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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Athletes as Leaders

June 19th, 2020 by dk
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Have you noticed where leadership is emerging, as our nation convulses toward some sort of reckoning with its past? State and city leaders do not have a nationwide audience, and messaging from Washington has been mixed at best. The voices rising above the chaos are coming from professional athletes.

You may have noticed some of these voices, without recognizing a pattern. Redemptive energy is coming from football, boxing, basketball (twice), and stock car racing.

If you think it’s no big deal that NASCAR has renounced the Confederate flag, you haven’t spent much time in the rural midwest or the deep south. In the land of Dixie, summer isn’t summarized with apple pie and baseball. It’s all about Stars and Bars and muscle cars.

I attended the Indianapolis 500 several times in my youth. Although the speedway was only a three-hour drive from Chicago, we learned to leave the afternoon before the race. Traffic would be backed up for 20 miles in every direction. We’d get nearby before dark, park on the street once we had our place in line, enter the speedway a little after dawn, and sleep through most of the race — us and 300,000 others.

Confederate flags won’t disappear from race tracks. People will still bring the flag and celebrate their heritage in their own way, but they won’t be watching that flag race in circles before them. It won’t adorn any of their racing heroes. It will remain part of individual expression, but no longer part of the collective experience.

Basketball players have also stepped up. Michael Jordan committed $100 million to causes devoted to racial and social justice. LeBron James will organize voter registration drives. WNBA players negotiated their explicit right to take public stands against injustices they encounter.

This current drive for athletic self-expression began when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem. He wanted to call attention to police violence against communities of color. For that stance, Kaepernick was ostracized from football. It has also made him a superstar beyond the sport.

When the commissioner for the NFL announced that the league was wrong to prohibit such displays of conviction, he didn’t mention Kaepernick’s name. He didn’t need to. Everybody knew who was the victor. Kaepernick may never play professional football again, but he’s winning a much bigger battle.

Finally, there was one more sports hero who may have escaped your notice. Floyd Mayweather was a professional prizefighter for 20 years, winning major world titles in five weight classes. He retired a few years ago, but reacted swiftly to the brutal death of George Floyd. He immediately offered to cover all expenses related to Floyd’s funeral.

Mayweather’s contribution created lasting impressions. The eulogy was delivered by a nationally known activist. Family members of other brutalized blacks who were in attendance. The casket was taken to the cemetery by a horse-drawn carriage. The grief was riveting. It focused the country’s attention like nothing else.

As sport gingerly re-enters the national consciousness, athletes will attempt to sustain Americans’ attention on this issue in the months and years ahead.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Eugene’s New City Manager Saved the City a Bundle

June 19th, 2020 by dk
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Nine months ago, I suggested the city of Eugene might want to skip an expensive and time-consuming national executive search, and simply give the city manager job to the person who had been groomed for it by the outgoing city manager.

Sarah Medary has been Eugene’s city manager pro-tem since Jon Ruiz retired last fall. The city council this week voted unanimously to drop the suffix from her title and give her the permanent position without a widened search. There was no dissent.

City council meetings on Zoom reminds me of watching Hollywood Squares when I was a kid. I never know which of the council’s three white men will be channeling Paul Lynde’s penchant for quips and zingers. When they do and they happen to fill the center box on my screen, I find myself craving my mother’s grilled cheese sandwiches. (Hint: butter both sides of the bread.)

Unlike Hollywood Squares, there wasn’t much drama about how Monday’s episode would end. A couple of councilors suggested a nationwide search would be disingenuous, given the strength of support Medary has from staff, council, and across the community. Mayor Lucy Vinis confided after the decision that she was “counting on it.”

Many councilors cited the host of challenges that the city has faced over the past few months — pandemic, economic slowdown, civil unrest, curfews. Nobody said that everything has been done perfectly under Medary’s watch, but decisions were made with transparency, empathy and urgency.

Councilor Mike Clark started the discussion, saying Medary had been “baptized by fire” from recent events. Mayor Vinis ended the session by suggesting Medary had “endured the hardest interview process ever.” In between, many councilors echoed similar sentiments.

Medary herself had recommended that the city open up the process to a full search. Councilor Claire Syrett responded: “I hope that Sarah can get used to council taking a different track than the one that she is suggesting, because this is probably going to be a regular part of the job.”

Medary has been writing a letter each Friday to staff and the community. Last week, she wrote this, in response to the crescendo of cries to curb police violence: “I am committed to being a leader of that reform, regardless of my position with the City of Eugene.”

