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Crucible of Democracy
Our own little witch hunts.
While I prepare lessons to teach Arthur Miller's The Crucible in a high school English class, the U.S. has been preparing, yet again, to make international war, and in other extents to make war domestically against U.S. civil rights and liberties. Meanwhile, 1,500 local 20-somethings — including UO students — recently ignited their own uncivil, uninhibited fiery tirade against west university neighborhood enemy street signs, terrorist traffic planters, a satanic golf cart and later against Oregon's infallible police forces. Or so we've been repeatedly told.
These seemingly unrelated global and local events will, I hope, comingle in our classroom next month during multiple teaching-and-learning experiences concerning the Individual vs. the Collective.
The Crucible dramatically recounts actual people and events of Salem's infamous witch trials (1692). What becomes evident to careful readers, however, is that not only are the accused not witches (though many are convicted and executed), but they are more so victims of others' myopia, power-trips, jealousies and, literally, Puritan-ical values.
That Miller staged his play in 1953 is anything but coincidental. The Crucible (i.e., a severe test or "trial by fire") serves as both allegory and parable of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's communist "witch-hunts" in the milieu of our ostensibly free-speaking, free-praying, First Amendment-loving U.S. McCarthy(ism) was fully authorized by the U.S. House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). During this era, countless personal and professional lives were destroyed by malicious rumors and false charges, HUAC's trumped-up nationally televised accusations (motivated by political gains), and, underlying these activities, Americans' collective ignorant and fear-based capitulation.
Thus, Miller understood that, although pre-colonial territorial powers were eventually supplanted by less puritanical constitutional checks and balances on such powers, "power" itself remained dangerous — even deadly (e.g., institutionalized slavery, female servitude and communist witch-hunts).
And so it has been through too much of history: Oppressors ultimately fall to uprisings that halt the oppression; a détente follows until new oppressive powers compel people to rise up again; and so on. Sadly, oppression seldom, if ever, ceases before those oppressive powers have destroyed reputations and lives.
Long after oppressions such as McCarthyism end, however, accusations remain toxic weapons. For the accusation, borne in public utterances, lingers in our consciousness as its own species of vile magic. So when vengeful neighbors cry "witch," HUAC cries "communists," Bush and Co. cry "terrorists," and now police and media cry "student rioters," well, the accusation itself is sufficient for us to keep kindling and matchbooks ready.
Certainly, early European immigrants and Native Americans practiced non-Protestant pagan rituals; leagues of disenfranchised and hardworking and intellectual Americans promoted labor unions, economic justice and gender equality; and still others observed beliefs and practices foreign to, even disdainful of, American consumerism. But that did not make pagans "violent satanists," nor leftists "evil communists," nor, in our current wave of ignorance and fascism, does it make Muslims "terrorists."
Can we likewise take this principle to heart at home? If so, one example would be to reconsider hasty judgments against west university neighborhood denizens who mistakenly found themselves amid drunk and violent rioters.
The arrest, the accusation, the newspaper publication of names — all these contribute to our presumption: "They're witches! Burn 'em!" Indeed, let those who are responsible be brought before justice. But let's not simplistically believe police and media just because they wear badges or publish widely or are elected. For those who rioted to get drunk and party and throw bottles at cops, I doubt there'll be judicial fires as hot as those that sent a rock-throwing protestor to seven years in prison. But that would be "equal justice under law"! (Or, alternatively, a commuted sentence for the protestor.)
In any case, not all who have been publicly accused and condemned are witches; and not all self-righteous accusers are well informed when making public accusations; and not all police are bad, good — or infallible. Just human.
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A MONKEY NEXT TIME
On Thursday, Oct. 17, at 7 am three explosions woke my wife and I. We heard radios, large machinery, people running outside our bedroom window, and a loud, distorted public address system broadcasting that a house was to be searched under warrant by the Eugene Police Department.
We opened the front door to find a swath of police officers, a huge armored personnel carrier (i.e. tank), and several men in camouflage lurking around the shrubbery with assault rifles. My wife, an elementary teacher, asked if it was safe for her to leave for work. The armed officers were sarcastic and evasive. "I just want to make sure I'm not going to be shot leaving the house," she said, gesturing toward the men with machine guns between she and her car. "I haven't shot anyone in two weeks," remarked one officer, turning toward us but not quite making eye contact. I held my tongue at this armed man's insulting and intimidating demeanor toward my wife. Another officer told me that it was "a police operation. Isn't that obvious?"
