Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Mend It Like Beckham

As of this Monday morning, Sept. 24, the Homeless World (Soccer) Cup has gotten under way in Cape Town, South Africa. It will continue through Sunday. If you have a fast connection and the right plug-in you can watch it live at

For those of you that don’t have a fast connection, I’ll describe it for you now. There are people on a field kicking a ball from one end to the other. Some of the people are trying to kick it to the right side into a kind of netted-enclosure like thing guarded by somebody. The others are trying to kick the same ball (hence the contest!) the other way, to where there is another person guarding another netted-enclosure like thing. There’s also the voice of a guy telling you about it while it’s happening. Some scores so far: two, zero, ten, one. Yes, ten! Blame the Hong Kong defense.

How can a World Cup be Homeless? The answer is that homelessness is a part of the eligibility requirements for this particular annual event. The rules state precisely that players in the Homeless World Cup must be a) male or female and at least 16 years of age at the time of the tournament and b) have been homeless at some point after the previous year's World Cup OR make their main living income as a streetpaper vendor OR be asylum seekers (who have neither positive asylum status nor working permit.) No, I don’t know why they have the restriction to male or female. It’s not my fault; I’m just the messenger here.

The first Homeless World Cup was held in 2003 in Graz, Austria, near Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boyhood home. The idea for it sprang into the heads of a couple of directors of street papers meeting in a bar during a conference of the International Network of Street Papers. Meeting in bars can result in that sort of thing. Usually the next day it’s all forgotten though. This time they actually went through with it. This year there are teams representing 48 countries scheduled to play, and it’s been reported by the Associated Press that there are nearly 500 players in attendance, presumably including substitutes.

The actual quote from the Associated Press article speaks of “nearly 500 drug addicts, alcoholics, orphans and vagrants” kicking the event off. This is where I really got interested.

I mean, as I have said often enough before, my interest in spectator sport is pretty much limited to watching women’s singles figure skating when my internet porn connection is down. So I wouldn’t care about the Homeless World Cup except for the fact that it might in some way have a positive impact on homelessness.

It’s just fascinating to me that when some people see a person kick a ball around as part of an organized sports match, they feel differently about that person. I ascribe it to trust.

Trust is a quality that you don’t hear enough about these days. It’s the thing homeless people need next most, after decent sleep and physical safety. If people so don’t trust you that they don’t let you interact with them at all, not even to say hello, it’s impossible to even start to earn any trust from them. The Homeless World Cup is a sustained interaction that can enable the participants to earn some trust.

Most of the news stories about the Homeless World Cup focus on the benefit to the players in “getting their lives together.” The Associated Press story I mentioned gushes about how 94 percent of last year’s players report “a new motivation in life,” whatever that means, and then says that 38 percent now have regular jobs. That’s great, but it misses the story.

The real story isn’t the players; it’s the relationship between the players and the spectators; it’s the trust. Let’s see how the same AP reporter describes the current players a week from now. If there’s a change, that would be the news.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Oddest Proposal

If you’re like me, you wince every time you read a letter to the editors of a newspaper that begins, “In the great tradition of Jonathan Swift, I would like to present the following Modest Proposal...” For one thing, the letter writers’ proposals are never as good as Swift’s idea to substitute Irish infants for veal. For another thing, it’s like saying, “In the great tradition of Halloween, boo.” It’s lame.

That’s why I want to use this column to do a Lame Modest Proposal Blowout. I want to make such a fool of myself doing Lame Modest Proposals, no one else will dare. Or, at the least, they will learn to keep their intentions hidden.

All Modest Proposals begin by naming a problem that begs to be solved. The less said about the problem, the better. In Swift’s case, it was the Irish Problem. My first Modest Proposal concerns something related to the Skinny Model Problem.

It turns out skinny models are bad for your health, because they cause anorexia, so some Spaniards have banned them from their Spanish fashion shows. This might have been my first Modest Proposal, but as I’ve just told you, it’s been done. So my First Modest Proposal will solve the Young Model Problem instead.

The Young Model Problem is that young models make people want to be young, which is bad for your health. Therefore I would ban all models under the age of 45. This would also solve the Skinny Model Problem in one swell foop, as they say.

