That night half the band met a “record producer” in jail

by Steve, October 25th, 2019

(Adapted from a post I made on TalkBass.com)

I don’t know what made me think of this, but thank you for your indulgence in this longish tale of band hijinks of yore. The story takes place in the late summer and early autumn in a Midwest college town, circa 1989. Names are changed to protect the guilty and their enablers.

After loading out from a successful gig, Bob the rhythm guitarist and Serge the drummer departed in my girlfriend Linda’s Buick station wagon, and promptly ran into a phone pole in the alley behind the club. The cop shop was about a block away, and Officer Friendly soon showed up and hauled Bob in for DUI and Serge for possession (he was holding a little weed). Linda’s car got a little banged up and was towed to the impound lot.

Linda was not pleased, but she’s the one who had agreed to loan her car to Bob in the first place. I was not held responsible, but Linda had words with Bob.

A day or two later, we were hosting a party at the band house out in the country. Bob and Serge had been released on their own recognizance, and they invited a friend they’d met in the hoosegow.

Shawn Stanton was the scion of an oat roasting executive in neighboring Oat City, well known for the cloying odor of burnt oats that sometimes wafted as far south as University City. He showed up early with several sacks of groceries for the party. Also showing up early was our number one groupie Beth-Anne, who was excited to make us all stir fry with the supplies Shawn brought. Bob later wrote a song about Beth-Anne and her penchant for making us all stir fry and sitting in on band meetings and giving Serge advice on how to not get kicked out of the band.

Bob excitedly told the rest of the band how he and Serge had met Shawn in jail, how they got to talking about the band, and that Shawn wanted to produce us and sign us to a recording contract.

The lead guitarist Mike and I raised our eyebrows at this.

“You want to produce us, and you haven’t even heard us?” said Mike. “Sounds fishy.”

“I’m offended that you don’t trust in my ability to describe the band and sell us!” said Bob.

“You want it in writing? Get me a pen and something to write on!” said Shawn, also offended at our lack of faith. At some point he produced one of those business-style check books that’s a three-ring binder, as if to show us he was serious. Between that and the 70 bucks he dropped on food for us, who wouldn’t take him seriously as a record producer?

Anyway, much big talk was made about flying us to New York to re-record the album we’d just recorded but not pressed, yada yada yada. We all got drunk and high on weed and shrooms and god only knows what else, and everybody had a good time eating Shawn’s food and drinking cheap Midwest beer from a keg.

When the keg ran out, I headed up a mission to drive to town to get another. On the way out, we ran into Ray, who was in his van on the road at the end of the driveway.

“What are you doing up here alone, Ray?” I asked.

“Drinkin a beer,” he said. “You want one?”

“Oh, no thanks man,” I said.

“Too bad,” he said, looking down.

I didn’t know what to say. Ray looked up after a bit.

“Where you goin?” he asked.

“Keg’s out; we’re goin into town to get another,” I said.

“You know there’s bad spirits by the river,” said Ray. “You gotta do something about that.”

“What am I supposed to do, Ray?”

“When you get to the bridge, you gotta stop the car, and you gotta stomp out a cigarette on the side of the road,” he said.

“I don’t smoke,” I said.

“Take one of mine.” Ray handed me a pack or Marlboro reds. Ray was dead serious, so I took a smoke from the pack and put it behind my ear.

“Do I have to smoke it?” I asked, handing him back the pack.

“You gotta light it, and you gotta stomp it out,” he said.

“OK,” I said. Ray was not messing around.

I got back into Margot’s car. Margot was Mike’s girlfriend, and she must have been the most sober person at the party who had a car. I explained what I’d agreed to do.

“Oh OK,” she said. “I’ll just pull off before we cross the river, and you can do your thing.” Margot was always game. I gave Ray a wave the tires crunched on the limestone gravel and we pulled away.

The bridge was about a mile down a gravel road, then a quarter mile right on a paved county road. Margo pulled off at the bridge, and I got out of the car, lit the cig, tossed it onto the gravel shoulder and stomped it out. No spirits were observed at that time, but I admit to having been a little spooked. And a little nauseated from lighting the cigarette.

