Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wilson High's "Peace" problem solved!

Wilson High School administrators have gone all wobbly about students’ writing “Peace” on the Hillsdale school’s windows. Seems that "Peace" is a political statement.

My sources tell me that if the word isn’t expunged early next week, the student painters face suspension.

“Peace” as a problem?

Let’s see, we have “Peace be with you,” “Peace of Mind,” “Let peace begin with me,” “The US Peace Institute,” “Go in peace,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Peace studies.”


OK, agreed, context shapes meaning. Let’s assume that in this time of war the word “peace” might be taken as opposition to war in general, and the bungling, bellicose Bush Administration/Halliburton oil-grab in Iraq in particular.

Now that we are hyper-aware of context, what do we make of Wilson's martial mascot—the helmeted Trojan, who is either a battle-ready warrior or the logo for a contraceptive (subtle message there, kids)?

Either way, isn’t the mascot a political statement? As an opponent of war, I’m personally offended by the thoughtless choosing of Trojan warrior as a mascot, just as I am that the biggest sports rivalry in the state is called “The Civil War.”

Many “family values/anti-sex education” activists might have problems with a beneath-the-radar condom logo association—especially now that I’ve pointed it out to them.

And if politics is a problem, the school itself is named after Thomas Woodrow Wilson. Here we have double trouble. Wilson was both a politician and the winner of the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, you read it right: "Peace Prize."


So here’s my suggestion: if the school can be named after a politician and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the mascot can be a warrior or a contraceptive logo, then the name and the mascot are fair game for “Peace” and non-violent heroes.

In the name of “Peace,” let’s rename the school “Peace High School” and make its mascot Gandhi. The sports teams can be called “The Passive Resisters” (known for unusual defensive play) and the cheer from the throngs can be Gandhi’s call for peaceful change: “Satyagraha! Satyagraha!” which roughly means “Seek Truth!”

"Seek Truth!" indeed.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, March 16, 2007

Only 38 days left! Are you ready?

Thirty-eight days left? Are you ready to meet what?

Your blank TV screens, of course.

Yes, it's another inspiring TV-B-Gone/TV Turnoff Week post.

First, repeated posts on this subject require this rhetorical inoculation—hold still, you won't feel a thing:

Psst, this blog shills for no one—and no thing, including clever stealth TV remotes.

The "Three-Eyed Red One" (see photo) is just trying to level the media playing field with the blog-spatula it's been given.

I mean, think of all those effusive articles glorifying this or that flat-screen TV. The stories never question whether you need pulsating plasma panels planted on your walls in the first place.

Well, a growing legion of us is asking you—and ourselves.

So, as TV-Turnoff week nears on April 23, the excitement mounts.

Only 38 days left! Not too early to ask how you and your family are planning to celebrate. (Remember, tips and benefits are here at this special Kaiser Permanente TVTO site as well as at the TV Turnoff Network site.)

I'm thinking along the lines of a week of Scrabble, backgammon, darts, horseshoe pitching, bicycling, typewriter puttering, garage-door painting, lawn reseeding, ivy pulling...and, of course, blog writing (and, yes, time spent here is "screen time." So call me a hypocrite. At least the mind is engaged—well, mostly.)

Or I might take Henry David's advice and fit in some long walks in the woods. (If you have to ask, "Henry David" who?" you haven't been paying attention. See recent posts.) The "woods" that beckons many Portlanders is Forest Park with its 30-mile-long Wildwood Trail. But there are countless others.

And, as they say, there's more!

Coming here soon will be a blog-review of the just published book, "The Big Turnoff, Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom trying to raise a TV-Free Kid." The author is Hillsdale author and neighbor Ellen Currey-Wilson. Ellen will discuss her book at Annie Bloom's on April 24. According to the publicity advance, Ellen goes after TV insanity with one of the deepest penetrating knives in the drawer: self-deprecating humor.

Meanwhile, TV-B-Gone inventor Mitch Altman and I have been corresponding again.

Always dangerous.

When I recently put in my bulk order for 20 stealth remotes, I asked about some interesting uses for them. Also, with our TV Turnoff Week celebrations coming up, I wondered about what message he carries to his TV-Turnoff audiences.

