dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Weathering Adversity Brings Us Together

April 5th, 2019 by dk
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Why do people treat one another better during and after a storm? And how can that tendency become our reason for hopefulness?

Most of us benefited from, participated in, or at least observed a sudden surge of kindness between strangers during the snowstorms we had last week. H.J. Lindley wrote a letter to the editor to thank an “angel person … who shoveled my walkway from my front steps to the curb.”

Whoever helped Lindley did their deed quietly and anonymously — but not uncommonly. You could see similar good deeds on literally every street corner.

Even strangers passing on sidewalks are more apt to engage one another after events like last week. “How about this weather?” If you’ve ever been camping during a huge storm, this all seems familiar. It’s not uncommon to share warmth and comfort with neighbors after a good rain.

You have dry firewood, but your matches got soaked. Somebody else has a lighter and a few cans of beans. Add a guitar or some kazoos. Presto, it’s Kumbaya around the campfire — perfect strangers sharing a perfect meal. It wouldn’t have happened — or it wouldn’t have happened so naturally — without the storm.

Our “stranger danger” reflex yields to something deeper when a calamity strikes. Our more primal instinct emerges to help one another, or to ask for help if we need it. Viewed against a formidable adversary, we’re suddenly on the same team, sharing the same fate, working toward a common goal.

During normal times, we focus on the differences between ourselves. But when the skies open up, or the power lines snap, or a tree falls across the street, we react to the adversity by watching out for one another. Catastrophe recontextualizes relationships.

Historically and biologically speaking, what we call “normal” has been anything but. Life has been a constant struggle for most of humanity, most of the time. Our most natural reactions — to shovel a walkway, to write a letter to the editor — make us better, both individually and collectively.

As the Democratic field for the 2020 presidential race takes shape, many hopefuls intend to highlight the challenges ahead posed by climate change. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee plans to put the issue at the center of his campaign. As Register-Guard columnist Bob Doppelt has been saying for years, the climate crisis can become an opportunity, if our leaders frame it that way.

Climate change has been a slow-moving catastrophe for decades, but now it’s appearing in more dramatic ways: wildfires, storm surges, droughts and deluges. It won’t be long before these isolated effects begin to converge in our experience and imagination, revealing its scope and singularity.

Then we’ll need leaders who can tell us which way to turn. It won’t be hard to persuade humanity to pull together. We’ve seen recently and locally how naturally that can occur.

Large-scale adversity can motivate us to do great things. Even our modest efforts can have great effects when we join together in collective action. Whether we contribute a shovel, or a pen, or a can of beans — when we share, there’s always been enough.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Huge Snowstorms Deserve Nicknames

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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I’ve forgotten which winter storm first endeared me to Washington, DC. It was either “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse.” It doesn’t really matter which. Washington gives its major storms nicknames, and that’s really the point of this column.

So if you’re pressed for time, you can skip the rest. But you’re not pressed for time, because our own storms are limiting what you can — or feel obligated to — do. That’s also my point.

We’re a college town, through and through. Many of us wish we were back in school this week, just so we wouldn’t have to go. Snow days gave us our first taste of liberation. It tasted like hot chocolate. Sometimes it still does.

I grew up in Chicago, where snowstorms were common, but snow days were not. We gave prodigious storms names like “January” or “Last Tuesday” — not very clever. So it was new for me when a monster storm with a nickname descended on Washington, DC about a decade ago.

The storm stopped everything — or almost everything. All work stopped. Traffic stopped too, which is the closest Washington gets to a miracle. We all had iPhones and Twitter — both new to us. We wanted to use them. Word got around of a flash mob snowball fight at Dupont Circle. I went.

I stood on a park bench to take a video of the scene. A snowball from behind hit my phone cleanly out of my upstretched hands. Suddenly, I was part of the scramble, calling for help to find my (white!) iPhone in the drifts around me. It had disappeared.

There were many twists and turns to the story, but an hour later, I used a borrowed phone to call my number. A young man named Jerod was in line at McDonalds with a woman he had recently met.

“Your phone is ringing,” she said.

“That’s not my ringtone,” he replied.

“Then your pocket is ringing.” He answered the phone that had fallen into his army jacket during the melee.

