Wednesday, December 24, 2003

There's Always One In Every Decision


The good news: a panel of the 2nd US Court of Appeals finally, FINALLY, told the Bush administration that simply declaring someone an "enemy combatant" did not provide them with an excuse to deny that person a lawyer or rights to a trial. The bad news: it isn't over.

Jose Padilla, a US citizen, was arrested in Chicago in May 2002 and has been held in a navy brig in South Carolina for a year and a half. He hasn't been allowed to see his lawyers. Although the government has said that Padilla was involved in a dirty bomb terrorist plot he hasn't been charged with a crime in any court of law. The view of the government is that they didn't even have to say what he was supposed to be guilty of, it was enough for them to declare that Mr. Padilla was an "enemy combatant" to detain him in the brig FOR LIFE in ISOLATION if they wanted to do so.

Bush's people still think that's the way it should work and will probably appeal. They are no doubt encouraged by the fact that one member of the 3 judge panel actually sided with them. The idea of the dissenting opinion was that the president needs the power to detain people who may be a threat to the public.

Let's reflect on that dissenting opinion to get a clear idea in our own minds as to what a screaming imbecile that one lame judge is.

The man has been detained for one and a half years. The immediate threat is over. HE'S IN THE BRIG. He's detained already. The issue isn't the detention. His arrest was proper. The issue is, once you've got him, YOU STILL HAVE TO LET HIM SEE A LAWYER AND TRY HIM AND LET HIM GO IF HE TURNS OUT TO BE INNOCENT.

And oh yes, the Bush Administration has had A YEAR AND A HALF to do that. Did I make that clear enough? A friggin YEAR AND A HALF.

Here is a personal note for that one lame judge: * Guess what? I think you're a threat to the American people. Good thing I'm not the president or I might declare your ass enemy combatant material and put you in isolation for, oh I don't know, how about for YEAR AND A HALF?! * -- Ha, ha, just kidding -- Dr. Wes.

Speaking of South Carolina, that was where police stormed a school recently and searched a hundred students for illegal drugs, some of them at gunpoint, because their principal thought it would be swell. What we have here is another threat to the American people. There are getting to be too many of these.

I don't expect the police to know or understand the constitution. That would be dreaming. But is it asking too much for a school principal to have read it with comprehension?

What part of the Fourth Amendment does that principal not grasp, I wonder? Was it the part about "the right of the people to be secure… against unreasonable searches?" Was he not aware that minors also constitute people? Was it the part about how search warrants were required to be specific? How specific is searching every kid in a school hallway whether they have done anything suspicious or not just because a crime may or may not have at one time occurred in that hallway days or weeks earlier by completely different people?

Here's another one, folks. Say you're on vacation in Guadalajara, Mexico, and our government, or some imbecile in it, decides they want to incarcerate you for life without charges or a hearing. Here's how they could do that. They would seize you in Mexico without clearance from the Mexican authorities. Then, they would take you to Guantanamo Base ("Gitmo") and imprison you with all the Taliban, as an "enemy combatant" (It doesn't matter if you are or not, they don't have to prove that part. They just have to declare it.)

Gitmo, a secure US military enclave, isn't really America, so all that constitution BS doesn't apply. -- that's the essence of our government's actual legal position as they fight for that power to the Supreme Court. What a crock.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Housed Man Eats German

Since our last column was about such a morbid subject as the death penalty, I've decided this time to lighten things up: Let's talk about consensual cannibalism!

Until last week I didn't think of consensual cannibalism as anything more than a fun idea for a grotesque novel. While I have often fantasized about slaying and devouring my enemies I've never entertained the idea of eating a willing dinner, especially not one that was still talking and asking me how I liked him.

But then Armin Meiwes, a 42-year old German computer technician got himself charged for killing and eating a 43-year old man who had asked him to do so. I feel the intense need to quote Eric Cartman at this juncture: "Holy crap, dude! This is really [beeped]-up right here!"

I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, "Dr. Wes, how can you make light of this horrible situation? Cannibalism is such a gross and heinous act." Yes, but what I think is if you can't make fun of people who practice the occasional consensual cannibalism, who can you make fun of?

Besides, it's not like I'm going to gross you all out with the gruesome details of Mr. Meiwes confession or from the videotape he made of the slaughter and feast. That would be obscene and I am totally opposed to public obscenity. I believe obscenity should be done in the privacy of one's own homes. Just like Mr. Meiwes was doing. Sort of.

But there is still so much to talk about that isn't gruesome. For example, there is Mr. Meiwes' confession that his ideal meal would be someone like the slim, blond, Sandy from the 60's TV series Flipper. How can you thoroughly detest a man who adores Flipper's boyfriend?

Mr. Meiwes was in fact caught because he was soliciting a second cannibalee (cannibant? cannibait?) on the Internet as the meat from his first, a Mr. Brandes, was becoming used up. At that time he expressed his disappointment in Brandes to others, saying that Brandes had been too fat and older than he expected, and he had been in too much of a hurry to be eaten. Mr. Meiwes preferred lean meat and wanted time to get to know his meal personally before jumping into butchery. From Meiwes' point of view, Mr. Brandes was the culinary equivalent of a fat slut. "If I wanted to eat someone uncommunicative, I could've slaughtered a sow," he must have thought.

The really funny (peculiar) thing about this story isn't so much in the details but in the comparative lack of interest in it by our US media. What's up with that? It isn't because of the castration bit, which I've so mercifully omitted. Our news media didn't restrain themselves covering the Bobbitts. It isn't because of the cannibalism itself, or we wouldn't have heard so much about Jeffrey Dahmer.

I think everyone was left speechless because the act was consensual. On the one hand you have the naïve social libertarians who have always said that what consenting adults do is nobody's business, but who never had this in mind. On the other hand you've got the moral absolutists who have always said that what consenting adults do is going to get all of them front row seats in hell. But they're all keeping quiet, afraid this will turn into the new fad, and their children will line up for it.

After all, look what happened when they made a fuss about sodomy. The Supreme Court went and declared it legal! Now, as all the conservatives know, our children are sodomizing one another in our grade schools while our liberally educated teachers cheer them on. Clearly the conservatives made a strategic error on that one.

Or, there's another possibility. The word is that Mr. Meiwes lived in a charming 44-room 18th century manor, with his own garden and a barbecue out back. Mr. Meiwes has been decidedly homeful. He is one of Germany's many non-street people.

Could it be that the US media, which are dominated by homeful people, are once again covering up the fact that their kind are prone to such sickness?

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Good Grief, Indeed

I'm in for it this time: I let myself get talked into making this column about the death penalty and Ridgway's sentence deal. Look out, everybody, we're in for a laugh riot now!

This situation came about because our beloved "editor" Adam "Designated Cat-Herder" Holdorf wrote an Op Ed piece last issue (Nov. 13) on the same subject entitled "Beyond Retribution." That article contained elements which various of us other "editors" on the "Editorial Committee" thought was, well, let's just say we thought Adam was experimenting with unusual pesto recipes when he wrote it, if you get my drift.

Now we all know that anybody who reads Adventures in Poetry for fact-based analyses of deep contemporary issues would eat cardboard for the vitamins. We hate facts here the most. We hate detailed analyses the second most.

Growing up I had many traumatic experiences involving facts and analyses. I was repeatedly forced to compare and contrast things. It was torture. This one may have scarred me for life: "Compare and contrast the maple producing industry of the Northeastern United States to the production of papyrus in Egypt circa 1000 BC, indicating the social effect either has had. Be as specific as possible and incorporate at least one pie chart."

Because of that psychological scarring I now constantly make fun of facts and analyses. A day isn't complete unless I have found a fact to mercilessly tease and poke for my sick amusement. While I avoid targeting innocent people who might get in the way, I sometimes will inadvertently slip and tease a human who just happens to be standing next to an intelligent critique. I deeply regret these incidents. I want to especially apologize for the "pus-filled wonk" comment some time ago. It was horribly, horribly, wrong.

So I am naturally very reluctant to comment on Adam's Op Ed. But I must. Adam's piece was an intelligent critique if I ever saw one. It had a lot of good parts to it. Therefore, I need to pick at it. It is my twisted purpose in life, thanks to my twisted nurturing.

One of the very good parts of it is the part where Adam says that capital punishment is in no way a deterrent to murder. As strong as that statement looks, it isn't strong enough. There is strong evidence that capital punishment actually increases murder and other kinds of violent crime. There are other factors affecting the murder rate, such as economic and social and cultural conditions, that can mask these increases, but really the evidence is getting so massive that continued denial of it is beginning to look seriously stupid.

I mean if you're standing on railroad tracks and you hear a whistle blowing, you get off the tracks. You don't stand there and insist that it might not be a train.

It's a matter of survival. The evidence strongly supports the view that a brutalization effect is at work that is stronger than any deterrent effect. So to persist in supporting capital punishment is ASKING for more murders.

Yet it is now being suggested that this deal with Ridgway to trade his death penalty for confessions provides a new justification for the death penalty. In Adam Holdorf's words, "It indicates that, however cruel and arbitrary the death penalty may be, its existence functions as a tool to coax confession."

No! We can't be mandating the death penalty as a tool to engineer good grief management outcomes. "Coax confession?" The word is "extract" and we don't need to go there. We don't do torture. This is morally equivalent and subject to the same uncertainties. Torture does not guarantee truth.

What we need is to take the step to humanize society by doing away with the death penalty once and for all.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Pigs Deny Sucking

My favorite line from all the movies put together: "It's not my fault!" – as said by both Han Solo and Lando Calrissian in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back.

I've always dreamed of an opportunity to say that, dramatically, while a wookie moans behind me. Other things I've wished I could say, dramatically, with or without a wookie on hand, are, "I sense a disturbance in The Force," and, "You still have much to learn, my young apprentice." I don't think I'll ever get the chance to pull those off convincingly, but surely I should be able to manage "It's not my fault!" at least if I drop the requirement of a wookie accompaniment.

