Saturday, May 26, 2007

Blessings of Wilson's peace prank

The “restoration” of the Wilson High School plaza after peace pranksters cleverly transformed it into a “Peace Garden” was a feel-good event at mid-day today.

On Sunday night 3o seniors (pictured below), among them Maggie Collins and project leader Daniel Ronan (pictured upper right), created a huge peace symbol (last picture) out of 2,000 marigolds.

When Collins openly admitted to her involvement, school administrators threatened to withhold her diploma until she paid the $1000 restoration costs.

Today, friends, family and community came to her rescue.

Many of the pranksters, along with parents, other students and community volunteers, moved the marigolds and filled in the spokes of the symbol with sod. There may have been 100 people on hand for the work.

Today’s event came with many blessings, to say nothing of pizza, croissants and Gail Baack’s chocolate chip cookies, oh, and a minor media feeding frenzy of two TV film crews and an Oregonian reporter.

Blessing number one was that we found more work to do and had the hands available to do it. We weeded the garden, and then a small team went off to pull ivy in the trees north of the Wilson campus.

Blessing number two was that the newly sodded grass will contrast with the old grass. A subtle peace symbol lives at Wilson.

Blessing number three was that many businesses contributed to today’s project: Safeway — bananas and cream cheese, Noah's (bagels), Three Square Grill (beignets, French donuts), Baker and Spice (various baked goods), Rudy's pizza on Powell (pizzas), Wild Oats (water) and Portland Nursery (sod).

Blessing number four was that in the course of digging and scraping, someone hit a solid object under the turf next to the round garden’s perimeter. More scraping unearthed a square of a mosaic. Roman perhaps? No, more scraping revealed it to be definitely Trojan, as in the Wilson High School Trojans.

Still more Scrapings and the crew unearthed a 19-foot-long mosaic of letters spelling “Wilson High School — 2002.” A mere five years old, it was well along to becoming an archeological artifact.

So the class of 2007’s prank, a gift of peace, unearthed a bounty of new blessings.

One, we are told, leads others.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

PSU's new "killer" coach

I've written before about how the hyper-commercialism, and just plain hype, of big-time collegiate athletics is at odds with our universities' academic missions. How alumni pour money into athletics coffers while academics starve.

Here in Oregon, where higher education is on academic life support, the culture of intercollegiate athletics is so debased that fans refer to the OSU/UO rivalry as "The Civil War." Didn't a half million Americans give their lives in this nation's Civil War? Aren't Americans dying as I write because of a civil war in Iraq?

A football game — a war?

Now comes one Peter Reader (a great name, by the way) of Northwest Portland with a related complaint. This time it's about PSU and its new yahoo football coach, Jerry Granville.

He misses my larger point about the role of big-time sports on campus, but Peter's problem is part of the whole.

Writing in the letters section of the must-read Portland Tribune, Reader puts it to PSU for hiring Granville, known for his trademark black outfits and white cowboy hats.

Here's Reader's scorching letter, to which I say, "Amen!"

PSU’s best strategy: Find a new coach

Steve Brandon reports that “Viking coaches will be recruiting the rest of May” (PSU Football, May 11).

Here’s a suggestion: Send scouts to state and federal penitentiaries. There should be plenty of aggressive folks there who would be itching to follow Coach Jerry Glanville’s new direction for Portland State University’s football team.

For example, in the May 15 article “Viks warm up quickly to new systems,” Brandon quotes PSU safety Michael Dorsey’s admiration of Glanville’s teaching that encourages him to “hurt people … in terms of actual physical punishment. … There will be a chance for us to take a lot of kill shots. … We’re looking to take people out of games.”

Portland State University is my school. I graduated in 2005; I’m enrolled in its Senior Adult Learning Center. I want to be proud of my alma mater, its coaches and athletes, as well as its professors and students.

Coach Glanville is a disgrace to the institution. What kind of coach teaches his players to “hurt” and “kill”? What kind of coach wants to win by “taking people out of games”?

I’m not naive. I know that football has become a big moneymaker for colleges and that PSU is desperate for a winning team.

But at what cost? By turning student athletes into bloodthirsty monsters?

Coach Glanville should be teaching good sportsmanship, not cruelty. After all, isn’t the purpose of a college education to humanize people, not desensitize us?

What, I wonder, will Michael Dorsey glean from his experience at PSU? That it’s OK to hurt others?

I blame PSU’s administrators for this reprehensible situation. How could they hire such a dreadful person for their football coach? Is their silence tacit approval of his tactics? If so, they are one shameless bunch.

I, for one, would be happy to send Coach Glanville packing. I’ll even provide the hatbox.

