Saturday, October 29, 2011

Metro Morphing

I love living in a place where I can see the seasons change. This is that time of year when some of the trees in my neighborhood celebrate Halloween by imitating fire. That they are ablaze is an understatement. The reds, oranges, and yellows are day-glow.
But there are other transitions too. They don't come at predictable times of year. They move slowly, even slower than many people might imagine, but they too are everlasting. One such change is the gradual disappearance of the newspaper.
We know this is happening, but the form it actually takes is just beginning to take shape. Every morning when I buy my hometown paper I'm aware that the little yellow metal box is soon to disappear. Hell, the paper is literally disappearing. It's often embarrassingly thin. And that's with all the ads still in tact. But there is a notion that maybe the daily newspaper could survive with a different function. One NY Times editor recently made the observation that the American newspaper is taking the place of the magazine because it now serves to review the news we already know. It becomes a summary of the information we've received from instantly following issues on the Internet.
Either way, the ways and places we receive our information about the world are changing. And with all change, the situation is unavoidable so the way we handle it or not is increasingly important. I've decided to savor the physical product called a newspaper. I do this by seeing how long it can be purchased on the street. That is, I don't subscribe any more, I buy it from the box. One day someone will explain to a curious child what those were. Perhaps a colorful contraption will show up at an estate sale one day and go from there to "The Roadshow."
I look at some of the newspaper department that now seem an anachronism. Who sells anything in a newspaper these days? Why? I read the comics, look at the weather, scan the letters to the editor, and of course, work my way through the sports section. You know, it is often all a review of things I already know. If the paper helps me know them more accurately, then it's done it's job.
And then there is the crossword and the Jumble. Good brain exercises. It's become ritual for me now. When there is a crossword sitting around unmarked, it's enough to turn off the computer. Most days I live dangerously, I do them in ink. My finished puzzles (occasionally I fill in all the boxes without asking for help) are enough to light me up like those trees outside right now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vacant Lot

It was one of those moments when you just don't think. You react. For me, it's complicated by the teacher in me. We write and talk about social justice all the time but when it comes to actually doing something there is often no time to think.
I have a distant relative in my family that often spouts some racist notion. Everybody hears but nobody reacts. If it happens again, I've thought about what to say in such a way as to make a point without losing my cool. We'll see. I tend to go off around ignorance. That's when the teacher in me saves myself. I flip into the default personality that tries to make such an awkward situation a teachable moment knowing full well that my own demeanor and emotional state will make a huge difference. Out in the real world of grocery store parking lots, there if hardly enough time. So it was yesterday when a loud car horn blast shook me from my Saturday morning serenity and I noticed one of those Seinfeld moments. Some guy and his girlfriend were frustrated by a stopped car in front of them and blasted a warning before abruptly pulling out and around the source of their frustration. Trouble is, that stopped car was serenely waiting for a parking place which the impatient driver then took for his own. That flagrant behavior really pisses me off. Anybody can make that mistake and not be aware of their surroundings. People pushing baby strollers emerge from parked cars and into crosswalks in front of me all the time. It's one of those damned if you do /don't moments. The meaning of life, don't you know. But that's not the point. The point is I said something. "Hey, didn't you see that guy was waiting for that parking place?"
It's really a bullying situation, isn't it? We've all been on that end of things whether we intended to or not. As expected, Katie, my wife, asked me to keep quiet. I can't. Some semi-id like characteristic emerges in me and I want to push back. I'm prepared for any consequences. I know people carry guns, the engage in road rage crimes all the time. Often I do refrain, letting my sense of common sense take over. But sometimes...most times...I just react. And I proud of it. I'd like to think that the guy driving that car yesterday took a moment and in his head said something like, I really did fuck up, I didn't mean to not notice what was really going on. The smile that emerged on my lips was one of nervous face-saving because my girlfriend was with me. And anyway, some people are just too slow. It's no big deal. But next time I'll see if there is a reason someone in front of me seems like they are just sitting in the middle of a crowded parking lot.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Take It

Sometimes, when it seems as if everything is too complicated to understand, or as one of my favorite baristas likes to say, "too many moving parts," it's best to go back to the basics. We see this all the time in music. So many musicians tire of the pace the amplification of sound, the artificial inauthenticity of it all and go back to the blues. Deep roots. So it is with this fickle economy of ours right now. In fact thee is much to compare with today's malaise and the big one of the 1930s.

