Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tokyo for 6 months.

If there ever were people who kept up with this blog, then they have definitely stopped checking to see if there is anything new on it. I think it's been two months or so since last post.

I know that I've wrote some drafts where I mentioned this, but I can't remember if I've actually stated here that I have been accepted into a study abroad program at Waseda University in Japan. Well, that trip is coming up soon: September 11th is my fly-out day, to be exact. The Al-Qaeda connection between Portland, Oregon to Tokyo, Japan, via Korean Air and with a lay-over in Los Angeles, is probably pretty slim, so I'm not terribly worried.

Realistically, it's probably a security-hell day. I'd probably get tasered and detained if I, say, had to literally run to the bathroom. If anything, we should be paying attention to the other areas of social life and gathering where we congregate in dense packs, and where we will most likely not be on alert. But that's another post, isn't it?

The reason I have not posted anything -- or for that matter even written anything on this blog -- is because I've been focused on short story writing. Fiction writing. Stuff like that. I've been busy with writing this summer, to be sure. There may be a day when I actually post a story. The one I'm writing now has more or less been culled from my experiences working at a call center, where I heard both hilarious and tragic stories from customers who initially dialed to order a pumpkin pie or a Christmas ham, or some starter flower bulbs, or some shitty, overpriced northwest-themed clothing. Many will know exactly what I'm talking about from that last sentence.

I will be starting up another blog soon, in order to detail my Tokyo experiences. I recently was awarded a scholarship from a well known organization, and though it is not a requirement, they suggest things like blogs and YouTube V-blogs, or whatever. It's part of my payback for their handsome reward. Fair enough, and easy enough: I have to create a follow-up project that informs students of my experiences, and, more importantly, promotes the foundation.

I have this idea that I'll form two blogs: one for foundation purposes, and one for everyone else. The foundation blog will be full of bland generalizations of Japanese culture and society, like: "The Japanese are a neat, detail-oriented people that prize stillness and beauty; beauty in the simplicity of a budding flower, or stillness in the glass-like surface of a pond,..." Better yet, I'll have the music of a shamisen plucking away in the background. This is always the case in any television program or documentary you see (at least in America, but I suspect just about everywhere) about Japanese culture. Doesn't matter how cool or interesting your show is, you're required to have ethnic-appropriate music playing in the background. How are we gonna know if they're Japanese without that fucking shamisen?

The other blog will ask questions like: "Remember all that talk about finding used school-girl panties in a vending machine? Well, I'm setting out today to find out if that urban legend is true or not." Or, "how do people really feel about the possibility that their waters may be poisoned by radioactive waste?"

I don't believe that the foundation really cares that much about what's on a blog; they'd probably just take a line or two from it to insert into a promotional thing, or to put up on their website. So two blogs might not be worth the hassle of a cheap joke. At the very least, I will have a blog, and it will detail true thoughts about what I'm experiencing.

This blog will probably get a few posts as well, but the reason why I am doing a Japan-only blog is because I like the idea of a block record of events -- something that I can go back to reading about a specific time and head-space. As anyone who has traveled knows, the head-space is unique. You carry a mix of emotions with you the entire day. It's invigorating, it's exhausting -- but you feel alive and connected. Maybe it's manufactured in your head, but at least it's the kick in the ass that gets you to think and to feel. Daily routines, while maybe never fully dismantled, have to be co-opted to the particular scenario -- so they're still new experiences. And the sensory overload is different everywhere you go.

If you write about traveling, well after the trip, you'd likely present an image of endless excitement and thrills and curiosity. And even if you write about the other facets of traveling and surviving -- sickness, missed bus stops, lost items -- you'd be likely to sugarcoat it; talk about it in a comical way, like you were the type who only got vaguely annoyed by things: you lost your luggage, and you "hated it," but not really because everything turns out okay in the end. When I speak about my experiences I even do that. I don't know if you can help it.

However, unless you delete or burn them, you can't take back the words you wrote down when you were there. I kind of like that. When I look at the journal I kept about my first independent travel -- Italy and Spain on this account -- I can see the days where I was genuinely not having a good time and was even questioning my reasons for doing it. I cringe at some of the stuff: the bad writing, the overwrought sentiments, the weird and ridiculous thoughts that I considered worth writing down, etc. I went on some tangent about becoming a yogurt producer with creative flavors that I care fuck-all about now.

Still, I intend to keep that journal for as long as I live. That one I wasn't prepared to share, and still am not.   In blog form, I'll have no choice. But that will be the fun of it. Till next time.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

we got a real cynic here.