In that simple statement, she demonstrated the courage necessary to meet this moment. She made clear her commitment to this city and to the process of reform. Most tellingly, she promised to keep those commitments, even if she was passed over for the job. That’s genuine leadership.

Councilors ended the session looking for some sort of gesture to Medary for making their choice an easy one. A bonus wouldn’t feel right during economic hardship, but Medary’s appointment saves the city somewhere around $40,000. That’s roughly what a nationwide executive search would have cost. (Councilor Chris Pryor estimated $10,000 more. Springfield recently spent $10,000 less.)

Councilors should ask their new city manager where she would personally like to see those funds invested. And, at least this one time, they should do exactly as she suggests.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Leaders Are Built, Not Born

June 13th, 2020 by dk
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Leaders are not born. They are built by the movements they have been chosen to lead. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had barely a year in the pulpit when outrage over Emmett Till’s mutilation led his neighbors and parishioners to begin the Montgomery bus boycott.

Who will rise up to meet this moment?

It will almost certainly be someone  whose name we don’t yet know. King was 26 when the bus boycott began. He was almost 28 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Young people are better built for the long, hard work ahead.

Those who worked in the Occupy movement are quick to say that no leader is necessary. The decentralized Internet has made Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups function with less reliance on a single leader.  Indeed, a leaderless movement is much harder to stop. It cannot be decapitated if there is no recognizable head. Assassination is too great a risk.

They may be right, except for the remaining power of our mainstream news organizations. They simply don’t know how to sustain an audience’s attention without focusing on a single leader. Social media is emerging as a powerful alternative, but it is still fueled largely by legacy news coverage.

Witness the recent coverage of COVID-19. The White House formed a task force to monitor the pandemic’s progress. The committee may have been active, but not visibly so. Only after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing became must-see viewing did the story of the pandemic really break into the national consciousness.

Dynamic leadership upsets the status quo. In the early 1960s, television news was only 15 minutes long. When Dr. King’s rallies and marches captivated the nation, Walter Cronkite implored his bosses at CBS to double his newscast to 30 minutes. NBC followed immediately. ABC resisted for over a year before finally doing the same.

Local Black Lives Matter protests have already identified a half dozen new voices that are rising to meet the moment. None of them are older than King was when he began. Other cities are seeing a similar dynamic. It’s young people who simply will not be denied. We should support them every way we can, mostly by letting them lead us.

Former President Barack Obama cannot lead the movement for justice and equality that is just beginning to form, but he can help identify and promote a leader who may be emerging. Oprah Winfrey hasn’t written any best-sellers, but she has created dozens with her recommendations. Obama’s endorsement would have a similar effect.

Former presidents often have an outsized impact on issues that matter to them. Jimmy Carter raised awareness about the need for affordable housing without becoming the leader of Habitat for Humanity. Racism and police violence are much more difficult topics, but Obama always said he wanted to be a transformational character. This may be a better opportunity than anything he did while he was living in the White House.

Obama always kept his focus on the arc of America. Who will paint the picture of what’s possible for us?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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How to Turbocharge Black Lives Matter

June 12th, 2020 by dk
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Rage and reflection don’t play well together. Rage brings all-consuming urgency and laser-like focus. Reflection looks longer and wider, noticing nuance. A deep response to social injustice will require both.

Four former police officers face charges related to the murder of George Floyd. Two of them, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were rookies. They exited their probationary period shortly before tragedy befell Floyd. They had been policing the streets of Minneapolis for exactly four days.

Derek Chauvin, on the other hand, was a 19-year veteran and held the rank of training officer. Tou Thao had been a Minneapolis cop for 11 years. Both Chauvin and Thao have multiple complaints in their personnel file, averaging almost one per year.

The video that we’ve all seen — or heard about, for those who can’t bear to watch — was taken by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. One particularly damning detail is the apparent nonchalance of Chauvin. He could see that he was being filmed, but he didn’t alter his behavior at all.

It was almost as if Chauvin was in training mode, patiently instructing two rookies how to properly execute the carotid sleeper hold to induce unconsciousness. His black gloves make it look like his left hand is in his pocket, waiting casually. His posture reminds me of a man waiting for a waffle iron to announce that breakfast is ready.

Lane twice asked if they should roll Floyd over. Chauvin refused. As Lane’s lawyer argued at the sentencing hearing, “What was my client supposed to do but follow what his training officer said?” After the video stopped, Lane gave Floyd CPR in the ambulance.