What started me thinking about this recently was the announcement by Prince Charles' royal personal secretary that His Royalness didn't do it, "it" being unspecified.

Why didn't I ever think of that? All this time since Empire Strikes Back I could have been shouting "It's not my fault!" at random intervals without ever indicating what it was that wasn't my fault.

I'm going to do it right now: It's not my fault! And I'm not telling you what it is I didn't do. All I'll tell you is that someone may have said I was witnessed in a compromising incident, which is all England will let you know about Charles. By the way I don't know what Charles and that other man were compromising about, although I think it had something to do with the placement of their genitalia, and I scarcely see how you can call that a "compromise", but I guess to some people it's all about the art of negotiation. Anyway, I didn't do it either.

I also never said I wanted to come back in my next life as a feminine hygiene product. But I would like to come back as a rich prince of a constitutional monarchy.

Speaking of not doing anything, in the very same paper where I learned that Prince Charles didn't do it I read that the City of Tacoma didn't do it either. When it rains it pours, and when it doesn't rain all the water everywhere gets sucked up into space by giant planet-sucking pigs, right? That's what I've noticed.

The City of Tacoma has been sued for not protecting Crystal Brame from her husband and Tacoma's police chief David Brame, who had threatened her and physically abused her. You may recall that last April David Brame eventually murdered Crystal after Tacoma apparently did precisely nothing to protect Crystal, even though she specifically asked for help from Tacoma officials.

What Tacoma says now is, "It's not our fault!" Furthermore they say that if it were their fault it would also be other people's fault too, so there. For example the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote about the Brames' divorce one day before the murder-suicide. This proves that the P-I knew that David Brame was a threat to Crystal Brame, and yet the P-I did not do anything to protect her.

I mean, think of that! The P-I had almost all the same facts that Tacoma did (all except for maybe some that Tacoma was hiding, but hey, that's another issue), and yet the P-I didn't take David Brame's gun away from him, did they? No! And the P-I didn't suspend him as police chief either! So why isn't the P-I being sued, huh? That's what Tacoma wants to know.

Other entities whose fault it could be as much as Tacoma's include Pierce County and Gig Harbor, because the Brames lived there and they didn't take David's gun away from him, and an on-line publisher who didn't do all the same stuff the P-I didn't do.

I have a confession to make. I read the article the P-I printed the day before the murder. And I also did not suspend David Brame or disarm him.

So what do Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Tacoma, Prince Charles, Gig Harbor, the P-I, and I have in common? We didn't do it, it's not our fault.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

We Were Number Seven!

I've got Seattle neighborhoods on my mind. I think the neighborhoods of Seattle are what make this city, or whatever it is, great. It used to be the smell. Back in the sixties downtown Seattle smelled like rotten fish heads, and some of us thought that was pretty cool. But, now, the pretty cool thing about Seattle is its neighborhoods.

Most people don't know just how many Seattle neighborhoods there are. Anyone who has ever watched Almost Live, live or in reruns, knows at least 10 or 11 easy areas of Seattle like Ballard, Wallingford, the U District, Belltown, Pioneer Square, the International District, Rainier Valley, Georgetown (maybe), and West Seattle (the Kent of Seattle Proper.)

But how many of you knew that West Seattle isn't considered a neighborhood itself but is composed of nine neighborhood pieces, namely Alki, North Admiral, Junction, Seaview, Fairmont Park, Genesee, Gatewood , Fauntleroy and Arbor Heights? I certainly couldn't unless I were cribbing off of the neighborhood list of The Internet is to die for.

When you add it all up our government has identified somewhere around 95 to 97 neighborhoods, depending on whether you lump some together for consistency's sake, or let them all hang out.

They each have their own history and character and reputation. For example, once when I was in college on the East Coast I found myself by chance in a room full of guys who were all from Seattle just like I was. Everybody had to say what neighborhood they were from and when they got around to asking me I told them I was from Mid Beacon Hill and they all laughed. Especially the guy from Broadway. "You're from Beacon Hill? What a loser! Ha, ha!" he said. What a great memory.

Fortunately I have since moved up in life and have lived in more highly regarded neighborhoods. When, a few years out of college I found myself living in a car, it just didn't make sense to park it on Beacon Ave when I could be part of the "In" crowd and park on "The" Ave. Since then I have slept in an alley in Belltown (at a time when it was the seventh coolest neighborhood in the whole country!) and I now live in subsidized housing in Pioneer Square, or as I like to think of it, the hot neighborhood where the cool all began.

A couple of weeks ago the One Night Count of homeless people was held and the big news was that the overnight homeless occupation of Ballard increased by 132 percent this year. It looks like somebody else has got the idea: if I have to sleep outside, at least I can sleep somewhere interesting. Seattle neighborhoods are catching on with our homeless people and I think it's fantastic. I want to see them have to do the count in Blue Ridge next year. By the way, the view of the Sound from Blue Ridge is fabulous in October – so everybody make your travel reservations early!

Speaking of Seattle neighborhoods, I want to complain about the City of Seattle Charter Amendment No. 5 that's being voted on soon. How lame is this? They want to elect city council members from nine city districts instead of city-wide.

Nine? Nine? Out of over ninety neighborhoods they're going to rig nine districts? ARE THEY MAD?

What this city needs to do is wallow in its neighborhood-icity. We've got the neighborhoods, now we need the Neighborhood Representatives. We need a Seattle Congress, a legislative branch consisting of a House and something else I haven't thought of yet.

We need at least one, maybe two, representatives from each of Seattle's 95 or so neighborhoods to legislate and debate and advise and consent and all the other things that representatives do.

Then, and only then, will we be able to witness a roll call in a Seattle House of Reps and hear a guy from Ballard stand up during roll call and talk for fifteen minutes about Norwegians. It would be almost as good as getting the smell back.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

What If Chihuly Signs It?

Let's talk about bongs and insane drug-paraphernalia convictions!

I have never used a bong. I'm not even sure I know what a bong is exactly. But I love saying the word bong, and I know I'm not alone in that.

It often surprises people to look at me and hear me say that I have never used a bong. But there are two good reasons. One, all my hippy friends in the sixties and seventies had plenty of rolling papers. And two, I've never liked marijuana anyway. It makes me cough my lungs up and by the time it gets me high I'm too sick to enjoy it.

Still, I'm of the age to have had all those hippy friends, and yes, my children, I did inhale. Just not from a bong.

But I've looked at a lot of them. Some are very artistic. I've learned a little from looking at them. As best as I can tell, they are pot-smoke delivery systems. That, I believe, is a principal defining characteristic of a bong.

The other thing that I have learned from looking at bongs is that you don't need to buy one to smoke pot. Let's say worse comes to worse and you are desperate for a toke from a bong. I have learned that all you need to do is procure an ordinary legal pipe for smoking tobacco and make minor adjustments to it, and that will do just as well.

Because of all that, and the ready availability of the afore-mentioned rolling papers, I am absolutely certain that no-one has ever failed to smoke pot due to an inability to buy artfully crafted bongs on the Internet.

Can you imagine someone saying, "Oh golly, now that Tommy Chong has gone to federal prison for making and selling glass bongs on the Internet, I can't buy his wonderful glass bongs, and therefore I won't smoke any of this evil grass that I have purchased on the black market through other sources?"

Let me be clear on this. I don't know what Chong's bongs look like. I don't know that they are as artistic as they've been made out to be. I don't know that Chong himself ever had anything to do with making them either. All I know is he lent his name to the selling of bongs and the feds busted him for it and he's gone to prison for what could be nine months, barring an appeal, and that's totally insane.

Let's suppose the public service ads are true and that smoking marijuana kills people like flies in a zapper. It would still be the marijuana that did it, not the bongs.

So why do we have a law against selling bongs? Because this whole country has gone freaking bat-spit nuts, that's why.

It's gotten so that I don't even have to look for absurdity anymore, it finds me.

For the last two years the administration has been telling me that the most important thing in the world for Americans to worry about is this country's security. Because of the need for security we had to go to war against two other countries. We had to pass a law making it legal to wiretap anybody and never tell them we did it or why.

We've always been told, at least since the Truman administration, that one of our needs for security is the need for good intelligence as specifically provided by the CIA and its undercover agents. And by the way, if they're undercover, it's for our blessed safety as a nation, right?

But when a right-wing columnist outs a CIA agent the Justice Department looks the other way for months, even though our security has presumably been harmed by it.

Meanwhile an old comedian gets nine months for capitalizing on a stale joke. I wouldn't mind so much if they'd just stop lying and telling me it's for my own good.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Mind Your Manners

It is now possible for any of us to be secretly imprisoned without charges indefinitely by making creative use of existing anti-terrorist laws. So what do people worry about? They worry that there's too much obscene language on prime time network television.

For one thing, there can't be too much. That's like saying there's too many Bulgarians. The Bulgarians aren't hurting anybody, are they? So how can there be too many of them?

OK, maybe some Bulgarian has popped you in the nose recently. So then maybe that wouldn't be a good illustration of my point. So instead of talking about Bulgarians, we'll talk about wide ties. Now I understand that a lot of you hate wide ties. Hell I hate ties altogether. But no one was ever injured by a wide tie, at least not by it's wideness. Therefore there is no such thing as there being too many wide ties, even if there may be far too many ties.

Likewise, there may be far too much prime time network television, but there can't be too much obscene language on what there is of it. Because none of it hurts anybody, no matter how much they whine and tell you it does.

Let me put it another way. If any of these prudes who don't like obscene language want television that doesn't have any, let them do what everybody else in this country has to do when they want something they don't have. Let them pay for it. It's called cable, and it's widely available these days.

Hey, I want to watch South Park on free prime time network TV and listen to weird little fat cartoon kids from Colorado talk about unnatural sex. Is Congress going to pass a law so that I can get what I want? No! I have to pay for South Park. So why should these obscenity-hating whiners get free obscenity-less TV? What makes them better than me?

