Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Might Makes Jackasses

Here's a pet peeve of mine that I'm sure you all share: arrogance. We can't stand arrogance. All of us hate it. So how come it keeps happening? My biggest gripe is with people who justify crimes with arrogance.

Once while walking up the Ave in the U District I saw a couple walking toward me, the woman holding a balloon. Before they reached me a group of five frat guys came up and snatched the balloon away. When the woman's partner demanded it back the guys laughed and threatened to beat him up. Just then a policeman appeared and the matter was laid before him.

Incredibly, the frat guys complained to the cop that the couple had no business demanding their balloon back, ON THE GROUNDS THAT THE COUPLE WAS OUTNUMBERED AND EASILY OVERPOWERED. "There's five of us; we could take them; if they cause trouble by telling us we can't have their balloon, don't they know they're asking for it?" They actually said that the policeman should tell the couple to leave them alone, because not to do so would result in a fight that would get them hurt. They were concerned about maintaining the public order!

As amazing as it sounds, there are people in the world who think that way all the time. I first realized the truth of this when I was a cab driver. Hardly a shift went by when there wasn't some cowboy in the cab telling me I had to run red lights to get him where he was hurrying to, ON THE GROUNDS THAT HE WAS PAYING ME.

Once the dispatcher sent me to a house in the neighborhood of 85th and Roosevelt, and when I arrived nobody came out to get in the cab so I had to go to the front door to announce myself. Two men greeted me, one with a pistol. While I stood in the doorway, not knowing if I would be shot if I said something they didn't want to hear, they told me they were hiring me to drive downtown by myself to fetch them two hookers. They told me I should do what they said BECAUSE THEY WERE GOING TO PAY ME $100. They said it would be OK if I couldn't find them good-looking hookers, ugly ones would do, and that they would share them with me. I said thank you very much, but that nevertheless I would decline their kind offer. They were shocked. I never did figure out why they pointed a gun at me. Maybe it was to keep me from running off with their welcome mat. They were probably thieves as well as johns. No one is less trusting than a thief.

The general rule seems to be: If I'm a monkey and I want to take a dump on your head, it's all right because I'm a bigger monkey than you, or I am just one of a gang of five monkeys and we outnumber you, or anyway I'm paying you so you have to do what I say BECAUSE MY MONEY SAYS I OWN YOU. You could call it Karl Rovism: this is our planet because, owing to our previous thefts of its wealth, we now have all the money, so we own all the people everywhere that we have stolen from.

This rant was inspired by the tiniest of provocations, namely Jeff Tweiten's theory that Seattle's No-Sitting Ordinance shouldn't apply to him while he's trying to set a new Guiness World Record by waiting in line for a movie. As best as I can determine this theory is founded on the principle that he should be able to sit or lie on the sidewalk for 136 days or more BECAUSE AT THE END OF THAT TIME HE WOULD BE BUYING A MOVIE TICKET, THEREBY PROVING THAT HE DESERVES MORE CONSIDERATION THAN HOMELESS PEOPLE, who are just about surviving, and other stupid crap like that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Physics of Wage-Slavery

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about time. But you know what's really important? Timing, that's what. And I'm not just being paranoid when I say that! I have facts to prove it, too!

Timing is what "the check's in the mail" is all about. When you "take five," you take time, but timing is what makes taking it possible.

Ask most any evolutionist what his beef with creationism is and he'll tell you it has nothing to do with the theology of the matter. It's only about the timing involved.

Timing is what homo sapiens has more than the Wooly Mammoth, probably enough more to account for the recent shortage of the latter. Timing, suitable rocks, a good throwing arm. Likewise, a poorly timed precipitous climate change is poised to do homo sapiens in, with the rest of the planet probably feeling it's not one eon too soon.

Q. What's so hard about relativistic quantum physics? A. Taking into account the timing. The same thing can be said about tuning Lamborghinis or trying to tickle tigers.

Bad timing is almost synonymous with disorder. It's dis-order in the course of events. Mathematical chaos has gobs to do with timing and convolutions of timing, and the inevitable losing track of timing. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle can be laid to timing. "Hey Werner, what should we measure first? Are you sure? It seems to make a difference."

