Archive for the ‘Eugene’ Category

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.

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.

If A Tree Falls

June 27, 2011

Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman have made a film about the Earth Liberation Front. This group was very active in Eugene, Oregon, where I currently live; so I was naturally interested in seeing this film. Marshall Curry says he learned from his wife one day that the police had arrested an employee at her company for being an “eco-terrorist”. He immediately became interested, and he eventually decided he wanted to make a film about this person. The employee was Daniel McGowan, whose story serves as the central thread of this film. A round-faced, soft-spoken man, he seems an unlikely person to become a violent criminal. The son of a New York cop, he grew up on Rockaway Beach. In his youth he became interested in environmental issues. He eventually gravitated towards Eugene, a hotspot for environmental activism. The film does a short history of the environmental movement in the Pacific Northwest, recounting how non-violent protests have sometimes been met with police violence. Faced with such a response, it was inevitable that some activists would conclude that they should resort to violence themselves. A cell of the Earth Liberation Front was formed in Eugene, and McGowan, frustrated by the lack of progress by environmentalists, was eventually drawn into it.

McGowan’s first job was to serve as a lookout when ELF torched the offices of a lumber company. His second job was helping ELF destroy a tree farm that was allegedly growing genetically modified trees. Only it turned out afterwards that the trees were not GMO’s. At the same time ELF set fire to the office of a University of Washington professor who was involved in genetic engineering. The fire grew out of control and did a lot of damage that ELF didn’t intend. In the aftermath, the cell underwent a crisis and disbanded. McGowan became disillusioned with ELF’s methods, while still retaining his radical environmental views. He returned to New York, where he got a job with a group dealing with domestic violence issues.

The film then deals with police efforts to solve the crimes. For years they got nowhere. Then, by sheer dumb luck, they stumbled upon Jacob Ferguson. He just happened to be the weakest link in the ELF cell, since he was a heroin addict and therefore vulnerable to legal pressure. The police outfitted him with a wire and flew him to different parts of the country to have conversations with his former comrades. He showed up in New York to talk to a surprised McGowan. The latter thought there was something odd about this, especially since Ferguson seemed “talkative”, whereas McGowan remembered him as being quiet. McGowan spoke to him any way, which was a fatal mistake. McGowan was later arrested and found himself facing a possible sentence of life plus 350 years. He eventually made a plea deal in which he confessed to the arsons but did not name any accomplices. He was sentenced to eight years, but received a “terrorism enhancement”, meaning that he was put in a special high security prison built for “terrorists”. He can only receive one fifteen minute phone call a day and one visitor a month. The film documents the emotional anguish that this experience has inflicted upon McGowan and his family.

The filmmakers interview many people involved in these events, including the prosecutor and police detectives who pursued the ELF members. People with different viewpoints are allowed to state their positions. Although the filmmakers maintain a neutral tone, it’s clear that they feel that McGowan and other members of ELF were dealt with unfairly. Ferguson, who was involved in more arsons than anyone else, did not receive a prison sentence. He betrayed his friends solely to save himself, and the system rewarded him for that. Someone makes the point that capitalists who destroy the environment, such as the executives at BP, are never punished for what they do.

I highly recommend seeing this film.

Glenwood: Occupied City

December 9, 2010

The place where I work is located in Glenwood, which is situated between Eugene and Springfield (where the Simpsons live). Glenwood is an unincorporated area, meaning that it has no actual city government. It has a Eugene postal address, and it is patrolled by Springfield’s police. The main strip in Glenwood is Franklin Boulevard, a drab expanse of rental places, used car lots and pawn shops. I guess this is what happens when you have no government. I have seen other unincorporated areas in Oregon, and they all look pretty much the same. This is one of the reasons why I’ve never been able to buy the argument that government is inherently a bad thing.

There are people living in Glenwood, though you might not guess this from driving down Franklin Boulevard. I have not been able to find any estimates of the population. I guess this is due to the place having no government. Glenwood has a reputation for being home to hippies, eccentrics and low income people. There are several trailer parks in the area.