Some of you are probably saying to yourselves right now, "Self, if Dr. Wes likes obscene language so much why doesn't he use it all the time? Better yet, why doesn't he go away to Obscenity Land or Obscenitrovia or whatever?"

Fair enough, except for one thing: this IS Obscenity Land. If you don't believe me go ride a bus. Get out and meet people. And no, it didn't just start being Obscenity Land when Berkeley Breathed started using the word "suck" in Bloom County. People were using a lot worse s-words years before that.

In fact, speaking of worse s-words and foul mouthed little kids, way back when I was 9 years old back in 1958, during the Eisenhower administration right here in Prudezuela, the other little kids on my block promised to beat the crap out of me if ever I uttered any single sentence that didn't at least once use the s-word that signifies "crap." The South Park kids would have gotten beat up all the time in my neighborhood, because sometimes they say sentences like "What?" Where I lived you had to say "What's this [s-word]?" or eight kids spent an hour taking turns scraping your face on the pavement.

So why don't I use the crap-signifying s-word all the time now? I'll tell you. I don't do it because I moved away from that insane neighborhood and those kids didn't follow me, and they all grew up and don't care anymore anyway, so now I don't have to say the s-word if I don't want to. So I don't.

After I moved out of the insane neighborhood I moved into another insane neighborhood. In the new insane neighborhood you were ostracized if you said the words "golly" or "heck" or "gosh darn it."

This is the one constant: wherever I have been in this country, people have tried to tell me what kind of language I could use, instead of being content with controlling their own mouths.

Why is that? And why are we imprisoning people without trials? That's offensive.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Nuke Daddy Was Jerk

Last week Edward Teller died, and I was reminded what a truly monumentally shallow guy I am.

You should all know who Edward Teller was. In case you've forgotten, he was the so-called father of the H-bomb who may also end up being called the father of the forthcoming anti-missile system. Either of those two facts would make him an extremely important figure in modern history, but what do I think about him? I'll tell you what I think about him. I think he didn't have good manners. That's what I think about him.

It's all because I'm so incredibly shallow and the fact that I only care about what happens to me.

OK, that's not entirely true. I am interested in the events in Liberia, even though I have never been there and have no personal connection to the place. But, on the other hand, would I be so interested if the new president there wasn't named President Blah? I think not. So that example only proves again how shallow I am.

I am so shallow, I am more interested in how shallow I am than I am in whether Seattle gets an espresso tax or not, or whether the police will make marijuana use a higher or lower priority than unlicensed flag pole sitting, for example.

I am so shallow that yesterday when I was talking to someone about Issaquah I got wrapped up in trying to guess what people from Issaquah should call themselves and it ended up being the high point of my day. You know, if you're from Seattle you're a Seattleite, if you're from New York you're a New Yorker, if you're from San Francisco you're a San Franciscan, if you're from North Bend, you're a Bender. What are you if you're from Issaquah? An Issaquant? An Issaquator? I didn't really want to know, I just wanted to make up answers for an hour or two, but the guy I was talking to got annoyed and shut me up after a minute.

That sort of thing happens a lot when you're as shallow as I am.

One time in college I was required to take a physics lab course. They gave me things like Bunsen burners and oscilloscopes and expected me to perform serious physics experiments with them and prove that I could be the next Edward Teller. Instead I set fire to stuff and tried to make cool designs on the oscilloscope screens. Later they let me at an air table, one of those tables where you can slide things around almost without friction. I took the hockey pucks they provided and crashed them repeatedly into each other. It was great until one of them flew off the table and nearly beaned the lab instructor. Boy, what a snoot he turned out to be. You'd think I had nuked a city or something.

Speaking of nuking cities, did I mention that Edward Teller also had a hand in getting Roosevelt to set up the Manhattan Project? So he wasn't just the H-bomb daddy, but he was also kind of at least a godparent to the regular A-bomb. Talk about your weapons of mass destruction.

But I'm so shallow I won't even try to judge Teller for that. Nor would I try to judge him for any of his other well-known traits, such as that he was a good piano player, or that he kicked ass at table tennis, or that he was a great teacher.

One night years ago, at a time when Teller was in Seattle promoting his anti-missile ideas, I was homeless and happened to be walking dejectedly along a path on the UW campus when a group of five or six men in suits came charging straight toward me shoulder to shoulder. I was in danger of being run over. I had no time to get out of the way. But the guy in the middle of the pack, the one with the bushy eyebrows, looked me right in the eye and yelled, "GET OUT OF MY WAY!!"

It was Teller. Fortunately the reporter following next to him separated from Teller at the last minute so they could pass around me.

Now, finally, Teller himself is stepping aside for all the rest of us, too late.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

No Shortage of Scapegoats

I have a real challenge this time. It has been suggested by none other than our Production Manager and writer Molly "What's That Accent?" Rhodes that I talk here today about those attacks on homeless people that occurred in Cleveland about three weeks ago.

Molly reported on those attacks in our North American Newsbriefs last issue. Four kids, aged 16-19, videotaped themselves using a stun gun to paralyze sleeping homeless people. They then urinated upon them, among other things. How funny is that? Not very.

It's even less funny than we reported. For instance the authorities only charged the kids with misdemeanor assault charges. That in spite of the fact that they attacked at least six people with the stun gun and at least one person was also struck on the head with a rock. This was a terrorist attack on people who were sleeping, who were harming no one.

Even less funny: three days after the kids were caught and the story was all over the Cleveland news a radio co-host at Extreme Radio WXTM/92.3 FM in Cleveland went to the site of the attacks and exploited homeless people à la "Bum Fights" by offering them $10 and free pizza to be shocked with a stun gun. Three let themselves be shocked and ten more were desperate enough to get in line for it, and the majority of callers to the show thought it was funny, according to the other co-host.

Last night fellow editor and writer babe Anitra Freeman was riding a bus and wished to enter a conversation but for the first time in possibly years she was unable to butt in, because the people talking were so engaged. What stirred their passions so much? They were convinced America was headed toward fascism and there was no stopping it.

There sure are a lot of the signs. I see three sides of fascism coming into place. On the one side you have a government that only cares about you if you are a corporation. That's your basic idea of fascism, government for the corporations. Mussolini really promoted the hell out of that aspect of it.

You also have the side represented by these four teenagers in Cleveland. These aren't rich kids we're talking about. They lived in a slum. They may have been nearly as poor as the people they attacked.

Did you all read very carefully what we wrote about Lyndon LaRouche's campaign? Polly Keary wrote: [LaRouche] wants to create an "International Youth Movement" in order to build "a large cadre of deployable youth" to reverse what he calls a decadent Baby Boomer culture.

Well isn't that special? Can you say, Brownshirts? So it will be Baby Boomers this time, instead of Jews? How pluralistic of him.

This country is full of recruits for the new Brownshirts. There are plenty of poor desperate youth ready to believe any message scapegoating any segment of society. Why not Baby Boomers? The media has already convinced everybody that Baby Boomers invented decadence. Never mind that there's plenty of decadence to go around in every generation and that the Boomers just got the big spotlight on them. That's what they get for growing up during the rise of mass media and television.

And of course, why not homeless people? Hell a lot of them are the same people anyway. Besides they're easy to find, and if you get them with a stun gun while they're sleeping they can't fight back, unlike some of those nasty Baby Boomers who have money and lawyers.

Where was I? Oh yes, I've been witnessing the rise of three sides to fascism. The third: the glorification of the masses. You have to convince the majority that they are superior to the scapegoated minorities. Let's see, the masses are Christian, let's pander to that.

Who will put these ingredients together and do to America what Hitler did to Germany? Does Bush have the charisma? Is LaRouche too sidelined? Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Dances With Squirrels

Like many of you I was fascinated this week by all the news about the Northeast electrical blackout. Who could have imagined that one night thousands of New Yorkers would have to sleep on sidewalks?

Seriously though, the numbers in the news are staggering. According to one report, 50 million people in the US were without power at one time, along with another several millions of Canadians the report didn't count.

Let's put that into perspective: That means 1 out of every 6 Americans had no power for many hours, which makes more news than if 1 in 6 Chinese were out of power for an entire century! To put it in perspective another way, 50 million Americans being without power is just like if all of France were out of power, except that Americans care!

Let's turn our attention now to reasons why the Northeast blackout occurred. We might as well since everyone else has, and we have nothing better to do with our time.

Experts and politicians (different people) have weighed in on this subject, beginning with Prime Minister Chrétien's bold assertion that it was New York's fault. Since then the arguments have been mainly over whether it was New York's fault or Ohio's fault. There are still some people though who think it could have started in Ottawa. Ha, ha, that was a joke. We all know Canada couldn't have done it. You have to be a superpower to screw up this big.

All I know about electricity I learned using a model train transformer to fry things, and by sticking one of my fingers in a light socket. Also, my Uncle Fred was a City Light lineman. He found fried squirrels all the time in his work.

So this is my main advice for people looking for the cause of this thing: Look for extremely dead squirrels. You may have to look several hundred yards from the power lines because Uncle Fred said sometimes they go airborne.

Once dead squirrels are found, one specific question invariably arises, "Hey Mister Technology, how can roasting and orbiting a squirrel result in so much loss of power?"

Answer: I'm not Mister Technology.

Still, I'll give it a shot. The electricity in an electrical grid system the size of what we are talking about (the family size) is like a long freight train loaded with, I don't know, french fries, coming down the tracks at a relativistic velocity. It all wants to go somewhere and you aren't going to be able to tell it, "No you have to sit here and wait while I look for this poor squirrel's next of kin." It will knock you out of the way to keep going on down the tracks.

OK, that explanation went nowhere.

