Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thoreau's words grip us in our times

All great literature reaches out and touches readers of all times.

But in these times Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” grabs us by the lapels, stares us in the eyes and firmly demands that we act on what we believe.

We are reading “Civil Disobedience” for our Hillsdale Book Group. For me “Reading” doesn’t quite describe the experience. Call it an encounter or engagement.

I’ll find out about the others’ experience when we meet next Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Multnomah Art Center Senior Lounge. (I provide the specifics because you are invited.)

Thoreau’s essay has sought me out in this time of war, moral depravity, subservience to the state and political posturing.

Thoreau’s words hold me accountable, and I am coming up short.

His essay published in 1849 resounds across nearly 16 decades—two end-to-end life spans.

He doesn’t have to mention “Iraq” or “George W. Bush” or even “Hillary Rodham Clinton” for us to know that he somehow anticipated them—and us.


“A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is that you may see a file of soldiers—colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all—marching in admirable order over the hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed….The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies….

“Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others—as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers and office-holders—serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God.

“A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense,…serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it…."

And then he adds:

“What I have to do is to see… that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Re-reading those words, I thought of our Hillsdale protests against the war. A dozen or so of us gathered at Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway again on Friday evening, bearing witness to our opposition as the evening commuters droned past.

It is not enough. Through our taxes and or polite opposition to our government’s policies, we are still “lending ourselves to the wrong which we condemn.”

In protest to America’s war with Mexico, Thoreau famously refused to pay his poll tax. He spent a single night in the Concord jail. The stay was a one-night wonder, an example, but he didn’t make civil disobedience a habit.

That said, “Civil Disobedience,” which recounts the experience, inspired others, among them Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, the words of the 19th Century Concord recluse hold a mirror before our faces and ask: And what about you?

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Thoughts about walking on a snowy day

Daniel Ronan, a senior at Wilson High School and a Hillsdale Neighborhood Association board member, wrote this as last week's snow was melting:

The snowfall that came to the Portland Metropolitan area on Tuesday crippled the city as many commuters were unable to make their daily trips and buses ran on limited service.

One thing I realized while drinking a mocha at Baker and Spice in Hillsdale, was the number of walkers in the streets.

As we rethink what it means to live in a city, how the issues of land use and transportation affect our planning decisions and how we want to start creating walkable neighborhoods for all to enjoy, let us remember the snow days.

Remember the days where people get out of their cars and take to the streets and buses to get to work, coffee and the bank. Remember that what we envision in Portland are days like the snow days when people and places interact.

The more we work towards neighborhoods that are safe to walk in and enjoy, the more sustainable Portland becomes, and the more Portland becomes a prominent model for rethinking of America's cities.

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Bush, Baby Einstein and Dangerous Bunk

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush singled out Julie Aigner-Clark, developer of the wildly successful and dangerous "Baby Einstein" DVDs, for entrepreneurial praise.
Promotion of the DVDs play on parents' fears (and guilt) that without a video boost from "Baby Einstein" and their related "Brainy Baby" DVDs, parents may be depriving their infants.
Far from it.
(Aigner-Clark has since cashed out by selling her "Baby" creations to Disney.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically warns that children under the age of two should be exposed to NO screen time, including "Baby Einstein" and its kindred tapes. Of course the "Baby" DVD's target audience is exactly that vulnerable age group.
Bush's address rewarded unhealthy, fear-driven marketing, something he is a master of.
As pointed on by Susan Linn in a Common Dream's essay, "Baby Einstein's" Aigner-Clark, and "Oil Wars" Bush have much in common.
None of it is good.
But do they ever know how to dupe the public—at the expense of the young, whether they are under two years of age, or old enough to enlist.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

A vigil of protest, peace and remembrance

We convene again this Friday, Jan. 26, at the corner of Sunset and Capitol to show our opposition to the war in Iraq.

