Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Everything, Etc.

This is going to be one of two consecutive holiday columns that has to be written 4 days earlier than usual so our Managing Editor can go on two separate 4 day spiked-eggnog binges. That means neither this column nor the next can be remotely topical. It occurred to me that there were two big non-topical topics I could cover, namely, Everything, and Nothing. Since Nothing is promising, I thought I'd save it for next week.

It may have been Ovid who first discovered the advantages of writing about Everything, who wrote the thing about "endives, radishes, and succory" and then continued on with stuff about curds, cream, liquor, plums, apples, nuts, wine, a goose, the desert, plains, a temple, marriage, altars, sepulchers -- oops, I left out dry figs, and dates, and wrinkled grapes. And lard. The point is, if you are prepared to talk about Everything you never run out of stuff to write. This is essentially what I was driving at a few years ago when I recommended to drunk or distracted writers that if they could think of nothing else to write about, they should write about egg salad sandwiches.

The egg salad sandwich constitutes a metaphor for everything. The bready things of the world, like the slices between which the egg salad sits, constitute metaphors for metaphorical-ness itself. We also are sure, by the way, that wine, beer, and hard liquor all constitute a metaphor, but I need a moment to get to it.

Getting back to the metaphor at hand, the thing that really says Everything to me about the egg salad sandwich is the egg salad. And the thing that screams Everything at me about the egg salad is the unspoken question, "What, a salad made out of egg?" If you can make a salad out of egg, you can make a salad out of anything. Hence Everything. Today, salads made from eggs. Tomorrow, salads made of refried beans and cheese raviolis. In a sandwich.

This is where the beer, wine and hard liquor come in. You got your metaphor for Everything in the egg salad sandwich. You got your metaphor for Everything Else in your spirit-based beverages.

Everything Else is logically part of Everything. Everything leaves Nothing out, so Everything Else is by definition included in it. But in practice, when most people try to think of Everything, they always leave Everything Else out.

Ovid's poem mentioned a goose. It did not mention a moose. This is partly because Ovid had never even seen or heard of a moose. If he'd mentioned moose in his poem everyone would have known for sure he was high when he wrote it.

Another way to put it is, Everything Else constitutes the possibilities you haven't encountered or thought of yet. They may be the answers to questions you have been asking for years, or they may be answers to questions you haven't dreamed of asking yet.

[Above Right: A hamburger "with Everything" which does not include radishes, endives, moose or marriage! Those would be among Everything Else!]]

If you're still reading, you are probably wondering how I am going to manage the obligatory connection to homelessness. It's easy! Homelessness is part of Everything, last I checked. The solution to homelessness is to create housing for everyone. The solution to the solution is the crux of the matter.

What do I have to say out of all the Everything Elses other than what I've already said, to get people to take the solution seriously? What combination of words, never before uttered by any human being, will unlock the locked neurons of members of Congress and the Administration, and the general public, and get them to see what is so plainly clear, that homelessness is ended by supplying places to live?

One of my favorite games to play when faced with dumb guys in college was to strike a match as if to light a cigarette while the guy was talking, and just hold it until it burned out in my fingers. Then I'd strike another, and another. Until the bonehead would notice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eat In And Save!

It was back in the Summer of '97, and the Real Change editorial committee was bored. We were bored of each other, we were bored of Seattle, we were bored of being bored. Due to a shortage of space in the main office we were meeting in the Crocodile Café. We would justify taking over two tables by ordering food. Somebody pointed out the sad obvious truth that it was only when we were reading the menu that we were engaged, and joked that if Real Change were about food, we'd all stay awake for a meeting.

All at once we all saw what we had to do. We needed a Food Issue in order to love life again!

Food is everyone's second favorite subject. Scientists have already proved, using electrodes, charts, and pictures, that the average human male thinks of his favorite subject 4000 times a day. They'll probably prove that all of us think of food at least 1000 times a day, also using electrodes.

We've done several Food Issues since that first one, and here we are doing it again. You can only wonder how bored we must have been two months ago when we decided to do this one. The videotapes have been destroyed.

There's always things to say about food. People talk about food all the time, so all I have to do is listen and take it in. For example, last week I was riding a bus when I heard a couple of other passengers discussing the "problem with the homeless", and the one of them who had the most opinions said, "Getting off the streets is easy. All they have to do is keep working and save their money. For one thing, they need to not eat out all the time."

Apparently, the fellow has been alarmed by the large numbers of homeless people he has seen wasting their money dining at El Gaucho, Canlis, and the Metropolitan Grill. If only they would learn to eat in! Think of the money they could save! Pretty soon they'd have enough for rent.

[Above: If you're homeless, for the love of God, don't eat at this restaurant! You can't afford it!]

The logic of it reminded me of an argument I got into with a fool about who was poorer. In answer to his question, "You think you're poor, don't you?" I said I had 5 dollars to my name at that moment. He said, "That's nothing! I'm so poor I'm $5000 in debt! I'd need $5005 to be as rich as you." It turns out he was talking about credit card debt, and he still had the use of his credit cards even with all that debt. So he could still spend hundreds of dollars a day using his credit cards for weeks while I would be done as soon as the Quarter Pounder With Cheese "Just The Sandwich" and a side of chewing gum were purchased.

[Left: On the Indonesian Wikipedia, it's called the Royale with cheese.]

Still, there is something to what the guy on the bus was saying. (Not the credit card guy -- he was just stupid.) The fact is that if you have housing and a place to store food and cook it, you don't have to rely on either free community meals or cheap fast food. The fact also is, that if you are one of the working homeless people you probably can't get to the community meals anyway, because your job keeps you busy those hours. They further fact is, if you are a working homeless person, you MUST eat well or your health will suffer and so will your work performance, and you will be fired.

So food represents a serious problem for people trying to work their way off the streets. If you can get work you have to eat, but you'll have to pay for it out of your earnings, and you can't eat in, because even if the shelter has a kitchen they can't let all the residents use it. So, if it's dinner, it's Dollar Menu Time.

Thank you, Opinionated Bus Rider, for that important reminder!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A View Of Elliott Bay, Denied

I never get to write about what I want. This week is no exception. I had planned a happy, cheerful, good news piece about how we're finally winning WW II, fascism is on the run, bunnies are cute, and we have iPods, too! But then Craig Thompson, All-American fear-monger, went and wrote a little opinion piece for the Sunday P-I, and I have no choice but to deal with his vicious crap point by sickening point.

The piece, called "Homeless camp sweeps needed" is one of the most outstanding examples of hate writing I have ever seen, and should go down as a classic of the genre. It starts with "Before me is a view of Elliott Bay lost for a decade." Today, homeless people have taken away one of our precious views of Elliott Bay -- tomorrow, they will take away our daughters!

[Below: You can't see Elliott Bay from anywhere you want because homeless people live in camps where the DOT has already said you can't go. But you can go where this picture was taken in Discovery park and not only see the bay but stick your toes in it.]

"Above Interstate 90, it was taken over by drug addicts, dealers, prostitutes, pimps and a homeless encampment." In the past, it's been drug addicts prostitutes, pimps, and welfare queens. Or drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and Negroes. Or Drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and Jews.

