Saturday, March 03, 2007

Discuss charter change proposal HERE

After Thursday's post I sent some 20 neighborhood activists (neighboristas?) an e-mail inviting their views on whether the proposed charter revision would help neighborhoods.

That has prompted a lively, fascinating debate. Unfortunately none of the comments has made it onto this site. So I'm writing the respondents again to encourage them to comment here. That way everyone can follow the thread.

Feel free to join in. Here's most of what I wrote:

Last night I wrote a Red Electric entry in which I said the proposed charter revision has bungled an opportunity to give neighborhoods a much-needed seat at the table of
city government.

If I vote for the charter revision, it won't be with the hope that it will help us in Hillsdale. It could even make matters worse.

I'm wondering what you are thinking.


Labels: ,

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Screens" redefine human experience

For the past three years I have helped organize TV Turnoff Week activities in Southwest Portland as part of my involvement with the Northwest Media Literacy Center.

During that time, though, our concerns have extended beyond television—so much so that the national TV Turnoff organization has changed its name to “The Center for Screen-Time Awareness.”

Our society is now at the point where we are subjected to screens literally from cradle to grave. No one has actually started to market casket screens for the departed but anything is possible, especially if there’s a buck to be made.

Last year I stopped shopping at Albertson’s when the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway store hung screens over the check-out lines. “Enough with the screens already,” I wrote “corporate.” A PR functionary wrote back that it was all an experiment and, anyway, I was the only person to complain.

I responded that I had other choices for where to spend my money, and in the future I would shop where I wasn’t treated as just another captive in a media demographic to be exploited. Moreover, I wrote, I would urge others to do the same. (You can complain to Albertson’s by calling 1-877-932-7948.)

Within the last few days three “screen” stories have appeared like separate dots in the mediascape. Connecting them is an exercise in screen-time awareness.

Two were from today’s newspapers. The first, on the front page of The Oregonian, reported on young teen “Party Boys” performing dancing so obscene that it drove girls subjected to it to tears and led to arrests for sexual abuse. The grotesque behavior by the McMinnville boys was modeled on a scene in the movie “Jackass.”

After the boys were arrested, one of their fathers complained that the arrests and incarcerations in the juvenile home were unnecessary. “I could have handled it myself. He listens to me,” said the father, who, like millions of other parents, obviously didn’t have a clue.

The New York Times business section today ran a story about how the Albertson’s experience has metastasized to malls, Wal-Marts and even shopping carts and gas pumps—any place drawing mass “audiences.” One mother is quoted as saying that that screens in malls captivate her children. “If it’s showing a preview of a movie they want to see, I can’t get them away from it.”

“…can’t get them away from it”? Welcome to parenting in the 21st Century. Who’s in charge here?

Finally, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 43 percent of babies under the age of one are watching TV, and that programmers at Disney and Sesame Street are actively targeting them. Media marketeers are told by their researchers that brand-awareness and bonding is possible before infants even learn to talk.

As reported in the Washington Post, there is an entire 24-hour network aimed at babies. It’s called “BabyFirstTV,” and it blatantly counters the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that children younger than two should watch no—that’s zero—TV.

Any expert in child development will tell you that the very young need the warm sensory interaction they get from parents. They also need to freely explore three-dimensional space in order to connect with the real world.

Hour upon hour of ubiquitous screen time is literally redefining, and confining, what it means to be human. It is blocking us from seeing and experiencing the world as it is.

Screen-time awareness, indeed! We absolutely must get a grip on our media consumption. We must consciously limit screen time and critically assess the time we and our children spend with media.

Finally, I have submitted media literacy legislation to State Senator Ginny Burdick and State Representatives Mary Nolan and Larry Galizio. It calls on schools to teach media literacy to our children.

I urge you and your friends to write these three lawmakers to support the legislation.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charter revision bungles chance for change

If the Hillsdale neighborhood has an action agenda right now, these are its principle items—in no particular order:

• Creating a sheltered and inviting home for the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

Undergrounding unsightly utilities in Hillsdale.