What's the real answer to the question about life, the universe, and everything? Timing: it's critical to life, while the rest of everything that isn't alive doesn't care.

In good timing, Science cures your terminal disease before you have debilitating symptoms. In bad timing, Science is not at all convinced that your disease is terminal until the day you die from it. Science is then so impressed by the sheer horror of your manner of death that she names the disease after you and proceeds to cure it, so that no one else will ever have to suffer so much again.

Good timing leads to Bliss; bad timing leads to Tragedy. When gene sequences fire in their correct order you get a gorgeous baby with ten little toes. Let the genes fire in the wrong order and your baby might still have ten toes, but they could be growing out of her eyebrows, causing a premature end to her modeling career, and forever dashing her dream of becoming the first non-Sherpa to break-dance atop K2 without an oxygen mask.

If you don't think good timing is important, try this experiment. Get a ride on a lunar landing module to the moon and beg your crewmates to be the one who decides when to fire reverse thrusters during the landing, but don't you or any of them look out the window or use the radar or anything that would tell you where the ground is in relation to the module. If you live maybe I'm wrong, maybe timing isn't important. If you die, my point.

Let's consider one specific variety of bad timing that concerns poor people. Let's talk about the sort of bad timing that can be summed up in the words: "You'll receive your first paycheck a week after your first fully completed pay cycle."

Since a typical pay cycle is two weeks that means the average would-be wage-slave can't get paid until after putting in three weeks of work. But doctors doubt someone in your condition could live two weeks without food of any kind, and think you'll last much less than that if you engage in major activity as required by a full time job. So if you're starting your job with no money in reserve, and if the job keeps you from taking advantage of meal programs, and if you're homeless with no place to cook food bank stuff -- well, screwed again.

But at least you know what did it. It was the timing!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Neural Folia Bloom at Movie

Here's something I bet you didn't know! Most people think consciousness is a continuous process. That's wrong! Scientists now know that human consciousness, like yours, results from the sporadic "flipping" of neural folia in the brain. In normal people, this "flipping" occurs roughly as often as movie frames. This is why humans like movies. Deep down we recognize ourselves in them.

So when I saw the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) movie, my first reaction was to greet it. My second reaction was to look for other things that the H2G2 movie and I shared, aside from discontinuity. Hobbies? Signs?

Before going there I'll review the movie really fast.

Douglas Adams mostly wrote it. Douglas Adams mostly wrote H2G2's other incarnations. So objections that it differs from the book are irrelevant. Leave it. Anyway, it's more faithful to the book than you'd expect, given that Adams would hardly have wanted to merely repeat himself. Some jokes are missing, but new ones replace them. You want the old jokes? Read the book again. My main complaint about the movie is that the costume designers who created Marvin took the "brain the size of a planet" line far too literally. Also a movie should be over when the credits roll. No fair inserting content two minutes after the end, so impatient Americans like me never get to see it. Also, Questular Rontok's relationship to Zaphod Beeblebrox sorely needed fleshing out, as they say.

SPOILER ALERT: I will soon give away portions of plot.

What I really want to talk about is how, gosh, did any of you ever notice how Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is all about issues we constantly harp on here at Real Change? In case you haven't noticed this, I will list just some of the ways.

1) We at Real Change constantly bitch and moan about homelessness. Likewise, Arthur Dent, the central character of H2G2, perpetually bitches and moans about planetlessness.

2) We complain about bureaucrats and their callous disregard for human needs. The H2G2 movie makes the Vogons primary antagonists. The Vogons are an entire alien species with callous disregard for human needs. Or even Vogonic needs, really. Arthur Dent can prevail against the Vogons largely because, being British, he knows how to queue. Likewise, having been homeless, I know how to wait at a DSHS office.

3) Vogons detest hitchhiking, a practice that involves getting an unauthorized ride. Many Earthlings detest panhandling. At Real Change we provide an authorized alternative, work.