When we returned with a fresh keg from the Kum & Go, Ray was still drinking alone in his van. Shawn was gone. The party was raging and went long into the night. Nobody signed any record contracts, but we had a good time dancing and singing and howling at the full moon.

A few weeks later, Serge was working a dinner shift at his job as a dishwasher in a restaurant owned by Fern, who also owned a crystal shop and practiced the kind of meditation that supposedly can lead to levitation.

Serge had forgotten to show up to court for his possession rap, and Officer Friendly showed up at his workplace to arrest him on a bench warrant.

Fern was not pleased by this, of course. The restaurant had an open kitchen, and Serge’s arrest was quite public.

When Serge got out, Fern told him he was fired from his job as a dishwasher. Not because he was arrested during his shift, mind you.

Fern told Serge he was fired because his seventh chakra was flaring.

The band didn’t fire Serge, flaring chakra be damned. We all kind of liked him, and he had more friends who came to our gigs than anybody else. Maybe that flaring chakra made him play a little busy at times, but it all seemed to fit. All the bohemian college kids and townies danced and danced.

Shawn Stanton disappeared into the riff raff; maybe he went back to Oat City. We never heard from him again. Since we didn’t get that record contract, we went back to plan A, which was to move to the west coast, where we played a few gigs before breaking up and going our separate ways.

Serge got a job laying tile, and he’s still hitting the skins last I heard. Bob still writes good songs. We did some long-distance collabs a few years ago. Mike and I see each other ever few years. Everybody but me went through some form of rehab or got sober at one time or another, and I don’t think anybody ended up doing hard time (unlike the drummer from the band I played with in high school).

Anyway, thanks for your indulgence if you got this far. Bob and Serge, if you find this and remember any of it differently, you’re entitled to your own versions of history.

Rebranding the SUB

by Steve, April 16th, 2019

Hello nobody, what is happening. Hockey? Pens swept in four by the Islanders. Bolts swept in four by the Blue Jackets. I guess I’ll root for Toronto. But that’s not what I logged on to talk about. I’m here to talk about rebranding cheapo imported guitars! Sort of like how I rebranded my Walmart fat bike, I just finished rebranding a Squier by Fender Mini (an imported, miniature version of the iconic Fender Stratocaster) and a Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4 (an imported version of the iconic Music Man Stingray).

A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4
A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4, rebranded

With computer-aided manufacturing, these budget-line Indonesian-manufactured instruments have become very cheap at the same time they have become consistent and decent in quality. With these, along with G&L’s Tribute line (also made in Indonesia), you can get the same models as Fender, Music Man and G & L (all makers of guitars designed by Leo Fender and their descendants, by the way) you can get the same models as their American-made counterparts with pretty damn good quality at a fraction of the price. (American models generally have higher end hardware, often, but not always, different pickups, and generally better fit and finish and quality control.)

Anyway.

I ended up with the mini on a trade. I always kind of wanted a mini electric guitar since I saw Howard Leese play one with Heart back in the 80s. now I’ve got one, and it actually looks, plays and sounds amazing (these things retail for $130 new). The SUB Ray retails for $300, and can be found used for $150.

ANYWAY.

These cheapo guitars sound great, play great, and look great. Except the headstocks. I have a theory, which I’ll get to in a sec, but first fo all let’s just appreciate what I mean when I say the design is egregious. They are one-color (black) silk screen logos. The more expensive big brothers typically have two-color logos, often with one color being metallic. The Squier logo is in the classic Fender script, with “by Fender” in the same font smaller underneath, which is awkward. And then… blank at the rounded end.

Squier Mini, original branding
Squier Mini, original branding

The SUB is even worse. First, the branding on all Music Man instruments has become ridiculously confusing. Modern versions are branded “Ernie Ball Music Man”. The cheap import brand is “Sterling by Music Man.” The Stingray model is called the “S.U.B. Series Ray 4″, but they leave off the Ray 4 part on the headstock. (Current models omit the S.U.B. on the headstock and include Stingray, even though the model is the Ray. Ernie Ball Music Man also has a high-end model called the Sterling, which is totally bonkers.) So from confusing branding comes… confusing graphics.

Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding

I decided to do tongue-in-cheek versions, based on 70s versions of the Stratocaster and original Stingray.

