Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A few other races to note: Down the ballot

Published in the Portland Phoenix

You can get your fill of reading about the presidential, congressional, state-legislative, city-council, and school-committee races a few pages farther on, but there are a few other questions Portlanders will have to vote on this Tuesday.

First up is the question of whether the city should elect a charter commission to consider OVERHAULING THE CITY’S CHARTER. The major issue under discussion is whether the position of mayor should be elected directly by the people — rather than chosen by councilors from among themselves as it is now. But the charter commission could change other provisions of the city’s basic government structure as well, if the commission’s members decided to. Among the possible ideas is one floated by Tina Smith, who is running for the at-large city-council seat, that could allow legal immigrants and refugees who live in Portland but are not US citizens to vote or otherwise participate in local government. If the charter commission is approved, candidates for the commission would stand for election next year.

In the meantime, there are some CLERICAL CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER also up for approval. In sum, they bring the charter into compliance with state laws governing how election wardens and ward clerks should be selected, and also change deadlines for nominating petitions to give the city clerk’s office more time to certify that signatures on the petitions belong to registered voters.

In regional business, voters will choose one Portland representative on the PORTLAND WATER DISTRICT Board of Trustees between former trustee James Willey and former Portland school-committee member Ben Meiklejohn. It is a five-year term.

In the first of three county races, incumbent REGISTER OF PROBATE Republican Teri McRae is seeking re-election to a four-year term, and is being challenged by former county register of deeds Democrat John O’Brien. The job involves recording and preserving life records — such as wills, name changes, and adoption records.

In a race for a four-year seat on the CUMBERLAND COUNTY COMMISSION, the three-member board that oversees county government, attorney and former Portland city councilor James Cloutier, a Democrat, faces independent Jonathan Berry, a Falmouth resident who runs a solo law practice from an office in Portland.

And for a COUNTY CHARTER COMMISSION, to study and recommend changes to the way county government is run, there are no declared candidates to represent Portland, so the election will be by write-in only.

The plebiscites: There are three referendum questions all Maine voters must consider on Election Day.

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Question 1: A people’s veto seeking to overturn a law imposing tax on beer, wine, and soft drinks to help pay for the Dirigo Health Insurance Plan.
A “yes” vote supports overturning the law; a “no” vote supports keeping it. The law, enacted this past spring but not yet in effect because of the petition to overturn it, is touted by proponents as preserving Dirigo Health — a state-created insurance program that offers a taxpayer-funded subsidy to help the uninsured get health coverage. The plan serves roughly 12,500 Mainers, but those numbers are dwindling. New enrollments have been barred for more than a year because the plan does not have enough money to cover more people. And the number of uninsured people in Maine has not changed substantially as a result of the program (see “Illusion of Progress,” by Al Diamon, October 10, and “Baldacci Raids the Cookie Jar,” by Lance Tapley, October 17).

Unless it is rejected on Tuesday’s ballot, the law would change how the plan is paid for, reducing the amount that health-insurance companies pay and filling the gap with a new tax that would cost consumers three cents per 12-ounce beer, one cent per glass of wine (five cents per bottle), and four cents per 12-ounce can of soda. If it is rejected, lawmakers will likely have to find another way to pay for state-subsidized health-insurance.

Question 2: A citizen initiative to allow a casino in Oxford County.
A “yes” vote allows establishing a casino; a “no” vote would block it. The law that’s being voted on would, among other provisions, give Olympia Gaming, a Las Vegas company, a 10-year monopoly on casino gambling in Maine; reduce the legal gambling age from 21 to 19; and absolve the casino from all criminal and civil liability.

Of the casino’s gross income (after paying out to winners), 39 percent would go to various state programs, some of which already exist (such as biofuel research at the University of Maine, the state university system, and gambling-addiction treatment programs), and some of which do not (such as a project to investigate an east-west highway in Maine). Under the bill, the casino’s president would hold a voting seat on the board of every state or local agency supervising the spending of that money, including the UMaine board of trustees, the Land for Maine’s Future board, and even the Oxford County Commission (see “Beatin’ the Odds,” by Al Diamon, October 17).