Craig Thompson reports he's taking apart a camp there; he says it smells of "of rotten food, mud, worms and human debris," and that a World War I trench would smell the same. He could have said, a Third World slum smells the same. Or that it smelled like the crotch of his own jockey shorts. Or Blethen's armpits.

But it's in the 4th paragraph that Thompson's genius for twisted hate speech really drives forward. He acknowledges that at a Queen Anne site, "Camp residents weren't notified before a cleanup and lost personal items." and says "people should know [sweepers] are coming -- unless they're criminals." And then, with just that justification and no more, he adds, "The sweeps should go on."

Let's see how that works in other contexts. How about "People shouldn't be sent to concentration camps -- unless they're criminals. The roundups should go on." How about, "People shouldn't be lynched -- unless they're criminals. The hangings should go on." Oh yeah, works great.

He says, "I'm not a cruel man, persecuting poor people. I support SHARE/WHEEL's roving Tent Cities." I'll bet he owns a puppy, too, and even feeds it. To show us how good he is, he tells us how he's in favor of various projects to house homeless people that have come under fire. He proves his compassion-credentials by criticizing the City Government's failure to create affordable housing.

[Above: Craig Thompson is not a cruel man! If he were a cruel man could he hold a puppy like this? (-- Not Craig Thompson's actual hand. Not Craig's Thompson's puppy. Hand and puppy are shown for illustrative purposes only.)]

That's followed by accounts of criminal activities in and around the greenbelts that he, Craig Thompson, has helped clean up, leading to the arrests of "dozens of criminals" -- out of thousands of homeless campers. He tells us how good this is for the homeless people themselves. He, Craig Thompson, has done them a favor. "Thuggery made life hell for homeless people who just wanted a place to sleep."

He says that homeless people living in camps are no more victimized by the government than are the rest of us. I find it hard to believe that Craig Thompson is regularly visited by agents of the government like himself and forced to stand by while all his belongings and all his ID and means of survival, including his home, are confiscated and destroyed. But if he says so it must be so. Maybe he should complain about it.

There are several paragraphs of calculated irrelevance to the effect that heroin imports into Seattle are up. News flash, Craig: You have housed neighbors on Beacon Hill who are using and dealing heroin. There has never been found a single major dealer of drugs who was permanently homeless. Dealers make enough money for rent. They can afford $500/day hotel rooms.

The final insult in Thompson's piece follows his own rhetorical question, "Where will residents go when camps are busted?" He just says, "that's another question," and drops it.

Answer the damn question, Craig Thompson.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

When Ridicule Isn't Enough

Over twenty years ago a friend did me a huge favor. In response to some random comment of mine, he said, "Good God, you certainly do have a keen sense of the absurd!"

Well, sure. After all, I'd been a research mathematician. Research mathematicians do not generally do their research using beakers, bunsen burners, oscilloscopes, or tweezers. They do it using proofs, half the time by the kind called Reduction To Absurdity, and it's really an advantage when trying to reduce a thing to absurdity to be gifted at knowing when you've done it.

[Above right: Euclid at the moment he discovers a contradiction to "equals to equals are equals." Minutes later he invented the first shredder.]

Still, it was quite a help to me to know that my friend could see the gift even in ordinary conversation. No wonder people leave when I enter rooms! That and my galling habitual resort to irony. And the garlic breath. And the intermittent rants, sulks, and giggles.

Knowing of a serious failing, such as oversensitivity to the absurd, you can deal with it. You can seek professional help. Also, drugs such as Paxil, Zyprexa, and Ethanol, are known to blunt the sensitivity. Studies have shown that drunks without partners suffer 50% less sharp awareness of the absurd, on average, compared to sober people in long-term relationships.

Sometimes the cures are worse than the disease. For example, Paxil undid 95% of my puberty, leaving only the beard. An alternative is to exploit your failing creatively. You may make mock, for instance.

[Left: Ferdinand Von Lindemann proved Pi is worse than irrational, it's even transcendental. Is that absurd or what?]

It turns out that there is a never ending stream of the absurd that I can use to make mock. I shall illustrate with one sweet example.

It is HR 1955/ S 1959, also known as the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007." This passed in the US House in October, after a suspension of the rules prevented debate, by a 405-6 vote, with 23 abstentions. It is likely to be considered by the Senate any day now, as soon as it gets out of committee. The law would create a commission of 10 paid Executive and Congressional appointees, each of which would have, for 18 months, independent power of subpoena to gather evidence in separate hearings throughout the country and compel testimonies under oath, in order to define "homegrown terrorism." The law itself doesn't define terrorism but says it includes planning or threatening to use "force" (not violence!) and what it calls "violent radicalization," consisting of the promotion of any "extremist belief system." (Promotions aren't violence!)

After subjecting the country to as many as ten simultaneous legal processes designed to root out all evidence of Americans promoting beliefs that any bozo on these fake courts deems extremist, such as Scientology, abortion rights, the belief that only Allah is God and Muhammed is His Prophet, or that fluoridation is a Communist plot, then the law would establish a "Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States" which would be a kind of government-run think-tank for coming up with cool new ways to battle all these evil promoters and forcifiers.

Force without violence is another name for political pressure. Force without violence includes the ballot box, initiatives and referenda, rallies, demonstrations, and boycotts. The law invites a commission to find out who, outside the government, is pushing political agendas by nonviolent means and class them as terrorists. The law as passed by the House explicitly mentions the use of the internet by political groups as a "weapon" for domestic radicalization.

The internet, of course, is purely a tool of communication. So, if the internet can be classed as a weapon, so can writing, talking, and the use of sign language. Gestures can be weapons of domestic radicalization. Planning to use a gesture as a weapon of domestic radicalization, as I am doing right now, in my head, would be subject to investigation by the commission.

Sometime in the next 18 months I may be compelled to admit under oath that I thought to raise a finger against my government.

[Below: Dangerous domestic radicals have been among us for too long.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Extinction Game

Recently Philip Mangano, National Homelessness Czar, was in Salem, Massachusetts, promoting his lame ideas about how you can end homelessness by saying you are ending it, and said he hoped Salem would one day have a Museum of Homelessness. What we guess he was going for is that Salem already has a Witch museum but no witches (at least not the bad kind of witches) so, by analogy, wouldn't it be nifty if they had a Homelessness Museum but no homeless people?

Think of it, you could have animatrons of homeless guys greet you at the entrance. "Hello. My. Name. Is. Steve. Got. A. Quarter?" There could be tableaux of typical homeless scenes behind glass. Life-sized depictions of sleeping under bridges, in shelters. Maybe visitors could be allowed to actually sit in a homeless camp, or study the contents of a homeless woman's cart, all neatly laid out and labeled.

Mangano lets museums evoke extinction. If something is found everywhere you don't need a museum for it. You need the museum to preserve memories of what has become non-existent. This is not a bad idea. It suggests a new game for me to play. I can dream up all sorts of things I'd like to see in a museum besides homeless people.

