Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Stupid. Creative! But Stupid

Today I want to honor stupid creativity in the news.

I am a great fan of creativity. I especially enjoy stupid creativity. The things that the newsmakers I’m going to honor today have done are outstandingly, stupidly, creative.

To start with we have the Laotian government, which has recently been under pressure from the Thai government to repatriate and create homes for thousands of Hmong refugees that have been living in Thailand since Laos fell to the communists in 1975. The Laotian government has brilliantly, creatively, responded to Thailand’s demands by asserting that 6000 or so Hmong are not, in fact, Laotian.

“Hmong? What Hmong? Oh those. Those are Hmong, sure, but they are not Hmong Hmong. They are your Hmong now. Good day.” Way to go Laos, you are awesomely creative!

Also awesomely creative is an individual, Mayor Frank Melton, of Jackson, Mississippi.

Mr. Melton was elected mayor in a campaign in which he promised to reduce violent crime in Jackson. When his assumption of office did not in itself achieve his stated goal, even after it was given plenty of time to work its magic, Melton decided to declare a state of emergency in the Mississippi capital, and under his emergency authority ordered a curfew for all minors and homeless people.

No, he didn’t claim that the homeless people were responsible for Jackson high levels of violent crime. He just tacked the curfew for the homeless people on to his order out of sheer liberal utopian idealism: he was moved by the plight of a homeless teenager to want to help. Which he did, by threatening homeless people with arrest if they didn’t let themselves be packed into a school gym every night.

How stupidly creative was Frank Melton’s curfew? Well, in the one month since it’s been in place, Jackson’s homicide rate has more than doubled! Fantastically stupid! I guess it’s easier to murder people now in Jackson than ever before, what with all the witnesses being put out of the way every night. And, better than that, Jackson has become a liberal utopian paradise, because Frank Melton has ended homelessness there, just like Franklin Roosevelt, our greatest liberal president, ended Japaneseness during WWII.

I thought nobody could top Frank Melton for stupid creativity until I heard about the new Las Vegas ban on feeding homeless people in parks. This new ban, devised by the Las Vegas city council, is outstanding. It is breathtaking in its stupidity and depravity. Only truly creative geniuses could be so stupid.

Boring cities elsewhere are always coming up with laws that are intended to ban feeding homeless people but that actually say boring things like, “you need a permit to feed more than such-and-so many people, so apply for a permit, and we’ll charge you so much for it you could have just used the money to buy dinners at fancy restaurants for everyone in the park.” Unlike those boring cities, Las Vegas has written an interesting and creative law, which addresses the problem head on. Their law says you just can’t feed homeless people in city parks. That’s it. You can feed housed people all you want. You just can’t feed homeless people.

How do you know if the person you’re feeding is homeless? They’ve thought of that problem and they’ve dealt with it in their brilliantly creative direct way. If they look homeless, that’s enough. The actual law defines a homeless person as an indigent "whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance." So it doesn’t matter if they’re really homeless, you just need an ordinary person, like a cop, to think they might be.

The beauty of the law, to me, rests with the idea that to be ineligible to be fed in a park a person has to be believed, by an ordinary person, to be eligible to be fed. Congratulations Las Vegas! I could never have made that up!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On the Road to Pimpin' Rich

Recently, for no discernible reason, I became a mean-spirited conservative. Or maybe the reason was discernible. You decide.

It started late last fall. I was living down the street in my barren room in the basement of 2005 Sucky Nuts Avenue, a couple of cold doors north of the intersection of Sucky Nuts and Bush Street. I was chilling -- the radiator didn’t work. I had a bad dose of the post-WTO anarchistic clap, and a liberal itch between my toes, too.

Then a letter came. It was in a plain white envelope. Inside, it said, “Dear former math professor Dr. Wes Browning: We at Chuck Schtab and Cohorts have been trying to find you for 25 years. We believe we have finally succeeded. If we are in error and you are not the Dr. Wes Browning we’ve been seeking please let us know. Otherwise we will begin sending you quarterly reports detailing the holdings and value of your Chuck Schtab College Professional Retirement Account.”

