Wednesday, August 31, 2005

You're Thinking Too much

Remember Ian Spiers? He was the Scots-African-American who last year chose to take photographs of the beautiful Hiram Chittenden Locks in his neighborhood just like he’d seen all the tourists do for the decade or so since he’d been living nearby. Only Mr. Spiers wasn’t made to feel welcome. Instead he was greeted by police who demanded to see ID, not once but repeatedly. In one case federal agents even showed up at his home to lecture Mr. Spiers about 9-11 and to make him feel like a criminal.

Well, just when we thought all that was behind us, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a new warning last week that "it is crucial that police, fire and emergency medical personnel take notice of their surroundings, and be aware of 'vagrants' who seem out of place or unfamiliar." This warning was in part prompted by the discovery in Somerville, Massachusetts, of a homeless man with an expired Yemen passport, who was doing nothing illegal and who was not a terrorist.

Let me explain that again. I’m sure most of you out there have working neurons taking up valuable space in your heads, so that what I’ve said here so far may not have sunk in for you the way it would have done if your brain was made of chocolate pudding.

Pay close attention now. A MAN was found in OUR country guilty of NOT being a terrorist and of being ACTUALLY homeless and from Yemen, another country. This led OUR government to conclude that there might be other non-terrorists who are homeless and from Yemen, RIGHT?

NO! From that they concluded that we have to be more afraid of terrorists POSING as terrorists. We’ve already seen one person NOT DO THAT, in Somerville, so we must be more vigilant than ever.

You know, by concentrating really hard, and by taking lots of illegal pills and funny mushrooms, and drinking a whole bottle of Jack Daniels, I bet I could work for Homeland Security, too. Let me crank up my natural paranoia and see how that would work.

Seriously, I think I speak for everyone in the homeless community when I say the U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t gone far enough. We need to really be on the safe side and think of how else terrorists might effectively disguise themselves. Gee, if I were a terrorist I would want to be able to go anywhere I want and rarely be suspected of any wrongdoing, or, if suspected, be able to easily brush the suspicions aside.

I could pose as police, fire, or emergency medical personnel, couldn’t I? Yes! Our police should be on the alert for our other police! Our firemen should be suspicious of each other! We should run away from ambulance drivers; they may have bombs!

I know, a lot of you are probably saying, “Wes, you’re being silly. No ambulance driver has ever been found with a bomb in this country.” Precisely! The terrorists knew that’s what you were going to think and they’re using that! THEY’RE USING YOUR NEURONS, MAN.

It’s because you have a brain that they can get you. The terrorists do the opposite of everything that makes sense, and they use the sense that you make against you! (I want Dennis Hopper to play me in the movie version of this column.)

All the homeless people in this country are under suspicion all the time! That’s precisely why the terrorists will pretend to be homeless, because you won’t suspect the people you already suspected! Our government is full of geniuses. I know it because they came up with this.

What you’ve got to do is stop thinking. If you stop thinking the terrorists can’t get you. Our government destroys reason to protect us. We are better off when we do what they say and be stupid, because that’s the last thing the terrorists will expect from us.

Remember, 2+2=5. Non-thinking is Safe-thinking. Take your pills.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Embrace the Putrid Legislative Roadkill

One month since Bellevue approved its new regulations regarding organized homeless people’s encampments, my regular readers might wonder why I have taken so long to bring it up. The answer is, I don’t really like to write in a rage. I like to have been in a rage, and then have calmed down enough so I can pretend I’m writing in a rage, but actually in my mind be on a tropical beach at Bora Bora contemplating sunbathers, and what is a Bora Bora, anyway?

Where was I? Oh yes, back in Puget Sound, Bellevue has passed an asinine new law. Either the whole law, or substantial parts of it should be struck down by the courts, and the ruling judge or judges should tell the majority of the Bellevue City Council that voted for this travesty the whole truth about their mamas.

But I am not going to attack the Bellevue City Council or their feeble unconstitutional attempt at lawmaking. Instead I am going to embrace their puny law, and, out of my joy from the sands of the Bora Bora of my head, I am even going to celebrate this piece of putrid rotting legislative roadkill.

I’m going to offer some suggestions as to how Bellevue can beat the courts and not have their pathetic law struck down, by making it even more stringent and draconian than it is.

For example there is a provision in the law that was passed that said that only “entities with a religious purpose” may host a tent city encampment. What a wonderful idea. Let’s strengthen this provision by making sure the underlying principle is applied to everyone in Bellevue, not just homeless people.

To get away in the courts with requiring that homeless people can only live in groups on established church lands, Bellevue needs to carry that to the people as a whole. All high-rise apartment buildings should be turned over to established churches, or they should be vacated and demolished. Any building or property where two or more unrelated people live must be under the control of a government recognized church. It won’t hurt anyone (aside from stepping on the rights of secular landowners, but screw them, this is government), it will just make all our lives safer, because only churches have what it takes to keep our cities safe from… people.

