Archive for October, 2011

Occupy Eugene Moves to the University of Oregon

October 29, 2011

On Tuesday, October 25, it was decided at a General Assembly meeting that Occupy Eugene should move to a new location. There was dissatisfaction with Alton Baker Park, the main complaint being the lack of visibility to the community. The following evening it was decided at a G.A. that they should move to the quadrangle at the University of Oregon. On Thursday at noon there was a march from Alton Baker Park to the university, where there was a rally. The university and the Eugene Police Department then announced that people would not be arrested if they camped out at the Millrace, a park directly across the street from the university. It is highly visible to street traffic. After a lengthy discussion, the protestors decided in the evening that they would move to the Millrace. People are now camped out there, a kitchen and other infrastructure have been set up.

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The Oregonian

October 26, 2011

Oregon has a reputation for being home to some, well, odd people. (Here is one decidedly odd person. Here is another one. Oh, and there’s this guy). I suppose it was inevitable that somebody would make a film that’s basically about meeting strange people in Oregon.

Calvin Lee Reeder’s new film, The Oregonian is billed as an “experimental horror” film. Aside from some faint echoes of Carnival of Souls, however, there is not much horror in it. It is actually a surreal fantasy. A young woman who is identified only as “the Oregonian” (Lindsay Pulsipher) is living on a farm and involved in an abusive relationship. One day she gets into a car accident on a lonely country road. Although she is injured, she can still walk, so she goes looking for help. She never finds it. Instead, she wanders through a deserted town and meets some strange characters. These include a creepy old woman, a man who urinates in different colors and who obsesses over making omelettes, a man wearing a furry green frog costume, a group of hippies who drink gasoline, and various women who scream for no apparent reason.

Some parts of this film work better than others. The scenes of the Oregonian arguing with her husband are unconvincing and only detract from the trippy feel of the rest of the film. At times the film seems to be making fun of hippies, although I’m not sure that was the intention. (I know I’m not supposed to say these things, but this might be a good movie to watch when you’re stoned.)

The Oregonian has gotten a hostile response from some people. I’m told that at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, a quarter of the audience got up and walked out. The main complaint made against the film is that it doesn’t “mean” anything. Well, I would argue that it isn’t necessary for a film to “mean” something. Andre Breton once defined surrealism as: “Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.” That certainly describes this film. I found this movie interesting enough to want to watch it all the way to the end, which is more than I can say of some critically acclaimed films (for example: Chariots of Fire, Forrest Gump, Never Let Me Go).

People who don’t like this movie need to, as we say in Oregon, chill out.

Thank You, WikiLeaks

October 25, 2011

 
Julian Assange                                       Bradley Manning

The admirable Glenn Greenwald has written an aritcle about why the Obama Administration’s efforts to extend the occupation of Iraq failed. It seems that the release by WikiLeaks of a cable that revealed a war crime by the U.S. military turned the Iraqi parliament against the idea of giving legal immunity to U.S. troops. Greenwald explains:

    That cable was released by WikiLeaks in May, 2011, and, as McClatchy put it at the time, “provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.” The U.S. then lied and claimed the civilians were killed by the airstrike. Although this incident had been previously documented by the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the high-profile release of the cable by WikiLeaks generated substantial attention (and disgust) in Iraq, which made it politically unpalatable for the Iraqi government to grant the legal immunity the Obama adminstration was seeking. Indeed, it was widely reported at the time the cable was released that it made it much more difficult for Iraq to allow U.S. troops to remain beyond the deadline under any conditions.

This is why, as I explained in an earlier post, leftists are opposed to government secrecy. When people know what governments are actually trying to do, they will tend to oppose those actions.

Game over in Iraq. Unfortunately, the imperialist beast is still far from dead.

Occupy Eugene Continues

October 22, 2011

Occupy Eugene has successfully moved from downtown Eugene to Alton Baker Park. This was necessary to avoid a conflict with the Saturday farmer’s market, which is a popular fixture in Eugene. The move went smoothly. There have been no problems with the police (so far). This space isn’t as visible as the downtown park, but it is much bigger. It is a place where the movement and its supporters can gather until a better location is possibly found.

