Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Academy Awards, Politics and the Times

I thought this might make good reading as you prepare to settle in for a long night of Oscar glitz and Hollywood self-congratulation.

Thanks to John McCarthy for forwarding it. And thanks to Bob Burnett of the Berkeley Daily Planet for writing it.

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An Awakening

Lisa Lynch’s photos (See yesterday’s post, "Heavenly Training") inspired me to scoot on my trusty Milano scooter over to the Portland Japanese Garden late this afternoon with my little Olympus Stylus tucked in my pocket.

Four hours later as I was downloading the photos, the thought that kept occurring to me as I edited them was that it wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t fair that these photos should look this good with so little effort on my part.

It wasn’t fair that you might judge me to have some photographic talent. The talent is all the gardeners’, the garden designers’ and nature’s.

Where can you look in the Japanese Garden and NOT find inspiration and beauty?

It wasn’t fair that it was all so easy to bring home and share these shots.

Not fair?

Such a strange thought. We should rejoice together at our good fortune to be able to visit such a place.

I also thought of all those models or actors whom photographers or cinematographers say “love the camera.”

The Japanese Garden “loves the camera.” The feeling is mutual.

At times I thought my little camera would melt in my hands from what it was seeing.

The camera survived. And so did the photos.

Tonight I’m posting just three photos. Even before the visitor enters the garden proper and pays $8 (An awakening for $8!), this is what you see.


Tomorrow, I’ll share with you the sublimity inside the garden gate — as I saw it through my camera.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

What Portland pays for the Iraq War

What is the estimated cost of the Iraq war to Portlanders in the 2008 fiscal year?

Take a guess:

a) $900,000
b) $10 million
c) $100 million
d) $190 million

To find the answer, go here, to the National Priorities Project web site.

Take that number and divide it by 600,000 Portlanders and you will get the average cost for each man, woman and child in the city — for one year. Of course, we have been in Iraq five years...and counting.

Another way to use the National Priorities Project site is to go to its "trade-offs" section. It will tell you, for instance, that the Fiscal Year 2007 US expenditures in Iraq would have provided 158,000 homes in Portland with renewable energy. Several other "trade-off"s are listed such as numbers of teachers and health care coverage.

I learned of the link to the National Priorities Project web site from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. FCNL's own site notes that 43 percent of your federal taxes will go to the military. Compare to the 3 percent that goes to education and jobs and the 1 percent that goes to diplomacy and foreign aid.

Did someone mention change?

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Heavenly Training

Photo by Lisa Lynch

Lisa Lynch, a student in my PCC journalism class, is training to be a Portland Japanese Garden tour guide.

The volunteer job sounds to me like the nearest thing to dying and going to heaven.

Turns out she has a fun blog site. There, among other things, she chronicles her training, shares some of her new-found wisdom, quotes Alan Watts and posts numerous great photographs from the garden (see above photo).

Get outta here and hie thee to her site forthwith.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Feelings, Thinking and Voting

Have you suspended your disbelief recently?

Of course you have.

You do it whenever you watch a feature film, play a video game, read a novel or even take in so-called “Reality TV.”

You know that what you are seeing or reading is a media construction. It isn’t reality. And yet to fully enjoy the experience, you suspend your disbelief.

In short, you knowingly buy into the fantasy.

The suspension of disbelief is also the knowing suspension of our critical facilities. It’s no wonder then that advertisers plunk ads into the middle of such entertainment fare. The ads find us in a state of uncritical acceptance, a state of suspended disbelief.

We are sitting ducks for all kinds of pitches.

Recently I’ve been reading “Cracking the Code” by Portlander Thom Hartmann, the Air America talk show host and author. I’ve been following Hartmann’s excellent writing from his pre-Air America days.

“Cracking the Code,” published last year, is about techniques of persuasion, particularly political persuasion. Strangely enough, Hartmann doesn’t get into the effects of the suspension of disbelief on, say, those watching TV political ads.

But he does introduce another element that is equally important. According to Hartmann and his sources, political messages on TV, like other emotion-laden visual images, tap directly into our feelings, by-passing our rational thinking altogether.

He reports that scientists are discovering is that feeling precedes reasoning as the brain processes information. He cites the work of psychologist Robert Zajonc, who concludes that decision-making is based on our feelings.

That’s a stunner because as Hartmann notes, the foundation of democracy is rational thinking. But if Zajonc is right, we are voting based on feelings, not thinking.

Couple that idea with being in a state of suspended disbelief and you have eroded the foundation of democracy.

All of which goes a long way to explaining the success of a George W. Bush, and, in fairness, a host of other politicians and political interest groups with millions to spend on visual, non-rational, emotion-evoking images.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marching, cruising front-runners gain upper hand

Here we go again. Metaphors run amok!

Front page of today’s Oregonian. Lead story. Top right.

Let’s count the metaphors.


Illinois Sen. Barack Obama cruised (1) past New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, gaining the upper hand (2)* in a Democratic presidential race (3) for the ages (4?).

But wait! There’s more!

