Saturday, April 14, 2007

High-placed TV-B-Gone; new get-a-grip device

If all went according to plan yesterday, State Sen. Vicki Walker put a TV-B-Gone in the hands of Oregon's State Superintendent for Public Instruction Susan Castillo—all in the name of getting Oregon's schools to get serious about media literacy.

The pocket TV remote was a gift from me to Castillo via Walker. I passed the little zapper on to Walker, who chairs the Senate's education committee, during a discussion we had about getting more media literacy into the schools.

And I have State Sen. Ginny Burdick to thank for arranging for my meeting with Walker at Hillsdale's Baker and Spice. Earlier this year I chided Burdick for failing to tend to her constituents' e-mails, particularly repeated messages from me. All is forgiven.

Also, my friend Jean Rystrom, who heads Kaiser Permanente's laudable TV Turnoff efforts, has alerted me to another useful get-a-grip-on-screens device. This one, called TV Allowance, electronically parcels out how much time your kids (or you, or your spouse) have with the TV. When the allotted time is up, the screen goes blank. It can also ride herd on computers and video games.

No wrestling over the remote; no video tantrums.

Like the TV-B-Gone, TV Allowance prompts critical thinking and discussions about screens and how we use them in our lives.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Wilson's Culture Night is next Saturday

Mark Wilson High School's Culture Night and Art Extravaganza on your calendar. It's next Saturday, April 21, starting at 5 p.m. Wilson Senior Russel Matsuo's poster captures nicely the spirit of the event. Art reference hint: It should be a "Scream" and then some....

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

100,000 bucks; 100,000 votes

The press has placed great significance on how much money the presidential candidates are raising for their 2008 races. Increasing public attention to the money race is certain to drive up campaign giving.

So why not cut to the chase?

Instead of ballot boxes (alas, now easily rigged voting machines), let's just have easily stuffed cash boxes and be done with it.

Out with the niceties of voter registration, primaries, caucuses, political conventions, polling places and the electoral college.

Let's just keep a tally of the money in the various campaign tills, being sure to inform the donating "electorate" as the fund-raising mounts. Wallets and purses will open wider and wider as the campaigns near the November final accounting day—formerly known as election day.

If we put a lid on how much candidates can spend and require that excess cash go to pay for government, we might actually replace taxes with campaign contributions. You can be sure the rich will pay "their fair share" to influence the political outcome. Call it voluntary progressive donation.

In any case, on the first Tuesday in November 2008, the candidate raising the most money would become president of the United States.

Might the cash-box political system leave us better off than the ballot-box one?

Or are they somehow one in the same?

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On drawing blanks at City Hall

Testifying before the Portland City Council, as I did this morning, can be like being a stranger in a strange land.

You are given three minutes to speak your truth—such as it is.

I use the rapid, mildly-in-your-face approach.

Looking down on you from their slightly elevated platform, the mayor and four commissioners listen intently.

A red digital clock counts the seconds on a panel in front of you. 00:00—00:01….2:58—2:59—3:00—bleeeeeeeep.

You finish. The council members stare at you. You stare at them. You hope that you have inspired thought, conviction, an epiphany.

OK, a grunt? A flicker of life?


They stare back. Silence.

Your utterances are mere noises.

You leave the hearing table and meld back into the audience.

Next speaker?

On one occasion, I actually drew a question from the five. Vera Katz was mayor then, and I recall the question was hers. I can’t remember what she asked because it didn’t make any difference.

Today I drew blanks.

I was clearly out in la-la land. I was proposing something really, really wild—not selling the naming rights to our parks facilities to Nike or Intel or the Fortune 500.

I mean REALLY!

In fact, this time the commissioners actually seemed to look through me as I spoke.

“Bad policy…bad precedent…bad procedure,” I intoned into their vacuity.

I suggested that the proposed parks naming and sponsorship policies might one day lead to these very city council chambers'—RIGHT HERE! THIS ROOM!—being named after some corporate giant (Jockey Underwear? Exxon/Mobil?)—all in exchange for cash to replace the carpet or repair the roof.

No one blinked.

I returned to my place in the back of the room.

The resultant discussion was largely between the real, and realistic, park staff and the elected commissioners. All are paid. All are worth something to each other. They understand each other. They talk.

One commissioner wanted the parks director to explain how the process could involve the public more. He wondered how the city council would get involved in deciding whether a particular name designation was a good idea. It's not good to name some bucolic park glade after a rapacious CEO with a prison term in his future.

The commissioners and the staff were way beyond policy and into pesky details, like members of some exclusive club. Long ago, it became clear, they became committed to brokering the names of park facilities to corporations and to a recognition-hungry, donor elite—all for maintenance cash.

Somewhere in the last 10 years, while I wasn’t watching, a civic norm—a given—was established. Just the way it’s now given that states can raise cash by promoting gambling—and gambling addiction. Just as it is given that the Portland Trolleys are programmed to audibly announce to riders that the next public stop on the public street is “sponsored by” a travel agent, a bookstore, condominium complex or museum.

Sponsored “trolley stops”? State-sponsored gambling? Park glades named for moguls?

For me, the strange became a little stranger today.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Community abates global warming

INK, the information-packed little newsletter Powell's Books publishes each month, has a commendable essay by Bill McKibben in the April issue.

McKibben suggests that the bottom line on fighting global warming is forging strong communities.

In other words, in the face of this global crisis, we are doing a lot of the right things here in Hillsdale—and in Portland.

