Saturday, November 03, 2007

Three hubcap day

Any SOLV/SWNI cleanup offers a morning of discovery and insight about who we are, or at least who our litterbugs are.

It’s not so much an archaeological dig as an archaeological scavenger hunt.

Orange-vested teams of us, fortified with poppy-seed muffins and full-alert coffee, set out for litter-strewn arterials around Southwest Portland.

My team, consisting of Mike Roach (sporting two “Vote Yes on 49” yard signs), Don Baack (wearing his trademark Australian Outback hat) and me, headed for our traditional hunting ground, the shoulders of Capitol Highway, east of Burlingame, and Barbur Boulevard, north of Capitol.

At clean-up time twice a year, our trio considers the much-traveled commuter route “ours.” We have come to know where to look to find its detritus.

Because it is early November, much of the trash is hidden beneath ochre, moldering leaves, but we raked around and filled a dozen or so white SOLV trash bags with precious artifacts.

Most of the trash is evidence of some kind of addiction: nicotine, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, pornography, automobiles and consumer consumption.

Let me be specific, but not gross.

The pornography took the form of a girly magazine. Some of the SOLV teams this clean-up day consisted of young teenagers. Fortunately they weren’t in our group, but then I’m told there’s no need to protect them from pornography in this “Death of Childhood” age. The Internet has inured children and young people to smut.

Alcohol was represented by scores of cans and bottles. I picked up a nearly full can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It still sudsed up as I emptied it onto the ground. Why the rejected can was so full I can only guess. (“Hey, Fred, you ever heard of this stuff, Pabst? I think I’ll give it a try….Yeeech!”)

Candy wrappers, Starbuck’s cups and car parts point to other addictions.

You’d expect car parts along a road but how to explain a piece of plastic grill liner unless it was somehow extruded during hard cornering.

I score my day by hubcaps. Today was a three-hubcap day (Chrysler, Toyota and a generic Shucks). Don, who rises to every challenge, wrestled a fender off a guardrail. Later he was rewarded for his efforts by finding a usable hammer, which he figured fell off a truck. More hard cornering.

We also picked up our usual assortment of Styrofoam chips and bubble wrap. If the planet is ever destroyed, these two substances may be all that survive, testimony that “higher” life forms once inhabiting the planet.

Each SOLV scavenging offers something to set it apart: a cocktail glass, a mysterious bone, a doily.

This year was no different.

I started finding strewn pages from a book featuring World War II German war planes just where cars whisk off Barbur and climb the hill on Capitol Highway. Every 10 yards or so I’d find a couple more pages. They and I worked our way up the hill, back through the war to 1939.

The pages ran out half way up the grade, at the outer fringe of our scavenging area. I had just gathered the white trash bags and stacked the orange safety cones to retrace my steps back down the hill when I spotted a page devoted to Dornier Do 17Z-2 bombers and MesserschmittBf 109e-1 fighters from Nazi Germany’s World War II’s air campaign in Poland.

I stuffed the Poland page in my pocket with the other pages, made my way back to my car, drove to our staging area at a mega-church parking lot.

There the teams reassembled, shared scavenging stories and ate 20 pizzas.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Your car as "most favorite" room

Marketing people like to “reframe” products so that they appear to be more than what they are.

A skin lotion is an anti-age elixir. A diamond is a timeless message. An expensive watch symbolizes a successful career.

So it was that Robert L. Nardelli, the new head of Chrysler (formerly, and significantly, CEO of Home Depot) described today’s car as the “most favorite (sic) room under your roof.”

Then he told his audience, a group of magazine publishers, “It’s incidental that it gets you from Point A to B, right?”

To which I say, wrong. If it doesn’t get me from Point A to B, I don’t care what room it is, I’m not entering it.

Chrysler apparently isn’t any better at picking its executives that the rest of the oil-fixated American automobile industry. (Yesterday, Chrysler announced that it was laying off 13,000 workers. Since 2006 the automaker, counting the announced layoffs, will have cut 80,000 employees, a 30 percent reduction.)

But Nardelli did get me to thinking about all the other things cars have become other than, well, cars and “most favorite” rooms.

Here is a partial list:

Phone booths.

Real-world video racing games. (Weave at high speed in and out of lanes, then crash, likely die and kill or maim others.)

Love nests.


Bars or detox cells.

Escape modules. From whatever — the mundane, your 9 to 5, rush hour traffic).

Flashy clothing.


Sex surrogates.

Weapons of mass destruction (think car bombs).