As you may have noticed, cartoons and papal speeches have offended Muslims in large quantities, and this is a Problem, namely the Offended Muslim Problem. Therefore, I propose that all of us, men and women, wear burkas, pray however many times a day the Muslims pray (I suppose I should have looked that up before starting this), and take up the habit of ordering fast food only in Arabic, the language of the Great Prophet.

No, we don’t become Muslim. That’s not the idea. No one is offended by any of us not being Muslim. The idea is to be proactive. Instead of insulting them, we flatter them with imitation. Don’t forget to put all the Disney characters at Disney World in burkas. Otherwise, they’ll know you aren’t being sincere.

You might say, “But what about the American pig farmer? Won’t I have to stop eating hot dogs, and won’t that be devastating for the American pig farmer?” Answer: At this stage in the game, there’s no helping the American pig farmer, whose dreams were shattered long ago. But, as far as your jones for hot dogs is concerned, don’t worry; they make them from chickens these days, as you’d know if you’d ever used a food bank. Get out and live a little.

How about that Immigration Problem? I can solve it!

It often happens a problem’s solution leaps out at you when the problem is well-framed. Let’s frame it well! We Americans are upset that, instead of Americans doing crappy jobs for little pay, Mexicans and Guatemalans are doing crappy jobs for little pay.

When you put it that way, the solution is obvious, isn’t it? Ban crappy jobs!

Think about it. Why shouldn’t everybody from Bill Gates down be cleaning their own stinking toilets? Hey, I clean mine. I don’t pay Poles or Mexicans to do it. I own a scrubber and I use it.

Similarly, I can solve the Homeless Problem. What really is the problem? Too many street people! What’s the solution? Get rid of the streets!

Self-reliance is the American Way. If we didn’t have streets we would all have to walk to our decent, non-crappy jobs. So? That amounts to leg-reliance, and legs are part of your selves, aren’t they? So it’s self-reliance too.

No streets would mean no street people. And, as an added bonus, we would also simultaneously solve the SUV Problem, the Oil Problem, and the Asphalt Problem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Men with Guns Shoot Man in Buns

I’m writing this on the morning of Sept. 11, 2006. Rudolph Giuliani is back on TV, this time to speak at a Ground Zero memorial ceremony. There’s no humor anywhere, life sucks, terrorists suck, and I have roughly 666 words in which to say something amusing.

OK, well. Speaking of tragedy, there’s a tragedy happening in slow motion in connection with court proceedings in El Paso that might have something to do with 9-11, but may still have funny bits in spite of that. I am speaking of the conviction and pending sentencing of two border patrol agents for shooting a drug smuggler in the butt and not reporting it, and the uproar over said conviction, etc. If nothing else I can say “butt” frequently.

Border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean shot marijuana runner Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila in the butt as he fled from them, in February 2005. Since then Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila has filed a suit alleging violation of his civil rights and is asking $5 million. At the same time, even though Aldrete-Davila was found to have been hauling 800 pounds of marijuana when he was shot in the butt, he was granted full immunity to testify against the border agents, who were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of assault with intent to commit murder, assault with serious bodily injury, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Ramos and Compean both said they thought Aldrete-Davila was armed that day. But the jury didn’t buy it. The jurors were probably more swayed by the fact that the two agents refused to write up the incident and destroyed evidence of the shooting, than by any testimony by the border-flaunting, marijuana-toting, $5 million-wanting, Rosa Parks-wanna-be, woundee.

I mean, if I were a juror in the case, when I learned that Ramos and Compean not only failed to report the shooting, but went so far as to retrieve and hide their shell-casings in order to cover the incident up, I would immediately have wanted them to spend life in prison, because I don’t think armed officers of the law should have a free pass to shoot people on holiday whenever they feel like it. You gotta do the paperwork, and THEN we look the other way.

In any case, a jury has spoken and Ramos and Compean were convicted months ago. The next step is sentencing, which is due to take place in El Paso in October. The slow-motion tragedy of which I spoke earlier is, however, happening right now in Washington, D.C.

