Friday, March 07, 2003

Instant Karma

This is exciting--- the first actual blog-like entry in this blog space, a series of formally unrelated items...

Reaction by some who've attended the meetings of Humboldt County Democrats and Greens described in the piece below (“Thoughts on the Politics of Blue and Green.”)
prompts me to this clarification. At the end of the piece I mention that I'm unlikely to attend future meetings and I say why. My reasons have more to do with me than the meetings, and I certainly support the continuing dialogue between Dems and Greens. My essay was merely an attempt to contribute to that dialogue. I wish everyone well who attends these meetings, and I salute their commitment, especially those who travel considerable distances (50 miles or more) to attend them. Nor did I intend to leave the impression I definitely wasn’t going to go to such meetings in the future.

This reminds me of an essay I read recently from the Atlantic magazine on being an introvert in an extravert world. It probably helps explain my meetings phobia, though again I must hasten to add that I am fully capable of functioning at meetings. Some people find writing difficult, but they do it when it's part of their job, or they feel so strongly about something they have to do it and it's the only way to get accomplished what they want to accomplish. I'm the same way about meetings. I don't find writing all that difficult (writing well is always a challenge, however). But I do find meetings difficult, especially the recovery period. I doubt that my attendance at these makes much of a difference.

Here's a link to the introvert essay.

Comment on President Bush's prime time press conference: the Washington Times noted that it defied tradition when Helen Thomas, the senior White House correspondent, was not only not called on first, she wasn't called on at all. It's not hard to figure out why. When she was a wire service correspondent, her questions were mainstream. Now that she's a columnist, she is much more combative, especially on the topic of the upcoming bombing of Iraq. She thinks its immoral to bomb Iraqi civilians and she is relentless in questioning on the subject. See, the archive for Friday, January 24: “Milky Way in Review.”

Department of polls I wish to quote because they agree with me, as opposed to the polls whose methodology I question when they don't:
a Quinnipiac University survey shows that American voters favor "an as yet unnamed Democratic party candidate" for President over President George W. Bush by a 48% to 44% margin.

And the television network Americans trust most for news: PBS.
I don't know the source of this poll, though I heard it from an unbiased reporter during a PBS pledge drive.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Accepting Fred Rogers

Rege Cordic, Bob Prince, Bill Burns, Don Shannon, Hank Stohl, Patti Burns, Ed and Wendy King---depending on your response to these names, I can tell not only that you lived in the Pittsburgh area at one time (and if you grew up there, I've likely already spotted your accent) but when you lived there.

These are some of the legendary names of Pittsburgh media. Pittsburgh has more of a local culture than a lot of places, but like all cities these days, the cast of celebrity names is heavy with local media---the radio jocks, sportscasters, television anchors and weatherpeople, and the hosts of occasional local entertainment programs.

Few become known outside their city, and like these Pittsburgh icons, they almost never achieve anything like their local fame even if they go elsewhere. About the only exception in Pittsburgh was Fred Rogers. He became a part of childhoods from Alaska to Mexico for more than thirty years. He died in late February.

He was part of Pittsburgh TV just about from its beginnings in the 1950s. I was already in college when he began "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" as a local program in the mid 60s, but I'd seen his work---even some of the same puppets---watching Josie Carey's show for children in the fifties. He was that show's producer.

That's maybe the aspect of Fred Rogers that was least noticed---he was a TV professional. He started out on production teams---doing everything from fetching coffee to being floor manager---for early TV outings like the Lucky Strike Hit Parade and the Kate Smith show.

I remember seeing him in the late 80s or early 90s on a local TV retrospective of the early years in Pittsburgh, surrounded by other on-camera pioneers, sensing their camaraderie from the days when they had essentially created an industry. He was one of the few who was still working in TV by then.

Even though I spent some time at the WQED studios and lived in the same part of Pittsburgh for awhile as he did, I only met Fred Rogers once. The word on him in Pittsburgh was that while his company was a bit dysfunctional at times, he was a very smart guy with not a whiff of hypocrisy about him. He was genuine---genuinely Mr. Rogers.

I met him in 1996 or so, after watching the taping of one of his shows. Even then it was rumored that the neigborhood's days were numbered. His musical director, Johnny Costa (another legendary Pittsburgh name in music as well as TV), was ailing, and Fred was said to be inclined to fold the show if Costa retired. But he kept making new programs for several more years, until 2000.

Even in a brief meeting, you could tell he was one of those people who is alive to the moment. Some people have to fight through their self-absorption, their thoughts or emotions, just to see and hear and feel what's in front of them. He took in everything with his senses, which made him perfect for television, and perfect for understanding how children perceive the world. He could be vulnerable in front of the camera, and behind it he could pick out the shadow in the background of the camera shot that might feel threatening to a watching child.

He was way out in front in understanding the power of accepting children for who they are, and for children accepting themselves. Yet he fed their ability to change and grow by realizing that curiosity is the essence and the joy of childhood. He knew how much children sensed, and how much they thought about their world.

He used what he sensed to develop ideas about how to speak to children's concerns. Some of his on-screen rituals, like changing shoes, still seem weird to me, but he somehow knew their symbolic function for kids. It took considerable courage to do what he did. He was one of those rare people who seemed made for exactly what he was doing, and maybe not much else. It was mutual good fortune that Mr. Rogers found his neighborhood, and it found him.