Olympia has promised to spend at least $112 million developing a large casino-resort-hotel, likely somewhere in the town of Oxford, roughly an hour’s drive north of Portland. They say they would employ roughly 900 people, with an average annual salary around $35,000, and would send $69 million to the state each year. State estimates suggest the state would get closer to $41 million, but there is no guarantee of any of those details contained in the law itself.

Question 3: A bond issue of $3.4 million for improvements to drinking-water and wastewater-treatment systems.
A “yes” vote authorizes the bonds; a “no” vote would prevent them from being issued. One of several such bonds floated in the past few years, this would add more money to existing state “revolving-loan” funds, from which municipalities and water districts can borrow to upgrade their facilities, including treatment plants and pipes, with the intent of providing both cleaner drinking water and discharging cleaner effluent from sewage plants. Authorizing these bonds would bring in $17 million in federal matching funds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

RickeyPAC on NPR's Talk of the Nation

Aired on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Press Releases: Palin around

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Sarah Palin's trip to Bangor drew a lot of positive attention from Maine's TV stations, who mostly left the criticism to bloggers. Whether that was in deference to her telegenic presence or an attempt at objectivity, Maine's broadcasters treated a partisan political show as if it were a “feelgood” event — the protestors barely rated a mention — and missed a chance to bring truth and insight to viewers. Good thing the bloggers filled the void.

WGME-13 (Portland’s CBS affiliate) aired footage of a grinning Palin and a cheering crowd, with anchor Kiley Bennett delivering a credulous voice-over: “Palin came armed with her conversational style, but also came touting her ticket’s record of experience, promising a future of education reform, help for special-needs children, and the development of new energy sources.”

WABI-5 (the Bangor CBS affiliate) even went so far as to say Palin “resonated with Mainers,” though the station’s news crew talked only to people who attended her political rally. Nor did WABI examine what Palin said, airing a segment of her speech in which Palin said John McCain “knows how to win a war,” but then failing to ask for details in an exclusive post-rally one-on-one interview. (Instead, reporter Amy Erickson asked a softball question about LIHEAP, though she backed it up with a pointed observation that the program, which helps low-income and elderly residents pay their heating bills in winter, is “one form of government assistance [Palin] strongly supports.”)

WGME also noted that Palin was “welcomed by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe,” without observing — as did blogger Eric Olson at MaineOwl — the conspicuous absence of Maine’s other leading Republican, Susan Collins, who is in the midst of a re-election bid but is studiously avoiding almost every other GOPer, and even avoiding using the word “Republican” in her campaign ads.

Over at MainePolitics, blogger Mike Tipping took aim at Palin for repeating at the rally a line about America being a “shining city on a hill,” which she attributes to Ronald Reagan. Tipping notes, correctly, that it was uttered first by Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop in 1630, and expresses doubt that “she knows the historical and philosophical background of that quote,” which was delivered in a sermon declaring the colony’s founders were chosen by God to create a holy community in the wilderness of North America.

And TurnMaineBlue blogger Gerald Weinand conducted a real-time fact-check, noting both the failure to properly attribute the John Winthrop quote, and Palin’s misleadingly incomplete statement about eliminating property taxes when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (she did, but with the help of federal funding earmarked for projects in town, and by creating a local sales tax). But while Weinand disputed Palin’s ability to say Bangor was “beautiful” because she’d only seen the inside of an airplane hangar, he failed to note that she had flown in on a plane with windows.

Another bright spot: WLBZ-2, the Bangor NBC station, stood up to Palin’s handlers demand that the candidate pick the reporter who would interview her, thereby turning down the chance for a face-to-face; no doubt the demand was blowback from anchor Rob Caldwell’s interview of McCain back in September, in which the first question was why Palin hadn’t taken any serious questions from reporters.

