Feargasmatorium Unlimited

As a sort-of follow up on the last post:
This weeks Mercury has a short article written by Sarah Mirk about the decision not to call the Woodburn Bank Bombers terrorists, or to prosecute the Father and Son team dip shits under any federal anti-terrorism crimes. It wouldn't have been a stretch, considering the Senior Mr. Turnidge had a stockpile of weapons, had previously cheered the Oklahoma City Bombing, and when police arrived to question him about the bank bomb went on an anti-Obama tirade. It was an interesting article and an apt comparison. Kudos, Ms. Mirk. Plus it touches on a long held belief of mine: Crazy white people are way better at terrorism than brown people. That's not to take anything away from high achievers such as John Allen Muhammad, aka the Beltway Sniper, but by and large I'm way more frightened by white-guys with fertilizer and anger issues than I am of wayward teenagers with an Internet connection (though any religious teen is pretty scary).

And then there's the sharp-eyed reporting from the Oregonian:

Oregon's juggling two bombing stories -- one about terrorism and one about crime. The way people classify them may seem arbitrary or racist, based on the facts in each case, but maybe the public deserves more credit than that.
Maybe the stories, and our reaction to them, simply reflect the basic human struggle to figure out what to fear.

Dear Portland: Fear Whitey.

P.S. Fear may be a natural human state, but I'm not sure that "deciding what to fear" really classifies as a basic human struggle -- we pretty much fear everything without distinction.


America, Can't We Do Better Than "Christmas-Tree Bomber"? It's Just Going to Lead to Confusing Typos

Well, well, well. Portland, Oregon was all over the news this last weekend, and this time it wasn’t to celebrate bicycle-recycling-gastronomy culture. No, instead Portland played host to this years first holiday season Terror-gasm, this time involving a maladjusted teenager who fucking hates tinsel. While most reports on the situation have focused on comments made by the would-be bomber about wanting a high body count, and about the process of radicalization – particularly of US citizens – I’ve found little coverage outside of the wacky HuffPo that even begins to address the creepy fetishists who populate the FBI.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the 19 year-old accused with trying to explode Pioneer Courthouse Square last Friday, may have been a dangerous person. Or he may have been a pissed-off teenager who after dropping out of OSU was looking for someone to blame, or whatever people do when they come face to face with their limitations. Either way, the young man was apparently in contact with an unnamed but known person in Pakistan or Yemen or, you know, one of those places. He was then approached by the FBI, who were all “yo, we totes want to help kill some Americans, bro. Allah’s great. Lets get together and build some bombs.”

The idea that Mohamud was actively seeking to kill people on his own are convenient, but somewhat undermined by his apparent, uh, life: He “ran with fratboys,” drank, smoked, went to the mall, and date-raped co-eds (maybe) with impunity on Halloween. Sounds like an average college-boy/moron to me. So maybe the FBI pushed him into the plot, and we’ll probably get a slow trickle of new information over the next year, unless Mr. Mohamud changes his plea.

But the most fucked up part of this is thinking about what the FBI is doing. From the what’s been released it seems like the agents working this case are fucking method actors extraordinaire. In other words, these guys watch 24 with their pants at their ankles and a nylon cord around their necks.

Also, it’s a little suspicious that they took the plot so far, play-acting the whole damn thing, including having the suspect use a cell phone to “activate” the “device.” Apparently they could have arrested Mohamud for mailing bomb components months ago, or they could have had him reach out further to the terrorist community and maybe gain information how they work within our country. But none of that would have created the spectacle of last Friday and the court proceedings that will follow. Maybe its got something to do with the fact that Portland opted out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force some years ago, the only “major” city to do so thus far. Nothing like a huge spectacle to close the ranks, right? And how can a threat be “very real” when the authorities knew it was not, you know, real. Maybe they meant “very realistic.”

As if on cue, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman today urged the city to rejoin the Task Force right away, before the holiday heartburn wears off. Hmm. So, what does it mean when the FBI intentionally scares the shit out of an entire city, or state, just to make a point?