Let's try again. Since electricity was first discovered, when Ben Franklin rubbed his hair with his rubber kite, electricity almost never gets rubbed anymore. So when the electricity finds the squirrel it gets all happy because it thinks it finally has a "friend" it can "dance" with. Unfortunately, we all know what happens when electricity "dances" with squirrels. So the squirrel goes bye forever and ever. That makes the electricity sad so it goes all mental…

Sorry, that one was going down a dead end, too.

I'll give it one more try. It's like this. Say you've got a system where all the money that gets poured into it just goes to make a few rich people who are pretending to run it a lot richer. Then it doesn't matter what happens, every couple of decades a squirrel is going to sidetrack your system, because it's going to be one gigantic piece of junk.

That sounds about right.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Whites Priced At Five Dollars Each

Let's talk about religion!

No, let's not talk about religion! I don't want the headaches! Let's talk about religious authorities instead. Don't religious authorities do the darndest things? I guess it's because they're authorities.

Take your imams, for example. With all the war and misery going on in highly Islamic quarters of the world these days, I would be very surprised if the world's imams weren't making pronouncements right and left. But the other day when I went looking on for a pronouncement or two to get the flavor of them, I didn't expect to see a fatwa on the importance of men tucking their shirts in. (Just so you know, the imam issuing the fatwa basically says tucking the shirt in isn't necessarily evil, although he personally would never do it.)

With that kind of focus on gender-specific grooming tips vis a vis fiery hell, you can all imagine for yourselves how the fatwa on homosexuality read on the very same page. Likewise re the archived fatwa on the same site concerning surgical hymen restoration. Hint from me on that one: "If you break it -- you pay for it." OK, that hint sucked. Let's try this one: "Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Now go publicly bury this bucket of kittens in your front yard, you harlot."

Speaking of homosexuality, I want to take time out to say that, although I am not myself a homosexual so far as I am aware of, I am deeply grateful that the Supreme court has now recognized my right to practice sodomy in the privacy of my own bedroom with consenting adults, because I've been doing it anyway.

Of course Islamic imams do not hold the monopoly on fatwas. The Vatican just issued one of their own on gay marriages. Having once been a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church (in my impetuous youth I favored the classics) I find its decrees delightful and fascinating. In much the same way that I find forced live oyster eating riveting. This particular decree compares especially well with the shirt tucking decree in its decreeness, or decree-osity.

Will someone please explain to me how exactly does allowing at least civil homosexual marriages undermine heterosexual marriages? What exactly do people think is going to happen? Do they think all the straight guys are going to wake up one morning and think, "Hey, I could have married one of my buds!" and immediately divorce the wife and ditch the kids and elope with Steve in accounting?

The Vatican decree whinges on and on about the blessed sanctity of procreation, as if allowing gay marriage is going to make one iota of difference to the frequency of condom failures during straight sex.

But enough of that nonsense. What I really want to talk about here isn't a fatwa or decree, but it's still coming from a religious authority. I want to talk about Bishop Fred Caldwell's decision to pay white people to come and diversify his overwhelmingly Black-attended church in Shreveport, Louisiana. Five dollars for Sunday masses, fifteen for Thursdays.

Whoa! Can you say "spiritual ho's?" My first reaction was to recall that when an impoverished homeless guy I was often bribed with food to attend meals. I thought: this just cuts through the BS. They pay the money; I can spend it the way I want. Maybe I don't want turkey tetrazinni. Maybe I'm in the mood for chicken diablo. It's my choice.

But then I thought, wait a minute, what's all this saying? I mean, first of all, how white do you have to be to collect your fee? Does a Quarter-white get $1.25 on Sundays? Does Michael Jackson get anything; does effort count? How about comportment?

You know, if it were me, in Louisiana, I'd pay more for an Asian than a white person, out of supply considerations.

When someone suggested that Bishop Fred might give the money to the poor instead, he said that that was the sort of thing Judas Iscariot would have proposed. I'm wondering: if Judas Iscariot were to tell Bishop Fred not to jump off a bridge, would he do it?

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Thanks For All The Beer

Last issue (North American Newsbriefs, July 10) we read about Those are the people in Chattanooga, TN, who are collecting donations to pass out beer for the homeless.

We love this idea. We (I mean I myself of course) have been saying for years that homeless people have as much right to decide for themselves whether they should imbibe alcoholic beverages as homeful people do.

What we really delight in is this information from the FAQ page at "… the fact is that less than half of the homeless we visit accept our beer." Bearing in mind that they are only talking about Chattanooga, nevertheless someone has finally succeeded in finding a way to substantiate our long stated observation that most homeless people aren't alcoholics, they're just people who don't have a proper place to live at the moment.

And what a straightforward method of proof it is. "Let's pass the stuff out and see who takes it!" To think that researchers have probably wasted tens of thousands of dollars for years trying to figure this one out with pencils and surveys.

The website also gives me hope by reminding me that there are decent generous people out there who really get it. It makes me want to acknowledge all the great generous folks I have encountered and benefited from over the years.

Yours truly (like most homeless people!) has never panhandled. Partly this is because I always found things to sell when I was broke. For example, there was the day I sold the naming rights to parts of my body. I started the day out with nothing. I charged one dollar for the naming rights to each body part. My first customer was this rag's founder Timothy Harris who paid a dollar to name my liver "Intrepid." Altogether I earned twelve dollars doing that.

But I have also found that if you just go about your life and do nothing unusual money can be pushed into your hands even AGAINST YOUR WILL!

For example, early one morning I was pacing back and forth in between St. James Cathedral and the Rectory. I was pacing because I was early for an appointment and had nowhere else to go, being too broke to go to a café or anywhere else. I wasn't panhandling, I didn't have my hand out, but along came this tall guy in a suit smoking a cigar and wouldn't you know it? He walks right up to my face, whips out a twenty and stuffs it into my shirt pocket, saying, "A friend told me to put this in the poor box, but I'd rather give it to someone who looks like they know what to do with it."

Another time I was in Belltown and on the street, so I visited the Denny Regrade Park at Third and Bell to relax a while. Right after I sat down in the park, two strangers sat down next to me and struck up a friendly conversation. They were openly passing a beer back and forth and generously offered me some.

I know what you're all thinking. You're thinking that, OK, maybe most homeless people aren't alcoholics, but Dr. Wes has a liver named Intrepid and for sure he's a lush and there's no way he would turn down free malt liquor in the park.

But there IS a way! For one thing, I hate the taste of malt liquor. I prefer lager, thank you. For another, I can't enjoy drinking any alcoholic beverages openly in a park with police looking over my shoulder. I told my new friends that they were at risk of being busted. Sure enough, only a minute later two security officers pedaled up and poured out the bottle. So the guys decided to leave the park and I tagged along so we could continue talking.

We were not twenty feet out of the park when an older guy with a torn T-shirt saw us and said, "You guys look like you could use some beer. Here, take this ten and get yourselves a couple of pitchers."

Yes, there is hope for humanity!

Thursday, July 10, 2003

18 for the Third Time

Let's whine about getting old!

Aging stinks. I just found out I've been eligible to join AARP for four years already. Gack.

At least I've had plenty of practice getting accustomed to this situation. It all started back in '84 when I was driving a cab and sleeping in the '69 Rambler. Something about sleeping on the front seat of a Rambler plus malnutrition plus nearly dying of exposure plus being rejected by normal society for months at a time resulted in premature gray hair.

So it was that when I was 35 a little back seat 6-year-old passenger of my cab said to me "You're old, aren't you?" Aren't little brats just adorable? I think so.

Immediately I looked for ways to cope with my new-found old age and I've been coping ever since.

Coping Mechanism Number One: Surrender. Not being able to do anything at the time about the sleeping in the car and the malnutrition etc. I decided to accept my new senior status. My first act of surrender was to go to a movie and announce proudly -- without being asked first -- that I wanted an adult ticket, because I was sure now that I was indeed an adult, finally. (If I was going to be a senior, I figured I had to pass through the intermediate stage.)

My second act of surrender occurred at the Jack in the Box, when the pasty-faced teenager behind the counter offered me the senior citizen discount. I took it. He didn't check my ID; I didn't check his IQ. Happy times.

Coping Mechanism Number Two: Avoid hitting up on 18 year olds. We all have a tendency to react against our old age by trying to curl up with someone who lets us forget it. This, I have learned, is a huge mistake. Besides spending money too fast, the young ones take too long to train and they don't remember anything important. That is why I now happily belong to Anitra "only 8 days younger" Freeman. My problem with her is just that, being 8 days younger, she can't remember the days from July 9 through July 16, 1949. Also, she refers to me as "the old fart." Also, she spends money too fast.

Coping Mechanism Number Three: Denial. A lot of people tell me denial is a bad thing, but I think it's peachy.

So for example, I have not just turned 54. Instead, I have turned 18 for the third time. Another fun form of denial is to skip celebrating birthdays altogether and start celebrating birth minutes each day. Not only does this mean you get cake and ice cream more often (or in my case more beef and bean burritos), but it spreads the pain of aging out thinly. "Oh yes, I'm older, but only by a day."

Of course the drawback to that last technique is that I am now at least 19,723.5 days old as you read this. I'll be twenty thousand in about 9 months. Ouch.

Coping Mechanism Number Four: Schadenfreude. Hey, it could be worse. I could be Strom Thurmond: 100 years and no longer counting. Or even unimaginably worse, I could be Chante Mallard, and be spending at least the next 25 years of my life, if I should live so long, waiting for parole on a fifty year sentence for killing a homeless man by neglecting to get aid for him after hitting him with my car because I chose to drive while being drugged out and stupid and not caring about any other human being except myself. I'd rather be 54 than be her any day.

Coping Mechanism Number Five: Whining.

