Friday, March 07, 2008

Yes and No. Opening and Shutting.

Last night at a meeting, I shared with friends that I am troubled by the number of things I want to do. I worry that trying to do too much can result in doing very little at all.

To which one of them replied, "If you are willing to say 'yes,' you must to be willing to say 'no.'"

Her advice seemed related to the aphorism: "For every door that opens, another closes."

Was my friend saying that many of the those closing doors are ones we must shut ourselves?


Thursday, March 06, 2008

A problem worth fixing?

In the nearly three months I've been admiring our new Hillsdale sign, I have been blind to a small problem with it.

Now that it's been pointed out to me, I can't avoid it. See if you can spot it. If you do, is it worth fixing? Or perhaps it has a certain quirky charm to it.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It’s 3 a.m. Why do you always call on me first?

In explaining Hillary Clinton’s victories Tuesday, pundits are looking at two campaign initiatives used by the Clinton campaign in the final week: the infamous "3 a.m. phone call" ad and Hillary’s complaint that she is always asked to respond to debate questions first.

Taken separately, (we’ll light-heartedly take them together later) each tapped into underlying visceral feelings. Remember, the last thing you want voters to do is actually think.

The 3 a.m. ad is the most obvious. The appeal is to fear, the stock-in-trade of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. In fairness, it is also strikingly similar to the famous Johnson daisy “countdown” ad used briefly against Barry Goldwater.

First, arouse fear, then have your candidate be the one who makes it all go away. There’s other stuff going on here. The ad’s creators chose 3 a.m. — the time we are most vulnerable. The hour we wake up from nightmares. Then there’s the whole implication that The White House is uncharted territory to Obama. Hillary, on the other hand, knows her way to the phone and the war room because she’s been there — never mind in what capacity.

The second initiative — Hillary’s complaint to media debate panels — plays on the public’s distrust of the press. It also raises the whole question of fairness and media bias. (And, yes, there is media bias, and audience bias, and individual bias etc.) “Media bashing” is one of the oldest ploys around. It always works. But her comment targets a deeper emotion common among women. (Imagine Obama, or any male candidate, complaining that he always gets called on second or first. Whiner!)

Women face the fairness issue repeatedly in situations controlled by men. The one that nearly every woman relates to is being a student in the classroom, where teachers (very often men) ask the questions. The old complaint was that the teachers never asked questions of females students. The attention was always focused on the males.

Clinton’s remark puts a twist on the female student experience. What she is really saying is “Why do you always give the guy the last word?” It is, in short, gender discrimination, and female students and women in the workplace have all experienced it.

So the ad invoked primal fears and the debate remark spoke to media bias and gender discrimination.

They worked in this segmented-messaged world.

But try this:

The National Security adviser is on the phone to President Hillary Clinton: “It’s 3 a.m, Madame President. Something terrible is happening in the world. We need a decision.”

The president: “Why do you always call on me first?”

Adviser: “Sorry, Madame President. I’ll give Vice President Obama a call.”

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

There is a silver bullet after all

The New York Times Science section ran a story today that confirms what those of us in the media literacy movement have been saying for years: Get the frigging TV (and computer) out of your kid's room.


The story — and the research — lists the reasons.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

A Celebratory Display

A few hundred announcements like this one will be mailed this week. As the text on the back explains, the exhibit will be at the University of Portland's Buckley Center Gallery and will feature some of my typewriters as well as student photos of them. I'll also have some information about famous authors associated with the models on display.

I hope you can find time to drop by the campus at 5000 N. Willamette Boulevard. The Gallery's hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The dates, as you see on the card, are from Monday, March 17, to Thursday, April 10.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Retiring from "Retirement"

I’m supposed to be retired. Oh sure, I ‘m paid to teach a couple of classes a year and to write a monthly column for the paper I founded. I suppose the money means I’m only semi-retired. But, believe me, the pay hardly makes the work worth my while. I teach and write because I love to.

Still, when teaching and writing the column are added to everything else I do, I don’t feel retired at all. I’m busier now than I have ever been. Retired? Semi-retired? You’ve got to be kidding.