I wrote this post probably around a month ago. I wrote a good chunk of it quickly, but felt like there was more to say on the subject, so I kept it in drafts. And then forgot about it. I still think it's kind of funny, so I decided to add just a bit more and then posted it. If you thought I was bitchy before, get a load of this shit:
A short post; while it's fresh and sort of funny.

So, in my "History of Rock and Roll" class this morning, there were a few awkward moments that I believe are typical of the average young student. Let's see, we were going over Lieber and Stoller produced records and singles, and we were looking at the song "Charlie Brown," by The Coasters, in particular. Our instructor has power-point slideshows coordinated with his lectures, and these usually have pictures. The picture that came up when discussing this song was the actual bare record single. Below "Charlie Brown," was another song (I can't remember what song) by a group called Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. Yes, I was wondering if it was, too. Apparently, so was another guy. He raises his hand and asks, "Now, that says Ronnie Dio up there; is that actually Ronnie James Dio?" The instructor says, "I am not sure about that," while a few people in the class start shaking their heads and saying "no, no...," or "no, it's not the same." Immediately, the guy who asks the question turns around to everyone and says, "Oh yeah, it says here that it is him." He says this with confidence and with an indignant expression on his face. His laptop is open and he is, presumably, looking right at a wikipedia page or some other kind of quick info page.

The obvious point here being that he already knew this bit of trivia, but thought it would, I don’t know, make him sound funny or observant. Stupid, fucking rhetorical questions is this kid's game, seems to be. So many times he pipes up with something equally dumb to say, or rather to "ask." Last time he spoke up, it was to make a glib comparison with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers to Justin Beiber, by way of question: "So, you could say that Frankie Lymon was kind of like the Justin Beiber of his time, right?" Time before that, it was to ask something like, "so that's kinda the same as when Lady Gaga uses techno in her songs that everyone now thinks is cool, but used to diss back in the nineties when it was associated with raves?" I believe the topic was irony in rock and roll. If so, this guy's a king, no?

There was another thing that happened this morning that I couldn't help but notice. It had to do with, yet again, the power-point presentation. Our instructor often times likes to put up funny pictures. One slide had multiple pictures of the fifties/sixties starlets, like Brenda Lee, Leslie Gore, Shelley Fabares, and Connie Francis. The picture of Connie Francis was some sort of animated .gif, or jpg., where the right eye occasionally blinked at you. And yes, it was funny and bizarre, and made you wonder for a minute if that was really happening. So, this image is winking for the next five minutes while there are plenty of giggles and whispers, some belated. And then someone raises his hand. Wanna take a guess as to why he's raising his hand? Maybe I'm a snob for rolling my eyes at that one, but I was thinking right as he raised it, "c'mon,'re not really going to make the observation now, five minutes after the majority of the class has become aware, that the picture is winking, right?" Well, yes actually he did that: "So, I'm not sure if the picture is supposed to be doing this or not, but it looks like the picture of Connie Francis is winking?" Way to state the obvious for a really fucking minor-league laugh.

I remember this happening all of the time throughout my early school years: my classmates’ propensity to laugh at the obvious, cute, and silly. What was alienating about it was that it sure did seem like there was a consensus on this: you laugh at the silly clown who falls down. I always thought, "is that really enough for a laugh?" I kind of resented kids who laughed at the stupid videos we watched in grade school, or the actual clown who came to our school to perform (who was not funny at all, sorry to say; "Zero the Hero" was his name), or whatever else was deemed funny for our tiny little minds. A real "sense" of humor is kind of important to me. I naturally feel closer to someone who has one that I like, as I think everybody does, of course. It is strange what some people find to be genuinely funny, though. Sometimes, you wonder if the joke is that they actually find this funny.

And many times it is the hipsters you have these shit-senses of humor. One would assume that a Portland hipster would understand the depth of irony. But no, don't bet on it. In the basement cafe at PSU, known as 'Food For Thought,' one will find young practicing hipsters working the counter, bantering with each other, making semi-ironic references to how awesome mustaches are, or how awesome eighties music is (I love, by the way, that there tends to be no distinction in eighties music when you talk to someone who was born at the end or after the decade. It's all gaudy and retro, and is all about dance music).They’re the types that talk about how they "want so badly" to own film collections of Chuck Norris, or Steven Segal, or Charles Bronson. Bob Seger is an idol, Kenny Rogers rules because he has white facial hair and owns a corporate chain of fucking chicken roasters, etc... I think you get it. To be fair, the "I want to own the Steven Segal movie collection," quote was said by some young barista at Crema Coffeeshop. She said it with a ridiculously stoned kind of voice, as in "yeah, braahh, I'm gonna hit the powder on the mountain," bullshit stereotypical snowboarder/surfer voice. Yeah, that's right.

