Saturday, May 10, 2008

Judgment and Joy: Confessions of a litter gatherer

The mind goes to strange places on a SOLV litter-collection patrol as I was this morning.

Our stretch of road was Capitol Highway downhill from Terwilliger and then along busy Barbur Boulevard.

It can be treacherous in places, with cars whisking by just inches from you and your bulging litter bag. So treacherous, in fact, that the mind of a fellow litter-picker-upper wandered to his obituary and what it might say if a errant, speeding car instantly turned him into so much human litter.

Occasionally I assumed the motorists perspective. I thought of myself as a kind of strange roadside attraction. I even imagined motorists wanting to thank us. Then I thanked them for not thanking us. A well-meaning honk would simply startle and distract.

I confess that I spent much of my time warding off anger. Each piece of litter represented a fellow human being’s neglect and irresponsibility. As strange as it seems, a few hundred pieces of litter can lead to a real snit.

I could feel that happening, particularly when a cigarette butt or a Styrofoam peanut would slip from the tentative grasp of my extension arm grabber. So much of the litter represented addiction. A beer can, a filter tipped butt, even a candy wrapper.

I couldn’t get too huffy because I share some of this addictions; it’s just that I don’t leave a trail of evidence behind for all to see.

I also imagined humanoid archeologists, centuries from now, sifting through some Barbur Boulevard detritus for artifacts. This very litter I was jamming into my white SOLV bag would be signs of our times. What would those scientific scavengers of the 25th Century conclude about us?

It would depend a lot on them and where our future, and their past, had delivered them. Digging along four-lane highways and striking a battered Mercedes grill (yes, I found one) or a hubcap (I snagged two), they might think we traveled too fast or too slow. Or too much or too extravagantly. Or carelessly or dangerously.

Just as I did this morning, eons from now they would find mounds of litter (garbage really) near the trailheads leading to the homeless camps tucked in the woods between Barbur and Terwilliger. What is litter to the homeless, many of them hounded by demons of one sort or another? How angry could I be with them? I thought that I could be among them — especially if I continued for days gathering wrappers and bottles and hubcaps along the roadside. Ultimately a maddening task. Their daily search for survival (warmth, food, love) is likely as maddening.

As I felt my anger building I thought of something my wife shared with me last week as we were stuck on a shuttle bus in Las Vegas traffic (don’t ask). She had heard it from her yoga instructor. “Remember,” she said, “joy is whatever is in the present moment minus our opinions about it.”

I decided to take the advice. I decided to just pick up the litter. Never mind why it was there, who left it or what 25th Century archeologists would think of it or of us.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Just — pick — it — up — and — put — it — in — the — bag.

Ah, the joy of it all!

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Stone throwing — as predicted

Steve Clark was right about Willamette Week throwing stones at Clark's front page puff piece last week about his Portland Tribune going “daily” — on the web.

The Willies went wild with Clark's verbal dance about big changes at the Tribune, where he is president and publisher.

The contrast in tone speaks volumes about the two publications. One is comfortable with itself and where it is in the new Media World. “Smug” might be a better word.

The other is tentative, defensive and spin-prone.

If you read Willamette Week’s snide deconstruction of Clark’s “story,” you’ll figure out which is which.

None of which gets to the issues that both publications must face as print vanishes from the scene. I wrote about some of them in an earlier post.

On the web, every news site is just another URL that has to prove itself.

And pay for it.

For the record, I've bookmarked both sites. Which is more than I can say for The Oregonian, which still comes to my driveway. Old habits die hard.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Hillsdale streetscape — 2020?

Knowing my obsession about Hillsdale’s blight of utility poles, wires and overhead transformers, my friend and fellow Hillsdalite Arnie Panitch sent me these photos from India.

I think he wants me to keep our little visual clutter problem in perspective.

Or maybe he just wants me to chill.

Actually, I might use these gothic street scenes to make the point that if we don’t reverse the streetscape clutter here, this may be what we have to look forward to.

Thanks for show-and-tell, Arnie.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

It's official: Food Front to open in Hillsdale

Today, after months of anticipation, Hillsdale got the news it wanted to hear. It took the form of the following press release from the Food Front Cooperative.

I’ll have a detailed story about the Food Front decision in the next Hillsdale News, which I plan to post Friday morning.

In the meanwhile, here’s the release and two photos of Food Front’s NW Thurman Street store:

Food Front Cooperative Grocery has announced that it will open its second grocery store in the Hillsdale neighborhood of SW Portland. The store will be located in the former Wild Oats space in the Hillsdale Shopping Center and is expected to open in late summer.