I had to go to the police department later that day to get coherent and useful information about this case. There I was told that it is common in other departments for the police to notify residents when large armed interventions of this sort are taking place. If the EPD wishes to conduct raids on local residents they should warn those whose safety may be at risk.
I was told later that the officers had bashed in the doors of three neighboring homes and one apartment. Officers found two houses vacant. Couples in the other two dwellings were thrown to the floor and at gunpoint while warrants were executed. One of these couples was simply renting a house next door to the suspects. The EPD's list of property seized by the officers shows that no marijuana plants or guns were found.
With all of the resources spent on this raid, none seem to have been spent on gathering information beforehand. The EPD could have sent a monkey with a Polaroid camera the day before and at least determined the suspect's correct address.
The EPD woke me up at 7 am on my day off with three immense explosions, turned my neighborhood into a combat zone forcing my innocent neighbors out of bed and holding them at gunpoint, insulted my wife, spent a few hundred thousand of our tax dollars and seized no guns or drugs. They did not inform residents that they were risking their safety, nor did they provide information after the fact that might assuage their children's fears. They did not provide themselves with enough intelligence to execute their search safely or effectively. Falsely assuming that our neighbors were armed, they recklessly pursued a course of action that could have easily gotten out of control had their assumptions been more on the mark.
I think that police are a good thing. I like to be able to call them when crazy people break into my house and when dangerous looking men threaten my wife. I am especially concerned, then, when the police begin doing these things themselves.
As a member of Temple Beth Israel for 18 years, I am used to the various lies about the Jewish people put forth by the left and right of this community. Many of these lies are portrayed in various opinion pieces in the Register-Guard, which I finally canceled last week after 17 years because of such propaganda, and in the EW, which also spreads lies through misinformed writers with a political agenda.
The big lie, "Zionism is racism," is used by the left wing, the right wing and Aryan Nation racists to promote hate against the Jewish people and to destroy any hopes of a peace process in the Middle East. Now, once again, Temple Beth Israel in Eugene is the subject of a physical attack, just as it was with the shooting of 10 rounds of ammunition into our synagogue eight years ago.
In between, however, every member has been the target of personal hate mail, postmarked from New York, and other insults and intimidation tactics. Community access television in Eugene also plays a proactive role in this town's hate of Jews. I have watched in disbelief as one talk show host blamed "the Jewish Conspiracy and Jewish money" on U.S. support for Israel. The Green party, which has one Jewish host, reads articles blaming Israel for poisoning the water — an absolute lie and propaganda tool against having a Jewish State.
There are only about 13 million Jews left in the world, and 98 percent believe in two things: Israel has a right to exist, and the rest of the world, including Eugene, will continue to marginalize the Jewish people in ways they never would with any other people on the face of the earth.
From Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 2001:
War.mon.ger, n. a person who advocates, endorses, or tries to precipitate war.
Now this wouldn't refer to anyobody we know in Washington, would it?
It appears to me that Luke Gonzales has completed a short course on Freud without getting it. Is he kidding? Young people riot because they are "miserable" and have too much "sexual energy"?
What garbage! Most young people are enjoying sexual freedom long before they come to college, but perhaps Luke was not able to manage that. He did get one thing right however, we do need better sex education in our schools.
As for the riots: You had a group of kids who were drinking and doing other things, and it got out of hand as these things oftentimes do. Someone starts it and some of the others follow along without much thought. It is as simple as that.
Luke is doing what too many young people do these days: looking for someone to blame for their own misbehaviors. Take some responsibility for yourselves once in awhile, and stop trying to blame your poor parents, the schools or society because you had a lack of judgement.
And by the way Luke, most parents are authoritative not authoritarian.
Alan Pittman's article "Slow Going" (10/17) understated the costs of planned freeway boondoggles, recycling official claims that the West Eugene Porkway would cost $88 million and the I-5/Beltline interchange would cost $55 million.
The WEP's true costs exceed $150 million, including the WEP/Beltline grade-separated interchange ($17 million), the WEP extension along 126 to Veneta ($13.3 million, according to Lane County), widening of feeder roads, and inflation.