And a low spot: the pre-rally interview aired by Portland ABC station WMTW-8 was filmed in New Hampshire, with an unidentified reporter (from WMUR in Manchester), but voiced-over by local anchor Tory Ryden. Making matters worse, the two clips selected were among the least interesting of the full interview. WMTW allowed Palin to make accusations of political gamesmanship against unnamed Alaskan opponents, but did not air her allegation that her family persecuted an Alaska state trooper “at the behest of [other Alaska] state troopers,” a startling — and new — development in the case.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who’s your Rickey? Nagging your friends to vote

Published in the Portland Phoenix
A college friend, named Jim, recently got in touch, floating an idea that resonated with me, and likely will with other political-minded folks who believe this election is vitally important to our country’s future.
Jim had run into another classmate — one I’d long lost touch with — named Rickey. Rickey lives in Nevada (predicted to be a swing state in the presidential race) and told Jim he probably wasn’t going to vote this year.
Jim lives in Vermont (rather less of a swing state), so he decided to mobilize a few of us to put pressure on Rickey to vote. “My vote won’t count for much in the grand scheme of things,” Jim wrote. “But Rickey’s will.”
He proposed the founding of RickeyPAC, a “grassroots political-action committee with the sole purpose of getting Rickey to vote.” Our voter-registration drive was a massive success — Rickey has (begrudgingly) registered to vote. But we’re looking for a bigger win.
As another friend, Jay, explained in an e-mail to the group, “Just about everyone knows someone smart who knows they should vote but has to be convinced” to actually do it.
Now, it’s up to you. What started as an inside joke among a few college friends needs your help. Take a moment to think about the Rickeys in your life, wherever they may live, and however long it’s been since you were last in touch. Tell them they need to vote. Because this year is different from all other years.
On the web:
RickeyPAC on National Public Radio

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The gulf of Maine Senator Collins votes the Bush line 77 percent of the time; her challenger, Representative Allen, weighs in at 18 percent. Will thes

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Maine is a Democrat-leaning state that has — at least for now — two Republican senators. With a massively unpopular Republican president leaving office, this year’s Senate election is as much a contest based on a candidate’s real and perceived alignment with George W. Bush as anything else.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is making hay out of John McCain’s record of voting with Bush 90 percent of the time, and Maine Democratic US Representative Tom Allen is trying to do the same as he works to unseat incumbent Republican US Senator Susan Collins. One of his most recent TV ads blames the present economic meltdown on Bush’s efforts to deregulate the economy, and then says “Susan Collins supported the Bush economic policies that hurt Maine and created a national crisis.” For her part, Collins is trying to distance herself from Bush: A recent ad avoids the word “Republican” entirely, calling her “an independent voice for Maine.”

Collins is more independent than most Republican senators, opposing the president more often than all but one of her upper-house GOP colleagues — Maine’s other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, who was elected to her third term in 2006.

But there is a gulf between Collins and Allen, and it becomes very apparent when looking at how their positions align with Bush’s (or don’t). Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan news organization covering Congress, has calculated a “presidential support score” for every member of Congress, looking at how often they voted with or against President George W. Bush’s wishes throughout his term to date — Collins voted with Bush 77 percent of the time; Allen just 18 percent.

On a broad range of Phoenix-selected key topics — including the USA PATRIOT Act, foreign trade, economic and tax policy, environmental issues, energy, stem-cell research, the Iraq War, the minimum wage, immigration, warrantless wiretapping, abortion and reproductive rights, education, open government and free speech, the Farm Bill, Congressional ethics and campaign-finance reform, homeland security, same-sex marriage, Supreme Court justices and key Cabinet officials (in the Senate only), AIDS/HIV, prescription-drug prices, military Base Realignment and Closure Commission issues, and treatment of terrorism detainees — Allen has sided with Bush 17 percent of the time, while Collins backed the president 64 percent of the time.

