Friday, May 23, 2008

Terence O'Donnell's gift: eons in a paragraph

Powell’s Books had Terence O’Donnell’s brief history of Oregon, “That Balance so Rare” on sale for $7.98. I couldn’t pass it up even though I have a copy. This one will be a gift.

Indeed the little book is a gift to the entire state.

The first paragraph alone is gift enough. The rest of “That Balance so Rare” flows from it.

I urge you to read the following aloud to hear the poetry in the prose.

“The great cataclysmic events were over: exploding mountains, lava floods, draining seas, the massive, dragging glaciers — all this cosmic tumult, breaking up the land and reforming it eon after eon, had finally spent itself. Rivers, rain, wind, and pounding surf continued to age the earth’s face, but in general, what we now call Oregon is what finally came to rest ten thousand years ago. “

How can you stop? You don't....

“Then, as now, the Pacific drove in to crash against the high-cliffed coast while ocean clouds drifted east to drench with rain the seaward slopes of what we have come to call the Coast Range. Beyond the mountains, the long valley lay with its meander of river — though here there is a difference then and now: it is believed before humans came, the valley floor was forest rather than the present open plain….From the estuaries and rain forest of the coast to the valley — lush and almost tropical — to the interior with its distances and skies and tingling, sage-scented air, it was a landscape of ravishing variety, as it is today.”

I had the privilege of knowing Terence in the last years of his life. I would invite him, a rumpled figure with a cane, to my classes where he charmed, cajoled and inspired, just as his writing did — and does.

What a blessing to have these lyrical words.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008


As I read today about Honda’s new push to produce hybrid vehicles, it struck me that I am a hybrid reader and that we are all caught somewhere in hybrid-itis.

The traditional American auto industry and the raditional information media (formerly known as newspapers and television newscasts) are both on the wane and being transformed by new, energy-efficient technologies.

The American auto industry is in a death embrace of the internal combustion engine (and to oil companies — did someone say “auto/oil cabal”?). Detroit, which is joined at the hip to the likes of Exxon /Mobil and Chevron, is in its death throes.

Today Ford announced that it will not hit its target of profitability by 2009. Why are we not surprised? Unlike Honda and Toyota, Ford has merely dabbled in non-gasoline consuming technologies. Dearborn and General Motors still rely on dinosaur SUVs and pickups. Only good ole boys are buying.

It’s utter speculation but I’m convinced that the oil companies must give Detroit some kind of kickback to offset the massive losses the auto-makers seem committed to making—all in the name of gasoline consumption.

The news industry’s is loosening its tie to the printed and has been more nimble. It doesn’t seem to have suicidal links to Big Pulp, the paper industry. Still, as I’ve noted before, the news business's transition to the web isn’t going to be easy. It’s still unclear where revenue will come from to support quality journalism. Foundations? Readers?

But enough about them. What about us?

Take me, for example. I still drive a standard Toyota RAV4 (yes, there was once an leaseable all-electric version, vis. the film “Who killed the electric car?")

Partly because of the price of gas and partly because I’m on a walking jag (the 10,000 Steps Program), I find myself using the RAV less and less. I walk and take the bus whenever I can. Defying death, I also use my scooter, weather permitting. It gets 70 mpg. Filing its small tank costs $3.50 max.

My guess is that when Honda unveils its hybrid Fit next year, I may pop for one. I’ll probably have to give the RAV away, or pay someone to take it. It gets 23 mpg.

And I am, unlike most of my college students, a hybrid reader. I retrive two newsprint editions (The Oregonian and the New York Times) from my driveway each morning. I've taken to reading the New York Times both on-line and in print. The Oregonian’s web site, Oregon Live, still leaves a lot to be desired, so I get most of my local news in print. That is certain to change in the next year or so.

Change is what it is all about — and just in time.

The internet and hybrid automobile technology (with plug –in, all-electric cars to come in a year or two) will be necessities, if only because of their less polluting energy efficiency. And yes, all-electric energy in the post-Bush world (eight months and counting!) will come from non-polluting solar, sea and wind generation.

Thoughts of my being a hybrid reader lead to the fact that we are hybrid consumers. We have hybrid-itis.

It will pass.

Hybrid, as the name suggests, is a half-way, mixed status. It will last until we fully create and support a sustainable world.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Untenable: Why a top McCain ad strategist quit

The resignation of Mark McKinnon, John McCain’s “chief advertising strategist” (an ominous title), carries the scent of something rotten.

McKinnon’s stated reason for stepping down is that he doesn’t want to work against Barack Obama, even though McKinnon disagrees with the Democratic candidate on several issues, including the Iraq War.

Last summer in a Cox News Service interview, McKinnon had vowed not to work against Obama in the general election. Tuesday, he acted on it.

The putrefaction comes from the “work” McKinnon would have been doing for McCain in the months ahead.

Think “Willie Horton,” “Swift boating,” and most recently “appeasement,” “lapel pinning,” and “albatross hanging” (in the form of Obama’s pastor and acquaintance with a ‘60s radical).

Read between the lines of the New York Times story about the resignation. My interpretation is that McKinnon didn’t want to be party to the character assassination of Obama, a man McKinnon has described as having “deep character and good judgment.”

