Thursday, September 19, 2002

Second Happ'nin

Last year we here at Real Change celebrated our seventh year of putting out this rag. We did this for two reasons. One, any excuse for a party. Two, "seven" has Biblical significance. You've got seven days of creation, seven years of feast, seven years of famine, seven seals of the Book of Judgment, stuff like that. We wanted to plug in to that kind of action, 'cause the Bible is happ'nin.

Of course the feast/famine scenario did concern me at the time. I wondered what the next seven years could bring, given that the first seven went reasonably well. I thought, uh-oh, the second seven just likely may be reasonably rotten.

So far my fear has been realized. Seven years of Real Change was followed within the month by 9/11/01 and the ensuing economic downturn and social paranoia.

You'd think that as more people face poverty there would be more appreciation for those who have already been poor, but it doesn't work like that. You'd think that when someone earning, say, fifty thousand a year, has had to take a five thousand dollar annual pay cut, the hardship might help her/him identify with the guy who gets next to nothing on GAU, but NO. Instead, he/she blames the guy on GAU for the missing five thousand.

Many times this past year, lying awake at night, spinning the wheels in my brain, I have wondered what would have happened if all the victims on 9/11 had been homeless. Suppose, instead of flying planes into those towers, the same terrorists had managed to simultaneously bomb and obliterate twenty or thirty fully occupied homeless shelters all across the US. I hate to say it, but I don't think we would be in a recession now. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think we would be talking now about eliminating Saddam Hussein. I don't even think we would have attacked the Taliban or pursued Osama to the edge of the world. I think the general American public would have shrugged the whole thing off the way they shrug off famine in Somalia.

The good news: war with Iraq will probably only last a few weeks. The bad news: nothing good will be accomplished by it. Oh, some weapons of mass destruction might get destroyed, but only by means of mass destruction. An evil dictator will lose power, but the resulting turmoil will grow new evil dictators. The American economy will not benefit from the brief war; it will only serve to raise expectations in time for the November elections. In fact, if the war doesn't happen by November, it will probably be postponed altogether until 2004.

Don't get me wrong. Real Change itself is doing OK in its second seven years. But our environment has taken a noticeable turn for the worse. I wouldn't call it famine yet, but I wouldn't exactly call it feast either. Knock on wood.

So you all should understand why I haven't been too terribly eager to admit that this column just passed its own seven-year mark in August. "Anniversary? What anniversary? Look! Isn't that Osama bin Laden over there in the rugby shirt and jeans? (Columnist runs and hides.)"

Yes. I have been doing this for seven years, and the thought of that puts me in the mind to run away to Bora Bora. What could the next seven years be like? Will I again succumb to duck-licking? Will my muse, Cindy Holly, stick with me? Will I ever write in iambic tetrameter again?

Looking back at the last seven years is hard for me, because there are so few successes. OK, so we didn't end homelessness. I don't know how, but we screwed that one up. We also didn't end poverty. I kick myself every day for that.

On the other hand, we have had our victories. Or we can pretend that we have. For instance, this is the second column in a row in which we have used the word "happ'nin". But we are most proud of convincing the Seattle Times that "Dilly Dally Alley" was an icky name for their comics page (see "induced retching", this column, May 16, '02.)

In seven years, the Times comics page. In fourteen years, who knows? Maybe something pretty good.

Thursday, September 5, 2002

It's a Happ'nin!

Recently I was talking about how I am stupid. I was saying, actually, that everyone is stupid. The trick is to figure out, for each one of us, how. One of the ways that I am stupid is that I suck at history.

I don't completely suck at history. For example, I can be a part of history, no problem. You could in theory go back to certain of those old news tapes of events ("happ'nins") in the sixties and find me. OK, I would be the guy on the edge of the shot looking like I got lost on the way to the chess club, but I'm, like, there.

My problem is, I don't know where there was. In the case of the sixties this makes me good at history, because there wasn't any there there, actually. But it doesn't work for other times.

I first realized how much I was going to suck at history right at the beginning, when my third grade teacher was explaining to my class that history had to do with things like the Hundred Years War and some French girl who got herself burned at the stake and that that would be on the test. I looked around and I didn't see any charred remains, know what I mean? How should I know this girl got roasted? Then I found out that we were even supposed to know WHEN she got roasted, down to the exact year, and that it was HUNDREDS of years ago, and I knew this history thing was not for me.

One of my big problems with history was figuring out why, when we were talking about battles and what famous people were getting burned at the stake, THAT was history, but when we were talking about, say, ancient customs and what kind of culture they had, our history books were supposed to be closed because talking about culture was some kind of social studies. If history isn't social studies, what is it? I still don't get that.

Sometimes people come along with audio-visual aids that help. So back when Masterpiece Theater showed its TV version of Winston Churchill's book, the First Churchills, I learned a thing or two about history then. I learned, among other things, what papists were, that there were such people as Roundheads, that in the olden days (at least ca 1700) everybody was incredibly erudite, and that there might be worse things than just being burned at the stake, parts of you could be burned separately in front of you. Ouch!

The other thing I learned was that Winston Churchill, a former prime minister of England, who wrote the book, must have been incredibly erudite himself. Or else he couldn't have wrote it.

Speaking of audio-visual aids, I believe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also must suck at history but unlike me doesn't know it, has been watching too much of the History Channel. Mr. Rumsfeld is displaying all the signs of a man whose knowledge of the history of the world consists mainly in knowing how to make blowing up sounds. I wouldn't mind but now he's favorably comparing George W. Bush to the afore-mentioned Winston Churchill.

I mean, I didn't know Churchill. He wasn't a friend of mine. But shee-yeah, right.

I'd be less likely to scoff if Rumsfeld wanted to call GW Bush the William McKinley of the new millennium. Not that Churchill wasn't an imperialist in his own day, he was, he was, but I can visualize Bush being McKinleyesque without cracking up.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about in this column. What I wanted to talk about was the art of making blowing up sounds. I don't think it's wrong to be good at making blowing up sounds. I think it's a shame that more people aren't practiced at making convincing explosive noises with their mouths.

I firmly believe that the reason Rumsfeld and Bush want war with Iraq is because they have no buddies to play war with who can make good artillery and blowing up sounds.

I urge everyone who is adept at making blowing up sounds to contact the White House and offer their services in this regard. Thank you.