Controversial Billboard gets Makeover

By Evan Sernoffsky

Someone defaced The Foundation for Biomedical Research‘s billboard on the corner of Southeast 49th St. and Powell Boulevard.

The imposing advertisement has caused a stir in Portland (see WW‘s blog: Do You Give a Rat’s A*#? April 6, 2011) by juxtaposing the images of a rat and little girl with the words “Who would you RATHER see live?”

The Billboard now reads “Who would RATHER live?” and the website at the bottom was changed from researchsaves.org to researchkills.org.

My opinion: Go to both websites and decide for yourself. I don’t think there is anyone in the world who would rather see a little girl die over a rat.  I believe these billboards oversimplify a very complex issue and appeal to people who can’t think critically. People on both sides of the issue are smart enough to not support this propaganda. I would hope that the Foundation for Biomedical Research thinks more of Portlanders that this.

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Train Hopper Finds Peace on the Rails

By Evan Sernoffsky

The deafening sound of crashing metal carries for miles around Eugene’s train yard. Engines push and pull lines of freight cars. The slack between them yanks tight and one by one the cars cry out.

Aaron Dactyl waits as a freight approaches in the Eugene train yard.

“It sounds like a war zone at night,” Aaron Dactyl says. “The chain reactions of steel hitting steel sounds like thunder. There is no noise ordinance here so it goes on all night.”

For most people, the extreme sounds that come from the yard would be an unwelcome intrusion on their midnight slumber. For Dactyl, the trains serve as a refreshing reminder of his true passion.

Dactyl rides these metal monsters. For now he rents a small room in a house one block away from the yard where he can hear the freights blow by at night. Around his bed are books, boxes, and things he has found on the street. All of it is expendable.

Dactyl has turned his love of riding trains into a zine (a self-produced magazine) called Railroad Semantics in which he publishes photos and stories about his trips around the country. “It is cheap and efficient and you don’t need a middle man to print it. You can do it yourself,” he says.

“(Railroad Semantics) was born out of my wanderlust and love for riding trains and all the adventures that I had,” Dactyl says. “I wanted to convey what was happening out there and have an impact. I didn’t have anyone to share those stories with and I feel like they needed to be heard.”

Dactyl is ambitious and articulate. He has short brown hair and dresses warm. His style tows the line between vagrant and stylish. His black army boots, wool stocking hat and a worn down jacket fit in perfectly in the Northwest.

“At least half of riding trains is waiting. You might make it to Portland in four to eight hours but you might wait 20 to 30 hours for a train.”

Jumping on freight trains is dangerous and illegal. People caught riding trains face misdemeanor trespassing charges and potential time in jail. Every rail yard employs a security guard who is not-so-affectionately called the “bull” by train hoppers. Some bulls are ferocious and have legendary reputations of using violent methods to apprehend trespassers. Getting caught by the bull, however, is the least of a train hoppers worries. Each rail car can weigh more than 100 tons (depending on the amount of cargo it carries) and one misstep will likely result in an immediate brutal death.

For Dactyl, the rewards of illegally riding freights far outweigh the dangers.  “It’s exciting and inspiring,” he says. “It’s exciting because you get an adrenaline rush from doing something that is not sanctioned in society. It’s kind of like being on a roller coaster in some senses. You’re not supposed to be there, you’re not strapped in, and you’re not obeying the rules.”

Riding freights offers new perspectives of the landscape that can’t be seen or felt any other way. “You are traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of the country on the back roads that no one else gets to see,” he says. “It just opens your eyes to things that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.”

Dactyl had his first experience with trains when was painting graffiti in high school. A big part of both graffiti culture and riding freights is making your mark. Because trains travel all around the country, a graffiti artist’s tags get nationwide exposure on the side of freight cars.

It is rare to ever see an untagged freight car.

Those who ride freight cars are deeply involved in graffiti culture and almost everyone has a tag. Dactyl is an expert on what each one stands for. He can randomly point to someone’s spray painted insignia and talk at length about the artist and context of the work.

