Inspiring Terrible Things

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Federal agents are fighting the greatest scourge since Bolsheviks infiltrated washrooms across America. Throughout the nation teams of local police and the FBI—Joint Terrorism Task Forces—are scrutinizing security footage and wiretaps while prosecutors issue grand jury subpoenas.

On December 26th, 2012, Matthew Pfeiffer reported for imprisonment to Seattle’s Federal Detention Center. He joins Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran, held in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating anarchist collectives in the Pacific Northwest. The price of silence, for not offering circumstantial evidence against photographs and names presented during closed sessions without judge or legal representation, can amount to continued incarceration until March of 2014 when the grand jury dissolves.

None are charged with any further crime. None are suspected of wrongdoing. The US attorney in charge admits that this imprisonment is a form of coercion to compel testimony. Read more…

Matters of Faith

December 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Kelley Butte Civil Defense

Concrete hides under an earthen shroud behind the bulldozed clearing. A couple years ago kids were squirming through ventilation shafts and roaming the murk of a by-gone era, but we were late to the party and could only poke sticks at the slab laid over the escape hatch.

Cold War paranoia gave birth to the Kelley Butte Civil Defense Center, first installation of its kind on these shores. At any moment Russian planes could cross the arctic and unleash a holocaust, so the people pitched in to build a subterranean city hall stocked with rations, generators and showers safe from the blast winds of a nuclear attack. Portland organized and conducted Operation Green Light, a mass evacuation exercise which cleared downtown of a hundred thousand souls within an hour. The citizenry believed that if the mayor, city council, the police and emergency services continued functioning behind 26 inches of concrete then they could survive anything.

As the arms race raged on faith was lost. Russia and America amassed enough armaments to ensure that the human race would be eradicated a hundred times over if either side reached for the button. In 1963 the city council suspended funding for local Civil Defense and slowly the Kelley Butte facility was dismantled. Police used the site for training and an emergency communication center until Kelley Butte closed in the early 90’s when a new downtown 911 office opened. No one had any use for the 18,000 square foot relic. The radio antenna is gone. One hundred years worth of public records imprinted on microfilm is gone. The threat of annihilation is gone. All that remains is the frustrated graffiti of kids and walls leading nowhere.

The mayor will never run to Kelley Butte for cover, but others seek the sanctity of its trees and isolation. The couple sitting at the top of a terraced wall were either stoned or residents of one of the encampments scattered throughout the park. Pete employed his foreign accent and natural charisma while I slipped and tumbled down a hillside following drainage ditches and trash. In a joint where man and nature had called a truce someone had carefully cleared the land and transplanted shrubs. Stones were laid to define paths and a hedge of weeds had been sculpted to distinguish a garden from its surrounding wilderness. Domesticity pried from the clutches of someone’s lost dreams. In its own way Kelley Butte remains a refuge for people who have lost faith in the surrounding world.

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White T-Shirts, Faerie Princess and Dead Grass

November 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Blissed-out New Age Christian women wearing matching white t-shirts had occupied the Bryant Street overpass, holding paper signs of goodwill against the chainlink suicide barrier. Primary colors screamed Be Happy!, eliciting one lonely horn from the snarled parking lot of I-5 a smashed skull below. Their kids had called it a day and were splayed out across my path assaulting coloring books. They don’t teach law and order or lines or awareness of others at home school. I hopped off my bike to walk it.

This sect of hugs not drugs fouling my path was overseen by a solitary male, also in a matching white t-shirt but clearly not drinking the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. He paced across the narrow caged walkway screaming over the phone at fellow Be Happy! ambassadors who had failed to arrive. Spreading cheer and goodwill is serious business.

On the far side of the causeway a white van was parked, vandalized with construction paper shapes and Love Life scrawled across the side in bouncy lettering. I checked the bumper for anti-abortion stickers or other religious hatred. Nothing. Nothing inside but Cheerios and cookie crumbs and the dazed air of people who feel good for a living. I wanted to be annoyed and offended. Read more…

Engaging Open Engagement

October 29, 2012 1 comment

Engaging Open Engagement 1

Soup lay at the end of the unwashed masses. Organizers cold only guarantee food for two hundred and fifty, a decent headcount of the social activists, liberal arts college professors, provocateurs and assorted art damaged scum standing between the stragglers and a free meal. We’d already sorted out where they kept the kegs.

Conversation hung overhead. It had all been over my head anyway, the presentations on theory choked with references to unknowns. Slide shows, tales of past glory, rotating panels swam circles around me and it was going to take a second beer to quiet them all down. For two afternoons I’d haunted lecture halls and classrooms with an eye on the audience to know when good points were being made. The audience was too busy checking their e-mail to pay attention, so I remained confused.

Registration to Open Engagement had been free and I didn’t have anything better to do over the course of a rainy weekend. Perfect conditions for an infestation of lowlifes and cell phone compulsives.

Soup and beer for the taking but the Yale Union seemed empty. Keynotes and panels had overflown with devotees of all stripes. Patrons wearing brooches sat on the floor next to androgynous radical knitters. Rooms had been so crowded were indie rock yuppies in scarves that the pack of women in wheelchairs would turn at the door to leave. The after party was stacks of needless chairs and half empty tables.