For a while I was without a car. I would get to work using a Eugene bus that goes through Glenwood. I get out of work in the evenings after dark. One night it was pouring rain. I was wearing a poncho. I was walking down the street that takes me to a bus stop on Franklin Boulevard. I was coming up to the intersection with Franklin. There were railroad tracks on my left. On my right was a towing garage that looked as though it had gone out of business. On the other side of the intersection was a trailer park. A Springfield police car came along on Franklin, and it came to a sudden stop in the middle of the intersection. I could see a police officer looking in my direction. I looked behind me, but I could see nothing. The police car then drove a short way down the street, pulled into a parking lot and turned around. I began to think that this perhaps had something to do with me, but I told myself I was being paranoid, and I tried to put it out of my mind. I turned on to the sidewalk on Franklin and crossed underneath a railroad bridge. The cruiser pulled into a parking lot ahead of me. A police officer got out and walked towards me. He was quite tall. He wanted to know what I was doing. I told him I had just gotten out of work, and I was walking to the bus station. He smirked at me as though he didn’t really believe me. However, he got back in his cruiser and drove away.

Although nothing came of this incident, it left me feeling disturbed. I have lived in Boston, New York, Jersey City and Los Angeles. This is the first time I have ever been stopped and questioned by a policeman just for walking down a street. When I told my friends about this, they said the cop probably thought I was looking to buy drugs from somebody. Apparently, Glenwood has that kind of reputation. Of course, there are a lot easier ways to get drugs in the Eugene area than by walking around Glenwood in the pouring rain, though I suppose the Springfield Police may not be aware of this.

Since then, I’ve often wondered if people who live in Glenwood often get stopped and questioned by the Springfield Police. Since the people there have no say in Springfield’s government, this amounts to an occupation. One of the drawbacks to not having a government is that eventually you find yourself at the mercy of some foreign entity. Such as the Springfield police.

Sasquatch

November 12, 2010

When I first started this blog, one of my intentions was to write about some of the lore and history of Oregon. Clearly I’ve moved in a very different direction, but I’ve decided to try to make a return to my original aim. And what better place to start than with sasquatch (vulgarly known as “bigfoot”)? These are creatures who reportedly walk upright, are nine feet tall and covered with hair.

The name of the creature is derived from sésquac, a Salish Indian word meaning “wild man”. There are many Native American stories about tall, hairy humanoid creatures. Sasquatch is an interesting example of a Native American belief being adopted by whites.

There have been 76 reported sasquatch sightings in Lane County where I live, more than in any other county. (I’m not sure whether I should feel proud of this.) In recent years there have been sasquatch sightings in places such as Florida. At the risk of sounding provincial, I must say that I resent this. Sasquatch is a creature of the Pacific Norhtwest. It seems to me that people from other parts of the country are trying to horn in on our fun.

I must admit to being a sasquatch skeptic. Since these creatures are bipedal, they would likely be closely related to human beings. Yet there is no fossil record of nine-foot tall hominids. What’s more, I often walk through the hills of South Eugene at night, and I have yet to encounter any nine-foot tall hairy hominids Still, there are fervent sasquatch-believers. Last June a sasquatch symposium was held here in Eugene. Scholars and academics (well, they call themselves scholars and academics) from all over the world gathered together to discuss all things sasquatch. I would have liked to have gone to this event, but I couldn’t afford it, since I was broke at the time. However, I read about it in the Eugene Weekly. The big celebrity speaker at the event was Autumn Williams, author and Oregon native. According to the Weekly:

    Williams spent a good deal of time talking about a pseudonymous witness she called Mike, a “redneck” bulldozer driver from Florida, who claims to have developed close ties to a sasquatch he calls Enoch. Williams’ relationship with Mike appears to have had a profound, almost life-altering impact on her. “I felt like somebody had handed me the Holy Grail of sasquatch research,” she said of hearing Mike’s story.

    Williams attested that Mike was an “incredibly credible” witness whose stories were “detailed” and “intense” and never once changed despite several retellings. If it’s that the devil is in the details, and so is the believability of any good yarn. And, as related by Williams, Mike shared some lovely, offbeat and wonderfully colloquial observations about “skunk apes,” which is what he calls sasquatch.

