Saturday, June 07, 2008

Buying, selling and ignoring media time

I’m preparing to teach a class, “Mass Media and Society,” which I haven’t taught in, (could it be?) 35 years.

There have been a few changes in both media and society. I have work to do.

I’m considering a thematic thread built on the widely accepted notion that communication defines a culture.

The idea has taken me to Edward Hall’s work as well as that of the late James Carey.

I’ll return to them in future posts, but my recent thoughts have been about cultural definitions of time and how media contribute to them.

Networks “sell” and advertisers “buy” broadcast time. The economic model is an obvious extension of our being paid for the time we work. And like our pay, some time, “prime” time for instance, is more “valuable” than other time, depending on how many people have gathered around their TVs to watch.

Hence the need for audience "ratings."

Other media time is more valuable because of the “quality” the audience. The more money you have, the more valuable you are. (I did say this was about our culture, didn’t I?)

Then we have smut-free “family hour” and the Saturday morning cartoons packed with ads, and the “news hour.” Of course the news is always “up-to-the-minute” or “on the hour.”

We have 24-hour-news cycles, which presumably shouldn’t be confused with what some still call “days.”

So we live, and perceive significance, in lockstep with time as media shape it.

I frequently have my students take media fasts. No media for three days. Cold turkey!

They find the exercise either to be ecstasy (“I had the best conversation with my dad, EVER!) or utter agony (“I felt TOTALLY out of touch.”)

A better, more illuminating exercise might be to have them go on a timeless fast. To live a day without ever checking a clock or asking what time it is. To eat when they are hungry. Sleep when they are weary. Oh, and don’t watch TV, check the internet or listen to the radio.

The media are all of a “piece” — an artificial “time piece.”

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Naming wrongs

I’ve wondered about the mental stability — yes, that’s the phrase that comes to mind — of the super-rich who feel compelled to splash their names on edifices they have paid for. Right here in Oregon the names of Robert Pamplin, Jr., Jordan Schnitzer, Phil Knight, Harry Merlo come to mind)

Of course these men (they always seem to be men) owe their fortunes to others (people called employees and customers and, in some cases, relatives. Teachers probably deserve some credit too).

But never mind. Inevitably their own names go on the museums, soccer fields, gymnasiums, academic lecture halls and the like.

In the mental health community, they call this “narcissism.”

Why must they do this?

If you drive I-5, as you approach Eugene, a taxpayer-paid-for exit sign tells you that if you take the next exit you can visit the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

I imagine Mr. Schnitzer, who is very much alive, driving the interstate and basking in the glory of it all. He can exit at his very own exit.

As for the rest of us, we might well wonder, “Who the hell is Jordan Schnitzer and why is his name being thrust in my face on this public by-way?”

Why indeed? I have no answer except for my reference to certain mental abnormalities.

Mr. Schnitzer happens to be a neighbor, of sorts. When I climb to higher elevations, I walk by his very large house with its sweeping view of the metropolis. I’m sure he is an honorable man, but why couldn’t he have insisted, nay, demanded, that the University of Oregon museum be named after a muse, a vision, a great cause, a virtue or a humble worker in his family’s steel plant?

Likewise, Messers Pamplin, Knight and Merlo. All of these men are, like Mr. Schnitzer, alive and answerable. It remains to be seen whether they are aware. Perhaps they will tell us. We eagerly await their response.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fewer male than female high school honorees — again

Each year I turn to The Oregonian’s honor roll of Portland high school graduates in hopes that a troubling phenomenon of recent years has reversed itself.

Will young males at least reach some kind of parity with female graduates on the honors list? What about the near absence of African-American males from the group?

Today’s “In Portland” section honored 117 graduates from Portland public and private high schools. The article calls them those “who rose to the top of their classes.”

There were 34 young men on the list. Less than one-third of the total. Not one appeared to be an African-American male.

Plenty has been written about young males lagging behind their female peers. Vis this issue of Newsweek and the book “Raising Cain.”

There are several causes. Certainly the popular culture embraced by adolescent males promotes non-academic values. Indeed it seems almost anti-intellectual and anti-social.

