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]