Not only are the usual Republicans, such as James Sensenbrenner and John Hostettler, trying to meddle in the federal court’s business in this case, but also so is good old Democrat Dianne Feinstein. They are all asking Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to order the case be reopened and re-prosecuted because they already don’t like the way it turned out, even before allowing the sentences to be read.

You can go to and sign their petition if you think it’s a good idea. I won’t. It looks to me like they want Bush to assign a new prosecutor in the case now, and then again in the future, and then again, until a prosecutor can be found that doesn’t bring charges, because Sensenbrenner, Feinstein, and the others have decided that if guys with badges can’t shoot Mexicans in the butt without anyone knowing, then the terrorists have won.

What really has the conservatives’ panties in a bunch is that the woundee and undoubted felon Aldrete-Davila got full immunity to testify against two white-hatted good guys, and they RIGHTFULLY see this as a travesty of justice.

It IS a travesty of justice when the bad guys get immunity to testify against good guys. But if you’re going to end that practice just for federal agents, we’re going to be stuck with two separate justice systems, one for liars with badges, and one for all the rest of us. That would be the tragedy.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Necessity Is A Mother

Recently I was in a van with a bunch of folks from my building, coming back from the food bank, when a man with a shopping cart pushed it off the curb across an intersection right in front of us, while we had the green light. I reacted first and said, “Smart!” Then the others all said, “Stupid!” That got me thinking. Why am I so unrelentingly ironic?

I’ve also thought about how a lot of people say things to me like, “Dr. Wes, you must be the smartest person who ever lived. Where do you get your amazing understanding and knowledge of everything, especially things you’ve never experienced, like racecar driving, or stellar nuclear fusion, or significant work, or humility?”

The answer, of course, is that I utilize my enormous gift of imagination (making stuff up in my head), combined with my equally enormous gift of association (making the made-up stuff line up with other stuff that’s not so made up).

Let me illustrate. I have never actually tied one end of a long elastic cord to the railing of a bridge and the other end to my ankles and then took a flying leap off the bridge into an enormous gorge over jagged rocks. So how could I ever speak knowledgeably about bungee jumping? It’s easy! I just imagine stepping in front of a #1 bus on its way past Yesler and imagine showing the driver my middle finger. When the driver slams on his brakes and stops the bus an inch from my nose, in my imagination, I’ve understood the essence of bungee jumping. And aren’t the essences of things all we ever need of them?

But being so gifted intellectually isn’t all sweetness and sunshine, or pizza and cheese, or pajamas and coeds. There’s hardship too. I have long been a target of bigotry, having to endure the taunts and slurs of brainists. Growing up, I was called vicious names like Egghead, Einstein, Brainiac, College Material, Smarty Pants, Smart, and Poindexter.

The turning point came in the 8th grade when my math teacher called in our homework and I had forgotten to do mine. Supposedly his difficult homework should have taken me an hour to do, but I said, “No problem,” and took some paper and did the assignment in front of him, in a minute. The teacher said I was “weird.” At first I took that to be a compliment. But then I realized he didn’t mean, “You’re refreshingly different” or “You’re oddly delightful,” but rather something dark and mean, like, “You’re never going to own a house on Mercer Island,” or “You’re never going to be a member in good standing of a major fraternal organization such as the Elks or the Rotary Club,” or “You’re never going to sleep with a cheerleader.”

At that, something snapped inside, and, all at once, I became mean-spirited. I began to plot revenge on all the brainists. I used my enormous intellect and inhuman imagination for evil rather than good, as I dreamed up one hideous punishment after another for my many tormentors.

Sadly, most of the punishments I dreamed up were out of my price range. Being 13, I had no credit, and as my parents were cheap bastards my allowance barely paid for my school lunches. So I was unable to realize my plans involving the fighter jet, the remote-controlled giant robot with the heat-ray eyes, and the genetically engineered jock-eating gerbil.

I could complain about that from here to the end of the column, but the truth is that “Necessity is a Mother” and never having a mass-murdering genetically engineered gerbil made me what I am today, and that’s something I’m thankful for.

Because there wouldn’t be any Adventures in Irony if I hadn’t been forced to learn more constructive ways to cope with frustration than bombing and strafing all of my enemies.

If only all of us could be as fortunate as I’ve been.