Wednesday, November 29, 2006

OJ And Me in the Lonely Crowd

Ever try to imagine the internal conversations of people who turn up in the news?

Did Michael “Kramer” Richards think to himself, “I’m a great comedic actor, but I’m having trouble getting roles these days. Hey, why don’t I try stand-up for a while? That’s got to be easy.”

Maybe the Pope thought, “I know what will show Muslims I’m cool. I’ll go to a predominantly Muslim country and let my people drive me around in the Pope-mobile and show them all how cute and harmless I am. They’ll love me for sure!”

I’m not going to try to guess exactly what OJ was thinking when he came up with that book idea of his. I’m afraid that if I ever got myself to think that way my brain would get stuck in that state and I’d never be able to fake normal again. But I’ll guess part of what he was thinking was “Hmm, money.”

Let me risk seeming to change the subject entirely. I’ve been noticing a pattern in the news lately. A lot is coming down to conflicts, real and imagined, between individual and group rights.

Example: Why should we have hate-crime legislation? Doesn’t that give rights to groups that individuals can’t share in? Why should it be worse to beat up someone because you don’t like the group they belong to, than to beat the same person up because you just don’t like their looks?

Come on, people, that one’s simple. The hate-crime beating is worse to the extent that, in addition to the immediate harm done to the immediate victim, other people are also threatened with future violence. Such threats amount to terrorism.

Here’s an example where the conflict appears genuine: Recently in Montreal the police had a brief internal discussion over whether it might not be good, when engaging with certain extremely patriarchal ethnic communities within that diverse city, to leave the police women in the back seat of the police car, so to speak. Apparently the discussion lasted just long enough for someone to write a memo about it, and then the decision was: no way that’s going to happen. I learned about this from an editorial I found that framed it as a case of women’s individual rights vs a minority group’s rights. But is it?

Wasn’t the decision really to go with offending the tiny minority groups rather than offending the one huge majority group of women? I’m betting the Montreal police department wasn’t looking out for any one woman’s individual rights.

If I’m wrong about that, then what do we make of the veil controversy in France? Veils are losing out there. Why? Because the majority of French women don’t care if they wear veils, that’s why.

Getting back to the questions that started this, the news says that the hecklers that Richards spewed racist language toward are interested in receiving monetary compensation. That puts the whole Michael Richards’ career-in-flames story in a whole different light, one that swings the focus radically from group to individuals.

Suddenly it becomes an issue not of how racist Richards is, or how offended African-Americans everywhere are by the man’s language, but how hurt were these two guys in the audience, and how much would it take to make it better. What we have here is a triumph of the individual-right perspective over the group-right perspective. The hecklers are individualizing the common demand for reparations.

I’m warming to the idea slowly. I’m seeing possibilities, as my individual sensibilities are pummeled wherever I go.

Just the other day, a motorist gave me the finger for delaying him while I used a crosswalk. I’m thinking, that could be $5, right there.

If Benedict XVI sets off World War III by stirring up trouble in Istanbul, I am personally holding him responsible, and I will sue him and the Vatican $100 for each day I am made miserable by the consequent global conflagration. After all, I can’t leave for another planet.

Hmm, money.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanks for the Memories

Usually on Thanksgivings I won’t give thanks for anything, because the whole concept of a day set aside to apply peer pressure upon everyone to force them to give thanks for every damn thing was dreamed up by the same bozos who invented uniforms, flags, floggings, genocides, and wars. Come to think of it, whenever anyone tells me to “Have a nice day!” my natural instinct is to say, “Take a hike, bozo – you’re not the boss of me.”

So the fact that I feel like giving some thanks this Thanksgiving tells you I might be coming down with something. All the more reason to share: I am thankful to Bill Speidel for introducing me to my home, the Pioneer Square District, and for teaching me so much about Seattle and how Seattle works, with a little help from my Dad.

