Cascades Compression

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I was among those who thought building a roundabout in Sisters was a good idea. I still do—they work–though some of the motoring theatrics I observed this weekend might cause one to have legitimate second thoughts. For a moment, tourist-watching from my favorite surveillance hidey-hole in the Rays parking lot, the roundabout sounded like lower Manhattan: horns ablaze, tires squealing, and wild oaths being issued as touring cars bristling with kayaks and canoes–and jammed full of vaping hipsters–barreled relentlessly into our very own theater-in-the-round.

We will have some wrecks there before people figure it out. Let’s hope they aren’t serious.

In other news, I’m very excited about the crush of visitors for this eclipse bonanza, which will, no doubt, add another layer of derring-do to the “roundy-run”. Tens of thousands of them are coming, and if you listen closely you can almost hear the determined swarm, like a cloud of locusts, buzzing somewhere just over the horizon.

I confess that I don’t understand why the eclipse is such a big deal. Without trying to be humbug about the whole thing, I just don’t get it. But then again, if Moses were making a surprise appearance at the Les Schwab amphitheater, I probably wouldn’t go. Not because I have anything against Moses, it’s just—you know—the behavior of crowds.

The other swell development in summer compression will be the Rainbow Family gathering out near John Day. A hippy flashmob of some 30,000 people chortling bongs, and banging on drums will—if they stick to tradition—spend a week or two trashing large portions of the National Forest, stealing from local stores, aggressively panhandling, and leaving environmental ruin in their wake. A more intrepid journalist than I did the math on the sheer tonnage of human waste left behind by the Living Light crowd, and the numbers are staggering.

I’ll spare you the truly disgusting details.

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Rainbows in a Meadow

They are, of course, free to assemble, and because they are allegedly a leaderless group—though they do have a marvelous role for more disciplined hippies known as a “focalizer”–no one can, or will, force them to do what the rest of us have to do for such a blowout, which is to get a permit.

The Forest Service usually budgets about a half-million dollars to monitor these gatherings, so not only do they not pay for a permit, at the end of the day, it’s you and I who are paying for the big peace-party. Which any focalizer will tell you, is appropriate for us Babylonians.

In fairness, the record on Rainbow behavior, and the damage they do to forests, is mixed, and depends entirely on who is doing the talking. I hope for the best, but I’m fairly certain that if a rancher—who grazes on a permit—tore up a forest meadow the way 30,000 hippies and their cars are going to do it, he would be filleted by everyone from Greenpeace to the National Cattleman’s Association.

The big rhinocerous in the room, of course, is that there are just too many of us. We’ve done a bangup job of overpopulating the planet, and there are fewer and fewer places to escape the crush of humanity. Particularly when the weather is good.

In local business terms, that’s good for what the Chamber and others refer to as “sticky dollars,” but it means we have to endure the seasonal invasion of people who don’t care about our community as much as we do. They are, uniformly, too lazy to even walk their shopping cart back to the cart corral.

 

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A photo from Michael Wolf’s collection, Tokyo Compression

Which brings me to Michael Wolf, the celebrated photographer, who by recording daily life in cities has become a kind of prophet. Born in Germany, raised virtually everywhere else, and now based in Hong Kong, Wolf’s images of the daily commute on the Tokyo subway—a series he first started in 2010, is a disturbing glimpse into the future that we are building for our descendants, and yes, even in places as lovely as Central Oregon.

Invariably, the photographs are tightly constricted in the frame, and present the face of a hapless commuter, face, hands, ears, pressed into the glass, earbuds in, dread written in the eyes, and the condensation from so many tightly-packed humans obscuring the image ever-so slightly. It’s virtually raining inside the subway car, and the people are contorted into what can only be described as “stress positions”, of the kind generally reserved for extraordinary renditions and Gitmo interrogations.

The series, known as “Tokyo Compression”, reveals a kind horrifying desperation, an almost trancelike embrace of misery. Perhaps the most important element of the photographs, what makes them so intensely and uniquely disturbing, is that these are, after all, every day events–just regular people like you and me, trying to get to work, or to get home.

We aren’t there just yet. But a temporary dip into any one of our big city neighbors—even Bend, where the traffic now resembles many of the places people fled from to begin with—can give us all a taste of what is most certainly coming this way.

this post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 27 June 2017

 

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Dying in Committee

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“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”  Calvin Coolidge

No sitting governor of Oregon has ever refused to meet with a Medal of Honor recipient.

