Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

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Surge: The war continues

June 5, 2008

If you’re expecting to read a rant about the tragedy of Iraq or George W. or Rummy or one of those things, you probably should just go read another blog tonight.

This is about a much closer to home, much more personal war.

That’s not to minimize the pain and agony we as a nation have inflicted on another country, however well intentioned our efforts. But I can’t influence that one, let alone have any kind of meaningful impact on the outcome, so I’m writing about something else.

We live on approximately 100 acres. A few of them are taken up by a river bed (not navigable year-round, so we own it), a lot more of them by some very steep hills plated in a variety of tree species, and 8-10 acres of relatively flat land.

We share this land with an assortment of wildlife–bears, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, bobcats, dozens of species of birds, several species of salmon and steelhead and trout, and a WHOLE bunch of rodents.

The rodents range from our chipmunks (cute but sometimes problematic) and gray-digger squirrels (highly destructive) to boomers (mountain beavers–incredibly destructive to new forest growth) and moles, voles, and gophers.

After reading the introduction to Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words, I have actually come to peace with several of these. I have persuaded the chipmunk not to eat my violets. I know this sounds nutso (that’s what I thought when I read Jensen’s coyote/chicken story), but I just ask the chipmunk not to eat them. And he quit. They are thriving.

And I asked the birds not to eat my blueberries (a problem every year), and guess what? They’re not eating them. I’m awestruck.

But the moles and voles and gophers in the garden are another story. I think maybe I just don’t know how to communicate with this particular group of rodents. Of course, it doesn’t help that I rarely see them. The talking approach seems to work best face-to-face.

I don’t want to destroy all the rodents. With this much land, there is plenty of room for all of us. I just want them to stay out of my garden.

We’ve tried a variety of approaches, but I think I’ve found one that actually works. I have my fingers crossed.

I found a couple of little devices (brand name “P3”–there seem to be several types on the market) called “Molechasers.” They’re little tubes that you bury in the ground. They emit a rather obnoxious sound, but it can hardly be heard above ground unless you’re standing right next to it. A second, more sophisticated device (the “surge” in the title of this post) emits a harsh buzz and vibrates the grounds around it.

According to the manufacturer, all the stupid underground rodents hate the noise and the vibration. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that they seem to work.

The sound-only ones work best on the moles. The sound/vibration ones seem to do a better job on the gophers and voles. So I’m probably going to add a couple of vibrating windmills to the mix.

But whichever type, they are non-poisonous, non-lethal, and don’t pollute the environment. So I’m very pleased.

I hope this year to have unnibbled potatoes, beans, and carrots, armfuls of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Cross your fingers for me.

A shining. . .

June 2, 2008

There are some evenings that simply glow, and this is one of them.

I have been absent from this space for awhile, and I apologize. I had many things that I thought of writing about, but when I sat down in front of the screen, they didn’t happen.

I don’t know if it was a delayed response to my brother’s death or some other form of malfeasance of the spirit, but I just didn’t want to write.

But tonight I am full of joy. It’s Ben’s birthday, and our daughter Inger has come to visit. She brought with her an electric bass guitar and a 12-string acoustic that she rescued from oblivion. For the last hour or so I’ve ducked out and listened from the sidelines to Ben (one of the finer guitar players I’ve ever known) showing her little tips and tricks.

Ben and I play the guitar. Ben is proficient, I am competent. Inger does not play, has never played, but something caused this leap of faith that she could play. And I suspect she will. I hope she finds the same magic in it that I have.

I worried when she was young because she did not sing. I grew up singing, and I thought everyone did. Now she is seemingly discovering her music, and that makes me very happy.

My daughter has given me so much joy in life. It pleases me immensely to watch her finding her own joy.

Hillary, give it up

March 31, 2008

Now, I’m neither the youngest nor the brightest lightbulb in the fixture, but I do want to make it clear that I know my subject line isn’t the same as “Give it up for Hillary.” Nor do I mean it to be.

There’s a terrific Jimmy Margulies cartoon in today’s “Week In Review,” the op-ed section of the Sunday NY Times. The interviewer/commentator says: “The math is against you in delegates needed for the nomination. . .” and Hillary responds: “I didn’t give up at Valley Forge. . .I didn’t give up at Gettysburg. . .I didn’t give up at D-Day. . .and I’m not giving up now.”

Hillary, you have proven yourself a prevaricator without even the sense to understand when your untruths have been detected. I know you haven’t claimed to have invented the Internet or saved the free world single-handedly. But you have demonstrated the one characteristic that sends me running to the bathroom in case of projectile vomiting. You are the ultimate politician.