In the past 25 years I had been homeless three times, and through it all I had completely forgotten the retirement fund I had when I was a math professor! I had untapped wealth, earned by itself during two and a half decades of market ups and downs! The reports showed my wildest dreams were true: I was set for life, if by “set” you mean I would always have bus fare and change for the laundry, or if by “life” you mean to say I have a very short life-expectancy.

Anyway, what matters is, I had experienced my first rush of seeing an investment reach maturity, take her clothes off, and show me her privates. What matters is, now I knew how it was done. You lock your money up in solid investments, you don’t spend it on booze or women, and 25 years later you’re 25-years-sober, unloved, and pimping rich. I wanted more of that.

But I wasn’t a mean-spirited conservative yet. Then I got my latest quarterly report. The first ones had reported positive earnings for my Schtab account. But the most recent report showed a drop in value of $300! I was losing money! I had to find out why.

It wasn’t hard to figure out. All the news about High Gas Prices, Global Warming, Cutting and Running from Vast Oil Reserves, Higher Gas Prices, and worst of all, Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness, was battering the stock market. Investors were getting skittish because the public sector was shifting priorities away from constant high-end investment growth. Sure, my Schtab account includes a hedge fund, but all that could ever pay for is my first month at the Home. I need the security that only ridiculously high earnings can provide.

So I looked into moving my money into real estate. I didn’t want a house; I wanted to partner with others on houses that could appreciate quickly. I read the trends and did the math and realized it would work. I could be truly set for life in the traditional sense within just one more decade. The papers said South Park/Georgetown was a high growth area, so my investment group loaded up on properties in those neighborhoods.

Just then we learned that new supportive housing for recently homeless people was planned right in the middle of our holdings. Now I’ve got nothing against the recently homeless, but those are my houses they want to live next to. I know about the studies that say supportive housing doesn’t lower property values, but I don’t invest according to studies, I invest according to my gut. What investor resembling me is going to want to buy my vacant houses in ten years for three times what I paid for them this year, if formerly homeless people are living next door?

The only solution I see is Three Strikes laws for vagrancy. We need to lock them all up in the state penitentiaries, where they can’t muck up my investments.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

When Chickens Come Knocking

It’s been a slow week in the Emerald City. No off-duty police officers have shot anyone. No plain-clothes County Cops have beat up bicyclists our Seattle Police had dibs on. So I’d like to take this time to breathe deeply and to reflect on a general trend I see establishing itself here.

I think what epitomizes the trend is the Supreme Court decision last month which excluded the exclusionary rule from the ways civil libertarians could hope to enforce the knock-and-announce rule.

Just a little more than a decade earlier a differently constituted Supreme Court told us that our Founding Fathers, writing the 4th Amendment, considered the common law principle that the police knock and announce themselves before breaking into your home a key ingredient of a reasonable search.

Not that they didn’t have other ways in mind that searches should be reasonable. Madison may have been the anonymous author of a tract railing against searches that required house owners to say Please and Thank You. Ben Franklin is believed to have thought searches dressed in clown or chicken costumes were unreasonable. Tom Paine more than likely thought it was unreasonable to search for intangibles, like the color purple, shrugs and sighs, affection, etc.

But not knocking and letting the people inside know you were the police was considered by our Founding Fathers the height of unreasonable. Why do I know that? Because it IS the height of unreasonable! It was unreasonable in the Middle Ages, it was unreasonable in 1776, it’s unreasonable now!

If they don’t let me know that they are the police, how do I know criminals aren’t invading my house? How do I know the people breaking in aren’t going to rape my kids and then kill them and kill me for being a witness? I’ll tell you how I know that. I know that ‘cause I’m going to use my Second Amendment guaranteed arms to shoot them all when they come in. Hey, even if they say they’re police, if they don’t show me badges and a warrant, maybe I should shoot them anyway. How do I know they aren’t lying?

The point is, knock-and-announce, and warrants, and badges, and uniforms, are all reasonable because without them the police are indistinguishable from a criminal mob, AND PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEFEND THEMSELVES.