Bill Speidel was a local author. When I met him in the middle of the Sixties I was a teenager who had never read anything he had written. I had to take his word for it that he was an author. Fortunately, he wasn’t shy about it.

I met Speidel in connection with a project he was doing. He wanted to get parts of Seattle that had been buried in the Jackson-Yesler regrade dug out, so he could draw tourists to them and so revitalize the Pioneer Square neighborhood. He got word out that he was looking for high school kids to volunteer for the excavation, and I was one of the ones who showed up.

The beginning of the first day we crowded into his office just off 1st Avenue to listen to him talk about the underground and what his plans were. One of the things that struck me was that the walls were exposed bricks. During his talk Speidel took credit for that interior decorating innovation that has since become de rigueur in that part of town. He admitted it wasn’t historic (historically the walls were plastered and wallpapered) but it looked historic, and looks are everything, he said.

As a suicidal sixteen year old with bad skin, crooked teeth, and disproportionately long legs, nicknamed grasshopper of all things, I resented that remark. Beauty had to be more than skin deep or I was screwed. Bill and I were not hitting it off.

But I hung in there, and I helped dig out what we now call the Seattle Underground. I spent several hours on two separate days in those dark dusty tunnels shoveling dirt and debris into wheelbarrows.

The dust got so thick we could only see a few feet in front of us. Sometimes I couldn’t see my feet. I had a cough for several days later and it made my mouth taste like dust. Even my Father, who usually didn’t care about me breathing or not, noticed. He asked me how I got like that.

When he found out I had excavated tunnels without the benefit of hard hat, face mask, or minimum wage, he got all union-y on me and started screaming about chains and slave-masters and something about “line them all up against the wall” and I don’t remember the rest, except that he said he wouldn’t let me go back.

Then my Father pointed out something that I had totally missed. He said that after the Underground was cleaned out it would be possible for Speidel to charge tourists to see it. So by helping clean it out without pay or safety gear I was investing my labor toward Speidel’s future wealth, and I had not been guaranteed any financial return on that investment. All I was getting for my sweat and my bad health was a little bit of a history education.

My Dad said, “You want an education? Come here and I’ll whack you upside the head with a board just like they did the strikers in 1919. It’ll teach you what it’s all about.”

Just then, I experienced satori. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Bill.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks for the Mandate

The question of the week is, “What will change?” Now that the Democratic Party has limited control of one of the three branches of government, will we feel any different in two years, aside from the added age? Will GOP-Lite improve our figures? Will it put hair between our toes?

Here’s a change. Fewer conservatives in right-wing paradises from Pissatchoo, WA, to Kissmahoochee, FL, will write angry letters exclusively to Seattle papers telling us what freak liberal losers we are. Instead they’ll write a fair number of such letters to newspapers in Billings and Charleston, thus easing up on us.

The Democratic Party has shown itself to be a national party. That means that anywhere you go in the nation you won’t have to come all the way back to Seattle to find freak liberal losers who have won local elections. You will be able to find them as near as the next state over.

Those of you Seattleites who are saddened by the prospect of no longer being the lightning rod of hate for America’s extreme right-wing will have to put your backs into going Green or Socialist next time. Good luck with that! I mean that totally in a friendly non-endorsing 501(c)3 kind of way.

Other major consequences of the Democrat’s wins:

America will rediscover its love of government gridlock. There’s nothing like the peace of mind you get knowing the government can’t ruin your health and well-being with a surprise midnight-to-dawn legislative session. People will sleep better. American workers’ productivity will begin to resemble that of the French, who have always slept soundly because they know they can always strike in the morning. As productivity increases, so will earnings, and so will taxes, and there will be public money to pay for the tunnel option after all. It will be so easy for people to get from West Seattle to Ballard there will be charges in Ballard that “West Seattleites are stealing our jobs!” and there will be calls for border control at the Ballard bridge. The issue will boost Republican support in Ballard, and the cycle of politics will go on.