I will write more about this later when I am less tired.

Eugene Occupation Begins

October 17, 2011

On Saturday, October 15, about 2,000 people marched through Eugene as part of the 99% movement. It began with a rally at Wayne Morse Plaza. (John Bellamy Foster was one of the speakers.) There were all sorts of people there. It wasn’t just “hippies”. People then marched to the Ferry Street Bridge and back. Marchers stayed on the sidewalk and were careful not to block traffic. The line stretched out for a mile at one point. I’m told that this was the largest demonstration in the history of Eugene. On the bridge, passing drivers were honking their horns in solidarity. There were no problems with the police. At one point, police were directing traffic to facilitate the march. When the march reached a downtown park, it was announced that this was where the occupation would take place. I was impressed by how well organized it was. It was clear that people had carefully planned things out. The occupiers announced that they will be holding general assemblies every day at 7 AM and at 7 PM.

You can find photos of the march here.

You can find a website for the occupation here.

You can find a live stream of the occupation here.

How the Fire Fell

October 15, 2011

In 1902, a man named Edmund Creffield showed up in Corvallis, Oregon. He began to preach a militantly fundamentalist form of Christianity. He quickly attracted a small, but intensely devoted group of followers, most of them women. He named his sect the “Bride of Christ Church”. Rumors started to circulate that Creffield was having sex with his female followers. Creffield eventually announced that Esther Mitchell, who came from one of Corvallis’s most respected families, would become the “Second Mother of Christ”. To make a long story short, Esther’s brother, George, shot Creffield in the back of the head while the latter was walking down a street in Seattle. Although there was no doubt as to whether he did the killing, a jury found George Mitchell not guilty. (This was clearly a case of an “honor killing”.) Later, as George was boarding a train, Esther shot him in the back of the head, exactly as he had shot Creffield.

This story is true. You can read about it here. You can find a more colorful telling here.


Edmund Creffield, while he was serving a prison sentence for adultery.

The Portland-based filmmaker, Edward P. Davee, has written and directed a film based on these events, How the Fire Fell. The film is in black & white, and much of it was shot in Corvallis. There is not much dialogue, although there are numerous scenes of Creffield (Joe Haege) preaching. The film is atmospheric, with lingering shots of forests, fields, and people lost in thought. Some of the imagery is clearly meant to be symbolic. In one scene, for example, while Creffield is preaching to his flock, there is a cutaway shot to flies caught in a spider’s web. Haege is quite good as Creffield. Davee was clearly limited by a very low budget in what he could do, but nevertheless there are some powerful scenes.

I found this film fascinating to watch, though I wish I could have learned more about the characters. Why were they so attracted to Creffield? At the screening I attended, there was a question-and-answer session with Davee and with the film’s director of photography, Scott Ballard. Davee said he wanted to “keep a sense of mystery alive” about the Creffield story. He also said he preferred to tell stories using images rather than dialogue. He expressed no strong feelings either for or against religion. (He said that some of the actors in the film are devout Christians.) Davee did say he found it disturbing that people could blindly follow a leader.

As I watched How the Fire Fell, I was reminded of the undertone of eroticism in many of the practices of evangelical Christian groups. (I remember H.L. Mencken commenting about this in one of his articles.) It may be that Creffield simply crossed a line that other evangelicals (apparently) do not cross.

How the Fire Fell has had a very limited release, mainly being shown at film festivals and at scattered venues in the Pacific Northwest. Let us hope that this film gets the wider audience it deserves.

You can find a trailer for the film here.

The Return of Navajo Boy

October 11, 2011

The Multicultural Center at the University of Oregon recently held a screening of the documentary, The Return of Navajo Boy. The director, Jeff Spitz, spoke beforehand. He told about how in the late 1990’s a man named Bill Kennedy approached him with a film that his recently deceased father had made in the 1950’s. It was a half-hour documentary about the Navajos (Diné) called Navajo Boy. Kennedy asked Spitz to help him preserve his father’s work. Spitz could make no sense out of the film, which had no sound. He took the film to a library in Chicago that had an extensive collection of literature and films related to Native Americans. The people at the library told him that the film showed a ceremony that, according to Navajo religious belief, should never be filmed. They advised him to destroy the movie. Spitz couldn’t bring himself to do this. Instead, he and Kennedy decided to locate the people in the film and ask them what should be done with it.

