Archive for the ‘social changes’ 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 The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”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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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.

Politics and polis–the Democrats’ dilemma

March 15, 2008

You can’t be following the news on the political front this week and not hark back to Will Rogers’s gibe: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

What really set off this tirade is listening to Hilary Clinton maintain over and over that she can “win in the big states, the ones that matter.”

What the Democrats don’t seem to get is that the “big” states are going to vote “blue” regardless, unless of course they run a blithering idiot for President. Even then, perhaps, they can win in those states. It’s happened before.

What the Dems need to win is a candidate who can appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, urban and rural, white and blue collar, rich and poor, anyone from any walk of life who has a reasonably open mind and likes to think about things.

That candidate is NOT Hilary Clinton, and all of this dithering is simply doing the entire liberal movement a huge disservice.

Clinton represents just more BAU (business as usual). I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I could vote for her, much as I think it would be terrific to see a woman in the Presidency. (I really thought that Laura Bush and Theresa Kerry would have made a much more interesting pairing than their husbands did. . .)

I’m sure my viewpoint is colored by living in Oregon. Although my state has been much in the news lately for its facility with “vote by mail” (of which I heartily approve), it’s really worth looking at for another reason.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in one major metropolitan area. If you add in the residents of the other “cities” in the Willamette Valley, the percentage is probably closer to 70% of the state’s population being urban in nature. Portland becomes, in effect, the “polis” for the state, and the interests of the rest of the residents be damned.

The “big look” committee charged with looking at land use laws is back in action again. The committee was abruptly defunded at the middle of the year last year when it became apparent they were trying to balance urban and rural concerns, which was not what the governor or the legislature had in mind when they set the thing up. The public uproar over the defunding has reversed it.

I have high hopes for this group. One of the members was quoted as saying something like, “It’s clear that what works in Portland and Washington County does not necessarily work well in other parts of the state.” Well, doh. . .

But that needed to be said. Out loud. Urban Oregonians have ridden roughshod over the rest of the state’s residents for decades now. The result is absolute polarization and a complete inability to get anything of meaning done. Sound familiar?

I’d like to see an environment where our elected official returned to doing the business of the electorate as it relates to the economy, social needs, and foreign policy. I’d like to see them stop using sexual escapade investigations and forays into athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs as an excuse to avoid facing the really tough challenges that deserve serious attention.

I don’t think being titillated should be the direct aim of any elected official.

I’d like to see a strong U.S. and a strong dollar again.

I’d like to vote “for” someone for the first time in a long time (as opposed to voting “agin”).

I’ve long been an admirer of Senator McCain, but frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the waffling and snake-oil sales pitch he’s pulling out to not alienate anyone. I expect him to be confrontational, and if he wants to get elected, I think his strengths lie in that direction.

I’m one of those independents they keep talking about. I consider myself  fiscally pretty conservative but socially very liberal. I have no objection to funding social programs, even those I may not benefit from directly. (I’m pretty sure I would benefit indirectly from some of them.) But I do think we need to be operating on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, not accumulating debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

That’s the way I run my personal finances, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask our elected officials to take the same approach. I think we might find some smarter decisions made if we took very seriously the concept of operating on a cash basis and paying the bills as they come due.

Whew! This has gone very far afield from where I started, so let me make another abrupt jag.

Dear Democratic Party: Please give me a choice in November. I can’t commit to Obama right now, but I’m interested enough to want to hear a lot more. I’d like to have the dilemma of two good candidates that I have to choose between.

This election is the Democrats’ election to lose. I just hope they don’t screw it up with back-room politics. If they do, they should probably consider disbanding and leaving the task of representing liberal social policy to some group more qualified.

Nathan Zeldes leading the charge to sanity?

March 4, 2008

Well, I finally got around to the Sunday NYT today (except for the book review and the magazine, which I’ll take with me to Tom’s tomorrow).

There’s a great little essay by a man who’s forcing himself to become unwired one day a week. It’s an interesting piece overall, but I got a chuckle to discover one of my Intel buddies, Nathan Zeldes (full disclosure: our acquaintance is an online one, since he’s half a world from me), quoted regarding his efforts at Intel to reduce e-mail.

Nathan, when I was there (not so long ago at that) I seem to recall that we wrote about something in excess of a million e-mails a day. I notice now that you refer to more than 3 million a day. Doesn’t sound as if your efforts are being particularly successful. . .;^}

For those of you who haven’t made Nathan’s acquaintance, you’ll find his Web site linked in my blog roll.

When I first moved out here, I suffered a bit from technology withdrawal. I had gotten used to being online all the time. Not being able to do that made me a little uncomfortable.

But now I have to confess that not only have I gotten totally used to scheduling my online time (usually when the generator is already running unless there’s something major that I need to do), but I’m also rather enjoying living mostly in the real world again. (I make an exception for Super Mario Galaxy, of course.)

I’m off to Tom’s again for a couple of days tomorrow. I don’t even take my laptop with me any more. We have so little time left to share that I want to just be there, even when he’s sleeping.

On the Big Elk front, spring is definitely early. The daffodils are blooming right on time, but the first hummingbird showed up three weeks early, buzzed me, sat down and folded his wings and said, “Where’s the feeder?” It was up the next morning, and he found it within an hour of daylight.