For years, the dominant culture of young African-American males has disparaged academically ambitious colleagues who have sought to excel academically, accusing them of giving in to “white” values. Though popular culture role models for young black men have been harmful, the success of Barack Obama’s candidacy could mark a major turning point and certainly will provide a new model for success.

Another catalyst for change among young black men are organizations like A2Mend.

As we acknowledge and honor the achievements of the best and the brightest in the Class of 2008, we should ask ourselves why whole segments of the student population are so grossly under-represented — and vow to do something about it.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Walk to Attendance

My walks were full of incidents. I attended not to the affairs of Europe, but to my own affairs in Concord fields.
Henry David Thoreau

My choice of transportation is changing. I’m using my feet more. I left the car at home in the driveway again at mid-day, and this evening I set out again, walking the mile or so to our Hillsdale Neighborhood Association.

Halfway there, I had a leisurely burger and beer with friends at the neighborhood pub.

Good timing. Good company.

As it turned out, changing transportation habits were on the neighborhood association’s agenda, indirectly. The subtext was global warming and alternative energy as 25 of us settled into the church commons room.

We spent considerable time discussing whether we should approve of the school district's and the City’s plans to install a massive $900,000 solar array of panels along a busy street.

The bad news is that the panels are butt-ugly, functional slabs. The good news is that we don’t pay for them, federal tax incentives attract investors, the array sets a solar example for the area, and the package comes with a solar curriculum for nearby Rieke Elementary School studentes.

Oh, and Rieke buys and uses the power.

But here’s the killer: Because Congress, in its deliberative wisdom, hasn’t extended the tax credits beyond this year, there’s a huge rush to get this thing approved and installed. And the incentive deadline is driving demand for panels. That, in turn, is pushing up the prices.

We seem headed for a good idea executed poorly and expensively. The discussion left me decidedly cranky. My neighbors grudgingly voted for the project. I abstained.

Another long discussion ensued. This one was about an impossibly expensive and unfunded change to a maze of streets north of here on the way to downtown. Having walked all day, I was in a pedestrian frame of mind.

Several of us urged the city officials to drop plans to make commuter traffic move more quickly from here to downtown. Instead, do whatever it takes to get people out of their cars. If General Motors, Ford and Exxon/Mobil can do their parts with road-hogs and stratospheric gas prices, the least the neighborhood association can do is to weigh in on making it more, not less, difficult to get downtown by car.

Get people to work at home on their computers. Dedicate lanes to buses. Cause traffic to back up on the car lanes. Bring back The Red Electric (the commuter train. Note the photo and blog name honoring the distinctive trains. I'm biased.). Raise prices on downtown parking.

Slow down, relax, get real and save the planet.

Afterwards, I walked home along darkened streets that followed paths that early pioneers once followed through deep forests.

With each step, I walk forward and backward in time to a simpler life. We may all be headed there. With our new-found wisdom (solar energy, wind power and zero emissions), fewer material desires and love of where we find ourselves, this is a good place to be.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

YIKES! A route waaaay too far

Mystery solved!

See the comment on yesterday's post regarding the Yellow Griffin Road — and thanks to "JW" for cluing us in.

Those yellow griffins were trail markers for a grueling 40-mile bike event in April. In the days ahead, I may follow more griffin marks on foot, but from the bikers' descriptions of the route, it will be no promenade.

JW, inquiring minds want to know: Why the griffins?


Denali summit achieved!

Some of you may recall that my neighbor Frances Cook alerted me a few days ago that Hillsdale neighbor Steve Evans and friends are climbing Alaska's 20,000-foot Denali (Mt. McKinley).

For those of you who haven't been tracking their progress on Steve's web site, Frances writes to report that Steve and his crew have made the summit.

Congratulations and a safe descent!

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Following the Yellow Griffin Road

I set out this afternoon to see where these yellow-stenciled street creatures would take me. To make it a quest, I took to calling it “On the Trail of the Yellow Griffins,” for griffins (and yellow) they were. Dozens of them on the streets of our Portland hills and dales.

I linked up with the nearest griffin to me, the one at the bottom of our hill. Its arrow sent me more or less westerly. The marks appeared only when needed, no sooner. Sometimes I’d walk several blocks before seeing one, usually at an intersection. Without the marking, I'd be at a loss which way to turn.