A formal announcement will be made in front of the store on Monday, May 12, at 10 a.m. Hillsdale residents are encouraged to come out and show their support. They will also have the opportunity to sign up as member-owners.

The reopening of the grocery store by a local cooperative will fill the void left by the closing of the Wild Oats store last fall. Whole Foods bought the Wild Oats chain last year and almost immediately closed the Hillsdale location, much to the disappointment of many people in the neighborhood. (The store formally operated as Nature’s Fresh Northwest and previous to that, Lynch’s)

Community and Business Support

In the past few months hundreds of Hillsdale residents called and emailed Food Front saying how thrilled they would be to have Food Front in the shopping center. (See comments below.) Many expressed that they particularly liked that Food Front is a community-owned store, noting it would be receptive to neighborhood needs and would not sell out to a national chain.

Several Hillsdale business owners and leaders (including Mike Roach of Paloma Clothing, and president of the Hillsdale Business Association; Dan Baack, president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association; and Chef Greg Higgins of the restaurant, Higgins) and the Hillsdale Farmer Market manager Eamon Molloy also encouraged Food Front and have offered their support. Rick Seifert, editor of the Hillsdale News, covered the story extensively for many in the Hillsdale community.

Food Front is thriving and ready for growth

Food Front is thriving in its current location at 2375 NW Thurman St. It has deep roots in Northwest Portland, operating in several NW locations over 36 years (at 2375 NW Thurman St since 1987.) Food Front has been a leader in bringing organic, natural, and local foods to market and has a deep commitment to creating a sustainable regional food system, as well as being a community builder in NW Portland.

According to Food Front General Manager Holly Jarvis, opening a second store in Hillsdale was an easy decision: “A food cooperative is a perfect solution to fulfilling the need for a neighborhood grocery store and Hillsdale is a perfect neighborhood to support a community-owned store. Opening a store in such a vibrant, co-op friendly neighborhood will improve the long-term health and vitality of the co-op. In return, the Food Front can offer a neighborhood store that focuses on the unique needs of the community and won’t be sold or controlled by absentee corporate interests.”

Community Ownership makes the difference

Food Front is organized as a cooperative which means it is owned by the people who shop there and want to take the extra step of investing in the business and its mission.

Food Front Community Outreach and Marketing Director Tom Mattox said, “Portland residents have a lot of choices when it comes to buying local and natural foods. Hillsdale residents can ensure the vitality of their new store by signing up as member-owners and by shopping at the store after it opens. We invite Hillsdale residents to visit our Northwest store and then tell us what they would like to see offered in our Hillsdale store.”

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mathematically challenged in Indiana

Waiting for Gary, Indiana, to count its votes, one word came to mind: Zimbabwe.

It's 10 p.m. and Gary's returns are coming in, at last. If my math is right, it looks as though the Indiana primary is headed for . . . a recount.

Who contrived this plot? Karl Rove?

Sodden thought: The Democratic political cyclone is swirling this way. It's enough to make me want to seek safe haven in Boise or Ellensburg. By the time the primary blows through here, even Gary, Indiana, may be safe.

A final question: What next?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

The Tribune's tricky transition

Trick question time.

The Portland Tribune has:

A) gone from publishing twice a week to being a weekly (published on Thursdays)

B) become a daily

Tribune publisher and president Steve Clark wants us to believe both A) and B) are true.

Last Friday, Clark, top executive of Robert Pamplin Jr’s Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers, wrote a front-page article titled “Tribune announces changes.”

As it appeared on the page, readers might have mistaken it for a news story, but fully the first half turned out to be corporate puffery. Clark’s by-line came at the end. The piece should have been labeled “Publisher’s note,” “To our readers” or some such.

The news describing the “changes” mentioned in the headline appeared in the seventh paragraph after the jump inside the paper.

Moreover, Clark seemed on the defensive. Why else would he take bloggers to task for being prone to “vitriolic negativity” about the Tribune? Why would he feel compelled to anticipate the Willamette Week would “throw stones”?

That said, beyond my critique of the slant and tone of his announcement, Clark won’t find any “negativity” from me, vitriolic or otherwise.

(Disclosure time: You need to know that I am paid by Clark’s Community Newspapers for a column I write in the monthly Southwest Community Connection. I founded The Connection but sold it to Clark nine years ago.)

I agree with Clark that the Tribune has become a valued journalistic asset to Portland. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it has all the virtues he attributes to it in his announcement. It certainly has many of them.

Clark and Pamplin, like so many in the newspaper business, are migrating to the Web, by degrees. Friday’s announcement marks a major leg in the baggage-laden journey. Part of the baggage is the vocabulary of journalism. A key and burdensome word is “daily.” Is an on-line website that tracks breaking news really a “daily”?