This is starting to sound like a bad children’s TV show. (“Redneck Mike and His Forest Friend, Enoch”.) I was hoping for something more in the lurid manner of The X-Files. The Weekly goes on:

    Williams’ bigfoot presentation, over time, took on a distinct utopian vibe, one of rosy romantic primitivism. The underlying message of her story was that the bigfoot — community oriented, nonmaterialistic, free of artifice and, overall, purely pure as nature itself — lives a simpler, less encumbered and more peaceful way of life than human beings. In fact, it is actually us, with our alienating cities and glitzy consumer goods and fear of boredom and, as Williams put it, our constructed selves that “change on a daily basis with fads,” who must learn from the skunk apes. “We’re so far removed from what we were,” Williams said.

Yuck. This is New Age mush. This just ruins it. When I was growing up, sasquatch were terrifying creatures. I would read newspaper stories about people who claimed that sasquatch threw rocks at them and tried to abduct them. I remember when I was about twelve years old, I saw a doucmentary about sasquatch in a movie theatre. It scared the bejesus out of me. (I suspect that if I saw it now, I would just laugh at it. One can never recapture the innocence of childhood.) Now, they’re just overgrown, hirsute hippies. Boring. I think this is another example of the Disneyfication of American culture. Everything has to be made to seem as cute as a litter of puppies. Well, I won’t have it. I want my scary sasquatch back!

Non-Controversy of the Month

February 6, 2010

In a society in which we are discouraged from discussing the truly outrageous things that are going on in the world, it’s perhaps inevitable that people would contrive to be offended by trivialities.

I found this on the Internet the other day.

According to the article, NBC has issued an apology (to whom?) because, during Black History Month, their cafeteria served a meal that consisted of fried chicken, collared greens with smoked turkey, white rice, black-eyed peas and jalapeno cornbread. (Sounds like damn good eating to me.) The article doesn’t make clear who was supposedly offended by this. It is common in our society to associate certain foods with certain ethnic groups, and no one is bothered by this. Italian-Americans don’t get offended when a movie shows Italians eating pasta. I am of German descent, yet if the UO dorm cafeterias were to celebrate Oktoberfest by serving bratwurst and sauerkraut, I would not find this offensive.

The article quotes the chef, Leslie Calhoun, who is Black, as saying:

    I don’t understand at all. It’s not trying to offend anybody and it’s not trying to suggest that that’s all that African-Americans eat. It’s just a good meal. I thought it would go over well.

I would have thought so, too.

I spent nearly ten years of my life in the awful city of Los Angeles. Yet I will always fondly remember the soul food restaurants that I went to there. There is this place in Hollywood that I would go to called Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. (What two things could possibly go together better than chicken and waffles?) They have this dish called Stymie’s Choice. It consists of a heaping pile of fried chicken gizzards and grits, covered with gravy. Damn, it’s good.

There’s one soul food restaurant here in Eugene. It’s called Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen. (I recommend the gumbo.) It was, until his recent death, owned by a guy who called himself “Papa Soul”. He was a fixture in the local music scene. He would play the washboard with local bands. Lately, the place has started having live blues shows.

So, I don’t feel much sympathy with people who take offense at finding fried chicken and collared greens in the NBC cafeteria. All I can say to them is: “Get a life”.

The Police State Continues to Grow

October 17, 2009

Those of you who believe that civilian review boards are the solution to the problem of police violence should consider this: on October 1, a civilian review board in Eugene, Oregon ruled that a police officer “did not break department policy” when he tased a man who was pinned to the ground. (You can read about the board’s decision here and here. You can find a detailed account of the tasing incident here.) Now, obviously, if someone is pinned to the ground, there’s no need to use a taser. This simple logic is apparently beyond the comprehension of three of the five members of the Eugene Civilian Review Board.