Here are his answers:

Different people and organizations have used TV-B-Gone in different ways.

I've used it as a fun excuse to talk in schools about TV and its effects. Adbusters, and Culture Jammers in North America and Europe roamed around in small and large groups turning off TVs in public places, leaving fun literature behind them. Some organizations have used it as raffle prize gifts, pledge gifts, sales for enhancing revenue, making fun videos to promote their work.

TV-B-Gone gives people an opportunity to think about TV and its effects. I think it is important to make these concepts fun, easy and non-threatening, since otherwise people have a tendency to become defensive (just as addicts are often quite defensive when talking about their substance of choice).

In my presentations at schools I introduce myself as an inventor and show them my invention TV-B-Gone, which is a fun way to start. If there's a TV in the room I tell them I'll give them a demo later.

My talks are very personal and autobiographical, talking about being really unhappy and depressed as a kid, bullied and tormented daily, retreating into TV when I got home. I use that as a way in to talk about TV and its effects on me, personally. I ask questions of the kids as we go along to see what thoughts they have on how TV may be effecting them.

Before ending with an inspirational message about choosing well what you do with your time, I ask them their favorite things in the whole world, then talk about inventing, one of my favorite things, giving TV-B-Gone as an example.

Then I ask them what they'll be doing instead of watching TV for the next week. They're usually pretty excited by that point.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mismatched: Quakers and the Mass Media

Seven of us who gathered last night to talk about "Quakers and the Mass Media" stumbled on an intriguing scenario.

Imagine the plight of some hapless journalist assigned to report on the state of our “unprogrammed” brand Quakerism.

(Quaker jargon such as “unprogrammed” is one of the first barriers our journalist would encounter. “So we have these ‘monthly meetings’ that meet weekly etc.”)

Nailing Jell-O to the wall and herding cats have nothing on reporting on us.

Think about it: We’re the ones who have no spokesperson/pastor (“non-pastoral,” we are lead by an inner "light"), no picturesque, visually alluring churches (we gather in modest “meeting houses” which are determinedly not churches), no fiery sermons (we worship in silence, although occasionally someone is “moved to speak”).

Want to know where we stand? Well, we have our “testimonies”: Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community and Equality. Just how those play out is up to the individual Friend (yes, Clark Kent, make note: the formal name for Quakers is “The Religious Society of Friends.”).

Want more about what we believe? Well, uhmmm. As we like to caution those who inquire, “If you’ve spoken to one Friend about what Quakers believe, you have spoken to ONE, and only one…Friend. There are a few thousand others who have their own take. (Come to think of it, multitudes of Catholics—and Episcopalians, Baptists and even atheists—have the same “problem”….)

If you, the reporter, wants to know where the Quaker meeting stands on a particular issue, we might have to get back to you on that. We’ll have to hold a meeting first. Friends reach decisions by determining the “sense of the meeting.” To me, it's a kind of “consensus—more or less”—and a topic for another day.

Whatever you call it, it can take a while—a very long while, even years.

Quakers can always refer our journalist to the exhaustive, which is totally without aesthetic pretense—in the manner of traditional Friends. The Quaker Information Center, another on-line source, is informative and attractive in a neat, no-nonsense, Quakerly way.

So after nearly two hours, our little discussion group concluded that when it comes to the press, Quakers are Friendly, friendly but not user-friendly.

Misperception, or even non-perception, is the inevitable result. I shared with the group a recent informal poll I took of my Portland Community College students’ understanding of the word “Quaker.” More than a few flat-out confused Quakers with the Amish, right down to the buggy whips.

How are we perceived, if at all? My own conclusion (remember, I am ONLY ONE Friend) is that most of the public comes to understand Quakerism, in fact, if not name, through encountering Quakers who are living out their beliefs.

If we have a medium, it is ourselves going about our lives, meeting and working with others, one-on-one, for some greater good.

That others may never associate the name “Quaker” with our beliefs doesn’t matter. What we believe and how we live is obviously far, far more important than the fact that we believe it and live it AS Quakers.

Still, as one in our group suggested, it might behoove us to start letting people know—as a matter of information—who we are and from whence we are coming.