Peter H. Reader

Northwest Portland

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Peace Garden blooms at Wilson High

Daniel Ronan, the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association Board's first student member and a Wilson High School senior, reports that last Sunday night 35 seniors used marigolds to transform Wilson's central courtyard into a peace sign.

The planting was the seniors' graduation prank and bears the signature "Seniors 07."

The work, which involved planting more than 2,000 flowers, took approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Daniel writes, "The peace sign has a history at Wilson high school this year. In late February and early March, students from the Peace and Social Justice Club put up peace signs and messages with washable paint on various classroom windows. The depictions were done with the consent of each teacher whose classroom was used.
But a parent's complaint about the signs sparked a debate as to whether the messages of peace were political."

The school administration instructed the students to take the peace messages down .

Sunday's prank planting will be removed and the original sod restored this Saturday at 11 a.m. The pranksters are inviting the community to help with the work.

It should be a fun event in a good cause.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Robots in the sky with pretzels

I know that this isn’t news to many of you jet-setters, but it is now possible to fly from Portland to, say, Washington, D.C., and return without dealing with a real person.

Well almost.

I’m old enough to remember the days when travelers actually dressed “up” to fly on an airplane. We would be trusted to eat meals with weapons called metal knives and forks.

These days, the journey starts with buying the ticket, which, of course, you can do at home, on line. The ticket uncoils out of your whirring printer.

On the appointed day, you drive to the airport parking lot and a machine spits out another ticket. You get on a parking lot shuttle bus and a digital voice reminds you to remember your parking area.

At the airport you touch screen (is that a verb?) your reservation number into a computer. More whirring as this computer prints out your boarding pass.

The only person you personally encounter at the terminal is the guy checking whether you might be a terrorist. He doesn’t invite conversation or offer even so much as “good morning.”

Terrorism is serious business.

At the gate, another real person, who reads the first of several friendly, carefully crafted United Airlines scripts, announces the flight boarding over the address system. As you enter the gangway, an attendant feeds your boarding pass into a boarding-pass-digesting machine, which decapitates and returns a seating assignment stub. You get the feeling that this particular person (1) could be easily be replaced or (2) is surreptitiously part of security and is giving you a final “once over” or (3) both.

On the plane, a recorded video tells you what to do if the plane ditches over water. I can’t recall this ever happening. Not to anyone; not ever. The news always says that planes “plunge into the ocean,” kind of like a dagger in a chest. When you are in a 90-degree descent, it’s tough, if not impossible, to strap on a life vest, pulling the straps tightly and snapping them into the metal loop on the front. Oh well.

At some point a non-gender specific flight attendant appears. (Hard to believe that once upon a time, airlines promoted this whole “Fly Me” sexual tease about stewardesses … but let’s not go there. This is a family blog.) The non-gender specific attendant asks you if you would like a “complimentary beverage” and plops a complimentary bag of complimentary pretzels on your fold-down tray. In the cut-throat, cost-cutting world of the airlines industry, actual meals are uncomplimentary — in more ways than one.

The unrecorded (I think) voice of the pilot injects itself as a reminder that human beings are in control of your destiny. The voice offers a brief, reassuring commentary about estimated arrival time, cruising altitudes, destination ground temperature, watch adjustments and the pleasure of having us “with” the crew today.

Then it’s on to the piped-in movie. Little stalactite screens hang everywhere from the overhead bins. Even if you choose not to watch them, you “are kindly asked” to pull the shade on your window to aid those who would like to. I mean, who wants to look out the window at Mount Hood or the Snake River Canyon or America the Beautiful when it might spoil watching Mel Gibson or Jennifer Lopez?

At Dulles Airport, Avis has its routine down so that if you are a “preferred customer” (as opposed to what?) the shuttle driver just drops you off at a car that you have reserved. Kind of an automotive blind date, (we got a Pontiac G6). Now THIS I like. No counter or computer should stand between a man and his car even in this carbon-trampled age.

Coming home, it’s more of the same. Except for me, because while I’m winging back to Portland, somehow my checked bag is winging to San Francisco.

It’s OK, the Portland baggage attendant assures me. A courier will deliver my bag to my door between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. the next day. The time frame, I learn, is called a “window.”

At 2 p.m. the next day the window shuts. No bag.

I go on-line to trace it with my missing baggage claim number. Such tracings are possible thanks to bar codes, lasers and Bill Gates. Because I am now post-window, the screen instructs me to phone an 800 number.

A woman in Pakistan or India or Bangladesh answers in an accent so thick that I experience momentary culture shock.

She goes through her script. “Wait and I will call the dispatcher to see when the next ‘window’ is.” They once had music for people on hold but now there’s this very eerie, out-sourced recorded voice that sounds like it is actually coming through a long tube stretching from the Indian sub-continent to Oregon. “You are still on hold…you are still on hold….”

