Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category

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.

New toy, fav tools, new food, hummingbirds, and book worth reading

June 20, 2007

Whew! Can I cram all of that into one blog post? I think so. And things are so busy this time of year that I have to try.

About 7 years ago, Ben asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I answered, “My very own stringcutter (weed eater).” He recovered from his shock eventually, and bought me a Ryobi power head with the “quick link” feature to add attachments.

This was something like the day I said “We have to buy another shovel.” This was before we even had an outhouse out here. But we did have a 6-year-old daughter who had trouble planning ahead. She would say, “Mom, I have to go. I really have to go,” and of course Ben would be at the far end of the property with our only shovel. So we bought another shovel, and life got easier. Then we built an outhouse, and things were great. Now we have septic and real plumbing and I no longer have to get up in the middle of the night wondering what sort of animal has sought the relative warmth of the outhouse, a result, I’m sure, of listening to too much of The Dillards bluegrass music.

But I got my new weed eater. Ben really liked it, and so I never got to use it. It was always gone. But he complained about the smell of the exhaust, so I bought him the 4-cycle version, which used the same attachments. He loved it. But there was a hitch. The 4-cycle can’t be run tilting upward, so he couldn’t use the tree-pruning attachment. So I still lost my weedeater.

Yesterday I bought a new one. The company has been sold God-knows-how-many times, and for awhile you couldn’t get them at all. But they’re back, I have a new one, and I’m going to put an assortment of pink stuff on it so everyone knows it’s mine.

Josh, I’m not going to post unboxing pictures. They’d be very boring, as Ryobi has done a great job of minimizing their packaging.

I’m still in love with the hazel hoe and grape hoe in the garden. These heavy-headed cousins of the American hoe are SO useful. Too bad they’re so hard to find.

But I do have a new kitchen tool that I love, an itty-bitty colander (holds about 4 cups). I use it almost every day.

Yesterday I checked out at Bi-Mart and was leaving when a display caught my eye. “Beer Chips.” Now you have to at least stop and look at this, and I’m glad I did. It’s a new product from a Portland-based company–potato chips made with beer. They’re delicious–crispy, a little sweet, bet you can’t eat just one.

The hummingbirds, I think, have finally started nesting. Thank God! I’ve been filling the feeder 2 and sometimes 3 times each day. But their consumtion has dropped severely and the ones that remain are acting definitely hormonal.

When I should have been out gardening today, instead I was reading a rather amazing (and for someone like me depressing) book–Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. I have added Neil Postman to my list of authors I really want to talk with who are, unfortunately, dead.

This is a terrific book, and a must read for anyone who is worried about the sociological habits of the 21st century American. It was written more than 20 years ago. And reading it left me so depressed, because he is right, right, right, and there may be no fixing it.

Now it’s time to cook dinner. Leftover chili. If you haven’t discovered Carroll Shelby’s (former race car driver/ race car builder) chili mix, do so immediately. It’s terrific.

The angina monologues

May 8, 2007

Before you start sending me sympathy cards, let me state at the outset that the title of this post is intended as a joke, a play on words based on a current theatrical production, rather than a statement of my health. I’m fine, and today proved it.

The official first day of summer may be more than a month away yet, but we had ours today. At 5 p.m., it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the back porch in the shade. That’s where we keep the big thermometer to try to actually measure air temperature rather than reflections and so forth. For those of you on the “other” temperature scale, I think that’s nearly 27 degrees Celsius, which I hope you’ll agree is warm enough for anyone and too warm for some of us.

The new issue (May 5-11) of The Economist arrived with the mail just after noon, so I took part of the midday off to read their special report on cities, a topic near and dear to my heart. I love this British magazine. If I had to choose between it and The New Yorker, I’m not sure how I would choose. The NYer is generally more entertaining, but The Big E often talks about things that I really need to know about with a perspective somewhat wider than you usually get in the U.S., even on NPR.

Each issue they include a special report, generally just about 20 pages on some burning topic. This issue noted that sometime this year (if it hasn’t already happened), more than half the world’s population will have migrated to cities for the first time ever (I think I noted this fact in a previous blog post, but I have no idea where). This one was fascinating. And it’s happening so quickly. Bear in mind that by the mid-19th century, 95% of the world’s population still lived in a rural setting.

This issue explored migrant expectations, slums, developing-country issues, downtown city revitalization, suburbs and exurbs, and a host of things. If you can get your hands on a copy, do so. You will be wiser for doing so. One of the things I like best about this magazine is its ability to examine a host of claims critically without taking a noticeably biased position.

I completed an M.F.A. program in writing last year, and I wrote my critical essay on Italo Calvino’s wonderful book Invisible Cities. Sandwiched between a series of imagined dialogues between Marco Polo and the Kubla Khan are Polo’s descriptions of the places he has seen on his travels.

The book is a bit surreal, but it sneaks up on you with a big dope slap along side the head when you realize what’s going on. After a first reading I immediately added Calvino to my list of authors I would give at least part of my teeth to be able to sit down and talk with. Unfortunately, to date they are all dead, so this is more difficult.

But I digress (aren’t you surprised?).

Near the end of the book, the text refers to an atlas that the Khan owns that shows not only all the cities that are but all of the cities that will be. Khan notes rather despondently that new cities will continue to form until the whole world looks like–are you ready?–Los Angeles. This is one of the possibilities that The Economist explores.

By the end of this century, the world’s rural population, including all of those folks who grow the food the rest of us eat, is estimated to be at something like 20% of the total. I’m not sure I would like this world very much.

In other areas, and somewhat responsible for the title of this post, is how I spent today.

I had a rather leisurely but active morning digging up hundreds of bulbs in back of the house that have naturalized themselves over a couple of decades and were frankly choking each other out. I have a good home elsewhere for about 10% of them. The rest will have to be replanted. . .

I watered the garden.

Then I took that long midday break to read the report on cities.

Then I looked at the temperature on the back porch and said, “Oh, no! My seedlings!”

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been sneaking seeds into the garden a few at a time. This is in addition to some bedding plants and to the vegetable starts I described yesterday. One of the things seeds really hate is to dry out while they’re sprouting. Mortality rates skyrocket.

I watered them this morning and complained to Ben that there wasn’t much water pressure in the garden system. So he went up the hill and cleaned the spring out, returning drenched in sweat (this little trip is about a quarter of a mile, mostly straight up, climbing over fallen trees and the like. Lots of pressure.

But when I saw the temperature approaching 80 degrees, I knew my wimp little morning watering was not going to suffice. The cauliflower and lettuce looked forlorn; the seed rows were borderline; the fruit trees and bushes were forming crops and needed lots of moisture.

I got there in time, I know, and after a cooler evening things will look better tomorrow. Heck, I will look better tomorrow. The only reason I’m still vertical is that my wonderful guy showed up halfway through this process with a huge glass of icewater and a hug. Both were revitalizing.