Dactyl grew up in Kentucky and one day decided to hop a train. “I was painting (graffiti) in a train yard and I just figured it out. The train comes in this way it stops changes crews and it goes on to Kansas City or vice versa,” he says. “I met a hobo one day and I saw him get on a train and go to Kansas City and I was like, man I want to do that. I want to see what’s around the bend down there. Later that summer I took a few days off and got on the train and went to Kansas City and I made it. It was a great experience… a little more exhausting and filthy than I thought it would be, but it was a great experience nonetheless.”

Dactyl’s family still live in Kentucky and he talks to them often. They do not, however, know that he rides freight trains. He knows that his family cares about him, and rather than have his parents worry, he simply omits this detail of his life.

After coming to Oregon and graduating from Portland State University with a general studies degree, Dactyl took his love for trains to the next level and published his first zine in 2009. “It’s so much easier to hop trains out here because there are so many less tracks. I never considered myself a good train hopper until I came out here to Oregon,” he said.

Dactyl has discovered some realities about riding the rails over the years. “At least half of riding trains is waiting. You might make it to Portland in four to eight hours but you might wait 20 to 30 hours for a train,” he says. “If you have enough time alone it really forces the creativity out of you. I think that self expression is a basic human need and the more you are alone, the more that creativity comes to the surface. Railroad Semantics is a manifestation of a lot of my time to myself.”

“Hobo journalism,” Dactyl says, is a term that has recently emerged for people like him who write about their experiences on the rails. Even though they put themselves in harsh conditions, hobo journalists are mostly educated and intelligent. “I took up the form and thought that it fit me very well,” Dactyl says. “I consider myself an aspiring photojournalist. I’ve never found any reliable work in that field, nor do I think I ever will in the form that I want. This is another medium in which I’m able to put work out there. It’s completely in line with what I love doing.”

Dactyl sells his zine at a few bookstores in Portland and it is distributed online through Microcosm Publishing, a small company out of Bloomington, Ind. Each zine is sold for $6, which is barely more than it costs to produce. Money is not why he does what he does.

Instead of working on a more mainstream career and finding a steady job, Dactyl will take manual labor and restaurant jobs that he is never afraid to lose. “I work my jobs but I also have a lot of time to make something happen for myself,” he says.

Much like the paths that are laid out in life are the highways and byways that people mindlessly drive down every day, Dactyl says. “Society is so numbing. (It’s numbing) to do the same things over and over and go on retread paths. Riding on trains made me live in a way that society never provided to me. The idea to strip yourself from a lot of the clatter and clutter of modern society and live a simpler life goes hand in hand with riding the rails.”

Dactyl sees riding freights as a throwback to a better time in America and is nostalgic for an era that he did not get to experience.  “Hopping freight trains is one of the rare truly American pastimes,” he says. “The first wave of hobos was homeward bound soldiers returning from the Civil War. The next wave came with the Great Depression. Migrant workers would often carry their hoes with them, so they were often called hobos. It’s a tradition that continues today. Freight trains and hobos helped build this country.”

Recently, Microcosm has offered to start publishing Railroad Semantics instead of just distributing the copies that he prints himself. This is a step forward in gaining a wider audience and making a name for himself as a hobo journalist.

Writing a zine and riding the rails is great for Dactyl now, but he recognizes that it will not last forever.  While he figures out what he wants to do next in life, seeing the nation by train and producing Railroad Semantics is a great experience, he says.

At night Dactyl wanders around the Eugene train yard and sometimes runs into fellow train hoppers. They share stories and brave the cold winter night air. The sound of gravel crunching under boots is broken up by the blare of a train horn and the smashing of freight cars.

Life’s endeavors are not always easy, but Dactyl has discovered the value in all of his experiences. “It’s a hardship and something that you have to struggle through and endure.  And when it’s over and you have made it from point A to point B that’s when it’s really rewarding. You can look back and really appreciate it,” he says.

Discovering America has taught Dactyl some important things about life. “I don’t think I knew who I was. I know who I am now and I’ll always stand by that,” he says. “It makes me feel like living. It makes me feel alive. It’s what keeps me alive.”