I'd like to see a Seattle Museum of Bad-Government Artifacts. Over a year ago I was walking downtown and passed the then brand new signs featuring maps of Seattle and of the City Hall area. I noticed the latter maps were wrong. They omitted James Street. More precisely, it was there but labeled as Cherry. Cherry was labeled as Columbia. I contacted the city and pointed out the errors. I was told in October 2006 the maps would soon be replaced. I'm still waiting.

Besides those signs the museum would also house one of those space-age toilets that are supposed to clean themselves and instead clean out the city's budget.

I'd also expect to see one of the new Big Belly Solar Trash Compactors the city has now installed. These things are going to be great for saving money and fuel in the short run. Fewer trash pickups. But wait till they start needing repairs and the city learns there are only two authorized Big Belly Solar Trash Compactor repairmen in the Pacific Time Zone. Or that compacted garbage takes less space initially but since it needs a few additional millennia to decompose, because oxygen can't get into it, it will stack up more in the long run.

The first time I tried to use a Big Belly Solar Trash Compactor it wouldn't open for me. I know better now than to ask the city why.

I'd like to see a Museum of Social Service Paternalism. This year I had the experience of hearing, from someone who works with the Downtown Emergency Service Center, that when housing homeless women it is best "as a matter of policy" to try to pry them away from their boyfriends, because the boyfriends are "usually" "part of the problem." I heard this in a subcommittee of more than 20 participants in King County's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. I was the only one in the room who exhibited outrage. The museum would depict earnest social workers solving human problems by destroying human connections without examination. It would be next door to the Museum of Bloodletting.

Top of the list, I'd like to see a Museum of Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness. People could pay $7.50, $4.50 for seniors, to wander through exhibits depicting the silly plans to end homelessness that everyone was into back in the 20-Ohs. You could see mock-ups of actual ineffectual committee meetings. They would be peopled by wax social service honchos and wax local government big-shots. The exhibits would be accurate in every detail down to wax figures of homeless and formerly homeless tokens permitted to sit at the tables and nod their heads approvingly when the important people speak.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanks, But No Thanks

I've always been a Thanksgiving Grinch. I hate Thanksgiving. I especially hate the bit where we're all supposed to sit around an obscenely over-laden table of food and thank God for feeding us so well, while starving children in Third World countries everywhere likewise thank God for feeding the fat Americans so well.

[Right: A Vatican tract warns of the Grinch in regard to Christmas.]

Then, there's the bit where, for one day a year, White People admit that the Native Americans weren't bloodthirsty savages -- that is, not all the time -- because, as I've been told so often, God so loved the Puritans that He used his Godly magic to make the Indians act as if they were Christians in the Puritans' time of need.

Then, there's the tradition of Day After Thanksgiving Day, when White People buy stuff. I believe it began as Buy Your Local Natives a Pendleton Blanket Day, and evolved into Buy Yourself And Friends And Relatives Whatever Day as there were fewer and fewer local Natives to give blankets to.

Lately that tradition has been replaced by Buy Nothing Day, which, I am not making this up, is seriously intended as a worthwhile protest against consumerism. So poor people, who look forward to the sales on the day after Thanksgiving to get some relief from being gouged into poverty the rest of the year, are told by middle-class activists to feel guilty for it. Then, when that day is over, the middle-class activists buy all the stuff on Saturday they were going to buy on Friday, proud to have set a good Christian example before the unwashed heathen masses.

This year, though, I want to turn over a new leaf. Rather than continue on as a Grinch, I want to do something positive to correct the hateful holiday and make it better. Something in line with how Frank Costanza improved Christmas by creating Festivus (for the rest of us!), so no one, since that episode of Seinfeld first aired on December 18, 1997, has ever again had to be distracted by tinsel.

Since I know how attached you all are to your vile Thanksgiving and your vile annual turkey and gravy wallow, I won't suggest an alternative to Thanksgiving on the day of it, but recommend that the Saturday after each year's Thanksgiving be given over to celebrate our good sense not to be thankful for everything in the world. A Nothanksgiving Day.

Let's be Not Thankful this year for the fact that the only way the Senate Democrats can exercise their power to reject Bush nominees is to keep the Senate open pro forma over the holiday, because Bush would install already rejected nominees as soon as the Senate shut down. No Thanks goes to Bush for doing the BS that makes this BS necessary. One more nail in the coffin of the Republic.

Let's be Not Thankful this year for OJ's trials and tribulations. Talk about your distractions. I'd take the tinsel.

There's so much not to be thankful for! I could go on for pages!

Let's be Not Thankful for HUD's pernicious abuse of statistics earlier this month to cover up their failure to reduce the impact of homelessness. In a report issued earlier this year, HUD announced that from 1996 to 2005 permanent housing beds for the homeless have increased a whopping 83% to 208,700, in contrast to only a 35% drop in shelter beds, to 217,900. Looks like justification to keep on keepin' on doesn't it?

But hold up. If you believe their numbers and do the math, that would mean there were 335,230 shelter beds to begin with, back in '96, while there were at that time 114,043 permanent beds. Add those '96 numbers up and you get 449,273. Add the 2005 numbers up, you get 425,600.

The impressive percentages are tinsel, hiding a net loss in those categories of 23,673 beds.

We are not thankful for the way HUD tries to mislead us.

[Left: The HUD seal -- your assurance of quality bunk.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yes, Geniuses Suck, Too

I want everyone to learn how to be a genius like me.

I was in the Real Change office yesterday afternoon admitting that I suck because I was already at that moment 6 hours past the deadline to write this, and hadn't started yet. (And at 18 hours later I hadn't started yet still! I suck more!) A trick I've learned in life is to always announce that you suck before anyone tells you. It's better if you say it first.

It's one of many techniques I have accumulated over the years, and may soon make available in a self-help audio-tape series for just $79.99 in one easy installment, to help you and you and you be a genius, too. In the same conversation the editorial staff and I discussed what is certainly the most important technique of all, which is Master the Obvious.

Actually, I don't know if being a Master of the Obvious makes you a genius, but I can pretend it does and encourage others to go along with it until they believe me! And 99% of being a genius is being declared one, because it isn't an objective condition!

See how it works? I just Mastered the Obvious!

Let's try it with the News of the day. I read this morning that Democratic Senator Birch Bayh, who voted to confirm Michael Mukasey for Attorney General, thought Mukasey to be "an improvement over Bush's previous attorneys general," being neither "excessively ideological" like Ashcroft nor "incompetent" like Gonzales.

Isn't that just all you can ask for in an attorney general? I mean, we can't ask for an exceptionally competent attorney general of surpassing wisdom. This is 2007. Those guys were all chewed up by the Peloponnesian War, right?

If only we had a president who was as well qualified as Mukasey. Neither bat-spit insane, nor brain-dead.

By the way, I just illustrated another technique of being a genius. Always let your mind free to wander off topic. Last night Anitra "OK on History But If She Gets Started On Worms Run For Your Lives" Freeman was recalling Machiavelli telling his Prince, "And he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget." What the hell was that all about? The Peloponnesian War! Machiavelli knew that Athens was trounced in the Peloponnesian war but they bounced back. They had tasted freedom!. I wouldn't have thought of that if I had the mental discipline to stay on topic! Mental discipline keeps you from being a genius!