What's kind of silly is that it tends to be rehearsed script. I've been hearing variations on that joke for as long as I've been in Portland. When someone says something like: “I want to own a velvet painting of Kenny Rogers; how rad would that be?” as a sort-of joke, you’re left wondering when the other shoe is gonna drop. Well, not very rad at all. It would be silly and pointless since you are expected to think that's funny/rad because of how you look. Oh, and by the way: fuck you. Come up with something funnier next time. Or better yet, try to cultivate a personality that doesn't exclusively rely on your peers for input or influence. 

On a side note, the PSU cafĂ© itself serves the most god-awful veggie/vegan fare to unsuspecting customers. I’m gonna be a snob on this one, because I was a fucking vegetarian long enough ago to remember what one would get if you ordered something vegetarian, or bought a vegetarian item in a store: that is to say, a big pile of shit on your plate that you’d be thankful for because at least it was vegetarian. You could count on such creations as dense, fat-free biscuits smothered in almond gravy, or a flavorless tofu scramble. For all you knew, the almond gravy could’ve been  made out of ground-up shoes, since all you’d taste was tamari. And this is the kind of stuff that Food For Thought serves. One day, I had French toast there, which wasn’t even vegan, but they gave it the vegan treatment. It was flat and boring as hell, and looked like it had been scraped off the ground. It was unappetizing to look at and it definitely had no fucking flavor. 

Though I am unsure if Food For Thought serves vegan pastries, it would seem fitting if they did. Even if a shop/restaurant is vegetarian  they usually have vegan baked goods, exclusively, because the items could claim things like maple syrup as a sweetener, and whole-wheat non-bleached flour as their base, and the owners could feel a little less guilty. However, baked goods were almost always heavy and weird since they were missing the two key ingredients: eggs and butter. Butter makes your biscuits light and fucking fluffy, and eggs give cakes their perfect texture. Technique, too, is essential, and that brings me to another point: why is everyone a chef when it comes to vegetarian/vegan cookery? I think it’s because there is an element of surprise: no one really knows if this ‘thing’ is supposed to look, taste, or feel the way it does.

Well, times have changed and cooks have gotten better since vegetarianism and veganism have both taken root in this country, and the people demanded a higher quality to their food, rather than having it merely sustain them. I understand the political/moral intention behind the decision to become vegetarian, but who said you had to stop enjoying flavor, or equating flavor with decadence? 

Well, that was quite the complaint. There's always more where that came from, but I'll settle down now. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

American Vegetarian

Just the other day, some friends of mine made a classic assumption of me: you're vegetarian, right?

This has happened to me more times than I can remember. An employer of mine, whom I had been working for for three years up to that point, was surprised to see me eating a steak. An old chef I worked for had a confused look on his face when I came into his new restaurant and responded "no" to the vegetarian question. Just about every friend, and almost every new acquaintance, has made the assumption that I am vegetarian. What's funny is that I was a vegetarian, once upon a time, back when everyone made the assumption that I ate meat. Differences in towns, I suppose.

This assumption is strange for a variety or reasons. To begin with, the friends of mine who've made this assumption have known me long enough to realize that I am not a vegetarian. In fact, many conversations I've had with these very people have been about my favorite restaurants, and about my favorite meat products from these restaurants. The strangest case was my former employer's shock. Strange because I had eaten countless meat-filled shift meals and I was a full-time employee. He assumed that I was vegetarian because I cooked good vegetarian meals for the few vegetarian customers who came in, and for the two vegan wait-staff that I worked with.

What I think it really comes down to is this way that people equate eating meat with being aggressive, or with being an asshole. This is another assumption that people have made of me, though. I remember a couple of years ago, while at Portland Community College, a woman had told me that I had a very "calming aura" or something. She mentioned that she felt calmer and less stressed when she spoke with me. And, as a matter of fact, she asked me if I was a vegetarian. I know what she meant, but I didn't find it to be a particularly great compliment. Turns out I'm not a vegetarian: so, does that mean I let you down? Do I have potential for being an asshole now that you've discovered that I actually am not a vegetarian? While I was learning how to cut my steak, my mother was also teaching me how to be impolite to strangers and to act high-strung, as it might help me to fit in to other's pre-conceived notions about the human character. It's alienating to have someone put you into a box and to assume that you would be proud of, or humbled by, that characterization.

