Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Loads of Bon Mots

Welcome to a special non-topical version of these Adventures! Take this one internally and let it work globally!

There are a couple of reasons for going the non-topical route this week. One of them, which also may apply next week, is the little fact that even editors are human (!) and want Christmases and New Yearses off. So I have to turn this in several days before Christmas so that somebody else can have a Wonderful Life.

The other reason that this column is going to be utterly non-topical is that six days ago I fell off a rolling platform and got a significant “owie” involving pain in multiple places. I don’t know about you, but for me pain induces an impatience for the minutiae of the daily news, and turns my thoughts to the universal and timeless. And, where my thoughts go, there I must Adventure also, or my thoughts and I would become separated. (Get it? Advent; advent-ure.)

So what I thought I’d do today is share some little sayings that I either have lived by for years, or just made up recently out of crushing boredom.

“The essence of humor is clown squeezings.” A lot of people misread this one as saying we should go squeeze a clown for jollies. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying hurt begets humor. Some of these are metaphoric, damn it!

“A baby is nothing to sneeze at.” I think that can’t be said often enough.

“When life gives you lemons, pucker up.” I know, it doesn’t quite work, but the meaning comes across anyway, doesn’t it?

“Honesty is the best front.” This is one of my all time favorites. Remember kids; don’t waste your lies getting dimes and candies, cigarettes and kisses. Save your fibs for the big stuff, like escaping the death penalty, or truly worthwhile wide-awake debauchery that you’ll be able to remember when you’re in the rest home while being “tidied up” by the nurse after your daily business.

“Politics is never a dirty word.” Sometimes politicians will counter critics by saying, “You’re just playing politics.” They want to make it a dirty word so they can have it all for themselves. They know that all politics is about the exercise of power, that’s why they want to alienate you from the very word, so you can’t exercise power that you are entitled to. So whenever someone, even be they on your own side, says someone else is just playing politics, you should make vigorous expressions of disapproval.

“If you let a wild pig eat off your ass, it's your fault when he bites it.” That was the cleaned up version. At the moment I’m imagining Karl Rove as the pig, but it could be anybody. “Codependence kills,” is another one in the same vein.

“Never do anything you would be ashamed of. First, stop feeling you should be ashamed of it. Then do it.” Some of these are just plain obvious.

“When a 250 pound man gives the seat next to me to a 90 pound woman, and the bus slams to a halt, the 250 pound man will collide with my face.” I learned this one long before Homelessness Czar Philip Mangano cooked up the whole “house the chronically homeless first” line he’s been selling. I still would add to it though: “Better yet, buy bigger busses, seat everybody.”

“Beating your neighbor’s spouse doesn’t show how much you love your own.” These days what passes for patriotism is really national chauvinism. No one loves any one country that doesn’t first love humanity, as a whole.

“Language matters.” Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the constant abuse of language, especially by authorities, is making slaves out of us all.

This one’s just for me: “My mind is like a Border Collie, it needs to drive sheep.” While you think about that, I’ll get next week’s column ready.
Have a Happy, and may Bono be pleased with the New Year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Ghost of Christmas Future

Now that the Christmas trees are back up at SeaTac, or those are up that haven’t since blown away, and now that people have calmed down a bit, I feel the need to work them into a frenzy again. That’s why this year I’m calling for all good Americans to stop recognizing foreign winters, and start recognizing American winters.

What I’m talking about is the fact that practically every calendar you can find around here, including calendars designed and printed right here in America, even right here in this city, show winter 2006 as beginning on the 22nd of this month! This is an outrage!

In fact, winter begins at a little past 12:20 AM Greenwich Mean Time. Did you know that’s code for British time, also known as ZULU time? Do we live in Britain? Do we live in Zululand? NO! We live in a city 8 hours ahead, or behind, depending on whether (math joke alert!) you’re positively or negatively oriented, ha. In any case winter starts on the 21st all across America from Maine to Hawaii, AND ANTI-AMERICAN CALENDAR MAKERS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW IT. Are you paying attention, Lou Dobbs, or don’t you care about the American Way of Life? It’s time we celebrated Freedom Winter! No more Brit Winter!

