Monday, October 25, 2010

Dudley vs. Kitzhaber Debate

Last month, current governor John Kitzhaber, and his opponent Chris Dudley faced off in a debate held at the KGW studios in Portland. The format of the debate was such that the candidates fielded questions from political analysts of the Oregonian, a live studio audience full of undecided voters, and questions which were sent in via email.

During the debate, the candidates sparred over a range of subjects, the most frequent of which were job creation, economic stimulus methods, capital gains taxes, and funding for schools and infrastructure.
Toward the beginning of the debate, the candidates were asked how each of them would propose to create jobs if they were elected. Chris Dudley remarked that he would not borrow more money to fund the creation of new jobs, as he suggested that “...the state credit card is maxed out...”, and that “…the private sector creates jobs, not the government.” Governor Kitzhaber replied by indicating that he has proposed to create jobs via the instatement of a large scale weatherization project, which would help to spur business in the private sector by creating jobs for local contractors and service providers, whom could then hire on more workers, and that this would also have the effect of saving energy in the long term.
The next issue addressed was that of capital gains taxes and other tax issues. Chris Dudley proposed that lowering the capital gains tax would bring more business into the state because our nearest neighbor Washington has a lower capital gains tax, which is more attractive for businesses. Kitzhaber argued that what we did not need was tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals, but that the state needed to keep it’s spending in check, and do so in such ways as to not underfund public programs and commons which promote the welfare of the citizenry.

At one point, the discussion turned to that of experience between the two candidates, and why they each thought they should be given the governorship. John Kitzhaber repeatedly pointed out that due to his current service, he would be able to hit the ground running, and be effective “…from day one”, and put his proposed ideas into place immediately. Whereas Chris Dudley pointed out that experience was less of an issue than that of current failed policies, and that what Oregon needs is “…new leadership.” To which Kitzhaber took issue, and reminded everyone in the audience that “…a new face does not necessarily mean new policies…” and that the other side’s policies were taken directly from failed Republican policies during the Bush administration. Dudley reinforced the idea that “the status quo isn’t working”, and that change was needed.

Neither candidate tripped much over their words, and both came off fairly astute and knowledgeable about the subjects which they were asked, but in a notable exchange, Dudley fumbled for an answer when he was asked “Which specific current land use policies would you disagree with, and why?” To which he replied gawkily “Boy, I can’t really think of any right off the top of my head, but that’s a good question, I’ll have to um--I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” Kitzhaber immediately responded with a derision of the proposed Gorge Casinos, and also lamented the fact that a particular stretch of the Woodburn area has become segregated with regard to the majority of jobs being on one side of I5, and the majority of housing being on the other, which creates extensive traffic issues in the area.

Later, in another exchange, the two were asked about their feelings about personal attacks in advertising for their own campaigns. Chris Dudley remarked that he thought that it was “unfortunate” that attack ads had become prevalent, and Kitzhaber noted that advertising represents an opportunity to point out differences in the campaigns, but also wished that the two sides were able to mellow the tone a bit, and focus on the issues. As a bookend to that notion, Kitzhaber invited Dudley to debate him at the upcoming City Club meeting (where Dudley has declined to debate him), and in turn, Dudley invited Kitzhaber to join him in any of four debates that he had scheduled in Medford, and elsewhere around the state. There was no response given, as time was up. The moderator signaled that the two camps should probably talk about those possibilities, and signed off.

In the end, both candidates seemed to hold their own, with no major gaffes or awkward moments between the media and the candidates, which is rare for this format. Each candidate seemed to easily regurgitate their respective talking points, and were able to articulate their views fairly well in a public setting.

Here is a link to the debate coverage:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Urban Mythologies: "The Great Barjacking"

Among many of the reasons I find Portland to be such an interesting and fun place to live, is the fact that Portland is one of the original playgrounds of the “Flash Mob”. As text messaging and social networking have developed over the last 10 years, so too have the ability for mass numbers of people to congregate in a given place VERY quickly. In Portland, we’ve seen the popularity of these once very underground and “in the know” type of events become much more than just one-off renegade flash mobs. They are now becoming yearly events, which draw hundreds of people to the streets in a seemingly random display of ridiculousness.