Why does whining get such a bad rap? It's a victimless crime. (Anitra says this is not true.) It's like self-gratification: we all do it, if we have any sense. It relieves tension almost as well as watching reruns of our favorite TV garbage. Let's show whining the respect it deserves. Our mental health depends on it.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

African Wild Metaphors

Having been homeless a bunch of times has warped my conception of a good time. It used to be that a good time involved some activity. There had to be a convertible and a woman. I expected some state and federal laws to be broken. Two or three weeks' worth of spending money had to be thrown away within minutes. My idea of a good time is now and probably always ever will be to sit indoors someplace where I belong and not have to get up and move.

That's what I like about the zoo. What I can do at the zoo is pay my money (or someone else's money, I don't care) to get in, then find my way to the food pavilion, sit down with a burger and a drink and watch the other people at the zoo who are running around looking for animals to watch.

As many of you know, I am no longer homeless but live in a subsidized apartment building, the Union, run by the same people who run what's called the Downtown Emergency Service Center. These people, who also call themselves DESC, don't want me to just sit in my room and not get up. They try to entice me out of my room with ping-pong, bingo, parties, and games. Nothing much works until someone mentions a field trip to the zoo.

The zoo is wonderful. You've got your animals. Animals are cool. You've got your basic zoo paradigm: the animals are mostly locked up, but it's made to look like they aren't, if it's a good zoo. Every time I go to the zoo I think there has to be a wealth of political metaphor there. I think of Walden II, Brave New World, and lately the Matrix, and I'm sure I will have something insightful to say in this column about such metaphor, perhaps having seen the orangutans.

So last week I went to the zoo with a bunch of fellow residents of the Union. I couldn't wait to get my hands on some of those hot political metaphors I was going to write about, and then I would check out the snow leopard, and then I would retreat to the food pavilion to sit and not get up.

First we all rushed to see the tiger cubs. We studied our maps carefully and found our way to the tiger cub display. As we approached them I thought of all the injustices of child exploitation around the globe that I had ever heard of. I was thinking, boy, these are going to give me terrific insights. Finally we arrived to see them stretched out on some fake rocks in front of us. What a dearth of political metaphor they represented. I have never seen such a paucity of metaphor in a pair of cats as in those two. I have more political metaphor in my little toes.

Then we went to see the snow leopard. Whenever I had looked for the snow leopard in the past he was almost impossible to find thanks to his camouflage. There'll be a metaphor in that for sure, I thought.

Well, guess what. This year the snow leopard was out in plain view putting on a show for all the visitors. He wasn't hard to find. You could see, hear, and smell him as easily as an incontinent Great Dane. Not much political metaphor there.

There was a little relief in the form of the one neurotic porcupine. But I do neurosis all the time. I was hoping I'd find a metaphor that was more out of the way, a little less common. I can find neurotic at 3rd and Pine.

Finally, just as I was about to give up, our group approached the African Wild Dogs. As we walked up to them I could see four wild dogs running around their area in a single file, nose to tail, always in the same order. I shouted something stupid like, "Hey, everybody, look! Puppies!" Or something like that. The lead dog then made a beeline for me with his three buddies following him in their constant order, and he stood in front of me and said: "Hoo."

Then, when he was satisfied that I was nobody, the lead dog took off with the other three to look for other potential challenges to his power in their territory.

That made my day – I'd seen politicians themselves.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Non-Exploding Chickens

From time to time, as the terror alert level creeps closer to blood red, as Homeland Security threatens to review all my past reading material, and as strange acronymic law enforcement groups discuss good and bad protesters and what to do about them at secret meetings in my city, I fantasize about getting away from it all. Then, when I'm done doing that, I think about bagging it all and moving to New Zealand.

You all know about New Zealand. That's the country at the lower right-hand corner of the Mercator map of the world that looks closer to Australia than it is, is proud of its flightless birds, and is now the place everybody imagines when they think of Hobbits and Middle Earth, thanks to the movies. Why wouldn't I want to go there? That's the question I've been asking myself ever since Ronald Reagan got his way with the electorate and my ex won the house.

Well, now I am getting answers to that question, thanks to the internet.

First of all, they have non-exploding roosters there. That's right, they have roosters that run around and look as if they are exploding roosters, but they are only fooling you and they don't actually explode.

What happened was a rooster was seen in Christchurch near Sydenham, New Zealand, running around with canisters with protruding wires strapped to its legs. That, as we all know, is a clear and unmistakable indication that a rooster will probably explode. Then the police chased the rooster into an alley, killed it, and called in an army bomb disposal unit to deal with the canisters, which were determined by them to be non-exploding.

My point being that the whole terror alert thing has gone too far. It's gone so far it's reached the lower right-hand corner of the world. Think of it this way: if you have to spend three hours chasing down non-exploding roosters for fear that they will explode, EVEN IN CHRIST-for-God-saken-clear-off-the-map-CHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, you can't be safe anywhere.

But I discovered that story by accident. I wasn't looking for information on non-exploding roosters, I was looking up SkunkShot gel.

I wanted to know what SkunkShot gel was and why it was being used by the police in Los Angeles to keep homeless people out of potential squats. My search led me to Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Motto: Te Whare Wananga o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui (Translation: We Wish We Were on a Beach in Maui.) It turns out that SkunkShot gel began with the realization, by scientists at Victoria U, that North American skunks stink.

That is a more impressive discovery than it sounds, since, after all, North American skunks are not native to New Zealand. I imagine many trips back and forth between New Zealand and North America to get the exact stinkiness worked out in scientific detail.

Really, that last paragraph was just me being abusive. What the scientists actually did was create a gel with skunk-smell ingredients, now available in the form of SkunkShot. You can use it to make anything you want smell like a skunk. The Los Angeles police have been using SkunkShot to stink up potential squats. They are so creative. No doubt the subject came up at the LEIU conference.

My own thinking is that SkunkShot has a lot more potential than that. For example, Metro has been concerned for years that homeless people have gotten in out of the rain under bus shelters. So much so that they've torn them down. No more! Just apply SkunkShot to those shelters and those people will keep away for good!

Problems with panhandlers, Seattle? SkunkShot your sidewalks! They won't be back!

Yes, New Zealand is all right. They only make the stuff there. And the roosters don't really explode.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Florida Police Exploit Homeless People

Finally homelessness is in the news again, sort of.

Kissimmee, Florida, made the national news last week by having a couple of police officers pretend to be homeless guys hanging out at an intersection. They were there in order to spot traffic offenders for ticketing by cohorts a block away. This trick has probably been done thousands of times elsewhere, but Kissimmee officials were decent enough in this instance to allow reporters to watch the proceedings, so we get to know about it.

Before going on, let's pause to make our expected crack about the name of the town: No, Kissiyyouou, Florida. There, now we can relax and get to this story about fake homelessness.

Back to "Operation Vagrant." Two things seem to irk homeless advocates about this story. First is the fact that it shows once again that people are quite thoroughly aware of the problem. I mean, if the Kissimmee police thought that homelessness were uncommon, they wouldn't have imagined that by posing as homeless they would have blended into the scenery, would they? But what are they doing about that realization? They are exploiting the ubiquity of homelessness to catch people who turn right on red without stopping. This doesn't help homeless people.

The other thing that irks is that now when someone is driving around northern Osceola County and happens to see a homeless guy in the median, instead of thinking, "When am I going to do something about the homeless problem in this country," they'll think, "Uh-oh, better slow down to the speed limit." There is a certain dilution of concern that can be expected.

Some homeless advocates, namely those who are uncomfortable with the police altogether, may fear that a pervasive distrust for the cops could rub off on the homeless. So you're walking down the street and you see a disheveled guy sitting by the curb on a milk crate. In the past you would have said, "Get a job, bum!" Now you would say, "Get off our backs, pig!" That is, if you were already inclined to say things like that. So for these homeless advocates the fear would be that the homeless all might be confused with the police, creatures held in lower esteem.

I see the problem more as a personnel issue.

Let's consider a similar issue and see if we can spot the problem. Everybody remember blackface minstrel shows? Remember why they were so offensive? Because it was racism, right? Yes, but what else was it?

It was a personnel issue. The issue was, they already HAD black people who could sing and dance. They didn't need to hire white people to put on blackface and pretend to be black. They could have hired the existing real talented black people instead.

It wasn't so much the blackface itself that was so bad as it was the usurping of roles. Why does Pat Boone give us the creeps? Because he was getting the radio play when we should have been hearing Little Richard, that's why. He was usurping Little Richard's place at the table. And while we're at it, I think Little Richard should have been in Journey to the Center of the Earth, too, and shot out of a volcano, and landed naked up a tree. Who really wants to see Pat Boone's skinny white ass up a tree?

Likewise, what we have right there in Osceola County is a pair of police GETTING PAID THE BIG POLICE BUCKS to pretend to be homeless people and use a two-way radio (or I don't know, a stupid cell phone) just to call up their buddies and snitch on drivers.

I don't know very many actual homeless people who can't sit on a median strip and snitch on bad drivers. So why won't Kissimmee hire the real thing? Why do they pay for fake teeth and fake tattered clothing and fake ripped off shopping carts when the real deal is already out there courtesy of the real people?

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I Feel His Pain

I've always been one of those people who are most happy getting away from everybody and entertaining myself in solitude. But I am not completely asocial. I want to remain in touch with my fellow man and my fellow woman. Mostly my fellow woman, but I don't want to get off the subject with that.

What I'm saying is that one of the ways I keep myself entertained is by Trying to Relate. Trying to Relate is this solitary game I play where I try to keep in touch with the rest of the species by trying to relate to things that I hear or read about them doing. It is a fun game that can keep me busy for hours and hours.

Take for example this guy Aron Ralston who got his arm caught under an 800-pound boulder and chewed it off to get away. The news said he cut it off but when you read the details and find out how dull the knife was and the fact that he had to break both forearm bones first you realize that the "chew" metaphor is more appropriate than the "cut" metaphor. He chewed his arm off with a piece-of-junk knife. "Hacked" might work.