I know…I know....

The out-sourced, sub-continent receptionist returns to confirm my local time of 4:51 p.m. and informs me that my new window will shut at 6 p.m.

I ask, “Just in case, my window shuts and my bag still isn’t here, could you give me the Portland dispatch company number so I can take care of this intra-continentally?” OK, I didn’t say “intra-continentally” because that would be “culturally insensitive.”

I said “locally.”

“No, I am very sorry, but because of security issues, it isn’t possible for United Airlines to give you that number. We are very sorry for the inconvenience. Please feel free to call us if the bag doesn’t arrive within the new window.”

Ah yes, “security issues.” Of course. all kinds of mayhem might result if I am given the cell phone number of the courier company. For one thing, massively armed, I could storm the place if its courier misses the new window.

An hour later, standing at the door with my prodigal bag is not an FBI agent or a SWAT team but a teenager who has arrived in his lowered, rasping, tricked-out Honda Civic coupe.

“Thanks,” I say as he hands over the bag.

“No problem,” he says as one window — mine — closes, and he roars off into the next.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hanging in Culpeper

After graduation festivities in Charlottesville (see yesterday's post), we had a half day to kill. The friendly folks in Orange, Virginia, where we stayed at an excellent, reasonably priced Holiday Inn, recommended nearby Culpeper (That's the way it is spelled.)

Good call.

The small town has a restored main street of 18th and 19th Century buildings. Most businesses cater to the tourist trade, but there's one of those great old hardware stores chock-a-block with Alladin Lamps, shovels and nails sold by the pound. A nearby deli serves up a mean grilled chicken and jack cheese sandwich on a flat roll or, if you choose, a wood-oven baked pizza (On Mondays a 12 incher sells for an unbelievable $5). You eat on a shaded patio nestled between two vintage brick buildings.

Up the street is the still revered statue commemorating Culpeper County's fallen Confederate soldiers. The county was famously war-ravaged.

Times change, of course, and in an antique mall not a stone's throw from the statue, I scored a Thoreau anthology (introduction by Theodore Dreiser) for $2. Thoreau, an outspoken abolitionist, would have been strung up in Culpeper 150 years ago.

Between the mall and the Confederate statue is the childhood home of one A.P. Hill, a heroic Confederate cavalry general. Yankee-born and Civil War-ignorant, I'd never heard of Hill, but his memory is alive and well in Culpeper. A neat plaque marks the Hill house.

The town was a fall back position for several major Civil War battles, not the least of which was Gettysburg. Remnants of Lee's retreating army stumbled and staggered through Culpeper. Walt Whitman spent time here as a Union nurse as did Clara Barton, who went on to found the American Red Cross. General George Custer was wounded and had his horse shot out from underneath him on the streets of Culpeper.

So a whole lot more than kerosene lamps at the hardware and $5 pizzas on Mondays has put little Culpeper on the map.

And the future? Ever so slowing on those undulating green hills, where once the "grapes of wrath" were sown, new vines are being planted whose grapes are destined to bring only savory joy.

We had to leave to get to Dulles Airport before we even got to the Culpeper County Museum. I'm only half kidding when I say that I'll catch it next time through.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Carried back from Ol' Virginnie....

Just back from a four-day whirlwind trip to Virginia to witness son Evan graduate from the University of Virginia Law School. As I write, one day after his gripping his diploma (along with 350 others gripping theirs), Evan is at Lewis & Clark Law School starting his BAR review course. The exam is in late July.

The beat goes on.

Quick takes on Virginia. Virginians are a grit-raised, girth-enhanced people. Accordingly grocery store aisles are four-lanes wide. Virginians don't hug (which could have to do with the humidity), and they generally drive Red, White and Blue American rigs with NASCAR aspirations.

Gas sells for 50 cents a gallon less there than here. Priuses are as rare as atheists. Gun shops are as plentiful as historical markers. Virginia wears its history on its sleeve, and why not? Jefferson, Lee, Madison, etc. If you've got it, flaunt it.

Virginians are friendly, helpful and, yes, gracious. Stepping into a visitor information center (and every hamlet has one) is to be drenched in grace and charm. The hospitality can sometimes go right over the top. I mean these local greeters were often far more excited about my visit than I was. Being greeted like this can be exhausting. At times I wanted to cry out, "Down, down!" as I might to an exuberant, frenzied puppy. No more brochures! No more questions about where I'm from or where I've been or which way I'm headed.

But Virginians mean well. God, do they mean well. But better that than the other. So bless 'em!

More later. Still on East Coast time, I'm going to bed.

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