Saturday, July 26, 2008

One-big-birthday get-a-way to Oceanside

Ted Coonfield, a larger-than-life Oklahoman, rented the town of Oceanside (well not ALL of it) for his 60th Birthday. The hamlet west of Tillamook put on its best face.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Italian TV captures (on video) our correspondent

Lizi Zach, our resourceful Berlin correspondent, appears prominently in this "Where's Waldo"-like photo of yesterday's Obama hordes. In a white blouse, waving her American flag, she stands out in the throng.

The image appeared on Italian TV.

I asked her for more information about the speech and the crowd. Here's her response.

More about the metaphors surrounding the Berlin Wall?

I should note that the Germans still often speak of "The Wall in the Head" - they still differentiate between "Ossies" (East Germans) and "Wessies" (West Germans). It will take a few more generations before that is gone, the old thinking remains. Even I perceive each differently. Of course, there is now freedom of movement, but the East Germans are still rather used to a welfare state of sorts being unemployed, for instance, doesn't much worry them and career advancement doesn't mean a whole lot to them. They insist - despite heaps of evidence of how grotesque and entrenched the Stasi was — that "It wasn't all that bad in East Germany." I must admit that it is comments like this make "bridging" this gap with them a massive challenge.

What form did his magnetism and charisma take, from 200 feet?

The man simply has an aura - and I'm not alone in feeling this way. I will have to send you a photo from the front page of one of today's dailies. The crowd was just ga-ga over him - the photo shows him waving to this ocean of people, and it is nothing like I have ever seen here in the past eight years. And his voice and his words/speech — it has been a long time, I think, since Germans have been so moved. After nearly a decade of being slighted by American foreign policy, at long last, Europe matters again, and Obama's strong voice and eloquence cemented that yesterday.

All that said, I am not blind, and I know that a big reason he came here was pure politics — to sound out preliminary support for what he sees as the real war against terrorism — Afghanistan — and testing whether approaching Germany, should he win in November, is feasible. Chancellor Merkel has strongly ruled that out - any war-making is deeply unpopular in this nation. But he made a strong case for bilateral support for the MANY problems in the world today. The U.S. (or, better put, the neocons) have tried in vain to show that the country can go it alone, and is failing miserably at that.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exclusive: Our correspondent reports from Berlin

The Red Electric’s Berlin correspondent (and bureau chief), Elizabeth (“Lizi” to us) Zach, got to today's Obama rally early enough to push herself to the front of a crowd estimated to number 200,000.

“I was literally 200 feet from Obama,” she writes. “The man has magnetism and charisma, indeed.” (Her photo shows just how close she was to feel the attraction.)

She describes Obama’s speech as resonating with the crowd when he quoted the German statesman Ernst Reuter: "Berlin, the world is watching you!"

She reports, “The crowd went especially wild when he spoke of the world's coming together to solve the grave environmental problems facing us, and when he spoke of the struggle against torture — two global issues dear to Germans.”

Obama’s reference to the Berlin Airlift also won accolades from the crowd, she writes.

Lizi has lived in Germany for several years and has suffered through America’s fall into disrepute under the Bush Administration.

She concludes her brief dispatch with what seems to be a sense of relief — “It felt truly good to be an American today.”

P.S. Up-to-the-minute coverage like this doesn’t come cheap. Lizi expressed an interest in the 1957 Penguin edition of the “Middle East Crisis,” which I wrote about earlier in the week. It is being sent to her as compensation for her incisive and timely reporting.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TV-B-Gone update

It’s been a while since I’ve heard from Mitch Altman, the inventor of the TV-B-Gone, the little remote that turns off virtually all TV (within range), any time, any place.

Think airport bars or lounges, Les Schwab waiting rooms (I was in one on Monday), your workout gym (I was in one today), etc.

Mitch has now come out with a new “Pro SHP" (Super High Powered) model that turns off TVs within 100 meters. Air travelers, use this at your next airport layover.

Mitch’s main pitch for the device is that it fights TV intrusion in public places. Ever at the ready on your keychain, it is also a constant reminder that you can be doing more with your life than watching a screen. (Of course, as I write this, THESE VERY WORDS are dribbling across MY screen. Some call this irony; others, sheer hypocrisy. By the way, TV-B-Gones don’t work on computers. Did I hear someone sigh, “alas.”)

Here’s where you can go to see Mitch’s answers to FAQs.

