Links for 7/22/09

“… sobering up is one of the more devastating acts of literary criticism an author can face.”

Feds and Mormons

Japanese cell phones and the Galapagos effect

Reminder to environmentalists: People getting rich by reducing CO2 is a good thing

CA town may photograph all entering cars

Virtually going out

Googlegangers get hitched


Upper Peninsula blog break

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I leave this morning for my annual trip to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, so blogging may be light for the next few days. Life on the island is more conducive to reading words printed on paper than on computer screens; the internet connection goes down, the power goes out, or my laptop interferes with the TV reception thanks to our ancient electrical wiring. Plus I’ll be busy with essential chores like burning wood, hauling wood to the fire pit, chopping wood so we can burn it, etc. Or maybe I’ll be sailing, playing tennis, or gazing up at the clear northern sky rather than spending time online. I’ll try to get a few posts up, but either way I’ll be back in Portland and on the regular schedule by Wednesday.

In the meantime, here are few photos from the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show, one of the largest in the country. Wooden boats are a way of life in the UP. Daily use has our own boat, The Kid, short of show quality, but there’s nothing like cruising along the channel in it or mastering the art of maneuvering the unwieldy thing into the boat house. Every year the family talks about trading it in for a more practical fiberglass boat and every year we keep it. I hope we always do.

The boat show usually takes place after I leave, but during last year’s period of being unemployed and driving across America I was able to stay long enough to see it. The pictures are below. My photos aren’t that great, but the boats are beautiful.

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Continue reading “Upper Peninsula blog break”


If it’s quirky it’s a public good

Portland has very loose standards for what counts as a public good. A few months ago the City Council blocked changes to the privately owned “Made in Oregon” sign because — and I am not making this up — “The loss of the quirky, historic upper-case ‘E’ and cut-off ‘g’ in the text are not in keeping with the landmark character of the sign.” And now? I’m not making this up either:

“Beavis & Butthead”-style humor aside, the pagoda-topped, vaguely pornographic-sounding sign outside the old Hung Far Low restaurant was an odd Oregon landmark, one of those only-in-Portland icons that would likely be considered eminently disposable anyplace else.

Instead of celebrating the sign’s disappearance last fall as another step in the gentrification of downtown’s grittiest neighborhood, a coalition of Old Town activists, residents and business owners is working to put it back up. To, as organizers are so artfully phrasing it, “re-erect Hung Far Low.”

And you, Mr. and Ms. Portland Taxpayer, will help. […]

Because of its bulk, restoring the sign will take serious engineering work and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000, depending on how much restoration work is done. Organizers are selling T-shirts and soliciting donations online. The Portland Development Commission has already pledged $22,000.

Because Portland is already “the city that works,” I guess there was no better use for the cash.


A federal ban on raw milk?

The FDA already forbids the interstate sale of unpasteurized milk. A section tucked into the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 threatens to give the agency new powers over intrastate commerce, overriding the rights of consumers and state laws allowing its sale. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund explains:

HR 2749 requires the HHS Secretary to issue “science-based performance standards . . . applicable to foods or food classes.” The Secretary is to “identify the most significant foodborne contaminants and the most significant resulting hazards . . . and to minimize to an acceptable level, prevent or eliminate the occurrence of such hazards.” [8a] FDA would have the power to make pasteurization of all raw milk a performance standard. Based on both its public statements and its record of taking enforcement actions against farmers, FDA is vehemently opposed to the consumption of raw milk and would like to ban its distribution.

Even if FDA does not issue a performance standard requiring pasteurization, the likelihood is that if HR 2749 passes into law, the agency will be increasing its enforcement actions against raw milk producers whose products cross state lines. FDA has indicated that raw milk is a priority item with the agency; with the passage of HR 2749, it would have much greater resources to go after raw milk than it did before. FDA could take enforcement action directly or through state agencies funded by FDA.

The bill doesn’t explicitly mention pasteurization, but if that’s an accurate reading of the law it could effectively end legal raw milk sales in the US. My case for removing government barriers to buying raw milk was published at Reason last year.


Three Portland restaurants to try

El Inka — Of all the food I miss from Arlington, there’s nothing I crave more than Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. Restaurants serving pollo a la brasa abounded in my old neighborhood. The first place I’ve found it around Portland is way out in Gresham. Yet when the craving strikes the drive is worth it. El Inka isn’t quite comparable to the best in Virginia, but the crisp, flavorful skin is right on. The fried yuca, plantains, and grilled beef heart are also good. The fried hot dogs are less interesting than they sound. Why isn’t there a place like this closer in? I think it would do well.

Beaker and Flask — Kevin Ludwig’s long-awaited bar is finally open, significantly upping the east side’s cocktail cred. The cocktails are as excellent as expected. More importantly, beer isn’t just an afterthought here and the kitchen puts out some tasty fare. Good cocktails are easy to find in Portland, but places that are strong on mixed drinks, beer, and food are rare. Beaker pulls it off to become my new favorite after work spot.

Koi Fusion PDX — Actually a cart not a restaurant, but my search for cheap, delicious post-shift meals is a lot easier thanks to these guys. Think bulgogi, short ribs, or spicy pork served in a taco with cabbage, bean sprouts, daikon, and other veggies. Follow them on Twitter to find out where and when they’re serving.