Trying to Relate takes me down many avenues of fun. I don't have to confine myself to trying to relate to Mr. Ralston. I can try to relate to the reporters, too. So right now I'm trying to relate to the guy who first wrote that it was an 800-pound boulder and I'm asking myself the question, "Who hiked back the ten miles from the highway with the scale and weighed the rock?" And I am imagining the reporter asking this question and getting a blank stare. This way I am relating.

But of course the story is about Mr. Ralston and most of my fun naturally gravitates toward trying to relate to what he did.

I am reminded at this juncture of the recent news of a study, done by actual scientists, that determined that (duh!) some people hurt more than other people. Now, "relating" requires just such comparisons between people. To be precise, in relating to Mr. Ralston I would be relating two people, namely him and myself. Therefore I must consider how much would I hurt, were I to hack myself.

Well. It so happens that I am the sort of guy who can't even touch his nipples with his fingertips without screaming in agony. For me, popping a pimple requires that a local anesthetic be applied by a qualified nurse. To remove a band-aid from hairy skin on my arm I shower frequently until it falls off or decays. I am not exaggerating one bit.

So the answer to the question of how much I would hurt if I were to hack myself is: gobs.

There is absolutely no possible way that I could chew, hack, or even cut my arm off, and then later say to the world, "I felt pain and I coped with it." The word "coped" would not be part of my description of what happened. I would say something like, "I felt pain and I screamed bloody murder." Or something like, "I felt pain and I passed out and bled all over myself and then I woke up puking and alternately screaming bloody murder." Or, "I started to cut myself and I couldn't do it and instead I passed out and woke up in this hallucinated press conference and now I'm going to die trapped under this rock."

What I am suggesting here is the heresy that Mr. Ralston was able to do what he did because he was constituted differently from some of the rest of us. He evidently does not feel pain as much as some people, namely me. I actually suspect that he is the sort who feels less pain than most of us. Why, I wonder, is it so important for him to climb every 14,000-foot or higher mountain he can, in cold weather no less? Could it be that he's desperately running around trying to feel anything?

But, hey, I'm not saying that what he did isn't still very impressive. Just because he couldn't feel his arm as much as most of us can feel ours, doesn't mean he wasn't attached to it. I'm sure that he's going through a grieving process now as serious as any I would.

Now, grief, there's something I can relate to, while we all wait for Paradise to fall on us.

Thursday, May 1, 2003

The Good, the Bad, and the Invisible

The good news: Saddam Hussein is effectively gone. The bad news: Bush and company can't tell the difference between doing something good and doing something good in a way that doesn't screw up everything else in the world.

You can't learn from a mistake you can't see. The administration is too busy dancing around the ball to realize they're in the wrong end zone. We haven't stopped terrorism. We've gone begging for it.

Meanwhile I have a cold. I had this cold two weeks ago, see, and I didn't want it, so I gave it to Anitra "on whose kitchen floor I have sometimes slept" Freeman. I gave her my cold in a duck-licking frenzy. I am not proud of it, I'm only reporting the facts.

But then, two days ago, Anitra gave me my cold back. No fair! She was supposed to pass it on! Now I will have to punish her by holding the cold just until she loses it and then giving it back to her again. That will teach her not to break the rules.

I'm just kidding, of course. The only rules here that matter are the rules of viruses and bacteria and immune systems and biology in general. This however brings up the subject of homelessness.

The crime of allowing homelessness to happen is a form of rape. Rape occurs when someone's own body and bodily functions are turned into weapons against them. Rape doesn't require penetration. It's already rape when you tell someone that they can't use your bathroom, forcing them to go in the alley and get arrested. It's already rape when you refuse to let someone sleep even in your cold doorway, so they have to sleep in the colder alley and get run over by a truck.

Boy, there's nothing that brings the humor level of a conversation down faster than the word rape, don't you think? Rape, rape, rape, rape. But what can I do? It's a fact. Sleep, urination, and defecation are physical necessities, and if you deny them to people it's no different than forcing them to participate in one of your BDSM fantasies without their permission.

Evidently I can complain about the crime of allowing homelessness to happen for seventy-seven years, and no one's going to do anything about it just because I say they should. So I keep looking for ways to make the point that it's wrong without sounding like I'm complaining. Maybe appealing to people's sense of self-preservation is the way to go.

You can't learn from a mistake you can't see. If you've never been homeless you probably can't understand how it could be regarded as a form of rape. The lesson may be lost on you.

But, hey, you have a vulnerable body too. You are not invincible. Have you been following the progress of SARS? OK, maybe SARS isn't the plague that's going to do you in. But the CIA says SARS is just the beginning so get ready for worse.

Here's a heads-up for everyone: when a disease becomes endemic you are only as safe as the most vulnerable populations among you. If there are people among you whose health is consistently neglected the disease will spread like wildfire among them, and you will be in line for it.

My biggest fear right now is that SARS will spread to third-world areas of Africa, for example, where there is inadequate medical care. There will be no controlling it globally at that point. My second greatest fear is that American homeless shelters will be infected with it. Then there will be no controlling it in our cities.

OK, suppose you don't have that much sense of self-preservation. How about Wes-preservation? I live directly across from a mission. If you don't care about whether you get SARS or not, please have a care for poor highly infect-able me. Please help eradicate homeless shelters so there are fewer opportunities for viruses to attack my tender air passages. Thank you.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Syria's Friends Are Layabouts?

Periodically I encounter young people. And one of the things young people like to ask me is, "Why did you hippies screw up America back in the sixties?" "Ha, ha," I respond, "I wasn't a hippy, you ignorant child," but later I feel bad because I sense that I could have provided some insight to someone who was sincerely seeking answers. Then still later I watch the Simpsons and fall asleep.

Put another way, the question that arises is, what were all those long-hairs rebelling against back then? Well, now it can be known. Consider the following quote from Donald Rumsfeld.

"The (Syrian) government's making a lot of bad mistakes, a lot of bad judgment calls, in my view, and they're associating with the wrong people."

That, my friends, is a sixties dad. "That kid (alternately: my son, or that minority person, or that rock singer, or that protestor) is making a lot of bad mistakes, blah, blah, in my view, AND they're associating with the wrong people." Pure sixties dad.

Now multiply that by how ever many millions of sixties dads there were and count in the fact that most sixties moms were backing up this kind of clenched-teeth belligerence from the sidelines, and you can see what all the fuss was about. The long-hairs were rebelling against a zillion petty Donald Rumsfelds in various pants and skirts. (Women always wore skirts in those days. Or else.)

The one non-sixties-dad like thing about Donald Rumsfeld is that he writes poetry. However, when Donald Rumsfeld writes poetry, it is very recognizably the sort of poetry a sixties dad would write if he broke the stereotype and wrote poetry. So the stereotype doesn't really break.

In view of some recent events in the Middle East, some of Rumsfeld's poetry from the past starts to look like warnings of things to come. For example the 2001 "Situation" ends with the lines, " There will be some things that people will see. / There will be some things that people won’t see. / And life goes on."

Take the celebration in Baghdad when the statue near the Palestine Hotel was brought down by the tank. People saw the cheering Iraqis. But they did not see the limits of the crowd. Wide-angle photos that showed that the crowd consisted of fewer than two hundred people were available on the internet but not discussed in the major US media -- things unseen. Also unseen was evidence that the Iraqi participants in the celebration were primarily Iraqi freedom fighters brought into Baghdad by our military.

Credit has to go to our Army and Marines for doing such a fine job of propaganda. This is what we pay them the big bucks to do. It is of course desirable to convince your enemy that you have won the support of the people as soon as possible, so that they will give up the fight. It is unfortunate that in the process you also end up lying to everyone else in the world, including the people you are supposedly saving from future terrorism. But hey, life goes on, right?

Well, for some of us anyway. Not for Rachel Corrie and Tom Handoll.

You probably know Rachel Corrie was murdered by Israeli army bulldozer a while back, when she could have simply been handcuffed and arrested. You may not know that Tom Handoll, a British activist, was murdered a few days ago by means of a shot to the head, fired at him while he was trying to herd Palestinian children away from Israeli soldiers. When he could have simply been handcuffed and arrested. (They could have charged him with "giving a damn for Palestinian children," apparently a capital offense in Israel now. At least he would have had a trial.)

Shades of the sixties. I remember it now so well.

To Israel: Please find another way.

To the reader: Please support House Concurrent Resolution 111, AKA the Rachel Corrie Resolution, which calls for an investigation into her death.

By the way, I know this column hasn't been very humorous. But as Anitra puts it, "They're giving you hell to work with."

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Mainlined headlines

Let's hyperventilate!

Rumsfeld is right. I have become such a CNN junky. I watch the war news 16 hours a day on television and spend the rest of my time reading about it at I have strong opinions about what Aaron Brown has become. I recognize way too many retired army generals.

I know far more than I need to know about the 3-7th cavalry. Unofficial song: the Garryowen (I can even spell it!) Unofficial Martyr: General Custer. Battle cry: "Hoo hah!" And to think I used to credit Mad Magazine with inventing "Hoo hah!" along with "Axolotl?" and "What you mean WE, Kimosabe?" I know what a FARRP is. I know who the tip of the tip of the spear of the rolling wave of steel is, according to CNN's Walter Rodgers (namely the 7th cavalry, of course.)

Then, a couple of days into the conflict, I learned that "stay behinds are eating up our soft logistical tail" from retired Colonel David Hackworth. Thus I began to hyperventilate, precisely as Rumsfeld has described.

It's all those ups and downs of 24-hour coverage. It's the up of watching a rommel of tanks race across the desert a hundred miles unopposed, followed by the down of hearing about an ambush and capture of POWs, followed by the minor up of Gen. Myers calling our strategy "brilliant", followed by the extreme down of watching the British conduct "psychological warfare" as they bulldoze murals of Saddam. Like anyone's dumb enough to fall for that trick. ("Hey, where did big picture of Saddam go? Me guess war is over." – I wonder how much they're saying that in the outskirts of Basra.)

