Friday, July 10, 2009

Taken for a ride

Mayor Sam's current newsletter proudly informs us that the City Council has just approved $20 million in state lottery bond money for six street cars.

Do the math. That's more than $3.3 million per car. And they aren't even gold-plated.

Face it, those are boon-doggling numbers. What is this, Pentagon West?

Perhaps we are supposed to think this is all OK because the money is coming from the pockets of gamblers, not taxpayers.

It seems consistent that a governmental culture that raises money by exploiting those addicted to the fast buck finds it OK to pluck down $3.3 million for a trolley car.

Meanwhile, elsewhere they are doing things right — and frugally.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

A mom addresses her daughter's graduating class

My friend and neighbor Ruth Adkins, who is an elected member of the Portland School board, addressed the Wilson High School graduating class recently. Among the graduates was her daughter Jane.

Parents no doubt will relate to this part of her short speech.

e live around the corner from the school, and I've seen a lot of you coming and going over the years. I have my own memories and perspective on your busy lives as Wilson students. Baseball games, the bright lights of the football field, soccer and softball down at Rieke. Basketball in the gym. Students out on the track running up and down the bleacher steps – it made my knees hurt just to look at you.

Visiting the preschool program and seeing the power of high schoolers teaching little ones. Choir and band performances. Standing shivering in the Hillsdale shopping center for the December holidays. Musicals, plays, and one-acts from the drama department, from "Merry Wives of Windsor," which as a former Renaissance Studies major I have seen times, to "Rent" and "On the Razzle" this year – with you guys totally blowing us away every single time.

Seeing the bus return from Outdoor School with tired and grubby and happy student leaders. Seeing students serving the community by planting trees on campus, helping pull weeds on clean-up days, coming around the neighborhood to collect empty bottles or recycle our Wilson Christmas tree. Reading The Statesman and the yearbook and getting more glimpses of your opinions, passions, humor and opinions.

Walking past the display cases in the hallway and always seeing something beautiful and inspiring, whether ceramics, drawing, prints, sculpture or photographs.

And then senior year and the joys of college applications, and grownups like me endlessly asking you where you were applying, where you got in, where are you will go.

I particularly want to thank the counselors and teachers for all their hard work in getting those letters of recommendations done and helping with application. Everyone's hard work has paid off and now you are heading out to colleges near and far. Many have with gap year adventures planned or careers lined up.

I know my list has just scratched the surface. It's pretty amazing just thinking about all you have done in high school. You must be exhausted. But of course, the reality is you are just getting started. Your energies and talents are great enough to take you just about anywhere. I know you will ably represent Portland Public Schools and Wilson, wherever you go. So dear Class of 2009, on behalf of the school board, as a neighbor, and as a mom, I'm going to miss you. I wish you all the very best.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The specter of war gets Orwell's attention

Over on the Orwell Diaries, George is allowing the storm clouds of war to blot out his sunny fixation on egg production, hollyhocks and ducklings.

The diary, which recorded Orwells thoughts 70 years ago, day by day, is an astonishing document — as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does.

Orwell locks onto ominous events by pasting often obscure newspaper clippings into his diary. You can see the faded newspaper stories on the web site. He has little to say about them. He treats them almost as journalistic specimens. It's as if suddenly, out of the corner of the gardener's eye, he senses an intruder, plucks it up for inspection and then pins it to his ever-growing collection of pests.

It's not that he has been naive these many weeks. Quite the opposite. Read "Homage to Catalonia" for proof positive that Orwell had grabbed danger and combat by the throat. And fighting had grabbed him by the throat. In the ranks of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, he took a bullet in the neck.

Still, the reader wonders why for days on end in the spring of 1939, Orwell, one of the sharpest observers of the 20th Century, shared so little of his worldly awareness in his journal.

Now, ever so slowing, that is changing. The danger is creeping into is pastoral writing. It's curious, and even haunting, to read.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Googling "Michael Jackson" and "Get a Life"

For reasons beyond me, the TV is on around noon. The media, tens of thousands of fans, celebrities and ticket scalpers are falling over themselves at today's Michael Jackson Staples Center "memorial."

Even those nearest and dearest to me are so into the over-the-topness of it all that they are recording it.

"I'm just doing it for the music," says a Near-and-Dear.

And I'm thinking, "Don't we have better things to do?"

This is sweeping me willy-nilly into the ultimate putdown, "Get a life."

But then I'm thinking about my mental drift, "Hey, Rick, you're being banal."

And then I'm thinking, "How many others are banal enough to link the memorial gnashing and wailing with the put-down 'get a life'?" Just how widespread is this cynical sneering and sniveling of "get a life" about Jackson's ga-ga fans?

A wonderful thing about Google is that you can pretty well sample anything, including how banal one's cynicism.

So I Googled "Michael Jackson" and "get a life."

I got 139,000 matches. A random reading revealed that a small portion of the "get a life" interjection was aimed at the likes of, well, cranks like me. I'm the one who should lighten up and "get a life" about "Jackson," his death, and the mourning festivities.


Still, most of the 139,000 seem similarly cynical. To us, the sudden outpouring of grief for Jackson is absurd and possibly culturally pathological.

The world is melting. The economy is tanking. Millions have no health insurance or have lost their jobs or homes or both. A few dozen wars are being waged around the globe. Children are dying.

And what are the lumpen getting their rocks off on? A dead pop idol of questionable repute.

I believe this is called a "disconnect."

Next? Googling "Michael Jackson" and "disconnect."

I know, I know. I should get a life.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Buying nothing may cost you

The anti-consumerists who publish Adbusters magazine like to turn the biggest shopping day of the year — the day after Thanksgiving — inside out by calling it “Buy Nothing Day.”

I’m finding this economy is doing a far better job than the Adbusters “Culture Jammers,” as they call themselves. The recession-teetering-on-depression is turning every day into a “buy nothing day.”

In the good old days of easy money I would regularly get an irrational urge to buy something — anything. I couldn’t explain it. It must have been Pavlovian without my being aware of the stimulus. A song perhaps. Likely a jingle. Or a smell. Or a color.

Cast under a spell, I’d search for some urgent need, or more often, blatant, sensual desire. It could be as little as jamocha almond fudge ice cream or as great as a 1972 MGB roadster.

But since the great economic downturn, months go by without a “Buy Something (Anything!) Day” twinge.

I was reminded of the infrequency today when I went out to buy something I actually needed. The experience created an odd variation of the old twinge. I found I was mildly disappointed when my entire purchase came to $2.69.

Talk about inconspicuous consumption.

I needed a connector that converts stereo headphones to monaural.

Here I can feel a long, boring explanatory paragraph coming on. I’ll spare you except to say that a new hearing device I bought (yes, bought!) a couple of months back, doesn’t accept stereo headphones or earbuds. It deals with them by sending sound to only one ear.

Not good, especially if you are going deaf in the first place. I definitely need sound to both ears.

The nice fellow at Radio Shack solved the problem for $2.69. I was expecting, even anticipating, spending at least $5. And then the clerk tells me that if I go to the company web site and answer a few questions (weasel word alert: “a few questions.” That’s what the phone survey folks say too.), Radio Shack will "give" me $10 off my next $40 purchase.

Let's see. I spend $2.69 and get $10 off my next $40 purchase. Hmmmm. I’m wondering whether I might make a modest living by buying cheap connectors at Radio Shack and answering questions on-line questions.

Could it be I can’t afford to buy nothing?

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