And how does this make Portland look silly, which is the point of this blog, you say? Best quote ever, from an accused terrorist:

Federal agents said Mr. Mohamud thought Portland would be a good target because Americans “don’t see it as a place where anything will happen.”

“It’s in Oregon; and Oregon, like you know, nobody ever thinks about it,” an affidavit quotes him as saying

Nuh-uh! We’re cutting edge dude. People totally think of us all the time! Bike Lanes!


Let Them Eat Heirloom Tomatoes

Last Sunday, while perusing my dead-tree edition of the Times, I came across this article in the Op-Ed section “Foodies On Food Stamps.” With a title like that, I expected to read about how the re-emergence of Farmers’ Markets has given the poor more options than microwave-ables and Slim-Jims. In other words, the type of thing that you might read in the NYTs or the New Yorker – a self-congratulatory piece in which the choir preaches to itself about “community,” “locavores,” and maybe, just maybe there’d be a Michael Pollan quote (actually, you had to go to the Magazine for that). In reality I should have known when I saw the “Portland, Ore” tag. It’s an article more about the author’s beautiful, alt-medicine practitoner friends and how sweet the Farmers’ Market scene is in Portland. And you know, how it sort of sucks other places, particularly New Mexico. And you can’t buy flowers with Food Stamps. Some highlights:

  • The author’s blond, miniskirted, dog-walking friend: Allegra. Perfect.
  • “Allegra doesn’t believe in taking anything unless you really need it.” As if “needing it” is an objectively defined concept. Personally I love self-serving logic; it’s simple, elegant, and functional and requires no principled positions.
  • While we were shopping, we ran into a friend of Allegra’s, a beautiful young woman with loosely pinned black hair, holding a baby. Allegra gave her a hug and cooed at the pudgy 6-month-old. “Are you on food stamps?” she asked her friend, explaining that I was researching an article for this newspaper. Her friend looked momentarily horrified at the exposure, but conceded that, yes, her family was on food stamps. She had recently completed acupuncture school and her husband had just finished a graduate program in art history.

“I spend nearly all my food-stamp money at the market,” said Allegra’s friend. “If you avoid packaged foods, the money goes a long way. And it’s a better way to eat.”


I love how the women get all atwitter discussing their food stamp expenditures. I expect that the following dialogue has been cut from the article:

“It’s, like, our friend Hanna, she spends most of her Food Stamps at Albertson’s. And I’m, like, honey don’t you know how bad processed foods are for you? I’m a holistic acupuncture-ist. I know what I’m talking about. And you should totally support local farmers.”

“I know! She totes feeds her dog, like Alpo. I wouldn’t feed that to my ex-life-spirit-partner. Ah-hahahaha.”

“Ah-hahaha! Oooohhhh, look! Artisanal Chevre samples!”


“Oh, I’m gonna have to go straight to the Bikram studio after this!”

Sub Lycra pants for polyester-vintage, and “Bon-Bons” for everything else and it’s a Peg Bundy conversation.

Fuck your organics. Bonbons forever

Anyway, despite the nagging feeling that I should shower after I read about poor Allegra’s upcoming (free) surgery, I started thinking about what it says about a place where people on the Dole can still be confident lifestylers.

It took me a while to figure out how I felt about this article (about the overall implication, it clearly took me no-time to dismiss the women). On the one hand, I’m definitely in favor of reducing the amount of shitty food people consume, especially poor people. I like the idea of taxing soda, except that it would clearly be a regressive tax – the burden being placed on those whom can least afford it, because rich people don’t drink a lot of soda or eat a lot of candy. That is unless you count boutique cupcakes and the highballs they down at the club.

Mostly I felt like it was an insult that the article focused on two individuals who are probably a-typical in comparison to those who receive government assistance. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be getting assistance either, but their experience of what its like to survive on food stamps is not going to be a useful anecdote. There are plenty of people in Portland who are the real deal when it comes to knowing hard times, and it speaks of a journalistic laziness on the authors part that the article reaches no further than “I talked to my friend…”(ask me about Maureen Dowd sometime).