We need locally-owned community businesses, farmers markets, strong community schools, excellent mass transit and community plazas, paths and parks to keep people close to home. We need to support those institutions and not sell out to large multi-national corporations.

(By the way, Wednesday's parks naming rights debate before the City Council may touch on this very issue.)

Mass media and mega-corporations pull our attentions and resources away from where we live. Worse, they promote rampant commercialism and consumerism that isolate us and are destroying the planet.

"The endless parade of screens," McKibben writes, "keep us occupied by ourselves. As a result, Americans have far fewer close friends than they did a generation ago. We spend far less time with friends and neighbors and relatives."

We are also far less creative and resourceful.

Another result is that, by world standards, Americans, for all their relative wealth, are not particularly happy. Many are stressed.

But as we build our communities, we are rediscovering the joy experienced by those who live more modestly.

Those of us who have traveled abroad and visited farmers markets know they provide staples not only for their customers but for civic life. We have felt the joy of congregation swirling around the busy market kiosks and booths. Here in the Hillsdale Farmers Market, and in others around the city, we experience the same joy.

I have often joked with some truth that Hillsdale does far more civic business on Sundays in the market than it does at sparsely attended neighborhood meetings with long agendas.

Here's another thought about community and global warming. Often communities grow stronger in crisis. The Rieke School parents will tell you that their community is much stronger today because the school district threatened to shut down the school. Many of us in Southwest Portland got involved in our neighborhoods when city planners threatened to impose rough-shod rezoning here.

I'll venture to guess that global warming, for all its troubling consequences, will create challenges that will draw us together and ultimately make us stronger. The crisis will force us to weigh and choose what is truly important: our own selfish, dispiriting needs or those of the planet and its future.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The best in others—and ourselves

The memorial service for my friend Dan McDonough last week revealed great truths about him—and about us.

After the service, in my deeper awareness, I was literally speechless. I choked up with tearful emotion when I tried to express my feelings for Dan to Av, Dan’s wife.

Most of the service consisted of Catholic ritual and readings from the Gospels, but when Dan’s son, John, himself a priest, spoke, he reminded us of the gift Dan had been for all who knew him.

As I noted in an earlier post, Dan had been my editor in Longview, Washington. Over time we developed what I came to consider a two-person “mutual admiration society.” His admiration seemingly for my writing and thinking; mine for his editing and integrity. In the decades after I left the paper, our rare visits reflected the same respect. I always felt uplifted after our encounters.

What John revealed was that Dan held everyone in that same high regard. He saw—and nurtured—the best in each and every person he encountered.

Dan’s life was rich with affirmation and, yes, love, and he was grateful for every moment of it. As John told us, Dan often exclaimed his wonderment that he had been granted such a life.

John shared with us just how deep and wide Dan’s affirmation of others ran. When a priest in the Longview parish was discovered to have molested children, when a member of the congregation was found guilty of the murder of children, and when all turned away from these men for their heinous crimes, Dan wrote them in prison; Dan sought to address their humanity, to affirm their souls.

When I’ve tried to give a shorthand answer for the purpose of our brief time here on Earth, I often fall back on “To leave the world a better place.” There is nothing profound about the statement. It just has a ring of truth, however mundane.

I have never offered a means to achieving such an end, but I realize now that Dan lived one. It’s this: To say and do that which brings out the very best in others—and in ourselves.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hillary's George Bush problem

With a mere 18 month to go before the election, I'd better hurry with my thinking about Hillary Clinton.


Here's my take on Hillary. Gobs of money or not, she doesn't have a prayer of winning the nomination, let alone moving back to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Her biggest problem is that she is resonating with the worst president this nation has ever had, namely the current one.

It isn't that Hillary is Bush-bad. Indeed she would likely be as good at the top job as her spouse was, maybe better.

That's not saying a lot, but it is night-and-day better than what we have.

Still Hillary reflects much of what the public has come to despise about Bush.

Most noticeably, and notably, she has an palpable arrogance about her—particularly with regard to her failure to repudiate her Iraq position. In her own way, she is "staying the course." Between now and November 2008, the electorate will grow even more weary of such hubris and inflexibility.

The other obvious shared trait is the political dynasticism, also out of favor. With Bush, the problem seems oedipal with more than a hint of familial entitlement. With Hillary, the connection has more to do with the baggage of the Clinton political machine and of the toxic sexual dynamics left over from the "domestic" policy of the Clinton White House.

Those are the obvious similarities. There are others.

Hillary's failed, cobbled-together health plan of yore could have been designed by the same folks who patched together Bush's convoluted drug plan and his failed social security "reform." And Bill's tactical maneuvering over welfare "reform" and NAFTA—certainly not initiatives Hillary has repudiated—would have fit nicely into the Bush agenda, except Clinton got to them first.

Finally, of course, all the big globs of money are going to Hillary, just as they did to Bush. The "lumpen" bucks are going elsewhere, particularly to Obama and Edwards. Call me crazy, but the numbers that come closest to reflecting votes are numbers of flesh-and-blood contributors, not numbers of dollars.

The fund-raising figures released last week underscore that W and Hillary also belong to the same political/economic class. It's a class interested in winning, power, global economic dominance and self-aggrandizement. It doesn't care which party produces the goods, as long as one does. Its agenda hardly celebrates social justice, the environment, peace and equality.

Sadly for Hillary, short of a messy political divorce (I use the word advisedly), there is little she can do to break her associations with the failure now in the White House.

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