As you have probably guessed already, I think equating 'peaceful' with vegetarian is fucking stupid. I think this weird attitude Americans have (since I can only speak on behalf of the culture that I've experienced) is the remnants of new-age culture and their pious belief in all-things-Eastern. I imagine some people's conception of  the American vegetarian is of having a vaguely ascetic lifestyle, where the practitioner is self-conscious of his judgmental thoughts, being that he/she is already so conscious of an animal's well-being. This is pretty bullshit; it doesn't take long to find militant animal rights activists who clearly don't give a shit about human rights.They're zealots for a cause; Americans to the fucking core. To be fair, this is usually the vegan crowd. Listen to some of the hardcore music in the 90s, and you might find quite a bit of this intolerant attitude in the lyrical themes. Before you know it, they might be deeming native cultures everywhere as bullshit and irrelevant, since they were animal slaughterers. But hey, they were just a blip in the music-as-political statement spectrum. Who really cares what a bunch of urban teenagers thought?

This is somewhat of a cliff-hanger, since I could probably spend a lot more time riffing on why I think young-people movements and cult-like behavior are obnoxious and stupid. But, I gotta go.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wanna do some speed?: caffeinated in Cave J. proves disastrous.

What do you know, the less interested I am in school, the more time I find to write. I even have a few drafts that have not made it to the post, but at least I have been keeping up on it.

Of course, not much else is new: this routine will continue until the beginning of June. So, maybe a short story from the past. Talkin' bout Cave J. Inspired by conversations last night at band practice, where my band-mates and I briefly talked about the small towns that we grew up in, and how strange they were.

How about some background? As I have discussed before (I think), the town I grew up in was a very small Oregon town, near the border of northern California. Somewhat off the beaten path, you need to exit the freeway at another small town called Grants Pass, then take Redwood Highway going to the coast. Grants Pass was "the city" for Cave Junction, where you would drive to find fast-food restaurants and and even some chain-department stores. It's a small, suburban-feeling shit-hole where the banner across the main street in the town reads "It's the Climate." While the sign is not trying to be intentionally funny, it potentially answers some amusing questions: Why is everyone an asshole here? What the hell is going on in this town? Continue on Redwood highway for about a half an hour and you'll find Cave Junction.

Before Cave Junction, though, there exists a town (sort of), named Selma, somewhere around the mid-way point in the route: it has a grocery store, a post office, a gas-station, an ice cream shop, and a notoriously deadly intersection. The only other "shops" are houses with big wood signs offering things like homemade antiques or puppies or firewood or whatever. There is a man-made lake about ten minutes from the main highway, "Lake Selmac," which is also notorious, but for being filthy and disgusting and occasionally hosting big biker rallies, where bikers can shoot off firearms, snort crank and beat the shit out of each other in peace. This sort of sets the stage for the weird small town that I grew up in, I think.

Cave J., or "the junk," is a town that hasn't gotten around to changing its population sign. It reads: "Cave Junction: population 1234." I always imagined an ellipses at the end. It has, of course, surpassed 1,234 people, probably more like 2,500 or 3,000. But then again, it may have declined since I've lived there. It is a severely economically-depressed town; a retiree town, really, since there is almost no industry there, probably barely supported by what tourists pass through. It has gotten steadily worse, I feel, though I have no proof of this. I can't quite tell if that feeling is from an older perspective, when I go back and hang out near the coffee stand and kind of take-in the desolate landscape. There at least used to be some young kids there hanging out around town, but this doesn't even seem to be the case anymore. Hanging out in town is the source of this particular story.

When I was in junior-high, seventh grade, there was a new student who appeared at Lorna Byrne Middle School. I believe her name was Sabrina, and I remember that she looked older than the average middle-school student. Anyhow, she sat next to me in Math class, and I remember one day she was talking about speed and "uppers," and asked me "hey, you wanna do some speed?" Being at an age where I was up for almost anything, I said "sure, you have some?" She replied, "we can go to the pharmacy and get some." I was confused. She then started talking up something called "Vivarin," which I had no idea existed, and mentioned that it was something you could purchase over the counter.

Vivarin are caffeine pills, each pill the equivalent of two cups of coffee. I'm not sure what kind of coffee they are making comparisons with, probably Folger's, but enough of them can do the trick, as I was to find out. Sabrina and I made a plan to do some "speed" on the weekend, at the local park, "Jubilee park," since it was so close to the local pharmacy. The park was the place to do drugs, in general, even though there were regular rounds done by the police. It must have been because of the quick escape-routes into the woods. There was a baseball game happening that day in the park, as well, which, I suppose, made us feel like we wouldn't stand out as a lone bunch of speed freaks hanging out by ourselves in the park, and invitation to trouble, no doubt.

As I recall, earlier that day I had convinced some friends to join in on the Vivarin-plan and we started the day off hanging out in the parking lot of the Christian Academy: the private Christian school that was directly across the street from the public middle-school. A friend had some whiskey, and I remember drinking a shot or so. The only food that day that I remember eating was a handful or two of red grapes. So, whiskey and red grapes on the stomach before ingesting about 7 Vivarin pills. Keep this scenario in your mind.