At times during the long intervals between griffins, I worried that my guides had forsaken me.

I had no idea why the griffins and their directional arrows had been stenciled on the pavement. Part of my quest was to discover the reason. At times, when I’d walk several hundred yards without a mark, I’d worry that perhaps the griffins were for some event that had come and gone, its large heraldic banners removed, the lords and ladies returned to their castles.

But then, just as I was about to despair, another mark would appear.

I was on foot, getting in my 10,000 steps for the day, but the markers weren’t on favored bucolic paths. They were always stenciled on the road pavement, seemingly intended to guide cars or bikes or motorcycles.

Most of today’s trek took me in a large loop around the Bridlemile neighborhood. Up past Bridlemile School (and cart-wheeling children in the playground) and Hamilton Park, up through the Fifties subdivision with its rambling “mid-Century classics." The streets were quiet. A friendly, lonely, unleashed hound greeted me with a sniff and a nudge. The steep route delivered me to busy Dosch Road and forced me to walk down along its narrow, dangerous shoulder. The loop ended at Dosch and Hamilton, but another griffin pointed to the route's next leg, up Hamilton on the way to Fairmount via Twombly.

At Twombly, I decided to leave that final ascent for another day. I'd walked nearly three miles.

In my walks elsewhere in recent days, I’ve spotted other yellow griffins, so I know that the continuation route and its makers will send me far from today’s Bridlemile loop.

As I hiked, I imagined a pair of midnight stencilers with their spray paint, marking the way. As I followed their directions, I felt as though I were being reeled in, but to where?

A damsel in distress?

A holy grail?

A cold beer?

Or was their game simply part of the same whimsy that I felt following the path, enjoying a journey that seemed certain to take me back to where I began — to the street at the bottom of our hill, to the perch we call our home?

PS: I asked a couple of days ago (“Two Unrelated Questions") whether anyone knew about the griffins on the pavement. No one has answered, so I'm answering, slowly.

I also quoted part of a speech and asked whether anyone recognized the speaker. Michael Ponder did, citing the most famous reference in the speech: its warning of the military-industrial complex. The speaker, of course, was President Dwight Eisenhower, delivering his farewell address. If you go back to the excerpt, you will see that while Eisenhower holds out hope, he warns of dangers and foibles, which nearly a half century later, persist.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

An Embrace of Peace

One of my fellow worshippers at this morning’s Quaker meeting shared with us that she had spent her Memorial Day with her father, a World War II veteran. He loves war , she said, and part of her visit to Indiana entailed enduring a VFW event where all things militaristic were venerated.

My Friend/friend had suffered through the ceremony in silence and in respect for the dead.

When it came my turn to speak this morning, her ordeal moved me to share that my father also had been a World War II veteran.

He had come home from the Asian theater with a deep, abiding hatred for war. A flight surgeon, he often had the duty of rushing to the wreckage of B-29s that had crash-landed at the air base.

He would search through the burned out hulks, searching for the broken and charred bodies of his friends.

He found no glory in war.

Before the war, my father had been a religious man, my mother confided in me. After it, he was cynical about the spirit and a benevolent God. Life had become a kind of fool’s game. He seemed to hold much of it at bay.

I told my colleagues sitting in our circle at the meeting this morning that my father’s hatred of war was a major reason for my being among them, for my being a Quaker. He had instilled his aversion to war in his son.

When, in my teens, I had occasion to visit the vast and somber World War I military cemeteries in northern France, I again witnessed the evil of war. When I became acquainted with Quaker beliefs in college, I found a spiritual refuge.

I remember when I was faced with a middling draft lottery number during the Vietnam War, my father had advised enlisting in the Coast Guard. A safe alternative, it seemed a “patriotic” accommodation with what he saw as, at best, a dubious conflict.

I had served three years in the Peace Corps in Africa. My work among the Kenyan people had nurtured “peace” in my heart. I told my father that I would either flee to Canada or go to jail.

As events played out, I never had to make the choice.

To this day, I cleave to the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world . . , ,”

If only the whole world would accept our testimony. In our quiet, persistent way, Quakers extend the invitation, urging the embrace of peace.

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