We should keep these two pairs of cops separate. Their culpabilities do not compare. Reflection also will benefit from some history. Frazier’s impromptu documentary has made George Floyd the Emmett Till of the digital generation.

In 1955, 14-year-old Till allegedly whistled at white woman in a Mississippi grocery store. For this infraction — roughly equivalent to using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes in Minneapolis — Till was lynched and brutalized.

The story might have ended there, except for two decisions. Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral, so everyone could see her child’s mutilated corpse. Jet, a weekly newsmagazine for predominantly black readers, published photos from the funeral that shocked the nation.

Time Magazine named one of those photographs among the “most influential images of all time.” The brutality outraged millions, including Rosa Parks. The Montgomery bus boycott followed, led by a new Baptist preacher in town with a gift for eloquence — Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rage met reflection.

Two senseless killings. Two open caskets. Two viral photographs. Two nationwide demonstrations of outrage. Here’s where these two stories have not yet converged, but they could. Do you want to turbocharge the Black Lives Matter movement? History has shown us how.

If Floyd’s family and the protesters publicly forgave those two rookie cops, it would do more than send a powerful message. It would harness the power of love that Martin Luther King preached and modeled: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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No More Incremental Change

June 6th, 2020 by dk
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After Secret Service agents forcibly displaced peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so that President Trump could stroll from the White House to have his photo taken in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the church’s members voiced outrage. Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, called the president’s actions “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

Episcopalians are big on hierarchy, so next came the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry. He is the Presiding Bishop of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and its 1.7 million members. He exhorted a nationwide audience to seek higher ground on the issue at hand.

A year ago, the Harvard Business Review profiled Curry’s leadership style, asking him how he brings all sides together when faced with a divisive issue. His answer: “If there’s a point of commonality — however small it may be — affirm that first, and then build from there.”

Let’s try it.

What do civil rights protesters and anti-capitalism activists have in common with those who voted for Donald Trump? Each group in its own way has given up on incremental change. Each is determined to overthrow the status quo.

Ideal incrementalism asks so little from each that the burden — the actual change — is imperceptible. It’s not hard to ask for trust when the cost appears to be nothing. Incrementalism cannot correct systemic flaws. Until the status quo is stripped of status, it will keep its quo. Things will stay mostly the same.

As The Daily Show’s host Trevor Noah pointed out, the current outrage against racism did not begin when George Floyd was strangled by a police officer’s knee. It began a few days earlier, when a white woman in Central Park refused to leash her dog.

A black man who was birdwatching asked her to follow the park rules. She then called 911 and claimed that a black man was threatening her. She was placing a metaphorical knee on that man’s neck. She was confident the system would side with her.

When we saw Officer Derek Chauvin, with one hand in his pocket, ignore entreaties from George Floyd, it was more of the same. We could see the pattern. Both the dog walker and the police officer knew the system wouldn’t change on its own.

Donald Trump promised big changes to society if he got elected. He has delivered on that promise. That makes his followers happy, because disruption is what they wanted. It’s always satisfying to get what you were expecting. They barely notice that most of those drastic changes help the very wealthy and hurt the very poor.

The riots we’ve witnessed this week show a combustible mix of two rages. Don’t try to separate racial and economic injustices. Recognize how our systems perpetuate both. America’s last great leader did.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was widening his crusade to include all poor people. And then he was assassinated. We haven’t moved from where he left us. Status quo is still so.

Only large changes will meet the mood of this moment. Incremental change is no longer on the overturned table.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Two Floyd-Inspired Changes (One’s for You)

June 5th, 2020 by dk
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It’s been years since Eugene assembled peaceful protests as large as we’ve seen this week. And it’s been decades since any of our after-dark assemblages turned violent in such a coordinated way. That phone alert that interrupted our sleep Monday night was a (literal) wake-up call. Things have changed, and not for the better.

More importantly, we must recognize what many of our less fortunate neighbors see. For them, the issue at hand is not what’s changed, but what hasn’t changed at all.

Police violence hasn’t changed. Unequal opportunities haven’t changed. Widespread acceptance of the status quo hasn’t changed. Our tepid response when tragedy strikes  a community of color hasn’t changed. And our ability to imagine a better alternative hasn’t changed.

For those who insist that violence is not the answer, I agree with you, but you’ve arrived late to the conversation. Every instance of racism and bigotry is an act of violence. Every refusal to fix the system abets the violence visited on those the system oppresses. Every plea for patience without a plan is a violent request, inciting a violent response. Ignorance does not confer innocence.