I did a little research, and came up with a plan. Inkjet decal stock from Amazon, some very fine (00) steel wool, and a can of Rust-Oleum satin clear coat.

First step is to remove the tuners and string trees and tuner hole washers or whatever they’re called, then put a little elbow grease and steel wool into it. It took about five minutes of rubbing to remove the logos on both. They were both satin finish, and both silk-screened. The steel wool doesn’t leave any marks or take off much finish, but just to be sure, I gave it a quick coat of clear coat after removing the original logo.

Sterling headstock in progress
Sterling headstock in progress

Then I designed the logos. I wanted the classic 70s look for both. The original Man Logo is a stylized “M” that forms the legs of two figures playing guitars. I decided to make a play on “Music Man” as “Mountain Man,” and make the guitarists skiers. And instead of “StingRay,” “SteveRay.” Instead of a ® symbol after the brand, I used a backwards “C” (copyleft) symbol.

For the mini strat, I wanted something starting with F, for the iconic Fender F. I somewhat randomly chose “Freeware” (inspired by the copyleft idea on the bass) and “Stevercaster” for the model. I also copped the fender “Original contour body” decal that is common on various strat headstocks.

Decals applied, ready for clear coat
Decals applied, ready for clear coat

Since inkjet ink is water-based, you have to seal the decals with clear coat before applying. I did three coats, and let them dry before cutting and applying to the headstocks. I practiced on the mini strat, and didn’t get the decals in exactly the places I wanted them. I ended up printing multiple pages of the decals because I kept messing them up.

After applying them, I did a couple coats of clear coat over the decals, and then re-assembled the hardware and strings. I think they look pretty good!

rebranded axes
rebranded axes

Some people take issue with making these budget brands look like their more expensive cousins, which I can understand if you’re being deceitful for the purposes of selling. I’m not, obviously, but back to my theory. I think, since these budget lines have gotten so good in terms of look, feel and sound, that the owners of the brands (Fender, Music Man and G & L) insist the budget lines have to appear cheap somehow. So they slap some cheap-ass branding on the headstock, and maybe you can keep some people interested in paying literally seven times the money for a properly branded model.

Beach biking the Oregon coast

by Steve, May 2nd, 2016

Long shadow
Here are my tips.

  • The first thing you’re going to need is a fat tire bike. You can spend thousands of dollars on a fancy one, rent one somewhere, or do like I did and buy a cheap department store bike and mod it. Besides fat tires, you want light weight and low gearing (my Land Shark is a 50 pound tank, and I’m kind of a tank too, but I geared it nice and low).
  • Ride like the wind. We get a lot of wind at the Oregon coast, and you want to ride with it at your back as much as possible. Think about it like canoeing. Either ride into the wind (upstream) for the first half of your distance, or ride on paved streets into the wind and then on sand with the tail wind. Or, use two cars. Park one down wind at your finish point. If you’re riding both ways on sand, you really, really want to ride into the wind first. The wind can come from any direction at any time of the year, but it generally blows from the north in the summer and the south in the winter.
  • Know your tides. You want to ride while the tide is going out, on the wet sand that’s been packed down by the surf. Depending on how long I’m planning to ride, I like to leave about two hours before low tide. You can ride when the tide is coming in, but…
  • Be aware of sneaker waves. Know your surf conditions, and always be watching the surf. A sneaker wave can occur any time during the tidal cycle, without warning, and could easily knock you off your bike. At the very best, you’d soak your precious metal in salt water (bad; see below), but even worse, you would die and somebody else would get to ride your bike. Wouldn’t that suck? On high surf days, especially ones with wind, you’ll have more fun if you just stay home, anyway.
  • Keep your bike out of the surf. It’s actually really, really fun to ride in the surf, but it’s really, really bad for your bike. Salt water eats metal and can wear away grease. It also makes sand stick to your drive train. Hose your bike off when you’re finished.
  • Know your sand. Oregon’s sandy beaches range from fine sand to coarse gravel, and everything in between. Finer sand, finer ride. Coarser sand, harder slog. If you’ve got gears, you can handle the loose stuff. But you’ll have an easier cruise on the light tan sand between the surf and the tide line. The coarser sand/gravel is darker brown.The road less traveled
  • Take water. You may not know this, but salt water is not good to drink.
  • Take a bag or something to collect treasures. The biggest agates I find are on beaches not easy walking distance from places you can park a car. I always have a plastic bag strapped to my bike rack, and you can almost always find pretty rocks in my pockets.
  • Take a camera to collect visual treasures. The same beach never looks the same. It changes every day.
  • Be prepared to talk to people, because fat bikes draw a lot of attention. They are less of a novelty than a year ago, but there are still plenty of people who want to stop you and ask questions. If you’re feeling sociable, you will enjoy the opportunity to tell people that yes, those tires really are big and yes, they work pretty good in the sand. If you’re not sociable, get used to smiling and saying the same anyway. We try to uphold that polite Oregonian vibe for our inlander tourists.Rain stopped, and I couldn't keep it in the shed
  • The sand isn’t always good. Beaches change every day, especially in the winter and spring. Our beach has some steep parts, and the flat parts tend to have a lot of gravel. Gravel on steep is the worst. With that in mind…
  • Don’t worry if you have to get off and walk part of the way. Especially if you’ve got a one-speed like me. It’s all about being on the beach and getting a workout, and there is nothing wrong with a walk on the beach.
  • Riding at sundown is sublime. Golden light on the waves, a little spray on your face, maybe a seal swimming along in the surf… There is nothing else like it in the world.Biking with a friend
  • Stay the hell away from seals and sea lions, especially pups (above video shot with telephoto). They may look abandoned, but mama seals often leave their pups unattended on the beach while they fetch fish. Adult seals will probably just jump in the water, but they could mess you up if they wanted to. A sea lion won’t hesitate to mess you up. (We’ve got a big harbor seal colony at the spit end of our beach.) Besides being rude, it is a federal crime to disturb marine mammals. So if they notice you and start to move toward the water, just move slowly away. I like to stay at least 100 yards away, and even that can bee too close sometimes.
  • “Have a good time, all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marty.”