Mitch’s most recent newsletter ends with a poignant, but related note about his mom. He speaks my mind.

Not everything in life is wonderful. Life is full of ups and downs.
It is part of the package. The sad thing for me now is that my mom is
dying. But she's so OK with it. She tells me that the last few years
since my dad died she used her time to do what she really loves,
including traveling all over the world. She feels lucky and grateful
to have used her time to do what she loves. You never know where life
will take you. A few weeks ago she was bopping up and down mountains
in Jordan. Suddenly she's living her last few days. I love her, and
of course I'll miss her, but I am happy that she is happy. And it
drives home one of my main messages that I'd like to repeat for you:
making good use of the precious time we have in our lives can be so
very powerful — it affects everything we see and do and feel.

Please choose well what you do with the time of your life.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What if there were no newspapers?

The textbook I use in my Mass Media and Society class poses a compelling question:

What if there were no newspapers?

That’s no idle question. Newspapers as we have known them are fast disappearing.

Part of the answer to the question depends on what, if anything, we replace newspapers with.

Among the candidates are television, the internet, on-line newspapers and — nothing.

The question also asks us to consider what we value about newspapers. And it must be considered along with its companion: What don’t we value about newspapers?

My gut reaction is that if there were no newspapers we might gain the opportunity to re-assess what is important to us. We’d find out even more if we asked the question: What if there were no mass media at all?

In 1853, newspapers were the sum total of mass media, and in that year Thoreau famously had this to say about them:

“I have no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire — thinner than the paper on which it is printed — then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.”

So, what if there were no newspapers, no mass media? More of us might “soar above or dive below” their passing, flimsy content.

There’s another approach besides “having no time” for news trivia and media intrusion: Do something about content. Here is where the internet is a solution. We can turn to its vast trove of knowledge at times of our own choosing. We are not tethered to a pandering, insatiable, time-bound, news-cycled, (and recycled) mass media.

Thoreau himself had access to a compendium of knowledge and insight that served his “soaring” needs. It is still available to us today: Books.

Thoreau’s own books have inspired “soaring” for more than 150 years.

Books, traditionally housed in brick-and-mortar libraries, are increasingly found on-line. And much of their content is free.

What if there were no newspapers? We might begin to free ourselves of the “daily news” and seek greater and deeper meaning and understanding in the fullness of time within ourselves and elsewhere.

We might realize that the sources have surrounded us, just waiting to be called upon: teachers, parents, friends, neighbors, authors, sages, children, Nature.

Why have we not paid attention? Where have we been? How did we become so distracted?

What if there were no newspapers?

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Middle East Crisis, 1957

Here’s another find from the thousands of donations to our July 27th Hillsdale Book Sale: A “Penguin Special” titled “Middle East Crisis.” It cost 50 cents in 1957, the year of its publication.

Little has changed in 50 years. Our current Middle East crisis seems a clone of the one described in the little paperback.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs, but I
I've substituted parenthetically current references. The insertions fit seamlessly.

“The British and French (American) invasion of Egypt (Iraq) in November 1956 (March 2003) was the end of a tangled chain of events lasting many years. Blunders by individuals — worse than blunders — may have caused this calamity; but the invasion was the nemesis of a Middle East policy by Britain (the US) which has not for a long while been based on sound principles, and which has seldom been in keeping with the reality of the time. The only good thing that may come out of the disaster is an opportunity for a new start.

“The consequences of the armed action against Egypt (Iraq) were so alarming and so world-wide that those who made the decisions were obviously surprised, even though they claim that they were taking risks which they had calculated. Public opinion in Britain (the US) became more excited and divided than at any time since the controversy over appeasing Hitler (the waging of the Vietnamese War). The action of the British (American) government, even if charitably interpreted, raised questions of morals, politics, and judgment, which will continue to be debated for a very long time… “

Someone, please cue George Santayana.

P.S. “Middle East Crisis” will sell for 50 cents. The persistence of the price matches the persistence of the folly.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Glimpse of the Place

When I become caught up in time, my time here, the urgency of it all, the self-importance, the folly, I look to the rivers, the hills, the mountains, the stars of the night.

They care not one iota for me and my causes. If they could laugh, they would. “Take a look, make yourself at home, find joy, dream, do what you must. But do not be deceived.

“Your time is a glimpse. A blink. Though you just arrived, you will be leaving soon. Others await their turns to look, to glimpse, to briefly be.”