I have two suggestions. One is large and one is small.

The longest background check interview I ever participated in was for a friend who wanted to be a Eugene police officer. They had me on the phone for nearly an hour, asking me a hundred questions about my friend’s background, his character, and how I’d seen him react in certain situations.

He got the job, and then spent about a year in training before he was ever asked to interact with the public alone with his badge. Eugene follows best practices for recruiting, hiring, and training its force. But those best practices draw heavily from a military model. Community policing doesn’t look like war. It looks like social work.

Police training has too much insularity. That builds camaraderie within the force, but it blunts the edges of empathy. Where does training end and indoctrination begin? We hear too often about a few “rotten apples.” Nobody ever talks about how a closed container spreads the rot to other apples nearby.

Send rookie cops out into the community as soon as they are hired. Give them the uniform and the badge, but not the gun. Let them experience how the public treats them differently. Then they won’t need veterans to warn them how it will be. If training leads with empathy, policing will be practiced differently.

Here’s a change that you and I can make. Stop saying what’s “not acceptable” or “not OK.” Those phrases paint you out of the picture, when we need you very much in the picture. Express your feelings and exhibit your resolve in an active voice. Take responsibility for the part you play and contribute as you are able to making necessary changes.

Saying that something “is not acceptable” has a regal ring. Can you hear it? Imagine a dismissive hand gesture, sweeping away something that barely deserves your attention. That’s how it sounds to those in pain you. It subtly makes things worse.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Overdue Fripperies

May 29th, 2020 by dk
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Fifth Friday footnotes, follow-ups and far-flung fripperies:

I couldn’t find my last collection of these, which should have occurred at the end of January. For the first time in decades, I forgot to write them. So these may be further flung than usual.

• People have stopped using their voices. I think I understand why. When the TV’s on, why interrupt people who are more articulate and handsome?

• Does only Chicago have expressway lanes that reverse direction midday to accommodate rush hour traffic in both directions? I wonder why.

• Overeating is more fun than eating.

• A friend asked me to go to a protest in his place. I was a stand-in at a sit-in.

• We overvalue excellence and efficiency. We undervalue inclusion and authenticity.

• Conditional apologies drain confessional power. I’m not sorry if you never thought of that. I’m sorry THAT you never thought of that.

• Why hasn’t anyone designed earbuds that double as earrings?

• When you lead a double life, reaching 50 should be considered remarkable.• Reading fiction builds empathy.

• Courage first requires admitting how long things take.

• If five guys walk into a Five Guys, do they get a secret discount on their burgers? They should.

• Make a recipe immediately after it intrigues you, or you probably never will.

• Would you rather be discovered or left alone?

• I’d enjoy evenings more if they didn’t come so late in the day.

• The insufferable know everything except that they are.

• The stock market has become President Trump’s oracle.

• How often is excellence merely conformity?

• A friend asked, “Do you miss precedented times, when we were always in charted territory?”

• Thanks, Maureen Dowd, for this one: “isolationship.”

• During difficult times, the people will always raise their vices.

• Let bygones be bygones, but not while they’re still bygoing.

• I only wish people could clarify whether their mask expresses fear or grace — if it’s on their face primarily for the sake of themselves or for others.

• Self-sufficiency was never more than half true.

• COVID-19 has been a gut check. If you can’t see your gut, you might not need to check.

• Textbook is redundant.

• April had the second weirdest Easter ever. The only one weirder was when that dude refused to shelter-in-place, leaving his tomb.

• Why is the verb “toss” so frequently used when describing a court’s dismissal of a case?

• The actor who played Eddie Haskell died this month. His “Leave It To Beaver” character put a new, sharp edge on the “generation gap.”

• “A state cannot use safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth.” Paul Roberti, chief counsel of the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, actually said that.

• You go to the kitchen not with the pasta you want. You go with the pasta you have.

• Please be authentic with (not identical to) me.

• An occasional “slipper day” can be nice. “Slipper months” — not so much.

• My friend Taft made this observation: “The population of some states is just too dense to avoid COVID-19, especially the sparsely populated ones.”

• If President Trump offered to sell off the postal service, who would outbid Amazon’s Jeff Bezos?

• You know anxiety is in the air when you worry that your croutons may be getting stale.

• Are you getting tired of looking at bookcases behind talking heads, showing us how smart they are?