Another little chunk of knowledge to remember is to see what some of the finest minds, at least who you consider to be the finest minds, have to say on the matter. I reached back for Woody Guthrie today because a little quote trapped in my brain would not leave me alone. Seems as if Woody had a lot to say about Wall Street. No doubt in my mind where he's be were he alive and well today. In fact Woody not only wrote songs with Wall St. in mind, he also drew some cartoons and said a fair amount on the subject. There is a wonderful little collection of his wit and wisdom called Woody Sez. Long out of print, it continues to amaze because Woody's words are so timely. Try on this little gem:
"What Wall Street is a lookin fer is a humen being to put out in front--to front for em--the reason for this is cause you caint hardly find none on Wall St. I mean no humens. When youre mind gits to where it rangs like a cash register ever time you think , why you wood make a good hand on Wall St., but you woodent make a good enything else."
Now don't have a cow, Woody knew how to spell, but he often wrote his newspaper columns with the kind of colorful spelling that reflected just how his people, the dust bowl migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas..., spoke. That left no doubt he was not only for the people but of the people.
Woody's writings and ramblings are full of these rather eerie predictions about things that have been repeated. We all know what happens to those who ignore history, and it continues to keep happening doesn't it. Woody was fond of saying, "Let me be known as the man who told you something you already know." Fair enough. Trouble is, so many of us don't even know our own history.

If Woody were here today, and in many ways he's occupying a city near you in spirit, he'd be able to reduce his message in no uncertain terms. Six words that say it all would surely come out of his hard'travelin' little mouth: "Take it easy, but take it."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Power Panel?

Sometimes I watch the news in the morning. Often,the Today show will come on and while I'm working on something else or answering emails or paying bills, I'll have one ear on the content. It's fairly easy to do because they repeat their stories every year. All the recurrent themes about diet and relationships, child rearing, and of curse how to cook chicken and pasta, and the latest vegetarian discovery. But today, I chanced to catch a new feature. I think it's called Today's Professionals. The concept is a power panel, but essentially Matt Lauer sits down with three "professionals" and asks their opinion about a few of the current news stories.
So here's Matt with the resident doctor Nancy Snyderman, the resident lawyer, Starr Jones, and businessman Donny Deutsch. The doc is OK with me but not so sure I care what the others think. First Matt asks them about the pregnant woman who gave birth after running the Chicago marathon. They kick that one around for a few minutes, disagreeing about whether or not that was a wise thing to do. The women think so, Mr Deutsch says it's not common sense. Then Lauer reveals the results of a recent survey. "Americans were asked, would you rather your children have good grades or good manners?" He soon says that 75% of those surveyed said good manners are more important. All four on the set seem surprised but then settle down to discussing the merits of manners and grades. Only Ms. Jones goes for the grades. "I know my child will get good manners from me so that's why I say grades. Dr. Sniderman says that manners open more doors than grades. Mr. Deutsch agrees that manners are more important. But what follows is really fascinating. The proceed to discuss the issue equating grades with intelligence. At no point does anyone question the concept of grades as they apply to learning, much less intellect. Nobody questions the validity of IQ or the fact that grades are both highly subjective and often inaccurate representations of knowledge.
Surprising? No. Unfortunately, it's to be expected. Just another example of how people who purport to know what they are talking about know very little. I could write a letter, make a phone call, push harder, but it'd be to no avail. Tomorrow, Today will be just like all the yesterdays. New recipes, what men/women really want, what should I do about my 401k, a promo for a new NBC program...All this from the folks that once again bring you Education orchestrated sound bytes.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Portland Occupied