Here are the names of the 49 Oregonians who have died in the conflict so far:

Nettles, Marcques J. Petty Officer 3rd Class 02-Apr-2006;
Newman, Randy Lee Lance Corporal 20-Aug-2006;
Moothart, Travis A. Sergeant 27-Jan-2004;
Blickenstaff, Joseph M. Specialist 08-Dec-2003;
McKinley, Eric S. Specialist 13-Jun-2004;
Fennerty, Sean P. Sergeant 20-Jan-2007;
Zyla, Michael S. Staff Sergeant 13-Dec-2005;
Loveless, Jeremy M. Corporal 29-May-2006;
Thornton, Steven W. Major 18-Apr-2005;
Whitman, Chase R. Specialist 08-May-2004;
Rogers, Philip G. Specialist 04-Apr-2004;
Plumondore, Adam J. Sergeant 16-Feb-2005;
Mitts, David A. Sergeant 04-Dec-2004;
Simpson, Jacob M. Sergeant 16-May-2005;
Lee, Marc A. Petty Officer 2nd Class 02-Aug-2006;
Kesterson, Erik C. Chief Warrant Officer 15-Nov-2003;
Hill, Ryan J. Private 1st Class 20-Jan-2007;
Van Leuven, Gary F. Lance Corporal 17-Apr-2004;
Kelly, Bryan P. Lance Corporal 16-Jul-2004;
Warren, Mark C. Sergeant 1st Class 31-Jan-2005;
Davis, Kevin Dewayne Staff Sergeant 08-Apr-2005;
Tucker, Thomas Lowell Private 1st Class 16-Jun-2006;
Jones, Robert L. Specialist 17-Jun-2006;
Bradachnall, Travis J. Corporal 02-Jul-2003;
Wessel, Kevin S. K. Private 1st Class 19-Apr-2005;
Roberts, Bob W. Lance Corporal 17-May-2004;
Stever, Robert Anthony Staff Sergeant 08-Apr-2003;
McCrae, Erik S. 1st Lieutenant 04-Jun-2004;
Linden, Justin W. Specialist 04-Jun-2004;
Ramirez, William C. Private 1st Class 11-Feb-2004;
Wesley, Christopher Jude Rivera Specialist 08-Dec-2003;
Johnson, David W. Specialist 25-Sep-2004;
Kent, Aaron A. Seaman 23-Apr-2005;
Tobler, Brandon Scott Specialist 22-Mar-2003;
Weisenburg, David J. Staff Sergeant 13-Sep-2004;
Henkes II, Richard J. Sergeant 1st Class 03-Sep-2006;
Haag, Chase A. Corporal 01-Oct-2006;
Moore, James Lee Corporal 26-Jan-2005
Bright, Dean Private 1st Class 04-Oct-2006;
Eyerly, Justin L. Sergeant 04-Jun-2004;
Jones, Derek W. Lance Corporal 08-Oct-2006;
Isenberg, Benjamin W. Specialist 13-Sep-2004;
Contreras, Aaron Joseph Captain 30-Mar-2003;
Walker, Ryan D. Specialist 05-Jan-2006;
Troyer, Tyler J. Lance Corporal 19-Nov-2005;
Gibson, Brennan C. Sergeant 10-Dec-2006;
Huston Jr., James B. Lance Corporal 02-Jul-2004;
Leisten, Ken W. Private 1st Class 28-Jul-2004;
Rockholt Jr., Ricky W.

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Links to the Underground Railroad

My Friend and fellow Quaker Susan Banyas has transformed a remarkable family discovery into an eclectic artistic work that will premier in Portland in mid-February.

Susan's discovery of the Civil War diary of her great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Edwards, was the inspiration for "No Strangers Here Today."

The diary, dated 1864, was written in code, strongly suggesting that Edwards and her family were links in the famous "Underground Railroad," a surreptitious network that lead escaped slaves from the South through the North and on to freedom in Canada.

Susan has told the story of her grandmother and the movement in a performance of music, dance and narrative.

The premier presentation of "No Strangers Here Today" will be Feb 16-18 at the Interstate Fireside Cultural Center. The production will then go to Los Angeles for a Feb. 25 performance.

For more information, visit the "No Strangers Here Today" web site.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Toothless goals for media-obesity task force

As someone involved in the media literacy movement, I hold little hope for a newly appointed Federal Communication Commission task force on “Media and Childhood Obesity: Today and Tomorrow.”

It’s great that the FCC is acknowledging the connection between media and childhood obesity, but you have to wonder what will come of the deliberations of a task force with the following mix of members:

American Diabetes Association, American Society for Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola Company, General Mills, The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Kellogg Company, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Ion Media Networks, Viacom, Discovery Channel, Walt Disney Company, Sesame Workshop, Black Family Channel, Telemundo, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, The Benton Foundation, Children Now, Common Sense Media, The Center for Screen Time Awareness, PTA, Parents Television Council, The Ad Council, Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Also on the task force are FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin and Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael Copps, as well as Senators Sam Brownback and Tom Harkin.

