Saturday, December 08, 2007

Orwell, Laotse and Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney began his speech on religion Thursday with these words: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

Let me see if I have this right. I get the last part. We need religious freedom.

But the first part of this Orwellian slogan doesn’t compute. You can’t be free if you are required to have religion as a condition of freedom. Moreover, religions have a long and painful history of quashing freedom. One could make a strong case that, if anything, religion, carried to the extreme, is enemy number one of freedom.

Romney’s statement “Freedom requires religion” is just another example of religion’s intolerance, and the intolerance of the religious.

American freedom – indeed the definition of all freedom — includes the freedom to NOT be religious.

Later in his speech Thursday, Romney told the American public that to be secular and non-religious is to establish “a new religion in America — the religion of secularism.”

But the term “religion of secularism” is clearly self-contradictory. It is literally non-sense. The non-religious, by definition, don’t establish religions — not a “religion of secularism” or any other kind or religion.

Mitt Romney would have better served his cause by remaining silent on religion and by pondering the words of Laotse: “The Way that can be spoken, is not the true Way.”

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Pot-luck readings

We held a pot-luck at our Hillsdale Book Club meeting Thursday night. The dishes were readings, not plates of food.

Joan had bitter poems from Guantanamo (What happened to habeas corpus?)

Dick brought a book about peak oil (We have reached the peak)

Rick (We have two Ricks) brought a biography of Jane Addams of Hull House. (As a child she had a vision of a large settlement house set among the hovels of the poor. She lived out her vision.)

Dianna had a hearty issue of “Yes!” magazine (stories about peace and the environment)

I brought a copy of “The Sun.” (I shared mystical quotations from the aphoristic “Sunbeams” section. Example: “Eternity is not something that begins after you are dead. It is going on all the time.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman.)

So we shared these morsels and talked about their flavor and content. The brief readings led us to talk about where we should place our energies. Then it was on to what it means to be informed, then, oddly, to a trio of “St Peter jokes,” and finally to what our group should do with itself in the coming year.

Our origins go back to the peace walks we began in the early days of the Hillsdale Farmers Market, Next we evolved into Hillsdale Votes!, a local voter registration drive, and finally, following the disheartening 2004 election, into the book club, where we began licking our wounds by reading “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Now, on the brink of a new election year, it is time to transform ourselves again, but we agreed it was too soon to decide how.

We are reading Thom Hartmann’s “Cracking the Code” for next month. Subtitled “How to Win Hearts, Change Minds, and Restore America's Original Vision,” it may provide direction.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Browsing Bound Ink Blots

Going through books donated to the Hillsdale Book Sale (this Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Watershed Senior housing building), I was drawn to an odd assortment of titles.

My attraction served as a kind of literary Rorschach test, circa Dec. 2007.

Here are the blots of ink I chose to browse.

A 1977 edition of “Playboy’s Book of Backgammon,” with a forward by none other than Hugh Hefner. To quote Hefner: “Backgammon is an oddly moral game. It punishes self-deception.”

A 1953 Landmark Books edition of “Thomas Jefferson, Father of Democracy” by Vincent Sheean. I vaguely recall reading this “young readers’” book when I was 11 or 12. Could this tidy little, illustrated volume with its big, scholastic type have been formative? Chapter 1: "He was over six feet tall when he was seventeen years old—a rather awkward boy, with carroty red hair and freckles, a pointed nose and chin. You would never have called him handsome, and yet...."

Two Lewis Thomas books, “The Medusa and the Snail” and “The Fragile Species.” You can never get enough of Lewis Thomas, the self-described “biology watcher.”

“Flu,” subtitle, “The story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it.” By Gina Kolata, who's name sounds suspiciously like one of those exotic Hawiian drinks. Never mind. Thoughts of the 1918 flu pandemic take me back 20 years to one of those random English rambles that delivered me to a country parish graveyard, There I found myself staring at four rows of 16 military graves. The markers read that the graves belonged to Aussie soldiers who died in 1918 not in the horror of battle but in the agony of the Great Flu Pandemic.

“Oregon Geographic Names” by Lewis L. McArthur. 1984 edition. I’m surprise at how many times I have trundled down to the Hillsdale Branch Library to look up some nominal oddity in this book by my neighbor up the hill. What a treasure. From the “Hillsdale” entry: “The name Hillsdale has been in use since pioneer days, and is quite suitable for the place. Hill is from the old Anglo-Saxon hyl, and the Norse holl. Dale means a small valley. It comes form the same source as dell, and the German thal and Slavonic dol.” Now you know.

“An Army at Dawn” by Rick Atkinson, about the 1942-1943 North African campaign. I had read somewhere that this Pulitzer Prize winner was powerfully written. A dip into it did not disappoint. “September 1, 1939, was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days, and it brought the first dead in a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hours, or 19 a minute or one death every 3 seconds….”

