Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pledge drive for Nukes

The recently concluded Oregon Public Broadcasting pledge drive reminded me of the bumper sticker:

“Why not adequately fund our schools and have the Air Force hold bake sales to buy bombers?”

I’m thinking we ought to make our nuclear arsenal dependent on radio pledge drives like OPB’s.

It might go something like this.

“Well, April, how are we doing?”

“Not so good, Colin. We have only one wing nut paid for, thanks to a generous $5,000 contribution from retired Air Force colonel in Redmond.”

“Wow. Well thanks, Colonel, but we need a whole lot more patriotic Americans like you to step up to defend freedom. You all need to go to your phones if we are going to build up our current arsenal of a paltry 5,736 nuclear warheads.”

“That’s right, April. Why destroy the planet once when you can do it 10 times over? I mean let’s show the Russians, the Chinese and the Pakistanis what REAL power is.”

“To say nothing of Israel, India, Britain and France.”

“So here’s that number again, 876-853-7669 or ‘US nukes now.’”

“By the way, if you contribute to our nuclear weapons program, it will mean we can spend your tax dollars on boring stuff like universal health care, first-rate schools and alternative energy.”

“Boy, it sure is quiet around here, April. Let’s make those phones start ringing. Do it now! Just remember, your pledges help our military-industrial complex.”

“Speaking of which, Colin, how about that Boeing offer for the first pledge of $50,000?”

“That’s right, April. For your pledge of $50,000, you get a free round-the-world junket, just like the ones Boeing takes our members of Congress on. They’ve even set up pseudo-defense conferences in places like the Cayman Islands, Fiji and Bali.”

“How can you pass that one up? That number again is ….”

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Hillsdale, but when?

One more photo from John Wardin's family album. It shows the "Hillsdale Triangle" in the upper portion and the Fulton Park Dairy beneath and to the south of SW Capitol Highway running diagonally across the photo. Note the large milking barn at the corner of Bertha and Vermont (which was Hoffman Road). John and I are puzzled about the year. We reckon it must be the early Fifties. There are clues to be found and checked out. For instance, Robert Gray School appears at the top. When was it built? When were the houses built along Sunset Boulevard? The original library hadn't been built — the dog that didn't bark!

Perhaps others will have ideas.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Intrusion of Time

John Wardin’s grandfather, Gustav, made a purchase one hundred years ago that shaped the future of Hillsdale. Gustav bought the Fulton Park Dairy shown here in 1905.

Earlier this week I met with John to look through a family album of old photographs. Together we gamely tried to imagine the perspectives of the photographers.

Of all the photographs, this one is the most striking because of its panorama. We are looking east from the hill where St. Barnabas Church is today. The view stretches from what was Hoffman Road (today Vermont Street) on the right to Capitol Highway on the left. The Fulton Park Dairy is dead ahead.

Intrigued by the view, I set out this afternoon to try to find the spot the photographer stood on. I wanted to update the photo.

One hundred years got in the way. Utility lines, houses, streets, trees, cars. One shot was partially blocked by the roof of a Jeep Cherokee. Another was crisscrossed by apple tree branches. Rooftops were everywhere. I considered climbing up on one to find the right angle, but then thought better of it.

So here’s the best I could do. Wilson High School is now in the distance. Rieke Elementary School is on the right. On the left is the Hillsdale Shopping Center, still owned by the Wardin family. The squirrel skittering across a utility wire is a new arrival.

But if you look closely, you see a glimpse of Hoffman-turned-Vermont on the right. A tree or two on the horizon may have survived 100 years.

And as the contours show, the place will always be “as old as the hills.”

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Journalism’s challenge — and opportunity

A recent call from a desperate friend prompted thoughts about the uncertain future of American journalism.

The friend is an editor at a small daily newspaper that for most of its existence has been owned by a civic-minded family willing to make a 10 percent to 15 percent profit off the operation. By normal standards, that’s a more than fair return.

But with a change in generations, some family members who wanted to sell out prevailed.

Enter a succession of publicly listed, profit-driven national newspaper chains looking for upwards of a 30 percent return.

Corporate ownership took over before the internet, Amazon, eBay and Craig’s list came along, and drained off much of the newspaper’s lifeblood, its classified ads.

Good-bye 30 percent profit; hello a national downward spiral newspaper stocks.

So what happens at my friend’s newspaper? The staff is repeatedly sliced. Morale plummets. The newspaper shrinks. The “news hole” grows narrower and shallower, and my friend, after nearly 30 years in this one newsroom, is grinding his teeth, but hanging in there, until…the chain sends in the “publisher from hell” to clamp thumbscrews to the staff.

“Do you think I could get a job teaching?” my friend asks, groping for an exit, any exit.

“Why don’t you stage a revolt?” I suggest.

“That’s what they want, a reason to fire us.”

Fire the veterans — the ones who know the community inside and out but can be replaced with low-paid, out-of-town neophytes.

To the corporate bean counters, it makes perfect sense. To dedicated journalists, it is inane.

A free society (I still believe we have one, by degrees) thrives on information. The better the information, the better the society. Journalism has always seemed to me to be a quasi-public institution. It even has special protections under the constitution (vis. the First Amendment). But its financial underpinnings have been no different than those of Wal-Mart.

