Friday, December 18, 2009

Taming the holiday beast

As you confront the frenzied holiday shopping homestretch, here's helpful advice from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

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Devious praise

Here’s a comment that would cheer any blogger. I’m sharing it verbatim:

“Your blog is really excellent. It inspires the readers who has that great desire to lead a better and happier life. Thanks for sharing this information and hope to read more from you.”

Ignoring its ragged prose, I read it with appreciation because it was sent as a “comment” about this very blog.

Then, partly because I screen comments, I read on.

As it turns out the comment is as far-fetched as cheery horoscopes (“Great wealth will come your way!”) or cloying fortune cookie messages. (“You are greatly admired for your wisdom and perseverance.”)

The fulsome praise for The Red Electric comes from “Custom Term Papers” and was generated in response to a post tagged “University of Oregon” and “Oregon State University.” See: "Enjoy the game but not the war.”

Clever, huh?

A search robot seeks posts with academic-related tags, lays on kudos to ensure acceptance from praise-hungry bloggers, and then lures in plagiarism-susceptable undergraduates. Those would be students with the “great desire to lead a better and happier life” … but without the will do the work required to achieve it.

“Custom Term Papers” is here to help.

It gets worse. The phrase “really excellent” isn’t something I’d want to see in any of my students’ written work. Grammarians call words like “really” (and “very”) “intensifiers.” "Excellent" is excellent. It doesn’t (really) need “really.”


Also, there’s the serious subject-verb agreement problem with “readers who has.”

It’s scary how so many human foibles (pride, greed, ambition, deceit, sloth, error) are exploited by one little encomium.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Other" answers for Portland's future

I’ve just filled out “The Portland Plan” questionnaire. The planning bureau says the 10 minutes I spent on it will influence life here for the next 25 years.

We can only hope. A lot of us went through this drill five years ago with Mayor Potter's VisionPDX. Oh well.

This time we respondents are told that our answers will help identify “the things that affect our daily lives, such as safety, neighborhood livability, quality education and affordable housing.”

The 22 questions are mostly multiple-choice. Each has a tacked-on“other” option for grumpy free-thinkers like me.

As you will see, the choices say a good deal about "planner think." Because respondents are allowed to pick only one choice, the form leads to a lot of head-scratching, hair-tearing and soul-wrenching. (By the way, which of your children DO you love the most?)

Accordingly, I resorted frequently to filling in “other” with my own wild words and warped visions.

Here are four examples of where the questions took me.

Question #1: "What should Portland’s priority be for creating jobs over the next 25 years?" The six choices were predictable. Choices like “market our products and services to other countries and regions” and “assist neighborhood businesses” and “provide worker training programs.” Remember, you can choose only one answer. I decided to go populist and wrote in “limit excessive executive compensation and use the money to hire the unemployed to build high-speed passenger rail."

Question 4: "What is the most important action Portland can take to improve high school graduation rates?" Note the presumption that high schools are a good thing. Anyway, the options included “recruit and retain great teachers,” “provide better facilities,” “involve businesses in schools.” Remember, you can choose only one. I wrote in “teach parents to teach.”

Question 5 also dealt with schools, never questioning their relevance in the computer age: "Over the next 25 years, many schools will need to be renovated and some rebuilt. What improvements does your neighborhood school need the most?" Choose among “Warm and dry buildings” (as opposed to cold and wet?), “modern technology and classrooms” (how about modern technology and no classrooms?), “improved access and security (moats, attack dogs, strip searches?).” Actually the final choice “expanded community uses” came close to my thinking. I wrote, “Year-round, inter-generational learning centers.” Picture this: I’m sitting in a park on a summer’s day with a 12 year old teaching me how to use my smart phone (at last!).

Question 12: "For you, what is the hardest part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle?" The choices were “time for exercise,” “a place to exercise,” (how about “will to exercise”?) “a full-service grocery store,” “cooking healthy meals” (as opposed to a sick meal? They mean “healthful”) and “stress—not enough time to relax.” Which ONE would you choose? I scribbled in “the lure of deceptive advertising.” I didn’t flesh out the answer, but advertising is constantly trying to get me to eat crap and plant myself on the couch watching more deceptive (and clever and entertaining) advertising and programming (which is only a further lure to get me to watch more advertising).

In my other answers, I also made a pitch for sidewalks and trails, neighborhood micro-buses and zoning that encourages corner grocery stores.

The questionnaire did not ask — but should have — whether Portland communities like Hillsdale should be given a measure of autonomy (along with money) from the City. The answer, in case you were wondering, is: YES.

Your turn: You can fill out the questionnaire on line by going to

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