I raced to McDonalds to meet the man with my inadvertently intercepted iPhone. He wouldn’t accept a reward. He wouldn’t even let me pay for their hot chocolate. Snowstorms and hot chocolate just seem to bring out the best in people.

It was days later when I realized that the video I was taking had captured the whole thing. The snowball fight, carefully panning the scene. Jerod entering a corner of the screen. Then the view topples and turns, going mostly dark. But the audio continues, featuring my plaintive wails. “Has anyone seen my phone? Please help me find my phone!” It was all captured from the dark safety of Jerod’s puffy pocket.

You have stories from these storms. Shoveling with a garden hoe. A modernized snowman. Barbecuing meat rescued from an unpowered freezer. Glamping around candles and natural light. Learning your neighbor’s name, after all these years.

Certain things can be done differently when they need to be. Anything that’s different is bound to make a good story. And the stories will last longer if the precipitating event had been given a memorable nickname.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Oregon Should Bridge Its Digital Divide

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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Oregon prides itself — and rightfully so — for its ability to color outside the lines. The lines that divide modern Oregonians are dotted, but very real. Our leaders should be thinking about ways to color not outside these dotted lines, but above them.

The dotted lines — our urban growth boundaries — produce real consequences in people’s lives. Oregon’s largest urban centers are struggling to meet housing demands. Smaller towns and rural areas have housing to spare, but not all the services that many people require.

Supply and demand for housing is out of whack everywhere in Oregon. We have the right people and we have the right places. They just don’t match up as well as they used to. Population centers have too much demand. Everywhere else has excess supply. Statewide rent control won’t solve these problems. Here’s what will.

Our leaders in Salem should use the efficiency of a single payer to provide something that every Oregonian wants — universal coverage. I’m not referring to health care.

Give every Oregonian a reliable, high-speed Internet connection and Oregon will find a new equilibrium, naturally. We have some of the most inspiring landscapes in the world, and we’ve been attracting those who love those landscapes for generations.

The tech world is poised for a revolutionary upgrade over the next couple of years. Fifth generation (5G) devices will dramatically boost connection speeds. Oregon can seize this opportunity and become the first 5G-ready state. Universal wifi coverage will lure residents away from overcrowded areas, boosting our rural economies.

Work centers will spring up in out-of-the-way places like Oakridge and Florence. Telecommuting will accelerate everywhere, reducing traffic across the state. More of our citizens will live where they want, doing work they enjoy, near others who are doing the same.

There are dozens of ways that government could accomplish universal coverage. I won’t pretend to know the best way to accomplish the goal, and legislators shouldn’t either. They need only let it be known that Oregon is ready to be first to give all its residents a fast, reliable Internet connection, without regard to income or ZIP code.

How would Google meet that need — how fast, how much, and how soon? Will Elon Musk and other futurists propose a different path to the same goal? How will local entrepreneurs network together to reach the outskirts across the state? Should wilderness areas be exempted from coverage or limited in other ways?

That’s a conversation that should engage every Oregonian, and attract some of the world’s top tech titans. What minimum standards should be guaranteed? What remedies will be required for poor performance? What will it cost and how will it be paid?

Oregon is animated by large concepts, creative solutions, and courageous leadership. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 played an important role in ending the Great Depression. More importantly, it bettered people’s lives in ways they hadn’t dared to hope.

The Internet is as essential today as electricity was a century ago. Oregon needs to bridge the digital divide more urgently than any other state, so we shouldn’t hesitate to lead.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundaries Have Deepened Economic Chasms

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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The very thing that set Oregon apart now seems to be tearing it apart. As Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Legislature meet to wrestle with the state’s most intractable problems, a clear pattern has emerged. Oregon — by our own design — has a widening chasm between its urban and rural cultures.

In 1973, Oregon Senate Bill 100 essentially outlawed suburbia. Statewide land-use planning limited urban growth to 240 jurisdictions. Only those with sufficient acreage to call themselves farmers, ranchers, or foresters were allowed to build homes anywhere else. For those who wonder what might be Oregon’s “secret sauce,” this is it.