Sweetie, I’m your target demographic, an over-50 woman with a couple of college degrees, a lifetime in business, and a strong belief that a woman in the Presidency would bring something that’s badly needed.

But not you. Not now, not ever.

I’m old enough to have voted for both John Anderson and Ross Perot, knowing in each case that I was probably wasting my vote but hoping for something other than business-as-usual. I can honestly say I never even contemplated voting for Ralph Nader, however.

I’m of that rare breed called the “truly independent.” I was a registered Democrat for an extended period of time until I decided that the Democratic Party had lost its marbles. So then I became a registered Republican. Ditto with that party. For some time now, I’ve been registered without party affiliation.

I pay a price for that. I can’t vote (in Oregon, anyway) in any of the party primaries. I contemplated registering again as a Democrat just so I could vote against you in May, but then I realized how many fund-raising and ideological mailings I’d get and decided against it. I think my fellow Oregonians will take care of you here. Many of them actually have some sense.

But if you are banking on calling in chits with the “superdelegates” (and what a crock that is–a group of party “elite” in place to override the will of the voters in case they aren’t smart enough to choose the right candidate–this is democracy?), I hope you will think again. A candidate who gets there by such means will have no more credibility than a President elected by the Supreme Court, to quote someone else’s recent example.

So give it up. Now. Let’s get on with a race between two people who arguably are outsiders from the political establishment, let them present their views, and let the people choose. At this point you are merely a spoiler.

And while I’m busy ranting on this topic I almost never comment on, I have a few words for the other major candidates in this race:

Barack: The Jeremiah Wright thing told me a great deal more about your character than almost anything else you’ve done. I congratulate you for being forthright. I have lots of “sparring partners” with whom I don’t agree (otherwise, we wouldn’t be sparring now, would we?). In fact, if people evaluated my character by the folks that I tolerate and even like to argue with, they’d be way off the mark. Your response to these attacks told me you are really a grownup with a well-developed sense of a diverse world.

I don’t have the background to know the things that you “know” about racism. But I congratulate you on your ability to articulate your position without blowing in the wind.

John: I’m a long-time admirer of yours, but I frankly liked you a great deal better before the GOP apparently started coaching you on what was required to get elected. You’re sounding like a politician, and that isn’t one of your strengths.

I have a certain amount of faith in your common sense and straight talk. Don’t waffle now. Stay who you are, and I might even vote for you. Unlike many of my acquaintance, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be made in the campaign speeches. I just want to elect someone I feel comfortable can make it. No matter who is President, we don’t be out of Iraq tomorrow. But you buy yourself nothing by being so belligerent about it.

Now a few words for “my fellow Americans”: Hey, guys, if you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. It’s not just global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the devalued dollar, and the globalized economy. It’s a comeuppance to the sort of economic colonialization that the U.S.A., as an economically powerful superpower, has been able to indulge in for decades.

If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and hoping for different results, then go toe your favorite party line and vote accordingly.

But if you are concerned about a viable (not necessarily wealthy or over-consuming, just viable) future for yourself and your childen, then take some time to look beyond the heirs apparent for a leader who can actually think. And vote accordingly.

Whoever is elected this fall steps into a mess. He/she will need all of our good wishes and help, so vote for someone you want to help advance “in the direction of your dreams” (to paraphrase Thoreau), not someone you think can fix all your problems.

That person doesn’t exist.

A poem worth noting

March 18, 2008

I’m about to cut and paste a poem from today’s Writer’s Almanac. I’m sure I’m in deep violation of some copyright law or another, but this poem reminds me so much of Tom’s last days that I’m going to do it anyway. If it touches you, subscribe to Writer’s Almanac.

Poem: “Snow” by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from In the Well. – Bluestem Press, 2003.
Reprinted with permission.

Snow

The old, blue-eyed woman in the bed
is calling down snow. Her heart is failing,
and her eyes are two birds in a pale sky.
Through the window she can see a tree

twinkling with lights on the banking
beyond the parking lot. Lawns are still green
from unseasonable weather. Snow
will put things right; and, sure enough,

by four darkness carries in the first flakes.
Chatter, hall lights, and the rattle of walkers
spill through her doorway as she lies there?
ten miles (half a world) of ocean

between her and her home island.
She looks out from a bed the size of a dinghy.
Beyond the lit tree, beyond town, open water
accepts snow silently and, farther out,

the woods behind her house receive the snow
with a faint ticking of flakes striking needles
and dry leaves-a sound you would not believe
unless you’ve held your breath and heard it.