That’s a lot of difference right there. And by looking at just a few specific issues of great national importance, the contrast between Allen and Collins becomes clearer.

COLLINS voted with Bush on Iraq-related issues 72 percent of the time, including supporting both “use of force” resolutions (the one on September 14, 2001, authorizing the use of force against whomever had attacked the United States on 9/11, and the specific 2002 authorization of use of force in Iraq), and repeatedly opposed troop-withdrawal timetables. Only in 2007 did she begin offering any real opposition to Bush’s efforts in Iraq, voting to begin debate on opposing the surge, but without retracting her opposition to a withdrawal timetable.

ALLEN voted with Bush 27 percent of the time on Iraq-related questions, supporting the vague 2001 “use of force” authorization (which led to the Afghanistan war), but not the Iraq-specific one in 2002. He has supported several war-spending bills, though not all of them. He went against the president in his votes opposing the Iraq troop surge and supporting timelines for withdrawal. He also supported Bush-opposed efforts to prevent money appropriated for Iraq and Afghanistan from being spent on actions against Iran.

SNOWE supported Bush on Iraq even more than Collins, agreeing with the president’s Iraq policy 77 percent of the time, as compared with her overall support score of 73 percent. But she opposed the surge, and has sponsored a bill for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.

Democratic US Representative MIKE MICHAUD took Bush’s side 21 percent of the time, mostly on war-spending bills. (Michaud supported the president 19 percent overall.)

Civil Liberties
COLLINS agreed with Bush’s positions on civil liberties 82 percent of the time. Not only did she vote to confirm the appointments of John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, and to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court, but she voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and its reauthorizations, and for a constitutional amendment that sought to ban flag-burning. She supported Bush’s positions on treatment of terrorism detainees, the creation of military tribunals to “try” terrorism suspects (while barring the creation of a commission to oversee those tribunals, which largely have been ruled unconstitutional), and suspension of habeas corpus. She also voted to support warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, and to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that had participated in warrantless wiretaps before the practice was formally legalized. In the process, she voted to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by Maine residents seeking information on the government’s warrantless-wiretapping program. Collins opposed a Bush-supported constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, and voted against Bush to declare that Attorney General Gonzales “no longer holds the confidence” of the Senate.

ALLEN agreed with Bush just 12 percent of the time on civil-liberties matters. He supported the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, but has opposed its renewal ever since. He has opposed Bush’s efforts to block same-sex marriage, to weaken Net neutrality, to legalize warrantless wiretapping of US citizens, and to defend abuse and torture of detainees suspected of being terrorists.

SNOWE agreed with Bush 74 percent of the time on civil-liberties matters, aligning with Collins in every way, except that she was at a family funeral and missed the votes on military tribunals and suspension of habeas corpus.

MICHAUD aligned with Bush 16 percent of the time, including support for efforts to weaken Net neutrality and for the creation of military tribunals for terrorism suspects. He was not in the House to vote on the original USA PATRIOT Act, but has opposed it since taking office.

Economic Policy
COLLINS has supported Bush’s economic policies 88 percent of the time, backing his tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, agreeing with his efforts to abolish the estate tax, and supporting both “economic stimulus” bills (in 2001 and 2008). Her only significant opposition to the president was on the 2001 “bankruptcy reform” bill, a credit-card-company-supported measure that made it harder for individuals to reduce their debts through bankruptcy protection. She voted for the Bush-backed financial bailout proposal that passed the US Senate and was signed into law last week.

ALLEN supported 13 percent of Bush’s economic efforts, including the 2008 “economic stimulus” package (though not the one in 2001) and extensions of previously existing tax credits for children in taxpaying families. He voted against Bush’s tax breaks for the rich, and against the abolition of the estate tax, and in favor of a Bush-opposed increase to the minimum wage. He too backed the Bush-supported financial bailout, during both votes in the US House.