After the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has had control of that body’s “agenda” for a while and the nation sees Congress isn’t emasculated as a result, one last prejudice will fall. San Franciscans will start to find acceptance in other walks of life as well. Don’t be surprised if, in a few years, you start seeing San Franciscans “manning” roadwork crews (if only to direct traffic) or, who knows, maybe joining a “manned” mission to Mars! Our great-grandchildren might live to see a San Franciscan vice president!

The less-asked question of the week is “What should change?” Last week when I said we should mass-impeach a substantial chunk of the Bush administration, that recommendation wasn’t predicated on a Democrat win. In a friendly way, out of consideration for their best long-term interests, I think the lame-duck Republicans should get that started now and not wait for the Democrats. That’s not a partisan issue.

But I see one issue where the Democrats can make a huge impact in the next two years, and I’m confident they’ll move on it quickly.

The Democrats have always been the Party of the Working Man and Woman, and the Party of the Poor and Downtrodden. They’ve always cared about making life bearable for all. I just know they’re going to bring us real relief.

I know you all know what I’m thinking of here, but I’ll say it anyway: Thank-you-notes for voting!

Not thank-you-notes from the Dems for voting Dem, but something really groundbreaking, namely thank-you-notes from the government for voting, period!

I’d love getting a post-card from the Washington Secretary of State, saying, “Dear Voter, Thank you for your excellent votes. Your ballot has been counted and has helped make our election a great success.”

I think they’ve got a mandate for it! Decent wages would be nice, too.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Rev. Haggard and Other Hazards

Five weeks ago we enjoyed Ted Haggard’s pronouncement that President George Bush is not Satan. Years before, the evangelical leader Reverend Ted Arthur “I Did Not Have Sex With That Male Whore And Never Used That Meth” Haggard made a key endorsement George Bush needed to win the presidency in 2000. He is a good honorable man and I, for one, totally believe his denials of wrongdoing.

Haggard was only being Christlike in his love for his male flesh merchant. His frequent payments of $200 to his for-hire boy toy were not for sex. They made Haggard an instrument of God’s Love to a poor struggling sinner. Likewise, when he bought unwanted meth from his drug-dealing hooker it was just a kind way to give without demeaning the recipient.

Who needs happy endings, when they’re on the Way to the Lord’s Eternal Happy Ending?

Speaking of lies, cowardice, and criminal conduct, as of last week I planned to spend this column conveying the idea that while Bush, Cheney, and a large percentage of their staff and cabinet are guilty of High Crimes and Misdemeanors galore and unquestionably deserve mass impeachment, it would be bad for the country to take that route.

There’s the NSA warrantless wiretapping surveillance program which violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and so violates the provision in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that Congress “shall make Rules for the Government & Regulation of the land and naval forces” and violates the provision, in Article II, Section 3, that the President “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” It undermines freedom of speech (1st Amendment) and the right of counsel and to fair trials (6th Amendment, because the government eavesdrops on client-attorney discussions) and citizen’s rights to due process (5th Amendment.)

Gosh, while I was making that list I plum forgot to mention the 4th Amendment. IT SAYS DON’T DO WARRANTLESS SEARCHES RIGHT THERE IN PLAIN ENGLISH. The Supreme Court ruled some time ago (1967) that wiretaps constitute searches for the purposes of applying the 4th Amendment.

That’s at least six provisions of the Constitution undermined, and at least 3 flagrant violations of both the letter and the spirit of provisions that speak to the heart of what makes the United States a great nation and distinguishes its government from a worthless dictatorship. So George Bush and accomplices are guilty of continuous disregard of our founding law.

Then there’s the 2003 Iraq War, which satisfied the legal definition of a war of aggression and therefore was and always will be a war crime under United States law. It violates Article VI: “all... treaties made shall be the Supreme Law of the Land” and “all executive officers shall be bound to support the Constitution.”

