Thursday, February 22, 2001

Flash Weston?

Today I want to use words to talk about names. What’s in a name? Willy Shakespeare (sp?) answered with something to the effect that a rose by any other name would smell as swell. A lot of people think that’s the ultimate answer.

Balderdash! In the first place, the question was, “What’s in a name?” -- not “What’s a rose?” In another place, Willy himself knew perfectly well there was more to it than that. He went right on ahead in the same play to make a case for the opposition. He clearly indicated that he was inclined to believe that, while sweet smelliness sticks permanently to roses however named, if a Romeo Montague were to change his name to, say, Watson Whittaker, he’d get beat up by his cousins whether he married that girl or not. Names do so matter.

It has been demonstrated scientifically that even when collected into conferences and given little individual cards to pin on their shirts, and an indelible marker, scientists can’t completely explain why names, such as “Montague,” are different from words, such as “rose.” But I believe the answer may involve the reptilian brain, the difference between the sacred and the profane, and Dicks Nixon, Clark, Cheney, etc.

Whatever the difference, it is now known that there is one. If your first pet dog was Blacky and you go around calling all dogs Blacky, people will call you Dingy. And rightly so.

Once we understand that names and words are different, we begin to understand why people might like to change names on occasion. For example might want to change it’s name to or or, on the theory that people might forget that unfortunate NASDAQ turn of events.

What the hell is a Verizon? When you ask that kind of question you betray ignorance of the difference I am picking at. Verizon is just the new improved name of GTE, a name that escapes all the ugly associations that the old name has, like the association that everybody had learned to think “corporate weasels” when they heard “GTE”. But you don’t think “corporate weasels” when you hear “Verizon.” Not yet. Instead you think “What the hell is a Verizon?”

Similarly the name US West served the function of a name, not a word. It helped the rest of us to identify that specific thing that screwed up our phone billing all the time. If the internet connection went down exactly in the middle of our composing of our 500 page treatise on the relationship of the fluctuations in the perfume market to the practice of personal bathing in Europe, we could relieve our tension by uttering a curse upon the house of US West, a particular corporation, a legal body, near-person, and receptacle of a name.

US West heard those curses. That’s why they are no longer US West, but the as yet not-so-cursed Qwest.

Here we arrive at a crucial distinction between names and words. Names can be cursed. Names accumulate curses. Names attach to persons and to entities perceived as persons, and they collect the feelings we have for those entities.

How cursed can a name become? Ask Seattle Housing Authority. But don’t call them that when you ask them. Call them PorchLight. Or don’t ask them. Ask anybody else. Typical reaction to hearing the name “Seattle Housing Authority” -- “Boo.” Typical reaction to hearing the name “PorchLight” -- “Huh?”

It’s part of the American Way. The accursed change their names and they expect everyone to forget the old names. And we do, because we want to reserve the same right for ourselves. We want to be able to declare bankruptcy if necessary, change the name, get all new credit cards, move to the next great “growth center” (it’s Houston, the last I heard) and start a new career, or as we put it, “make a new life for ourselves.”

It’s only possible if everyone agrees to let it be possible. So it has to be part of the social contract.

What I’m getting at is, some day I could put Copyright Doctor Wes Browning away and start calling myself something like Flash Weston or the Writer Formerly Known as Wes, and this being America I could probably pull it off, even without incorporating. And rightly so.

Thursday, February 8, 2001

Increasing Awareness Through Fairness

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if everybody was treated the same way homeless people are. When I first heard about faith-based initiatives that’s what it sounded like to me -- we were going to arrange to do all government business through churches the way the missions do the soup kitchens.

That could be pretty enlightening for the general public. That’s something I could support.

For example, suppose whenever anybody wanted a fishing license, they had to go to a local church and sit through a half hour sermon to the effect that if they weren't such sinners they would be the CEOs of corporations and have figured out how to have fish flown in to them. That might be enlightening.

What if they ran Medicare like they run the mission down the street? Say you’re on Social Security, you’re old, you have cancer, and you need pain-killer. The government sends you to a mission, you have to show up at the door no later than 4:30, the sermon starts at 4:35, NO LATE-COMERS, we don't care how much pain you're in, this is Christ's time, you'll get your pain-killer when it's your turn, and while you're waiting you'll find a hymnal at your seat. You don't have to sing to the Lord, but if you had let Jesus in your heart years ago you never would have landed here. Look at the pain you're in, it's proof you hate God in your heart. Oh, yes, and if you expect to come back for more FREE pain-killer you'd better spend an hour sweeping the vestibule, whether it needs it or not.

What if everybody's grandparents got treated that way when they needed help? That might be enlightening.

Why stop at spreading the soup kitchen experience around? Let’s think of some more ways that everybody else can share in the homeless experience!

Here in Seattle, homeless people who have tents aren’t allowed to set them up anywhere, because such living arrangements are unsafe, according to the government. They aren’t even allowed to to sleep in tents on private land with the owner’s permission. Can we think of a way to share that experience with everyone?

Well, I couldn’t think of anything, but Fairfax County, Virginia, found a way.

People in the government of Fairfax County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., have apparently decided that they don’t have enough homeless people. Too many people are living in the houses of Fairfax County. They have decided it’s time to put a stop to all that.

They are trying to get a law passed to prohibit anyone from sleeping anywhere except in a bedroom. As of this writing, it appears that the Virginia Legislature would allow such an ordinance to be put into effect, according to an article in the Washington Post.

You see, poor people have been driving down property values (gee, what a shame, that housing should cost less) in Fairfax by letting too many people live with them in their apartments and houses. When your neighbors put enough friends and relatives in every living room and every kitchen and hallway and they all have Hondas and Sonys, you know, pretty soon you’re having to park all the way out in New Jersey and listening to sixteen kinds of salsa at once all hours of the day and night, if you know what I mean.

That’s right, someone just might think that the purpose of the law might have something to do with ethnic interests involving immigrant populations. But its sponsors deny that they are targetting minorities. They say they are preserving parking spaces and peace and quiet.

Why can’t we do something like that here in Seattle? Let’s have a law that prohibits people from sleeping on their own living room couches. We’ll tell them it’s for their own good. That might be enlightening.