McKinnon said of Obama in the Cox News interview, “I also think he’s wrong on some fundamental issues. But I believe he is honest and independent.”

If Obama is “wrong on some fundamental issues,” why can’t McKinnon continue working for McCain, with whom McKinnon agrees on those issues?

Silly me. I forgot that politics isn’t about fundamental issues; it’s about red-meat "attack" ads, distortions, innuendos and smears.

I'm guessing that McKinnon has concluded that he wants no part of the Republicans’ strategy against Obama.

Which raises the question of why McKinnon presumably would have stuck with McCain if Hillary Clinton were the Democratic nominee. Is it somehow OK to tear down Hillary? If so, why?

The Times story is laced with hedging and fudging. Take this line: “Mr. McKinnon had told friends, and some journalists, that he did not want to be part of a hard-fought campaign against such an historic candidacy.”

Not part of a “hard-fought campaign”? What did he want, a half-hearted, leisurely campaign conducted from the Bahamas?

No, “hard-fought” is political code for “smear.”

And what does history have to do with it? McKinnon had told Cox that an Obama presidency would “send a great message to the country and the world.”

Did McKinnon not want to be remembered by history for waging a racist campaign against a black man capable of bearing such a great message? Could the “race card” be what McCain’s “strategists” are preparing to deal? Maybe McKinnon thought it was OK to go after Clinton because she and her “strategists” are using the same tactics against Obama.

Sounds to me as if Mr. McKinnon was having gastrointestinal problems during McCain “strategy” sessions. Maalox wasn’t working. It was time to invoke last year's vow.

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Novick falls in line, embraces Merkley

In this morning’s Oregonian’s front page story about Jeff Merkley’s Senate primary victory ignored the candidacy of independent John Frohnmayer. Walsh casts the general election race as two-candidate match-up with Merkley running against Republican Sen. Gordon Smith.

Merkley should be so lucky.

The story also reports on Novick's backing Merkley and makes no mention of Novick's bitterly saying during the campaign that, if he lost, he would vote for Frohnmayer. (See yesterday's Red Electric post.)

Last night, all was forgiven as the conceding Novick said,“(Merkley) is going to be a great United States senator, and we’re going to help him.”

Could Novick's campaign remark to Willamette Week become campaign fodder for the fall?

"Merkley's major primary opponent once said he preferred John Frohnmayer to Jeff Merkley. I'm Gordon Smith, I'm trying to divide the liberal vote, and I approve this message."

By the way, the on-line version of the Oregonian story doesn’t include the quote from Novick’s concession speech. Like the print version, it doesn't mention Frohnmayer.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Will Novick endorse Frohnmayer?

If the results for the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate nomination hold up over night, will a losing Steve Novick endorse independent John Frohnmayer over the apparent Democratic winner, Jeff Merkley?

Novick’s concession speech might provide a different answer from the one Novick gave in a candidate interview with Willamette Week last month.

If Novick sticks with what he told Willamette Week, he could throw his support to Frohnmayer, undercutting Merkley’s chances against Sen. Gordon Smith in the three-way race.

Here is the transcript of the Willamette Week interview of the four Democratic Senate primary candidates:

WW: Steve, who would you vote for [if you could not vote for yourself]?
Novick: I would vote for John Frohnmayer.
WW: He is not in this room.
Novick: (12 second pause) I have a very hard time answering that.
WW: You are going to have to make a hell of a lot harder decisions when you are on the floor of the Senate.
Novick: (31 second pause) I'd wait several weeks because I'd want to see whether Speaker Merkley continues to run the kind of campaign he has run against me ... [subsequent details omitted]
WW: OK, given what you know now.
Novick: Given what I know now, I would vote for Candy Neville.
WW: You like Frohnmayer [inaudible].
Novick: I think John Frohnmayer, with all due respect, has presented a thorough discussion of the major issues facing the country, and his positions are extremely progressive.

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Tapping into Oregon's independent streak

As we await the results of the Merkley/Novick contest to see who will take on Sen. Gordon Smith for the Democrats, it’s worth revisiting the campaign of independent John Frohnmayer.

Weeks ago, in talking with John about his U.S. Senate candidacy (we go back to college days), not surprisingly he put it in its best light. I mentioned a couple of his talking points in yesterday’s post.

He has name recognition (thanks largely to his brother David), and Vermont and Connecticut have both elected independents to the Senate. So it can be done.

I suggested that lack of money could be a problem for John. Of course, independent Senators Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders had a long history of winning elective office and creating political bases and networks. Think, money and volunteers.

Frohnmayer has virtually none of that. His highest public office, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (not “Humanities” as I incorrectly stated in my post yesterday), was appointive.

But John made another point that is worth considering. The “independent” label is a good one to have in this state — and in this year.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain share a streak of independence. So far it has helped them in 2008.

Obama decries the partisanship that has divided Washington. His whole being background speaks of independence.

McCain has a record of bucking the Republican establishment, although his acceptance of Bushite positions on several key issues is damages his prospects.

Oregon voters historically have embraced independent-minded politicians. Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield are the two most prominent examples, even though they wore party labels. As early, outspoken opponents of the Vietnam War, both were in a minority in their parties.