Is it any surprise I need a paper bag to breathe into? I am experiencing the fundamental stress that all thinking organisms experience when we need intelligence and all we get are unconnected facts. This is what I call an adventure in poetry. It's the anxiety that adheres to so-called military intelligence operations like peanut butter to the roof of a dog's mouth. We know all kinds of stuff, but we don't know what matters.

Let me give an example. According to our great spy agencies the Iraqis still had weapons of mass destruction as of March 19, when we started to shoot at them. The whole excuse for shooting at them was the presumed fact I just mentioned, coupled with the equally presumed fact that the Iraqis were willing to USE the afore-mentioned WMDs on us in the future.

But the question that mattered was HOW willing were the Iraqis to use those WMDs.

I mean, what the hell does it take to get an Iraqi to gas you? How much do you have to throttle one of these guys before he blows VX in your face? Don't they know we're conquering them?

OK, maybe by the time you read this the Republican National Guard will have gassed the 7th cavalry and given smallpox to the 101st Airborne, but that won't change the fact THAT THEY HAVE WAITED UNTIL WE WERE ON BAGHDAD'S DOORSTEP. That is not much of an indication of a "willingness to use weapons of mass destruction on us." That indicates instead an unwillingness to use weapons of mass destruction on us except as a last resort (which is by the way when I personally favor using them.)

Our "intelligence" got it wrong because the Saddam regime used weapons of mass destruction on "his own people", hence proving that he was evil, hence proving a willingness to use WMDs on us at the drop of a hat.

Well, that logic didn't work.

Apparently Saddam Hussein, who regards the Kurds as less than animals, respects Americans and British as moral equals who deserve better treatment.

Perhaps he sees himself in us.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Blow This Up, Sonny, You'll Feel Better

As I write this it is the morning of March 17, the day George Bush has set as the last day for Saddam Hussein to do I know not what before bombing the hell out of the Iraqis and invading and conquering them. There are people looking forward to this, praying that Saddam doesn't do anything that even remotely resembles disarming for fear that a glorious opportunity to dominate with sheer violence will be missed.

It's times like this that writing an alleged humor column is like making balloon animals for a kid whose dog just got run over.

No, it's worse than that. It's like, I'm the kid whose dog just got run over, and here are these balloons, and I'm supposed to make animals out of them to cheer everyone else up.

It doesn't help that we're on a cusp and I have no idea what will have happened by the time you are reading this. All I can say is that if it isn't spring yet, it will be by tomorrow. The network news says the day and time to attack has already been set but only the generals know, of course.

What's a guy supposed to make fun of in a situation like this? How 'bout those Dixie Chicks?

I'm so slow when it comes to popular culture that I constantly find myself wanting to call them the Chicksie Dix. As a result I have difficulty retaining in my mind an accurate image of them. I forget whether they are a country-western girl group or some female punk group ridiculing and taunting sexually insecure males. I wish they were the latter but I'm afraid not.

The reason for bringing them up at this juncture is of course that one of them, Natalie Maines, said at a March 10th London show, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Subsequently radio stations all over the place have been boycotting their music and fans have been throwing out their CDs.

Since I don't have any Dixie Chick CDs to throw away I can view this whole situation with remote amusement. Our glorious leader is about to commit our country to the commission of what could very well be declared by an international war tribunal down the road as a war crime, and the Dixie Chicks are worried that people might think less well of Texas.

Come to think of it, didn't the Bushes originate from Maine? What do Maineites think of that? What kind of name is Maines? Why isn't Maines from Maine? My head hurts.

But there's more! To make matters worse, just four days later Maines apologized. She now says her remark was disrespectful to the office of the presidency. So in other words, she's evidently still ashamed that Bush is from Texas, but now in addition to that she's also ashamed of having said so. Maines goes on to say that she thinks whoever holds the office of presidency should be treated with the utmost respect. That should endear her to all her conservative fans, every last Clinton-bashing one of them.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I simply cannot regard William McKinley with the utmost respect, to name just one. I'm ashamed that McKinley came from my planet. I know, she means the current office-holder. But a president is a president, not a king, and he's not owed any more respect than he earns. There I said it.

While I'm here there's something else I want to say. I believe that justice happens. Justice happens eventually whether people speak for it or not. But if you don't speak for it you will be justly swept away when the universe finally rights itself. And I believe the people who speak for justice, wherever they are, are the ones who really deserve respect, not office-holders, certainly not office-thieves.

I respect Rachel Corrie.

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Opinions Shouldn't Come Easy

So I was thinking about my minor faults, and I thought of another one. I'm useless. I'm useless in so many ways, but one of my favorite ways of being useless is as an opinionated columnist.

An opinionated columnist is supposed to, above all, have opinions. But, oops, I hardly have any. In fact half the work of writing these things every two weeks is spending the nine or ten hours it takes each time to force myself to have one.

I've just called it a fault, but actually I'm so un-opinionated in my un-opinionated-ness that I can't really decide whether it's a fault or not. Maybe it's a cute quirk. Or maybe it means I could be the world's greatest jury member. "Mr. Browning, I'm sure you've read the hundreds of stories in the newspapers describing my client as a blood-thirsty murderer. What do you think of that?" "Duh, I don't know." "I have no objections to this juror, your honor."

I was reminded of all this Wednesday a week ago as I was reading the Seattle Times. I kept repeatedly running across stories that I felt I should have strong opinions about but I couldn't decide what they should be, just because I am so lame.

There was the story about 200 people from all over the world who have volunteered themselves to Iraq to serve as "human shields" in the event of a war. Now I have no problem figuring out what I think about Iraq's use of involuntary human shields. That's totally wrong. Iraq did that last time, they will probably do it this time, and it's wrong. But if people do it willingly, what can I say?

Sure, these people superficially resemble the suicidal bombers that we all hate for, uh, suicide bombing. They've got the suicide half down, and there's bomb-action involved. But WE'RE the ones about to be doing the bombing. How is that their fault?

Then, at the bottom of the same page, I got the privilege of reading for the first time about our military's latest computer-military advance, the new computer program called "Bugsplat."

Did I mention that I was preparing to see a psychiatrist as I was reading this? Here I found out that our military has a computer program that analyzes the potential for "collateral damage" that any given bombing might have, so that our commanders in the field can judge what size and kind of bombs to use in an attack. The program displays the potential collateral damage graphically as images of bugsplats on a computer screen, they say. So, I thought, why was I the one seeing the psychiatrist?

OK, the real name of the program is FAST-CD (Fast Assessment Strike Tool – Collateral Damage.) OK, if they're going to have a war and bomb people, I can see the benefit of having a computer program warn when a lot of civilians would be killed. I can see it on a practical, or what do you call it, logistical level. But it sickens me to think that the program has a built-in tolerance for a degree of civilian death and suffering. The idea isn't to avoid all "bugsplats" but to "minimize" them. We are building a definition of what that "minimizing" should be into a piece of software, so that our military commanders don't have to use their own consciences to make those sorts of decisions. Isn't that evil?

So then I moved on to the local news, thinking that I would be safe there. Nothing but familiar issues, issues I had long decided upon. Did I mention that I was seeing that psychiatrist to talk about child abuse that happened to me 40 years ago? So what do I read, but that there is now a move in DSHS and the state legislature to open up child abuse hearings to the public.

Ouch. I want people to know what goes on in these hearings. I want the extent of child abuse to be known. But I want the children to be protected from exposure. They need to be protected from the public.

Why can't the decision to have a hearing open or closed be made the hard way, in each individual case, by a judge or jury faced with the specific circumstances of that case? Do we have to have an opinion about everything in advance, no matter who could be hurt by it?

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Demand Answers, Maybe

The other day somebody asked me what my greatest fault was. I had it coming, as I had just mentioned having one. I didn't tell her the answer, because I want to save that for the grand jury, but it got me thinking. Since I won't admit my greatest fault, what minor faults would I admit? A few minor faults might come in handy, to act as a smokescreen covering up the big one.

A lot of cool minor faults sprang to mind, and then I remembered how much I like to speculate.

Liking to speculate probably doesn't seem like any kind of fault to most of you. But then most of you probably haven't been practicing mathematicians. The following conversation actually happened once, between a colleague of sorts and myself.

Me: "You know what would be cool? If the universe was perfectly round. Yeah, I'll bet it is. I'll bet space is a 4-dimensional sphere."

Him: "What?! Why?"

Me: "Because it would be so cool. You'd know where everything was. You could set up your longitudinal and your latitudinal and your turpitudinal lines. You could spin it in three directions. Maybe it would even bounce nicely if you dropped it in 5-dimensions. Instead of bouncing like a 4-dimensional football."

Him: "What's the proof?"

Me: "I don't have a proof. I'm just guessing for the fun of it."

Him: [Backing slowly away.] "You can't do that. You have to have a proof! You can't just say anything you want…"

Woof! Can you say "conflicting values"? And my other colleagues felt the same way. Eventually I learned to keep my love of speculation in the same dark hidden place in my soul where I kept my love of toe jam art and midget-on-stuffed-animal pornography.

Now I'm old enough, poor enough, and far enough away from any math department that I can broadcast my wicked perversion of the mind. I have no career to lose.

I feel sorry for those poor engineers at NASA who can't do the same. You can see it in the faces when they get on TV. They want to say why they think Columbia blew apart. But that would be doing the S-word thing. It would violate the code. You have to be led there by the evidence. Guessing is not allowed in their profession.

The same goes for prosecuting attorneys trying to figure out what to do about Michael Jackson. Think of the bind they're all in. Even if they couldn't charge him with anything, you know they'd love to say what they think is going on. But they can't. It would violate the code.

The experts are amazingly quiet these days on the subject of Dolly's early demise and what it might portend for any human clones that may or may not be out there.