Some come for the scenery and then find a job. Others come for a job, but stay for the scenery. No matter how consuming your workaday world might become, there’s always a “nearby nowhere” to help you reset and rejuvenate. Where the cityscape stops, the countryside begins. There’s really nothing in between. That’s the Oregon mystique.

Or was.

Now we have two Oregons, each with very different sets of problems to solve. Rural Oregonians are desperate for economic development. They can’t attract new residents if there are no jobs available to them. City jobs are usually — by our own design — too far away for a daily commute. And there are no other jobs, unless you can operate the machines that replaced a village of workers that used to sustain the timber industries.

You can blame it on the spotted owl, but automation and consolidation killed most of the timber jobs that were once available in rural Oregon. The owl would rather be left out of it.

In the cities — Portland, now Eugene, soon elsewhere else — there is plenty of work but no place to stay. Affordable housing is a memory, but it’s not a good memory for anyone who couldn’t or didn’t buy a home before prices exceeded their reach.

We have places where workers can’t afford to reside. We have places where residents can’t find work. And — by our own design — nothing in between.

Each desolation produces a special desperation. Urban areas fight homelessness and all the social stress that flows from chronological bigotry. Those who bought before the boom consider themselves better, but they were only earlier — and so, luckier.

Rural areas struggle with property crime, depressed land values, and a shrinking tax base. Those who wanted a better life left to find it elsewhere, leaving only those who didn’t or couldn’t.

In 2008, three Oregon professors — Richard Clucas, Mark Henkels, and Brent Steel — wrote a research paper that surveyed this increasing polarization. They offered one sure way for Oregon to become more united: rural economic revitalization.

“More than anything else, if the state government took steps to help booster the economic position of the rural communities, the rural and urban areas would no longer be as divided by differences in economic well-being,” the paper concludes.

How can Oregon’s leaders close this economic gap? Two words: universal coverage, but I’m not referring to health care. I’ll write about that next week.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. More information about the professors’ 2008 paper can be found at https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/conference_proceedings_or_journals/np193934k

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Why Humans Make Pour Decisions

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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I don’t trust liquids. They’re sneaky. You can never be sure what they will do. Ask a roofer, an economist, a counselor, and a scientist and you’ll hear the same story. The physics of fluidity is notoriously difficult. Real or metaphorical, they travel to the nearest opportunity, seeping into the weakest spot, flooding whatever region is least defended.

One of my worst childhood memories was being entrusted by my grandfather to paint the bedroom of a rental house he owned. He suggested I start in the closet, so I did. When he checked back several hours later, I was still in the closet, hoping to match the wet paint with the dry — a losing proposition. His anger at my ignorance was misdirected. He should have blamed — as I do — the liquid.

I grew up with — and then, slowly, without — alcoholic parents. It would have been more painful to watch, had I better understood what I was witnessing. It wasn’t until later that I learned that all families don’t see what I and my six younger siblings endured.

I don’t blame my parents, because life is hard and not everyone arrives for the battle fully equipped. I blame liquids for promising to fortify them and others for battles they had no intent to wage — must less, win. Alcohol has had some reckoning for its havoc, which is more than you can say for soda or caffeine.

I arrived at college without ever having had a cup of coffee. (It’s still true today.) I saw my mother use coffee to lift her from the wreckage left each morning from the alcohol. I decided I would have as little to do with either as possible.

I married a tea-lover, so I fell off one of those wagons. I might not have married her, had her morning drug been coffee. I’ve always been a morning person, so brewing a pot before she woke was a mercy I could make new every morning. Sharing it started each day on the right foot.

A year ago, I switched from tea to hot water. No lemon, no root-of-whatever, just steaming water. Turns out, I was responding to the warmth and the comfort, not the chemicals. I finally found something I can drink to excess without worry or guilt — so long as I know there will be a bathroom nearby.

Unlimited quantities with no second thoughts — this seldom occurs when liquids are involved. Whether it’s caffeine, alcohol, or milkshakes, liquids pit mind against body. Our bodily systems give no signals of satiation against hunger or sobriety when it enters in liquid form.

Evolution never considered that calories, sugar/stimulants or inebriants might come via liquid. We’re literally defenseless.

So is it any wonder that the emerging cannabis industry is working overtime to turn edibles into drinkables? Cannabinoids are not water-soluble, so it’s a difficult task. A THC-infused drink could drastically shorten the delay caused by the digestive system for euphoric effect.