Even before the internet came along as the “new media,” the “old media” was suspect because of the pipers paying its tune. The pipers were advertisers and more recently interlocking corporate boards; the tune rarely strayed for the pipers’ desires.

At least the government wasn’t buying ads, and so government became the subject of choice, exactly as the Constitution’s framers intended. The Fourth Estate, you recall, was the Press.

Still, with the rise of corporatism and its financial and lobbying stranglehold on government, those pipers also needed journalistic watching, and that would mean an new financial arrangement.

None was found.

Now technology — the internet in particular — is challenging the financial underpinnings of journalism.

It isn’t clear where we are headed. Should the consumers of news be the sole source of financing? Some magazines have succeeded under this model. My favorites are The Sun and Consumer Reports.

Should journalism sever its connection to profit by journalistic enterprises becoming non-profits and being given tax incentives to serve the public interest (whatever that might mean)?

Should the owners of newspapers be collectives of journalists, not corporations?

As I listened to my friend’s lament, these thoughts rose to the surface. What advice could I give him?

“Start an on-line news site,” I suggested. “That’s where things is headed. Go there.”

Sure the site would be supported by advertisers, but the production costs would be a fraction of a newspapers. With time, some folks might even pay to receive the news.

I’ve started my own modest news site, “Hillsdale New” ( It’s an all-volunteer effort. That volunteer is me. But its 300 plus readers in Hillsdale find value in it. If the Hillsdale News is to survive me, I need to find a way for it to pay an editor/publisher to succeed me.

Where do I go? Advertisers? Subscribers? Foundations? “Pledge-week” donors?

All of the above?

I don’t see the underlying cause of my friend’s call as a crisis. It is a challenge to be sure, but ultimately it will give us journalism much better than what we have known.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Speaking of Change

Change, a vital concept, is in danger of becoming a hollow gong in the 2008 political campaign.

Before the meaning is hammered out of it, it’s worth looking at what kind of changes we are talking about — and not talking about in 2008.

I’m thinking of three.

One is so obvious that no one states it outright.

After eight miserable years, at long last, we will be changing the government of this country. It can only be for the better. George W. Bush, certainly the worst president within living memory, can take his bubble world back to the Crawford ranch and practice pronouncing “nuclear.” Cheney can go quail hunting with sacrificial friends. The only change that won’t happen, and isn’t happening, is among the self-righteous, power-mad conservative elite who put these two in power. They are without shame.

That John McCain would stoop so low as to seek their support ought to be reason enough to ensure his defeat.

The second change is the one heralded by the Obama campaign slogan. If Obama makes it to the White House, which seems likely, we will have a president bred and imbued with an international world view. Other nations and peoples will no longer be seen as objects of exploitation. This nation's leadership and people will no longer see themselves as entitled and superior. Because of that change, we at last may shift our resources from bullying to building, both at home and abroad.

From such humility may emerge a new confidence in American ideals that are lived rather than ritually celebrated. No longer will our leaders trample on our rights while they mouth praise in pledges of allegiance from flag-draped podiums.

We may no longer merely hold these American truths to be self-evident; we may actually infuse our lives with them.


This election will go a long way to revealing to Americans what they are and have been from before the nation's founding — a multi-racial society. We may be able to free ourselves of the grip of what George Orwell called the “smelly little orthodoxies” and the hateful dogmas of zealots, sexists and bigots.

The change that is happening as I write this — as the votes in the “Potomac primaries” are counted — is the re-engagement of youth in politics. My great fear for several years has been that we have been losing an entire generation to a media fantasy world. Males in particular seemed at risk, and they may still be, as college admissions suggest. I’d like to know the demographics of the youth who are suddenly so engaged in this year’s campaign. Hillary Clinton may lose her race, but my guess is that this election is producing thousands of young Hillarys, who just so happen to be working for Barack Obama.

Those are the major changes that Obama ’s campaign signals.

Finally, there’s the change that no candidate seems willing to talk about in this election year. Al Gore might call it “inconvenient.” It is certainly inevitable. It is a change dictated by a planet in rapid flux. Humans call it “global warming,” but if the eons-old planet could speak, it would call it simply more “global changing.”

If we humans are to survive, we must change how we live. For Americans, it means rethinking our values, particularly our materialistic, consumptive values. Oil is not the only addiction we must beat. We are addicted to nationalism in an age of global communication and interdependency. We are addicted to individualism to the detriment of community and others in need. We are addicted to our own false sense of superiority both as human beings and as Americans.

If we and our fellow humans are to survive, we must change both radically and fast.

The times require a leader both willing and capable to inspire us to make these “inconvenient” changes.

A growing number of Americans are coming to believe that Barack Obama may be, just may be, that leader.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Manzanita in Winter

For all the devastation the December storm caused along the northern Oregon coast, the allure of beach communities like Manzanita was as strong as ever this blustery, overcast weekend.

I was drawn to the swirl of kelp strands, brown-shingled houses, the sinuous groves, the sweeping contous of shore grass. Even to the frayed splinters of a storm-snapped trunk washed up on the beach.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

After the storm

Back from a gray but needed weekend in Manzanita, where devastation of December's storm is still much in evidence.

Downed trees, log-strewn beaches, battered houses....

As I picked my way down the littered beach with my little Olympus camera, I was drawn to both the magnitude and the minutiae of the damage.

Here is some of what I saw. I'll share more tomorrow.

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