Thursday, June 24, 2004

Seattle Likes Shiny Things

What is it about this city that makes us the perfect final resting place for Captain Kirk's command chair?

What other city is so enamored of 1960's-ish retro futuristic junk? Think of it: it's basically a big glorified swivel chair. Does it recline? Does it have a vibrator? Does it wash your feet? I don't think so. So what good is it? It was Captain Kirk's glorified swivel chair, that's what.

Of course, even though Seattle has the stupid chair, and even though I hang in Belltown within walking distance of it every day, I will never be able to confirm that it doesn't do those things. That's because Seattle isn't Star Trek world, where they eliminate money and people fight Klingons purely for self-fulfillment and the opportunity to have sex with space aliens. Instead, Seattle is Paul Allen world, where you need money more than ever, and I'm several billion dollars short.

I'm not blaming Mr. Allen for it, just holding him up as an excellent example of a Seattle-variety futurism junky. He embodies the disease, what I like to call futuritis. That would be, namely, the desire to immerse oneself in a world full of toys that would have represented the future if found lying around the place in say, 1962, while not even bothering to try to realize any of the social advances associated with the science fiction that popularized said toys.

It doesn't matter if the toys are really advanced technologically or not. They only have to be associated with futurism. So, for example, a monorail is just a pigeon-toed articulated bus driven back and forth on a dedicated, narrow, elevated, road. The technology is more than 80 years old. But make it shiny and run it through buildings instead of around them, like those transport tubes on the cover of 1940's science fiction magazines, and you've got something that scratches the futuritis itch.

What concerns me is that in the future there's a handful of ace pilots, engineers, and rich space-tourists, but nobody's sweeping the streets. Paul Allen is going to be able to rocket-man himself from West Seattle to Ballard in less time than it takes to fry an egg, but the rest of us will be living in the cardboard boxes the rocket packs come in.

Five beautiful illustrations of what I speak are provided by our new space-age gleaming robot toilets.

They're self-cleaning, when they work. When they don't work they need to be fixed. This can keep maybe a handful of specially trained hotshot automation maintenance experts pulling down the big bucks. That's great, until you consider that if the toilets didn't clean themselves we could spend the same money supporting a team of 15 or 20 janitors and their supervisors to clean them around the clock after every use.

But no, that wouldn't be futuristic. Janitors don't gleam. Anyway, we're Seattle, city of hotshot engineers and technicians. You have to care for your own, right? Let the janitors get work in Pittsburgh.

Besides, in the future we're creating, anyone working here as a janitor won't be able to make enough money to live. That's because we'll make sure that all necessities come only in shiny, gleaming, expensive, packages. So if you're not one of the highly paid professionals we favor, you won't be able to afford the life we shaped for you. No problem for us professionals: the toilets will clean themselves.

In Star Trek it all works because the Federation passes out energy-matter materializers like our government used to pass out cheese. Give a man a piece of cheese, he eats for a day; give a man an energy-matter materializer and an endless supply of dilithium crystals to power it, he can eat for life and also materialize slippers and jockey shorts whenever he needs them.

It's just the opposite of what futuritis gets us. In Seattle, science costs money, and technology doesn't make slippers.

It's all about priorities. We'd rather spend millions connecting West Seattle to Ballard, than making them each better places to be. We'd rather pay one technician than five unskilled laborers. We want a future full of toys, with no more people than absolutely necessary.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

It's All About the Timing

We've all had our bad hair days. But me, I get bad column days.

Everything was going great. Bush and Kerry were falling off things. Philadelphia's horse lost. We all had long faces. Chalabi had a long face. We saw comic possibilities.

CIA-George resigned, for "personal reasons." We thought of some lame ways to make fun of "personal reasons" in general. We could recall the "personal reason" we had once for paying a fine for late taxes, for instance. We had reasoned that we didn't want our person in a federal prison. Or the time we had a "personal reason" for quitting a job, reasoning that our employers were about to anyway toss our person headfirst out the nearest window.

Then we heard that there were some unofficial but strong hints that the Salvation Army in New York City might give up millions upon millions of dollars worth of social service contracts, including contracts to manage homeless shelters and soup kitchens, in the event that the city went ahead with a law making them pay benefits to employees married to the wrong sexes.

We want homelessness to end, but until that happens we want there to be homeless shelters. We want there to be soup kitchens as long as there are poor people whether homeless or not. In NYC rents are already as high as they will be here in week or two, so they need soup kitchens everywhere for the people who have no money left over after the rent. Our president, meanwhile, wants to promote the idea that faith-based organizations like the Salvation Army should be the principal providers of those kind of services.

What does it say about the president's Faith-Based Initiative when one of the biggest faith-based providers in the country exploits its clients to blackmail a city over social policies, rather than fighting those policies fairly through lobbying and litigation? I'll tell you what it says. It says that daddy has a column landing in his lap! Come to papa, sweet column!

Just as I was working out the details on that impending masterpiece, which was going to be the greatest and most timely and relevant sludge of rant that I ever slogged through, Ronald Reagan screws me royal. How can I write about the NYC Salvation Army's disappointing petty snit-fit when there's a magnitude 7.5 wake going on?

I asked that very question of my muse Cindy. For those of you who may have forgotten, Cindy is my own personal muse, the Muse of Other, AKA the Muse of Few Words. Eternally a henna-redhead until Wednesday, Cindy is a Spark off the Generic Muse Archetype, hence to that extent Universal, but, hey, get your own Spark.

Cindy said, "Well, you're annoyed Reagan picked right now to die, right? So why don't you write about how annoyed you are? I'm sure you're annoyed enough to fill your white space up."

Yes I am…

With a deadline minutes away all I can think is Borax and California actor-governors for $200, Alex, a chimp, jellybeans, Star Wars, "Win one for the Gipper," who really won the Cold War, Ronnie or the Soviets and their people, and Iran-Contra and Ollie North and Hinckley and Jodie and Nancy and stem cells.

Most of all I think if it wasn't for Reagan and his administration I wouldn't be writing here lo these nine years. If it wasn't for Reagan's initiatives, adopted just because he was such a smiling optimistic guy, homelessness wouldn't have reached the crisis proportions that it did starting in the mid-eighties, becoming so unmanageable by now that the Bush administration is ready to betray Section 8 housing and consign more than a million homeless people permanently to living in shelters run by immoral faith-based hypocrites who despise the people they get paid to serve so much they would use them as pawns in their cultural battles.

… very annoyed.