“Poor Richard’s Almanacks” by Benjamin Franklin illustrated by, get this, Norman Rockwell. Coffee-table format. What price can you place on this: “If you’d know the Value of Money, go and borrow some”? Or “In the Affairs of this World Men are saved, not by Faith, but by the Want of it.”? The price of "Poor Richard" at the book sale, a Franklin-esque $2.

There’s more, but somehow that’s enough.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hillsdale's smoking slogan

Four of us sat around the corner table at Baker & Spice today coming up with a catchy name for a community fund-raising drive.

Some of money will go to light up a three-story-tall “Hillsdale” sign and tower light on the new Watershed Senior Housing building here. (I’ll get back to the lights in a moment)

The rest will go to establishing a Hillsdale Community Foundation.

My goal was to coax a campaign name out of my three colleagues. With these three, it didn’t take much coaxing. Ted Coonfield, Don Baack and Mike Roach are hands-on, outspoken leaders in the Hillsdale community.

With the lighting bit in mind, we played with “Brighten Hillsdale,” “Hillsdale in Lights,” “Hillsdale, Light it up!” but finally, with vague reservations, decided on “Light up Hillsdale.”

The reservations had to do with a perceived cigarette connection, but then we figured, what the hell, how many people smoke here anyway?

Afterwards I got to thinking that we shouldn’t hide the smoking reference; we should “culture jam” (i.e. steal) it by using the insidiously clever slogans that the advertising industry concocted to promote sucking on cancer sticks.

So here is where the “Light up Hillsdale” campaign goes with slightly modified smoking slogans attached:

Light up Hillsdale — Come to where the flavor is. (We have a half dozen excellent restaurants here)

Light up Hillsdale — One cool (and wet) place

Light up Hillsdale — Just what the doctor ordered (OHSU is right up the hill)

Light up Hillsdale — Tastes good just like a community farmers market should. (We are known for our market)

Light up Hillsdale — I’d walk a mile to get to Hillsdale (especially if we had sidewalks — which we don’t. Trails, we have.)

Light up Hillsdale —You’ve come a long way, baby. (especially if you’ve confused us with Hillsboro and had to backtrack to get here)

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Media inequity threatens the "global village"

Of the many ideas sprouted by the germinal mind of Marshall McLuhan, the notion that media are extensions of human beings is one of the most intriguing. If you have a telephone, you has super-ears; if you have a TV, you have super-eyes.

Perhaps. (A haunting question: Do you "hear" better or "see" better as a result?)

In recent years there can no question that those who acquire the ability to use new media have the farthest reach, the greatest extension. Those without access to new media or the skill or desire to use them are placed at a greater and greater disadvantage.

Within our own society we see chasms opening between the technologically proficient and the technologically ignorant, deprived or challenged.

Moreover, the faster the pace of technological change, the more apparent — and troubling — are the consequences of the divide.

Many of us have friends who simply can’t be troubled to keep up with the changes. To us, it is as if they have gone deaf or been struck blind.

The examples are everywhere. Suppose I have a message I want to get out to a group. I simply call up the group list on my computer and fire off the message. But suppose that someone in the group doesn’t read e-mail, or, horror of horrors, doesn’t have a computer. Will I go out of my way to phone my message? I confess it’s not likely. They are literally out of my communications loop

In my own way, I’m equally out of the loop to a young generation that text-messages. No one text messages me because they know I don’t text message. I might as well be living on Mars.

The changes are coming faster and faster and threaten to drive us farther and farther apart even as those of us who master them grow closer and closer.

Because of the uneven and inequitable media “extensions” of our human powers, the verdict is out on the “Global Village” that McLuhan predicted would result from Earth-girdling media.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Books in the Storm

What brings people out on a roaring, wet and windy day like this?

Books, that’s what. Books for our community book sale next Sunday.

There the three of us were in the old unheated, drafty Estby gas station. Tracy Stepp, Les Jevning and I were sorting the bodice-rippers from the Judaica from the Robert Ludlums, the James Micheners and the Danielle Steels.

Out of the gray gloom, the station wagons and hatchbacks pulled up to our storm-battered door to off-load more volumes.

Launched from the Pacific, the storm swept in sheets and gusts across our hills. Its wind and rain raced down Capitol Highway, buffeting and pelting the spartan garage turned book storehouse.

“There’s thunder!” Tracy announced, looking up from a stack of miscellanea teetering in front of her.

“There’s hardly ever thunder here.”

For years there were never books — now thousand of books— in the garage's lube-job, service bays.

Thunder and books happen, sometimes simultaneously, in strange places.

I came across Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” and then, a few swirling gusts later, her “Ariel.” The slender volume of poetry bore an inscription, a fragment in the storm: “Take this book as a memory of me and your other friends here. Sylvia’s poems are like my step-mother. Treat her gently for she is frail.”

“Yvonne” had drawn a peace symbol before signing her name.

Our building trembled in the moaning wind as another book-laden car pulled in.

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