If this is a balancing act, the scales are decidedly tipped. Count the noses.

And what will guide the deliberations and recommendations, profit or public health?

The group's stated goals make it pretty clear: “To provide a forum for the public and private sectors to jointly examine the impact of the media on childhood obesity rates and collaborate on voluntary recommendations to address the alarming rise in the rates of obese children.”

Note the tension between "alarming rates" and the key, action-defining term “voluntary recommendations."

I read the latter as “toothless recommendations.”

When will the FCC return to its founding charge of regulating the broadcast media so that it serves the public interest? Certainly not during the Bush administration.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Portland's small businesses view the future

As part of Portland's visioning project, visionPDX, small neighborhood business associations were surveyed for their views of the future.

A summary document prepared by the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Association (APNBA) describes responses that are part enlightened, part surprising, and part, well, less than surprising.

The three top issues listed in the APNBA’s report are:

• Funding for schools—“A failing education system erodes a civilization,” notes the report, and more funding would “mend the problem of poor educational performance in Portland Public Schools.”

• Solving homelessness—Three reasons were cited: The well being of the people living on the streets is the first concern, the homeless are “a deterrent to operating a business because they annoy customers, and the aggressive panhandling in front of shops, on corners and freeway ramps” discourages tourism.

• Limiting porn—“Respondents said that the city (referred to at one point as “Porn-land”) should find a way to limit porn shops and strip clubs in neighborhoods…” the topic was of particular concern in the city’s outer districts.

In a catch-all section, the business owners offered several sweeping suggestions to make Portland a better place 20 years from now. The following is verbatim from the report:

• Buy locally.
• Every community accept people of all cultures and incomes.
• People support each other’s dreams.
• Teach individual self-sufficiency so people can survive disaster.
• Train citizens to be leaders.
• Teach mediation in high school—and the art of listening.
• “Work to better educate voters who will elect officials (who) represent the values. that we are talking about” (and who) will bring about a “shift in collective consciousness.”

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Monday, January 22, 2007

What a difference a week makes

Miss the snow?

Here are some reminders from a week ago.

The sledding slope is on our own Tyrol Street, which is San Francisco-steep and great fun when blanketed with snow.

The house next to the Tyrol sled run is ours—turned ski chalet for two magical days.

The Internet and the apostrophe's demise

Around our house this weekend we spent more time than I care to admit chewing over how, or whether, or where to insert an apostrophe in the name of the "Queen of Diamonds Jewelry," a local business.

I made a cavalier statement about the punctuation in an earlier post. I knew I'd be in trouble....

So, should it be as it is above and on the store's sign, or should it be "Queen of Diamonds'" (perhaps...see Shawn Levy's comment), or should it be "Queen's of Diamonds" (no way!)?

No wonder this one falls into the "gave up trying" category mentioned in the book "Eats Shoots and Leaves."

I was settling into acceptance of the vague when I spotted a bus with a "" sign on the front of it. Certainly Michael Powell would know better than that. Indeed he does, as the store's sign clearly shows. The inconsistency is apparent on the Powell's home page. One header, two punctuations.

Consider Annie Bloom's, our Multnomah Village book seller. Same problem. It's "Annie Bloom's" on the store but "" on the web.

The missing space between the given and proper names begins to get to the problem. The Web, in its techno-wisdom, doesn't like apostrophes (or spaces) in URLs. And that, fellow nit-pickers, could be the beginning of the end of apostrophes as we know them.

"Starbucks" was just ahead of its time.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hillsdale Peace Vigils set for Friday evenings

Do you have a half hour to give for peace?

Many Hillsdalites will gather at the corner of Capitol Highway and Sunset Boulevard from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. this Friday, and on future Fridays, to show our community's resolve for peace.

The location at the entrance to Wilson High School is worth noting for those who are skeptical about the effectiveness of peace demonstrations, large or small.

These vigils teach peace to a whole new generation that has seen little of it for six years. This young generation, here and around the world, will continue to bear the strife and suffering resulting from our doing nothing.

They will learn from our doing something—together.

Please join us. Bring a peace sign. Join in reading the names of those Oregonians who have died in Iraq.

If you find yourself driving through the intersection, honk, or flash your lights, for peace!

See you Friday evening.

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