Liquids — not to be trusted. Never mind — or to confirm the fear — that humans are 97 percent fluids.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Virginia Invented Whiteness. Now They Should End It.

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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There’s a reason racism is sometimes likened to cancer. You may think you have it beat, only to discover later that it found new ways and places to hide itself. Complacency is never possible when eradication is the goal.

That said, there’s a blurry line between vigilance and vigilantism. Puritans wanted their own souls to be pure, but attending weekly witch trials didn’t quite accomplish that. Others can be hurt when our urges — even the good ones — sublimate themselves and hide beneath the surface.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was seen as a rising star in the Democratic party, partly because Virginia has been turning from red to blue. This has more to do with urbanization and the exploding good fortunes of suburban Washington, DC. But Northam was prominent during the shift, so people give him credit. He didn’t single-handedly drag his commonwealth over the Mason-Dixon Line.

Alas, even if you could take Virginia out of the South, you can’t take the South out of Virginia — or Virginians. Northam’s medical school yearbook includes a photo on his page of two students at what we can presume was a costume party. One donned a KKK hood and the other wore blackface.

The governor’s responses — plural — were “inartful.” First he apologized. Then he denied he had anything to do with the photo chosen for his yearbook page. Then he went into hiding for over a week. Now he’s promising to make racial equity the central theme of his governorship.

If Northam is able to convene difficult conversations about racial inequities across Virginia, he will have earned his way back into presidential contentions in 2024. There’s no better place to have this conversation than in Virginia. That colony’s government invented “whiteness” in 1691.

Virginia plantations needed enormous labor forces. Landowners looked beyond Africa, and began bringing bond servants from Ireland, Scotland and other distressed lands. To prevent African slaves and Caucasian servants from finding common cause, Virginia law specified rights that were reserved for “whites.” White and black racial identities were born in Virginia. The resulting economic and cultural disparities deserve to die there.

Only a series of frank conversations can prevent the current situation from getting worse. Sublimation simultaneously displaces and amplifies our emotions, complicating any rational response. Humans are complex, but when distressed, they can become impossible.

Take just a recent and local example. State Sen. Dennis Linthicum from Klamath Falls objected to a bill that would more than double Oregon’s cigarette tax. He cited the “I can’t breath” death of Eric Garner in New York, which started as a dispute over a sidewalk black market business of selling individual — untaxed — cigarettes.

Dozens of Democrats, who favor the tax hike, derided Linthicum’s citation as racist, even though Linthicum never mentioned Garner’s race. When is a tax hike not just a tax hike? When there are unresolved emotional issues simmering beneath the surface.

When, where and how will we have a genuine national conversation about racial inequity? Maybe Virginia is ready. Whoever can initiate that conversation deserves consideration as a national leader, regardless of what may be on their yearbook page.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Curiosity Is More Important Than Ever

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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I ended last week’s column begging for all of us to become less certain and more curious. Fortunately, Eugene has something of an expert in curiosity, if that isn’t an oxymoron. The University of Oregon has offered a course with “curiosity” in its name since 2008.

Questions more important than ever. Stop to think how quickly and dramatically the world has changed — to be replaced by who knows what. But it’s not who “knows” what! That’s what’s changed. It’s who cares about what? Who’s curious about what?

Just a few years ago, the room was run by the person with the best answers, as it had been for the last three-and-a-half centuries. Control has suddenly shifted to those who ask good questions. We all have a super-computer in our pocket now. Entire libraries of knowledge are always open to us. How do we (literally) tap that knowledge? By asking good questions.

Enter, David Koranda. After a full career in the advertising strategy business, he took his experience to the University of Oregon, where he could have a hand in training the next generation of communications professionals.

In 2006, a professional colleague visiting from London asked Koranda, “If you could teach anything you wanted, what would it be?” His answer was curiosity. Two years later, Koranda was teaching “Curiosity for Strategists” (J457) at the School of Journalism & Communication.

It was originally taught once a year. Now it’s offered almost every term, and there’s always a waiting list. Alumni tell Koranda that no classroom experience prepared them for their work better than his class on curiosity. The University of Colorado attempted to replicate UO’s success, but without much luck. As far as we know, it’s the only course of its kind in the country.