The documentary begins with Kennedy talking with Lorenzo Begay, a descendent of the family in the film. (We’re not told how Kennedy managed to locate him.) He lives with his family on a reservation in the austerely beautiful Monument Valley in Utah. He takes Kennedy to meet his uncle and his mother, Elsie Mae Cly Begay, both of whom appear as children in the film.


Elsie Mae Cly Begay in the 1950’s.

He shows the movie to the Begay family. They seem pleased to see themselves in it. We are then told about the family’s history. During the 1950’s, they supported themselves by raising sheep, which they still do today. They were also paid by a local merchant to pose for photographs that would be used for postcards. (They also appeared as extras in John Ford’s The Searchers). Elsie Mae’s mother, Happy Cly, was believed to be the most photographed woman in America at that time.


Happy Cly

Some members of the family also worked in the uranium mines. The Navajo workers were not warned about the health hazards of radiation exposure. One of Elsie Mae’s brothers worked in the mines, and he later developed cancer. The film discusses his efforts to get compensation from the government. Also, radioactive tailings from these minds contaminated the ground water. Elsie Mae’s hogan was built using rocks from the mines. Later it was found to contain 80 times the acceptable level of radiation, so it was destroyed. Two of Elsie Mae’s sons died of cancer, and a third has recently developed it. Happy Cly died from cancer. It turns out that the ceremony shown in the documentary by Bill Kennedy’s father is that of a medicine man trying to cure her.

Elsie Mae had a baby brother, John Wayne Cly, who also appears in Kennedy’s movie. When Happy Cly died, the family was unable to take care of him, so they gave him to white missionaries who promised to bring him back when he was older. They never did. When Kennedy’s documentary is shown at a Navajo museum, John Cly, who was then living in New Mexico, reads about it in a newspaper. The film ends with an emotional reunion between him and his family. There is also a postscript that relates how Elsie Mae now travels the country and to other countries to tell people about what uranium mining did to the Navajo nation.

This is an interesting and important film. Incredibly, the government wants to reopen some of these mines to provide fuel for a new generation of nuclear reactors. This is more evidence that nuclear energy is a bad idea.

You can learn more about this film at NavajoBoy.com.

Occupy Eugene

October 9, 2011

Earlier this evening I went to an organizing meeting for Occupy Eugene. I did not know what to expect. I initially did not plan to stay long because I have a bad cold. However, I found it so interesting that I ended up staying the full three hours.

About 150 people showed up, which is a very large turnout for Eugene. They were mostly young people, although there were some older people as well. Some faces were familiar, but there were a lot of people I couldn’t recall seeing before.

The meeting began with someone reading the declaration by Occupy Wall Street. Then someone proposed that we should use a consensus approach to making decisions. I wasn’t keen on this idea, since consensus can be an unwieldy and time-consuming method. Someone from the floor pointed out that Occupy Wall Street uses a 90% consensus approach, which is also used by Occupy Portland. During the discussion, I initially thought that I should argue for a simple majority vote approach. It quickly became clear, however, that there wasn’t any sentiment for that position. So when it was my turn to step up to the microphone, I argued instead for modified consensus. I pointed out that this approach has worked well for Occupy Wall Street, and it is being used by our comrades in Portland. We should learn from the experiences of other groups. This argument seemed to get a good reception. Several other people, however, suggested that we should first try a full consensus approach, and if this didn’t work out well, then we should go to a modified consensus. This argument carried the day.

A woman got up and taught us hand signals that the Portland group has been using. These included a signal to let a speaker know that he or she is going on too long. Very useful.

