Saturday, April 05, 2008

Challenges and rewards in Marshall Park

A walk in Southwest Portland’s Marshall Park this morning proved both challenging and rewarding. Part of the reward came from the challenge.

If you decide to visit the park, which I highly recommend, wear good boots with tread. At this time of year, the paths are muddy in many places.

Some of the streams are bridged with only narrow planks, which can be tricky if you are uncertain about your balance.

At one point I was forced to ford Tryon Creek after slipping on algae-covered stones that seemed to be the best option for crossing. They weren’t. Make sure those boots are water-proof.

For all that, the park rewards the hiker with moss-covered trees, trillium and rippling creeks, and, yes, with those challenges to overcome.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Boomers turned "Mid-Century Classics"

The folks selling real estate around here tell me that buyers are drawn to our suburban, ‘50s housing stock.

Their marketing people have dubbed our ranchers “Mid-Century Classics.”

A lot of my friends, hither to known as “Baby Boomers,” should be forewarned.

They too are “Mid-Century Classics.”

Now I’m wondering whether they have the human equivalent of large lots, single-level construction, hardwood floors and small master bedrooms.

As for me, born in 1942, I’m a pre-mid-century classic. My architectural equivalent is the Quonset hut.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A War Within

After reading and writing about the disturbing posters about the “Active Shooter Alert Drills” to be held on the Portland Community College Campus during April, my thoughts drifted to Mandy Martin and her "family."

Mandy is an Oregon Army Reserve Iraq veteran who spoke to my class last term about what it is like to return to PCC as a vet, even when there isn’t an “Active Shooter Alert Drill.”

Many vets are consumed with anger, which became a survival instinct in Iraq. “Anger makes things happen in the military,” Mandy, a slender, ramrod-straight, dead-serious young woman, told us matter-of-factly.

When she returned to PCC as a student, she said it was “hard not to use my anger in the classroom, in crowds, when people express opinions.”

Mandy described how Iraq vets never “come all the way home.” Their Iraq experience has fused with their being. Part of them is still at war.

That’s why some sit in the back of the room where they have the whole class — and the door — in view. They seem withdrawn, and many are.

That’s why crowds represent danger to them. As many as one-third suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s why in the give-and-take of the classroom, “it’s hard to hear others’ opinions about the war,” Mandy said. “The war is part of me.”

That’s why “Support the Troops; don’t support the War,” doesn’t cut it with Mandy and, she believes, many other vets.

Working now at the Portland Vets Center, Mandy counsels returning vets, whom she calls “family.” Many of her family decide to resume their lives at home by going to PCC.

The thought of an “Active Shooter Alert Drill” intruding on the lives of the vets at PCC gives me chills. The posters explained that when the drill's alarms sound, everyone should seek "the safest place possible and conceal and cover yourself."

Those are orders frighteningly familiar to war-plagued Iraq vets.

Will there never be peace in their lives?

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Journalism is dead! Long live journalism!

This week’s New Yorker has a challenging article by Eric Alterman titled “The Death and Life of American Newspapers.” With references to Walter Lippman, John Dewey and Arianna Huffington, he tries mightily to advance the obvious story that the days of newspapers (and traditional journalism) are numbered.

Alterman argues that the new news medium, the internet, is a kind of Vox Populi, or as he describes it, “a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism.”

The demise of the old print journalism will mean, he asserts, “the loss of a single national narrative and agreed-upon set of ‘facts’ by which to conduct our politics. News will become increasingly ‘red’ or ‘blue.’”

Of course, as he notes, that was the case in the 19th Century, when the press was truly partisan. A few papers retain their partisan names. Just down the road from here, The Albany Democrat Herald still touts a political label. It isn't alone.

It wasn’t until the formation of news-gathering cartels, (telegraph) wire services like the Associated Press, just prior to the Civil War that the notion of so-called objectivity began to emerge. The wire services, because they supplied news to newspapers of all political stripes, had to be “objective” and offer a "national narrative."

We should welcome the resurrection of “conversational journalism.” There’s still not enough of it, even on the internet. Take this blog for example. Some 50 people read it but few comment. When they do, the conversation begins.

Recently I had an extended, spirited exchange with an anonymous correspondent (who ultimately identified himself.) It was rough going at times but each of us forced the other (and our readers) to think to the next step.