And the sun went down

by Steve, July 17th, 2015

 
Lots of jellies have been beaching. I don’t know why.
(Are they really jellies or just some gelatinous goo?)
The sea is a mysterious place, at once inviting
And foreboding.
Jellies in the sun

 
When the sun hits the water there is a tremendous rumbling hiss
And a spew of steam (no not really; the sun doesn’t actually go into the water,
That would make a really big mess; it just looks like that).
funnel

 
The caps of the waves, lit from behind, bring to mind a wave form,
Electrical energy mapped on a back-lit screen, green flashes of consciousnes
Flitting up down and past me like the hummingbirds in the yard
This afternoon when I watered.
I've always liked backlight

 
There are angels in the clouds, flying north; the mother reaches out to her child
Sheltering and guiding her with her wings
Like the migrating gray whales in the spring, teaching their calves to feed
In our fertile water. It’s a 3-D painting that changes while you watch it.
ocean waves

 
The sunset doesn’t end, it just keeps going, a traveling light show
Rolling around the globe.
The big waves are just tiny ripples, out beyond this log I’ve used before.
Drift log

 
From up above, I see a seal in the surf in the twighlight
And rays fade into being radiating from the source.
The seal feels the wind when she comes up for air
(Does she feel the sun?),
And is pulled on unseen currents below.
There is a bat on the way home, winging crookedly around the chimneys
Capped with conquistador helmets which squeak as the wind swings north.
Rays

Ultimate Philip Glass Fanboi

by Steve, April 10th, 2015

musicI’ve liked Philip Glass since I first got exposed to his work in college in the 80s (yes i’ve heard the knock-knock joke; no, I don’t think it’s funny). I think Ben had a record of Einstein on the Beach, and maybe the Kronos Quartet. But it was Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi that really blew my mind and got me hooked. In more recent history, I’ve seen Portland Opera’s productions of Orphée (2009) and Galileo Galilei (2012), both brilliant, but not as brilliant as the Met’s televised production of Satyagraha (2012) which Nancy grudgingly admits she liked.