Until now.

On June 8, Governor Kate Brown snubbed Master Sergeant Leroy Petry as he stood waiting — at her invitation — outside of her office in Salem.

Maybe you’ve heard of Master Sergeant Petry. In 2008, he and his fellow Rangers from the 2/75th Ranger Battalion were fighting in Paktia, Province, Afghanistan, where, during an intense firefight with nearly 40 Taliban, he selflessly grabbed an enemy grenade and attempted to toss it away from his fellow Rangers and himself. The grenade exploded, took his hand off, and peppered him with shrapnel even as he applied his own tourniquet and continued to lead his men in the fight. This after he’d already been shot through both thighs.

For his heroism, MSG Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

Even more impressive has been his work afterward. MSG Petry has become a tireless advocate for improving the available treatment for veterans with physical and mental injuries.

In the words of retired Green Beret Greg Walker, who is an Oregon resident and serves as the Pacific Northwest Ambassador for the Green Beret Foundation–the organization that hosted MSG Petry’s visit to the capitol–Petry is “An American Hero.”

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Leroy Petry is awarded the Medal of Honor by the President of the United States

Strangely, Governor Kate Brown doesn’t seem to think so. And she wasn’t alone. Democrat State Senator James Manning, appointed to his office by Lane County Commissioners in 2016, also refused to meet with MSG Petry, sending his wife and “legislative aide” Lawanda out to deliver the news to MSG Petry.

Manning, apparently, offered to be “unavailable,” despite having been notified of MSG Petry’s intention to pay him a professional courtesy visit.

I’ll get back to Senator Manning later.

Because Governor Brown and her office refused to answer my requests for comment, we are left to speculate as to why she would violate virtually every standard of decency and protocol MSG Petry’s bonafides demand.

So I will.

Perhaps it’s because of her party’s opposition to Senate Bill 1054, which seeks to remedy the unconscionable absence of available psychiatric care for veterans in Oregon by easing the “Certificate of Needs” process, an archaic, cost-prohibitive stricture under the suspect Oregon Health Authority which governs the building of new hospitals and health facilities.

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Medal of Honor recipient MSG Leroy Petry, with Greg Walker, USA Special Forces, retired

As State Senator Brian Boquist, himself a Special Forces veteran — and whose son, a Navy veteran, took his own life last year — wrote in a guest column for Oregonlive: “The Oregon Health Authority is holding our veterans and their families hostage collecting ransom payments from providers. The so-called ‘certificate of need’ is the go-ahead hospitals need from government before they can build new facilities. The health authority’s process is bureaucratic terrorism.”

Senate Bill 1054 is staunchly opposed by most Democrats, who appear to be more concerned with protecting union and corporate strangleholds on potential competition than the mental and chemical dependency-related health needs of veterans.

Some 30,000 of Oregon’s estimated 300,000 veterans, men and women who enlisted believing they would receive a minimum of benefits in return for their sacrifice—many of whom now live in desperate need of care, can’t get any because under the Certificate of Needs process it is prohibitively expensive to build, or operate, new care and treatment facilities.  The process is a shakedown.

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In a classic touch of irony, the MOH Memorial at the base of the capitol flagpole

Perhaps the Governor snubbed MSG Petry because she is profoundly aware that the State of Oregon currently ranks 49th in the availability, and quality, of mental health care available to veterans. Or maybe she doesn’t know that. It’s hard to say which fact would be more derelict.

Perhaps, as Senate Republican Communications Director Jonathan Lockwood told me in an interview, it’s because “Kate Brown uses veterans as props while blocking their ability to get mental health care.”

Alas, only the Governor really knows why she snubbed MSG Petry. Whatever the reason, there are some additional facts to behold. In the entire State of Oregon there is only one specialty, military-focused, behavioral health program. One. To make matters worse, the Oregon National Guard ranks at the very top of the list for Guard suicide rates nationally, and has consistently ranked at the top for the last six years.

There is so little available care for veterans in Oregon that the VA’s office in Boise, Idaho, must run a satellite clinic in Burns, which covers three Eastern Oregon counties as well. And the VA, as most everyone knows, is broken.