• Making a safe Capitol Highway pedestrian crossing at the nascent Watershed housing building in Hillsdale.

• Creating an attractive civic plaza.

• Expanding Hillsdale’s DeWitt Park and giving it a public presence on Sunset Boulevard.

• Building sidewalks so that our children can walk to school safely.

• Hiring a part-time staffer to implement our Town Center Plan (and the plans of other town centers in Portland.)

For the past few months (years?), many of us in Hillsdale have implored the city’s bureaucracy and elected commission to take action on these matters.

We have struggled in vain.

I had held out some hope that a proposed charter revision would help end the impasse.

The proposal being put to the voters on the May ballot would substitute a new “strong mayor/city administrator” form of governance for the present “commission” one.

From the neighborhoods’ perspective, there’s not a tinker’s damn worth of difference between the two.

The same City Hall culture that gives lip service to the neighborhoods (and tilts to downtown interests) has created this “revision.”

The charter review commission did nothing to recognize, legitimize and institutionalize neighborhoods as the keys to making Portland a dynamic, creative place of citizen involvement and governance.

The strength of any city is an involved citizenry. Any new charter should nurture and infuse that involvement in the city’s governance by creating a much larger, neighborhood-accountable, neighborhood-elected commission.

Frankly, I’m on the verge of giving up on city reform and advocating for something radically different.

When I share Hillsdale’s goals with those in the know, they tell me that Woodburn or Lake Oswego or Tigard have achieved many of them.

Well, Woodburn, Lake Oswego and Tigard are incorporated, independent towns that don’t answer to the City of Portland.

You can see where this is going. And, yes, I’m not sure I want to go there either, but I think breaking free is well worth considering.

And I do know this: Portland is a city in civic peril until it empowers its neighborhoods—and engages its citizens.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Typewriter user triggers market sell-off?

I don't know what to make of this, but yesterday, while the DOW Jones average was falling a frightening 416 points, a record number of visitors, 81 to be exact, visited this site.

Does this make The Red Electric some kind of counter-cyclic economic indicator?

Perhaps my post about Christina Wall, the 32-year-old graduate student who is dabbling with a 1949 lifestyle, tipped some kind of computer-tracking meter, which spooked the market.

But in China too?

Well, maybe. Let's face it, if educated 30-somethings start turning to Hi-Fi's and typewriters, the consumer durables market has a problem.

On the other hand, eBay and other on-line auctions of vintage appliances may be solid investment bets.

Remember, you read it here first.

Labels: , , ,

Poetic lines in the water

Cathy Zimmerman, writer and friend, has alerted me to a brief, atmospheric essay, "Read Another One!" by king crabber and poet Toby Sullivan of Kodiak, Alaska.

Read it and prepare to be transported to night and poetry on Uganik Bay.

Cathy reports that Sullivan was among dozens of poets at the Fisher Poets gathering in Astoria last weekend. The poets all hail from the Pacific commercial fishing community. Their readings of poetry and their singing of original songs made for, in Cathy's words, "an unpredictable, funny, bawdy, profound" celebration.

You'll feel the spirit in Sullivan's essay.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New shoes without a senior discount

I've had four days now to be 65, and the more I think about it the less I like the way I've let time and custom turn the page for me.

I never asked to be an "honored citizen." And as nice as "senior discounts" are, I feel they are discounting me.

My stepdaughter's birthday note crystallized it for me: "It's not the years in your life but the life in your years."

She meant well, but her message was half right. It is the life in my years AND the years in my life. For at least the last two decades, each year has been better than the one before because there have been so many. These years have delivered compound interest.

One of the things I like about my age is feeling free to speak my mind. Maybe it's because nobody can fire me. Well, they could, but being fired wouldn't much matter—I teach and write pretty much for pocket change.

Believe me, I have other things to do. I have to-do lists of to-do lists....

