Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fun With Ideas

I'm an idea-lover. I love all kinds of ideas, even stupid ones. These days that means I am perpetually giddy. There are exciting new ideas everywhere I look.

It happened in Australia, but there's no reason it can't happen here, too: A landlord successfully sued a man's family to collect rent remaining on his lease after he died. In the landlord's own words, "A tenant has died. Is that my problem?"

Why isn't anyone doing this here in the United States? I'm seeing a trans-oceanic heartlessness gap! What's great about this idea, apart from the inherent meanness, is that, in principle it shouldn't matter much how the tenant dies or what the landlord may have reasonably expected. Say a landlord allows a 97 year-old man breathing from an oxygen tank, lesions all over his face and hands, and an organ-donor card glued to his forehead, to sign a twenty year lease. Well, that's twenty year's rent guaranteed, isn't it? It's better than predatory lending, you don't just squeeze the mark, you squeeze their offspring to the umpteenth generation. "A daughter of the son of the tenant has died. Is that my problem?"

Here in America, USA Today reports that many schools are experimenting with programs that pay kids to learn. For example a pilot program in a couple of suburban Atlanta schools pays students $8 an hour to study with tutors. This is the sort of idea that's fun not so much in and of itself but for what it inspires.

Let's face it, school kids are smarter than the rest of us. They can learn anything, even things we don't want them to learn. When I was only 15 I knew a dozen things my parents didn't want me to know, and I didn't even have the internet. Kids are even smarter than tutors. So I say, let's take this idea a step further. Let's not just pay them the $8 an hour to learn, let's throw in the $5.85 or whatever we were going to pay the dumb-ass tutor, and let the kids learn whatever they want, however they want, so long as they pass the WASL. If they don't pass the WASL they have to pay it all back, plus interest. If they run away to Australia, their parents have to pay it back. "A high-school student has run away to Australia. Is that the tax-payers' problem?"

[Above Right: Without the internet, I was forced to learn from whatever print materials were available.]

In Ohio we are seeing a Brave New World of creative punishment. A non-homeless salvation Army worker, I'll call him Mr. Smith, stole a Salvation Army kettle containing $250 meant for the homeless. Painesville Judge Michael A. Cicconetti, who has done this sort of thing before, gave Mr. Smith a choice between 90 days in jail or 24 hours being homeless with a GPS tracker to prevent cheating. He opted for the day and night of homelessness. He did it last week, and 7 hours into it was reported as saying "It's not that bad, but I'd hate to have to do this every day, especially in this weather. It's too cold to do it in this." I don't know what he had to say 17 hours later.

Nearly everyone who has written about this thinks it's great. How creative! Now Mr. Smith will know what it's like to be homeless and he won't be so quick to steal from them.

I can think of a lot of other great ways to apply this brilliant creative new idea.

We could force George Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, et al, to go live in Tehran, and THEN bomb the bejeezus out of it, so in the future they won't be so quick to bomb the bejeezus out of people.

If a man committed murder, we could murder that man back, so that next time he would know what being murdered was like and not be so quick to do it. If a man poked another man's eye out, etc.

Maybe these ideas aren't that new.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Don't Not Preach On!

I couldn't remember just now what I was going to write about. Then I spotted the story about Chuck Norris saying McCain's "too old to handle the pressures of being president." Chuck Norris is a spry 67 while McCain is a decrepit whole four years older, at 71.

[Left: Chuck Norris in '76, or John Edwards in '94?]

Which reminded me, I was going to talk about reasons not to not vote for presidential candidates. I don't want to tell readers how to vote, because that would be presumptuous of me. But some of the reasons I've seen given for NOT voting for certain candidates are sheer bovine doody.

That John McCain will, if elected, be a year and a half older than Reagan upon his first election, means nothing. After all, we went and re-elected Reagan when he was two and a half years older than what McCain will be. So we just have to all agree, scouts honor, to only elect McCain once.

Also his full name is John Sidney McCain The Third. Do NOT NOT vote for someone because one of his names is "The".

Let's examine a few of the other candidates now, in no particular order.

Some say Hillary Clinton shouldn't be president because she 1) screwed up that national health care initiative of hers back in '94, and because 2) she's married to Bill. Actually, 1) Congress fails to pass lots of good laws and 2) Mrs. Lincoln was Mary Todd.

