Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Year Of The Monkey

Yes, 2016 has been a strange year, ranging from the merely banal to the truly bizarre. This should come as no surprise because, according to the Chinese zodiac, it has been the Year of the Monkey. Worse, it happens to be a fire monkey, portending all sorts of shenanigans and monkeyshines in both microcosm and macrocosm.

In my time, leap years have not gone particularly well; this year is no exception. From presidential politics to the world at large, it’s been a stinker. Yet there was much to like about 2016, so rather than dwell on the negative, I will highlight the goodness -- with only occasional lapses into bad craziness -- in this year in review.

In January, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication initiated a yearlong centennial celebration, culminating in a grand finale in October at the annual Hall of Achievement dinner. My association with the school dates back to my undergraduate days in the early and mid-70s.

Those honored included former UO SOJC Dean Arnold Ismach, who hired me (along with Tom Bivins and Ken Metzler) as an instructor back in 1986. A journalist and scholar, Arnold passed away in January 2015. Ever the gadfly, he showed up at PRSA luncheons until the end. As a mentor, Arnold always had my back.

Serving on a PRSA task force known as the Oregon Statewide Governance Committee for much of the year, representatives from three chapters formally investigated whether our collective governance challenges could be solved by merging into one chapter, thus sharing the workload and increasing member value.

By fall, members throughout the state had joined the conversation before casting their ballots to support the merger, along with bylaws developed by representatives from all three chapters. In November, PRSA headquarters in New York approved the consolidation of the newly formed PRSA Oregon Chapter.

As the presidential sweepstakes wore on throughout the primary season in the spring, we averted our eyes as the battles raged by attending a few concerts, including Rickie Lee Jones and The Who. By June, there was light at the end of the tunnel; the end of the school year was upon us and hiking season would be nigh.

An early season jaunt into the Henry Jackson Wilderness Area in the North Cascades of Washington found us at Heather Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail, along with a hike to the summit of Black Crater (below) located on the north end of the Three Sisters Wilderness in Central Oregon near McKenzie Pass.

In July, it was back to “The Motherland” for a visit with our Italian cousins near Genoa on the Italian Riviera. As usual, I met many interesting individuals at the Hotel Columbo, including a Dutchman who joined me on a boat tour of the Cinque Terre and a Hungarian genealogist who informed me of the Mormon archives.

Following a train ride from Genoa (below) through Asti and Alessandro in the Piedmont wine country, I established my base at the Hotel Roma in Torino and conducted my scavenger hunt in pursuit of any records of my grandfather Carlo Giuseppe Cargni, who hailed from somewhere unbeknownst in the Piedmont.

Nearly giving up twice on a walking tour from my hotel to the federal building to the city hall, I found his birth record thanks to some sleuthing by my brother and cousin. A couple of days later, daughter Gina joined me in Torino, where we toured two fine museums, one on Egypt and the other on the history of cinema.

Despite losing my wallet to a pickpocket near the train station in Torino on my last day in the city, the trip was both enjoyable and productive. Fredrich Nietzsche, by way of Alain de Botton in his book The Consolations of Philosophy, provided some comfort while I pondered a response to my unfortunate situation.

Nietzsche noted that every pain is a distinct signal that something is wrong, which may engender a good or bad result depending on the sagacity and strength of mind of the sufferer. Anxiety may precipitate panic, or an accurate analysis of what is amiss. So rather than panic, we laid out a plan of attack.

We conducted a short but thorough search, followed immediately by Skype calls to credit card companies. Fortunately, I only had three credit cards and my driver’s license in the wallet. My passport was safe in my room, and thanks to chip technology, the credit cards had been rendered useless. All would be well.

In an effort to “make hay while the sun shines,” we embarked on several late summer hikes on the Wenatchee River Ranger District in Washington near the Owl Conservatory.

One, a wilderness ranger reunion of sorts, could only be described as a "Greek oddity" to Labyrinth Mountain (below) in the Little Wenatchee River area. Other treks included Lanham Lake near Stevens Pass and Hidden Lake on the side of Nason Ridge near Lake Wenatchee.

The dragonflies (above) were out in force during these late season jaunts. Unfortunately, so were the yellow jackets. As we trekked off trail at Lanham Lake, I disturbed a nest and was stung five times by the nasty little buggers. It had been over 40 years since I was last stung; had almost forgot what it felt like. It all came back.

In perhaps the biggest monkeyshine of this century, the American electorate gave us Donald Trump. How could his message of despair and anger have prevailed? The answer: by playing to themes of suspicion, fear and tribal resentment, along with excess and narcissism -- the seamy underbelly of the American dream.

Worse, the President-elect, who spent the campaign liberally trafficking in misogyny and xenophobia, believes that (journalists are) "the lowest form of humanity, disgusting and corrupt, dishonest, crooked." Guess my chosen profession now ranks lower on the food chain than wilderness rangers and bullfighters.

Voters and non-voters alike have just made a decision based largely on distorted and bigoted images of reality. Can traditional media overcome the addictive effects of social media and their unprecedented ability to spread lies and falsehoods? Will we ever be able to regain our ability to match image with reality?

Some advice from Nietzsche: “Fulfillment (will) be reached not by avoiding pain, but by recognizing its role as a natural inevitable step on the way to reaching anything good.” That sentiment reflects another view: “not everything which makes us feel better is good for us, and not everything which hurts may be bad.”

As if to escape the madness, we retreated to the Owl Conservatory in December for a bit of repose and reflection: yes, we must continue to fight the good fight and redouble our efforts. Our response will determine whether this election will be a survivable challenge to America or an irreversible step toward something else.

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