Not a polyester, flower print miniskirt in sight!

Even a casual survey conducted outside an assistance office might have revealed some interesting stratification among Food Stamp recipients – “How often do you go to the Farmers’ Market/ Did you know that you can use your SNAP card at the Market?” I suspect that a lot of poor people may not feel particularly welcome at Portland’s Markets, and that regardless of stigma, if you’re a beautiful, fashionable woman you’re only going to feel odd for the two seconds it takes to swipe that SNAP card and get your tokens. After that you’re just like everyone else there – enjoying the fruits of migrant labor and listening to an adolescent bluegrass revival band singing songs about being down and out.

"Anyone here work construction? Anyone?"

Ole times is here again!

Also, what the fuck is up with all these people: being on the Dole “Pretty much bites.” WHAT? It doesn’t sound like you’ve hit rock bottom, exactly, now does it? And obviously there are a lot of unemployed people in Portland. And there is not a whole lot of industry here to put them back to work. That’s a big problem facing the City and the State. But the real problem seems to be that the people who have the time, the educational background or ability, and the resources to develop industry or entrepreneurial success aren’t doing it. Acupuncturist – employ thyself! Wait, maybe Acupuncture School could have come after you got that degree in Supply and Logistics (and the job you’re 99% likely to get with that degree). I know it doesn’t satisfy your desire to self-actualize, but you might find yourself able to ascend that pyramid in a decade or so. Delayed satisfaction is so much sweeter – it’s, like, a Tao-ism or something.

The comparison with New Mexico’s Market was particularly enlightening, though in a way not mentioned in the text. You see, there’s something unsaid in the success of a Farmers’ Market: People have to have the time to go there. The comfortable retiree, the affluent housewife, the afternoons-off chef and the trustifari hippie are the lifeblood of the venture. The 9-5er, or the night-shift foreman is not at the Farmers’ Market. To have a thriving Farmers’ Market a community needs to be able to support the former in sufficient numbers. In Portland, I see the numerous Farmers’ Markets as a bizarro form of Urban Blight: It promotes the lifestyle of the leisure class for all, without addressing the fact that the situation is unsustainable for most. I’d gladly trade some Farmers’ Markets for an industry, because without one there won’t be either for long.

"What the fuck is a Farmer's Market? Are they hiring?"

It’s cool that you can use Food Stamps to buy organic produce, but it’d be cooler if you didn’t need them.



Desperately Keeping it Weird

In Portland you can count on a few things. Not making it to a liquor store before it closes at 7 on Friday. Floppy, soggy pizza piled high with shit like avocado, mango or sushi or whatever. Kids from the west burbs not being as enigmatic as in Gus V.S.'s "Elephant" (Which was shot here! We're Famous!). You can always count on someone wanting to talk to you about saving the children, or the rivers when you just want a microwave-able burrito. Then there are the Vagabond/Crustpunk/Minstrel/Harlequin/Shirtless-Hippie/Death-Metal people riding around on double or triple high bicycles -- Just doing what they can to keep it weird*
Not that riding an annoying (and stupid) bike isn't weird*, but some of these people have managed to purchase cars, onto which they affix a bumper sticker (just one of many, many others) with this moving slogan.

If you need to "Keep" the city "Weird," is it right to assume that weird* is under attack? The War on Weird? This is the same reasoning that evangelists use to unify their followers. To be righteous you must be persecuted. If you aren't being persecuted, you sure as shit need to create a system of experience by which you can convincingly cultivate a persecution complex. Then, by pushing an agenda that seeks to institutionalize acceptance of your core philosophy, you can actually provoke a public conflict that reinforces the belief that your beliefs are being persecuted. That's how "Happy Holidays" becomes a political statement. That's also how people with a stockpile of guns and ammo are the most likely to have the Feds come down on them, which is exactly why they have some many guns. And yeah, it's pretty cool when thought experiments have real world applications.