In an age of theatrical mega-churches, hip-hop choirs and celebrity pastors, Friends are almost a-media. That which guides us is about as far from the mass media as we can get—worshipping together in a silence resounding with inspiration, insight and solace.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Confessions of a TV-B-Goner

Jean Rystrom, who has been active in the TV-Turnoff Effort, writes movingly about her experiences and feelings as a TV-B-Gone owner:

I own a TV-B-Gone. Actually, I have owned two - I gave the first one away to someone who really wanted it and "needed" it right away. I carry it with me in my backpack, always. It's very cool and I love it. It fills me with unholy glee.

That said, I never use it.

Oh, I'm tempted, and not just by public TVs. I'd like to walk around my neighborhood at night, using it to turn off other people's TVs at home! But I don't, because I think what we need most is open discussion. So when I go to the Red Cross to donate blood and the stupid TV is on while I'm waiting for the interview, instead of secretly turning it off, I tell somebody who works there that I don't like having the TV going. And if enough other people say the same thing, then maybe they'll get rid of it.

I had an experience a year ago in a San Diego hotel breakfast room/lobby where the humongous TV was always on with the insipid unending morning "news" show, and it's the only noise. During a brief period in which I was the only one there, I went up and turned the TV off. When the next group of people came in (and the TV was off), they started talking to each other! I met a figure skater from Vancouver, and another family with kids with whom I exchanged some food ideas. It was a perfect short story version of how TV inhibits community. If I'd really had courage, I'd have gone up and turned the TV off while other people were present.

So, having the discussion is one way to run a revolution. Maybe just having the TVs mysteriously turned off is an equally useful way of running the same revolution. Maybe that's worth some discussion too. Maybe someone will convince me that I should use mine.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Curses! Albertson's screens zap-proof

The manager of our local Albertson's can sleep a little easier now knowing that TV-B-Gones won't work on those intrusive screens flickering over the checkout lines.


The bad news came from San Francisco, known to thousands—if not hundreds—as the world headquarters of TV-B-Gone, the handy, surreptitious pocket remote that zaps off intrusive TVs.

Mitch Altman, the inventor of TV-B-Gone, e-mails that the gadget works only on TVs with remote controls. That means screens on gasoline pumps are impervious too.

While I was writing Mitch, I asked whether he had hooked up with the annual TV-Turnoff Week, which is coming up on April 23. Seemed like a perfect fit.

Turns out Mitch is a huge TVTO fan. He writes: "We're having a big kick-off event here in SF with TV Turnoff Network (now called "The Center for Screentime Awareness"). I'll be talking at a bunch of schools again this year, too."

Here in Southwest Portland, I'm about to make my organizing calls to the Wilson High School Cluster schools. Other Portland TV Turnoff-istas are organizing school health clinics. The public library branches and the parks bureau have events planned.

Kaiser-Permanente, a big TVTO backer, has just begun offering free kits to download at a special web site. I've seen them and they are great!

In the meanwhile, I'm thinking of ordering a few TV-B-Gones for kids to have some fun with. Mitch graciously has offered me a bulk rate.

Imagine a whole Halloween-like "Zap for Life" TVTO week. Instead of "Trick or Treat (with junk food no less)" this would offer "Zap and Jump (or run or bike or play catch)"

Mitch notes that TV-B-Gone and TVTO have the same goal: Discovering (or rediscovering) the joys of turning off the TV and taking back your from four to six hours a day!

Thoreau's thoughts on television...

Well, OK, not exactly. That was just to get your attention for another Thoreau reference.

Thoreau preceded TVs by a century, of course, but he did offer choice words about the mass media obsession of his day—newspapers. Substitute "Fox News" or your favorite news media addiction for "newspapers" in the following. His point hits you square in the eyes.

"I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter—we never need to read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?"

And this: "I have no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire—thinner than the paper on which it is printed—then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them."


Labels: , ,

Monday, March 12, 2007

Scrabble and the flow of life

Yesterday, I fed my current Henry David Thoreau jag at Powell's by buying a little book titled "Daily Observations—Thoreau on the days of the years."

