Saturday, December 06, 2008


A friend who is also a former student recently wrote me about the decision by educated people to not have children. She wondered what the consequences might be — for those involved, for society and for the planet.

She wrote that the topic seemed to produce disconnected dots and many more questions. She invited me to help connect the dots and presumably answer the questions.

I wrote back that we have a lot more dot/questions to identify before we can connect and answer.

Then, in a flurry, I shared my own.

What does it mean to be informed? What does it mean to be aware? How do those two differ? Does a gush of disconnected information drown awareness?

How does technology shape us? Undo us? Better us? (What about "information technology"?)

My friend is a journalist, so I asked about the future of journalism. Does it have one? What IS journalism? What is it becoming?

So many of our problems fall to the schools to solve, but are the schools (rigid, outmoded, underfunded) up to the enormous task? What does it mean to be educated? What does it mean to be "prepared for life"? Who decides?

What is intelligence? Is there intelligent life on Earth? If so, where is it? Who are the teachers? The seers?

Are our leaders intelligent? If not, why not? Could it have to do with the way we choose them? Could it have to do with the complexity of our problems?

How can we best use our brief time here on this green, fragile "pebble in space"?

Service? Living lives of compassion? Spiritual seeking? Simple survival? Raising and nurturing children, our own and/or those of others? Escapism? Endless video games? Celebrity worship? "Fighting" evil? "Fighting" war? God worship? No-God worship? Worship? Praying? Should our lives be manifestations of our prayers, whether silent or spoken?

What about Accumulation of wealth? Accumulation of wealth and then giving it away?

How can we become "agents of change in our circle of influence"?

"Change" to what? What is our "circle of influence"? "HOW can we"?


Hundreds of dots.

My invitation to you, and to her, is to add to the list.

We'll connect them later.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Misplaced Values

Let the record show that the highest paid public employees in the state are not its public health doctors, not its Supreme Court Justices, not its university presidents and certainly not its governor.

No, the highest paid state employees are the football coaches at its Division 1A universities. They make more than twice as much as the university presidents.

Defenders argue that the football programs are self-supporting, with revenues coming from fans, patrons, broadcasting rights and commercial deals.

But critics like me say it’s a question of values. If you love your university, in the name of wisdom, truth and knowledge, give to its professors and students.

The whole collegiate sports scene has gone over the top, distorting the perception of our universities and their values.

Fortunately, many on the campuses are fighting back. The Coalition on Collegiate Athletics is one of the groups leading the charge.

Here's some of what they are up against.

We learn today — another day of dire economic suffering across this land — that the University of Oregon has agreed to have its new coach-in-waiting, Chip Kelly, make $7 million over five years, plus bonuses of an undetermined amount.

According to this morning's Oregonian, the Duck’s current coach, Mike Bellotti, raked in more than $1.9 million last year. (Be sure to read the comments after The Oregonian story for the flavor of fan support.)

Kelly’s and Bellotti’s bonuses require higher math to determine. They are tied to ticket sales, numbers of televised games, participations in Conference and BCS champions, regular season victories, coaching honors (question: is there an honor for most grotesque compensation package?) and final national rankings.

Oh, and there are incentives for graduation success rates, academic progress rate and scholarship student grade-point averages. Presumably these are measured by grades on the transcripts of “scholar” athletes and not on the old transcripts of the coaches themselves. (“Hey, coach, what was your GPA?”)

A modest suggestion. The universities of this state should follow the example of Honda, which has announced that it is dropping Formula One racing because of the hard times.

With more and more kids unable to pay for college, it’s time to dump football, at least football that has become nothing more than entertainment and has zilch to do with education.

Quick math. If it costs $30,000 for a year’s tuition at a state university, then the pay of just one head football coach (think of the salaries of a whole staff of them) would pay the tuition for 50 students now unable to go to school.

It's time for a values shift regarding what our universities really stand for and why we should support them.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

A King Kong Economy stalks the Neighborhood

Every time I sit down to write for The Red Electric, I think I should be writing about — THE ECONOMY. The 2,000-pound gorilla in the room.

It certainly was at last night’s Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (don’t ask which side of the gay clergy schism the congregation falls on. We just use the meeting room — and don’t ask. Or tell for that matter).

As 30 of us slogged through a varied and overly long agenda, the bestial economy intruded like King Kong bursting from its cage. beating its chest and howling.

A hairy foot slammed us here; a massive elbow jabbed us there.

Want to fund safe routes to schools for our kids? Not now. The city’s transportation budget is being cut.

Want to reduce bus fares now that the price of gas is less? Sorry, it’s not possible if you want to maintain service.

Want to put in traffic-calming speed bumps along busy Capitol Hill Road? You, dear residents, will have to pay half the estimated cost of $33,000. Hardly spare change in normal times, it's a financial fantasy now. And the City's half of the cost isn’t in the whittled-down City budget (see above).

Want to avoid vacant storefronts in Hillsdale? Spend your Scrooge-like holiday budget locally, or invite commercial desolation in the neighborhood.

No, we need to clear our agendas for one topic: The Economy. Once we get a leash around the gorilla's neck, perhaps we can figure out how to train it so that it doesn’t take over everything else we want to do.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What the White Stag Sign should say

How unfair that the University of Oregon now owns the iconic White Stag sign and proposes to replace “Made in Oregon” with (what else?) “The University of Oregon.”