• How long before we start seeing yard sales for people selling their furniture to buy food?

• Watching a movie, set in San Francisco, I wondered why no tech billionaires except Marc Benioff have built prominent skyscrapers. Every wide shot of the city’s skyline reminded me of his company, Salesforce.

• The greater good is both.

• Would things be better or worse if the invading virus had infected every computer chip instead, shutting down all machine communications?

• Our systems force shock or stasis. All defenses align against incremental change.

• Introverts were social distancing before social distancing was cool.

• How do I reprogram my smoke alarm to replace its “Fire!” alert with “Mmm. Fried food! Maybe a little overdone … but still, yum!”

• We’ve been testing fate for years, so why are we surprised when there’s suddenly a shortage of testing kits?

• America to Coronavirus: “Take my life and liberty, but not my pursuit of happiness.”

• With infections and unemployment skyrocketing, government should consider banning skyrockets.

• Do people fret anymore? (Maybe that’s the problem.)

• How many trips of a lifetime is one allowed in a lifetime? (Asking for a friend)

• I don’t remember the question, but the answer is thicker socks.

• Americans don’t question authority. How many pillows and mattresses in your house still have those annoying “Do Not Remove” tags on them? (Retailers can’t remove them, but you can.)

• Popcorn is a snack that leaves no crumbs.

• Two activities we prefer to describe in the passive voice: haircuts and marriages. Make of this what you will.

• Once chocolate cake was invented, how did any other desserts survive?

• Whenever it’s walls versus barbarians, you know which side will win.

• How much middle of a toothpick is absolutely necessary?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. He’s been writing fifth Friday fripperies since 1993.

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Autzen Enhancements Could Be Revolutionary

May 23rd, 2020 by dk
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If you happen to live within a mile of Autzen Stadium, you know how loud its sound system can be. Coaches often turn up the volume, replicating a stadium full of passionate fans. It prepares the team for a high-profile game in a hostile environment. That sound system is getting an upgrade.

Autzen will have college football’s largest scoreboard. The 186-by-66-foot video board will have a state-of-the-art sound system, will cost $12.1 million. A second screen will be visible from the parking lot. Tardy tailgaters will be able to watch what they are missing.

Athletic Director Rob Mullens told UO’s finance and facilities committee in March that the privately financed $12.1 million mega-screen was “something that will certainly enhance the fan experience.” That was before the COVID-19 lock-down began.

Nobody knows yet what will happen to the fall sports seasons. Will football be delayed until the virus is under control? Will early games be canceled altogether? Will they be played with a fraction of fans present or with no fans at all?

NCAA initially planned for the spring basketball tournaments to be played in empty arenas. Days later, the tournaments were canceled altogether, leaving fans with March malaise in place of March madness.

That got me thinking about my own ideas about what will certainly enhance the fan experience. That $12 million scoreboard may be coming just in time to have something here that no other stadium experience provides. If we’re going to have the biggest, why not also have the best?

Oregon has an opportunity here to innovate, which has become central to its national and international brand. That mega-screen should be equipped to receive live video from remote locations.

The screen already shows scenes from around the stadium. Everybody does that. It doesn’t require much more sophistication to add a live feed from other locations. The University of Oregon’s Alumni Association has active chapters in dozens of cities. They designate a local bar where Ducks meet to watch each game.

Local fans should see fans congregating all over the world. We’re mastering remote learning. Why not remote cheering?

It would look like the world’s largest Zoom call. Fans making noise together, from bars and event centers all over the globe. That would enhance the fan experience! It might also motivate our players, who may be playing in an empty stadium.

This fall, Oregonians may be allowed to meet only in groups no larger than 25, but 12,276 square feet of screen space leaves plenty of room for a substantial crowd to be seen and heard inside Autzen — and in all the neighborhoods nearby.

That 47-by-26-foot exterior-facing video board could also be used this fall in ways nobody expected. Tailgaters might be allowed on the grounds to enjoy the game as if they were at a drive-in movie, which wouldn’t be so bad.

I’d love to see (and hear) Ducks from across the country and around the world bringing their enthusiasm directly into Autzen Stadium. It’s not done anywhere else.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Pandemic Lessons (Not) Learned

May 22nd, 2020 by dk
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I’ve been reading up on the 1918 influenza pandemic, so that you might not have to. You’ve heard that virus called the Spanish Flu, but that might not be correct. You may also have heard that American suffering came in three waves, but you might not know why. The lessons learned have never been more important than they are now.