Second paragraph.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican front-runner (5) [actually a repeat of #3 above], won a pair of primaries, in Wisconsin and Washington, to continue his march (6) toward certain nomination.

At least we don’t have “battleground states,” “’air’ wars,” “war rooms” “near knockout blows,” “routs,” “thrashings” and “poundings.”

That’s good because the story quotes Obama talking about ending the war (the real one in Iraq). Perhaps the reporter, the AP’s David Espo, could see the reference coming and restrained himself. Best not to use political war metaphors in political stories mentioning war and its death and devastation.

Reality exposes war metaphors as the shams they are.

By the way, that’s why I’ve suggested on numerous occasions that the University of Oregon and Oregon State University declare peace and stop referring to their low-stakes athletic rivalries as a high-stakes “Civil War.”

Ducks! Beavers! Are you listening? Or are you just, well, Beavers and Ducks?

* The origin of “Gaining the upper hand” according to the American English Sports Games Idiom site is "the medieval gambling practice of throwing a stick to your opponent who would catch and hold it. Players would alternate hands around the stick until one won by having "the upper hand" on the stick, no room being left for another hand."

Come to think of it, I used to do this as a kid to determine which side would bat first. The thrown stick in question was our baseball bat. After the catch, we did the hand-over-hand. The kid left grasping the top had to pass one final test. If he could hold on to the bat as it was kicked by an opponent, his side was awarded "the upper hand" and the first at bat.

It seems like a long way from what Barack Obama did in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Friendly Idea for funding public broadcasting

Consider this Part II on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s just completed pledge drive. (Part I was "Pledge Drive for Nukes")

Certainly there must be a better way to raise money for public broadcasting.

Once upon a time, when I was in graduate school studying with the larger-than-life Fred Friendly at Columbia University, I researched this very topic.

Fred had come up with a brilliant idea. At the time the government was preparing to hurl new communications satellites into space and sell transmission rights to corporate telecom and media giants. Fred suggested that money made off the sales should be used to fund public broadcasting.

Instead we got corporate underwriting (ads), mind-numbing pledge drives and the annual budgetary struggle with Congress and the Administration.

Of course since Fred made his suggestion in the late ‘60s satellite data transmission is everywhere and is a huge industry. I have no idea what the government does with the money, but it hasn’t warded off pledge drives.

Other forms of private media communication also rely on our public assets.

Look out your window and you are likely to see wires running along (and blighting) the public right-of-way. Yes, the utilities do pay franchise fees for the use, but every few years a new technology elbows its way into the Commons. Cell phone antennas and wireless transmitters are the most recent. And more money rolls in.

I have taken Fred’s idea and suggested that the new revenue streams pay for undergrounding utility wires and transformers in Hillsdale and other metro town centers — all to no avail.

So here’s the deal, as the mayoral candidates and city council candidates come to call, put it to them about this funding source. It could be earmarked to make your community a more attractive place.

I could also be used to get rid of pledge drive week on OPB.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Tip-toeing around the "O" word

I had a surreal moment last week as I attended a meeting of our coalition to get kids to spend less time transfixed and inert in front of screens where they often pass the time munching junk food.

The chief motive behind the effort is childhood obesity and the resulting, astonishing rise of diabetes among children.

Our group, which consists primarily of public health professionals, is preparing an all-out effort to get child-care providers to come to a meeting where we can address the problem.

As we wordsmithed our invitation, somebody said, “Don’t use the word ‘obesity’ because many childcare providers are obese and take it personally. They’ll just tune us out and won’t come to the meeting”

Ooooooh Kaaaaaay.

After I let a politically appropriate and sensitively calibrated length of time elapse (like until the end of the meeting), I approached a colleague with the obvious question.

“If the problem is obesity and we can’t talk about obesity because the people we are talking to are obese, how are we going to make any progress?”

She didn’t blink. “Talk about fitness.”

“But fitness isn’t the problem.”

“But it is the solution.”

“But doesn’t talking about fitness offend obese childcare workers who aren’t fit?”

“Well, some of them may be fit.”

“Even though they’re obese?”


“So what’s the problem with childhood obesity?”

“The kids are at risk of developing diabetes and many who are obese aren’t fit.”

“Aren’t the childcare providers also at risk?

“Well, yessss.”


“So we talk about fitness. There’s a better chance they’ll listen.”

Unless, of course, they consider themselves and the children in their daycare to be perfectly fit — however overweight they all might be.

If that’s the case, they still aren’t going to listen.

Did somebody say the emperor has no cloths on?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Blink of Awareness

Today, in the silence of our Quaker meeting, I spent much of the hour pondering life’s two great mysteries: birth (or, to be exact, conception) and death.

Where did we come from before life? Where are we going after it?

I concluded, as many others have, that there aren’t two mysteries, but one.

Where we are going in death is precisely where we came from before "life."

In fact, this infinitesimal sojourn we call “life” may be merely a fleeting moment in a great unknowable continuum.

Life may be a mere blink of awareness, but of . . . what?