Death watch, and other miscellany

March 7, 2008

I’m back, although I have to confess that there were times today I didn’t think I could make it home tonight under my own power. But the regenerative characteristics of Starbuck’s bottled frappucinos (sp?) is amazing.

This business of trying to help someone you care about die with a certain amount of dignity is tricky. There are so many moments of sadness, loss, frustration, and sheer terror.

But then, there are also all of these opportunities for the blackest of black humor. Talking with the hospice nurse today, I relayed a couple of stories and noted, “I have a very black sense of humor.” She laughed and said, “You have a great future with hospice care should you ever want one.”

To wit, one: Tom still believes in his heart of hearts that he can do any thing he sets his mind to. His muscles are failing him (that could have something to do with the one-third or more of his body weight that he’s lost–one of Lisa’s questions for the hospice nurse a few weeks ago was “How can anyone so thin still walk?”), so getting up and out of bed is a challenge.

But Tom is an engineer, so he has figured out that if he can get positioned and rock back and forth enough, he can catapult himself to his feet. This has a good side and a bad side.

Last night on Tom-watch I lay down beside him and he decided to get up. Before I could get around the bed to help him, he used the catapult technique to catapult himself right into the dresser, head first. I didn’t even see the cut over his eye when I first helped him up. But I heard him hit.

Here’s where the terror comes in. I’m thinking, “OMG, concussion at the very least.” I’m starting to panic, wondering if I should call hospice or 911 or someone. Then reality kicks in.

Concussion. Headaches. Confusion. Trouble in recalling words and speaking clearly. What would be different? A brain tumor is something like a permanent ongoing concussion, or at least this particular brain tumor is. A part of me wants to giggle. Another part wants to cry.

The hospice nurse reinforced that. She said, “At this point, almost nothing matters.” The hospice primary care person said, “Now we talk about weeks rather than months. How do we keep him comfortable?”

As part of the comfort therapy, I drove across Salem today to pick up two prescriptions. A hospice volunteer was with Tom, who can’t be left alone at this point. Tom’s treatment plan changed abruptly today, and I thought if I picked up the medications, it would save Lisa a struggle with how to do it. The prescriptions were to be filled at a pharmacy about as far from Tom and Lisa’s house as you can get and still be in Salem, because the pharmacy happened to be the only one that had one of them in stock.

When I got there (about a 25-minute drive), the pharmacy had decided they could only fill one prescription without additional faxes and information from the hospice prescribing physician. So I could fill one prescription, but not solve the main problem.

I almost went ballistic. I even considered just leaning across the counter and bursting into tears (I was so-o-o-o tired at this point). But instead, I decided to get what I could get and go fight the battle elsewhere.

Then the clerk behind the pharmacy counter said (prescription medication in hand): “Since Tom has never filled a prescription with us before, we need to develop a profile for him.” (It is worth noting that at this time there were eight people behind me in line for this single clerk.)  I bit my tongue, gave her his full address (I couldn’t remember the zip code exactly, and after 2 minutes of dithering around with her computer and throwing various options at me, the clerk said, “Never mind, we’ll fix it later.”)  and phone number, date of birth, location of any moles, and so one. Then the clerk asked, “Does he have any allergies?”

That stopped me cold. “I don’t know,” I said, “but since he’s dying of terminal cancer does it really matter?”

“Well,” she said, “we wouldn’t want to make him sick now, would we?”

Now I’m having a lot of trouble even categorizing this post. I’m going to quit and go to bed. Lisa was so worried when I left that I called to tell her I got home safely (still feeling guilty for leaving her alone with Tom). She said (with a rueful voice) that he was stuck in the hall again. So we kept the conversation short and I felt guiltier than ever at leaving her to deal with this alone.

It should not be this hard to die.

Listen up, magazine publishers

December 22, 2007

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

November 13, 2007

My friend Josh will be ecstatic to learn that The Cluetrain Manifesto is featured prominently in the current issue of The Economist.

The occasion is an article on how marketers are tapping social networks in the cause of promoting their clients’ products. The Economist points to “Cluetrain” as the first broad statement of what they are trying to do.

You might want to read the article and then consider what you are revealing on your Facebook or My Space Page. 