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MSG Petry on the capitol steps with State Senator Boquist (far left), Greg Walker, and the family of Combat Medic Will Naugle.  Governor Brown couldn’t be bothered to attend.

While Governor Brown and Senator Manning whimper in their offices, afraid to shake the prosthetic hand of a Medal of Honor recipient advocating for better care, Oregon veterans just keep dying, too many by their own hand.

Will Naugle was a combat medic who spent a year in Afghanistan with the National Guard. Unable to find treatment for his deep psychological wounds, Will went missing late last January. His body was later found in a ravine at Powell Butte State Park in Portland. One of the principle reasons MSG Petry was at the statehouse was to present Will’s family — who have lobbied hard for SB1054 in the aftermath of Will’s suicide — with visible comfort and support.

Will’s sister, Julie Terry, told me in regard to SB1054: “I’m not a politician, I don’t have a political affiliation. This should be about what is right. The bill won’t cost the state anything. This is a choice they are making and at least they would have something started to fill the need that is so obviously there.”

One would think that a Governor who can find the time for photo-ops with troops deploying to fight our nation’s conflicts—she posed at an activation ceremony only days before–an event which can now rightfully be seen as cynical and opportunistic pandering–would somehow find the time to meet with an American hero who is leading the way in the desperate fight for veteran health care.

But Kate Brown, apparently, can’t be bothered, and James Manning went AWOL.

After learning of the Governor’s behavior, I spoke to MSG Petry, who has traveled the country speaking with elected officials, including Presidents of the United States, who confirmed that he had never been treated so crudely by public servants, anywhere.

“I was appalled (by their behavior),” he said. “It was rude. Having knowledge that I was going to be there, to be snubbed like that was something.”

To be certain, not everyone in our statehouse was so obtuse. MSG Petry, in full dress blues and wearing his Medal of Honor, met with several officials, including Democrat Senate President Peter Courtney. MSG Petry was effusive and gracious in his thanks for those public servants who did arrange the time — and keep it — to meet with him.

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Not every Salem politician was shamefully rude.  MSG Petty on the dais with Senate President Democrat Peter Courtney

There was an ugly political rumor floating around the capital on June 8. The gist of it was that MSG Petry was only there as a Republican stooge for the resurrection of SB1054, which Democrat Representative Anthony Meeker’s Chief of Staff confirmed to Greg Walker has been “sent to die in the rules committee”.

What he didn’t say, but what he could just as well have said, is that Oregon’s deserving and honorable veterans have been sent there to die, too.

“I hope the veterans of Oregon realize the demeanor of their elected representatives,” MSG Petry told me. “The only reason I went there was to give veterans a voice. If they (Governor Brown and Senator Manning) had just talked to me they would have known that. I volunteered to be there. I was there of my own accord.”

In other words, in the manner befitting a Medal of Honor recipient, he was no one’s political lackey. He was there in the continuing effort to take care of his people, who are dying for lack of leadership—and cynical stonewalling–by hyper-partisan politicians. If any single issue should rise above the miasma of Salem swamp gases, given the life or death nature of the problem, mental health care for veterans is surely it.

But even if MSG Petry had been there solely to stump for a bill that the Governor et al. happen to disagree with, what minimal historical appreciation and political grace does it require to step outside and offer a living Medal of Honor recipient the professional courtesy and acknowledgement he so richly deserves?

In Manning’s case — the same man who admitted in front of Greg Walker and Will Naugle’s sister, Julie Terry, that he “hadn’t read the bill closely enough” (it is scarcely over a page long) then supported it, then suddenly retracted his support — it appears that hiding in his office was the result of sheer political cowardice.

The topper? Manning is a retired Army Sergeant Major.

Senator Manning’s office also refused my request for comment.

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Oregon’s veterans have earned, and deserve, much better from obstructionist politicians in Salem

SB1054 isn’t the entire answer. But given the fact that we have been at war for 16 years it’s a long overdue step in the need to deliver critical, life-saving care to veterans who are dying each and every day. Those deaths aren’t political hyperbole, they are real human beings dying because they can’t get care, and because certain politicians in Salem are, in the words of a seasoned source in the statehouse, more concerned with “holding Oregonians hostage for tax hikes”.