Lincoln is an excellent source of counterexamples. Too tall -- Lincoln. Too inexperienced -- Lincoln. Dude slept with a man -- Lincoln.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon. While most decent Americans his age were learning how to make bongs out of tin cans and aluminum foil, Mitt Romney was speaking to Frenchmen, telling them the good news that Jesus had vacationed in America. Who cares? The important thing is, he didn't inhale.

Barack Obama has people saying he isn't black enough. Evidently, none of these people have noticed that ALL of his Democratic Party rivals are less black than he is. It makes me worry that we put too much emphasis in K-12 on the three Rs, and not enough emphasis on encouraging consciousness.

[Left: Photoshopped white enough?]

Then governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee declared 1997 a year of racial reconciliation in that state, rather than propose any significant civil rights legislation. On the other hand, as a minister, he took proactive steps to integrate his church. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University. Ouachita is most likely pronounced "ouch-itta". One must look deeper to excuse oneself from voting for him.

Dennis Kucinich, a leprechaun, was the keynote speaker of a North American Street Newspaper Association conference attended by yours truly. I can vouch that he is shorter than my Grandmother, who was a genuine pixy woman. He once saw a flying thing, while at Shirley MacLaine's house, and admitted he couldn't identify it. He is more than twice the age of his hot babe wife. While mayor of Cleveland in the 70s he so offended the Mafia, they sent a hit man after him. Hey, no one's perfect.

[Above Right: Kucinich in '78, or Eric Burdon of The Animals in '64?]

Fred Thompson played D.A. Arthur Branch on Law and Order, a TV show. If he were a liberal Democrat that would be grounds for calling him just another wacko Hollywood liberal. But he's not a liberal so you can't hold that against him.

John Edwards looks like your rosy-cheeked paperboy, but people say they wouldn't vote for him because he's sued the American Red Cross three times for distributing AIDS contaminated blood. It goes to show what an "ambulance chaser" he's been. But it was his JOB to sue the American Red Cross for distributing AIDS contaminated blood. Haven't you ever done things you didn't want to do while working for The Man?

Short and quick: I haven't mentioned Guiliani, Ron Paul, Gravel, or any of more than a dozen declared third party candidates. That's NOT a reason to not vote for any of them. This column has 666 words.

[Below: The author depicted as the Beast Of Another, Unlisted, Number.]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hot Pants

I am totally hacked off.

What really steams my trousers is that I can't tell you why they're steamed, because they're too steamed. If I were to explain why, they'd explode. No one wants to see that.

All I can say is, it has to do with Mayor Nickels, sweeps of homeless encampments, a new draft policy for the city, a definition of what constitutes potentially hazardous articles that could include blankets, bunnies, and daffodils, which definition would be allowed to justify the destruction of such articles at the whim of sweepers without due process, while meanwhile no such outrageous justifications would ever be used to destroy, say, warehouses, without due process, because the city can't get away with that, but denying civil rights to homeless people is a snap.

[Above: Officer Bonehead says, "We have a reasonable suspicion that there are hazardous materials all over this park. Let's destroy the park without due process!"]

After talking over the state of my hacked-offedness with Farmer Anitra "On Whose Kitchen Floor Compost Worms Have Died" Freeman, we agreed that I should not talk about Mayor Nickels or his administration or their new draft policy that if implemented should be grounds for the federal imprisonment of the whole lot of them. (Not that it'd ever happen -- look who's running the Justice Department now.) I should talk about things that make me less angry.

[Below Left: Sacks of trash from downtown businesses litter our public alleyways. We can't trespass the businessmen responsible from their private buildings, but we can deny them the use of our public streets to get to them. Officer Bonehead says, "Let's see how many of these filthy businessmen spring for personal helicopters! Ha, ha!"]

Something that doesn't quite fry my pantaloons: The other day a Boston psychiatrist wrote a story that appeared in the New York Times about a homeless man who went to an ER for the first time for a sore shoulder and found out that the hospital had records that he had been there before for a drug overdose. But that was impossible, the man said, because he doesn't do drugs. When the doctor looking at the records verified that the ID used in the previous visit matched that of the patient in front of him, the patient said the other guy must have stolen his ID.