These estimates do not include the WEP to I-105 connector, since the "park" way would overload 6th and 7th Avenues, forcing additional construction. In the 1970s, options for the WEP's predecessor included a "6th/7th Freeway" and a bypass along the railroad tracks through Whiteaker. These maps are posted at www.efn.org/~wepThis extension will be a contentious issue in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, due in Aug. 2003 (when the Federal Highway Administration expects to approve WEP). ODOT's current cost for the I-5/Beltline interchange "spaghetti bowl" exceeds $100 million.
The total TransPlan price tag, including widening I-5 and I-105, push the budget into fiscal fantasy land. Lane County voters rejected a gas tax increase by nearly 8 to 1 in May 2000.
These highways will eventually be canceled due to legal violations and lack of funds, if oil wars do not force major increases in gas prices. Instead, we should repair existing roads, provide much better public transit, support local business and prohibit more farm land, wetlands and forests from being paved over. Future generations will need clean water and locally produced food, not additional Wal-Marts and Southern California-style sprawl.
I have another (no doubt unpopular) response to Luke Gonzales' commentary (10/17) concerning the root of the campus area riots: The young people of this community who participated are spoiled, privileged and ignorant.
It is true that Western culture in general lacks rituals that enable our young people to see where they "fit" in society at large. As a former high school English teacher, I can completely see his point there. But, please!
As the child of "authoritarian" parents — a legacy that I proudly carry on — the Golden Rules of my growing up included: "Don't break anything you can't afford to replace;" "Keep your hands to yourself;" and "If it's not yours, leave it alone." I suggest that those poor, sexually frustrated rioters-without-a-political-cause trot themselves down to the local adult shop, buy an appropriate vibrator and cease and desist with destroying public property that folks who ride the bus to work in the mornings have to pay for.
Despite the fact that my "authoritarian" mother graduated high school at 16 with honors, she had to leave her home in New Jersey to receive her college education in the South Carolina of the 1940s. Northern segregation was the societal ill of her day, and she did better herself despite the hand that was dealt her. So, when I see youth or anyone throwing away an educational opportunity that others can only dream about, it makes me sick. If the simple life lesson "If it's not yours, leave it alone" is too impossible to learn, perhaps those same rioting students should step aside and get their heads together for a few years, thus affording the truly deserving students who come to school to learn the opportunity to study in peace.
I recently made a visit to your wonderful town of Eugene for a project I'm working on about homelessness and traveling. I must say for the most part I was treated with kindness and hospitality by everyone except the Eugene Police Department. I don't mean to rag on the police just because they are police. I was harassed daily by numerous police officers because I had spiky orange hair, a big duffel bag and a rolled up sleeping bag — no other reason. I understand that sometimes the homeless kids who hang out around the courthouse can cause problems. Well, everyone can.
All I am saying is the police need to lighten up — they aren't as unfortunate as the homeless.
So, we are shocked and surprised that North Korea not only violated the nuclear weapons treaty with us, but has also proclaimed that it's withdrawing from it? They cite "national security" concerns.
I wonder if this is like us withdrawing from the ABM treaty with Russia because we find it antiquated and because our Missile Defense Program should not be held hostage to this thirty year old agreement. Or maybe it's like us "unsigning" and withdrawing from our commitment to creation of an International Criminal Court because we may be held to the same standards of international law as the rest of the world. Or could it be like us not willing to sign on to Kyoto agreement on reduction of "greenhouse" gases because it's not in our "economic interest."
Or is it possible that our new global strategy, announced last month, had anything to do with this? Specifically, the part that warns any country in the world that we reserve the right to attack anyone we deem to be a threat to our national security or that challenges our "global military supremacy." This new policy clearly violates our commitment to North Korea promising that the U.S. would never use nuclear weapons against them.
Also, could it be that Koreans realize that the U.S. only attacks countries without nuclear weapons (Granada, Panama, Sudan Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, etc.), and that the best insurance policy against American aggression is a functional nuclear arsenal? Hmm, I wonder.
I was thinking today about how things have become. It seems that mostly stupid people breed, therefore we have mostly stupid people. If people were really smart, we'd all be trying to help everyone else out, everyone else in the world, that is, and not so concerned about waving colorful flags. If people were really smart, we would not be walking around blindly as token consumers. We'd protest more often, especially about our current role as human beings.
