Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sparking a "commons" revolution

Like you, I'm often asked whether I’ve read such-and-such column or article. And, of course, books are frequently recommended.

But magazines come up less frequently. When one is recommended to me, it is usually “Yes!” and, less frequently, “The Sun."

Both are ad-free, which speaks to their editorial independence and to why they have a progressive following.

I don’t subscribe to “Yes!” but I’m certainly aware of it. When it gets mentioned in conversation, I feel slightly guilty and out of the loop. To make amends I visit its web site and vow to buy a news stand copy.

(Actually, after today's visit, I was inspired to subscribe.)

This morning, just before I set out to do our “Usual Suspects” one-hour-a-month neighborhood clean-up, I visited the “Yes!” site. The first thing to catch my eye was a great list, “51 ways to spark a commons revolution.”

I’ve been trying to spark a “commons revolution” ever since I moved to my neighborhood nearly 25 years ago.

My major spark, among lesser ones, has been to start a community newspaper. The first was with an ink-and-paper publication that was (and is) called “The Southwest Community Connection.”

After I sold it, I started the on-line Hillsdale News.

Curiously, starting a community newspaper wasn’t on the 51 “sparks” list although #33 urged writing letters to the editor and posting on local web sites.

It’s worth noting that your community needs an editor before you can write a “letter to the editor.”

So add #52 to the list. “Start a community newspaper — on line and/or off.”

As I headed out the door for the clean up, I was heartened to know that I was also setting off a couple of other "sparks" in the revolution. Namely:

#12. “Treat commons spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Keep an eye on the place. Tidy things up. Report problems or repair things yourself. Initiate improvement campaigns”


#35. "Pick up litter that is not yours."

You can see entire Yes! list of 51 ways to spark a revolution in your community HERE.

It's worth the visit, a first stop on the way to getting to Yes!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

My rage against a dying light

Each year in the week leading up to the UO/OSU football game I protest the rivalry’s name, “The Civil War.”

What's the problem? friends and family ask. Lighten up!

Simply put, I find it abhorrent that a collegiate football game would call itself a war, even metaphorically.

And so I persist in a losing cause.

As far as I can tell, the name for the Oregon rivalry has been around for 80 years, thanks to some long-forgotten sportswriter. No one even thinks about it any more. Except, seemingly, me.

Of course, there’s the play on the word “civil” that softens the name. But at the same time “the Civil War” raises the specter of real civil war. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago our "War between the States" took the lives of a half million Americans. (Matthew Brady recorded the war dead in the trenches at Fredericksburg in the photo shown below. Above, the "Civil War" "trenches" between OSU and UO.)

On Sunday The Oregonian ran the headline “Dark precursor to war.” You’d think the headline was attached to an account of the deadly shelling between the Koreas, but, no, it ran above a story about the upcoming game in Corvallis.

The sports page loves to milch the war image. “Dark precursor to war.” Give me a break.

Civil wars, real ones, are very much with us, in the Congo, in the Sudan, in Somalia, and potentially on the Korean peninsula. There are bombings and shoot-outs in Iraq, China and Mexico with civil war overtones.

We don’t need metaphorical civil wars on our campuses. All they do is amplify the bellicose tone for already violent football games.

My family refers to my annual protest as “Rick’s rant.”

If for some reason I miss a year, they might worry. “Is the old boy winding down?”

Strangers have reacted to past Red Electric posts on the subject with “You’ve got to be kidding!” and “Get a life!” responses from avid Ducks and Beavers. I must seem a timorous lamb. “The Civil War” name to them is as much a part of the game as trash talk, hobbled quarterbacks, brain-jarring hits, and unnecessary roughness.

I’ve tried to take a positive approach by suggesting other names, but none of them expresses the chest-pounding gusto and testosterone rush that “The Civil War” does.

Somehow Stanford and Cal can get by with “The Big Game.” Harvard and Yale simply face off in “The Game” and Auburn and Alabama manage with the “Iron Bowl.” (Hey Oregon fans, how about The Silicon Forest Bowl? The Spotted Owl Bowl? The Visit-but-don't Stay Bowl? The Anti-War Bowl?)

I’m not sure why Oregon needs to invoke war to get its competitive juices flowing. Perhaps it’s to ward off the onset of hibernation. Or maybe it is ignorance of the terrible costs of war on our sheltered campuses. (I wonder what Oregon veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts feel about the name. “War” for them has an indelible meaning that is beyond the comprehension of college undergraduates and "Civil War" fans.)

