Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Joy of Summertime

I've shared Gene Harris's rendition of "Summertime" with you before, but his musical celebration seems particularly apt for today, the first day of summer, the summer solstice.

Get ready for a joy ride into summer!

May you have as much fun with your summer time as Gene, Ray Brown and Jeff Hamilton did with theirs.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Have we been run over by our search engines?

An article in the current issue of The Atlantic posits the idea that the internet is remolding the way we read — and ultimately the way we think. See “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicolas Carr.

The speculation shouldn’t surprise us. All major technological changes in the way we communicate reshape us in some way.

The inventions of the written word, the printing press, the telegraph, the television and now the internet all changed how we think.

The written word allowed knowledge to be recorded, eliminating the need for it to be memorized and passed on orally, and often inaccurately.

The printing press allowed that knowledge to be widely shared and led to the need for literacy and greater knowledge.

The telegraph freed communication for the constraints of the time needed to carry messages across physical space.

Television (and film and photographs) undermined rational, sequential thinking and tapped into non-verbal emotions and the subconscious. (Question: How do you "read" a picture?)

The internet has made vast (and overwhelming) amounts of information and knowledge instantly available.

They all to various degrees resulted in "media addiction."

McLuhan was right, of course: The medium is the message. As new media are invented, the very nature of messages change. And that change changes us as we struggle to understand.

So, is Google making us stupid?

The question begs for a “yes” or “no” answer. But the real answer is somewhere between — or above, or below — those extremes. The Internet is "remaking" us. It’s up to us to figure out how, what the changes mean to us as individuals, as a culture, as a species, and what, if anything, we can do about it.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where's the Rage?

Apparently Red Electric readers have had trouble posting comments. A couple of months ago I decided to screen comments, but I inadvertently set up a barrier requiring user IDs. I think I have that fixed now, so feel free to comment.

One of the responses that didn't make it through the gantlet was from a Lizi Zach, a friend and former student. Lizi lives in Berlin where, much to her relief, the Germans know that Americans are better in every way than the inhabitant of the White House.

She writes regarding my recent comment that various forms of government would have disposed of George W. Bush long ago:

"....saw your piece on Bush, The Decider. Right on.

I meet with my boss every year to go over long-term and short-term goals and if the annual ones are not met, my job is on the line. The Iowa floods are one such test for Bush. But what of Osama bin Laden? Iraq and 'mission accomplished'? As I mentioned to you on the phone a couple weeks ago: Where is the rage?"

We may not know exactly where it is, but I have a pretty good idea of when it will express itself: Nov. 4.

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Reinhard on Russert

It isn’t often that Oregonian columnist David Reinhard and I are on the same planet in terms of our beliefs. Mind you I know David, and despite his opinions, which seem to channel some backroom Republican Party Talking Points operation, I like the guy.

On those rare occasions when we get together (I have invited him to my journalism classes from time to time) we have even surprised each other by agreeing. And when we disagree we do it agreeably, which amazes many students.

So I was surprised to read in today’s Oregonian David’s sharing some of my views about the late and much celebrated Tim Russert. David and I agree that Russert was a nice guy and a solid journalist, but in death he has been mourned to excess — mostly as a celebrity. Celebrities as, as someone wisely put it, are those who are famous for being famous.

The over-the-top publicity about Russert's death cheapens journalism and Russert's deeds.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim, I hardly knew ye

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times on Tuesday, Dene Lusby of Scottsdale, Arizona, wrote: “There was Tim Russert, and there was everyone else. Now there’s only everyone else.”

Since the outpouring of tributes to Russert, the NBC News fixture who died Friday at age 58, I have felt like a stranger in a strange land. I remember Murrow, vaguely, but know his courage. I studied under his alter-ego, Fred Friendly, a man of driving intensity. Cronkite had his moments of bravery, when he at last spoke out against the Vietnamese War.

And Bill Moyer’s, still very much alive, remains a voice of integrity and conscience.

But Russert?

Another Times letter writer, Kim Zeitlin of Potomac, Maryland, praised Russert for his “penetrating objectivity.” I’m not even sure what that means. I think it is related to the journalist’s stock-in-trade, the ability to ask “penetrating” questions of each and every comer without fear or favor.

