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Monday, October 30, 2006

Gang Violence hits home

My 23 year old son was pretty badly beaten last night in San Diego as he was eating a burrito at an outdoor taco stand. A witness told police that the assailants were members of a local gang. The five alleged gang members were insulted when a drunk young man at the same taco stand, unknown by my son and his two friends, threw salsa out at cars passing by. My son has no memory of the beating, but was told at the hospital that he'd been hit hard in his face, fallen to the ground, and then stomped repeatedly on his head. He'd been walking around the parking lot in a bloody daze and was unable to answer simple questions. He only remembers when he came to in a hospital ER, restrained to a gurney to keep his head immobile, with police around the bed and no doctors available. Eventually he was let go to be driven home by his friends (also beaten) with no instructions about how to deal with the aftermath of a concussion. Fortunately or unfortunately he has had several of those before from snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. and had his girlfriend keep him awake and observe him. The paramedics had cleaned the blood from his scalp and face.

I'm sure the assailants had no thoughts about this young man's inner beauty as they beat on his head; the way he makes so many of us laugh; his tireless sense of play, his abiding friendships, ready smile and affection, his poignant, early steps into post-college adulthood; least of all that he might have parents and a twin brother who would lay sleepless with concern in their respective homes miles away after hearing about it.

I'm sure they just saw a young white guy who may have been connected to the "salsa-insult" on their car. He remembers their car pulling into the taco stand lot and was naive enough to think he had nothing to worry about since he had nothing to do with the guy on the other side of the lot who had tossed salsa.

I remember that sense of empathy-free righteousness that allowed me, as a high school student already filled with rage, to hit others who I thought were the "bad guys" in one situation or another. I see that same inappropriate, unevolved mentality in the foreign policies of our White House leaders. That's all so abstract compared to the image I can't get out of my head in the wee morning hours..... of a heavy shoe coming down on my son's unconscious, precious head.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Watch Out For Terrorists

No matter where we've grown up we've probably heard and read about "terrorists" that we must defend against. The irony is that whatever group was labeled "terrorist" doesn't see themselves that way and very likely labels their oppponents as terrorists whenever violence is inflicted on their people.

Terrorism is a function of the “enemy” - "the other" – the fear they instill in us regarding violence they might unleash on us.

Reminds me of the play/movie "A Delicate Balance” when the old couple comes to the other couple’s house with their suitcases in tow. They say that the "terror" has come to their house and they had to leave. In their case it was death knocking and their fear of that end.

8-Track Cable TV

(My opening remarks at the recent Alliance for Community Media Western Region Conference in San Jose)

I begin with a newspaper quote that will ring familiar to all practitioners of public access media.

“My interest is very intense around my family, my community and my friends. Obviously, traditional journalistic institutions don’t scale down to the level of my kid’s soccer game. And yet, there is a reporting function that still needs to be done. Is that journalism? I don’t know what it is, but I do know that...individuals are …. doing it. “

I SAID THAT – so many times I lost count. But that was a quote from an interview conducted by the San Francisco Chronicle in the Sunday, October 15th edition with Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired Magazine. He’s talking about how the internet is changing our lives. And I got the last line a bit wrong. It was “increasingly, individuals are GOING TO BE doing it.”

What’s wrong with this picture?…… I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. If, instead ….. if someone could have handed me a time machine in 1984 when I took my first job as a public access manager and if I could have taken my same skills and interests and become a manager at YouTube, I’d be incredibly RICH today…. And my kids wouldn’t have ever said, “oh, my dad works in TV, but he runs the BORING channel. They’d have thought I was ALL GRAVY - THE BOMB!

The other thing is that Chris Anderson doesn’t seem to know that we’ve been presenting this type of “hyperlocal” content since he was writing for his school newspaper. Why doesn’t he know it?

At a regional conference we had in Palo Alto in 1995, the late, great Dirk Koning was our keynote speaker. He said he was surprised to be chosen for that role. He told us that he was the guy who went to the electronics store in the 70’s and said, “8-track? cassette? 8-track? cassette? Hmmmmmmm……..8-TRACK!" And made his purchase.