So, the first part of the "trip" was largely imagined by myself. At first, I was convincing myself that I was high and reading far too much into any sensation I felt, and I think I even convinced myself that my vision was slightly distorting. I remember walking down the bleachers/stands right next to the dugout at the baseball diamond and feeling like my steps were wobbly, when they really weren't. I laid out in the grass in another area of the park, and even here I felt like I was high when I wasn't. I then walked over to try to find Sabrina and my friend Elizabeth, whom I planned to meet up with. I found them both sitting down in the small alley between the pharmacy and another store, where the Vivarin had definitely kicked in for them. Their eyes looked unusually large, or maybe it was pupil-dilation; either way, they were just sitting there looking quite fucked-up. For me, my Vivarin experience didn't seem to be that intense.

I returned to the park, thinking, "well this is nice, a nice gentle body-high." That was until the Vivarin actually kicked in. At that point, there was no denying that I was high. I wouldn't even call it being high; I would call it "tweaking." That awful sensation when you are grinding your teeth, clenching and un-clenching your fists, scratching at sudden, weird itches, or pawing at your face because it feels like a lump of clay. Walking started to actually become an issue, as I was dizzy as hell. After about an hour of disorientation, I started getting a stomach-ache. Then I was queazy. I left the park earlier than expected and then walked to my grandmother's house, which was not terribly far from the park.

When I got there, I pretty much immediately went into the bathroom and started wretching. Not much was coming out, since grapes and whiskey were the entirety of the contents of my stomach. That meant a lot of dry-heaving. I was holding onto the towel-rack and eventually tore it off of the bathroom-wall. Of course, my grandmother was concerned, and was probably wondering why I was all-of-a-sudden so sick, as she had seen me earlier that day completely fine. This vomiting continued on for about an hour, since I didn't feel secure enough to leave the toilet up until that point.

While I was in the throes of my sickness, I remember this particular feeling of wanting to confess everything to my grandmother. I still remember this feeling, as if confessing would make me feel physically better. I suppose there was guilt, as well, but it was a stranger feeling than just that. It was like a truth-serum, where the sickness was enough to consume most of my brain activity, especially concentrating. Lying, of course, takes some concentration to keep a story straight, so it becomes even more painful to maintain a lie while giving explanations in between vomiting. However, I didn't end up mentioning the Vivarin. I just spent the next two days with a hangover, chalking it up to something like bad-food, I think.

I believe that this was an experience that genuinely went under the radar of my parents, as opposed to my later cigarette and stoner days, where my cover-ups sometimes enhanced my guilt. A word to the wise: slathering oneself with Preferred Stock cologne actually draws quite a bit of olfactory-attention, which then a discerning nose can detect cigarette stank residing next to, rather than masked by, that awful fucking cologne.

That was my first and last time taking Vivarin, or any other caffeine pills. A later experience of drinking cough syrup would have, largely, the same results. But that's another story.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


[This was a partial from a week ago]

So, things have been slow-going on the blog. There are wide-gaps in-between posts, nowadays -- directly due to the all-consuming process of being a "good" student. And being a good student, from what I've experienced, is in how you plan your strategy. I'm finding that there isn't necessarily a correlation between being intelligent and having a good gpa; you just have to know how to play the game well. Welcome to the academy.

I will put it out front: I have been feeling a bit burned out as of late. My last term consisted of hard classes with the requisite deadlines, as per usual. But I also had essays, packages to mail, money orders to place, questionnaires to fill out, professors to pester about multiple recommendation letters, and general tidying up of loose ends for my study abroad program to Japan. In this process, I have been dealing with severely incompetent departments who can't seem to get their shit straight. Furthermore, the attitude on their part is kind of "oh well,'s still your responsibility," while they enforce strict deadlines for submissions. There is a serious lack of reciprocal respect, and this has been kind of getting under my skin. The onus is on the student to prioritize, commit, take responsibility for their actions, as well as understand that these departments receiving applications and materials are 'very busy.' This mentality would explain why I've gone long periods without email responses from department heads when I've inquired about crucial details of the application process. This is not exclusively a PSU thing: the department I am primarily dealing with is the Oregon University System, down at Oregon State University. Maybe this is an Oregon thing.

I could go into more detail, but I will spare you. My point being that it's really the lack of respect that has been shown that bothers me. Professors, too, typically have this attitude of being 'too busy' to bother or to deal. This is, of course, due to their own time-constraints placed on them by the institutions, I know. However, it sometimes feels like they forget that students pay a hefty price for the college experience, especially university, and part of that experience includes time with, and guidance from, professors. And furthermore I'm not sure why I should care that they are too busy writing their book to take some time to teach a decent class.