I remember this hummingbird from last year. He’s a bit of an odd duck. He’s a rufus, but he seems to not know how to hide his bright ruby-colored gorgette the way most of them do. He flies around glowing all the time. Since to other hummingbirds this is a “fight” challenge, things are interesting when he’s around. He also makes a sort of odd metallic sound when he’s buzzing around. At any rate, there’s no mistaking him, and I’m glad to see him back, even if I wasn’t quite ready to deal with the feeder yet.

Now the pot roast needs attention, and I will ride off into the night.

Politics, pragmatism, and probity

February 12, 2008

I confess that for many years I’ve wondered how anyone could seriously want to be President of the United States. This comes from my experience of JFK.

He was the youngest President ever elected. He didn’t serve a full term. By his third year in office, he had transformed from a young, vital man into an aging man in pain with bags under his eyes and a deep note of sadness. This was a sobering lesson.

I started watching how other Presidents aged in office. It seemed to me that no one would seriously want that job. It made anyone who did suspect in my eyes, driven by ego at the very least.

I am a great fan of pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism dictates that actions be judged by the results they produce. This isn’t a case of “the end justifies the means” but rather an acknowledgment that a diverse society requires compromise and an understanding of “the Other.”

Our polarized and fragmented social structures seem to be missing both of those elements.

I think it is possible to be pragmatic without relinquishing probity. I also want someone leading me whose moral position is unequivocal. I suppose from a political standpoint I’d like to feel good again about waving the flag. It’s been a long time.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to agree with each and every belief of a candidate. If I had that sort of sure lock on right/wrong, perhaps I would be running for office.

But I don’t. I muddle along making the best decisions I can with the information I have. I don’t want to invest what limited physical and mental resources I have in knowing everything there is to know that’s important about our world today. I’d rather, frankly, write poetry and try to make sense of what I perceive as “the big issues.” And those have NOTHING to do with politics, or government, or status, or financial gain.

They have a lot to do with kindness, social justice, grace, and fiscal responsibility, pretty much in that order.

I’d like to know that the people I’m voting for value those things as well.

I see evidence of those qualities in McCain and Obama. The rest of them are just politicians. They may be “pragmatic” (do anything to get elected), but their values are different from mine.

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.

Say goodbye to “the common good”

November 8, 2007

I ranted a couple of days ago about our cowardly legislators, and I suppose this is a related topic. The election results are in, and I am very depressed all over again.

I was born and grew up in Oregon, although I haven’t lived here all my life. But I’m old enough to remember when there WAS an Oregon. People who lived here or were from here were always proud of the fact. Oregon was different. It was, perhaps, peopled by an odd assortment of folks, but it worked, maybe because there were so many odd ones. They respected each other’s right to be odd.

Now, it seems we live in a divided state. It’s divided in many ways, but certainly the most obvious one is the urban/rural divide. And the differences are so great that it might as well be two different planets.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in three counties–Multnomah (Portland), Washington (Beaverton/Hillsboro), and Clackamas (the eastern suburbs). The combined weight of all these bodies (and votes) is enough to skew most elections in favor of what the urbanites want. And far, far too many of them have no idea what Oregon is really all about.

But what’s worse, they have no idea that what is a great solution for Portland may not play out so well in counties where the average town population is under 10,000 people. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Here are the election results:

Measure 49 (severing restricting the property rights voted in twice by the people of Oregon in majority votes, most recently in Measure 37): Passed handily, about 62% of the vote statewide. But the heavy yeses were all in the populous counties. The lesser populated counties had a mix, but generally voted no.

Measure 50 (adding a very large tax to each pack of cigarettes to pay for children’s health care): Failed. No one disagrees that children need health insurance, but as one columnist pointed out, if we really think it’s so important, a levy of $1.29 a month on each household would pay for the program. The legislature had extra money this year and opted to allocate not a cent of it for the project. I’d like to note at this point that Measure 50 actually passed in Multnomah County, the only county in which it did. But it did not pass by sufficient margin to outweigh the votes of the rest of the state. In more rural areas, people are aware that the ones they are taxing are their neighbors, and they seem more sensitive to issues of fairness.

I’m actually in favor of things like user fees. If they would tax cigarettes to pay for the increased health costs of smoking, I probably would even vote for that. If they would license bicycles to pay for bicycle lanes, I’l love it (and I would have a way to identify the asshole bicycle riders that you meet occasionally). Let’s increase alcohol taxes and spend the money on drunk driving enforcement and additional police officers and more treatment programs. That sort of thing actually makes sense.

One of the concepts that the original European settlers brought with them was the concept of “the commons.” Each of the old, old towns you find on the east coast has a “commons” area. The commons was a part of the landscape that residents shared. Each resident could graze a cow or sheep on the commons instead of having to have enough property to do it at their residence.

The commons was a cooperative concept. No one was allowed to hog the grazing space. It was for the good of all.

What I think we’ve lost is the idea that decisions should be measured in terms of what is “good for all.” It seems to have been replaced by “what is good for me”: “This is important, but I don’t want to pay for it. Who can we stick with the bill?”

I’m also tired of being barraged with the old canard that I need to maintain my place in its pristine condition so that city residents can take a drive in the country and enjoy the view. Aside from the fact that they often trespass, leave behind beer cans and other garbage, and roar down the road with radios blaring, I frankly don’t think it’s my responsibility to maintain their amusement. Of course, if they wanted to help pay my property taxes and other maintenance costs, I might feel differently.

I have another rant about our state’s largest newspaper, but I think it’s going to have to wait for tomorrow.

But I have to admit I’m mulling over new possible meanings for the “not im my back yard” attitude.