But like I said, mostly stupid people breed.
I am writing on behalf of my generation, the students 18 to 24, who have the lowest voting percentage in U.S. history. There are many key issues globally, nationally and locally that need our attention. As an example, a key local issue is the state of the Willamette River. In 1971, thanks to the tenacious efforts of then governor Tom McCall, the Willamette became one of the cleanest rivers in the nation. It is now one of the most polluted rivers west of the Mississippi. Loosely enforced regulations are in place that could keep the popular trend of dumping nearly 5 million tons of toxic chemicals into our river per year. We need both of the gubernatorial candidates in this election to pledge to enforce the regulations on the disposal of waste into the Willamette River. I want my fellow students and all other voters to vote this fall and make sure that when they do, they take into consideration the sewer-like condition of the Willamette. They must demand that the candidate they vote for take a strong stance on cleaning up our Willamette River.
A couple of years ago during the election, people (at least where I'm from in the Bible Belt) were making a big deal out the character issue. Bill Clinton was chastised because he had consensual oral pleasure. People said we needed a leader of moral character — our children needed a role model.
So in comes W. I saw two 5-year-olds throwing punches in Monroe Park the other day. I couldn't stop them. After all, look at their role model. A wimpy, ignorant, uneducated, myopic warmonger who can't pronounce simple words or put together simple sentences. He is teaching our children that violence, indeed murder, is an acceptable response to tragedy and adversity.
As a parent and patriot, I find this unacceptable. W. is the terrorist. His cabinet is a refined Anglo version of the al-Qaeda network. His message is Hitleresque.
W. is no role model. I'd rather my children worship Charles Barkley.
COST OF CARING
As the political dialogue is hijacked to narrowly focus on taxation and terrorism this election season, the electorate is inadvertently taxing and terrorizing even more than our education system. Human services are beyond the crisis stage in this land of child poverty and substance abuse.
As the media virtually ignores funding cutbacks for mental illness, elderly care, counseling services, the arts, health needs, and so many more essential services for those who desperately need them, what little humanity we have left is called into question.
The interests of those who can afford to buy media messages are trampling the common sense approach of serving vulnerable citizens. Rarely reported studies show that prevention is cost effective 4 to 7 times over when serving at-risk people and families. It saves prison costs, other crime costs, health care costs and other social services costs by simply providing help to people with needs.
Disabled, poor and drug-addicted people are not bad people. They along with the uneducated, children with behavior problems, and domestic violence clients will help themselves with proper intervention that they have not been previously afforded. As service provider cuts are being ignored and long-term Measure 11 inmates are finally being released with few prospects and little assistance, the question arises: Is the rising cost of caring so little about each other really worth it?
Regarding recent letters decrying EW for the "sexually explicit" advertising on the back pages: There are arguments in favor of EW consistently publishing these ads, namely that editorial censorship is no trivial matter.
Sure, there are a lot of reasons to despise the sex industry. A lot of us would like to see the ads disappear, along with the businesses they represent. But these businesses find it profitable to seek advertising space in the EW and hence the conundrum: Should EW reject the ads on the basis that they offend some readers? Is it a good and just idea to employ censorship to appease the socio-political ideology of an audience sector? Should we force the editor of a newspaper to make judgments about what is or is not morally and socially acceptable for us to see?
Remember, just because a newspaper runs an ad (or an article) doesn't mean the entire editorial staff agrees with it, and it certainly doesn't mean all of the readers have to like it. This is all part of the process of disseminating and absorbing information. We must individually be critical and selective while eschewing the notion that we are wise enough to flex this power over others without repercussions.
The debate over what constitutes acceptable freedom of speech tends to lose its intellectuality and rationality as soon as it is applied to the subject that really bugs us — whatever that may be. In this case it is the perceived exploitation of women. The sex industry is thriving, but it is not the EW's role to provide us with a false sense of comfort by shielding this fact from our eyes. In these troubled times, the last thing we need to do is to promote an escapist fantasy: If I can't see the ads, the industry doesn't exist.
We need to approach the issue from an angle other than censorship. I can assure you of one thing: Creating an artificial personal utopia by demanding that everyone get in line with your idea of acceptable reading material will never lead to a more open, healthy and meaningful community or society.
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