Anyway, Glass has written a memoir, and he’s hitting the airwaves and lecture circuit to promote it. I heard him with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air the other day. I have a real love/hate attitude toward Gross. She’s actually a really good interviewer, but it’s partly because she so unselfconsiously asks really stupid questions. (She’s famously bad at talking to black people.) Anyway, she plays a kind of clueless everywoman, with just enough book learnin’ to be dangerous. If her guest isn’t completely offended, it makes for pretty good radio. Like this exchange with Glass:

GROSS:
I always think of there being something obsessive about your music because of its repetitions and then variations on the repetitions and the speed of it and the precision of it, and I’m wondering if that’s fair to call… Like, do you think of your composing or your performances as having an obsessive quality to them?

GLASS:
You know, that’s a fair question and I’m wondering would people have said the same thing about Brahms or Chopin? ‘Why is he playing that strange music? Why do we hear those chords over and over again?’

GROSS:
You know why I think of it with you too, because I think, um, pattern is often a part of obsession? Like repeated patterns, shifts in patterns, and…

GLASS:
Well I certainly didn’t invent that, that’s been around for a long time.

GROSS:
Mm hm.

GLASS:
I think it may have been also, not just the music itself, but the way it was presented with the ensemble, you know with amplified music, it could be interpreted as being aggressive, though that would only be true if you didn’t know anything about popular music, and that most popular music was already much more heavily amplified than anything that we did.

GROSS:
So you’re telling me you’re not OCD. (laughs)

GLASS:
(laughs) I’m not saying that either.

GROSS:
Well are you? Are you?

GLASS:
I don’t think so.

GROSS:
OK.

GLASS:
But how would I know?

***

It’s actually a broad-ranging interview, worth listening to all the way through. Later on, Terry returns to her passive aggressive shading of Glass’ music:

GROSS:
Do you ever think, in spite of the body of work that I’m famous for, I feel today like writing a simple song with an easy-to-sing melody and some nice chords behind it?

GLASS
(Laughter) I feel that all the time.

GROSS
Do you write it?

GLASS
I’m always trying to – I’m trying to. I’m writing an opera right now for the Washington Opera, and I’m always looking for clarity and simplicity. It doesn’t come easily to me.

***

Glass is speaking at the Newmark Theatre in Portland April 14. Admission includes a copy of his new book, Words Without Music.

Hey Hey

by Steve, February 27th, 2015

Another long-distance collaboration between me and Jay:

The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.

Habitat

Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

The Long Distance Cosmic Express

by Steve, January 11th, 2015

jayharden1I haven’t played in a band since 1997, but just recently started some long-distance collaboration with a bandmate from Totem Soul, the group I moved to Portland with back in 1989.

Jay Harden has been keeping himself busy performing and recording, and asked me to add some tracks to some stuff he recorded.

I started with “Get Along,” which features Naomi Wedman on violin and vocals. I threw in some bass and drums.

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Then there’s “Sleepy Head,” which has a nice country blues feel. I threw down some bass and drums again, and thought about some backing vox. But couldn’t find a harmony I liked, so left it simple.

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Now, if we’re lucky, Jay will make us a couple cheap-o videos.

The typical Oregonian

by Steve, November 5th, 2014

politicsJudging from last night’s election results, we can surmise the following about a mythical “typical” Oregon voter:

  1. He doesn’t give a shit about higher ed funding. Measure 86 would have helped people pay for college without raising taxes. It’s going down 58%-42%. This surprises me. State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who spearheaded the measure, was philosophical about its defeat. “Measure 86 was a bold idea,” he wrote on Facebook. “In a state that can’t seem to prioritize higher education, we came up with innovative ways to leverage non-tax resources to get the job done. Sometimes new ideas take time to catch on.”
  2. Our typical Oregon voter is a racist with no understanding of how our broken federal immigration system requires agricultural workers to come into this country without papers. Measure 88 would have let these hard working, tax-paying people to get licensed to drive. It’s a public safety issue as well as a basic human dignity issue. They’re here, they’re not going away, and they’re going to be driving with or without a license and insurance. But the measure is going down 67%-33%. No surprise here. The white nationalist know-nothing opposition was well-organized.
  3. Hooray! He paradoxically thinks women should be constitutionally protected from discrimination. Measure 89, Oregon’s Equal Rights Amendment is passing 64%-36%.
  4. He’s perfectly content with an electoral system that, particularly with state legislative elections, is closed to anybody not registered R or D. Measure 90, the top-two primary universally opposed by the powers-that-be in both major parties, is going down 68%-32%. No surprise. I wonder how a measure to do top-two primaries for the state legislature would do. Because seriously, unless I register Democrat, I have zero say in my representation in Salem. This is not democracy, people.
  5. He might be a little conflicted about it, but damn it, he likes to get high. Marijuana will be legal in Oregon next July, with Measure 91′s passage by 55%-45%. Good. But the fact that this is the only significant bright spot is kind of depressing. And the fact that Oregonians value this more than higher ed and the public safety/human dignity issues makes this victory feel hollow.
  6. He doesn’t want labels on his food telling him if his corn has fish genes, because Freedom, damn it. To be fair, basically every packaged food in America has GMO ingredients (unless it is specifically labeled organic or certified GMO-free). Anyway, this one is still too close to call, but Measure 92 is leaning toward failing on a razor thin margin. The big money came out for this one. I figured this would go down hard, given how much fear, uncertainty and doubt was spread by big agribusiness. The fact that it’s too close to call is heartening.

