After five years, Jack Bog's Blog is still shooting straight in Portland

Lewis and Clark tax-law professor Jack Bogdanski wanted a writing outlet. He found it on the Web, and thousands now read him.
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Portland blogger Jack Bogdanski.

Lewis and Clark tax-law professor Jack Bogdanski wanted a writing outlet. He found it on the Web, and thousands now read him.

A lot of Newark sticks to Jack Bogdanski. Lewis and Clark School of Law professor by day, gadfly blogger by night, Bogdanski evidences traces of the blunt-spoken Jersey burg of his childhood. Some edges have been smoothed by a Jesuit education in Latin and Greek, Stanford Law School, a couple of decades in the Northwest (including some years in the Stoel Rives legal vineyards), and a smart wife and cute kids. But fortunately not all. Bogdanski started Jack Bog's Blog at back in 2002 to balance out the crispier content of his paying profession. "I write a lot about tax law – all day and half the night, really dry material," said Bogdanski in a recent interview. (Example journal article: "Must a Family Limited Partnership Run a Business in Order to Achieve Transfer Tax Discounts?") "So it seemed like it would be fun – I was a newspaper reporter back in New Jersey when I was in college, and I liked it. So I started the blog ... with all of two readers." Now Bogdanski fills the wee hours serving up local, regional, and national news that strikes his fancy, annotated with wry asides and occasional rants – Northwest community newspaper meets opinionated Jersey bartender. The subject matter is all over the map, from Portland's water quality (good but threatened) to guys who wax their private parts ("where the smooth get testy and the testes get smooth") to an update on Portland Trail Blazer Greg Oden's tonsillectomy. (Bogdanski posted a photo of some raw meat purported to be tonsils. OK, even a good blogger can be an idiot once in a while.) He directs considerable energy to bemoaning Portland's new-development uglification and developer subsidies. He varies smartish commentary with staccato delivery more reminiscent of New York tabloids. (He's 53, so chances are he was exposed to certain influential headline styles, such as "DICK QUITS!" when Nixon resigned.) Some recent entries:

  • News of an $8.5 million subsidy for a proposed parking garage in Portland (illustrated by a PhotoShopped image of a pallet of gold bars parked in a space) prompts Bogdanski to wonder: "Where are all our many local eco-heroes? Public money for parking?"
  • He ponders why newspapers like The Oregonian bounce reporters from beat to beat so often – "one day you're covering First Thursday, the next day you're an urban-renewal expert" – concluding that it's a way to keep unions out, employees in line, and reporters less informed than their editors.
  • A photo of a child in Malaysia wearing an Osama bin Laden t-shirt is headlined, "We're losing the wider war, too."
  • Seattle's Interstate 5 summer construction project: "Driving to Seattle next month? No you aren't."
If it amuses or, better yet, annoys him, it's in. And it works. Bogdanski has upwards of 2,000 readers on a busy day, most of whom appear to take their quick hit of Jack at work, based on traffic spikes. The heavy traffic spawns loads of comments, many refreshingly cogent. (The first 16 days of July, supposedly a slow month, saw 400 or so.) Readers pass along items they hope will fire up the Bogster. One recent post tripped the right switch. Bogdanski used it to caption a photo of a graceful looking Portland house: While we're on the topic of desecration of a nice inner Portland neighborhood by a totally out-of-place condo bunker, a reader sends along a photo of that beautiful house that used to sit [on a Portland corner] before the greed-blind developer wrecked that location ... Bogdanski blames Portland's condo wave for wiping out attractive and affordable housing and the city for pushing related costs onto the backs of taxpayers, who still can't get potholes fixed in their own neighborhoods. He's convinced that the cost of a trendy new high-rise unit is not proof of urban progress, no matter what the real estate people tell us: "Anybody who spends $400 a square foot to live in an apartment in Portland, Oregon, doesn't have much sense," he says flatly. "Everyone loves the Pearl District. Yeah, it's great. You can eat off the sidewalks. But guess what? Those sidewalks aren't paid for yet," says Bogdanski. "The city gave those developers so many breaks, built so much infrastructure for them that our children's children will still be paying for it all." Does he think his blog inspires change? "Nah, probably not. But I hope to contribute to the dialogue, contribute to the issues being talked about, to make people think. For the people out there who are really interested in this stuff already, I'm a different voice. For people who are only mildly interested, just getting curious ... I'd hope it motivates them further." He insists that the people he skewers know it is "all in good fun" and says politicians value having their names dropped (and spelled right), whatever the context. "None of the people I've gone after have had their careers damaged – opposition makes them stronger," he claims. The disingenuousness of that remark aside, about the worst thing anyone's said about Bogdanski for attribution is pretty mild. Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, also a friend of Bogdanski's, told Portland Tribune writer Dwight Jaynes in 2005 that the blog is "long on saying what's wrong with Portland and short on saying what's right." Bogdanski agrees fully with this criticism, and goes right on needling more than nurturing. He's been known to defend an elected official now and again, as well. When a local newspaper ran a story characterizing Mayor Tom Potter as an underachiever, Bogdanski was incredulous. Potter, he says, is a welcome change, measured and sensible. Asked in an email to say more about this, he responded: "Potter cleaned out the [Neil] Goldschmidt scoundrels from the PDC [Public Development Commission] which was a positive (although what impact the new management will have still remains to be seen); and after the years of screwed-up priorities under Vera [previous mayor Vera Katz] doing nothing would be quite an improvement." Faint praise, maybe, but heartfelt. Bogdanski especially enjoys needling the Prius-driving crowd, although he's ideologically closer to that world than Jersey working class these days. Portland is currently madly in love with sustainability, from bamboo flooring to bike lanes to a recycling system that practically alphabetizes one's trash for efficient reuse. Yet few commentators, if any, question whether this new gospel is always to the greater good. Bogdanski used a public discussion linking the s-word to airport expansion to make a valid point: If there's one thing that isn't "green" and "sustainable," it's a big-city airport. Let's face it, air travel by its very nature is quite unfriendly to the environment. Worried about your carbon footprint? Just look at what's blowing out the back of those engines as you recline your seat in the modern airborne sardine can. He concludes: We're all supposed to change our ways to make this a better planet, blah blah blah. How about Portland sets an example for the world by living with the airport we have, which if properly managed is perfectly capable of meeting our needs for many decades to come? Not all his subjects are local; he refers to the current presidential administration with growing bitterness, calling George Bush "the chimp." His all-time most linked-to and looked-at item was surely the photo of Saddam Hussein wearing a Yankees baseball cap, under the headline, "I knew it." (The depth of anti-Yankee feeling out there was evidenced by the reader who commented, "And Saddam's not even the most evil man in the organization.") Bogdanski says no one at his day job expresses concern about his blogging. "I have tenure, for one thing. ... But also, I don't think anyone at Lewis and Clark is hostile to this, even though some potentially wealthy donors may have been offended. I have been religious about avoiding talk on the blog about my job; I take down comments from readers that reference it. The college is a place where there is supposed to be free interchange of ideas, so they don't censor." By all accounts, Bogdanski is a popular professor, receiving regular awards. The blog might help. "Students are all wired. They IM each other all the time. That's their world. So, from a technical standpoint at least, I'm in their world. I understand how to get their information, even though I am the age of their fathers." His professorial nature surfaces occasionally in longer, often arresting, commentary. When the 40th anniversary of historic race riots in his native city rolled around earlier this month, he recalled what he saw as a wide-eyed kid and posted dramatic photos of the ravaged streets. Comments that followed included some from younger readers who had been unaware of what went down that hot summer of 1967 and for whom the history was now made real. "This was a civil war, played out in our own America. All hell broke loose. Many men on both sides of the color line behaved like animals," he wrote. When he soberly observes that "history has a way of placing events like this under an amber glass, like the Declaration of Independence, where it all seems so neat and tidy," Bogdanski seizes on that which gives his own writing value. Love it or hate it, there's no denying chronicles history, minus the amber glass.  

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