[Above; You will all know that this is a picture of Machiavelli and not Adam Hyla, Real Change's editorial manager, by virtue of the hair being too long in the back.]

Of, course that has nothing to do with what I was saying, but I feel better having thought of it.

Another story, which may have been in the New York Times, but I read it on of all places, related the views of Malcolm Nance, a counter-terrorism and intelligence consultant for the special operations, homeland security and intelligence agencies. Nance called the debate over waterboarding "a crisis of honor," and said that accepting it as a tool of interrogation does the United States no honor.

It turns out Malcolm Nance could speak from experience because he has worked with SERE, the military's own Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape school, as a master instructor and chief of training, instructing our own soldiers and sailors, and airmen in how to deal with torture. He has conducted hundreds of waterboardings for his students so they would know what torture is.

Nance says our own guys are teaching waterboarding as a form of torture that "evil totalitarian enemy" would use "at the slightest whim" so our soldiers have to be prepared for it and ready to give evasive and misleading answers when faced with it.

"Is waterboarding torture?" The not-incompetent says it needs more study. The genius says, "Hell yes."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Rebecca Offendort

This morning I found my thoughts wandering to Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably. The poem by Hilaire Belloc began "A trick that everyone abhors / In little girls is slamming doors." It told how Rebecca Offendort was given to that furious sport, and how as a result she met a "deadful" end, unexpectedly crushed by a marble bust of Abraham.

I suspected the seed of a column in my remembrance of this morbid poem. I consulted Cindy Holly, Muse of Other, Muse of Few Words, and expert in unexpected memories. She said, "It has to do with something you've been obsessing about lately. Figure out what that is. Then write what the poem has to say about it." [Right: Cindy, as she appears every third week, if the moon is bright.]

The Iraq War, the "War on Terrorism", the fact that America is a world leader in incarcerations, the city's "proactive cleanups" of homeless encampments, and the fact that last Friday I was assaulted by a vigilante in Pioneer Square. Which could have to do with Rebecca Who Slammed Doors?

All of them!

Americans slam doors. We've slammed doors on lives in Iraq. We've slammed doors on freedom at home. We slam doors on the homeless by depriving them of their property without due process.

America, itself, is Rebecca Offendort, the wealthy banker's little daughter of Palace Green, Bayswater.

America loves to make noise and sound important wherever she goes, whether she's going in or going out. America slams doors so hard it scares everyone else, but she just giggles and goes on doing it.

The Committee to End Homeless in King County is Rebecca Offendort. The CEH says it's about ending homelessness, then makes sure there are no new shelter beds, ever. Then it shouts, "Chronic homelessness is the problem! Chronic homelessness is the problem!" It oversees the housing of whatever chronically homeless are housed, totals up how many and shouts, "We're solving the problem! We're solving the problem!" Slamming the door on the chronically homeless they missed and the "not chronically homeless this year but next year they'll qualify"-homeless, and creating the impression throughout the community that the problem of homelessness is all about personal failings, forget the working poor who just can't pay their rents.

Along with the Downtown Seattle Association, the CEH has created the atmosphere within which it's possible for the city to steal and trash the tents and bedrolls that homeless people need to survive, without stirring outrage in the rest of Seattle. Why should the rest of Seattle care that the rights of homeless people are being trampled in the course of "cleanups"? They're dirty, failed people, right? Why should they be secure in their property? They're a problem to be solved.

Just like I was a problem to be solved last Friday. I went to Saveway Market by Occidental Park to buy yeast. Not seeing any, and not wanting to interrupt the busy clerk attending to a long line, I left. A man followed me out and yelled at me to come over to him. It being Pioneer Square, I thought I was being mugged. I ran to Washington Street where there might at least be witnesses. He threw me to the street, pinned me down, and went through my pockets.

A witness did show. I don't know if I would otherwise have been mugged or not. My assailant stopped going through my pockets then and took me back to the store, where he told the clerk he'd caught a shoplifter.

The clerk was grateful to my attacker! At least, she was grateful until my pockets were emptied and nothing of hers was there. Then she was all smiles and told me, no, that man doesn't work here, and when I started complaining she said, "You have to go now."

Who needs to be free from violent attack when there's dirty poor people stealing for drug money everywhere?

Thanks CEH. Thanks DSA. Thanks America.

The poem says watch out for Abraham.

For the sake of reference:


Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably

A trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker's little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this furious sport.

She would deliberately go
And slam the door like billy-o!
To make her uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild;
She was an aggravating child...

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the deadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun.

The children who were brought to hear
The awful tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the door,
-- As often they had done before.

-- Hilaire Belloc [left]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

While Men Walked On The Moon

Personal confession: For 2 years, over 35 years ago, I was a flack for a slum landlord. I got a job as a clerk at a motel on Aurora. For $50 per week I worked weeknights, got Saturdays off, then pulled a straight 22-hour Sunday shift .

If the job were just about the motel I wouldn't mention it here. But besides the motel, there was also slum housing. It was a bunch of dilapidated wooden structures behind the motel all painted lead-pink with anywhere from two to five or six small apartments per building. I don't recall the total number of units but it was somewhere in the 50-100 range.

The walls housed rats and occasionally cats who sometimes got lost in them, died, and reeked. In some of the rooms floorboards were broken and you had to avoid walk around them. Some buildings were built in the way of drainage and were constantly at risk of flooding, so there had to be sump pumps in crawl spaces under them. The pumps regularly failed, but were never replaced. All repairs were done by an old part-time worker who was never given the funds to do them right. The central steam heater was on a timer, so there was no heat from midnight to dawn every night.

The landlord was one of the cheapest, meanest people I have ever met. Apart from that she was a nice old Norwegian lady. She had a charming Norwegian accent and was somebody's beloved great-grandmother. I'll call her Mrs. Skyldig. After a childhood of abject poverty in Norway she came to the United States with her Norwegian husband. Her husband had built the apartments and motel back in the 20s and 30s and made a good enough living from them to buy a nice house in Ballard. Then he died in the 60s, leaving it all to her. Rather than sell the business she decided to continue it. She needed to develop managerial skills, but they never came. Because, however good a wife she had been, she was basically a mean, rotten, petty, selfish human being.

Now, as a general rule the sort of people who live in slums are the poorer people. Although Mrs. Skyldig grew up poor, she was convinced that the reason she was not poor by then was because of her superior character, and could not be persuaded that it was because she exploited people for profit. So she despised her own tenants and would evict people for the slightest infractions.

One tenant though was her example for all the others. "Why can't you be like Mr. Jones?" she would say, "He's such a good man." Jones had lived there trouble-free for a decade.

Then, Mrs. Skyldig found out Mr. Jones had long ago served time for a felony. She said, "I can't believe it! He has been all this time a criminal! People always betray me! There's no one I can trust!" She padlocked him out. Then she went home for the weekend.

That Sunday the remaining tenants came demanding that I join them in revolt. They presented me with a letter to sign that was addressed to Mrs. Skyldig and told her how wrong she was.