Of course there is no “typical” voter, and money is always the decider in these things. But Oregonians have a long-standing aversion to funding education at all levels. And the nationwide tide of reactionary white nationalism is a strong undercurrent in lily-white Oregon, even (or especially) with its nominally one-party Democratic rule (protected by the defeat of Measure 90).  I hope Ted Wheeler’s right about changing attitudes on education funding, and I know looming demographic shifts nationwide will fundamentally alter the electoral landscape going forward.

So I have glimmers of hope. And a bong.

The MHLW 2014 Oregon Voters’ Guide

by Steve, October 22nd, 2014

electionHi everybody! It’s that time again, the time when I tell you how to vote! NO NO NO, only joking! I’m just going to tell you how I voted. I’m going to get the easy ones out of the way first, then spend some time on Measure 90 (top-two primaries), because that’s the toughest one (and it gets to the crux of so much that’s wrong with politics in Oregon).

Senate

Merkley. Merkley is consistently one of the most progressive voices in the US Senate. Wehby’s run as a “moderate” republican. But her campaign has been a hot mess, with repeated plagiarism on her Web site blamed on successively fired campaign managers. If a neurosurgeon can’t come up with her own health policy positions, well…

Congress, 1st District

Bonamici. Eh. Not much to say here. Our district is reliably Dem, Congress is reliably Republican, and Bonamici hasn’t done or said anything to piss me off.

Congress, 3rd District

Not my district anymore, but this is Earl Blumenauer’s seat until he retires or runs for Senate, basically. Despite his prog credentials, I would not vote for him based on his silence/complicity in Neil Goldschmidt’s child rape.

Governor

Jason Levin (Pacific Green Party). I’ve got issues with Kitz, who’s seeking an unprecedented fourth term. First, there’s an unsubstantiated rumor that he beat up his ex-wife, sending her to the ER. Second, there’s the substantiated fact that in our effectively one-party state, the ruling party, led by Kitzhaber, has repeatedly failed to reform our completely broken revenue stream resulting in a consistently starved education system. Bill Sizemore, the unelected, fraudulent and now-disgraced buffoon has had more influence on revenue and education policy in this state than over a decade of Democratic hegemony in statewide offices. I consider this a gross failure of leadership.

I also think the Cover Oregon fiasco is outrageous, and I speak as an enterprise software professional. This was gross management failure, plain and simple, and it cost taxpayers a quarter billion dollars (for comparison, that’s half the budget of our state’s largest school district).

Dennis Richardson, the GOP candidate, is so far out in right field (“A woman relinquishes her unfettered right to control her own body when her actions cause the conception of a baby”), he has no chance of beating Kitz. So this is protest vote #1 on my ballot.

State rep, 27th district

Wacky Mommy (write-in). I’ve got the same issues with Tobias Read that I’ve got with Oregon Democrats in general, which is mainly a lack of leadership. I also have issues with the fact that Read is running unopposed (the Libertarian candidate notwithstanding). Read is listed as both a Democrat and Republican on the ballot (he caucuses with the Democrats). This pisses me off. He also posts a lot of links to Tom Friedman columns on Facebook, which pisses me off further. He even posted a link to a David Brooks column. I’m done with this guy. Wacky Mommy for state rep!