Recently I’ve thought I should take a mid-week “retirement day.” A day to just sit around and read or help out in the yard or take a long walk or comb a beach or hang out with a friend or noodle around on the piano or paint an oil or watercolor.

I find such a day inconceivable. I always have a long list of self-assigned tasks. One of which, by the way, is a daily entry on this blog (more on that later).

Beyond taking a “retirement day,” I’ve thought about what it would mean to retire from my “retirement.” That would mean really, REALLY, retiring. No more volunteering in the neighborhood. No more volunteering to work on media literacy. No more volunteering to put out an on-line community newspaper, the Hillsdale News, every other week. No more volunteering to put on typewriter exhibits. No more committees at the Quaker meeting.

And, as noted, there are these daily postings on the Red Electric.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going for a sudden, bring-down-the-curtain retirement from “retirement,” but I do plan to experiment.

You may visit here in the future (Tomorrow? Thursday?) and find that I’ve let a day or two or five go by with nothing posted.

Enjoy the silence. Enjoy MY silence.

I probably will give up teaching after next year. I’ve been saying that each year for three years, but this time I’m serious. For one thing, I keep talking about newspapers in my journalism class. Increasingly I am met with puzzled looks. Newspapers?

I’ll keep a hand in Hillsdale matters, but no new initiatives. Someone reminded me the other day of the adage, “Pick the low hanging fruit.”

There’s more to say about all this, but I’ll save it for another time, which may or may not be tomorrow.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Royal Fair Trade

I picked up the typewriter you see here, an Olivetti, from Matt McCormack at Ace Typewriter the other day.

It was part of a spur-of-the-moment trade that took all of two minutes to negotiate. Matt and I are easy.

I proposed a two-for-one deal. I would give Matt a black, crinkle-finished, Depression-era Royal portable in pristine condition along with a gray Remington Model 5 portable. In exchange I would get the Olivetti, a Linea 88, which I admired for its lyrical bulk and Italian pedigree.

Matt rejected the Remington saying that it would only end up in his basement, a kind of typewriter bone yard. He has never liked Remington 5s. The escapements go bad, he said, usually because of chipped teeth. I won’t go into the significance of chipped teeth along a typewriter's escapement bar except to say that letters, to say nothing of words, do not follow in orderly fashion when escapement mechanisms fail.

As it turned out, the Remington 5 I was offering for trade was just fine. Matt still didn’t want it. But, never mind, he offered a simple straight trade — the Royal for the Olivetti.

So what did I get in this Olivetti?

As you can see, it’s a standard, not a portable, but because much of it is plastic, it’s remarkably light. It has a clean Italian crispness to its design. Olivetti got that down cold, witness its Lettera machines, universally hailed for their simple elegance.

What Olivetti didn’t get was ergonomics — ever. You have to attack, nay, pounce on, the keys to produce even the most mundane phrase. The pinkie stretch to the shift key is at human anatomical limits, and returning the carriage requires the heft I reserve for the weight machines at the community center.

But I’m not complaining. The typeface is a modified Courier with a Euro-design edge to it. I can’t quite place it, but it lends a cool Italian flair to whatever you write.

As I snooped around to the back of the machine here in my office warren, I discovered that while the machine's design was Italian (circa 1966), its manufacture was British. In the words on a label, “Made in Great Britain.” The label doesn’t say where in Great Britain but because of my inherited affinity for Wales, I like to think of its being assembled in Llandudno, Conwy or Llangollen — however unlikely that may be.

On the very same label announcing the Olivetti’s British manufacturer as “British Olivetti Ltd.,” is fine print. I fetched my magnifying glass, Holmes like, to decipher it. To the right of an honest-to-God Royal Crest are the words “By appointment to H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh Office Equipment Manufacturers.”

Imagine, an aristocratic typewriter, right here in Portland, Oregon, right here in this commoner's cluttered office. Astonishingly, I had traded Matt a Royal for a Royal.

I call that a fair trade.

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