The use of “unlawful combatant status” is also a flagrant continuous unabated and unmitigated violation of treaty law ratified by the United States Congress and represents an insult to the Constitution and to every citizen who gives a damn that this is a country of laws not ruled by a king.

When before has it been necessary to remind any United States administration that to torture a state prisoner is to commit treason against that state?

But, hey, a mass impeachment would be disruptive, so I was going to say, let’s live and let live, it’s only 2 more years, blah, blah, blah.

Then I learned that George Bush intends to deny detainees (not yet proven guilty of any crime) access to lawyers and to keep them in isolation IN PERPETUITY, on the unbelievable grounds that they have been the unwilling subjects of secret interrogation techniques.

This is the most despicable, vile, disgusting, assault on American Law, on fundamental human rights, on common decency, and the good name of the United States since this country practiced slavery.

Now we have no other choice but to try this man and every one who has put him up to this, simply to show the rest of the world that we don’t condone such depravity.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Lovingcup-full

Don’t we all have limits? I know I do. The Wellbutrin only works so far, and then Mister Smiley turns into Mister Where’s My Baseball Bat.

It takes me a long time to snap. This is a problem for me, or more precisely, for everybody else, because when I do snap everyone thinks there was no warning. In truth there was plenty of warning. There was me calmly saying, over and over again, “This better stop,” and there was everybody else calmly ignoring me because I am being so calm and cheerful. Then all of the sudden there’s a crazy man in the house.

Sometimes it takes years. About 1983 I became homeless for the second time in my life. I lived out of a ’69 Rambler for about eight months while I worked the night shift as a cab driver. I say I lived out of the ’69 Rambler because the police, security guards, and vigilantes wouldn’t let me actually sleep in said vehicle. Through a twisted logic I can’t possibly reconstruct, they deemed me a threat to civil society whenever I locked myself away from them in my car. So I was forced to sleep out in the open where I was constantly subject to harassment. I’m sure I said something at the time to the effect of “this better stop,” or “this sucks,” or “I’m getting royally steamed,” but I don’t recall anyone saying, “Oh gee, I guess in that case we’ll all have to stop using you as a whipping post.”

The whole situation -- being homeless -- reminded me of little Bobby Lovingcup. “Little Bobby Lovingcup” is not his real name but it’s so close that if he reads this he’ll know I’m talking about him. Bobby was the son of my parent’s best friends. I couldn’t stand him when he was sane, but I had to tolerate him because his parents and my parents hung together. Besides, he didn’t mean any harm by being a dork -- he just was one.

Then the Lovingcups moved to the Big City and one day some other kid who had his own problems threw a rock at Bobby’s head and it connected.

A year or so later my parents took me with them to visit the Lovingcups in the Big City, and the four parents sent Bobby and me out together to “play,” in order to leave them to their important adult conversation.

Bobby showed me a new game he said he liked to play since getting hit with the rock. It was called “whip” and it consisted of him whipping me repeatedly with a three-foot long branch from a tree. He hit me in the face first, and when I turned away he hit me on my back, oh, once every three seconds or so.

I didn’t mention that Bobby was then 9, while I was 12 and proportionately bigger, so I could have at any time reached past his switch, grabbed him by the arm, twisted it till it came off, and fed it to him. But I had to be nice to Bobby, because Bobby had been hit in the head with a rock, and you don’t hurt people who don’t know what they’re doing is wrong. So instead of breaking his arm I just took his whip away from him and broke it into 12 3-inch pieces, and went back inside and told his parents to keep him away from me if they liked him intact.

That’s how I feel about homelessness. I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything for having been homeless. But the fact is I was used as a whipping post while I was down by many, many, people. I try to tell myself those people didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. But I still want all the whips broken.

In Las Vegas, a municipal court struck down as unconstitutional Las Vegas’ recently enacted No Feeding the Homeless ordinance.

One less whip, for now.