I guess it's a good thing that all these professional experts show that kind of restraint. When an authority speculates, people don't always recognize that's what's going on. Hey, it doesn't even have to be an authority. Shirley MacLaine has admitted that her speculations about past lives are just that, but that doesn't stop her from having true-believer followers. But when it's an authority it works faster. If a pope speculates about a virgin birth, it's a fact within the week.

Still I hope that the vast majority of you share my ugly little fault. I want to believe that people are prepared to jump at conclusions based on shabby evidence. After all, your government never wants you to have any more than shabby evidence. They're counting on you to be afraid to guess at the truth.

Keep it up, and demand answers.

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Birds Are Nuts

This is going to be one of those columns that isn't about anything. All the conditions point to it. For one thing, all the news is too depressing to write about here. You can only make fun of North Korea so much, and then people start to whimper. Iraq isn't at all funny anymore. The economy is only good for about ten lines and then I remember that my rent is due. Then Anitra "on whose kitchen floor I used to sleep" Freeman insists that I pick up malted milk balls for her at the store. A dollar eighty-nine. For a stinking bag of malted milk balls.

The good news: I'm back on my meds. The bad news: I'm back on my meds. No more interestingly bizarre perspectives. No more am I able to write pages and pages extolling the virtues of experiencing paper cuts and surviving.

It's times like this that being scattered is all I have. It's my anti-foundation, a non-solid core to wrap myself around. All my security emanates from my liquid centerlessness. Without it I would have to settle down and be something, which would surely result in doom. If that doesn't make sense to you, then you understand more than you know.

Mr. Stephens taught me that you could be scattered and still collect a paycheck. Mr. Stephens was my 8th grade math teacher. He was stark raving scattered. He would spend the first minute of every class going over the answers to the homework due that day. Like this: "The answers were 5, 17, 16.3, and 1." Then he would spend 50 minutes telling us about his house on Mercer Island, and about the patio he just built over his carport, and how he built part of the patio around a tree, and about how we should all respect how cool that was. Then Mr. Stephens would spend the last four minutes giving us the next day's homework.

At the same time I was taking "business principles" from Mrs. Wilson (these are not the real names.) "Business principles" was all about how to write out a check, mostly. I don't know how the schools got away with wasting kids time like that in those days. I hope they do better now. But Mrs. Wilson wasn't satisfied with just wasting our time with the syllabus. She felt it was necessary to spend at least thirty minutes of each class telling us how her daughter was a swimmer for the US Olympic team, and she won a silver medal for something. I learned that Mrs. Wilson's daughter got the silver approximately sixty times. That is roughly equal to the number of spitwads that I personally landed on Mrs. Wilson when her back was turned, during that term.

Why am I telling you this? I just want you all to know things could be worse. In addition to being scattered I could be a broken record, like my unbelievably neurotic middle-school teachers. But at least when I scatter, I scatter in a different direction every time.

Speaking of broken records, Groundhog Day just passed. No I'm not thinking about the Bill Murray movie, although that was good. Instead I'm thinking about a green singing finch I adopted on Groundhog's day 1990. I called him Zino, after the violinist Zino Francescatti, and he was a fantastic broken record. Apparently, birds are the ultimate broken records. They do not know the concept of "enough".

Zino had this trick where he would jump off his perch and attach himself up-side-down to the top of his cage. Then he would drop back to his perch, doing a back flip in the process. All this would be done to elicit a "wow" from me. Then he would do it again, to get another "wow". Then again, for another "wow". And again and again. Until finally I couldn't take it anymore. When I couldn't say "wow" anymore Zino might quit after one or two more times. But he never quit as long as the "wows" came.

I want to believe there is a lesson in all this for all humanity. From a back flip obsessed bird to a patio obsessed neurotic math teacher to a silver medal obsessed neurotic business principles teacher, I want to draw a moral for all of us to live by.

How's this? -- Everybody be careful what you say "wow" to.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Your Virtual Prozac

Lately yours truly has been in a lousy mood. This may have something to do with the fact that I can't afford the anti-depressants anymore, or it may be because the airing of Joe Millionaire has shown me that trust and honesty are no longer valued, or it may be because I'm writing this in Microsoft Word and I resent the hold Microsoft has on my life. Whatever it is, I need something to lift my mood. That's why I want to talk about death, destruction, and the end of the world. Nothing cheers me up more than contemplating apocalypse. It must be a misery-loves-company thing.

I speak of apocalypse with a small "a" because I am not one of those Apocalypse-enthusiasts who cares only about identifying the Beast or the Whore of Babylon or speculating about the nature of New Jerusalem. Those sorts of things are very good, but any end of the world interests me, not just that one.

It doesn't even have to be the end of the whole world. It could just be the end of this little part of it. That would be fine. For example the other day I learned that the Australian continent is on target to collide with us here in the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next couple hundred million years. That should pretty much finish the Space Needle, once and for all, and not a million years too soon. When you're in a bad mood, who needs revolving restaurants?

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually want global warming to melt the polar icecaps and inundate the coasts, for example. I want global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer and all those other slow-moving disasters to reverse themselves, like any good liberal should. But there's something exhilarating about being in a train wreck, even one that takes a century or millions of years to happen.

Of course, faster disasters are more compelling. I think a lot of the appeal of Revelations is that the disasters are so dramatic and sudden. One minute everyone is all right and then – BAM – locusts. (Like you can't eat locusts.) This represents a challenge to those of us who would like to visualize world destruction but don't want to be constrained to the Biblical model. Can we top John?

I believe that if we apply ourselves, we can. Pestilence and famine are great, but modern life has so much more to offer.

We could start with nuclear weapons. Suppose for instance that North Korea has those two A-bombs everybody has been saying they could have. And suppose that they really do have an ICBM capable of hitting San Francisco, like some people say they do. Well, we here in Seattle are much closer to North Korea than San Francisco, and we are a hell of a target. Whee, we could be a fireball! Now that's dramatic!

But, I'm a baby boomer, and consequently nuclear weapons are pretty much played out for me. I need new possibilities of annihilation, new reasons to duck and cover.

Smallpox is pretty good. It beats anthrax, as there is no way anyone is going to cover more than a city block with anthrax, but with smallpox you could wipe out millions. In theory. Better would be a brand new genetically engineered disease, one that no one is expecting. Something with the symptoms of ebola but with the contagion of the common cold. Don't think nobody is working on this. Good old American know-how will always find a way.

Look out for nano-robots. They're the next thing. You know all those bastards creating computer viruses now? In twenty years the exact same people will be making microscopic robots that fly through the air and up your nose to take up residence in your lungs for the purpose of deleting all your files, figuratively speaking. Just because they can.

One of the great things about dwelling on possible ends of the world is that it makes Saddam Hussein look like a fly on the wall. I hope that reading this column has cheered one or two of you up in that way. For the rest of you, I recommend anti-depressants.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Dumbest Bubble in the Fizz

Today I want to talk about ignorance.

A lot of people are going to read that and get entirely the wrong idea. They're going to think, "Uh-oh, here goes, the smart-mouthed columnist is going to go making fun of our president again. Hasn't our poor president suffered enough from being called a moron by that Canadian woman? Who does this guy think he is, thinking he's so much smarter than our elected president?"

No, really, I don't care about George Bush's ignorance. It's my own that interests me. As 5 out of 6 girlfriends have put it, I only care about myself. This is in fact the source and substance of my ignorance. If it isn't about me, it must not be important enough to know.

At this point it is entertaining for me to reflect that I am ignorant as hell, and yet I write this column. Ha. I know incredibly little about everything but I write these tiny mini-treatises every other week and some of you actually read them all the way to the end. I know because three of you have told me so. What gives?

I like to think that my ignorance is a light, a shining beacon, for others. Because if I can turn my affliction into a proud asset, what else is not possible? Cannot then the blind lead us to greener pastures? Cannot then the lame trample our foes? Cannot then the Honda total the SUV instead of vice versa?

This is my promise to America. I will remain ignorant as long as it takes to achieve my dream in which everyone, not just the rich, can live their lives without having to know what it's like to have to know too much. We should all be able to say, "My tuition is paid for; you have to give me an A." Let me show the way.

The most important thing I ever learned in life, I learned in kindergarten. No, I'm kidding, I learned it in graduate school. But I could have learned it in kindergarten. It was that stupid. The stupid thing I learned was: if you need to know something, ask.

You might think, "That is counterproductive. If I ask questions, pretty soon I'll start knowing too much and then I won't be ignorant anymore. I will lose my identity. The next thing I know I'll start speaking with a foreign accent and wearing purple scarves, if I don't already."

No you won't. You only have to pay attention to the answers you receive long enough get things done. Then you can forget them and go back to being yourself.

Isn't that what it's all about? It's about being yourself and nobody else. If you learn a lot of stuff that doesn't have anything to do with you then you won't be you anymore. You'll be one of those pinheads that gets interviewed whenever Jim Lehrer doesn't know why Americans are too fat. The trick is: be Jim Lehrer, and you won't have to be the pinhead.

In the meantime, you may be surprised at how much you can learn just by thinking solely about yourself. For example, I like to sit on my butt and stare at the ceiling. Because of this, and because of the delight that I take in contemplating this fact, and because I am alert and receptive to sympathetic delights, I have learned in time that G. K. Chesterton once wrote 20 pages about a ceiling. Some day, or in another life, I may read those 20 pages. Later, I may learn who or what G. K. Chesterton was. Likewise, I once had sex in the front seat of a Dodge Omni, so I know what a pain parking brakes can be.

The thing that's annoying about George Bush isn't that he's the dumbest bubble in the fizz. What's annoying about him is that he's defensive about it. Like Clinton with his "I didn't have sex with that woman," Bush could benefit from outing himself. He could admit that he never wanted to speak to Gore because he was afraid Gore would know something he didn't. If Bush would publicly admit that he was ignorant he could prove himself to be the great leader that he so far has only pretended to be.