Notable events which now occur yearly are the Zombie walk (where everyone dresses up like zombies and goes downtown to hang out), Santacon (where everyone dresses up like Santa, and barhops downtown)—and more recently, the offshoot/competitive challenge to the now overpopular Santacon—Bananarchy (where people dress up as bananas, during Santacon, and mess with the Santas).

Other flash mobs have occurred in more obscure forms, such as high concentration pillow-fights, random dance troupe formations, and a slew of psychological experiments which can be viewed on youtube. But most notable, and unique to the Portland area is the “Bar Jacking”.

Bar Jacking originated out of necessity as the bastard child of the underground rave scene and the recession. With anti-rave legislation marring their ability to access quality venues, and an already bruised reputation for invading non-licensed venues around town, the aging raver population and it’s forefathers (the soundsystem owners) decided that in an economic downturn, there was power in numbers. The answer was the hurting bar owner.

Disguised as a potential birthday party customer, the soundsystem owner/party facilitator would scope out venues around town. Particularly ones which could hold a lot of people, and were generally ghost towns on a Saturday night. The facilitator would walk into the bar, start up a conversation with the bar owner about having a “birthday party” there for a “lot of people” who would “be VERY thirsty”—such that the barkeeps would need to be able to make some money, and serve plenty of party-inducing alchohol to their potential patrons. All the while, the facilitator was surrepticiously scoping the venue out for proper electrical outlets and dancefloor space. They would tentatively set a date, and no more would be said to the operators of the bar.

The week of the Barjacking, text messages and emails went out en masse, as “save the date” and “barjacking…XX/XX/XXX” and to meet up at 10:30pm at a predisclosed location (usually at a large place such as The Lucky Lab on SE 10th and Hawthorne) as a staging area for all of the participants. All gathered an accounted for, at 11:00pm the facilitator would announce on a megaphone the bar “to be jacked”, and everyone departed immediately after for the spot.

The idea being, that the massive onslaught of thirsty party-goers would get whipped up into a frenzy of excitement at the first bar, what with all the mystery involved and secrecy regarding the venue, and would mob the place once announced, causing complete anarchy for the bartenders and owners.

So much so, that a ridiculously large soundsytem could be set up quickly (less than 10 minutes) and fired up during the confusion. (much to either the chagrin or elation of the bar owner—which was the rub. You’d never know if they would call the police, or just roll with it and make money hand over fist).

Most of the time, the venue owners LOVED it, as they were able to make plenty of money. But every now and again, there’s a stick in the mud, requiring a secondary backup venue to be jacked.

Regardless of whether it worked or not, the renegade-naughty-nature of this type of party infected it’s participants in a way which became hard not to talk about. Word of mouth spread over the years, and Barjackings became the watch-word of the underground party elite.
This elite brand of party is why I love Portland. Simply having been to one of these makes you just that much cooler than the average hipster.

Now, after it’s been done quite a few times, the edge has worn off for many of the facilitators. The reason being, it takes a lot of work, and involves quite a bit of risk. And why push it? Stop while you’re ahead! Stay classy, Portland!

Today, we know the “Barjacking” as an urban legend. While people may attempt such things, the core of the vibesters who were the originals are now on to other, bigger, better projects. It was all a fleeting, and synergistic combination of bored and aging ravers who knew how to “do it right”, and an urban economy which could support it.

Of note, in comparison to my current study of urban mythologies and Barthe’s semiotic approach to describing how meaning is assigned to such terminology (signification), it appears that the agreed upon verbiage in all of these cases tends to denote some sort of excitement. The words “flash”, “mob”, “jacking”, and even the suffixes “-icon”, and “-anarchy” elicit socially constructed visions of an elevated mode of existence, where uncertainty, renegade spirit, and sudden fun coalesce into a vision of events to come. The words are the sign. The event is the signified, and the facilitator’s mode of communication is the signifier, whether that be email, text, or social network.