I really think the average American, and I’m including Supreme Court justices in the average for the purposes of this sentence, don’t understand these principles because they’ve all been too privileged and too empowered and too ensconced in a majority of their own mental making to even imagine what it’s like to have total strangers, dressed in chicken suits, breaking into your home without warning, pointing guns at you, and screaming in your and your family’s faces. Hint: it looks just like terrorism, when it happens to you without cause. And it does happen without cause often enough to be safeguarded against. The Founding Fathers safeguarded against it with a mass insurrection.

We could safeguard against it by applying the exclusionary rule against evidence procured by unreasonable means, but the Supreme Court just complicated all our lives by preventing that. Thank you Supreme Court! We are now all officially living in interesting times!

Anyway, the trend is: you never know who’s going to beat you up under the color of authority next. They don’t have to tell you they’re coming in. They don’t have to be wearing uniforms to demand that you bend your knees to them. They only have to say, “You’re under arrest,” and that is supposed to justify any force they use, and constitute proof that they are entitled to use it.

And, who needs a secret police when you’ve got a whole army of off-duty cops to do the work of one?

And, what good is a democratic society if any clown in a chicken suit, or whatever, riding a motorcycle, or not, can shoot a bystander at 2am and get away with it because they happen to be cops 9am-5pm?

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Shooting an Elephant

Let’s ask weighty questions about philanthropy!

What a negative bastard I am, that I don’t think the world of Bill & Melinda & Warren E’s highly noble goal of donating $3 billion a year of their hoardings. I don’t care about all the fabulous good they will accomplish thereby. I don’t see any of the promised solutions to the world’s problems as being nearly such glorious goods as to justify the processes that led to this situation, meaning the processes that gave these jackasses so much power in the first place.

It’s all about the power. That’s all I see. Who elected these twits? Who really believes that these people actually deserve all the money (= power) they have to throw at us?

Don’t get me wrong. At heart I’m a screaming conservative. Watch me rant and rave on behalf of the rights of people to live the way they did during the Stone Age. I’m for Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, because I want Big Government to stay the hell out of my garage. I was vehemently opposed to the Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, because I didn’t think our Founding Fathers thought replacing George’s fighting bantam farm with a Wal-Mart constituted “public use.” I’m so opposed to Big Government I think we should all be allowed to run naked and drunk in the streets, and all of us enjoy public cockfights and bear baiting, if you know what I mean.

But there’s such a thing as Big Money too. It shouldn’t exist in the first place: no one, in the history of the world, nor any group of three people, has ever truly earned $60 billion. Bill & Melinda & Warren E didn’t just recently sit themselves down on a log and wipe the collective sweat from their brows and say “Whewee, that was a whole lot of work hoarding all that money the last thirty years, now let’s rest up a spell and pass some of it out.”

But back to the power. It occurs to me that we all might benefit from a little Gedanken experiment. Or in this case a Gedungen experiment. Because when I think of elephants in the house, I think of elephants.

Let’s imagine that they weren’t about to give away $3 billion a year in money, but $3 billion a year in elephants. What would that look like?

Let’s see. One elephant costs 1,000,000 rupees or less. That’s around $20,000. Figure in the $500 per year to feed one at wholesale prices, plus costs of keepers and temporary housing, 2.26 cents per ton-mile for railroad freight, 78 cents per ton-mile for air-freight, at about 5 tons per animal, and out comes the rough answer: The cost of obtaining, maintaining, and shipping elephants to anywhere whatsoever averages less than $100,000 per elephant. So Bill & Melinda & Warren E have the equivalent of at least 30,000 elephants per year to give away around the world. That’s one pachyderm to give to every 200,000 people, per year.

So if the elephants are distributed equally, and dropped in by helicopter, it should be virtually raining elephants everywhere on the planet. “Mbuzi! A present from the Gateses and the Buffett is about to land on your Mother’s hut!”

Or say they give them to cities and towns rather than small collectives. What would it do for Seattle to have an influx of 2.5 elephants per year? “Thank you Bill et al, our Mounted Police have never looked so Hannibalish! How retro!”

People are such suck-ups; you know they’re going to fall all over themselves thanking their donors not only for the elephants but also for everything that comes with the elephants.

I guess that’s what I’m really talking about. Thank you Bill & Melinda & Warren E for your $3 billion a year, but you’d better not send any poop with it.