Easily 5,000. The local media said between 3 and 4,000. Probably closer to 6,000 occupied Portland. In synch with the burgeoning movement that started on Wall Street, my town put it’s name next to those other cities where people want to express their frustration and anger with the current political malaise. Katie and I decided we needed to go there, so on a gloomy Thursday afternoon, we boarded the nearest bus and headed for Waterfront Park. Best not to drive anywhere near political demonstrations. My 60s experience always kicks in and I focus on what shoes to wear, having enough pockets, and something to write with. Too bad I forgot my camera. At least a couple of friends of mine didn’t and I can use their pictures as well as those of the Oregonian newspaper.
For me it was all about the signs they carried. Those said it all. That and the cross section of people represented. It was billed as the other 99%, and if the diversity of the Portland crowd is any indication, it surely was.
So, in the spirit of Bob Dylan "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, here's a teaspoon of what I saw,heard, and felt my blue and brown eyed darlin' young ones:
I saw 5000 people carrying signs* and calling and responding
I saw people of all ages who felt it was important to stop their daily routine and put their bodies in the street to make a statement together
I saw hundreds looking down on all this from office high rises and hotels
I saw an older man in a suit carrying a triangular folded American flag (as inoff a coffin)
I saw more dogs and children than I've ever seen at any political demonstration
I heard "The Times are Changin'" on a boom box
I heard the monitors and organizers stress non-violence in any encounter with others
I heard the local media keep referring to this 99% as "protesters."
I smelled all manner of smoke, from herbal cigarettes, to tobacco to weed, to sewers, to expensive perfume, to rain.
I felt my youth return in the faces of the 20 sometings present.
I felt proud of Portland that, for the most part, people get that they need to do something without alienating others.
BUT...The best way to experience all this is to take a look at the signs people carried.* Here is a random sampling from my eyes to yours:
"Never be deceived the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth"
Lucy Parsons
The only way to practice democracy is to practice democracy
Care aobut our future not Snookie's new shoes
We are the ones we've been waiting for
It's easier to get a gun than buy my education
I need a job; fuck your bonus
The police are part of the 99%
If I stole 50% of your 401k, I'd be in jail
I"m wait listed for Chemo thanks to Wall Street
Will work for democracy

Thee were hundreds of others.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Down Cold

"They don't know what they don't know." That's a line we often use in education. It can apply to teachers working with students, but more often it works best when considering teachers. Many of the beginning teachers I work with often think they have to continually reinvent the wheel. Of course, they don't. In mentoring or coaching someone else, it's important to listen more than talking to or at someone. But sometimes the notion to "drop knowledge" is just too tempting. Time and experience can inform what we don't know best.
Ignorance is not an excuse, nor is it something to be overly critical about if a person simply does not know something. This morning, while making my way up one of Portland's narrow neighborhood streets, a car appeared in front of me rather suddenly. The driver, a young woman, appeared frustrated. I raised my index finger (none other) backed up and over to the side, and then motioned her forward. This happens often in my town. Usually the other driver will wave or smile, or somehow acknowledge that they are grateful for the effort. Today nothing. Some people don't know common courtesy, some could care less, some don't know what they don't know.
In that same vein, I watched a couple of sports broadcasters on a local call in program trying to discuss the recent incident where Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler when remarking on the recent golf game the President played with the Speaker of the House. These two novice broadcasters couldn't seem to figure out what all the fuss was about. "Who cares what he thinks," they said. "Why are people talking about this?" Apparently they don't know that this particular entertainer has an iconic father. That alone gives him an audience even when he wraps his arrogance around his ignorance. Most disturbing is Williams Jr.'s follow-up remark that "Obama is the enemy." As Waylon Jennings once sang, "I don't think Hank done it that way." Click this link for details:
Hank Williams Jr. cites tea party in defense of 'Hitler' comments

Yes, I'm aware that I have given Hank Williams Sr. the benefit of the doubt here. But that was then, his red, white, and blue tinted son, the icon of Monday Night Football because of his theme song, this All-American performer is apparently fighting his own private war right here at home. Isn't that treason? No, not really just immensely simplistic thinking.
Even the seemingly most patriotic don't know what they don't know. Enough said. THis one is a no-brainer in more ways than one.
Post Script: The last NFL game I watched featured a comment by the announcer detailing how many millions of dollars each lineman on one particular NFL team were now making. To my way of thinking this is as much a statement about the values of this culture as anything else. That the real obscenity, isn't it? In this era where 1% of the population as most of the wealth, in this week where more and more people are supporting the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that won't go away, in this current age, where the American Dream has gone beyond nightmare into the realm of non-existant and dare I say irrelevant, our political parties are referred to as "the enemy." Are you ready for some football, or maybe something better? Like Hank the original once wondered, how can I "melt your cold, cold, heart.