OK, now that I’ve got that out of the way I can do what I came here to do. Apparently nobody else noticed it last week but me, but a huge shift has occurred in the culture wars across this land, a shift that promises to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

I am speaking of the fact that Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota came this close (see pinched fingers, crushing the head of a flea) to needing a living will and testament. Fortunately all is well, this time. I’ve read that Senator Johnson has been seen by no less than three highly qualified Democrats, who all say he’s “looking good” and has an excellent prognosis until at least January 2009, so it won’t be at all necessary for South Dakota Republican Governor Mike Rounds to appoint anyone to take Johnson’s place.

This is great because it means that I can forget about the bad scenario I have in mind happening to Tim Johnson. I can imagine it happening to a fictitious Democratic Senator. So let’s do that together, shall we?

There are 51 Senators trying to keep the Senate in Democratic control. Actuarially speaking, they are most of them old, and no one would be surprised if they didn’t all last the next two years. The same can be said for the other 49, less the difference. But what happens when, sometime in the middle of next year, the Democratic Senator William “Willy” Orrnot from the great state of South Macadamia, governed by a Republican, slips and falls in an off-duty hula competition and gets himself concussed and then doesn’t wake up from it, ever?

I’ll tell you what happens because I can see it coming as plain as a car hurtling south on a northbound one-way in rush hour, what with all the screeching tires and the smashing glass and crushed metal. At first everyone will sit back respectfully and watch as the life support system is put into action, “the way he wanted it.” Then someone will leak the man’s actual living will, which will turn out to stipulate “no unusual life-prolonging measures” be taken. Then lawsuits will fly, at first involving only the family and the wife.

When it starts to look like the plug could be pulled, that’s when you’ll see a cultural war realignment.

I don’t know about the rest of you die-hard liberals out there, but I for one am ready right now to sign a petition calling for my Congresspeople to support “An Act for the relief of the people who don’t want Democrats’ plugs pulled.”

Did I say that the Schiavo Bill was unconstitutional? I must have been smoking something.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Triple Bypass

It seems the story last week was less about the Kim family than, “How can you and YOUR family avoid dying if trapped in your car on a back road in Oregon in a blizzard?” TV news teams showed us how to assemble survival kits. On CNN, Anderson Cooper said, “Next hour: the survivalists’ Rule of Threes and what it means for you.”

That sounded very important so I had to wait for it. I often use a Rule of Threes when writing this column. For example let’s say I wanted to call attention to the fact that the winter solstice is approaching and how that means we can expect colder weather. I might remind you of three fun winter solstice events. There’s the (1) Annual Pigs Balanced On Their Noses Gala, the (2) Annual Pigs Squealing and Running Away Festival, and the (3) Annual The Planet’s Tilting the Wrong Way Again Observation.

It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are Goldilocks or if you are the Council of Nicea or if you are you, or whoever, threes are going to get your attention better than twos, fours, or seventeens. Threes are just enough to make you notice but not enough to induce a trance and result in your being possessed and dancing wildly until the god is done with you and leaves you exhausted and near death.

Which reminds me, we were talking about survival. So when Anderson Cooper told us about the survivalists’ Rule of Threes he mentioned the three rules: (1) You can survive only three hours in severe weather without shelter, (2) You can survive only three days without water, and (3) You can survive only three weeks without food.

Therefore, they say, it’s essential to get shelter first. Where have we heard that before?

While I’m trying to remember, I’ll let you all contemplate (1) the report by the Public Health Department that said they had to deal with 94 deaths of homeless people in King County last year. Or (2) the fact that we’ve exceeded that number this year. Or (3) the fact that if the same percentage of all housed people died in King County every year it would be declared a disaster area.

Oh, I remember. I said it. We need shelter first, because it doesn’t take a blizzard to kill you if all the doors in the city are locked to you.

They now say there was a well-stocked lodge within two miles of the Kim’s car that they could have reached had they known about it. But in the city there’s only enough shelter space to shelter about half the people who are homeless.

Meanwhile, Tom Rasmussen recently told a bunch of activists that the Human Services Department told him, when he asked, that the city’s shelters have no capacity problems.