Measure 86

Yes. This measure establishes an endowment for college scholarships. Hell yes.

Measure 87

Yes. Allows state judges to serve in the national guard and/or teach at state universities. Weak yes.

Measure 88

Yes. Driver cards without proof of immigration status. Hell yes. This is a public safety issue above all else.

Measure 89

Yes. Basically an Oregon Equal Rights Amendment. Too little, too late, but hell yes.

Measure 91

Yes. Legalizes, regulates and taxes marijuana. Hell yes. Prohibition doesn’t work. Marijuana is safer that alcohol or tobacco. The drug war failed. Get over it. Move on. Take a little revenue from it. Keep it from kids. Get high responsibly. Be creative. Make art. (When I was a teen in the 70s & 80s, with easy access to MJ, I had a bet with my best friend Jhon that it would be legal by the time we were 21. I was an optimist.)

Measure 92

Yes. Requires labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms. Hell yes. Monsanto has dumped much money into opposition of this, and it will probably fail because of that. Opponents whine that if GMOs are so bad, they should be outlawed. OK, let’s do that next. They also claim that no studies have shown them to be harmful. But one of the main benefits of Monsanto GMOs is their resistance to pesticides. Pesticides are harmful to consumers and the environment. So is monoculture. Fuck Monsanto, fuck GMOs. Label the food, raise awareness, and start moving to large-scale, sustainable ag.

Measure 90

Yes. Top-two primaries. I saved this for last, because I spent the most time thinking about it. This is one of the rare times you will see me voting against organized labor, which is the biggest voice against this measure (though both major parties are opposed).

This measure would set up a single ballot primary, like in California and Washington, with all candidates for an office listed together. The top-two vote getters would advance to a runoff in the general election.

This is currently how many local elections are held, for example Portland city council and mayor.

I totally understand Democratic Party opposition to this measure (and, by extension, their biggest financial supporters in public sector unions). Republicans have not won state-wide office since 2002, which means registered Democrats have chosen every statewide office holder since then. That’s a lot of power to voluntarily give up.

But I would argue that the Democratic Party hasn’t served its working class contributors all that well in that time. In the 90s, due to ballot measures pushed by libertarian Republican Bill Sizemore (funded by out-of-state richy-rich Loren Parks), we embarked on a path of ever dwindling resources for public education. Democrats have held the governor’s mansion the whole time, and controlled the state house for big chunks of that time, but have done absolutely nothing to fundamentally alter this downward spiral in tax revenue.

Yes, Dems have been better for public employees than Republicans might have been, but they’ve also been incredibly lazy in the “vision” department, utterly failing to correct course on the revenue front. So I see no reason to protect their monopoly on power (even though this measure probably wouldn’t actually threaten it).

Our current system of three different primary ballots (one each for registered Democrats and Republicans, and a third for independents and minor party members) guarantees that the Democratic Party gets to hand pick all state-wide office holders, and over half a million voters are disenfranchised.

Opponents of the top-two system argue that this is voluntary disenfranchisement, since it’s so easy to change party affiliation. But that’s beside the point. I should not have to register as a Democrat to have my vote count in Oregon. (And, seriously, do these people not get how Orwellian this argument sounds?)

Opponents also claim this measure would limit voter choice, and bemoan that some races might have two Democrats or two Republicans. In current Oregon House races, 31 of 60 races are unopposed. These races were decided by party faithful in May. I would gladly take a second Democrat on my ballot for my state house race, because the incumbent Democrat is significantly to the right of my values. Elections for city office in Portland are non-partisan, but virtually every candidate who makes the November runoff is a Democrat. Same for Portland school board. This represents the electorate, so what’s the problem?

Opponents claim that Measure 90 would kill minor parties. Well, my minor party, the Working Families Party, has endorsed Measure 90. Protest candidates would still have access, and protest voters could still cast their votes for them in the primary. But let’s be honest: having minor party candidates with insignificant constituencies and no chance of winning on the November ballot isn’t democracy. It’s democracy theater.

This measure isn’t perfect, and it’s probably going to fail. Instant runoff would be better. Proportional representation would be even better than that. But this is the best thing that’s come down the pike in a long time for independent and minor party voters.