The Eugene Weekly article I linked to above notes: “…the Eugene mayor and City Council recently expanded and packed the CRB with appointees that appear opposed to the concept of civilian review that voters passed overwhelmingly.” The mayor, Kitty Piercy, is a liberal Democrat, who has spoken at anti-war rallies. The City Council is dominated by liberal Democrats. These high-minded liberals apparently can’t bear the thought that police officers should abide by any kind of ethical standard. This is the state of democracy in the US today.

Update: the Eugene City Council has refused to reappoint Richard Brissenden to the Eugene Civilian Review Board. Brissenden, a municipal court judge, was one of the two CRB members who dissented on the board’s ruling on the tasing incident. At the above-mentioned meeting, Brissenden criticized the behavior of the Eugene Police. The council members who voted against his reappointment were: Andrea Ortiz, Alan Zelenka, Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon, Chris Pryor and George Poling. (Remember this when these people are up for re-election.) The Eugene Weekly comments:

    Credible independent oversight of police review in Eugene now appears dead. Resurrecting oversight could take citizen action in recalling officials who oppose police review or defeating them at reelection, citizen ballot initiatives, intense public pressure on city government, and lawsuits. We also join conservatives on The [Eugene} Register-Guard editorial board in calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of Tasers by Eugene police until the department ends its secrecy and develops a meaningful policy that actually restricts this dangerous, excruciating weapon.

A Peace Prize for Obama?

October 10, 2009

It seems that everyone is baffled by the decision to give President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. Even the sycophants in the media have been unable to hide their surprise. A few people have suggested that this is meant as a slap at George W. Bush. This seems to me to be the most plausible explanation. Certainly, Bush was never popular in Europe. His sneering comments about “Old Europe” and his proposal to put a “missile shield” (that nobody wanted or needed) in Poland didn’t win him any friends. The hapless Gerhard Schroeder’s approval ratings skyrocketed when he merely thumbed his nose at Bush. Perhaps if Dubya had been nicer to our friends across the pond, they might have given him the Peace Prize. After all, they’re not too picky about whom they give these things to.

I heard a TV reporter ask someone if the Peace Prize had been “degraded” by giving it to Obama so early in his administration. Actually, it was degraded a long time ago. In 1906, they gave the Prize to the arch-imperialist, Theodore Roosevelt, who presided over the bloody suppression of the Philippines. (The Nobel Prize for Literature has been similarly degraded. In 1953, they gave the prize to Winston Churchill for his ghost-written history of the Second World War.) In fact, giving the award to Obama actually elevates it somewhat, since he hasn’t killed nearly as many people as Nobel Laureate Henry Kissinger did.

Here in Eugene, where I live, there’s a group called The Nobel Peace Laureate Project. Their stated aim is to build a monument to Amercian winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in one of our city’s parks. (Why only Americans? War criminals from other countries aren’t good enough?) Their website gives a revealing list of these laureates. There’s Woodrow Wilson, who maneuvered the US into World War I. (In the cause of peace, of course.) Then there’s Frank Kellogg, Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State, who negotiated the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which “outlawed war”. (Hey, we all know what a roaring success that was.) There is Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, who “proposed to Frank Kellogg the idea for the Kellogg-Briand Pact”. ( And where did he get the idea from? I want to know!) Then there’s Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State, who was an “advocate of freer international trade by means of reducing trade restrictions.” (This has resulted in people working under sweatshop conditions for Nike. Nice job, Cordell.) And there’s Henry Kissinger. (Any comment here would be superfluous.) Then there’s Elie Wiesel, cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq. (Truly, a man of peace.) And, of course, there’s Jimmy Carter, who gave the CIA the green light to supply arms to right-wing mujahedeen in Afghanistan – before the Soviet invasion – leading to the destruction of that unfortunate country. (But, hey, Jimmy supports women’s rights!)

Please, don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt for a moment that the people in the Nobel Peace Laureate Project are completely sincere and well-intentioned. My point here is that it’s not enough to say that one is in favor of peace. (I don’t doubt for a moment that even Gen. McChrystal believes that peace is a worthy thing.) The problem is that nations go to war for specific reasons, not because they believe that war is an end-in-itself. The abstract notion of “peace” can mean different things to different people. This is why the Nobel Peace Prize is meaningless.