None of the tenants had signed the letter. I was willing to quit my job for them, but not if all that could come of it was my unemployment. I urged them to all sign it, and I promised I'd be the second signer. But no one stepped forward to be the first. They were all afraid to be the next one evicted, and wanted me to take all the heat. I said, "Well then, you don't really care as much as you say you do."

About 4 in 5 of them moved out within a month. They proved me wrong.

Now, I'm saying the supporters of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness don't care whether it really ends homelessness or not. Let's see them risk speaking out about the plan's failings, and prove me wrong.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Let's Make The Best Of It!

Well, it's been a slow week here in Lake Weerooldewurld. All that happened was our Vice President said this weekend that another sovereign country would NOT get a bomb such as ones we've waved about for 62 years. We wonder how he could be so sure, given that our army is stretched to the breaking point, Iran has an ally next door (north of it) whose army isn't currently stretched, and who has bigger bunker busters than we do and easier targets (a stretched army conveniently nearby).

The important thing is, if Dick Cheney says Iran won't get nukes, then Iran won't get nukes, because Dick Cheney is the new Caesar. He's bigger than Caesar. Just like every successor to Caesar had to be a Caesar, every successor to Dick Cheney will have to be a Dick. Whether it's Hillary Dick, Barack Dick, Mitt Dick, or Rudy Dick, the one sure thing is it'll be a Dick. Just like the ancient Romans knew they'd always be Caesared in the end, we can be sure that we'll always be Dicked.

But I won't dwell on parallels between our current empire and that of the ancient Romans. That's ancient history. Instead, I'll dwell on the Fifties.

Recently I was reminiscing and remembered a cute thing that happened right here in 1955, when I was 6. I was at 3rd and Pine on the corner that now has the city's most interesting McDonald's (in the sense that bloody highway wrecks are interesting) waiting to cross to the Bon. A man in a blue and green flannel shirt stepped off the curb onto the street while the light was still red. Immediately a voice boomed out, "You! In the blue and green flannel shirt! Yes, you! Please get back on the curb so I don't have to send my two friends over there!" Or, words to that effect.

It was a plainclothes Seattle Police Officer (also wearing a flannel shirt by the way!) watching pedestrians in that intersection from a perch above the Bon Marché's awning. He had a bullhorn and two "friends" -- beat cops on the ground.

You may be thinking, "Wow, and I thought cops today made too much of jaywalking! They were REALLY medieval back in the Fifties! I'm glad I'm not old enough to remember that! Poor Dr. Wes! He's so old!"

If that's what you're thinking, we are not on the same "wavelength." Here's the important thing to note about the incident I just related: The man in the flannel shirt did NOT get a ticket.

Whereas, today, there wouldn't be a cop with a bullhorn warning him to get back on the curb. A motorcycle cop in full storm-trooper gear would sweep down on him, then push him back on the sidewalk, then pin him to the wall, then write him a ticket.

I'm putting all this together. Apparently, as a nation, we are entering into a long period of decline. If we are lucky enough to survive so long, we will be ruled by Dicks for as long as Rome was ruled by Caesars. Like the Caesars, our Dicks will maintain themselves in power by delivering spoils of endless wars to the powerful rich who will in turn be increasingly allowed to bypass our republican institutions, consolidating their own power as well.

It's not for nothing that the symbol of Mussolini's party was taken to be fasces. A bundle of sticks IS stronger than one. It's a great metaphor for the collaboration between corporate interests and the administration: the government is the ax, the corporations the sticks bound together. When the corporations own the government, our turn to fascism will be complete.

But it doesn't have to be all bad. The cop over the awning in 1955 shows you can have fun-loving repression! The guy DIDN'T get a ticket, only a cheerful warning.

Let's make sure our next Dick can say Iran won't get nukes with a real smile on his face, instead of that nasty smirk!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Just Plain Mater

When I graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor's of Science in 1971, my parents wanted to give me a Lifetime Membership in the Alumni Society as a graduation present. They were too cheap to pay the whole $100, but they chipped in $50 and I paid the rest. I'm an official card-carrying U Dub Alumnus! I get mail from the Alumni Society all the time! I get a glossy magazine! They want me to give the University more money, to make it a greater University than it already is!

Let me explain why I won't.

First, there was this little dispute that arose in the 80s when I was painfully homeless. Getting over the worst of an onset of PTSD, I tried to get back into my math career by using the Math Research Library at Padelford Hall. No, not to sleep there. I went in just to look for books and check them out. Then, I returned them on time! Those days I still respected libraries, and returned books. I'm wiser now.

The librarian didn't respect me. She said, "The books are for people who need them." I said I needed them. The librarian indicated my need didn't count. I flashed the Lifetime Membership card. My need still didn't count. I asked one of my former professors to intervene on my behalf, a guy who had given me a glowing recommendation that helped me get into a graduate school. He denied ever having known me before even one cock crowed. He probably thought, "Did I have any homeless in my classes? Let's see, I had an Armenian. I had a Nigerian. I had a Hoosier. But no, no homeless."

OK. That sort of thing can leave a bad taste. But I'm an easy-going, forgiving, SOB. Yes I am. I have been willing to forgive and forget that slight. I don't know, maybe that librarian was acting out of line. Maybe I didn't complain to the right person, the one who would have set her straight.

Recently the University pressured Gregoire to go along with booting rehabilitating sex offenders out of the fraternity neighborhood, ostensibly to protect students from possibly in the future feeling uncomfortable about them being there. Turns out the University really wants to expand into the property the sex offenders were housed in.

The University should now be barred from doing so for a generation, until the stench of its corruption has had time to dissipate. But if that were the worst of the University's crimes I'd be saving every penny I found in the gutters and every dime I find under every vending machine for my beloved college.

There is one unforgivable injustice.

In 1967 I paid $345 per year for state-resident tuition. Since then, average tuitions for residents have gone to around $6,500 per year. In 40 years we've had six-fold inflation overall, but over 18-fold inflation of UW tuition!

At the same time there has been only a little more than a nominal 4-fold increase in workers' pay, two-thirds the inflation increase. Consequently the economic burden on low-income working residents is 4 and a half times what it was when I was a student.

Poor people are being gouged on a steady ongoing basis. They may get loans, but they are having to spend lifetimes paying them back. It's the new slavery. An indentured servitude of decades instead of the traditional seven years. And what do the Board of Regents and the President talk to Gregoire about? Getting sex offenders out of a building they want.

I'll give them the same deal my parents gave me. If the University's governors make a good faith effort to get the state to bring tuitions down to around $2000 a year, I'll think that they really do care about their mission after all, and I'll make an effort to scrounge up $50 for them.

Until then, the University of Washington will get from me what I got from them when I was homeless.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Learn What's Real

[Above:Children have been useless ever since child labor was outlawed. Here we see useless children engaging in useless behavior over fifty years ago.]

I don't often talk about children. There are many reasons for this. For example, children are all too human. Too much of anything is ugly. I prefer 25-year olds, who are human in moderation. Also, children are incompetents. They can't vote. They can't drive. They can't buy their own health insurance. What good are they?