This is a somewhat unrelated tangent, because my professors have been, largely, pretty good, but the relationships I've observed between fawning student and professor are pretty annoying. Even the professors I've enjoyed have sometimes exhibited the cliched elitism and condescension associated with academics. It's strange to think that there are probably many students who believe triangulation is not required in getting at the  truth. My daddy says so, and now my professor says so, and society says so, and so it is so. In a class I am taking right now, it is a graduate student/professor style of class, where the graduate student mostly teaches the course while the professor makes appearances to give authority to lectures. On the first session, the TA helped with all the map-rigging, passing out of papers, and making sure professor's jacket was put away and needs were met. On our third class session, the TA had some papers on the 'pulpit' (or whatever you would call the wood structure where professors sometimes lecture from) as the professor made his way over to it to start the lecture. Since I was up front, I overheard the professor say to the TA, who was gathering his papers and apologizing for the scatter, "you know," as he pointed to the mess, "you really shouldn't do that." Jesus Christ, really? You can't appreciate that this guy already acknowledges his "messy" papers? Oh, are you gonna give him a lecture in being tidy and organized, later? The quietly-strained tension between professor and student hints at what maybe goes on in back rooms.

It's a slightly embarrassing situation, actually: a fast-talking, nervous graduate student practicing to be a teacher babbles on without fully knowing the content of the material, while the guy who should be teaching us is busy going to seminars and other colleges, where he mingles with colleagues. Also, the TA has a way of agreeing too much with everybody's comments, which then makes the whole thing kinda seem arbitrary. Nice enough fellow, this TA, but this isn't a fucking charitable experience: we pay for this shit. If these kind of classes were listed under, I don't know, "experimental pedagogy," and at a discounted rate, they could be excused.

If I were younger, maybe, I might adopt or accept the professor/lackey relationship, but I don't, exactly. I learned my lesson in kitchens, where it is more or less required to have unquestioning faith in the chef you work for. That ended up with disastrous consequences (a separate post, really). From professors, I get what I need, but always try to remain clear about what I'm receiving. American academics tend to be consensus-takers rather than bold thinkers, typically promoting the rather homogenous "critical-thinking" college-meme that, paradoxically, seems to blur rather than distinguish. [Hard to explain, but it seems like academics are always playing "catch-up" to the new ground that others are breaking, rather than the reverse.] In other words, I don't feel a need to worship at the feet of someone who, in some ways, merely regurgitates a methodical, and very mechanical, process of thinking. Much of the time the "angle" can be anticipated, and most of the time it's not reinforced with a convincing argument. There is something rather strange about institutionalized critical thinking, or really to the point: critical thinking linked with consensus. It would be more interesting to hear the private thoughts of these professors and academics, and to see which of them have honest criticisms about the institutions they work at.

[This is from this morning]

I had thought about leaving the above as a draft, but I decided, why not? I'm still roughly feeling this way. Last night's class, of which I had mentioned above, was much like last week's. Professor comes in to lecture for about forty-five minutes, then hands it over to the Graduate student. We then spend about two hours listening to lecture, then participating in a mind-numbing group activity.

I would be curious to know if other universities promote group-work as much as PSU does. This seems to be their hallmark, or something; with professors always citing some statistic that shows that students actually do benefit from it, whether the student knows it or not. What it really seems to be is a little breather for the professor, and a pointless exercise in tolerance for the students. It also promotes bad study-patterns, from what I can tell. Many classes and exercises in academia seem to gear students to think quickly on their feet. I sort of translate that to mean snap-judgments. Group deconstruction of texts in fifteen minutes is very common, encouraging students to think about texts without the larger context. This happened a lot in an English class I had, where the instructor consciously tried to prevent the historical context, of which the plays were written in, to be known. Therefore, a more pure or "gut-feeling" filter could be used in deconstruction. Essentially, she wanted the plays to be treated first and foremost as art. The problem is that without historical context the reader is forced to rely only on their limited contemporary knowledge while attempting to make judgments and decisions on literature that was written sometimes hundreds of years before them. What's the point? Why make the judgments prematurely? Why not acquaint oneself with content and context, then start to critique?

This happened in some of my history classes, too. The lists of books assigned were enormous, with even the professor understanding that it was probably not a feasible amount to read, let alone absorb. I was even encouraged to skim. Therefore, a very scattered and incomplete picture of events may have embedded themselves into my brain. Apparently, this is common. I still think it's a problem though, especially for anyone who is pursuing a future in academia. Deadlines, skimmed books, partial-information retention, stress, begin to formulate a thesis and an argument. A sloppy basis for actual intellectual work, I feel. That might seem dramatic, but you know -- sometimes these people are listened to.

