Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sex, SOLV and civic pride

Combing Barbur Boulevard’s shoulders for litter this morning as a SOLV volunteer (Quick, what does SOLV stand for?) was a not an unpleasant experience.

Note the inescapable nuancing.

Sure, I find it annoying that motorists still use the Great Outdoors as a trash receptacle. I mean, who are these people?

Well, smokers for one. At times my litter picking was a kind of cigarette butt-a-thon.

A certain litter-collecting detachment is called for at times like this. Trying to think well of these smoking litter-bugs, the best I could come up with was, “Good luck with the chemo.”

The other major littering group are fast food and soft drink patrons. Smashed cans and wrappings from McDonald’s and Subway are their tossed leavings.

Reaching for the scraps with my arm extending litter “grabber,” stuffing the waste into my SOLV bag, I also reached for more detachment, warding off junk-food thoughts of diabetes and clogged arteries,

(Still working on SOLV? Frankly I can’t think of it myself. Something to do with Volunteers, Oregon, Litter and … what?….Super? Solution? Staunchly? Stamp-out? AHHH. Stamp-out Oregon Litter, Volunteers? Oh, never mind….Back to the trash….)

Sometimes the clean-up uncovers trash of distinction, but nothing interesting surfaced this time.

Instead I retrieved:

The inevitable walnut-sized chunks of Styrofoam. Trust me, the last human creation on the planet, eons from now, will be such a moldering chunk.

Shredded plastic bags, a few mossy bottles, creased and discolored candy wrappers, most notably from Reese’s Pieces (ET go home!) and Snickers.

Some worn and discolored sheet metal and strands of banding. Ugly but probably valuable.

Cast-off hub caps, but plastic, cheap and shattered. Ah, for one of those shiny '50s VW disks.

Nothing to seize the imagination.

Once on one of these litter-gathering outings I found a pristine pair of stiletto high-heels along the much littered Multnomah Boulevard I-5 off ramp.

“Whoa!” I thought as I gripped my grabber more tightly and launched into a sex-filled fantasy laced with booze, flirtatious taunts and even noir-ish homocide.

Could such imaginings be the reason I volunteer for SOLV (Still working on it?). Or is it the nose-to-the-ground concentration, the vague reflections on chance and trash. The finicky sordidness of it all as the traffic whooshes past.

It could be simpler than that. After a couple hours’ work with two or three friends, Barbur Boulevard or Capitol Highway or the Multnomah I-5 off-ramp does look measurably better to us and to thousands of motorists.

The reward is civic satisfaction.

Anything beyond that is just so much Styrofoam frosting — or stilettos shoes.

Oh, and looking up what SOLV stands for on the SOLV web site, I find….absolutely NOTHING! They don’t know what it means either! Or, if they know, they aren’t telling, like some kind of secret handshake.

For the rest of us, SOLV is a contrivance or a state of mind (see above).

If you want to pursue the SOLV name business, fine. Let me know what your find out. I’m going to take a well-deserved nap.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 11, 2007

TV hurts 'tweens as well as tiny ones and toddlers

This morning The Oregonian went big with a story out of Seattle that parents are mindlessly plunking little ones in front of TVs, a practice that pediatricians warn can hamper brain development and lead to attention deficit problems, aggressive behavior, obesity and later problems with math and reading.

Turns out that "Brainy Baby," the latest fear-factor trend in programming to toddlers and their parents, produces brain-deprived baby, not the "Baby Einstein" or "Baby Mozart" promised to parents by TV hucksters. Visit their web sites and weep. Reminder: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no (zero!) TV for children under two.

(This just in, parents! Neither Einstein nor Mozart watched TV!)

Those of us at the Northwest Media Literacy Center have been sharing information like this for for the past six years. It's nice to get help from The Oregonian. Let's hope today's front page story is the beginning of a front-page trend.

One story worthy of the front page, but missed by The O, was in the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday. This one was about a study showing that if a 14-year-old watches three or more hours of TV a day there's a much greater likelihood of poor performance later in college.

The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Psychology.

So if you want your kids to to make the dean's list, or just have a better chance of getting a BA, teach them to turn off the TV.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons to hit the off button, not the least of which is that time in front of screens is time away from life and the real world. The average American living to 80 will have spent 15 years of 24-hour days in front of television.