Anyway, I began wondering who and what is trying to eradicate weirdness* from Portland. I have to say I'm at a loss. If anything, weird seems to be subsidized.
There is some regional pride at work: Austin Texas also has a "Keep Austin Weird" campaign and website; but that's obviously bullshit. How fucking hard is it to be weird in Texas? In Portland we put bacon and coco-puffs on our doughnuts, and shape them like wieners, then deliver them by pedi-cab in compost-ready containers that you can use to line your urban chicken coop!

So its clear, Portland's weirds* need an enemy. We'll have to rule out Reality, for now, because reality acts like the Fear-Monster in the Cops episode of the X-Files: it cant hurt you if you don't believe in it.

So what do they believe? What, if attacked, would provoke a existential threat to all those sworn to Keep it Weird? How about Portland's regional exceptionalism? How about the idea that there's anything weird about this place to begin with?

When I heard about the upcoming IFC production "Portlandia," I thought maybe we had our boogey-man. The show, which will apparently be a composite of characters developed by Fred Amrisen and Carrie Br[rrrrr]ownstein in their video-film shorts. Hopefully the show can present such a variety of cliched Portland weirds* that the city comes off as, well, achingly normal. (It may also provide an opportunity to play "90s Indie-Figure Bingo" at home. I'll explain this game in a future post.)

You know what I mean: When you realize that everyone acts the way you would expect them to act, especially when that is weirdly, the novelty wears off. You can see weirdness* as the sad and desperate cry for attention that it is. It's motivated by the same mental processes that cause some people to perma-tan and purchase Gucci accessories, and others to ride a unicycle while juggling. It's an attempt to fit in, even within a cohort of oddballs, and wanting to fit in is very much normal. Present this fact to an adolescent in an identity crisis and they're likely to lash-out and be heart-broken at the same time. Thankfully, in the 21st century we're all adolescents, and we all react the same way to any external challenge to our self-image.

In the end Portlandia will probably be funny for about as long as Flight of the Conchords was (.9 seasons), but I can't wait for the parsing and rationalizing and belly-aching that the show is sure to provoke locally: We aren't all hipsters! We're artsy! We're sustainable! Go back to California! Terry Horman did it! Keep Portland Weird!


*when the weird turn pro, the weird wear suits. Or something like that.


Oh Bridgetown, City of Roses, PDX, Slabtown, The City that Works, Portlandia, RipCity, Beervana, Soccer City USA(?), Not Seattle

How many nicknames do you need?
This is a lovely city. That is plain to see. And it's nice to have that told to you by outsiders. A little "Hey, this place doesn't suck," is a satisfying tonic and you've been blessed recently with an outpouring of good-will from afar. The trouble is you've bought into the outside view of yourself. And who can blame you. For most of your existence you've played second or third fiddle to San Francisco and Seattle. You were the place where hippies ended up, to hunker-down for the the 70s (and 80s, and 90s, and...). Seattle had the Grunge thing, and you had the Dandy Warhols and Everclear.
Nikes were never lame. Nikes were never ironic.
Unfortunately, It seems Portland has bought its own hype. A small city (you're a small and remote city, remember) has to stay lean and hungry if it wants to pretend it doesn't care what people think of it. You've become lethargic and satisfied. High on the milk and honey suckled from the NYTs Travel Section-teat. More than that, you resent the people who move here upon reading the promotional materials.
So here we propose to call you on your bullshit. Give credit where credit is due, but let the fucking air out -- you're not so special. Wherever there is lavish praise, we'll be there to pop the balloon.
Wherever there is Leeds Certification, we'll be there sitting in gridlock belching fossil fumes on the Sunset Highway.
Wherever there is culinary delights, we'll be there at the unemployment office wondering what an Industry is.
Whenever there is Bicycle commuting, we'll be cruisin' Beaverton in an F-350.
Wherever there is Storm Large, we'll be there to ask, "Who the fuck is Storm Large."
And whenever there is a deficit, we'll be chillin out in the 'Couve dodging taxes and culpability.