Ego gratifiers.

Global warmers.

Oh, and incidentally, they get you from point A to B.


We can hope.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wordstock Book Festival? Sure. Why not?

So I get an e-mail from a volunteer publicist asking me to mention in this very space the Wordstock Book Festival to be held at the Oregon Convention Center, Nov. 9-11.

So there, I did it. You're welcome.

I've never been the Wordstock Book Festival, now in its 3rd year.

Perhaps you have. Should I go? Should we go? Together? As a group?

Just so you know how the festival's e-marketeer (that's her term for herself) perceives you and me, here's why she thought we might be interested in the festival: "It might be of interest to you and your readers that there is a panel on investigative journalism on Saturday (Nov. 10) at 1:30 with Lance Williams, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Nigel Jaquiss."

She also offered the complete schedule for authors speaking at the festival.

I have now devoted far, far more space than intended to The Wordstock Book Festival.

My problem is that I don't have a policy for press e-releases, if that's what they are called. In the newspaper business, they have these things covered with a book's worth of policies. But this, obviously, isn't a newspaper. (I do put out an on-line newspaper, Hillsdale News, and, yes, I do have a policy. To make the cut, your event must pertain to Hillsdaleand be vaguely interesting.)

With blogs, especially ones as amorphous as this one, the blogger makes it up on the fly. But then that must be obvious. One day I'm slashing away at Jobdango signs in the public right of way or Flowmax ads during the World Series, the next I'm mired in the subject of consensus, Interstate Avenue and Christianity, and then, without any warning what-so-ever, it's a captioned photo of my hysterical Charlie Brown pumpkin.

So here, on the fly, is my policy regarding publicizing events: I welcome all comers, who will be mercilessly subjected to whatever whim strikes me.

My overall policy (at least for today) is: If it seems right, do it.

Wordstock Book Festival? Sure, why not?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Relax, Charlie Brown!

It's just Linus in a Dick Cheney mask

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sonic Sex on a Sweat Towel?

Something lurid goes on between the cord of my iPod Shuffle and the wires to my earphones after I throw them into my backpack.

There, in the dark, they co-habit for two or three days, the interval between my using them to liven up my treadmill stints.

I’m convinced a three-day orgy takes place right on top of my sweat towel and next to my water bottle.

How do I know this?

When I dip into the bag to extract them, they are hopelessly intertwined.

Okay, so I don’t exactly wind the cord around the iPod and I don’t coil the earphone wires. But then again, I do not jumble them up. And I definitely don’t tell them to be fruitful and multiply. (Steve Jobs has that covered.)

Nor could my own actions explain their tangled relationship. I leave the backpack to sit inert in our closet between workout days.

It must be something inside the bag making this happen. I’m thinking perhaps suggestive music in the iPod is inaudibly leaking out causing some kind of unrestrained conjoining. Any number of tunes in my iPod might be the culprit.

Or there could be some strange electrical discharge that draws them together. Science certainly has an explanation. Or maybe one of those “new creatives” knows the answer. I mean, they invented this thing.

I’ve thought of lecturing the devices on abstinence, or simply segregating them. You, earphones, you get the main part of the pack. You, Shuffle, stay put in the outside pocket.

But, call me permissive, it seems like a bother.

I suppose I’ll just let them play around, trusting that they are taking necessary precautions. Whatever those might be I’m sure Steve Jobs has taken care of them too. If he hasn’t, the worst that could happen is that one day I’ll open the backpack to find a nest of little miniaturized Shuffles, kind of like the ones Jobs now sells for $79 each.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

On reaching consensus

First, thanks to Commissioner Randy Leonard for responding to my post about the Interstate Avenue renaming issue and about the mayor’s self-described “irrelevancy.”

I’ve written a response in which I urge Leonard and his colleagues (including the mayor) to look at the larger issue behind renaming the street. To do so might get the City Council (and other interested parties) back to a point where they could find consensus.

His response to that is that all parties, sadly, seem deadlocked.

Which takes me back to consensus, where I left off yesterday….

In the piles of books donated for our Dec. 9 Hillsdale Book Sale, I came across a well used workbook put out by Pace e Bene Franciscan Non-violence Center. I shared a couple of César Chavez quotations in yesterday’s post. I hope Commissioner Leonard and the other members of the council are familiar with them. Indeed, I hope everyone becomes familiar with them. I confess I wasn’t until I browsed through the workbook.

The workbook also has a concise section on “The Consensus Process” which I also recommend to the council and to anyone else involved in group decision making.