SNOWE supported Bush’s economic policies 54 percent of the time, including backing both “economic stimulus” bills, and most of his tax cuts (though not reductions in taxing dividends). Like Collins, she opposed the president on “bankruptcy reform,” but supported the financial bailout.

MICHAUD aligned with Bush 38 percent of the time economically, diverging from Allen’s position primarily on class-action lawsuits. (Michaud voted in favor of a bill called the “cheeseburger bill” because it blocks customers at fast-food restaurants from suing the chains’ owners for contributing to the customers’ obesity.) He opposed the financial bailout both times it was voted on in the US House.

Environment and Energy
voted with Bush’s energy initiatives 24 percent of the time. She supported his efforts to increase logging as a way to try to prevent forest fires, as well as the controversial 2005 energy policy revision that increased federal funding for alternative energy sources but preserved massive oil-industry subsidies. (She also supported the 2007 expansion to offer even more incentives for the electric-generating industry to reduce environmental impact.) She has opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has supported clean-environment legislation Bush has opposed, such as limits on mercury emissions.

ALLEN has supported six percent of Bush’s environmental initiatives, voting in favor only of preserving snowmobilers’ access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. He opposed almost all the Bush energy-policy proposals (including the major revision in 2005, though he supported its expansion in 2007), as well as oil drilling in ANWR, and supported Bush-opposed efforts in the areas of renewable-energy generation and public transportation.

SNOWE’s 24-percent agreement with Bush has been exactly the same as Collins’s.

MICHAUD supported Bush 13 percent of the time, when it comes to the environment, differing from Allen only in his aggressive support for logging — he supported a bill that allowed federal agencies to suspend the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts, and even the National Historic Preservation Act, when granting permits to log forests recently affected by fires or hurricanes. The bill passed, under the guise of allowing the harvest of dead timber that would decay and become unusable if the usual, slower regulatory process were followed.

Health Care
COLLINS supported Bush’s healthcare efforts 40 percent of the time, backing the creation of the Medicare prescription-drug plan, and supporting efforts to find “alternate” ways to do stem-cell research, without using embryos. She opposed Bush’s efforts to curtail embryonic stem-cell research. And Collins worked against the president to try to allow price negotiation on Medicare-purchased prescription drugs, and also supported importing prescriptions from certain other countries that were deemed “safe.”

ALLEN voted with Bush on healthcare 10 percent of the time, supporting Bush’s efforts to ban “fetal harvesting” (in which embryos would be created for the sole purpose of harvesting organs or other tissue for transplantation), as well as supporting permission for research on stem cells derived from donated blood from umbilical cords. He opposed Bush’s limitations on embryonic stem-cell research, drug importation, Medicare prescription price negotiation, and human cloning for research and medical purposes. He also voted for a Bush-opposed bill that provides more coverage for mental-health conditions in private insurance plans than were previously required.

SNOWE ’s 40-percent alignment with Bush has been exactly the same as Collins’s.

MICHAUD voted with Bush 31 percent of the time, differing from Allen in his support for banning human cloning for all purposes (including medical research), and in voting to oppose researching ways to develop stem cells other than destroying embryos.

John Cranford at Congressional Quarterly generously shared CQ’s tabulation data.

Calculating scores
Congressional Quarterly tracks all of the roll-call votes in the US House and US Senate, and how members of Congress vote. It also researches the president’s position on the votes, noting “any vote where the president expressed an opinion about the vote beforehand,” as CQ national editor John Cranford explains.

In the US House, those are normally votes on important bills — or, at the very least, votes on significant changes to bills, such as those in which representatives from both houses have conferred and agreed on compromises.

In the US Senate, votes included in the scoring also include those on confirmations of presidential appointments (which often result in even hard-core lefties voting “with the president” to confirm a judge, undersecretary, or even a major cabinet officer). And Senate scores include some procedural votes, such as “cloture,” by which the Senate votes to end debate on an issue. But cloture and other procedural votes are only included in scoring when they are the final positions lawmakers take on a bill, Cranford says.

