Saturday, April 14, 2012

Willamette River-related posts now to be at the Speaking for the River blog

I've recently created a new blog to showcase my book, Speaking for the River. Fittingly, this new blog is called Speaking for the River, and can be found at I will henceforth be featuring on this site all of my posts that relate to Willamette River pollution, and to water pollution more generally; I will reserve the Historical Threads blog for other history-related topics.

Speaking for the River will also serve as a complement to the book. Depending upon how reviewers and the staff at the press ask me to revise the manuscript, there likely will be opportunities to feature some material on Speaking for the River that didn't "make the cut" for the book—such as:
  • Extended or annotated bibliographies
  • More expansive biographies of key people
  • In-the-weeds details on certain events or locations
Depending upon how the book is reviewed, I may also have the opportunity to write an article or two for academic journals; if this does happen, I'll keep you posted at

Over the coming weeks and months will also be migrating all of my water pollution-related posts on Historical Threads over to With the amount of incomplete and inaccurate information out there regarding the water pollution story in the Willamette Valley, I'm looking forward to creating a site dedicated to the topic; I'm looking forward to your comments over there as well!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

River City Confidential: The Willamette River’s Pollution Story Revealed

Come one, come all!

"River City Confidential: The Willamette River’s Pollution Story Revealed."

March 21, 2012 7:00-8:30 pm.

EcoTrust Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center, 721 NW 9th Ave., Portland, OR, United States View on Google Maps

"James Hillegas shares insights from his upcoming book on the original Willamette River pollution cleanup, from the 1920s to the 1970s. Co-hosted by the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group and Oregon Historical Society."

Monday, January 9, 2012

You had me at "Science is a fundamentally non-dogmatic and self-correcting investigatory process"

As many of you know, I've recently started a new job. I've been hired as part of a student program, which means that one of the fundamental requirements of the position is that I am a student. Fortunately, this is the case because I have begun a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) certificate program at Portland Community College.

I'm diving-in to one of the requisite courses this evening, Geology of the Pacific Northwest, and am immediately heartened by one of the introductory statements from the department and professor:
    Regarding the teaching of basic geologic principles (such as geologic time and the theory of evolution), the Portland Community College Geology Department stands by the following statements about what is science.
      ** Science is a fundamentally non-dogmatic and self-correcting investigatory process. A scientific theory is neither a guess, dogma, nor myth. The theories developed through scientific investigation are not decided in advance, but can be and often are modified and revised through observation and experimentation.
      ** “Creation science,” also known as scientific creationism, is not considered a legitimate science, but a form of religious advocacy. This position is established by legal precedence (Webster v. New Lenox School District #122, 917 F.2d 1004).
      ** Geology instructors at Portland Community College will teach the generally accepted basic geologic principles (such as geologic time and the theory of evolution) not as absolute truth, but as the most widely accepted explanation for our observations of the world around us. Instructors will not teach that “creation science” is anything other than pseudoscience.
      ** Because "creation science", "scientific creationism", and "intelligent design" are essentially religious doctrines that are at odds with open scientific inquiry, the Geology/General Sciences SAC at Portland Community College stands with such organizations such as the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the American Geological Institute in excluding these doctrines from our science curriculum.
It's so refreshing, in these times when the boorish and bigoted Rick Santorum can be considered a serious presidential candidate,* and when the center-right Mitt Romney -- who might otherwise be a quasi-decent fellow -- has to twist himself into logical pretzels so he can bend to the nonsense of the religious right, to read a statement at the beginning of the course that basically lets Christian fundamentalists know that they either need to open their minds for the class, or drop out. Very refreshing indeed!

* And so recently after the anti-intellectual, incoherent blathering of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann were considered serious front page news.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

My view on the Occupy Movement as of right now

A family member recently asked me about my view on the Occupy Movement. I thought about it for a few days and realized that I could write 20K words about it in an attempt to explain my views, but that this would take much more time than I have in the midst of a new job, the book project, the Holidays, etc. So, I will let far more knowledgeable and eloquent people speak on my behalf, and call upon one extremely flawed counter-example for contrast.

Here is my view on the Occupy Movement as of right now:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Entreaty for the New Year

I posted this on Facebook, but not all of us are on Facebook . . .

For all of us who have ever "shared" politically-themed links, or forwarded them via email, there is this timely reminder that we might be full of shit (Plus, see the Errol Morris Op-Doc link I posted not long ago [here]). May our resolutions for the New Year include endeavoring to attempt to try to strive to be less credulous, particularly when our egos & ideologies are involved!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Notable people remembered on a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road

Izaak Walton League Memorial Plaque, Oak Island Game Management Area, Sauvie Island, Oregon, Nov. 19, 2011. Photo Seth S. Moody.

A few weeks ago, I went a-looking for a plaque in North Portland that was not to be found. A few days ago, my intrepid co-explorer Seth Moody and I braved the wilds of Sauvie Island to find another plaque. I'm proud to report that neither of us were disemboweled by the Sasquatch, and that we achieved our goal (and we have proof!).

The plaque we found was installed by the Oregon Division of the Izaak Walton League on September 14, 1957, to commemorate the life and work of Edgar F. Averill and William L. Finley. Both men were long-time members of the League, long-time active conservationists, and long-time water pollution abatement advocates.

Our trek to discover this plaque was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. In my ongoing research on Willamette River pollution, I have discovered an extensive amount of information about the in-the-trenches work of men and women like Averill and Finley. With every discovery I am increasingly more appreciative of this work, and conscious of these people's relevance and resonance to the present day. I locate my spiritual center in nature and human consciousness, so, in my interpretation, Averill and Finley are two notable and fully human figures—among many—who illustrate the ways in which real people can take real actions in the real world to effect real and positive changes to benefit present and future generations. In my interpretation, this is precisely the realm of the highest spiritual practice.

I will explain what I mean and ground these men in the real world. Below you will find some details of the lives of Averill and Finley to help explain why their names are glued to a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road in an out-of-the-way place like Sauvie Island . . .

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy anything more than cynical and intellectually shallow misanthropy?

I think I know the outlines of Ayn Rand's philosophy -- and I've even read Atlas Shrugged long ago, before I could make much sense of it -- but this morning's segment on NPR provides both a concise description of her philosophy and the very real ways in which the philosophy resonates in current politics.

Particularly after listening to the NPR segment, Objectivism seems to be a deeply cynical approach to governance that justifies the perpetuation of political and economic inequality and ignores the necessary and fundamental contributions that broader society and functioning governmental services provide to the general welfare (i.e., transportation & communications infrastructure, sanitation, public health, security, etc.). Objectivism ignores the fact that individual achievement is tied-up in complex ways with the strengths and weaknesses of broad society, and focuses instead on the fiction that fulling distinct individuals could possibly exist in a fully laissez faire system.

For these reasons, it's no surprise that the a significant slice of people with money and power (and their toadies) who are detached from daily knowledge of the complex iceberg upon which their money and power stands have the audacity and myopia necessary to advocate strongly for the dissolution of the very system that enables their success. From my vantage, Objectivism seems both intellectually and morally bankrupt, and it's rather frightening to me that so much of our current political debate is driven by advocates of this philosophy.

Or, am I missing something important about Objectivism, and my interpretation isn't correct?