Someday you might want that time back.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adventures in visual communication

I've been dabbling in visual communication these past few days, and have produced, at best mixed, results.

First, based on a 20-minute stakeout of my typewriter exhibit at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, I'd have to declare it a resounding dud. I observed the display from about 30 feet away as a stream of students sauntered past it without giving the six endlessly fascinating typewriters a glance.

Well, a couple glanced but didn't break stride. They seemed to regard the display as a fleeting visual annoyance. Others were too busy talking on their cellphones to notice anything. Talking or dancing typewriters wouldn't have attracted their attentions. Other strollers might simply have been hungry. (The food court is just across from the display case.)

But I shouldn't make excuses because next to my display is another — a cluttered but colorful mess that shows posters and puppets belonging to the campus Anime Club. In the time I was watching the inaction at my window, the Anime Club draw five or six real avid gawkers.

It just so happens that I am teaching a visual communication class at PCC this term so I asked my students for a critique. "Needs some color and the type on the description is too small to read," said one astute student.

In short, the whole thing lacks allure. "Lure" is the key part of the word. Sitting watching my display, waiting for a response, I was reminded of fishing...with the wrong lure. Or maybe these particular fish — young, in a hurry — just won't bite on typewriters, not matter what lure I use.

The other approach would be to stand next to the case and hawk.

"Hey, check these out! Vintage word processors!"

"Ever hear of Hemingway? He used one of those!" etc.

No, force feeding typewriters to this young generation is a waste of time, especially when....

I've been hard at work on a "header" for the two Hillsdale web sites I plan to launch next month. I put "header" in quotes because that is a web term. In the newspaper business we'd call these front page name displays "flags," which are not to be mistaken for "mastheads," as they often are. (The masthead is usually on the editorial page and gives the names of the publisher, top editors and other executives. Now you know.)

Anyway, here is a draft of my first attempt at a header for one of the web sites. This one is for the Hillsdale Business & Professional Association. Most of its members are located in the Hillsdale Town Center, hence the name on the header.

This time I may have gone overboard with color. I may put photos behind those letters instead of solid colors. We'll see. Then, of course, relying on ubiquitous, corporate Helvetica font is certain to attract graphic disdain. But my astute student would certainly agree that at least its large and clear enough to be legible.

I'm learning.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Crosswalks as lipstick

Six of us from the Hillsdale business community took a one-hour whirlwind trip across the Willamette to Milwaukee this morning.

One of our number had been impressed with the way the city had installed crosswalks with some kind of inlaid surface design.

“They make you feel as if you have arrived,” he had reported enthusiastically.

I curbed my enthusiasm. Whatever we saw in Milwaukie, there is little likelihood we could replicate it in Hillsdale.

Milwaukie, unlike Hillsdale is an incorporated town. It has a mayor and a city council. It has money to hire people to get things done, like the $4.7 million McLaughlin Project completed less than a year ago. The crosswalks were part of the project.

Hillsdale, a part of Portland, is an all-volunteer effort that floats in the periphery of Portland’s governmental bureaucracy and pocketbook.

Milwaukie’s crosswalks were interesting, as crosswalks go. We crouched down to see how the attractive patterns were made. Some kind of rolled out impression in the surface mimicked a colored, inlaid brick mosaic. It was a far-sight more interesting than the, well, pedestrian, pedestrian striping on our crosswalks.

Still, to say that the mosaic pattern would somehow dignify one’s arrival in the Hillsdale Town Center was a stretch.

But Milwaukie did impress for another reason that I quickly and repeatedly pointed out to our little delegation. The town has undergrounded most of the utilities in its refurbished commercial area.

We could see the sky without wires criss-crossing overhead. No poles or transformers loomed over us. The young trees along the curbs had the sidewalks to themselves.

With the amount of time and energy I have to spend on trying to coax the City of Portland into improving our Hillsdale, I’m not wasting it on glorified crosswalks — not until we deal with the utility blight along Capitol Highway.

I hate to say it, but gussying up the crosswalks strikes me as being like the old saw about putting lipstick on a pig.

Why bother?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Another news media turning point

Here's further evidence of the shift from old media to new media.

Yesterday's New York Times carried a story about a Boston community newspaper that has begun running blog items in print.

Until now, newspapers ("old media") were considered the legitimate news source that provided content for "new media" web sites to disseminate.