George Bush agrees with me for once. Rather than arrange for poor children (the worst kind of children there are, always wanting what they can't buy) to have health care, he wants the market to handle it. In other words he wants the poor children to pay for their own health care, or go without. If that means there are fewer poor children around by next fiscal quarter, well, that's what we call a demand side adjustment.

I say it's time we did away with health insurance altogether. I don't think there are many people who realize that health insurance is a communist plot to "re-educate" the public to accept communist ideals and practices. I am in a unique position to alert the public to this plot, because as a mathematician I almost allowed myself to be recruited among the ranks of the "aktuariik" myself!

The original idea of insurance was to make everyone pay equally for all the health care! Everyone would pay the same amount every month, which would be called a premium, as though it were a good thing. Then only the sick would get the money back in the form of payments for health care. Healthy people would get nothing! That's communism!

Now, the communists want to go a step further. As if the ordinary idea of health insurance isn't red enough, they want to say, "Oh yes, and if you are unfortunate enough to be too poor at the outset of the whole program, never mind, no premiums for you, we'll let the rich pay for you to get well!"

[Below: Children love Communism! Here, some children sing a favorite commie song they learned on the playground.]

As always, the communists and the children push their common unholy agenda, "From each according to her/his ability, to each according to her/his need."

Fortunately George Bush is President and he knows how to stop communists and children dead in their tracks. He knows that in order for Americans to continue to be the most productive people in the world we must have a healthy citizenry, and that means we must have healthy productive children. And we're not going to have healthy productive children if we waste health care on the sick unproductive ones.

It reminds me of that other communist plot that was popular here in Seattle not that long ago, to let poor people wash themselves and their clothes for free at accessible communist sites scattered throughout the city. The trouble was that if you did that, not only did that mean the rest of us had to pay for all that soap and electricity and real estate, but worse, poor people wouldn't look poor anymore.

When you can't tell non-consumers from consumers you don't have any way to weed the non-consumers from your retail centers. The people wandering your stores might look clean, as if they were potential buyers, but be incapable of adding to your profit. You might as well scrub a herd of caribou, sprinkle them with cologne and let them wander the aisles of your stores, for all the money you'd make.

[Above: No money; no admittance.]

Whether the communists like it or not, this is a capitalist country. If you aren't part of the profit, you're part of the problem.

I think it was in 1988 that I finally saw the light. I was homeless at the time and I was sitting in a sandwich shop drinking coffee and scribbling equations on a napkin. A businessman sitting next to me asked me what the equations were good for. I said they could potentially have some value in the future, but I didn't know what. He said, "You don't know what's real. Potentialities aren't real. Money is real."

That's the trouble with children. They're not money; they're not real.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Let Them Eat Editors

I've avoided talking about the flap over Capehart. I thought I had nothing new to add to the topic.

I was thinking this week I would instead talk about brain-eating amoeba. There are few concerns I have that are more pressing to me than my concern that brain-eating amoeba not invade my nostrils and eat my brain, starting with my olfactory nerve.

Ordinarily what I write here at most mildly amuses a few people for four or five minutes and then gets forgotten and ignored. For example, if I say the Iraq War is illegal, unjust, and immoral, no one notices. I could get more action out of people if I reproduced a page from Silas Marner than if I told you all what causes homelessness and the simple steps that would end it. But I am sure if I told you how to avoid having your brains eaten by mutant brain-eating amoeba from Australia, you would listen up.

[Above right: Some brain-eaters save the brains for dessert.]

But evidently I was wrong to think that I had nothing new to say about Capehart. Last week the P-I ran an editorial in which they wrote, "We did have some concerns, however, about access to shops and transportation. For example, the nearest bus stop we could find was close to a mile away and basic drugstore supplies required a trip of more than two miles." Members of the city council said basically the same thing, that the housing was inappropriate for housing the homeless, so the plan to demolish it should therefore go forward.

I have two things to say about the inappropriateness of that "therefore."

First of all, homeless activists were never saying that the Capehart housing should be used for housing people who are currently homeless or at immediate risk of it. What we were saying was that the loss of middle class housing, in the current market, would force people who could have afforded it, and who had their own transportation, to compete for less expensive housing that could have gone to people with lower incomes, and that a loss of 66 units of housing at the lower middle class range, such as at Capehart, would ultimately either subtract 66 units from very low income housing, or those with cars would move away from Seattle altogether, and you could kiss their tax dollars goodbye.

If you really think that demolishing middle class housing doesn't hurt the homeless, try this thought experiment: Get rid of all of it. Bulldoze all the single family dwellings in all the nearly 100 neighborhoods of Seattle. Now picture where those people are all going to live if they are to stay in Seattle. When you finally see how that would put a few hundred thousand more people on the street who weren't there before, next visualize what would happen if instead of sticking around all the middle class people whose homes were bulldozed moved to Phoenix. Answer: Phoenix is the new Seattle, and Seattle is the new New Orleans.

OK, so that wasn't anything that hasn't already been said. Other homeless activists have said the same thing essentially, minus the thought experiment. [Above left: Our hero, Mr. Thought Experiment himself.]

I am now going to astonish you by saying something utterly original about the Capehart housing. Something that no one else has said and that even the brilliant editors of the intelligent Seattle Post-Intelligencer were incapable of thinking of.

Yes. The nearest bus stop to Capehart is almost a mile away. But: Metro has bus stop signs to spare!

You have to be utterly brain dead already not to be able to think that if people lacking cars and legs were living in Capehart that Metro could not be induced to extend Route 33 that far.

Have all of you forgotten that bus companies are run by human beings and do the bidding of human beings?

This country has lost its imagination and its humanity with it.

We can save ourselves from the brain-eating amoebas. Feed them P-I editorialists, and they'll all die of starvation.

[Above: In case you wondered why investors aren't much interested in a property bordering a big beautiful park.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Muddy Waters

This won't be a fun column. Jesse Macbeth has got my panties in a knot this week.

[Above: Not that Macbeth...]

I just lied. I don't wear panties. But, if I did, they'd be in a knot. If I did, they'd be knotted ALL THE TIME.

[Right: ... this one.]

Jesse Macbeth's lie is bigger. Jesse claimed to be a veteran of the current Iraq War. He appeared in videos and wrote stories online claiming that he'd witnessed and participated in atrocities there. His stories were picked up by various organizations opposed to the war and they circulated them further, believing them to be true.

How aggravating is Jesse Macbeth's lie? Let's add it up.

One way that Jesse's lie is aggravating (as in "aggravated assault") is that the anti-war movement has been discredited by accepting his claims.

Good intentions don't justify mass killings. We don't need to catch our military in deliberate malicious acts of murder to know that their presence in Iraq has given rise to needless carnage. But it is human nature to want to simplify a moral picture by finding clear villains.

The villains aren't individual soldiers pulling triggers. The villains are the politicians who put them there knowing that war is sloppy and always kills more civilians than anybody else. The villains are the super-majority of the American people who went along with the patent lies, which were far more obvious than Jesse's, and allowed the politicians to get away with starting this war, claiming the people's support. The guilt belongs to a couple hundred million cowards, each of whom only needs to bear a tiny bit of guilt to add up to one monstrous wad of shared guilt.