Not included on CQ’s scorecard are any votes whose results are determined by “voice vote” or by “division,” when individuals’ positions are not recorded in the outcome.

CQ uses those results to determine a legislator’s “presidential support score,” the percentage of times a member casts his or her vote in alignment with the wishes of the president. The publication’s staff also track the positions of party leaders in Congress, to calculate a “party unity score.” That information is available online at


On the Web:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Out for a spin: One week, one limited-edition Porsche — what to do?

Published in the Portland Phoenix
Driving a 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder Limited Edition is an exercise in ridiculous, indulgent impracticality. But it’s fun — and it might get your name written on the inside of teenage girls’ pants.
Through no effort of my own, a man I had never met drove that car — number 296 out of 1960 ever made — into the office parking lot last week, and handed me the key. When he had called out of the blue offering the car as part of a Porsche marketing and promotion effort, all I’d done was tell him I’d drive it and return it in one piece. I made no promise to write about it, and only a vague verbal assurance that I could drive a stick-shift car. (For the record, my regular car, a 1995 Subaru Impreza wagon, is a stick-shift. So I wasn’t lying.)
On the very first night, it failed utterly as a utilitarian object. My wife and I were slated to pick up a friend (who was in town on business) at her hotel and take her to a restaurant for dinner. But the Boxster has just two seats, so within hours of receiving the key to a $65,000 car, one of just 800 in North America, I had to leave it parked in the garage while we picked up our friend in my wife’s 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback wagon.
That was the first of a few downers. Other low points were general paranoia about police officers — my uncle, a genuine “car guy” — had reminded me, when I called to gloat, that “a ticket is wasted money.” And then there was the horrific downturn the nation’s economy took, almost from the moment I received the Porsche’s key. At various points I drove past the panhandlers near the Deering Oaks Park I-295 on-ramp, and along the social-services end of Congress Street, in a car I did not own, could not afford, and could never imagine myself ever actually owning, even if one day I do have that kind of money just sitting in the bank. Don’t ask me what they thought of me — I was studiously avoiding their eyes.
Let’s move on to the high points.
Some of the people I took for rides surprised me, and even themselves. A freelancer who normally bums around in a 1980s-era Volvo with more than 300,000 miles on it turned out to also own an ancient sports car he keeps in good repair. And an utterly grounded, down-to-earth college friend became totally flighty upon sitting in the passenger seat, and spent much of the ride extolling the just-discovered virtues of expensive cars (except when she was feeling guilty for being so materialistic).
Better than enacting my high-school fantasy of driving the coolest, fastest car on the block was giving someone else that feeling — a guy in a Pontiac Firebird spotted me in Cape Elizabeth and tailgated me for a while, hoping to race. Eventually he gave up and roared past me, earning the right to truthfully tell his friends how he totally dusted a Porsche.
My sister’s boys — ages 5 and 3 — had a total blast, even without going for a ride. They clambered all over the car, hid in the trunk and under the dashboard, got me to put the top down and up and down again, and pretended they were driving to Vermont to see their grandparents. The older one even managed to yank on the gearshift enough to make the car move just a little — before I intervened with the emergency brake.
The biggest high point of all had to be the spin a friend and I took out to Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth at sunset on a Friday night. As we drove through the parking lot, checking out the scenery, I heard someone woman shout, “Hey! Wait! Can I take a picture of your car?”
Sure, I thought, no problem. I pulled around and parked, and we found ourselves surrounded by a screeching group of teenage girls. I’ll let one of them tell you how it went, in an account posted on her Facebook page. But first, I have to explain (before any accusations of impropriety arise) that four of them share a pair of pants — a sort of “sisterhood of the traveling pants” — and wear them to special occasions, after which they write about what happened at the events on the inside of the pants, in laundry marker. With that, here’s the story, with spelling and grammar intact from the original:
So today was the best day of my life!!!! I was at my BFF’s sweet 16 and it was towards the end of the party and out of the cornor of my eye i saw the most beautuful site ever.....modle number 296 Porche!!!! Good lord it was the most beautiful thing I have scene!!! it was silver with a red interior!!! so of course being the very subtle person i was i yelled out to the driver....” CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR CAR!!!!!!!” And to my suprise he came and rove over!!!! I was like salavating over the beauty of the car....and then he said something that made my whole year....” well do you want to take a picture in the driver’s seat...?” I almost dropped to the floor in praise, exclaiming...YES!!!!!! It was the most amazing experience of my entire life!!!!! My firends and I took sooooo many pictures that I think we could have gone through 2 memory cards!!! I think that the driver of the amazing car was more entertained with the fact that ther where like 10 screaming girls around his car than we where!!! He was just as giddy as us...not to mention that he was very gratious to let us take turns taking pictures in his beloved porche!
Well that was my day and i can’t believe that it happened to me!!! thank you soooooo much for making my day amazing!!!! “you will forever be in our pants!!!” hahahahahahahahah!!!!!!
I did indeed let the girls sit in the car, and they took tons of photos, many of which are now also on Facebook. And when I found out that it was a Sweet Sixteen party, I offered the birthday girl a spin. Her eyes lit up and she jumped in the car. Just before she closed the door, she said quietly, “It just occurred to me how sketchy this could be.” But she got in anyway, and off we went for a quick trip around the parking lot.
I showed her the same stunts I showed all the folks I drove around — its snap-your-head-back acceleration, growling exhaust (complete with a button on the console that makes it louder), stick-to-the-road cornering, tight turning radius, and snap-your-head-forward braking power. She was quiet but had a huge grin on her face. Her friends were more vocal, squealing away on the sidewalk. One of them called it “the Porsche that changed my life.”
The bottom line, though, is that it’s a silly car. Yes, it is a convertible, which is one of the key attributes I dream of in a car. It shows you on the dashboard your real-time miles-per-gallon performance (which I think every car should have), what the tire pressure is, and how many miles before you’ll need to stop for fuel. It has heated seats, which extends the top-down time period by a few weeks in the spring and fall. There’s a button to extend the rear spoiler if you think the silver car with red-leather interior doesn’t look cool enough as it is.
For all of those things — and for a week — I could overlook the biggest frustration, which was that I couldn’t get the racing timer to work. Mounted very prominently atop the dashboard, in a car that is in its entirety a tribute to racing, and there was no way to get it to start. I also could ignore its 19-26 miles-per-gallon fuel “economy,” those ultra-bright halogen headlights (I hate being blinded by them in oncoming vehicles, and I hate even more being that oncoming vehicle to other drivers), and slick tires that I wouldn’t trust at high speeds in the rain.
It’s entertaining to drive, though. If you’re on vacation somewhere sunny and have some extra cash to blow, rent the Porsche instead of the economy mini-compact you might otherwise choose. And if someone offers to loan it to you for a week, say yes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Skatepark design picked

Published in the Portland Phoenix

An online poll coordinated by the Portland Phoenix has given Portland’s Skatepark Committee the people’s wishes for Portland’s new skatepark. It will be option three, a layout with a clover bowl and more greenspace that was designed to fit fairly naturally its setting in Dougherty Field, off St. James Street.

City Councilor Dave Marshall says he expects the committee, which met Tuesday night, after the Phoenix’s deadline, to accept the results of the poll and recommend that design to the full City Council. He says the committee may make some changes to the design based on online comments, but expects the general overall design to remain largely true to the original. Some requests included a half-pipe and some additional ramps and rails.

The park, which is expected to cost $325,000, will replace the one on Marginal Way that was torn down in 2007.