Links for 7/13/09

A market test for credit card rate hikes

4 people rejuvenating conservative thought

Health reform’s bullying tactics

Toledo embraces mercantilism

To live longer, restrict calories — or just eat more?

$2 million Bugatti convertible. Want!

Inside a Conversation Dinner

States’ restaurants per capita

Exhaustive guide to comic book tropes

US military considers tobacco ban

Back to the drawing board for my barista competition sig drink

Where to get (non-Viagra) coffee in Tokyo


Impressive? No!

Ezra Klein, who’s been expressing doubts about calorie taxes lately, is impressed by a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest on the projected impact of California’s menu labeling law. The paper finds that reducing calorie intake at chain restaurants by 200 calories or less could cause dramatic reductions in obesity in Los Angeles County.

I don’t have time to dig into the report right now (available here in annoying PDF format), but aside from the fact that its conclusions are based purely on hypothetical impacts rather than on studies of actual outcomes, there’s a key assumption at work in the analysis:

We assumed in the calculations that restaurant patrons who ordered reduced calorie meals would not increase their food and beverage intake at other times during the day. This assumption is supported by research indicating small decrements in caloric intake of the magnitude used in our analysis are not associated with a compensatory increase in caloric intake later in the day or over a period of several days. We also assumed that persons who ordered reduced calorie meals would not alter their physical activity level and that their resting metabolic rate would not change as a result of the small reduction in caloric intake.

In other words, CSPI treats reductions in how many calories people consume at chain restaurants as equivalent to reductions in their entire diets. They say existing research supports this assumption and provide one citation, but I am skeptical given the source. After five years in the hospitality industry I’ve overheard too many customers rationalize their indulgences by mentioning they had a salad for lunch or are going to the gym in the morning. Obviously that’s not scientific data, but I’d really like to see an unbiased review of the literature on the subject. CSPI’s assumption doesn’t strike me as a very realistic.

In any case, the assumption that changing consumption at chain restaurants doesn’t cause partially compensating behavior elsewhere plays such a large role in CSPI’s paper that Klein ought to have included a caveat in his post about it.

Too much information


Beating the ban

Thanks to a couple of pro-property rights court rulings and unified resistance to the national smoking ban, Dutch bar and cafe owners have successfully fought back against the intrusive law. J. D. Tuccille explains:

The key to the apparent victory appears to be cooperation. Bars and cafes across the country coordinated their defiance of the smoking ban after business dropped by as much as 30% in the wake of the law’s passage. To lure back customers who wanted cigarettes with their drinks, bars put the ashtrays back on the tables.

First-hand accounts even had bar patrons using table-top candle holders for their ashes in establishments that didn;t want tomake their defiance too obvious.

The Dutch government fined hundreds of establishments, but couldn’t break the back of the resistance.

The law suffered perhaps fatal setbacks when courts ruled that the the government had no authority to impose total bans on small establishments that had no staff when it let larger businesses designate smoking areas. Another court ruled in favor of a bar owner who designated a store room as the (non-smoking) bar and the rest of the establishment as a smoking area.

Now, Dutch bar and cafe owners are free — at least for the time being — to establish rules that attract customers and suit their businesses.

Unfortunately, courts in the US haven’t been nearly as willing to protect the property rights of bar owners, making such civil disobedience less likely to pay off here.


Legalize it in Oregon

The good news: Oregon may have a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot soon. The bad news: It would give the state a monopoly on cannabis sales:

[Legalization advocates] plan to put the issue on the 2010 ballot with an initiative called the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act.

If they can gather 87,000 signatures to put it on the ballot, and voters then approved the initiative, the act would set up the Oregon Cannabis Control Commission. The new agency would sell pot to buyers 21 and over, with 90 percent of the profit going to the state’s general fund and 10 percent for drug treatment.

Activists last put a legalization measure on the ballot in 1986. It got just 26 percent support. But after decades fighting to legalize pot in Oregon, they believe the public has come around.

Have we learned nothing from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission? If we do this, it will take us forever to get new, artisinal brands of pot on the market, “coffeehouse” owners will lose money for months while they wait for licenses, and all the coolest cafes will open in California.

Here’s my idea for a compromise measure: Attach a rider eliminating the OLCC, transferring all its employees to the OCCC. Pot smokers are more relaxed than drinkers anyway, making them much better equipped to deal with lazy agency bureaucrats.

For a glimpse of what happens when the government is the sole distributor of a good, be sure to check out Doug’s write-up of the current state of liquor sales in Washington state. It’s hard to find stories that make the OLCC look good in comparison, but this is one of them.


Chavez is no Lovejoy

The Portland City Council has voted unanimously to rename 39th Avenue NE in honor of Cesar Chavez, resolving a two-year debate in the city. I, for one, am deeply offended. Not because I have anything against Chavez, about whom I know very little and assume was a swell chap. I’m offended that we pay the members of our city council salaries of more than $90,000 a year to pat themselves on the back for doing things like renaming 39th Avenue.

Prediction: Decades from now, Portlanders will take more pride in having “Simpsons” characters named after their streets than in having streets named after historical figures. And I’ll drink a Duff to that!