All of that is meaningless to a people who are so utterly ignorant that they STILL think 15 Saudi nationals, two citizens of the United Arab Emirates, one Lebanese, and one Egyptian, constitutes 19 Iraqis. How do you explain to people that crushingly stupid that discovering Jesse's lie shouldn't deter the anti-war movement?

I'm reminded of events in connection with the '84-'85 Ethiopian famine. Con artists toured America posing as Ethiopians, complete with fake African accents, pretending to be personal witnesses to the suffering who had survived, and who were now in America to raise funds to help their less fortunate brethren. Instead, they raised funds to help themselves. Irrespectively, the famine went on, and roughly a million Ethiopians died.

Irrespectively of Macbeth, the Iraq War continues to be unjust.

Jesse's lie also adds aggravation to the fake vet phenomena. The VA knows there are thousands of American vets who are homeless. But every time someone turns out to be scamming the system, falsely claiming to be a vet, it discredits the thousands more who aren't faking it.

If fewer than 1 out of a hundred of the people claiming to be homeless vets turned out to be lying, that would be enough to convince almost every American that they all are lying, because almost every American is too lazy to learn the difference between 1 and 100, or between 1,000 and 100,000.

[Below left: Fictional representation of a simple moral picture.]

Jesse Macbeth has personally aggravated me. He claims to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe he does. Just because he hasn't seen combat doesn't mean he can't have PTSD. I know this personally, because I have PTSD and I haven't seen combat. Only, I prefer not to call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I prefer to call it Post Traumatic Stress You Could Have Seen Coming, If You'd Been There And Experienced The Trauma Yourself.

When I have to tell people I have PTSYCHSC, IYBTAETTY, the question always comes back, "Oh, so you're a vet then." I'd love to be able to simplify the moral picture, and say yes, if it were true. It sucks having to say no, I'm not a vet, but I've got a story of repeated incestuous rape and vicious beatings that will put your lunch off.

Now, thanks to Jesse, I can expect the question to be, "Oh, so you're pretending to be a vet, then." Thanks loads, Jesse.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hope Springs Eternal

I haven't said much about the Iraq War lately. I hate repeating myself and you can't not when you're talking about the repetitive.

But, holy cow, look what happened this morning. First, I beat my head on this keyboard, to bang a column out. Nothing came out of my head as usual (the head-banging trick almost never works) so I did what I always do next. I checked, to see if anything had happened overnight. And there was the story, just 39 minutes old, "Blackwater security firm banned from Iraq."

Just the day before, Blackwater contractors had been blamed for killing 8 civilians and wounding 14 in what was seen by many Iraqis as a scatter-shot response to small arms fire on a State Department motorcade.

You could say, "Insurgents shot at our State Department officials, and the Blackwater people were contracted to protect them, so what's the problem? When the insurgents stop shooting at us, Blackwater can stop shooting back." You could say that if you missed the fundamental issue involved, namely that whereas American military personnel are accountable for their actions in Iraq, to the military and ultimately to the American people, individual contractors are not. All we can do is cancel an entire contract, and that won't happen because the security companies have too many friends in the Bush Administration. Worse, our government has not permitted their puppet government in Iraq to hold military contractors to Iraqi justice. So without any investigation of the shooting having begun, everybody in Iraq had to know that the contractors involved would never pay a price, even if they had knowingly mowed down unarmed citizens in a deliberate massacre. It wouldn't matter.

Since I knew the puppet government in Iraq couldn't try these guys, it never occurred to me that they might get away with booting them out of the country altogether. It will be interesting to see if the order sticks.

I don't know about the rest of you, but this news gives me hope. I want to relish that hope. I want to savor every drop of it. Therefore I will indulge in fantasies, dreaming of the great news to come that may have just been heralded.

It might be that this is the first of many such bannings. Blackwater could be banned from Afghanistan. Then, countries where Blackwater isn't working now could ban Blackwater from working there in the future. Then, countries where Blackwater might never work anyway might ban Blackwater from passage through them. The result could be that Blackwater could be stuck operating entirely in the United States.

That done, the American people might wake up and come seriously face to face with the reality that the only remaining reason for Blackwater's continued existence is to wait in the wings until the scheduled roundup of undesirable Americans and facilitate their shuttling off to the concentration camps. And having witnessed the banning of Blackwater in the entire rest of the world, they might get the cajones to do it themselves, right here in the freedom-loving U.S. of A.

What's that? It can't happen? Americans won't get their rocks until the day comes they can tell Iraq from Afghanistan on a map? Hey, don't rain on my dream.

I'm not done. If the Iraqis, who don't even have a real government, can tell Blackwater to shove off, anything is possible. Americans could see straight to try the board and management for treason. They could elect a really good president.

The emerging testes could even affect us here in Seattle. Seattleites might realize they've been irresponsible to allow the MID Yellowjackets, unaccountable hired vigilantes, to force poor people to conform to the selfish greedy whims of the megacorporations that control the Downtown Seattle Association.

One more dream: Instead of peeing themselves every time they're asked for a quarter, and trying to put a stop to the practice, Seattleites could get the balls to just say no to panhandlers and keep walking.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We Have Overcome

Senator Larry Craig is still struggling to save his term as Senator from his decision to resign. He has promised to battle on against himself, vowing to remain in office the instant he's cleared of all charges.

I think the news reports focus too heavily on Larry Craig, the man, and not enough on Larry Craig, the symbol of America's emerging victory over wide-stanced toe-tappers.

Let's not forget, Larry Craig did his wide-stanced toe-tapping in a Minneapolis Airport bathroom stall. There were massive machines hurtling about! Someone could have been hurt! What if it wasn't a policeman in the next stall, but a potential terrorist waiting for just one more crazy American homosexual to ask him for sex before blowing up a plane? What if the terrorist had a shoe bomb armed to detonate on impact? Omigod, what if a pilot was in the next stall? A flight could have been delayed.

The story gives us hope that, through vigilance, and paying cops $30 an hour to sit on toilets, Americans can finally be free from having to verbally decline offers of gay sex. But we aren't stopping there! America's freedom is rolling on, all across this great land of ours!

In Miami last Friday, Black Enterprise Magazine held a Golf and Tennis Challenge and contracted comedian Eddie Griffin to do stand-up, only to have to hear him use the N-word over and over again. No American should have to hear a Black comedian use the N-word repeatedly, not even if the comedian is paid to do it and it's mainly what he's known for. And they won't have to! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Al Sharpton and the little people on the front lines like Earl Graves, publisher of the magazine, Black America is Free! -- Free at Last! -- from the oppressive derogatory language of one of its own people. And when Black America is free, the rest of us can be sure Our Day Too Will Come.