The editor has compiled Thoreau journal entries for each day of the year.

Be patient. I'll get to today's in a second....

By chance, friends returning from a Hawaiian vacation brought me a Scrabble gift. My friends know that I regularly subject myself to Scrabble humiliation at the hands of my in-laws. (My visiting brother-in-law breezed by me in the final rack last night with the word "viniest" on a triple-word score. I mean REALLY!—"VINIEST"!).

Anyway, the gift from Hawaii should help and offer an intriguing counterpoint to the Thoreau book. The gift is one of those flip calendars that devotes a daily page to some joke, tidbit of knowledge or piece of self-improvement advice. This one offers a Scrabble situation to solve.

So now I have before me today's Scrabble conundrum...and, as promised, the Thoreau journal entry for March 12. The year for him happens to be 1853.

Thoreau: "Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows."

The Scrabble calendar: "The word below has three useful anagrams. Can you find all of them? A G R E E."

What to make of these seemingly disparate offerings for March 12?

Will ferreting out three "useful" anagrams—useful in Scrabble that is—put me as near as possible to the channel in which my life flows?

I think not, but we can't be slavish about these things. Besides my brother-in-law is still in town and I'm eager for revenge.

"EAGER," by the way, is one of the anagrams from A G R E E.

The others: EAGRE (a tidal flood), RAGEE (an East Indian cereal grass). Pretty useful—even to Thoreau, a cereal-eating vegetarian and a keen observer of natural phenomena, including tidal floods.

It's 6 a.m., and Monday, March 12, is dawning. With a little cerebral straining, the day is making some sense—here near the channel where my life flows....

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Where poetry and journalism meet

Poet and journalist Don Colburn clearly enjoys talking about the two sides of his writing, which he maintains, often become one.

Warming to the topic, he told my PCC reporting class recently that his poetry and his journalism inform and support each other.

Colburn, who reports on health for The Oregonian, noted that he’s not the first writer to draw the connection between the seemingly disparate genres.

Consider Walt Whitman’s words: “The true poem is the daily newspaper.”

And William Carlos Williams’:

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

And Ezra Pound’s: “Poetry is news that stays news.”

At 59, Colburn has been around—“out in the street” as he puts it. He worked at the Everett Herald before going east to its parent paper, the famed Washington Post. While at the Herald, he won a Knight Fellowship to Stanford University, where poetry kindled interest that flamed to passion.

He quickly discovered that, like journalists, poets also need to be “out in the street”—to immerse themselves in humanity.

He found that humanity—and poetry—in the tragic story of young Garrett Smith.

When, after a year of mourning, Sen. Gordon Smith and his wife, Sharon, were ready to talk about the suicide of their son, Garrett, Colburn reported on and wrote their story. He heard poetic strains in their reflections. His job, he said, was to get out of the way and let them speak their truth.

Like a great poem, the Garrett Smith story “had something at stake,” Colburn said, adding that journalism and poetry always have something at stake.

Colburn said that writing poetry has made him a better prose writer. “I can’t prove it,” he said, “but I know it.”

“Each has things to teach the other,” he said.

Like journalism, the best poetry starts in the real world. And, like poetry, journalism at its best must “pay attention to the nuances of words—the sounds of the language.” That’s why Colburn reads his newspaper prose out loud in the newsroom before submitting it. “The words just have to sound right; there’s music in the language,” he said.

Colburn believes in what he calls the “commonality of journalism and poetry,” so much that he considers himself to be a “cross-training writer.” He has even compiled a list of pithy rules for cross-training writers. They include: “Play it by ear,” “Go with the Heat,” “Don’t try too hard,” and, its corollary “Try hard enough.”

Here’s a poem by Don Colburn from “As if Gravity were a Theory,” one of his two published books of poetry. The poem was inspired by a story Colburn wrote about a boy battling leukemia:

Local News

Ten years after,

I remember two things:

It was a mild, cloudless afternoon

and the sick boy wore a wool cap

indoors, down to his eyes

which were not scared.

No. Three things. I was scared.

For more about Colburn and more samples of his poetry, visit his web site.

Labels: , , , , , , ,