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Defense details abuse child killer suffered in her own childhood

By Evan Sernoffsky

Angela McAnulty, 41, pleaded guilty to murdering her daughter.

When Angela McAnulty was only 5 years old her mother was stabbed 29 times. Defense attorney Ken Hadley described the unsolved murder of Nancy Feusi in an attempt to spare McAnulty’s life for the murder of her own 15-year-old daughter, Jeanette Maples.

On Feb. 1, McAnulty pleaded guilty to the crime. Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman spent the first several days of McAnulty’s sentencing trial detailing the years of brutal beatings, starvation and other horrors Jeanette suffered at the hands of her mother.

The defense outlined McAnulty’s troubled childhood and how the abuse she suffered as a child came full circle with her own daughter. Hadley spoke in a somber tone about the events that shaped McAnulty. He told jurors that it was not an excuse, but asked them to give McAnulty life in prison rather than condemn her to death.

McAnulty’s brothers tearfully recalled the suffering they experienced at the hands of their abusive father, Jerry Feusi. At one point their mother took the kids away to stay in a hotel room but they were returned to Feusi after she was murdered. Many of the things that McAnulty did to her daughter, such as locking up food and beating her with a belt, were things that her father did to her and her brothers.

Before resting his case earlier in the day, Hasselman called sheriff’s deputies Kellie Rahm and Kathy Remington, who described Angela McAnulty as an insincere manipulator while she’s been in jail awaiting trial.

The prosecution drew attention to McAnulty’s behavior in jail in an effort to show that she poses a continuing threat to society, a necessary criteria for the death penalty.  Rahm said that McAnulty’s overall demeanor was extremely submissive. “She was sheepish and apologetic … so much so that it became insincere and theatrical,” she said. Even though McAnulty exhibited passive behavior, she repeatedly defied prison policy by passing items to other inmates and visiting with them when she was not allowed.

“Frequently she would stick out her lower lip like a little child,” Rahm said.

Rahm testified that McAnulty walked a fine line between following prison rules and trying to make friends with the other female inmate – who initially didn’t like her – by passing items under their cell doors.

McAnulty engaged in “deputy shopping,” in which she would try to find guards who were sympathetic to her when submitting inmate request forms. At one point she told Cynthia Young, a mental health specialist at the Lane County Jail, that “some deputies don’t like her,” Rahm said.

According to the jail’s deputy log, McAnulty was extremely confused and emotional when she first arrived more than a year ago. She was placed on suicide watch and not allowed around other female inmates in her area of the prison.

McAnulty was eventually taken off suicide watch and could socialize with other inmates whom she got along with well. “Once she had time to make friends, she had a pretty good time,” Rahm said.

The prosecution rested its case after Rahm and Remington’s testimony.

Defense attorney Stephen Krasik made a motion to throw out the case against McAnulty after the jury had left the courtroom. He argued that the state had not demonstrated that McAnulty poses a continuing threat of violence to others because all of her behavior in jail was nonviolent.

Judge Kip Leonard denied the motion.

This article originally appeared here.

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Mother, daughter see G.E.D. as ticket to better life

Jessica Valdez and her mother Maria Elena Regelado at the University of Oregon's Erb Memorial Union

By Evan Sernoffsky

The golden arches of McDonald’s, a few street lights, and a blank white billboard glow brightly in the early morning winter blackness on Highway 99 in Junction City. A mother and daughter stand at the bus stop next to a closed Dairy Queen, waiting to catch the only early morning ride into Eugene.

Morning commuters and 18-wheelers whistle past Maria Elena Regelado and her daughter Jessica Valdez on their one-mile walk to the stop.

“We have to get up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus a 6:45 a.m.,” Regelado says. She and her daughter wait for the No. 95 bus every weekday in order to get to school.

Regelado and Valdez are studying to get their G.E.D.s, and even though almost three decades separate 16-year-old Valdez from her mom, they have found a common bond where age makes no difference. “It brings us closer together,” Valdez says. “Sometimes I don’t see her as my mom, I see her more like as my friend. We’ll help each other when the quizzes come.”

“It’s really special,” Regelado says. “I never imagined that one day I would be able to study with my daughter.”