Freedom marched on after Jerry Lewis' thuggish behavior during his Labor Day weekend telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, when, 18 hours in, he named a piece of studio equipment "Jesse the Illiterate Faggot." Gay studio equipment all across this land rose up in outrage. Not right away, of course, because nobody was watching, but later, when the video was posted to YouTube. The uproar forced a contrite Lewis to apologize by email to someone. An unknown person or piece of studio equipment, who may or may not have been gay, who had been offended, was reportedly gladdened by Lewis' apology, but could not be reached for comment. The rest of us will sleep better at night next Labor Day weekend, free from the fear that Jerry Lewis might dare insult the illiterate again while we didn't care.

In a way, Jerry Lewis has done me a great service. By his bad example I now know that it would be unwise of me to use politically incorrect language while insulting anthropomorphized characters in this column. I will resist the temptation, for example, to call the periods within my quotations "retarded." I will instead call them "learning challenged."

Just before I sat down to write this, Freedom rang out again, when a beautiful blond woman in San Diego was kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane for being dressed like any young woman on any daytime soap opera, but with less cleavage showing.

America is strong. America is fighting back against oppression. No longer can office-holders tap my foot with impunity. No longer can Black comedians say the N-word, even when asked to. No longer can a worn-out Jewish comedian say "faggot" in the privacy of his own telethon. No longer must our children be subjected on our airlines to as much skin as they see on our billboards on the drive over.

And, soon, in Seattle, thanks to the Downtown Seattle Association, we may be free from having to hear our own poor people beg. Hooray for us, as we bathe in sweet Freedom.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

It Could Be Worse

Here it is Friday August 31 and ordinarily I wouldn't be trying to write this for three more days, but the Labor Day Weekend is looming and our Editorial Manager "First Man" Adam wants to go to all three days of Bumbershoot and I'm the only thing preventing it, me and my stupid column that needs its stupid editing and its stupid layout, so what should I do?

It's times like this Muses were meant for. So I whimpered for Cindy.

Cindy came in, her hair now jet black with rows of curls cascading down the sides, parted on the left, a single clockwise curl planted over the forehead. She was wearing a white dress with ruffles and a spray of orchids above her right shoulder, and I said, "Where'd that getup get up from?" and she said, "You remember, you saw the Boswell Sisters on YouTube and it stirred your soul. Did you forget who your soul is?"

Cindy is my Muse and Anima Figure. That means she is an Archetypal Representation of my Soul. She wants me to think she IS my soul and I do, because she can turn me into a Clydesdale in my dreams and make me drag a beer truck uphill for a dream-eternity. Cindy is a Muse of Few Words, and the Muse of Other. Cindy is not her real name, and black is not her real hair color, except when she says it is. She is an SF, HWP, age-less immortal, she's a one-writer muse, she enjoys small furry animals, having surpassing wisdom and beauty, dance, mysteries, and puzzles, especially being one.

So I said to Cindy, "OK, nice orchids. I need help. I have to do an early column."

Cindy said, "It could be worse."

"What could be worse?"

"It." There was a long pause. Before I could rephrase my question, she said, "That's it. Write how it could be worse."

It could be worse. Let's say you're walking down the street and what you think is a homeless panhandler annoys you by begging you for a quarter in the hopes you'll give him more. Think you're having a bad day? You could be the panhandler.

Say you're sleeping in a homeless shelter in Vienna, and the kid sleeping next to you in your two-bed cubicle bludgeons you to death and eats your variety meats, and let's say that afterward psychiatrists express concern for the cannibal because he "suffers from extreme sadism." That's sounds pretty bad doesn't it? I bet you think nothing could ever be worse than that. But you'd be wrong! It could be worse! He could NOT have bludgeoned you to death!

It could be worse. Say you're fighting wars on two fronts your people think are close together because they're on the same side of the globe, but actually they're 700 miles apart separated by a third country that shoots when your guys try to cross it, inducing painful logistics problems. You could have troops on the ground in the middle country, too, and have so many logistics problems your planning Pentagon Brass won't ever be able to take breaks from their office chairs, resulting in a world-wide shortage of Preparation H.

It could be worse. It could be your country being invaded. It could be your house being routinely searched while you, your spouse, your children and your live-in grandparents cower on the floor being screamed at in a foreign language with M16s pointed at their heads.

It could be worse. Say bullets are costing too much. That's awkward when you're trying to shoot people. But suppose it went the other way? Suppose the price of bullets got so low that even the beggars in the streets could finally afford to shoot back.

It could be worse. Instead of $998,798 of our taxes paid out to ship two 19 cent washers, we could have got stuck with a bill for all the gay prostitutes our antigay Senators use. It could break the Treasury.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Material Values

Every week I work the Real Change vendor desk for 6 hours. Usually it's elementary, if not easy, work. Vendors pay 35 cents for each paper. If I can't work out in my head that at that rate 83 papers is $25.05, no problem, a computer does the math for me. Occasionally a vendor comes in a plunks down $25, and says, "I want what that will get me," and the computer isn't set up to do it that way, and I have to think very hard to figure out that they should get 82.857 papers. But even that's just memorizing your basic times sevenths table.

Then there are times it's neither elementary nor easy, like the other week when a vendor came in with a swollen jaw who'd just been robbed of all his belongings. He said he gave everything up freely to the creeps who jumped him, but they roughed him up anyway.

The police are reportedly stepping up their presence downtown and working harder to stop violent crime, but the issue I see coming up over and over again is that there is no recourse for homeless victims of theft. The injuries are treated in emergency rooms. But if a homeless person has everything he owns taken away, there is nothing done about it.

Amazingly, people think there's nothing that needs to be done. They didn't have anything to begin with. Now they still have nothing, right? They're homeless! That's the way they're supposed to be, right?

No, they didn't have nothing to begin with. They had little. There's a huge difference between having little and having nothing. Let me give some examples, based on my own experiences.

When I was homeless I had little. One of the little things I had was a Radio Shack knockoff of a Walkman, and six cassette tapes. I remember distinctly that for many months there were precisely six tapes. I counted them often to make sure they were all there. I won't bore you with the titles. The important thing is that with those 6 tapes I had a home entertainment system. That's pretty good for someone without a home.

During one bout of homelessness I had a freak Bic pen. It somehow lasted an entire 8 months. It was like the Loaves and Fishes that fed the multitudes. It was like the oil in the lamps that wouldn't burn up. It had the added quality that if you touched it to paper and pulled it away, it released a long filament of ink that could be laid down anywhere. It was priceless.

Another little thing I had was a family album. There were pictures in it from before I was born, going back to 1917, of parents and other family. Honestly, I'm not too fond of my family, but I'm fond of having had one. Having a family, and having evidence of it, enables me to prove to strangers that I am as human as they are. I was born of a woman just like them. I was once very small and am now larger, just like them. This sort of thing is invaluable especially to someone who has no home.

When I was homeless I had more than my memory of who I am, I had documents to prove it. I had Washington State ID, a birth certificate, even a military dependent's card left over from childhood, and a slew of old school IDs I've never tossed.

It turns out that all wage-earning employment and most assisted housing in this country require, by law, proof of identity. Heaven forbid that the poor homeless person you're lifting out of poverty isn't the poor homeless person he says he is.

If I had lost everything, I would have been left without music, magic, proof of humanity, and a way out.