Maybe the Oregon rivalry’s name persists because Oregon has never experienced a real civil war. Would a football rivalry in Kentucky or Tennessee or Virginia be called “The Civil War”? Would a soccer rivalry between German and Belgium be named “The Battle of the Bulge”? Don’t even ask about “The Holocaust” describing a rivalry in Israel.

So there it is: another year, another rant. Is anyone listening?

In this year of my seniority, the words of Dyan Thomas come to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Kindle is loaded with surprises

A couple of weeks ago I caved and bought a Kindle reader. I’ve been using this little slab of hard plastic about a week and am ready to pronounce preliminary judgment.

I have found the Kindle experience surprising. And it has been an “experience,” entailing hours of reading.

The things I thought I would like, I don’t. And the things I like — a lot — are advantages I hadn’t even considered.

You need to know that I’ve always been a slow reader. I’ve never been able to take in quantities of text at a glance or two. I don't read ideas; I read words. One by one. On a good day after a full night’s sleep, I’m phrase by phrase. But that’s changed with the Kindle because it allows me to increase (or decrease) the size of the type and bump up (or down) the line spacing. Larger type alone results in shorter and fewer lines per page. You can even set the number of words per line.

With the Kindle I find that I’m able to absorb a single electronic page in two or three glances and then click on to the next page. I’m as fast as

Moreover the Kindle has led me to wonder whether my slow reading all these years had something to do with being mildly distracted by being able to see two pages at once. The one-page-at-a-time Kindle keeps me focused right where my eyes need to bed.

Sure, the pages have less text, but I know I’m reading faster, a lot faster.

Of course I like the idea of being able to carry around hundreds, even thousands, of books in a device about the size of a thin slice of bread. So far I’ve loaded my Kindle mostly with free books. There are hundreds of them, mostly classics. “Meditations” shown in the photo is an example.

I also like being able to sample a book at my leisure before I decide to buy it. Hit “sample” and you are given 20 pages or so to check out. Call it electronic book browsing.

The device has all kinds of features that I have yet to master. The Kindle User’s Guide, which, of course, is preloaded into the machine as a “book” is something of a slog, mostly because you keep wanting to try out what you’ve been instructed to do.

Believe me, the User's Guide pages can’t be comprehended in two glances.

My experiments with the features have at times left me baffled. Once I wanted to find out more about King George VI and put my cursor in front of the “King.” Silly me. The Kindle told me first about BB King and then about Billy Jean. I still have to figure out how to group the three words together to get what I want. It has to be possible.

Which brings us to the Kindle’s negatives. Strangely, this sleek little reading platter seems ergonomically cumbersome. I find it hard to find a comfortable, safe place to hold it without inadvertently clicking one of the narrow “next page” or “previous page” pads that run along both sides. And strangely enough I don’t like the slimness of the Kindle, which is advertised as an attribute. I miss the heft more akin to, well, a book.

While the type itself is very sharp and easy to read, the slight grayness of the “page” strikes me as a touch dim.

The little “five-way” navigation tool in the lower right corner is too small. For someone with larger hands than mine, it could be unnavigable. The little button-keys on the keyboard are minute pebbles. With time I’ll probably become accustomed to the Kindle’s miniaturization, but I’m not there yet.

This Kindle, a third generation WiFi-only model, is clearly a work in progress — a transitional machine. But isn’t that true of all technology? At $139, Kindle 3 seems a good entry point for jumping into and enjoying the electronic reader experience.

And think of all those free books you can download.

By the way, the books you buy (or get free) are stored on an Amazon “cloud” so that if you want to buy the next Kindle iteration (certain to have a touch screen and color), you will be able to load what you have already bought into the new device. Oh, and if you have two or three Kindles on the same Amazon account, you can share the books between the family’s readers.

I was surprised that several books aren’t available in electronic editions. One of my favorites, Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals,” apparently didn’t make the Kindle cut. For shame!

One final note, owning a Kindle comes with a dollop of guilt. I fear that our local bookstores are going to go the way of the the blacksmith, the typewriter repair shop and the video store. Browsing on a Kindle, while fun, lacks the ambiance of a musty bookshop presided over by a bookish, graying book monger who knows exactly the book you want and can lead you to it.

No scrolling, clicking or downloading.

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