Valdez and Regelado attend the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) located across the street from the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. They hone their skills in literature, grammar, math, social studies and science in a 10-week intensive program designed to prepare students for the G.E.D.

Regelado learned about HEP after she and her daughter moved to Eugene from Santa Barbara, Calif. Valdez had been struggling in different high schools and decided to join her mother in getting her G.E.D.

The federally funded High School Equivalency Program was established in 1967 by the Department of Education to help educate migrant workers in the United States.

The program was designed specifically for Hispanic workers from South and Central America, says Joel Montemayor, the program’s director. After students graduate he says, they are encouraged to follow one of three paths: go to college, join the military or get a job doing social work with families.

Regelado is not a migrant worker but has toiled at enough labor-intensive jobs to qualify her and her daughter for the program. She worked as a hotel maid and in food service at dozens of restaurants. After graduation she wants to go into social work. “I want to get my G.E.D. because I want to study psychology. I want to help people with emotional problems … especially women.”

Valdez is young and full of aspiration. At 16, Valdez doesn’t display any signs of teenage high school apathy. When she talks about her future, her eyes light up at the possibilities. “I want to be a nurse, maybe a lawyer. … I just want to help people,” she says.

“We work with a very diverse group of students,” says Nora Fandino, a teacher at HEP. “We work with students from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and they all come with a great story. Life is not usually easy for them, so they have incredible stories that they bring to the program.”

“We have good teachers that really make an effort to make sure we get good grades,” Regelado says. “I think that I’m going to pass the G.E.D.”

Regelado and Valdez recently finished taking their tests for the G.E.D. If they graduate they plan to start taking classes at Lane Community College and then transfer to the University of Oregon. For now, they continue the early-morning commute from Junction City. Soon the bitter winter cold will turn to spring and mother and daughter hope to have their G.E.D.s in hand so they can work on helping others in need.

This article originally appeared here.

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Council exempts low-income residents from proposed tax

By Evan Sernoffsky

The Eugene City Council voted 6-2 at a recent meeting in favor of an amendment to exempt low-income families from a proposed income tax to help out schools, and make the wealthy pay more.

On May 17 Eugene voters will decide whether to impose a local income tax to raise more than $16 million a year for the Eugene and Bethel school districts.

The proposed tax measure is similar to one passed in Multnomah County in January that eased severe budget shortfalls in the Portland area. Eugene city councilors used the Multnomah County tax model when drafting their measure.

An earlier version of the tax measure was passed a week before with no exemption for low-income residents. After that vote, City Councilor George Brown said that upon further reflection he decided it did not reflect Eugene’s true values. He said something needed to be done about school closures, but not at the expense of families below the federal poverty line.

Councilor Mike Clark wanted the measure thrown out altogether. Clark said he has been receiving e-mails from frustrated constituents in his district about his vote in favor of the original measure and wanted to reconsider it.

The city manager said the time to reconsider is during the City Council’s next meeting, which would have been the prior week.

His hands tied, Clark said he did what he believed was the next best thing. He voted no on the modified tax proposal. “I have gotten a good deal of input from people in my ward and I don’t think I can support this change,” he said.

Councilor George Poling said that the new adjustment is unfair. He said that tough times require all residents to tighten their belts, and that “if you have a dollar, you should kick some to this tax.”

Clark argued that if this measure is passed, it will contribute to Oregonians having the highest income taxes in the nation. “That’s a distinction I’m not comfortable with,” he said.

Councilor Alan Zelenka noted that because Oregon does not have a sales tax, the income tax comparison is inaccurate and does not reflect how much residents pay in taxes. Zelenka said when all taxes are factored in, Oregon falls in the middle of the pack nationally. He voted yes on the amendment.

Pat Farr, councilor for west Eugene, said that raising income taxes is not a good way to fund services like schools, but under the circumstances, he voted yes on the measure. “People will have to make an educated decision,” he said. “But I still don’t like raising income taxes.”

“People from the community are asking for us to step up and help,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said before the amendment went to a vote. “I think this is a more humane measure.”

This article originally appeared here.