And this in the week following the Ducks' Holocaustic (are we offended yet, sports fans?) gassing (yet?) of the OSU Beavers.

No, this sign, the Crown Jewel of our glittering downtown skyline, belongs to the city — a city of Ducks and Beavers, and ducks and beavers, and the rest of us.

So here’s my suggestion. Let’s accept the sign as advertising (that’s a HUGE concession on my part) and let’s use it to promote BOTH valley universities. That would be an act of great magnanimity for the University of Oregon, but, let’s face it, it’s about time.

“The University of Oregon & Oregon State University” is too long and boring.

I propose a massive message that both Ducks and Beavers agree on;


Imagine it. Each day tens of thousands of commuters arrive at the clogged confluence of I-5 and I-84 to be greeted by the leaping white stag, the Civil War battle cry of our great institutions of higher education, and the teeny “Old Town” at the bottom.

It says it all ... I guess.

* * *

Attention Ducks and Beavers, this just in on The Civil War — the other one. The New York Times today lists among the five best non-fiction books of the year “This Republic of Suffering, Death and The American Civil War” by Drew Gilpin Faust.

Here’s what the Times had to say about the book:

"In this powerful book, Faust, the president of Harvard, explores the legacy, or legacies, of the 'harvest of death' sown and reaped by the Civil War. In the space of four years, 620,000 Americans died in uniform, roughly the same number as those lost in all the nation’s combined wars from the Revolution through Korea. This doesn’t include the thousands of civilians killed in epidemics, guerrilla raids and draft riots. The collective trauma created ' a newly centralized nation-state,' Faust writes, but it also established 'sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite.'”

Go HERE for the Times’ ten best books list for 2008.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Journalism's Free Fall

I’m one of a dwindling number who still get a real ink-and-pulp newspaper delivered to the front stoop.

Today’s issue of The Oregonian carried a strange headline over a front-page box. “In today’s paper,” it read vapidly in its totality. The editor’s announcement introduced “changes in how the Monday Oregonian is put together.”

The paper, as it turns out, has been “reorganized…from four news sections into three.”

Sort of. It depends on what you call news.

It has condensed what were, until fairly recently, three news sections into one (containing metro, business and national and world news). Today's stuffed front section also subsumed editorial, which is not news but opinion.

The two other "news" sections are sports (news for the bemused?) and the frequently frothy, puzzled-filled “How We Live.” (Confession: I am an occasional Sudoku wrestler and crossword puzzler.)

The changes mean that, counted by sections, two-thirds of Monday's Oregonian is devoted to entertainment. Newspaper readers are, as the late media sage Neil Postmen once wrote about television viewers, “amusing ourselves to death.”

Monday is considered a "slow" news day. But can the rest of the week be far behind in these perilous times for newspapers.

The death spiral of printed news continues.

And the descent is quickening. AdAge informed readers today via the internet (of course) that newspaper ad revenues in the third quarter were off a record 18.1 percent.

That means less revenue for local reporting and a greater reliance on canned, cheap, syndicated fluff (sports and other entertainment) as well as news services dispatches. (The Pasadena paper recently outsourced its local reporting to India. I kid you not.) The “How We Live” section today featured a stop-the-presses story about Forks, Washington, as a destination site for adolescent female fans of the new vampire film “Twilight.”

What are the consequences of the death of newspapers? Does their death equate to the death of journalism? Just how vital is journalism as we have known it to today's democracy? Can on-line journalism carry the burden? Can democracy survive in a world where running backs are more newsworthy than premiers (or the poor for that matter) and vampire movies are more important than a looming economic depression?

Wherever journalists gather, we ask such questions. The problem is we haven’t found any answers. Which raise another question: Could it be that there are none? That we no longer know what it means to be informed? That technological change has thrown journalism into perpetual free fall?

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Top Hits: Sarah Palin's Glasses & Oregon's Civil War

Anyone who has blogged has felt the pull between writing you want to write and writing what others will be drawn to.

I abide by the first, but on a few happy occasions I manage to satisfy the second too.

After two years and 851 posts, two topics have attracted far and away the most visits to this site.

The ostensible topics (as defined by my search engine tags) were Sarah Palin’s glasses and The Civil War (the Oregon football rivalry). But the tags deceive because the topics were points of departure to far different content.

Perhaps the lesson is to choose timely, popular topics (and tags) to hang larger, provocative substance to. A kind of blogger’s bait and switch.

In the case of Palin’s glasses, I wanted to pick an argument with Marshall McLuhan and make a point about “cool,” visual appeal. Despite all she wasn't, Palin as visually cool.

In the case of the “Civil War” rivalry, I wanted the reader to consider the unintended power of a sports metaphor.

I got more than 800 visits to the Palin specs post, but I think that most of the visitors were interested in where to purchase glasses like the governor’s. I hope their disappointment was more than offset by a new awareness of McLuhan.

The Civil War post, which is an annual ritual (some would say “rant”) for me in the week before the big University of Oregon/Oregon State game, drew 200 plus visits, which isn’t nearly as impressive as the Palin response. What made the “Civil War” post notable was the unanimously negative response. I clearly struck a nerve.

How dare I question the tradition of calling the game “The Civil War”? For some, my complaint was literally unheard of.

For them, it’s unheard of no longer. Disagree as they might, my view now is part of their consciousness. That’s reason enough to share and disseminate it. I’m pleased they were moved to defend their own.

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