If you aren’t familiar with the 95 theses (not a coincidence: the authors are hoping to revolutionize marketing the way that Luther tried to revlotionize the Church) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the entire text is online. Go to the home page for a quick recap, then click on “Read. . .” in the left navigation bar.

Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future

November 10, 2007

The new Atlantic Monthly has a marvelous piece by Andrew Sullivan titled “Goodbye to All That.” But the cover plug identifies it as “Why Obama Matters.” Both are a good description.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about the current political and social scenes is the absolute polarization of the discourse. Once upon a time, it seems to me, it was possible to have “civil discourse,” with the emphasis on civil in both meanings of the word. Now it seems it takes only an expressed opinion to cause the opposite view to rear an ugly head screaming and shouting.

The last “inexperienced” President we had was JFK. He changed the way Americans felt about themselves and about the world. We can never know what his legacy would truly have been, because his presidency was abruptly terminated by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, only three years into his term. The legacy he left us with in his abrupt departure was the quagmire of Vietnam. Sullivan identifies this as the tainting factor of all politics since.

Sullivan’s main point is that all of the movers and shakers of the political establishment are colored by the divisive attitudes that emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the Vietnam conflict. He suggests that perhaps it’s time for another generation to take over and change the discourse. The obvious candidate is Barack Obama.

Is Obama up to the task? I don’t know. I do know that for me, even as a member of the Vietnam generation, the alternatives are all unattractive.

40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.

I spoke at length tonight with one of my sisters with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. There’s no animus here. We just have very different lives and very different priorities, so we have little reason to speak except at weddings and funerals. And she missed the last family wedding, so I haven’t seen her since our father’s funeral.

But she related an epiphany she had recently. Her husband goes to work about 2:30 a.m. On a recent evening, he left for work and she was wakeful (translated: insomniac), so she got up and turned on the TV. On screen was Al Pacino sitting across a table from a “younger man.” And Al says, “If you just keep looking backward, you give up your entire life.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years or more ago?” she asked me.

Maybe it is time for those of us whose values were forged by the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s to step aside and pass the torch to people untainted by them. It may be time for a changing of the guard.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that what we’re doing with grooming politicians for decades to keep up the status quo isn’t working. It shouldn’t be a question of “It’s my turn now.” It should be a question of leadership, and forward movement, and an acknowledgement that our world is changing.

We can’t keep looking at the past, or we risk losing the present.

I think “The Oregonian” should change its name

November 9, 2007

Oregon has only one major newspaper: The Oregonian. If you want to have a clue what’s going on, you have to read it at least part of the time.

The Eugene Register Guard and the Salem Statesman Journal would like to be major newspapers. They just don’t quite get there.

But The Oregonian’s name is now misleading. It no longer represents or even presents the values of the residents of the state. It should be renamed The Portland Journal or some such thing.

The Oregonian has been gradually abandoning large parts of the state. Delivery services have been stopped in such places as Wallowa County and the valley I live in. Of course, you can get a mail subscription if you don’t mind your paper costing more and being a few days late. But lately it’s been hard to even buy one if I drive an hour to town to get it.

More than half of the residents of Oregon live in the Portland metro area (Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties), as I think I noted previously. But these areas comprise about 10%, possibly less, of the physical area of Oregon. They exclude the grain belt, the cattle ranchers, the timber lands, and other significant portions of Oregon commerce and real estate.

And The Oregonian seems content to ignore all of these.

But here is the latest umbrage-invoking act:

The Oregonian has created a group called “Community Writers.” In this Sunday’s paper, they introduced them.

The group was announced with a lot of folderol. This group, the newspaper said, would be diverse and represent the widest possible interests in the state. They would be encouraged to speak bluntly about what was on their minds and not be censored by the editorial staff.

Then came the profiles of the 12 people selected. Forget the obvious fact that this is, for the most part, a very lily-white group. There is one person under 30, and, if memory serves me well, two people over 50.

But there is only one person who lives more than an hour’s drive from Portland. There are two more who arguably live in smaller towns outside the immediate urban conglomerate known as the greater Portland area. But Hood River and McMinneville are still close enough to Portland (less than an hour) to be engaged in that area on a regular basis.

Where are the real representatives of the rural areas of the state? MIA, that’s where.

The editorial staff of The Oregonian seems to be completely out of touch with about half of the state’s population. And they seem content to have it so.

So maybe I’m just spitting into the wind here, but it seems to me that the fair thing to do would be for the paper to change its name to something that more accurately reflects what it represents. Full disclosure and all, you know.

The Oregonian it ain’t. Not any more.