As a Quaker, I well versed in reaching consensus (or, as Friends say, a “sense of the Meeting”) because that is the way Quakers conduct all their business. I also have used the techniques of consensus in chairing various neighborhood committees, and I have made “believers” of friends and neighbors who have been part of the process.

Consensus is a powerful tool.

I find it interesting, and frankly ironic, that an institution within the hierarchical Catholic Church would advocate consensus. But then the Franciscans have always marched to their own drummer. Dare I say, “Thank God!”?)

But there’s more. How to explain that one of the best books written about Quaker consensus-making is “Beyond Majority Rule” by Michael J. Sheeran, a Jesuit scholar? Actually, Sheeran traces the connection between the Catholic Church and consensus to the notion of “Communal Discernment” among early Christians. For more, read this excellent book.

Now, back to the Franciscan workbook on non-violence and its brief section on consensus. City Council members (and others) make note!

The workbook neglects to talk about who should be at the table in the first place. The answer is all (and I do mean ALL) stakeholders. In the case of the street renaming proposal, the gathering should include commercial property owners on Interstate Avenue, leaders of the Hispanic community, City Council members and any others who have a serious, legitimate interest.

The goal is to find agreement, if possible. But there are other important benefits. To quote from the workbook, “Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote the growth of community and trust. It is also a process which invests everyone in the outcome and in the responsibility to carry it out.”

The workbook presents four brief sections that apply to the naming controversy.

“Voting (as opposed to consensus decision-making) is a win or lose model in which people are more concerned with the numbers it takes to win than with the issue itself. Voting does not take into account individual feelings or needs.”

“With consensus …no ideas are lost; each member’s input is valued as part of the solution.”

“(Consensus) means that the final decision doesn’t violate someone’s fundamental moral values, for if it did, they would be obliged to block consensus….”

“…when (consensus) works, collective intelligence does come up with better solutions than could individuals.”

I’d add one more Quakerly aspect. Periods of silent reflection (whether for minutes or days) bring wisdom and dignity to the process. Time is NOT, and must not be, of the essence. (And time may be needed in the present stalemate as it is described by Leonard.)

In my experience, all of the above are true. If the City Council members would employ the techniques of consensus, I believe they (and the entire city) would benefit from these truths.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Workbook for Our Times

Today, neighbors began donating books for our Hillsdale community book sale on Dec. 9. We gathered the books, which came by the bags full, in Larry and Sally McLaughlin’s white Isuzu pick-up parked at the entrance to the farmers’ market.

Several of the books in this first batch were remarkable. Experience with three earlier sales teaches that more will follow in donations at the next three markets.

Because I am one of the sale’s principal organizers, I get to sort through the books first. One jumped out at me today. It was a workbook from a class on non-violence taught by the Pace e Bene Franciscan Nonviolence Center, which happens to be in Las Vegas. Whoever donated the large white handbook, titled "From Violence to Wholeness," clearly took the class because the text is marked with handwritten notations.

So much of the book’s content echoed my last Red Electric entry about renaming streets for heroes (specifically Interstate Avenue for Cesar Chavez) that it was eerie.

The workbook contains Cesar Chavez’s “Letter from Delano,” written in 1969 to his union’s adversary, E.L. Barr, Jr. the president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

The words capture Chavez’s humility, determination and willingness to fast and die for the cause of his people. The labor leader ends by saying, “This letter does not express all that is in my heart, Mr. Barr. But if it says nothing else, it says that we do not hate you or rejoice to see your industry destroyed; we hate the agribusiness that seeks to keep us enslaved and we shall overcome and change it not by retaliation or bloodshed but by a determined nonviolent struggle carried on by those masses of farm workers who intend to be free and human.”

In another section of this remarkable workbook is a prayer Chavez wrote. Invoking God, it reads in part:

Give me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.

As I wrote yesterday, those who seek to honor Chavez, should honor his ideals and methods, which are so movingly conveyed here. They should honor him first by learning what he taught and did, and second living those words and deeds.

Naming streets after Chavez, does little or nothing to advance his cause. Indeed the symbolic gesture offers a false sense of accomplishment, sapping energy from the on-going struggle for economic and social justice. If you want to name a street, name it for the struggle and its purpose.

Tomorrow, I will share some of the section of the workbook that addresses consensus. Astonishingly, that was the other topic I wrote about yesterday as I looked at the utter failure of the City Council to address the issues underlying the street-naming fiasco.

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