I have three comments concerning that.

(1) The Human Services Department doesn’t keep track of shelter turn-aways, so their opinion on the subject is baseless. It would have been better if Tom Rassmussen had asked somebody who knew something about it, like the countless homeless people who have been turned away from shelters, who are all just trying their best, every cold night, to do what Anderson Cooper told the vast American TV viewing audience to do. So as not to end up on the Public Health Department’s roster of the dead.

(2) Rasmussen probably bases his perception in part on the truth that some homeless people won’t apply for shelter. What he chooses to ignore is that those who avoid the shelters cite dangerous overcrowding as their chief reason. So large numbers of non-applicants or zero turn-aways would not be evidence that the shelters are operating at capacity, but that the vote from the street is that the overcrowding has become intolerable.

(3) Because he was aiming for a triple, Anderson Cooper neglected to mention rule (4): You can survive only three months without love.

I’m not feeling the love.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Big Brother Is Watching YouTube

Isn’t it good to know that your government is keeping tabs on you by means of something called an Automated Targeting System, or ATS?

ATS is one big funky profiling system that profiles you as a terrorist based on a whole range of information about you gleaned from your flights in and out of the country. Let’s say you never get the pork for the in-flight meal. If you are always coming in from Tel Aviv, that might get you a low score. But if you are always flying in from Shiraz, Iran, that might dramatically raise your score. But if you are always also drinking the Shiraz, that might lower your score once more. And so on.

Fare Thee Well, in all your travels, and good luck on getting a low terrorist score! Remember it’s not personal – you’re being targeted by a heartless, mindless, soulless, automated data cranking system. What can go wrong?

But why should the government stop at collecting data about you from your flights in and out of the country? Well, I could tell you why, but it doesn’t matter – they WON’T stop! So let’s see what that will look like.

Fortunately my mathematics skills are still keen enough that I know exactly what it will look like. It will look like Netflix. Netflix’s founder Reed Hastings, who, like me and my homie Florence Nightingale, is/was also a mathematician, was just the other day telling Lesley Stahl how Netflix automatically knows how to recommend movies to you based on what you have already rented. I forget the exact words he used, but it boils down to this: the more you know about everybody, the more you know about anybody. The system simply learns what you will like from what the other clients currently like who have recently liked what you like now.

How will that work in practice? The government probably won’t mine Netflix’s data because it isn’t democratic enough. A potential domestic terrorist might not be willing to spend $5.99/month on DVDs when he could be using that money to stock up on fertilizer. Instead, our government will track things we get for free. Like YouTube videos.

Don’t kid yourself. All potential terrorists, even poor domestic terrorists nonfunded by foreign governments, enjoy YouTube. Because of that it will be very easy for Homeland Security to find terrorists by assembling a YouTube preferences terrorist score. In fact, it would be so easy they’re probably already doing it.

Think about it. If you think your personal iPod music list tells everybody everything they need to know about you, how much more will your YouTube video favorites do the trick? Just wait until Homeland Security’s computers get wind of your passion for 1930’s Soviet propaganda films featuring the Russian Internationale, with subtitles, or for 23-second clips of buskers in Budapest, annotated in Polish by someone who evidently speaks Polish but nevertheless chooses to call attention to her knowledge of English by calling herself tongue_lust.

What do you think it will mean to Homeland Security when their computer bank finds out you can’t resist scratchy videos of Uyghur lute players performing against backgrounds of Xinjiang Province landscapes? What it means depends on what all the other freaks out there with the exact same tastes do with their lives, and how often they get suspected of being a terrorist. If they (people you don’t know) are suspected of being terrorists, you will be too.

Here’s a stupid joke I just made up. How many Russians does it take to poison a light bulb? Answer: You are asking too many questions. Finish your soup!

Depending on whether you think my stupid joke is funny, the Bush administration can rate you on how trustworthy you are. It’s easy. I think my joke is a hoot, and the government knows I can’t be trusted. So if you like my joke, you can’t be trusted either.

Be beyond suspicion. Don’t do anything I would do.