So today........"Cable TV Channels? Internet?...Hmmmmmmm.............

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Race Wars

A few nights ago Sally and I watched the movie, "Earth", the 2nd in Deepa Mehta's trilogy about India. The whole trilogy is amazing and disturbing. But this film belongs to another family of art that delves into societies, communities, and psyches that start in a state of coexistence if not harmony and descend into hatred and horrific "us vs. them" violence . I'm thinking of the novel "Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi that takes place in a village in Germany as the Nazis come to power. Also the film "No Man's Land" where two Bosnians and a Serb are trapped in a foxhole together. I'm thinking of the documentary, "Hebron" that documents life before and during a local massacre in a town that has become synonymous with sectarian violence. Those works draw me like a moth to a candle, yet still so much escapes me. I feel as if I need to keep rewinding and playing parts back in slo-mo to understand the moment of transition.

"Earth" is about a group of friends - Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu young men who are split apart as India gains its independence from Britain and Muslim leaders demand their own land. It is the rare person who refuses to buy into the emotions of mistrust and vengeance that accompany escalating acts of violence.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

President Bush's Blood Brother

One of my sons had lunch with President Bush a few weeks ago and understands him less than ever now. Zac, my 23 year old son, works for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. President Bush decided to come to New Orleans on the first anniversary of Katrina. They set up a tent for lunch near the Habitat project Zac works on - building 81 homes for displaced musicians. There are about 20 Habitat Staff and 40 volunteers who were joined by Bush and some other important people. Zac sat with Chief of Staff, Andrew Card and two female staffers. At some point, somebody noticed that President Bush had some blood on his finger and asked him if he would like to have the Habitat medic clean it up and put on a bandage. Bush smiled and said he'd be fine. Then he wiped his bloody finger off on the astonished volunteer medic's shirt. The medic turned to Zac who was standing next to him and said, "what the fuck did he just do?" Wherever he goes, whatever he does and says, President Bush just keeps leaving people with that same question on their lips.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

When Is a Candidate Down for the Count?

Many community access media centers tape candidate statements before an election. A sister station in Northern California reported a strange story regarding their candidate statements. They have taped statements for both candidates in a runoff election for county district attorney. One of the candidates died last week. His campaign has sent the station an email saying they want the video statement to be played posthumously. They consider the dead man to be "a viable candidate" who should have the same rights as his opponent. Apparently, if he manages to win, the county supes would possibly appoint a DA more to their liking than his opponent. Talk about false advertising.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is Anybody Going to Vote In East Palo Alto?

For many years I have helped to organize and televise candidate forums and debates on community cable TV. This year, our agency received a grant to collaborate on a number of forums with several nearby League of Women Voter branches. In addition to televising the forums, the past few years we've been putting them online, indexing them into different segments to make them very user-friendly for the busy voters looking for some resources deeper than the tsunami of slick one-sided ads and mailers they get hit with.

Last week we had two of our forums. The first was for city council candidates of Menlo Park, CA, held at the Menlo Park City Council Chamber. Over 100 audience members attended the 90 minute forum in the upscale town. On Saturday we had a doubleheader forum in East Palo Alto, a neighboring town in demographic and economic transition. First were the elementary school district candidates followed by the city council candidates. At 10 AM when it was time to begin, there was one person in the audience and only one out of six of the candidates present. All but one of the candidates dribbled in, but not as many audience members showed up. By the time we got to the City Council Candidate forum there were about a dozen in the audience.

East Palo Alto is now majority Hispanic. This year we hired Spanish translators to provide real time translation into Spanish that could be heard via headphones. We sent a letter in Spanish to 133 households that had requested a ballot in Spanish, encouraging them to attend. Not a single headset was needed. I don't mean to single out one particular demographic as not a single one you could name was well represented unless folding chairs count as a group.

I'll report back what kind of traffic the online versions get before Election Day. There will be an English version and a Spanish version.