4) In one scene Arthur Dent and company are trying to rescue Trillian (another human) and every time any one of them gets any idea he is whacked in the face by presumptuous entities to whom they had not been previously introduced. Likewise whenever homeless people get ideas for solving their own problems, it turns out that presumptuous politicians, NIMBYs, and radicals who are more-radical-than-thou (but not themselves actually helping in any way) whack them. Figuratively.

5) To the Vogons, who have no imaginations, Trillian can't establish her identity unless she can legitimately claim a currently existing home planet. To the US Postal Service in Seattle it is unimaginable that Seattle residents who don't have street addresses might require a post office box in the same vicinity as the social services they need. No, none of us has a space ship that can get us to a suburban branch office that provides PO boxes to homeless people and back downtown in time to line up for food and shelter. Yes we all need to get mail. It is no longer a luxury. The 18th century is over.

6) In the movie, the bowl of petunias thinks "Oh no, not again," just before colliding with a medium-sized planet at several hundred kilometers per hour. Here at Real Change, that's our reaction to most every state budget announcement, and every election. "Oh no, not again." Splat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Letting Time Go

Let's talk about Edward T. Hall, why White People can't dance, and panhandling!

Why does panhandling seem wrong to so many of us? I'm going to go out on a limb here and propose that it feels wrong for the same reason that moving more than the feet to music feels wrong to straight White men over fifty: our parents never taught us to do things like that.

My parents said there's a time and place for everything, and they were very specific. Edward T. Hall, a cultural anthropologist, came up with a pair of words to describe the results of these kinds of teachings. He identifies two broad categories of styles of cultures, the monochronic and polychronic, arising from two ways of relating to time. White American/Northern European cultures express monochronic styles. The rest of the world, pre-MacDonalds, have generally been polychronic.

Monochronic styles require one-thing-at-a-time. Polychronic styles allow and expect lots-of-things-at-once. In monochronic cultures there's only one time. Your watch has your time. In polychronic cultures they may not even have a word for time. Talking about when something will or should happen may be wildly inappropriate.

How can this affect our panhandling behavior? (Note: By panhandling behavior we are talking not just about panhandlers but also panhandlees!) Let's say you're White, your name is Chris, you're walking to work, and as you pass the MacDonalds another White Person holds up a cardboard sign saying "Hungry/homeless, please help" and sticks out a Styrofoam cup. What might you think, Chris?

Well if you're like me, Chris, you think, "Hey, this is my walking time!" You think, "I didn't come out here to give my money away. I do that at the appropriately designated times. I give to United Way at the office. I pay my taxes every April." You think, "This person isn't supposed to get money now. They haven't just completed work. That's the time you're supposed to get money. Don't they know that?"

It's just like when White People first saw Chuck Berry dancing on a stage. "You can't move that body part like that now! You have to wait until you're in bed alone with a woman!" So over the years it has been necessary for African-American musicians to slowly, step by step, introduce White People to more and more movement, a project that began with the Twist and gradually proceeded through the Funky Chicken, Disco, culminating to date in whatever it is that Britney Spears does.

Now let's imagine someone from an unspecified polychronic culture. Still walking to work, let's say his name is Rongo Diego Yoko M!fumi, and another representative of his same culture appears, panhandling. Same sign, same Styrofoam cup. What does Rongo think?

The answer can vary from one polychronic culture to another -- Mr. Hall's categories are very broad -- but here are some possibilities: "Sure why not? My money came from everyone and so it belongs to everyone." Or, "I'm sure that if this fine person had money, and I needed some, he/she would help me. People have always helped me." "Maybe we could go have a coffee and sandwiches somewhere and talk. I can go to work tomorrow." "I feel like dancing." "Whoa, look at all those stiff White People staring at us."

To Chris, we work and THEN we deserve pay. To Rongo, we can always be deserving. "Work? Sure we do that. We give, we take, we work, we rest. What's the problem?"

Do you know for a fact that the panhandler HASN'T worked? What if the panhandler worked years for an exploitative employer who paid him less than what his work was worth? Now you have extra change in your pocket. Could that mean you've been paid too much lately? You could help to even things out. Or you could hurry to work, letting the universe run by itself, like a clock that never has to be wound, even though there are people stuck in it.