Phil Knight and other mega-donors ensure that Duck athletes have the best equipment to exercise and strengthen their bodies. Koranda’s curriculum strengthens students’ minds, limbering mental joints with stretching exercises.

“Life does not have a standardized test,” Koranda told me. “Most children are told to stop asking so many questions, so they do. We often teach in facts and ask students to regurgitate those facts, and then they quickly realize they can forget those facts because they won’t be asked about them again.

“Education should be contributing to the emotional well-being of students. Decisions are made emotionally first and then followed by rational thought (sometimes). I wanted students to learn empathy and understanding about how people very different from themselves feel and think.”

Questions are an important part of the process, but Koranda is quick to add, “The questions have to be followed by some action.” The actions he recommends have a common consequence: slight unease. Don’t sit in the same chair at every meeting. Take a different way to work. Go to a movie you might not like. Read a magazine you wouldn’t buy.

If curiosity is the new alpha trait, the exercises Koranda provided can build those important muscles. Empathy should sting a little. Whenever you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it’s bound to feel a bit uncomfortable.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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My Memories From 18 Years Ago Have Grown Up & Moved Out

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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I was invited this week to think back on my year in leadership for a local civic organization. The exercise left me astonished to discover that 2001 was 18 years ago! Whatever new thoughts I had back then are now old enough to move out and live on their own. I’ll be grateful for the times when they stop by for a quick visit.

The World Trade Center was still a beacon for New York commerce and very little else. Terrorism was barely a thought, “homeland” was a word we never used, and federal security agencies were spelling “al Qaeda” five or six different ways — preventing any unified defense. We could buy an airplane ticket with cash, and walk with friends to the gate, unimpeded. Nobody took their shoes off in an airport, even if it was new carpeting.

Our TVs were still bulbous, and the video rental store would fine you a dollar if you forgot to rewind the VHS tape before returning it. Global warming was talked about, but not everyone had their minds made up about it. I heard about hybrid electric vehicles, but had never seen a Toyota Prius myself.

Mark Zuckerberg was a high school student, just learning to drive. FaceBook was still several years in the future. We had the Internet, but it wasn’t a central part of any normal person’s world. I used Netscape, Alta Vista, and AOL. Google was not yet being used as a verb. Bing was only a cherry.

Cell phones were uncommon, so emcees asked audience members to turn off their pagers, just for practice. Those who had cell phones barely knew what to do with them. It took Kiefer Sutherland racing into our living rooms as Jack Bauer on “24” in late 2001 to get us to imagine what we would do if we had a cell phone. Fight crime, mostly.

We had reasons to go home at the end of each day. Important mail was delivered and our answering machine might be blinking. If there were messages, we had to rewind the tape to listen. (How much time did we spend rewinding things?) If we called somebody back, but they were talking to somebody else, we’d get a busy signal.

Nobody’s phone did anything but make phone calls. There was no such thing as texting. No app stores. If you were bored for a moment, you had to tough it out. The weakest among us would challenge strangers to “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

If you wanted a photo of anything, you needed a camera. And film. And maybe a flash cube. And you would need patience, because even the fastest photo developing services needed an hour. Streaming concerned fishing or rafting. The only thing to be found in the cloud was precipitation. Our devices weren’t yet smart, so we still had to be.

I had fun rewinding my memories of that year, but I’m thankful rewinding is mostly a metaphor now.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Enlightenment Era Has Ended

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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Newspapers are terrific for keeping us up on the details of life. Who died and how? What happened and why? Where should we look and when can we stop? Journalism does less well on the largest issues which surround us, because they lack a vantage point. We tend to focus on each tree in turn, overlooking the forest. This is a column about not one forest, but two.

René Descartes died 369 year ago this Monday, so now is a good time to bid farewell to the intellectual movement he helped to start. The systems of thought and imagination formed by Descartes, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes and others is reaching its conclusion. It’s yielding to a new epoch of human history, not yet named. We’re leaving one forest and entering another.