My brain is going numb.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On a Night Like This

[I forgot to post this yesterday.]

As I was riding my bike home from Portland State University last night, I came upon a huge police presence just south of Burnside around 10th ave, near O'Bryant Park. There were a large amount of bike cops, a few police vans, and countless police cars. Also in the mix was a news-cameraman, noticeably in the police area. Basically, it looked like a size-able portion of the Portland Police task force were present. It became clear that there was a protest that took place, but it was scattered, at this point, with only relatively few people left. As I was briefly watching from the sidelines, a couple of people came up to me and gave me some small fliers, which immediately identified them as anarchist. They seemed to be handing out fliers around the periphery of the scene. From what I gathered, it was a protest about corrupt Portland police officers: my fliers included small exposes on Portland Police Sgt. Charles Brown and Portland Police Captain Mark Kruger. As they handed me the fliers, they noticed a news-camera possibly approaching them, so they kind of vanished quickly. I also had a bad feeling about this, so I stuffed the fliers in my pocket and rode on home.

From the small amount I observed, it did seem like an overwhelming majority of police officers ganging up on what looked like a pretty small amount of people. There were a few protesters pressed down on the ground, surrounded by cops. About four or five cops were restraining a man who kept yelling out "I didn't fucking do anything!" Maybe using a "cuss-word" like fuck is reason enough to treat someone as hostile, I don't know. I didn't see what this man did to merit this kind of action. What I did see, though, was that these police officers took this man around the corner of the parking lot, away from where most of this action was taking place, and pressed him up against the door of a business. It was under an eve of the building, and kind of set back a bit in a crevasse, tucked away without any light. They seemed to just be holding him there. I do not know what further was done to this man because I left while he was in the same position, but it sure seemed like a maneuver to get him outside of the camera's view, or from out of microphone range. The camerman could've investigated this by just going around the corner. No matter though, because the subsequent news reports didn't really show much of the protesters...

When I got home, I looked at what was reported at that point. It was largely what I expected: reports that identified the protesters as anarchists, first and foremost, mentioning their 'dressing in black' and noting, with some relief, that at least property wasn't damaged and cops were not injured. Today, there were a few more small stories about the protest, and as usual heavily borrowing from the other. Essentially, this tag-line accompanies each story: "There were no reports of injuries or property damage." In The Columbian, the story hilariously mentions that a "protest march against police brutality ended with nearly a dozen arrests Thursday evening." Same with OregonLive: "nearly a dozen...". So,...eleven people, right?

So what set off this police action? Here's a shared blurb from The Columbian: "The Oregonian says officers moved in to arrest a young woman who joined the protest at the courthouse square. As one officer tried to arrest her, a protester kicked the back tire of his bicycle, leading to a scuffle.
About 20 officers dropped their bicycles and moved in to tackle a handful of protesters. Police cars swarmed the area with sirens blaring." However, as of today, the newest report I've looked at, from this site: , says that protesters were shooting fireworks at police officers, which then led to police action.

The local news stories really only hint at what the objective of the protest was about. They were "anti-police brutality" protests, simply enough. In KGW's report, it was phrased that the protesters "...marched against what they called 'police brutality.'" This may have just been a simple reading of the story, or it could've been something subtle: as if the subject of police brutality was a debatable point depending on the source. These news stories had a way of both trivializing the protesters while making them appear threatening. This is nothing new, and as I mentioned I was not surprised at how the story was being reported. It's just funny what words and phrases are included in a small news story. It's also important to note exactly what is included and what is omitted and why.

Well, from reading these news stories I would only have a vague idea about what or who these people were protesting. Fortunately, I was able to receive two fliers with pertinent information. The one about Portland Police Sgt. Charlie Brown explains that this officer was "...recently questioned in relation to a federal inquiry concerning the use of steroids and human growth hormone by a Canby cop, Jason Deason..." The flier then goes on to site a series of Oregonian articles about this officer and his covering-up of then-fellow officer Michael Pimentel's domestic abuse against his girlfriend by reporting the assault as a "noise disturbance." The Oregonian article:

The other article, "Cops Draw a Crooked Line to Protect Their Own," seems to be unavailable on the Oregonian site, strangely. However, here is a blog that comments on the story:

The other flier is about Portland Police Captain Mark Kruger. The Willamette Week ran a story on the police captain entitled "The Cop Who Liked Nazis,"

in which they discuss Kruger's overt Nazi sympathies. There are two other Oregonian articles relating to the bizarre case where Kruger erected a memorial to five Nazi soldiers up on Rocky Butte:

It is also noted how this police captain is a notorious and violent presence at anti-war demonstrations. Presumably, these are only a few of the examples that the protesters were trying to draw attention to. Legitimate gripes about police corruption, I would say. If these items were included in local coverage of the event, I dare say that it might appear that the Portland police force were a bit eager to start slamming protesters who were discrediting their fellow officers. Especially if they were hinting at their neo-Nazi tendencies or their meth-and-steroid fueled violent outbursts.

