you can sell your policy for cash, whereupon it will be securitized and sold as bonds.

Aside from the general creepiness of this idea, I'd wish that the banker types would figure out that there's no more to get here and they should move along and try tapping into people with actual resources.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 4

The cats were obnoxious this morning. They still don't understand the schedule on Furlough Friday. Maybe they'll get it after a few more weeks. I certainly hope so, as it's tiring to be awakened at 4:00 A.M. So there will be not cute cat pictures this week. At least none of my cats.

I haven't done much commenting on the issue of health insurance reform, mostly because there's so much information and commentary out there that I'd just be one more voice in favor of single-payer (a system like Medicare where the government establishes pay rates for doctors, drugs, hospitals etc.), and health insurers bite the dust. Even if a single-payer system did nothing else, it would wipe out the 15-20% of health care dollars that go to administration and profit. Medicare is run far more efficiently; even Medicaid (which is means-tested) runs more efficiently. I'll shut up before I get going...

Everyone should watch Glenn Beck on Fox at least once. As an entertainer he leaves Bill O'Reilly in the dust. Outrageous, ignorant, just plain silly, but fun. His latest victim is Van Jones, in charge of green industry for the Obama Administration. I assume that he actually understands what Jones' work has been (developing green industries as a job source in minority communities and forcing the clean-up of toxics in those same communities), but in BeckWorld, Jones is a black nationalist and a commie! Huh?

And I have no idea why my Azalea Rutherfordia Alaska is blooming in August. The sage is supposed to bloom at this time of year.