On a personal note, last Saturday I rode in the veterans’ float during the Sisters Rodeo parade. It was a singularly humbling experience. Hundreds of our friends and neighbors turned out, and as our modest float rolled along through the cheering crowd, countless people offered heartfelt “Thank-yous” to those of us riding in the procession. Deeply moved by their warmth, I had to bite my lip to hold back the swell of pride I felt in their  sincerity.

The truth is that Oregonians care about, and deeply respect their veterans. Some of our elected representatives in Salem seem to have forgotten that.

Or maybe they never knew it to begin with.

This post originally appeared in The Nugget News, 20 June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speed Wobbles

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Once, while attending a summer program for young students at UC Santa Barbara, I attempted to skateboard down a long, sloping hill.  I had no business doing that.  I was not a skateboarder.  Where I lived in northern California skateboarding was not a thing because it is very difficult to skateboard on dirt roads.  But I tried anyway.  I stepped aboard and went merrily down the path until, and quite suddenly, the skateboard developed speed wobbles, became uncontrollable, and I was tossed unceremoniously–and I’m sure hilariously–into the grass.

The skateboard went shooting off into the bushes like a dud missile while I lay impaled, and writhing, on a lawn sprinkler.

Ever-after I have been mindful of speed wobbles.

In Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan observed, rather optimistically, that no winter spent in an insane asylum could be counted as a total loss.  There would be, he pointed out, “television, clean sheets on soft beds, hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes, a dance once a week with the lady kooks, clean clothes, a locked razor and lovely young student nurses.”

Lately–by which I mean every single day–I admit to difficulty in warding off the notion that we have, collectively, checked ourselves into a nuthouse.

There is, for example, the Russian question, which appears to be more and more of a political and journalistic fidget-spinner–a three-sided toy that keeps going nowhere even as it goes faster and faster and amazing the children.  There is the continued hand-wringing over who uses what bathroom, spectacular millennial meltdowns on the quad, Nancy Pelosi, parents in Ohio and Florida putting their children in dog kennels, rompers, manties, now mantyhose even.  There is the enduring mystery of Jerry Brown, the male-rapist mayor of Seattle, that weird Rasputin in the White House named Steve Bannon, to say nothing of environmental protestors who leave hundreds of tons of garbage and dead dogs behind, eyebrow shaving and suicides over whether or not to install stop lights or roundabouts, Great White sharks, fentanyl lollipops, and masked truckers driving their Peterbilts through the Moonlight Bunny Ranch.

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The Great Trucker vs Whorehouse Fiasco of ’17

Probably none of this weirdness is new to humanity, and I’m certainly not suggesting it is somehow worse today than it was in, say, Atlanta after Sherman was finished. But I would argue that somehow the frictions of our time often feel manufactured out of the boredom of luxury.  They get built like a coal fire in a steam engine, and continually stoked for purposes other than identifying and solving actual problems.  And the train just keeps hauling ass down the tracks, even as nobody knows where it is headed.

Also, none of it will help me grow more apples, a better crop of green beans, or encourage more flexion in my colt’s neck.

In his marvelous book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes:

“…despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals and we seem to be as discontented as ever.  We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles–but nobody knows where we’re going.  We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power.  Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever.  Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one.”

We have the speed wobbles, but at least we know how to make glow-in-the-dark rabbits.

On the political end, I don’t care anymore.  I don’t care who wins or loses because I have stopped trusting them.  Any of them.  Utterly, and completely.  I view the entire political class the same way I look at striped apes leaping around in a zoo.  They live in a world that has nothing to do with the one I’m trying create for myself–and I still get to do that in a lot of ways–but I’m losing confidence that my grandchildren will.

Because I believe I am looking at striped apes, being angry, or shocked, or appalled when they start humping, masturbating, or throwing poop on the walls–daily events that somehow require endless investigations, and which are now endlessly rehashed and repackaged via the ten-minute news cycle, is counter-productive to my mission–which, ultimately, is to live well enough to stay out of Brautigan’s winter asylum.

I’ve been alienated by all of it, more or less permanently.

Which brings me back to that skateboard.  I got on it.  It was going too fast.  I probably could have stopped, picked it up, and spent a little more time figuring out how I was going to properly negotiate that hill before I crashed and hurt myself.  But I didn’t.

Lesson learned.