Pete dragged me from my beertime reverie to meet an arts professor from Gainesville, where foxes eat your chickens and the Christians hate everything except alligators in the canals. I said that it was impressive such a regressive backwater would shell out the cash to send her west where agitators contemplate the public perception of monuments. It wasn’t surprising to learn that she had snagged a ticket from a stewardess friend and was crashing on couches. This wasn’t a work trip, this was a place to network. Her contract was up in a year and Gainesville was not a good place to die, whatever statues might litter the town. Read more…

Loud and Feverish Dialogue

October 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Loud and Feverish Dialogue

A man and a woman lean across the window table. Their voices hover just above the ambient soundscape of shifting chairs and espresso machines. Ed’s beginning to ask questions. He’s getting suspicious. The man vocalizes shrugged shoulders. I told you how it was going to be from the start. A jacket rustles, someone checking their phone, a period of silence. I’m trapped at the neighboring table thinking about jamming a pen through my eye.

Do I escape this dime store conspiracy? Throw everything in my backpack, send the chair screeching across the floor, excuse me, pardon me, carefully step over a purse and weave around elbows, find a table on the other side of the room. Spare my reddening ears this badly scripted torment but subject the back of my neck to suspicion.

No, I will sit and I will play deaf. I will wonder why sordid details of two strangers churn my stomach and pound in my chest. It’s going to get easier, the man says. A spoon hits porcelain, a glass slides over the tabletop. My pen hovers over paper in pursuit of a single thought while lips meet behind me. Look up and I will be exposed, a voyeur pretending to be hard at work while hanging on your every word. It’s not a choice I’m making. Your delicate plotting, the lies neither of you believe, an ability to blame others for your own actions, the next round of perfunctory kisses have all destroyed my ability to carry on. Life really is this terrible.

The woman collects her things and brushes past. The man waits for a minute, pokes at his phone, finishes his coffee and heads for the door. Read more…

Tides Hit the New England Grid

October 3, 2012 Leave a comment

History was quietly made off the coast of Maine on September 13th when an underwater turbine, anchored on the floor of Cobscook Bay, came online. It’s the first time a commercially licensed tidal power project has generated electricity for the grid and signals the first step in exploiting a renewable resource that the Department of Energy (DOE) suggests can contribute up to 15% of the nation’s electrical power by 2030.

The Cobscook Bay project is administered by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) who developed and implemented the TidGen Power System. TidGen is an array of metal foil sheets resembling a vacuum cleaner head mounted on struts, running roughly 100ft across and 30ft high. Currently in pilot phase, the project will eventually add two additional TidGen turbines, each with a peak output of 180kw. Upon completion the project is expected to generate enough power for a hundred homes.

Coastal Maine is a hotbed of kinetic energy. The project location enjoys regular 20ft tides and possibly serves as a laboratory to prepare future models for the neighboring Bay of Fundy, whose 50ft tides are the world’s highest. Read more…

Saturday Night Chicken, Swordplay and Americans

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Grown-ass man wearing the tight black turtleneck with hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, please consider renting a private studio from which to conduct your courses in swordplay. Practitioners of Tai-Chi are a soothing sight on the horizon. Painfully slow and measured strokes with a katana disturb the girl trying to read her book in a rare moment of sun. They worry harried mothers who stand complaining about their lives and distract their precious offspring from pushing each other off the slide.

It’s not the promise of violence that causes such consternation, it’s the adherence to childhood ambitions and flaunting of social conventions. We all had an imaginary friend who whispered devious schemes in our ears. We all had the red plastic lunchbox festooned with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We all ran screaming down the street shooting lasers at our friends. But we don’t anymore because sometime during the advent of adolescence it became embarrassing. Girls wouldn’t talk to us and that became a problem. Bigger kids would beat us up. This is nature’s way of promoting growth and development.

Your student is clearly aware that passerby regard her with absolute disdain. She might be able to concentrate more on fighting theory and technique were she not the subject of public ridicule. Note her flowing black dress and treasure trove of bangles and jewels carefully arranged to conceal flesh, the artificial but not outlandish red hue of her lengthy tresses. There is clearly a lack of self-confidence. Magazines, movies, even women walking down the street have inspired feelings of low self-worth which are reinforced daily. This cruel world haunts her nights, and you’ve dragged her out into a park and challenged her to a sword-fight.

Also, why do you, lanky master of battle, hold the steel blade and she the clunky wooden staff? If someone is training to stave off hordes of goblins and return the rightful heir to the throne they need to know what a real sword feels like in their hand. They need to appreciate the weight of their weapon, predict its reaction to contact with a shield and expertly gauge the swing radius. Let your poor student have a crack at the damn sword, please. Clearly your years of dedicated practice have imbued you with unrivaled skill. The wooden staff will deflect any amateur attempt at taking your head off. You look like a jack-ass making her parry your thrusts with a broomstick. Misogynist prick. Read more…