The term “Barjacking” thus carries both an interpretive element of connotation and myth in its meaning, as well as a descriptive element, which defines what is to take place.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Density and the City

In the article Population Density and the City, Amos H. Hawley suggests that both social and physical systems within a city experience adverse effects when their respective densities increase beyond tolerances set by their geographic boundaries. He further postulates that if a cities boundaries do not eventually increase along with population growth, that they will experience among other thigns "an impersonality in relation- ships, a view of one's fellows as means to ends, and in general an exploitative attitude of persons toward one another".

However, as much as his research guides him to believe this line of thinking, during his process of citing sociological studies, he seems to refute his own findings, and does not bring up many unique points of view that are supported by any others without some degree of controversy.

If not for the fact that he does acknowledge this fact, it would seem that this article really doesn't say much, other than that overcrowding of social and physical networks is annoying. He does seem to almost be ruminating competing theories about the effects of such a state.

For example, he lists the negative effects of density: 1.) Interference with goal attainment. 2.) Deprivation of gratification. 3.) Intrapersonal incompatibility of values and motives. 4.) Overload of demands and claims from others. 5.) Interpersonal opposition arising from incompativle claims to scarce facilities and rewards. 6.) Failures of support for norm-following behavior, and 7.) Involuntary exposure to noxious stimuli. (Ambiguous?)

Then, he shows us the flipside. A list of positive factors:
1.) Institutional support for goal attainment. 2.) Unparralleled opportunity for gratification. 3.) Opportunity for selective association felative to compatibility of values and motives. 4.) Overload of opportunity and stimulation. 5.) Mutual assistance in achieving access to scarce facilities and rewards. 6.) Easy availability of like-minded associates for support in norm following behavior, and 7.) Involuntary exposure to education, cosmopolitanism and innovative ideas.

It would seem, per Amos, that for every problem introduced by an ever-expanding population, there is an equal and opposite re-action, or set of upsides which fly in the face of this said adversity.

Maybe this is what he meant by "equilibrium" being reached in these systems.

Through the rest of the article, it is difficult to ascertain what measures he has taken to support his claims to historical reference, due mostly to the formatting of the paper, as well as the ambiguity of his source material. His final claim does warrant some attention, although it seems almost common knowledge, he argues that "...there is a growing need for innovation in the redesigning of urban systems in order to accommodate the mounting flows of communications while preserving integration in the system."

I suppose I would agree to that.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A City I Love

On the weekend of September 26th, my wife and I had the pleasure of celebrating our 1st anniversary with a trip to Seattle. While there, we experienced many of the entertaining things the city has to offer, such as underground tours, the Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum, Space Needle, Theo Chocolate Factory and a myriad of wonderful and appetizing restaurants. Of note to me, was the underground tour, which is not necessarily unique to Seattle, as Portland, Salem, and other cities across the country have them, but was interesting because of the history behind WHY it exists.
Seattle was originally built very near the tide flats of Elliott Bay, where the tides were sometimes difficult to predict. The original settlers decided to avoid the water by building up the ground using materials which were available. Sawdust, and dirt. With these, they eventually built enough of a foundation to construct their city. Unfortunately, after they had built the majority of the buildings, they found that it still flooded regularly. After a catastrophic fire burned the city down, they were presented with an opportunity to start over. But rather than move the city, they decided to build over the top of the old one. And so they did. Erecting seawalls around each city block, and raising each building’s entrance one story higher, leaving a trench in the middle of each street thirteen feet deep. For some time, they had to use ladders on each side just to cross the street!
Eventually, they filled in as many of the trenches as they could with whatever they could find, including machinery, garbage, dead horses, sawdust, dirt, and spare parts. This raised the street level to the second story (the new ground floor) and allowed people to walk across the “street” again, leaving certain places below available for underground commerce during inclement weather.
As the years passed, the underground of Seattle fell more and more into disrepair, and became the lair of many undesirables, complete with opium dens, brothels, and black markets. Out of the various loathsome situations which would have occurred on any given day in these parts, there emerged legends and stories of citizens slighted whom turned into roaming ghosts.
As I become more interested in history as I grow older, it is entirely entertaining to me to imagine what these people must have gone through, and how they must have lived those hundred fifty years ago. Seattle, “The Queen City of the Northwest”, or “The Gateway to the Riches of the Orient”, is a real testament to the empire builders, pioneers, and indigenous tribes who all struggled together to build and maintain a community which would endure to this day.