John M. Barry authored the definitive history book on the matter. “The Great Influenza” traces the virus’s probable origins to the corner of Kansas nearest Oklahoma and Colorado in early 1918. Something else happened at exactly the same time that contributed significantly to the crisis.

Keep in mind that America was at war in 1918 — most of the world was. The United States sold war bonds to finance its involvement in World War I. But that’s not all it was selling. 

President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, which provided a steady supply of upbeat stories about the battles abroad. Behind the scenes, journalist Arthur Bullard was whispering a dangerous idea to the CPI’s chairman, George Creel: “The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”

Creel had been an investigative journalist for the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Two of his committee members pioneered public relations. They did not think of themselves as propagandists, but patriots. Truth and falsehood were considered “arbitrary terms.” What mattered most was keeping Americans feeling confident.

The Sedition Act of 1918 followed. Disseminating bad news about the war became punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Newspapers changed. Postmasters could impound any publication that ran afoul of the law.

Government posters and advertisements urged people to report anyone “who spreads pessimistic stories … cries for peace, or belittles our effort to win the war,” according to Barry. Most other nations had similar practices.

Spain never entered World War I. Its newspapers continued to print bad news. The first widely distributed reports of the pandemic came from Spain when King Alfonso XIII became ill in May 1918. The bad news may have come from Spain, but the virus itself probably did not.

Thanks to the Sedition Act, the American public didn’t know exactly what to believe. Our government willfully and diligently lied about the war effort, so why should they be trusted to tell the truth about the virus? Everybody had to make their own calculation about what activities were safe and what precautions were necessary.

Barry put it this way: “People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown.”

Does any of this seem familiar? Government-mandated happy talk produced erratic public support for masks, social distancing or other preventative measures. The virus waned in the summer of 1918, but it came back with a vengeance that fall. A third wave came in early 1919 before it finally died out.

The Sedition Act was officially repealed in 1920, but the practice of bolstering public opinion with misinformation never really went away. And now, sadly, the same consequences appear to be revisiting us.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Why Did We Give It All Up So Easily?

May 16th, 2020 by dk
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We sat on two park benches, far enough apart to meet all requirements. “Why did we give it all up so easily?” My friend’s query has haunted me for weeks. He’s a college instructor who pays attention to the news and societal trends. There’s a reason he and I have been friends for 25 years.

He understood why the shut-down was necessary, and why government officials used emergency powers to enforce new regulations. But he couldn’t explain why there was so little resistance. Americans are not typically a compliant people, and Oregonians even less so.

Restlessness has become more evident lately, but how much of that has been instigated by talk radio and professional rabble rousers? Even now, the resistance seems overly scripted. It’s a political movement more than an organic fight for each individual’s way of life.

People willingly give up what they didn’t like very much in the first place. But the docility in response to restrictions points to an uncomfortable theory.

Most people don’t like the status quo and they’re happy to see it disrupted. When told they must stop doing most of what they do all day, the nation replied nearly in unison, “OK.” We gave this upheaval a synchronized shrug.

Sharpening the point, most people hate their job. Even those who enjoy their work fear that they could be replaced and resent being told how to do it. This is not accidental. It’s part of some sort of grand design. This is not a conspiracy theory. Nobody is meeting in back rooms devising this. It’s a system built for efficiencies finding its own way.

If you don’t enjoy something, you’ll naturally seek ways to have less of it. If work is seen as necessary but not enjoyable, people will look for ways to cut corners without reducing productivity. It’s an odd sort of worker empowerment, but there’s no better expert for cutting corners than workers themselves, each in their own way. It’s an elegant system.

Best of all, it operates invisibly. Bosses don’t need to give bonuses because the goof-off time between tasks is usually reward enough. Workers don’t even know how much they dislike it all until everything stops. They didn’t tell others they were miserable because they didn’t know.

It wasn’t always so. For most of human history, you found work that you were good at and that your neighbors valued. If you were a candlestick maker, you could walk through the village and measure your worth after dark by illumination through windows. The cobbler might see you outside, knowing that his shoes were keeping your feet dry.

If somebody else wanted to make candles, they would move to another village where people still lived in the dark. Or they chose a different craft that would be valued. Work gave people sustenance in the barter economy, but it also gave each individual a sense of belonging to a larger group.

Work for money is completely different. It’s much more efficient, but not nearly as satisfying. We can buy almost anything with money, but not the genuine esteem of others.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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