Reading the story, I was a little incredulous. It was suggested that his wallet might have been stolen, the ID copied, and the wallet returned intact, so our guy didn't know anything had happened. But never mind, because the doctor bought the premise. And, having done so, she then refused to let the patient see the previous record in his name, for the sake of the confidentiality of the suspected identity thief! Identity thieves have confidentiality rights from the people they steal from? That steams my socks, but my trousers are cool, because I can convince myself that state and federal lawmakers will have no problem coming up with a cheap and easy fix. Even I won't mind if identity thieves are denied rights under the law.

A story from Morecambe in Lancashire County, England tells of a homeless man sleeping outdoors at 6:30 AM Christmas Day, following a righteous Christmas Eve drunk, when a guy delivering presents (I'll call him "Santa's Smartass Helper") in the neighborhood saw him and disturbed him by sarcastically wishing him Merry Christmas. Whereupon the homeless man pulverized Santa's Smartass Helper for five minutes. What makes me angry about this story is that the writer referred to the beating as "unprovoked" and evidently the court that convicted the homeless man of assault agreed with that assessment.

Word to the wise: Anybody -- ANYBODY -- who wakes me up out of sleep at 6:30 AM on Christmas Day, just to wish me a Merry Christmas, better be prepared to hurt. Sarcastic or sincere, it doesn't matter.

There's the judge's decision to grant an injunction allowing pharmacists to deny medication. This whole situation has been cast as a clash of rights -- the right of the pharmacists to practice their private morality versus the right of the people they serve to prescribed medicine.

There's no such things as private moralities. The pharmacists who don't want to fill prescriptions don't have to be pharmacists. There's no clash of rights. I am hopeful this decision will be overturned on appeal so that I won't have to soak my trousers in ice.

[Below: Officer Bonehead says, "I found a dirty needle in the bathroom of this place. Can I burn the whole place down without a court order?"]

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

They Want To Be Presidents

The idea was I would write two blatantly non-topical columns over the holidays. Then, commencing with Epiphany, I would resume writing upon the immediate news of the day. Well -- mice, men, plans, awry.

Let's see, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated almost two weeks ago. The big news in Pakistan today: Musharraf told 60 Minutes that her being murdered was her own fault. Maybe they should hang her for the crime of suicide. Oh, rats, she cheated the hangman, she's already dead. The big news in the United States: "Bena-what Who-toe?" I mentioned the assassination to several fellow Americans that Thursday and at least one of them knew that Pakistan is a nuclear power, and so might be important. It's really hard to make light of an assassination anyway. Having to explain it as you go along takes ALL the fun out of it.

When stuck, I consult my Muse Cindy, Muse of Other, Muse of Few Words, whose name is not really Cindy, that's just the name on her Muse's badge when she works at the corner of Me and Myself. I said to her, "The immediate news is no good for a column. What should I do?"

[Right: Cindy often goes in for the Classic Greek look.]

Cindy changed from brunette to blond and back again and tried on a handful of figures while she thought about it. I could tell her answer was going to be longer than usual. She said, "Then don't use immediate news. Use old news."

Here's an old news item from St. Petersburg, Florida, November 28, 2007, that got a lot of attention at the time, so I won't have to explain every little detail of it. Joseph Dearing of Dallas TX asked this question of the presidential candidates in the CNN-YouTube debates: "I'm Joseph, I'm from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of THIS book? And I mean specifically THIS book that I'm holding in my hand. Do you believe THIS book?"

The good people at CNN probably had to cut this yahoo short. He probably went on to say, "I'm talking about THIS book in my left hand, I'm not talking about the book in my right hand! Don't look at my hands, look at the book! The one in my LEFT hand! My left, not your left! Stupid politicians! Look at the BOOK! What book do you see?" and so forth.

Joseph Dearing was right. The answers did tell us EVERYTHING we need to know about the Republican candidates for President of the United States.

Because not one of them told Joseph his question was inappropriate, it told us that not one of them recognizes an opportunity to uphold the First Amendment, or Article VI, Sec. 3, when he sees it, or that if presidential candidates let pass what amount to religious job interview questions, it undermines Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the laws they should enforce should they be elected.

Title VII specifically applies to the federal government as well as most employers with 15 or more employees. Churches are exempt, but the aforementioned First Amendment says the federal government isn't allowed to be a church.