It is, but only if readers turn to it each day, as nearly every literate adult once turned to daily newspapers.

Reading habits aren’t so easily transferable from print to computer. For one thing, the competition for attention on-line is intense and wildly distracting. Moreover, the entire on-line medium is in flux. Is a newspaper site going to become a portal to video images and audio feeds? Will moving images simply overwhelm the printed word? What happens to “journalistic objectivity” in the process? (Look to cable TV news for one answer — it tanks. Cue the celebrities! Roll the violent footage! Run the gotcha sound bite!)

The other question mark is revenue. Clark’s decision to drop the Tribune's Tuesday edition cuts distribution and printing costs. But producing an on-line daily, by rights, should increase editorial costs. All Clark says in his announcement is “…we will employ fewer people in some departments.”

He had the chance to say which departments, but he conspicuously didn’t. Specifically, is he cutting editorial? If he were adding reporters — as he should to fill the news hole — he has every reason to tell us.

Reading between the lines we can conclude that the cost cutting on the production/distribution side isn’t going to free up enough revenue to bolster news coverage. The decline in advertising revenue in print isn’t offset by an increase of on-line ad revenue.

That’s the problem plaguing the industry — and journalism in general.

The question we as citizen-readers need to ask is whether the changes will leave us better or worse informed about the world around us.

I believe that, taken as a whole, the changes have the potential to leave us far better off, but only if — and it is a big “if” — we, as readers, take responsibility for seeking out the best, most trustworthy information available.

The journalist’s job is to make it available — and get paid a living wage for the work.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fear and Musing in Las Vegas

I'm accounting for myself and my absence.

I've been in Las Vegas for two days. The major, beckoning event was a relaxed and playful wedding on the 109th floor (or was it the 106th?) of the Stratosphere Casino and Hotel.

Highlights and musings:

Took in "Love," Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the Beatles, the night before the nuptials. The French acrobatic troupe gave yet another meaning to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. (Sodden thought: in the packed house of 3,000 or so, I was among the few who were the same age as the Beatles.)

Watched the dancing fountain in front of the Bellagio. Lawn sprinklers on steroids.

Tried to relax around the casino's roof-top pool (see photo) but was driven off by bombilating rap "music." What happened to Sinatra and "Fly me to the Moon"? Why is rap today's musical default?

Thunka-thunka-thunka-THUNK etc.!

Visited with extended East Coast and Midwestern family, (by my son's marriage). Anchors of sanity in a maelstrom of cacophony and bling.

Hung out with son at the Hilton's sports gambling lounge at 8 a.m.. He bet on British soccer; I watched and wondered at the millions hanging on a diving save, a photo-finish or a two-run homer in the ninth.

As millions starve, I ate my marmalade and toast, hash browns, ham slab and scrambled eggs and wondered. Walking back, we debated the morality, or immorality, of it all.

This morning, at the Vegas airport, clogged with the Sunday home bound and hungover, I bought Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." The airport Borders had several copies. In 1998, they made a movie of it. The manager said he hadn't seen it. He was afraid they had botched the book. "Loved the book," he said. He meant it.

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," was written in 1971 as a novel posing as "Gonzo journalism." It is Vegas seen through a miasma of drugs. A lot of drugs. It chronicles the hallucinations of Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, and his "attorney."

The big deals in 1971 and in the book were icons like Circus Circus, the Sands, The Flamingo and the Rat Pack.

Things have changed. For starters, in 2005, Thompson put a gun to his head and checked out of the big casino called life.

In 1971, none of the major casinos existed. Dancing fountains? A scaled-down Eiffel Tower? A Nordstrom? Neiman Marcus? A dolphin pond? Gondolas floating by Rolex shops?

No way.

But what next?

Who knows? The place is out-of-control booming. Construction cranes are everywhere. Welders work round the clock. The unchecked growth is sucking the Colorado River dry. Brown fumes hang over the desert city.

America gone amok. Bad craziness, as Thompson put it.

Flying home to Portland and normalcy, reading "Fear and Loathing," I hit this passage somewhere over Bend:

"I hate to say this," said my attorney as we sat down at the Merry-go-Round Bar on the second balcony, "but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting the Fear."

"Nonsense," I said. "We came out here to find the American Dream, and now that we're right in the vortex you want to quit." I grabbed his bicep and squeezed. "You must realize," I said, "that we've found the main nerve."

"I know," he said. "that's what gives me the Fear."

I don't know if it was zoned-out slot-jockeys, the Strip's exhaust-belching gridlock, beefy bouncers in black suits, or ostentatious cleavages slicing through the glitter, but I shared the fear.

Could this be the American Dream?

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