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Man charged with assaulting a minor downtown

By Evan Sernoffsky

Police arrested a man on a recent Saturday night after he allegedly assaulted a minor on 8th Avenue and Park Street in downtown Eugene.

John Paul Hubbard was seen shoving the victim to the ground and attempting to strike him by Downtown Guide Cory Brooks. The police were called and soon after witnesses saw a man they recognized as Hubbard on a bicycle in the area.

Hubbard is also being charged with possession of marijuana and has outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court for driving with a suspended license, police said.

The incident started when the victim, a 17-year-old Eugene resident, went to hang out with some friends at downtown’s Park Blocks. According to the victim, Hubbard and another unidentified man approached his friends and started harassing them. The victim said he told them to leave his friends alone and was hit in the head by Hubbard and knocked unconscious.

The victim said he no longer had his cell phone when he regained consciousness. He saw Hubbard nearby and approached him about his phone. Hubbard allegedly shoved him to the ground and was about to strike him when Brooks and another Downtown Guide arrived.

Police searched for Hubbard’s companion and questioned a man on 8th Avenue and Willamette Street shortly after the attack. After handcuffing the man and questioning him for several minutes, police let him go.

This article originally appeared here.

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Backyard chickens — from food source to family pet

By Evan Sernoffsky

Some people have dogs, some people have cats and some people have chickens — that’s right, chickens.

Backyard chickens are one of the most popular new fads in the sustainability movement, but some families are finding that their chickens are making better pets than food sources.

Renee Hart has three chickens in her backyard: Midnight, Daisy and Sunlight. Her yard dips down a steep incline that is overgrown with assorted waist-high shrubs where the chickens find refuge and play with her dogs. “My dog Pollo plays with the chickens and that surprises a lot of people,” Hart said. “Most people think that a dog would try to eat a chicken.”

The birds have turned into somewhat of a neighborhood phenomenon. “The kids who come up to the fence really love them,” said Hart, who lives right behind Eugene Waldorf School in south Eugene. “They will throw bits of food and play with the chickens. I was amazed at how social these birds can be.”

Food may be a driving force behind a chicken’s behavior, but according to Hart, there are many responses that have nothing to do with being fed. “They even come when I call them,” she said. “They will sit and coo in my arms when I hold them. They are remarkably attentive birds.”

“The initial reason people get chickens is for food and sustainable gardening, but then they get attached and they become more of a pet than a food source,” said Ben McKechnie, owner of The Chicken Gardener, a local chicken coop manufacturer.

Thanks to the influx in backyard coops, McKechnie’s business has taken off. “We started one year ago and now we can hardly keep up. It is the winter right now and we are booked with orders for more than a month,” he said.

Business is also brisk at the Eugene Backyard Farmer, a local feed store for backyard chickens. “I would estimate that there are more than 1,000 families with backyard coops in the area,” owner Bill Bezuk said. “They are adorable birds. They are charming and have individual personalities.”

“Some people that have chickens don’t even eat the eggs. They give them to neighbors and friends,” Bezuk said. “The chickens are more like a member of the family.”

In the past year the local food movement has taken off in Eugene. Bezuk has noticed people’s concern about growing food organically and ethically. “A lot of people want to farm their own food but don’t have the means of a full-scale farm,” he said. “This is a way of bringing the country into your backyard.”

In the backyard of their house on Lincoln Street in Eugene, Brett Harding and Melissa Crehan have two ragged looking chickens. Woodsie, the older of the two, has more feathers on her feet than on her head and instead of walking she stumbles sideways. “That one doesn’t really do much of anything,” said Harding, while pointing to Woodsie and laughing. “We just keep them around because we have grown so attached. How can you get rid of something so cute?”

Their dog Bessie, a Pug in her twilight years, has grown fond of the chickens and sits patiently while the birds roam their yard for bits of food.

Now that the chicken craze has fully caught on, others are finding new ways to capitalize on these new pets. “There is a company that makes diapers for chickens,” McKechnie said. “I know a woman that actually keeps her chickens in the house with her.”

You can get diapers for your chickens online at chickendiapers.com.

This article originally appeared here.

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