It would have been nice if just one of the candidates had the presence of mind and the sense of responsibility to say, "I defend your right to ask your question. However, the US Constitution says there shall be no religious test for the presidency or any other US public office. Also, no citizen should be asked to affirm any religious belief for non-church related employment. Therefore, to show you that I care about the founding principles of the United States, and to support and affirm the established rights of our citizens, I will not be answering your highly inappropriate question."

Otherwise the next time you apply for work, the question will be, "The president believes in THIS book. How about you?"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Nothing At All

As promised, this week's column will be about Nothing.

The great thing about Nothing, from a humor standpoint, is that "Nothing" is a noun and nouns are supposed to signify things. But Nothing doesn't! That makes Nothing the most anarchistic word in the English language, and anarchy is funny like ten monkeys and one banana in a Jacuzzi®.

To prepare to talk aimlessly about Nothing, I did a little research. I learned some very interesting facts. For example, the Old Testament, at least in the most popular translations, mentions Void and Emptiness, but never Nothing. Whereas the New Testament mentions it a bunch of times. This is apparently because the first person to really talk about Nothing was not Hebrew, but the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who said, "Everything flows, Nothing stands still," thus making the first clear distinction between the two, and serving to sort them out for further study.

[Above Right: Probably bipolar, shown here in one of his down times, Heraclitus was the first of a long line of philosophers to talk about nothing.]

Socrates next became famous for claiming to know Nothing, personally. I have it all over Socrates -- I've slept with Nothing for years and done Nothing for hours on end nightly, in every position imaginable. Top that, Socrates!

Not surprisingly, Ovid, the Roman poet I was speaking of last week who wrote about Everything, felt compelled to speak of Nothing as well. He said, "Nothing is stronger than habit." I can second that. In fact, Nothing beats a bad habit like being flattened by a semi.

The Bible does say that in the Beginning there was Void, which is a Nothingness in space. But John Lennon said it better: "Before Elvis there was Nothing."

Here's a bit from Paul to the Corinthians: "If I give away Everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain Nothing." Well, yeah, you gave away Everything!

What's wrong with Nothing, is what I want to ask. Oscar Wilde said, "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of Nothing." Let me earn my cynic's wings today! Because if I can learn the value of Nothing then value will always be with me. How bad is that?

Confucius said (I kid not), "Sincerity is the end and beginning of Things; without sincerity there would be Nothing." So someone sincerity-deficient like me can fairly count on an abundance of Nothing. It just makes good sense to find the good in it.

Or maybe Nothing is beyond good. Ben Franklin said something to the effect that Nothing is as popular as Goodness.

Throughout the ages, perhaps as motivated as I am to find value in Nothing, great thinkers have sought to define it. Da Vinci tried to turn the original Void idea on its head by saying that Nothing is that which fills no space, as opposed to unfilled space. It's the missing filling.

Wittgenstein got all theatrical up in it by stating, "For a truly religious man Nothing is tragic." Leaving out the religiosity angle, I think "Nothing is tragic," draws us near to its value. After all, the ancient Greeks went to considerable trouble to enjoy their little tragedies. Goats had to be killed and skinned for the costumes alone. Probably there was a buffet. So with all the Nothingness of those tragedies, someone got to eat goat.

[Above: Wittgenstein was a philosopher, a student of Mathematical Foundations, and an expert not only of nothing, but also the art and science of hunting for and identifying unicorns.]

"Out of Nothing Comes Nothing," said Descartes. In fact, Nothing breeds like rabbits. So Nothing is a good investment, if you want plenty of Nothing.

[Left: By learning some math, Descartes was able to speak of nothing with more authority than the average philosopher. Below him on our page, but not in the heart of God, Pascal thinks about binomials, triangles, gambling, our expectations of a good return upon our investment in our mortal existence, and nothing.]

Another one-time mathematician like Descartes and me, Blaise Pascal, is alleged to have said, "If God does not exist, one will lose Nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose Everything by not believing." But J. Krishnamurti (repeatedly) said you can trust Nothing and believe in Nothing. I have found this reassuring, and the definitive answer to Pascal's wager.

Nothing is comforting. Rousseau said something resembling this: "When the people have Nothing to eat, they will eat the rich." It inspires hope.