Why has it taken so long to speak with such conviction? I think others—particularly the young—are coaxing it from me. It certainly has nothing to do with being "honored." It's as though I am listened to as someone who—right or wrong—is old enough, and, yes, wise enough, to put pieces together.

If not now, when?

Anyway, I should have seen this "honored citizen" thing as a sham sooner. It's that old adage about walking in another's shoes. Foolishly, I hadn't. Then, four days ago, I let my own old shoes become a "senior citizen's." They didn't fit.

Since then, I have bought a new pair.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 26, 2007

Turning back the clock saves time

Here's to Christina Wall, the 32-year-old University of Michigan graduate student who is learning about the past by abandoning today's technology for that of 1949.

I was seven at the time and have vague recollections of the world that Wall has been sampling.

Like most families—and Christina—we didn't have a TV. I spent a lot of time outdoors in our northern Illinois town. Kicking tawny leaves in on crisp autumn days, trekking through knee-deep snow, getting soaked in spring's slush, playing pick-up on languid July days, and, in September, nimbly traipsing to school along the rail ties of the little-used trunk line behind our house.

No one told us to stay inside for our safety. The world wasn't seen as dangerous—except for the Communists, whom we had either "contained" or "exposed."

Reading Sunday's article about Wall, I was taken with, but not surprised by, one of her findings. Life without a TV, cell phone and computer has given her more time. "It's amazing. I literally feel like I have 40 hours in a day," she tells the reporter.

Forty hours may be a bit much, but try 30. By not being sucked into "screen time," she has regained six to eight hours each day. That works out to between three and four months each year.

You don't have to go retro to have the same feeling. I picked up at least three hours a day when I lowered my cable service to "basic" a couple of years ago. (I also saved about $30 a month.)

(A confession: The Red Electric doesn't exactly write itself each day; but I consider it time well spent. Kind of like kicking words instead of leaves.)

And then there is the liberating, even transforming, feeling you get by participating in TV Turn-off Week, which is coming up April 23 to 29.

One other part of Wall's experience (oddly enough chronicled on her web site) drew my attention. She's using a typewriter, but not just any typewriter. The photograph shows her with an Olivetti Lettera 32. She probably doesn't know it, but it was one of the best in its day. The only problem is that "its day" started in 1964, the year Olivetti introduced it. That's 15 years after Wall's targeted time. Still, the Lettera 32 is a great choice. I have a typewriter collection, and the Lettera 32 is among my favorites (see photo).

Oh, and that phone she is shown using is a Western Electric 500, which started production in 1954. In 1949, she likely would have been using a solid Western Electric 302, called a "Lucy" because of its prominent role on "I Love Lucy."

I have one of those too (seen here). It's mostly for old time's sake...and to listen to the dialer mechanically and methodically ratchet through the numbers.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Probing the limits of brevity

I remember reading somewhere that, when in doubt, attribute aphorisms to Mark Twain.

One of my favorites about writing, "If I'd had more time, I'd have written less,"is credited to Twain.

I found myself invoking it on Saturday when I gave a short talk to neighborhood leaders who write for a neighborhood newspaper. They are busy people so they don't spend much time in writing their monthly news updates for the paper. Accordingly, their submissions often are tediously long.

The staff that puts out the paper answers to the neighborhood leaders and is therefore reluctant to cut words. As a result, the writing ends up unedited and printed in boring, gray expanses in the generally drab paper, which is called the SW News. (Visitors: SW stands for Southwest, as in Southwest Portland, which is not in Maine, but Oregon.)

I mention all this because, by sheer synaptic chance, I stumbled upon an un-Twain-like way of capturing his idea.

"It took me twice as long to write half as much."

It sounds pithy, until you realize it is two words longer than Twain's version.

I was hoping to get the whole thing down to four or five words. And no, I didn't run out of time.

Brevity has its limits.

Note: Rooting around on the Internet, I found this comment about the Twain quote: "I thought he meant he would've spent less time writing about life and more time living it [if he had had more time]. Am I the only one that saw it that way?"

I didn't read it that way, but now that you mention it....

Labels: ,