Speaking of being safe from people, another provision of the law says that either the managers or the host of any tent city in Bellevue is required to report to Seattle and King County public health officials any resident who has a communicable disease. Now, I like this provision of the law, but in the interest of Equal Protection and Due Process and Constitutional Crank Term This and Constitutional Crank Term That, I think it doesn’t go far enough.

The fear is that all those people being so close together in those separate tents will pass diseases one to another and trigger the next Black Plague. I totally have this fear. I get it from looking in the window at the Safeco building and seeing acres of insurance slaves working in tiny cubicles. I get it from seeing hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time in the stands at Little League games. I get it from seeing Bellevue City Council members sitting next to each other at hearings. Those people could have germs too! We must be vigilant! Do you want to die from “the B’vue City Council Plague of ’07”? The time to prevent it is now!

So let’s just expand the law like this: if you see people closer than six feet to one another (the typical distance between unrelated tent city dwellers) and you think one of them has a cold, you have to report them, or you go to jail.

By the way, all but one of the Bellevue City Council members’ mamas got cooties.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pimp and Circumstance

My goal this week is to wade into a pool of homeless activists and see what bites me. I want to discuss certain deep questions, such as “What is a poverty pimp?” “Who’s calling whom a poverty pimp?” “I’m not a poverty pimp, you are,” and “Whatever I am, you’re double that,” inspired by a couple of minor controversies which have swirled recently.

One has to do with charges out there that Real Change exploits the poor and homeless to keep our director and a few privileged others in the lower middle-class lifestyle that they were born into. I don’t have the space here to get into the details, but I’d like to offer some thoughts of mine regarding those charges.

Our director Tim “Perfess’r” Harris, stands accused of being a greedy, privileged, white, middle-aged, middle-class, Classics-loving, kitsch-collecting, testosterone-driven, quiche-eating, carbs-forsaking, couscous-hating, male. OK, I can live with that. He even has a car, and kids. How dare he afford kids! But when someone says the remaining ten or eleven of us are greedy, privileged, white, middle-aged, middle-class, males, they are wrong in every single case. That’s not the kind of sweatshop we operate around here.

I for one have been homeless four times, and am dirt poor now. Yet even though I am on the board and a white male I’ve never been paid one single potato for the writing I do here. Some greed.

There’s also been a charge that we DO pay some of our writers. These people can’t make up their minds: so is paying good or bad? In the case of our two staff writers, paying is supposedly bad because they are *privileged*, more than, say, the whiner who came up with these charges. I guess so; they can write, if that’s a privilege. I thought it was a talent. But other than that, the charge is a crock.

Truth is, we pay staff when they have to do more than what a volunteer can bear. For the long workweeks we get out of our director we should pay him $52,000 per year. We don’t actually pay him quite that much. Please don’t anyone tell him.

The other controversy concerns “bumvertising” and one of my favorite activists, Michael Stoops of the National Coalition of the Homeless.

Mr. Stoops, like Tim Harris, has his share of detractors. It doesn’t help that at street paper conferences the two of them invariably leave us peons to go party all night at some catered penthouse somewhere, or whatever they do. They could be playing mumbly-peg for all the rest of us know. But I’m kidding; Michael isn’t a poverty pimp.

On the other hand, Ben Rogovy is proof that poverty pimping is alive and well. Mr. Rogovy has recently started an on-line poker service and begun using what he calls “bumvertising” to call attention to it. He pays panhandlers cash, food, and other goods, to advertise Rogovy’s business while they panhandle.

So homeless activists everywhere are outraged, charging Mr. Rogovy with exploiting the homeless. Michael Stoops mainly objects to the term “bumvertising” which perpetuates stereotypes, and I can agree with that, but he goes too far when he also says, "Homeless people are desperate, but they're not so desperate that they are going to be exploited by some avant-garde company that wants to sell their product."

If that were true that would mean homeless people were less desperate than all the other people who work for avant-garde companies that want to sell their products.

No, I would rather Rogovy stopped calling people bums and derelicts, especially now that he has them working, and I’d like to see him stick to paying cash, in order to empower his contractors to choose the goods they want, rather than have their goods chosen for them by the Man. But he’s not exploiting panhandlers any more than Starbucks exploits baristas.

Capitalism exploits, period. Don’t select homeless people out for this special stigma of victimhood.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Notes from the Underground

Occasionally yours truly speaks at people about having been homeless. (I usually wait to be invited.) Last Sunday I was asked to participate in a panel discussion about parks and park benches, and say why homeless people need parks. So this led to some six minutes of me expressing the concept “duh” different ways.

However, I also mentioned that I’ve personally never needed parks, per se. I’ve always felt a need for catacombs, which I regard as park-equivalents. I couldn’t elaborate on that at the event, so I thought why not squander 550 words doing so now?

I guess the first time I felt I needed catacombs was at age 9, on the Day the Music Died, Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash together. I began to believe I needed to live below ground. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I know people don’t fall up.

Two years later I got my first pimple. Again, I don’t know if there was a connection, but I began to have compulsive fantasies about digging a cave out of the side of a hill, and installing a camouflage door. I could figure out how to have camouflage skylights, a garden, fountains, and a working oven. I could eat roots, blanched grubs, and ant-paste. But how to get TV? I could tap into power lines, but that would be illegal, and, sadly, I was addicted to the law.