There was then a fifteen minute breakout for committee meetings. Everyone was encouraged to join one or more committees. These were: Community Outreach, who are concerned with building support in the community and raising money. Communications, concerned with making flyers and posters, writing press releases, and spreading the word through the Internet. Sexy Sanitation, concerned with doing clean-up after events. Morale, concerned with developing chants and other methods of raising spirits. Legal & Research, concerned with legal matters and with researching what has worked for other occupy groups. Medical, concerned with the health and safety of occupiers. Facilitative, concerned with facilitating meetings and events. There were also some sub-committees. Engineering, for example, would be concerned with making structures for people camping out at the occupations. I joined Communications, which seemed logical, since I know graphic design. After the breakout, each committee reported on what it had decided. Morale, for example, reported that they had decided to build a Wall Street Bull piñata.

We then took a vote on whether on not to get legal permits, which other occupy groups don’t do. A woman expressed concern that people on probation might be reluctant to come if there were no permits. Another woman who was a lawyer pointed out that the police are required to warn people to leave before they can arrest them. It was voted not to get permits. There was a discussion about photographs. It was agreed that if someone asked not to be photographed, the person with the camera should respect that. There was also a discussion about whether we should issue demands before or after the first occupation. The debate went back and forth. It was decided to table the vote until the next meeting.

I was impressed by the high level of discussion and the lack of rancor. It helped a lot that there were no sectarian groups jockeying for position. (This was often a problem at activist meetings I attended when I lived in Los Angeles.) Since this was Eugene, I was afraid there would be some people there who would be, to put it politely, strange. Fortunately, it appeared that only one such person had bothered to beam down. He was an old guy who had a U.S. flag draped over his front and a Soviet flag draped over his back. (Was he nostalgic for the Cold War? Was he intellectually conflicted? Or did he forget to do his laundry?) He went up to the microphone and started talking about Nietzsche. He got a chilly reception.

I am excited about this new movement.

Occupy Fox News

October 5, 2011

Heh, heh.

I’m told Fox News didn’t air this. What are they afraid of?

Magic Trip

October 4, 2011

In the early 1960’s, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters decided they would make a film about a cross-country trip they would undertake. After the journey, when they tried to edit the film, they found they couldn’t synchronize the sound and the images. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that they were tripping on LSD most of the time they were filming. Recently, Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney used the surviving footage as the basis for a documentary about Kesey and about the 1960’s.

In 1964, Kesey and a group of his friends, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, decide to travel across the country from California to New York. They renovate an old school bus and paint it bright colors. They name it “Further”, and they call themselves “The Merry Pranksters”. They manage to get Neal Cassady – the “Dean Moriarty” from On The Road – to be their bus driver. Cassady is on speed much of the time, so he talks incessantly and is constantly gesturing with his arms. The trip is largely a success, but it is not without problems. A woman has a mental breakdown and has to be sent home. Another woman, who is pregnant, eventually decides that she is not enjoying herself and eventually drops out. When the pranksters reach New York, they seek out their hero, Jack Kerouac, only to get a decidedly chilly reception from him. They go to the World’s Fair, thinking it will be a good place to trip, only to find it a bit dull. They then travel to upstate New York, where Timothy Leary has a mansion, where he and others carry out experiments with LSD. When the Pranksters arrive, however, most of the people there, including Leary, hide from them. (One of the Pranksters comments that these people seem “upper class”.) The only one who talks to them is Richard Alpert (“Ram Dass”), who creeps them out.

When the Pranksters return to California, they begin holding parties called “acid tests”. These start to attract large numbers of people. The Pranksters become disenchanted with Cassady, who seems to be all talk and nothing else. One day he is found dead lying alongside a railroad track in Mexico. Kesey eventually seems to sour on the drug culture he helped create, although he never expresses any regrets about what he did. He moves to Oregon, where he settles down on a farm with his wife and children.

It’s funny how society tries to appropriate artists after they die. A statue of Kesey now stands in downtown Eugene, where environmental activists have sometimes been brutalized by the police. At least one of these incidents took place across the street from the statue.

Magic Trip is part road movie, part cultural history, and part morality tale. I highly recommend seeing it.