And yet, when you begin to read the comments section of the news stories relating to this protest last night, you find the same themes. Mostly, it is people encouraging the police to use violence against protesters-- because said commenter is just so sick of hearing about protesters. Or, they draw attention to the group's political beliefs in order to invalidate them as a whole. Or, strangely enough, they criticize these anarchists for disguising themselves with black masks or bandannas, insinuating that they are not brave enough to stand up for their convictions. This is kind of funny since they are actually out demonstrating, probably knowing full well that stand a good chance of being arrested for even the thinnest, slightest thing that could be taken for provocation. Their chances of being arrested are probably far higher than any other group of demonstrators.

Have they invited some of this scrutiny? Sure, in lots of ways: vandalism, destruction of property, simplistic sloganeering promoting vague and idealistic concepts of self-government. But anarchism wasn't the focus of the protest last night, from what I gathered, and the overwhelming reaction by the police were set-off by quite a hair-trigger.  Sure, one of my fliers had the anarchy A on the back with this message: "One definition of ANARCHISM: The abolition of all government; the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion." The other had a print of an American flag with the inscription, "They Say Jump You Say How High." Not exactly impressive considering that I've had countless fliers handed to me throughout the last decade in Portland, so many of which have had this condescending tone in its message. The content of the protest, however, was specifically about drawing attention to corrupt police officials. To draw attention specifically to some vague anarchist=terrorist notion is to sort of blur the important distinction here.

Since I was not present during the protest and mostly saw the aftermath, I do not have any proof of whether a protester shot fireworks at cops, or if someone kicked the back tire of a cop's bike. But still, the burden of explaining one's actions does fall heavier on the police officers who wield considerable power over citizens. They need to be able to rationally explain their actions and the degree of their actions. And yet, by reading these comments, one can see that so many people subscribe to this theory that 'if you do no wrong, nothing bad will happen to you.' Pepper-sprays and tazers are only used on those who deserve it. Essentially, there is no such thing as unlawful arrest or unprovoked police brutality: those who receive it do so due to their own fault. Anytime this kind of thing comes up, there is always someone there to defend it: "They have stressful jobs; how would you act if you were in their shoes; it was actually the person who got the shit-beaten-out-of-them's fault for provoking these high-strung public officials, etc..." Well, I suppose that works...unless you happened to be a target. Better hope that never happens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's freezing, but at least I have mono.

Just a quick note. I don't even really have anything to share,...just wanted to write something.

This is the first time I've written something that hasn't been school related since, well, school started. It's been that kind of a term. Now that my body and brain have had a small amount of rest, I'm finding some sort of coherence in my thoughts. The term is not over yet, however.

It's been a very long time since I've gone out and bought a CD -- paid full price for one, that is. I can't remember the last time that I threw down twenty duckets on an album, but I had to yesterday. Though I have an older record from the band Mono, (an album called One Step More and You Die)  I never kept up with their releases. However, I was on YouTube, of course, and found a song of theirs called "Pure as Snow." If 'Post-Rock' is your thing (however lame that fucking moniker is), then you'll know what to expect, and surely you'll be lovin' the shit outta this track:

Yeah, melancholic and blissful. They have an orchestra and everything. Long as hell songs, but if you're patient then these slow crescendos pay off in the end. The raw production is perfect for this kind of music, too. The album that this song comes from is called Hymn to the Immortal Wind. The album that I purchased yesterday though was called Mono: Holy Ground: NYC Live with The Wordless Music Orchestra. It is basically Hymn to the Immortal Wind done live with an orchestra. Really fucking excellent stuff. It's hard to explain this, but it is the kind of music that feels fitting for the winter. I'm not just saying that because the track is called "Pure as Snow." It's production probably lends it some of that feel; it is lo-fi, which gives it kind of a 'vagueness' or even 'loneliness.' And the washy sounds during the loudest part of the crescendo is noisy and chaotic, actually sounding like wind through a tunnel. The music itself is very mournful-sounding: the kind of thing you might want played at your funeral. Maybe a strange thought, but I could kinda see it. The live album, that also has a DVD of the performance, is well worth the twenty bones. I'll probably put down another twenty for the record of Hymn to the Immortal Wind. Why twenty? Because it probably sounds even better in record form (vs. CD or YouTube clips) so I'll pay the price.

Well what do you know? I actually had something to share. Mono.