Scholars don’t agree exactly when The Enlightenment began. The year of Descartes’ death is roughly in the middle: 1650. Anything as all-encompassing as the patterns and habits of human thought deserves at least one round number. As this new epoch gets underway, we should retrace some of our steps.

The Enlightenment declared optimism. The world was brave and new, without a hint of irony. In 1650, the first coffeehouse opened in Oxford. Harvard received its charter. New inventions like the microscope (1590) and the telescope (1608) were changing how humans literally saw the world. Machines aided men to become more precise and more productive.

The observable world yielded to the measurable world. You had a good run, René.

Deep fake videos, autonomous vehicles, and the next generation of artificial intelligence are poised to upset everything we think we know. The impossible is once again becoming possible, but this time without humans at the center and in control. Quantum computing soon will open the door to the multiverse, where infinite possibilities are revealed and realized. Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead. Truth is not truth.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us confused. We feel befuddled because language only approximates experience. We’ve forgotten that we’re using certain metaphors as placeholders to express ineffable beliefs or aspirations. Befuddlement isn’t a literal feeling. There’s nothing artificial about a computer’s intelligence. Truth itself is an unattainable ideal, a metaphor. We use it to navigate our social and psychic worlds. No sailor ever slept on the North Star.

The world today may look brave and new for computer networks, but less so for us. The trees have become a forest and we have to find our way out.

Exiting the forest will not be not as hard as you would think. You only have to forget everything you thought you knew. We’re no longer the smartest, shrewdest, speediest machines. We’re not machines at all. We never were. We’re fabulists. We make stuff up, so that what doesn’t exist can exist. We create. We’re storytellers.

What’s the new story about ourselves and our world that will organize the next 300 years? Curiosity is our contribution to the systems that feed us. The question to be asked is this: What does the world need from the only (yet known) beings able to ask questions?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Eugene Can Make Evening Parking Easier

March 1st, 2019 by dk
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Eugene’s parking rates are going up. There may not have been an official announcement yet, but the conclusion is foregone. Deferred maintenance bills are coming due. Car-pooling and public transit should be encouraged. Parking hikes do that.

Downtown has filled up as an employment center. The city no longer feels a need to incentivize downtown employers with discounted parking permits. It’s not unusual for one of the parking garages to be full for parts of the day. That never used to happen.

If ever a price increase was good news, this is it. But price increases are never good news. Those handing over extra nickels and dimes will not be in the mood to celebrate downtown’s resurgence. We’re just not wired that way.

Savvy businesses soften that emotional blow by mixing the message: “Your new phone will cost more, but we’re giving you more color choices.” “Our hamburger prices have gone up, but our buns are now organic and we’re making our own pickles.” “We raised the ticket prices, allowing us to invite schoolchildren to attend, free of charge.”

Parking doesn’t lend itself to value-add messaging. You park, you pay. There’s not much more to it. Improved lighting, enhanced signage, and updated elevators are about all the city can offer. Most parking is free in the evenings, so there are no real opportunities there.

Or are there?

The University of Oregon is dotted with small parking lots, and most require a permit during the day. Most of these lots are free for the public to use in the evenings. The city of Eugene has done the same with its garages. Most downtown surface lots are privately owned, reserved for employees to use during the day, and empty every night.

If Eugene wants to add more bustle to its downtown, there’s plenty of room to grow during the evening hours. Adding more surface parking options would make downtown a more attractive destination for more people. Some don’t feel safe navigating a parking garage at night and don’t want to hunt for on-street parking.

Restaurants and theaters at the city center would love to be able to see more patrons after dark. More parking options would certainly help. Banks and other businesses with empty parking lots is not a good look. We can fix that.

The city would rent the privately held lots for the evening hours. The city would carry liability insurance, hire a security and maintenance crew, and guarantee that each lot would be empty and clean before employees arrived for work the next morning.

It wouldn’t be an easy transition for many business owners, but the city has leverage. Leaders could make it easier for nighttime businesses to approach nearby daytime businesses to share resources. Restaurant A gets free parking after dark. Call Center B gets employee lunch discounts.

City Council could get more aggressive. Using a variant of its anti-blight powers, downtown businesses could be forced to open their empty spaces for the public benefit. Downtown can become more inviting to more people for more hours every week. Changes in parking policies and rates can help.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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