That should be a given. Unfortunately in these days of schmooze and glitz, it isn’t.

I can’t think of when I watched Russert. Certainly not on “Meet the Press.” I’m wrapped in silence at our Quaker meetinghouse worship in during the televised political chatting. If something worth knowing is on the Sunday morning news interview programs, it usually shows up in Monday’s paper.

I must have caught Russert moderating a presidential debate, but again, that’s not exactly spadework. His election night commentary was informative, but that is what it is supposed to be.

No, I think that Russert became for many a guy they liked. A favorite uncle. A helpful neighbor. Affable, modest, articulate, fair-minded. If his death has left television journalism bereft of those qualities, that would be a loss. But it hasn’t. The screen abounds with such newscasters. At times I think of them as cultivators of popularity, who, of course, reap large audiences, which, in turn, net massive advertising revenue.

To be watchable, broadcast journalists, video guests in your living room, need these qualities to meet all the standards of ratings success.

But the times require more. We need truth seekers and truth-tellers. Think Moyers, Murrow, Friendly and Cronkite.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Walking in the Moment

One of the joys of settling into a community is knowing enough people to recognize and greet them on my walks. And on this 10,000 Steps program,I’ve been doing a lot of walking for the past two months, and a lot of meeting.

Instead of measuring walks by steps I should measure them by encounters with neighbors. Today’s walk was a five-neighbor walk, for example. I'm never quite sure whom I will meet, which is part of the fun of it.

Often neighbors who are driving will just pull over to say “hi.” They frequently offer me a lift, but I explain that I have to get my daily 10,000 steps in.

The other thing that has been happening on the walks is that I have been having these oxygenated thoughts. I guess that’s a good description. They are almost little epiphanies.

Today, as I passed a group of pre-schoolers on their way to play in Gabriel Park, I made a point of looking at their faces carefully, trying to imagine each of them as their parents must see them – cherished, wondrous beings.

Twenty children must have filed by me. Each so different and each utterly cherished.

As I passed a fellow walker talking on her cell phone, I also got into the reality of carrying my cell phone with me. I’ve resisted it and rarely use it. But recently I’ve accepted having it with me as part of what it means to be a 21st Century human being. The technology has changed who we are and how we relate to each other.

Isolation is a choice we now must make, no matter where we are.

A final ‘walking’ thought is related to a post ("Time that 'slips off the mind'") from a couple days ago. I had remarked how in our culture fixation on the future consumes the past, while in other cultures the indelible past destroys the future. It is worth adding that in yet other cultures the present – “the eternal now” – is so important, so much the focus of being, that the concepts of past and future vanish.

Seeing the faces of those children, really regarding them one-by-one as they passed me, was such an experience of the moment. A momentous experience.

Final note: This is the first post I have composed on my new Neo. More about that tomorrow.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Newspapers as "hard copy"

The newspaper lexicon is changing as print struggles to survive — in some form or other.

The Portland Tribune is now calling itself a "daily newspaper” even though the daily edition is entirely on-line.

Paper has nothing to do with The Tribune as a "daily newspaper.” And if more editorial staffers are cut, neither will news.

What was once called its newspaper, printed on real paper, is now called “hard copy” and appears only on Thursdays. Free in green distribution boxes, such a publication was referred to as a "free-distribution" weekly newspaper.

“Hard copy,” on the other hand, was what came out of reporters' typewriters when they finished writing. The reporters gave it to a “copy boy” who would take it to the "copy desk," and eventually a “copy editor.” It never got to the street as “copy.”

With the arrival of the computer, "hard copy" was a print-out of what was on the screen. Often mistakes that eluded writers and editors on the screen, jumped out at them on hard copy. They still do.

Now, courtesy of the Tribune, we all can read “hard copy,” presumably without mistakes. Tribune “hard copy” is available at in those ubiquitous “Hard Copy” boxes.

But I doubt that the boxes will be around much longer. I give them and "hard copy" five years — tops.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

A walk in the Gorge

A walk in the Columbia River Gorge on one of the best days in weeks offered my little Olympus a trove of photos. Here's a sample.