Friday, August 31, 2007

Matrimonial Landing

I'm off to a family wedding for a couple of days.

A family wedding is like a ferry easing into its pier.

The landing has created anticipation among the passengers. They line the railing to watch the the ship meet the shore. The hulk slows, reverses engines against its momentum and then scrunches into the pilings. There may be some jostling on impact, a low moan, a creak in the old timbers.

Then everything settles down with a sigh.

We've arrived.

We file down the gangway or drive down the ramp. We celebrate the arrival before making ourselves at home, on land.

I don't know where the metaphor goes next, but that seems right. After weddings, marriages bear uncertainty too.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Free beer for bloggers, but why?

I have a natural suspicion of commercial television stations and their cut-throat, lowest-common-denominator programming. Their smiley news drives me to the remote off button every time.

So when KATU invited me to a “Blogger Meet-up” last Wednesday, I was skeptical.

What’s in it for them? I wondered.

To find out, on a balmy Wednesday evening I mounted the Chinese Steed and scooted on over to the hulking KATU studio on Sandy Boulevard.

I was greeted at the door, asked to sign in and was handed a name tag.

Someone directed me down a hallway and I wandered through the bowels of the place to a room full of … yikes! … bloggers!

About 70 of us stood around nibbling finger food, drinking wine and beer and talking blogger talk. I was probably the oldest blogger in the room, but no one called me "sir." When I told them about The Red Electric and showed them my card, several actually said, “Cool!”

Some bloggers already knew each other. Several had been blogging four or five years. I've been flogging away at this less than a year.

I met three blogging friends — Christy, Rodger and Terrish — who all have knitting blogs, (yes, you read that right, KNITTING) Respectively their sites are, and

Bill Roberson, who works at the station as its web producer, has a site under construction that will be devoted to old motorcycles and will be called greatoldbikes. He is also versed in scooters. Afterwards I showed him the Chinese Steed, and he showed me his 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000 Z-1R, which, he informs me, was a limited-production motorcycle that was the fastest bike in the world in 1978.

Bill is a big fan of old British bikes like Nortons. The name of the German manufacturer Triumph came up. I agreed to send him a photo of my Triumph typewriter, oddly enough, made by the motorcycle company. Same distinctive logo.

Cat has a site called Fry Kitty. Under the web address,, is the line “Always obsessed with something,” which, come to think of it, applies to a lot of bloggers, including this one.

J.D. Roth is just starting a site, Oakgrove Crossing, for the little unincorporated community of Oak Grove, which is squeezed or nestled (depending on your perspective or mood) between Sellwood and Milwaukie. His site a little like what I’m trying to do with Hillsdale News. We agreed to stay in touch.

A former PCC student of mine, Kyle, was there, but he threw me off because his name tag read “Jake.” I asked him why and he said, “Because I felt like being ‘Jake’ tonight.”

I said, “Cool. “

I think he was there for the beer and finger food.

James Bash reviews classical music on his site. He also writes music reviews for the Vancouver Columbian. His day job is writing arid technical prose. He confessed that the blog and classical music are where his heart is.

Bill Nothstine has a political site called P3. He recommended joining "Drinking Liberally," a group of liberals who apparently do, regularly, nationally, and locally at the Luck Lab on Belmont.

At some point the station folks invited us onto the KATU news set, as if it were some kind of local media shrine. We were directed to line up around the anchor desk for a group photo and told to put our beers away because that would look tacky.

The photo may end up appearing before a mass, tacky-averse audience. Who knows? Plied on shrimp and cheddar cheese morsels, Fat Tire Ale, and good companionship, we didn’t care.

On the way out we were given a gift bag with KATU’s compliments. When I got home I poked around inside and discovered a can of WIRED energy drink, a chocolate bar wrapped in paper sporting the “Blogger Meet Up” logo and a minute Chinese-made 128-meg thumb drive.

I never did figure out KATU’s motive. Maybe, they just wanted to toast fellow communicators.

Or maybe they know something the rest of us don't.

Or maybe we matter more than we think we do.

As if it matters….

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Off the Charts

Charts and graphs tell stories — many stories.

The Oregonian looked at the just released results of SAT scores for the Class of 2007 and wrote a story accompanied by a chart and a graph.

Here is the story and here are the chart and the graph, which, unfortunately, weren't presented on OregonLive. You can click on my scan to make the chart and graph larger.

Before "reading" the graphic stories, it's worth noting that the bar graph starts at a score of 450 as its base. Ed Tufte, who has written extensively about graphic integrity, calls this lying with graphics. Show the full range when you depict results, he says, otherwise your portrayal is a visual distortion.

Using the distorted parameters of the graph and applying data from the chart to it, two Portland High Schools, Jefferson and Roosevelt, are literally off-the-charts — way off the charts. They fall well below the 450 base.

To me, that poor SAT performance is a major story, along with the fact that such a small percentage of students are even taking the SAT at these two high-minority enrollment schools. Franklin and Marshall also have startlingly low SAT participation.

I'm obviously not the reporter on this story, but the results and participation for these schools suggest a call the Portland Public School District.

I have also pencil marked Lincoln's scores (the highest) and Wilson's (of particular interest to Hillsdale). The difference in combined average scores for Lincoln (where 82 percent of the students took the test) and Jefferson (where a mere 28 percent took the test) is a stunning 662 points.

What other stories suggest themselves? One has to do with gross disparity between our high schools. Another has to do with college aspirations and academic preparation to achieve those goals. Do students at Jefferson and Roosevelt want to go on to college? Some do, and apparently many don't. If they don't, why? If they do, why have so many seemingly given up trying? Or if they are among those trying by taking the SAT, why are they doing so poorly?

