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.]