With the Boston development, news now originating on-line is being legitimized by dissemination through print, the "old media."

The reversing trend is certain to continue until the newspaper-reading public fully migrates to on-line information.

Some of the reason for the reverse flow of information is found in the observations of John Wilpers, the editor-in-chief of BostonNow, the free-distribution daily that is printing the blogs. He says, in the words of the Times' article, that in publishing the blogs he is addressing "the news industry's biggest problem: an inability to connect with the communities it covers."

That's worth rereading...a newspaper with an "inability to connect with the communities it covers." How, one might ask, does a newspaper cover a community it doesn't connect with?

In the new digital age, the "inability" is the direct result of falling newspaper revenues leading to newsroom cuts. So newspapers are turning to free, on-line (and amateur) reporting.

In return, the news bloggers get additional exposure for their sites and keep the rights to their material. According to the Times story, they also get press credentials (or legitimacy through access to sources) and advice on how to increase traffic to their sites.

In the short run, the papers' principal obligation is maintaining quality control and the integrity of what they print.

In the long run, this latest development is simply a stopgap until the screen technology matches the portability and former profitability of newspapers and drives "old media" out of business.

At the rate newspapers are losing readers and revenue, "the long run" should be no longer than five years.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 07, 2007

My typewriters on display at PCC Sylvania

I've pulled together an exhibit for Portland Community College's Sylvania campus. I installed it today in the campus center where the display case gets lots of foot traffic.

Typewriters nearly identical to those used by seven famous authors are represented. The authors are Ernie Pyle, Isak Dinesen, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, E.B. White and Larry McMurtry.

It's an eclectic group.

I may add one for Jack Kerouac if I can make room for it. As you can see, six typewriters fill the space quite nicely. Ernie Pyle and Isak Dinesen used the same model machine (a folding Corona) which accounts for the discrepancy.

Interestingly, Faulkner and Kerouac used the same model (an Underwood) as well...with obviously very different results.

As I was installing the exhibit, several people stopped to comment. One guy in his fifties joked that most of the students would be baffled by these strange machines.

But several young students stopped to chat.

I plan to park myself outside the display case during lunch hour to see and hear what transpires.

Stay tuned.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Leibman's complaint...and mine

In a letter to the editor in this month’s Southwest Community Connection, Eric Leibman makes note of our Friday evening peace vigils and then writes, “As a Hillsdale resident, I want to point out that there are definitely people, myself included, who do not agree with the protests.”

I assume that his problem isn’t with protesting per se but with our reasons for protesting as the rest of the long letter is devoted to why he believes American forces must stay in Iraq.

He asks how we protesters plan to avoid the catastrophe that he believes will ensue if American forces withdraw.

He clearly believes the nations of the Middle East are incapable of solving their own problems without an American occupation. And of course there’s the question of maintaining Exxon/Mobil’s (he says “America’s) access to all that oil.

I don’t want to get into the logic or illogic of his arguments, the deceptions of the Bush Administration and the fact that Bush and Cheney are joined at the hip with the corrupt, despotic Saudis and rapacious, collusive Big Oil.

No, I was hoping that Leibman would focus in criticism on the protests themselves. Are they a bad idea? Are they misleading?

I believe they are a good idea, but the are clearly misleading if people seeing us conclude that people like Leibman don’t exist.

I invite Leibman and others of a like mind to come down with their own placards and put their slogans up against ours.

Mine says, “Wage Peace.” Theirs might say, “Wage War.”

Mine says, “Say ‘No!’ to War” Theirs might say, “Say ‘No!’ to Peace” or “Say ‘Yes!’ to War.”

Whatever they say, I’d stand side by side with fellow neighbor Leibman and his colleagues.

As I’ve noted, most commuters signal their approval of our anti-war view, but a few flip us off.
So Leibman might be heartened by support in the stream of homeward-bound traffic.

I hope that we all would find support for just being there and reminding people that this nation is in crisis, however you define it.

I’d like to see that corner become a kind of Speakers' Corner, like that in London’s Hyde Park, where all comers are welcomed. As much as we disagree, we share a belief in free and open public debate.

I’m glad Leibman wrote his letter to The Connection, now I wish he’d stand up for his views next to us at the corner of Sunset and Capitol.

It would do us all good.

Labels: , , ,