Then in high school I answered the call of Bill Speidel, who wanted to excavate the Seattle Underground, make it a tourist attraction, and promote the cleanup of Pioneer Square. Between hours spent underground shoveling dust without a helmet or mask for my new slave master Mr. Bill, he entertained us high schoolers with stories about how the Underground came into being, and how after it was closed up bums lived there! Since Bill wrote non-fiction, and it was around 1965, I believed him.

There was hope. Perhaps there were outlets down there and I could estimate the bills and send checks. But on closer inspection, there were no outlets. Besides, having an address Underground, I would not be able to maintain checking.

Years later I realized, only just in time to get married and live in a house with a Seattle City Light connection, that I would not solve the TV problem until the Future arrived and with it, the invention of low-power sets that would make the pedal-driven generator a practical power source. But I still felt the Call of the Catacombs in my heart and soul.

Perhaps I could have gotten help with my TV addiction, or my law addiction. There should be a patch for the first and a Twelve Step Program for the second. But no matter how hard I try to remember that the power company just stole the power from the river and the fish or made it by burning coal from out of the Earth that no one rightfully owns, still, it’s “theirs,” somehow. They bought that Earth from someone, who bought it from someone, who… stole it. It’s all stolen property, ultimately.

Not everyone is so conflicted. James David Hodge, who lived 12 years beneath the UW Music Department, didn’t care if he paid for his electricity. An unknown number of residents of the New York City subway tunnels in the nineties had TVs with VCRs, washing machines and dryers, using so much power it must have slowed the trains each day by a second or two. I just couldn’t let myself be the cause of so much tragedy.

So I’ll have to wait until I’m dead to live down there. Then, in a million or so years, mutated descendants of the rats or the squirrels or the cockroaches who survive us will fight over the power released from burning me, in order to get high and laugh at Twilight Zone tapes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Blah Blah Na

This may shock some of you. When I first read newspaper columnists, back in the fifties, my favorite was conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. It wasn’t because I agreed with him. By age five I was already well on my way to becoming the pinko commie sympathizer I am accused of being today. It was because the liberals were much less fun. Where’s the fun in reading what you expect to read?

Now that Buckley has left us I have to find others to entertain me. Recent favorites are Charles Krauthammer, John Leo, and Seattle’s own, but not for long, James Na.

Mr. Na recently wrote telling us all why he was leaving Seattle. It seemed to boil down to our insularity and our Blueness. He says we should be Purple, instead. Purpleness provides better balance, like eating your vegetables with your meat and getting plenty of roughage, I guess.

The evidence for our insularity was that Seattleites think Seattle is the world’s most beautiful city even if they’ve been nowhere else. How true. It’s a phenomenon I have discovered in every other town I have lived.

Years ago a woman in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told me no other place was as beautiful. She was subsequently forced to admit she had never been more than ten miles away. But then she reasserted her original claim, because it was still “obviously true.” Whatever you do, Mr. Na, don’t go live in New Brunswick NJ and risk meeting that woman. You would run away screaming. Besides, New Brunswick is as ugly as my grandmother’s knees.

John Leo is often whinging on about the evils of Liberal Political Correctness, which turns me off because I totally agree with him on that. Liberal Political Correctness is the worst thing the Left has ever done to itself. I agree so much it bores me to tears to read about it in every other Leo column. But when he gets away from the mostly campus news from the PC War front, Leo can be delightfully refreshing.

A great example is his recent column that, among other things, attacked homeless advocates for inflating homeless numbers. This was a joy to read. Every sentence boosted my circulation. The piece stirred my soul, like an elephant in a hot tub.

Particularly delightful about his July 27 column is the way he knocks homeless advocates in general for pushing faulty statistics that, in fact, homeless advocates in general don’t push. John is the master of the Straw Dog argument. First, the straw: “One report a few months ago reported that nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.” While fashioning your Dog, don’t bother to cite the source, because you don’t want people to know it’s straw. You want them to think this really comes from the actual enemy, so when you knock down your Dog we can be impressed.

It happens the “one report a few months ago” referred to a report by the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans which in turn quoted Veterans Administration statistics.

So what’s the puff of wind that’s going to knock down this Dog? A blogger (Megan McArdle) says the 300,000 figure, if accepted, would mean that all homeless people are veterans, because 300,000 is about the total number of all homeless people. And that number comes from … the US Census Bureau!

So we have a discrepancy between VA and US Census figures, not a problem with homeless advocates at all. In fact the National Coalition for the Homeless warns against accepting any such statistics, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans echoes the NCH warning.

So when Leo finally says “The lesson? Don't trust advocacy numbers,” he’s actually agreeing with the advocacy agencies he’s quoting, so he’s agreeing with me (because I agree with them that the numbers are untrustworthy), but he’s says it like he’s proved we’re all wrong, which he hasn’t! What a great ride! Thanks, John!