Interestingly, Morse began as a Republican, then served a term as an independent before becoming a Democrat. Always the maverick, as a Democrat, Morse supported Republican Hatfield's candidacy for the Senate against a hawkish Democrat, Robert Duncan.

Frohnmayer has been a Republican, then was briefly a Democrat and now is an independent, supported by the Oregon Independent Party.

The word “independent” continues to resonate with many Oregonians of both the left and right. They find a lot to dislike about both parties and about two-party hegemony in general.

About one-third of registered voters call themselves independents. That’s a base Frohnmayer hopes he can count on and build on. And although small compared to the Oregon Democratic and Republican parties, the Independent Party is now the third largest in the state. It takes a hands-off position when it comes to where its candidates stand on the issues.

Although right now the Frohnmayer candidacy seems like a long shot, it could take hold if it can tap into Oregon’s deep independent streak and into the public’s desire for change — not only in the policies and political rancor of the last eight years, but also in the two-party system.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Frohnmayer Factor

If you believe that the outcome of Tuesday’s primary for the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate nomination will determine the one-on-one match-up against Sen. Gordon Smith, think again.

As things stand now, Oregonians will be left with a three-way race. The Democratic winner is going to have to deal with “The Frohnmayer Factor.” That’s the independent candidacy of John Frohnmayer, who is staking out a hard-left positions on issues near to the hearts of many Oregon Democrats.

Frohnmayer, who is an old friend of mine, has been virtually invisible since he declared his candidacy last fall (calling for the impeachment of the president). All the press attention has gone to the hotly contested Democratic primary race between Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick.

Neither has mentioned Frohnmayer. And the press ignores his impact. Note this current Talking Points Memo story. Not a word about Frohnmayer.

But after tomorrow, the three-way race will be on, and the press and the Democratic Party will have to get real.

In my view, and as much as I hate to say it, Smith is certain to win re-election as things stand now. Frohnmayer will peel off enough Democratic voters to prevent a Democratic victory.

Of course John is adamant he can win as an independent. He points to Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont as examples of successful Senate independents.

He adds that his name is well known to Oregon voters. Brother Dave is a former state attorney general and the president of the University of Oregon. John himself was chair of the National Endowment for the Arts under George H.W. Bush until Congressional conservatives, waging culture war, forced Frohnmayer out.

As much as I like John and his positions, he is engaging in wishful thinking. With no political base, he can’t come near to matching rival campaign coffers filled by Democratic and Republican contributors and by lobbyists.

The only question left is whether Democrats can persuade John to withdraw.

Who is the most persuasive: Merkley or Novick? And how could either of them make it worth Frohnmayer’s while to step aside?

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Choosing Lloyd Reynolds over Barack Obama

Three days before the election, on a hot Sunday afternoon, I faced a choice between Barack Obama and Lloyd Reynolds.

It was a choice that only Portland could offer.

I chose Reynolds, a Portland treasure, even though he’s been dead for nearly 30 years.

The legendary professor of calligraphy, handwriting and, ultimately, life, was as charismatic, in his own way, as Obama is before a throng.

While Obama spoke to thousands in Waterfront park, nearly 200 of us jammed into the First Unitarian Church, a dozen blocks away, to hear Reynolds’ students praise their mentor and inspiration.

Many of us were drawn to the event by an excellent article by Bob Hicks in Saturday’s Oregonian.

We were mostly a gray-haired, devote assemblage. Perhaps one-third, when asked whether they had been Reynolds' students, raised their hands.

Several spoke of Reynolds’ influence on them. Inspired by Reynolds, Inga Dubay and Barbara Getty went on to teach doctors how to write clearly — and safely. After at least 150 presentations, the two estimate they’ve taught between 4,000 and 5,000 physicians how to make their writing legible.

As one emergency room physician told Dubay, “You’ve probably saved more lives than I have.”

The highlight of the Reynolds’ event was Reynolds himself, as seen in an old OPB video clip of him teaching a on-air class. The clip lasted only three or four minutes, but in that time Reynolds made one telling literary reference and got in a dig at the emerging vocabulary of graphic design. “I hate the word ‘layout,’” he scoffed. “We 'lay out' corpses!” Letters and words should be alive, not dead, he scolded.

The audience, many of them members of Portland Society for Calligraphy, laughed and nodded at hearing their mentor and teacher again. In 1968, Reynolds founded the society, which began as the “Western American Branch of the Society for Italic Handwriting" but mercifully simplified its name in 1983, five years after Reynolds died.

But listening to the stories about Reynolds, it's hard to imagine that he died at all. The audience was alive with and enthralled by his spirit.

Turns out that the very screen I am writing on was Reynolds-inspired. Bob Hicks, in his Oregonian story, recounts how Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and present CEO, was briefly a student at Reed College and was moved by the Reynolds legacy on the campus and by the master calligrapher's celebration of the written word. Jobs studied under Reynolds' hand-picked successor at Reed, Robert Palladino. Early on in the development of Apple's computers, Jobs made sure that their screens reproduced typography that was crisp, clear and beautiful.

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