Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Center for Push-ups and Chaucer at PSU

As I walked to a meeting at Portland State University this morning I passed one of Portland’s many big-hole, tall-crane construction sites.

I thought the sign on the site read, “Academic Student Recreation Center.”

The name gave me pause. “Academic student”?

What, pray tell, other kinds of students are there at PSU? Non-academic? Are they going to ban blue-collar vocational students from the new center?

I wondered as I ambled on whether an “academic student” was cut from the same rhetorical cloth as the “scholar athlete.” The latter term (reverently intoned by baritone sportscasters) suggests that all athletes are scholars (not mere students, mind). “Scholar Athlete” is a title worthy of undergraduate and alumni idolatry — and future product endorsements.

“Academic students” are really, really serious, I concluded. Not like those low-life, non-academic students who go elsewhere.

I’d like to think that PSU is secure enough with its admissions policy that it could refer to its students as, well, students. So why not just a plain, brown wrapper “Student Recreation Center”?

The name bothered me all the way home to my computer where I promptly searched “academic student recreation center.” I got only one hit, in the minutes from the May 4, 2007 Washington State University Board of Regents meeting.

What happens in Pullman stays in Pullman.

So I modified (as they say) my search and discovered that the name of the nascent PSU building is the “Academic and Student Recreation Center,” which is mildly less puzzling than “Academic Student Recreation Center.”

Questions remain.

Perhaps there are academic students out there who can explain what “academic recreation” is. Or does the name indicate that the center will be a place where academics and recreation take place under the same $71 million roof (yes, that’s the cost)?

Collegiate multi-tasking will have a new home on campus. Yes, you can do your Chaucer assignment and push-ups at the same time.

Or perhaps "academic recreation" is the logical consequence of the trend to make education a joyous romp, worthy competition for Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.


Friday, March 14, 2008


I took a day off from blogging yesterday and survived.

No serious withdrawals. No tossing and turning in the night. The cat didn’t notice any difference. The earth turned on its axis. A day passed. I spared you, dear reader, more thoughts about Eliot Spitzer and race and gender issues in the presidential campaign.

I did think of some unwritten words about a day the clocks stopped everywhere. No one went to work — or to war. We all slept in and were better for it.

A promising topic, for another time.

This blogging can all become a bit much. It too can be better for “sleeping in.” The blogger's mind, along with the world, can use a little rest and renewal.


So I’m using these breaks to define a new relationship with, or to be exact, a new rhythm for The Red Electric. Name and logo to the contrary, this site is not an interurban train tied to a timetable. If you show up here for a ride, you may find the Red Electric at rest on the siding. The engineer is off somewhere ruminating, plotting new destinations or just contemplating the silence.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Media and Society and Me

I’ve been invited to teach “Media and Society” this summer at Portland Community College.

I haven’t taught this particular course in 35 years. Eons ago in media terms. Back then we got excited about stuff like "The Fairness Doctrine" and "Community Access Television."

I see the task of preparation and teaching "Media and Society" today as a little like wrestling an octopus. Media tentacles everywhere. Video games. Web sites. Text messaging. Facebook. Convergence. Old Media/New Media. Rupert Murdoch-Jon Stewart-Rush Limbaugh-The Simpsons-Al Jazeera. Sex. Violence. Mayhem. This American Life.


Where is Marshall McLuhan when we need him? I know, I know — I should be careful what I wish for. Still, it takes some kind of mad (Canadian?) wizard to enter into today’s media fray.

The text that has been previously used in the PCC course is also in limbo. The book’s title is “Media Today.” But the book itself is literally unavailable today or tomorrow or the day after. The new edition is coming out in August, too late to be of use in the summer class. The old edition is out of print, and no doubt out of date.

By the way, when the book becomes available, a paperback edition goes for a jaw-dropping $85. The hardbound is a cool $150. But then, in the spirit of the subject, the book comes with — and here I quote from the publisher’s catalog — “an enclosed DVD with media examples and an interactive companion website featuring a full range of instructor and student materials including study podcasts….”

Weighing all this, I’m thinking PCC should offer a course about the course. Kind of media navel-gazing. The “text” at the very least should come with a brick-sized operating manual, which would have its own DVD and podcasts etc.

Suffice to say, I’m still thinking about whether to enter the ring with this beast.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Library of 25 Books

What I am about to lay before you is a kind of literary Rorschach test result.

It is also a work in progress.

A few days ago I put myself on a “less is more” kick and got to thinking of the few hundred books in my personal library, 75 percent of which I will never read—at last not in their entirety.

Yes, so many books, so little time.

So as an exercise I posed the question: if I could keep only 25 books, which would they be?

As I went about the exercise, I kept a couple of guiding principles in mind. I have even acted on one.

First, I decided to get rid of books I could readily get at a convenient library. The first library that came to mind was the one in our Quaker meeting house. And that led to my first act: I promptly donated nearly all of my Quaker books to the Multnomah Monthly Meeting’s library, thereby freeing about two three feet of space on my shelves.

The second principle violated the first. Although some books on the following list are readily available at the public library, I want to keep them here for ready reference. An arm’s reach away — for an emergency.

I could go into a Rorschach (Freudian?) analysis of the list (Why, for instance, are there so few women authors?), but for now, I’ll simply share them for consideration. As I say, this is a work in progress. I could change my mind about the list in the next week, or in the next five minutes.


The Essays of George Orwell
Meditations — Marcus Aurelius
The National Trust Book of Long Walks in England, Scotland and Wales
The History of Western Philosophy—Bertrand Russell
The John McPhee Reader

The Orwell Reader (Introduction by Richard Rovere)
Small is Beautiful—E.F. Schumacher
Walden — Henry David Thoreau
On Civil Disobedience — Henry David Thoreau
Faith and Practice — the Northwest Pacific Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

A People’s History of The United States — Howard Zinn
Markings — Dag Hammarskjold
Technopoly — Neil Postman
Conscientious Objections — Neil Postman
Essays of E.B. White

Tao Te Ching — Lao Tzu (Ursula K. Le Guin version)
A Pattern Language — Christopher Alexander et. al. (A study in place-making)
The Group of Seven by Peter Mellin (remarkable Canadian artists from the early 20th Century)
The Jefferson Bible (The new testament freed of “miracle” encrustations. By the third, and most remarkable, president of these United States)

The Essential Rumi
Time and the Art of Living — Robert Grudin
Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony — Lewis Thomas
Language in Thought and Action (Fifth Edition) S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa
Leonardo da Vinci, Artist, Scientist, Inventor — Simona Cremante

That’s it. Notably laden with Orwell and Postman and males in general. Fiction is all but missing in action.

How to describe? Mystical, retro, analytical, artistic, contrary, liberal, defiant?

To prove how fluid and tentative the list is, note that the photo includes Non-Violent Resistance by Gandhi (Would Thoreau, who profoundly shaped Gandhi's thinking, suffice?). Gandhi is not on the above list.

And so it goes . . . .

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Monday, March 10, 2008

About that sign . . .

Yes, that "S" in the Watershed's new "Hillsdale" sign is upside down. Then again, in context, who knows?

Those who commented on the original post, seemed to think the sign is well enough left alone.

One intriguing question is whether the sign company cares enough to fix it.

Stay tuned.