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.