It was quite different from having a traditional journalist try to mediate differences through “objective” reporting. I’ve been in that mediating role and still am on my on-line Hillsdale News. As journalist you try to pose the questions each side would ask of the other. Unfortunately, that takes you only to the first level. The debate, such as it is, usually stops there, either because of space limitations or perceived reader exhaustion.

But a conversation pushes on. The discussion goes deeper. The on-line reader, of course, can break away to see whether this statement or that is true by searching the web, and then dip back into the discussion and even enter with a new set of facts and a different perspective (Yes, there are more than two!)

So the internet widens and deepens journalism. At its best, this is “participatory, conversational journalism” or even “democratic journalism.” It’s a far cry from the “traditional” journalism that is dying with each passing day.

Journalism is dead! Long live journalism!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Remaindered Wisdom

Browsing at Borders Books the other day I saw a remaindered copy of a book titled "The Essence of Tao." It's mostly a compendium of quotes from the Tao Te Ching and eclectic sources that relate to the wisdom of the Tao.

Usually each page is devoted to a brief quotation so that the quotes look out on the reader in pairs. The pairings are carefully selected (by Maggie Pinkney) and lend new meaning to the halves. The effect of combining the wisdom of disparate sources is stunning.

But the book at Borders was shop worn and the last copy, so I didn't buy it for $4.99. I returned home to search for it on the web.

No luck. (NB: There is another well known book with the same title.)

The book I sought was published by The Five Mile Press, which is located in Australia. Ordering a new book from the publisher looked prohibitively expensive.

So, finding myself downtown again last week, I dropped by Borders again. "The Essence of Tao" was still there so I bought it.

I may return to it here from time to time.

This sample from a two-page spread shows why:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.

But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I have learned silence from the talkative;
tolerance from the intolerant,
and kindness from the unkind;
yet, strange,
I am ungrateful to those teachers.

Kahlil Gibran

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Monday, March 31, 2008

A life-or-death “opportunity” on campus

Those who went to this the first day of classes for the spring term at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus were greeted with dozens of signs reading “Active Shooter Alert Drills — April 2008.”

The posters are everywhere. Somebody desperately wants a few thousand students, faculty and staff to get with the drill.

This is serious business. A little like hiding from nuclear attack under your desk back in the ‘50s.

Except this time the enemy isn’t “over there” in the USSR, he’s right here on campus in the US of A. Maybe.

I say “he” because all the campus shooters so far have been “he’s.” They often have a history of mental health problems. They are often isolated, ostracized, angry and alienated. Their values are often distorted through immersion in a video game culture of “pretend” violence and mayhem.

The games are called, after all, “first-person shooter” games.

And so we get back to the signs: “Active Shooter Alert Drills — April 2008.”

Active shooter? As opposed to — what? — an INACTIVE shooter? And just who might the latter be? You either shoot or you don’t.

In fact, the wording of the announcements is surreal.

The poster’s text begins: “What: The Sylvania campus will hold an Active Shooter Drill Alert” (Campuses are places. They don’t hold anything. Campus security officials are the ones behind this.) (Could there be a homeland security acronym lurking here: ASDA anyone?)

The poster continues: “The drills offer an opportunity to practice a non-evacuation emergency and are DIFFERENT than the fire alarm drill.”

Note the bold, ital, underlined, pull-out-the-stops typography. Somebody is trying to make a point, without actually making it.

I lingered over the inviting words “offer an opportunity.” The authors are suggesting that the reader could take or leave the drill. Still, just in case one of your classmates turns out to be a homicidal, loaded-for-bear whacko, you might want to seize this “opportunity” for a little “non-evacuation emergency” “practice.”

But then the “opportunity” escalated into a requirement. “An alarm will be sounded; EVERYONE (bold, ital, underlined, pull-out-the-stops again) currently on campus will carry out the Active Shooter Alert Drill, and (bold, ital, underlined) ALL BUILDINGS AND ALL COMMON AREAS WILL PARTICIPATE IN THE DRILL

So much for take-it-or-leave-it.

The poster notes that on three dates in April, the alarm will sound. And will continue to sound until there is an all clear. For the purposes of the drill, the alarm will last three minutes.

And what are those on campus to do? “Wherever you are, seek the safest place possible and conceal and cover yourself.”


“Safest place possible”? Any hints on where that might be?

“Conceal”? Suggestions? Should I bring camouflage netting?

“Cover yourself”? Like with what? Psychology textbooks? Health insurance?

All of which raises a really pressing historical question: Whatever happened to pep rallies?

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