My guess is that peer values and norms as well as expectations and financial resources are huge influences. Oh, and add media stereotyping and celebrity role models to the mix.

That's just for starters. Clearly, there is a whole lot more going on, and it isn't pretty.

I also want to know how these statistics from the best performing and the poorest performing schools have changed from the previous year. Is the gap widening? Did Jefferson improve or decline from 2006? The story by Suzanne Pardington mentioned improvement at only one high school, Oregon City.

I hope that The Oregonian plans to report on the other "news" contained in these results.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Scary Test

Here is a scary test. Name the product associated with each of the above fonts.

If you need help, ask a child. Adults usually can name only four or five of the fonts, but children identify most of them, particularly those that belong to highly sugared food.

For both adults and children, the results are sobering because they tell us about what our children are learning and how it shapes their awareness.

In light of the results, who or what are the most persuasive and pervasive teachers in the lives of our children?

If the objects to be identified were leaves, could our children name the tree each leaf comes from?

Those of us who teach media literacy through Media Think sometimes use this exercise as part of our presentations. As the school year begins, consider inviting us to present to your school's PTA, or to your congregation or service club.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The President as Quagmire

We think of quagmires as places, ensnaring traps such as Vietnam and, of course, Iraq — and perhaps the entire Middle East.

The fact is that this country's quagmire is not a place, but a man, George W. Bush.

We are torso-deep in the devastating muck and ooze of Bush and his venal. power-mad administration — and we are going down fast.

As the original quagmire metaphor suggests, the answer is to drain the swamp.

In a word, impeach.

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Towering Monstrosity, Part III

I almost didn't hie myself downtown this morning to the hearing on the new "erector set" emergency communications tower planned for exquisite Council Crest Park. The high cards always seem to be in the hands of the "experts" and the land-use attorneys at these hearings.

Then I reread the approval criteria for the 43-story-high tower and the cavalier dismissal of one particular criterion (more on that later) by the Bureau of Developmental Services staff. It made me angry enough to snap on my crash helmet, mount my trusty Chinese "Milano" motor scooter, and scoot right down to the hearing.

In the convenience shop on the ground floor of the planning building, I bellied my way into a discussion that Jim Thayer, president of the Southwest Hills Residential League, was having with staff from the Portland Bureau of Technology Services, the folks pushing for the "erector set" design in one of Portland's most beloved parks.

Seems Jim had read my objections here (and here) on "Red." As an alternative I had proposed that the city use a windmill tower instead of the "lattice" design to give the tower some artistic pizazz. The technology services guys didn't like the idea. It didn't help my cause that The Oregonian carried a story this morning that one of the towers at a wind farm near Wasco had snapped over the weekend killing a construction worker.

The tech guys said the 20-story wind towers weren't high enough for emergency communication and homeland security (read "protection against terrorists").

All I knew was that Council Crest Park and those who view the West Hills from all over the city deserve better than one ugly tower replacing another corroded, 50-year-old ugly tower.

And I thought I had found the language in the official criteria to make my case, namely: the project should "enrich neighborhoods and the southwest community as a whole with ample accessible and well-maintained parks and open spaces. Preserve and enhance the natural habitat features of Southwest Portland's parks and open spaces...."

I seized on the words "enrich" and "enhance." The new "lattice" tower would do neither. It was just more of the same utilitarian ugliness. Unworthy of a Portland etc.

In January, when the city tech guys visited the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, the neighbors were cool to the plans for just this reason.

So I thought the criterion had merit as an arguing point until someone in the pre-hearing klatch muttered that a stronger, corrosion-free emergency communications tower was "enriching" and "enhancing" because it would help fight terrorism (and, presumably, evil)


Somehow I didn't think that was what the criterion's authors had in mind.

Never mind.

Interpreting the authors' intention will be up to the hearing's officer, one Gregory Frank.

Staring into a hearing room microphone, I laid out my case, for the record, to Officer Frank.

Several others from the SWHRL neighborhood were present, but only two spoke (one was Thayer), but they were concerned only about what would happen to access to the park during construction. Privately, one neighbor speculated to me that the tower might prove a hazard during an earthquake because it could topple unenrichingly and unenhancingly onto the life-sustaining neighborhood water tank.

But I was the only one to invoke civic pride and beauty through my suggestion that the clunky "erector set" tower would in no way "enhance" or "enrich."

For some reason I'm hearing Ronald Reagan's line to Walter Mondale (or was it Jimmy Carter?) being applied to me, "There he goes again."

Yep, there I go again.

The record on this matter will be left open for another three weeks until Sept 14 (thanks to Water Bureau objections — Don't ask. You don't want to know, but it was weird, as Frank noted, to have one city bureau delay action on another's project.)

So y'all are invited to comment by writing to Hearings Officer Frank, at 1900 SW Fourth Avenue, Rm 3100, Portland, Or 97201. The case file number is LU 07-137780 CU ZE.

And you got it right, they don't take e-mail. In so many ways, Portland is still in an erector set state of mind.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Edward Hopper and Union Station

I noted last Thursday that Edward Hopper would have had a field day at Portland's Union Station.

Something in my exterior shot (left) evoked Hopper's street scenes.

Subsequent e-mail discussions with and encouragement from my typewriter colleague Steve Brannon back in Richmond, Virginia, led me to explore the photo more closely.

I think I may have found a Hopperesque vignette hidden in the photo's grid. Cranking up the contrast and cropping to draw attention to the human figures have produced a stark, voyeuristic image (below) that to me is derivative of the great American realist.

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