Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shooting the Dream

This is the week my American Dream died. Maybe yours is still fogging the mirror but mine is cold and stiff, prostrate, and staring up at me with fish eyes.

Like most other Americans, I dream of living better than the majority of you. I tolerate all of your social and environmental problems that rule over you by corporations creates, with the understanding that one day I may use the same laws that have let them become rich off all of you, by exploiting your labor, to also make myself richer than I deserve to be. You could call this philosophy Marxism for Number One.

Lately I have been browsing downtown condos looking for the home I would want to live in after I strike it rich, because I'm not much for suburban living. Under the guise of creating a photo album of Seattle's most interesting alleys (which I've been posting on the personal blog, the one nobody reads) I'm actually scoping out which condos look nicest from their backsides. Then I go online and check out the prices.

That led to the first blunt-force trauma to my American Dream. I'm really, really, going to have to exploit the hell out of you all to get a decent condo.

I was stunned to discover that a lot of the guys who brag about their high-rise condos are living in studios with fewer than 500 square feet, because that's all the poor suckers can afford. So it's like, they have trainer condos for the not-so-rich. I've seen bigger rooms in hospital wards. You don't even need a million dollars for one of these trainer condos. You can get one for a quarter million if you shop around. It's sad to see how far the reality is from the glamorous myth. I bet in some of these "luxury" condos you have to sit on the toilet to shower. You have to dress in bed because there's no standing room.

I'm going to need at least half a million to get me a one-bedroom with a view of a loading dock and dumpsters. I'm not sure I want to exploit people that much, it hardly seems worth it.

The hit that killed my Dream once and for all came in the news last week, with reports that a Milwaukee man was arrested and faces up to 6 years and 3 months in prison plus a fine up to $11,000, for shooting his own lawn mower, in his own yard, for not starting.

OK, witnesses say Keith Walendowski was intoxicated when he fired a "shotgun or rifle" into his Lawn Boy, last Wednesday morning. But that is no excuse for arresting him and charging him with a crime. It was his house, his yard, his shotgun and/or rifle, his intoxicant, and his Lawn Boy. And we know that the lazy mower, a glorified tin can, had it coming.

[Right: Our man's mug shot. He looks homeless, but he was housed when he was arrested. When he's released in 6 years, who knows?]

How can I enjoy dreaming about being able to own my own home if, when I finally get one, I can be arrested and put in prison for more than half a decade every time I shoot an insubordinate appliance or motorized lawn tool, even one that's asking for it?

What are they going to do next? Spy on us in the privacy of our own kitchens and arrest us when we shoot our worthless, non self-defrosting refrigerators? Is it now going to be against the law to throw your shoe through your stupid TV screen when your stupid team loses? Did you know that the last pope did that once? Would you lock the pope up for 6 years? Why should anyone even have a stupid TV? Why own a house?

As I despaired of ever being truly free in a home of my own, I realized that's why there's so much homelessness in America today. It just doesn't pay to have a home of your own. You can't do anything in it that you can't do on the streets.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Twist and Shout

On the way to a party this weekend (the third in a week, but I'm not yet a party animal, more of a party vegetable) Anitra "Party Duck" Freeman and I shared a bus stop with a man who turned out to be studying law. He said, "Ask me any question about torts." Naturally, I asked him what the etymology of "torts" was, concerned as I am to avoid bready sweets.

It turns out torts have nothing to do with bready sweets. The word comes from the root word that gives us "torque." The root means to twist. Torts are all about wrungs, and wringings, which sound like wrongs, except for one vowel. If you've ever read a book on tort case law for entertainment, as I have, you would understand immediately how wrungs differ from wrongs. Basically a wrong is a "He done him wrong" situation whereas a wrung is the more general "He and him are in a twist" situation.

For example, say I borrow your pig for the purpose of showing him off at a fair. While I'm walking your pig to Puyallup, the pig falls into a puddle and drowns. Not wanting to waste your pig, I butcher him, and give his rump away to the needy. One of the needy chokes on your pig's rump, dies, and his death deprives future income to several poverty pimps. Is your pig liable?

Some people read tort cases for competitive purposes. They hope they will then be better able to win tort decisions against the rest of us. The reason I like to read tort cases is for the same reason so many people have watched ABC Wide World of Sports, or Shakespearean plays, or America's Funniest Videos, especially for the crotch hits. Torts are a rich source of comedy and tragedy, often at the same time.

Another fun thing about tort law, besides the suffering and the guffaws, is the archaic language and the Latin and Old French that pops up. I guess a lot of tort law came about because of Normans, perhaps owing to their behavior. You have your tortious acts committed by your tortfeasors. You have the res ipsa loquitur, the thing which speaks for itself. You have such things as detinue, replevin, and trover, which I don't know what any of them are. You have your bailors and bailees. My favorite is "chattel." In tort law you are free to go on and on with "They took my chattel! They took my chattel!"

Outside of tort law, whining about the loss of your chattel might be frowned upon, because it ordinarily is taken to mean "slaves." But inside of tort law it means your tangible, movable, property. As opposed to your land, your house, or your idea for a great off-Broadway play.

I would like to hear the word chattel used more often. One way I see that this could happen is if lawsuits were brought against the City of Seattle for the wrongful, or wrungful, detention of the chattel of homeless people.

OK, maybe it's just me that wants to say chattel all the time. But I can almost guarantee that such lawsuits will happen. In fact I can prove it.

In Fresno, California, 225 homeless people claimed in a federal class-action lawsuit, back in 2006, that the City of Fresno confiscated and failed to return their rightful belongings, including medicine, food, identification, tents, sleeping bags, and a wheelchair. The lawsuit ended in a $2.3 million settlement. Subtracting the $850,000 in attorneys' fees, that leaves $1,450,000 to divide up among 225 people, for an average of $6,444.44 each. Nobody doesn't like to get $6,444.44, especially in return for having been done an injustice. QED.

It's only a matter of time before the City of Seattle pays through the nose for letting Greg Nickels violate the law, the constitution, and decency in pursuing a reckless policy of stealing the survival needs of homeless people.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Swell and the Swollen

First, what is right with the world. On the day this appears in print tomorrow will be July 17, Yellow Pig Day, a happy holiday for celebrating yellow pigs and for honoring the number 17.

17 is the funniest of all numbers. Typical math jokes involving 17: "17 is the only prime number exactly equal to 17." "17 is the smallest prime the sum of whose digits is 8." "A map of the original 13 colonies cannot be colored with 17 colors." My favorite math joke involving 17: "17!" July 17 is also the birthday of "close associate" Anitra "With The Lettuce In Her Hair" Freeman, who will be, as always, as old tomorrow as I was last week. All of this is good, and as it should be.

[Below: "Famous" equation you never saw before that enabled some smart-ass to construct a heptadecagon with ruler and compass, like that's important.]

Now for what should not be. Two words: Karl Rove.

It's been almost a year since Rove resigned from his position with the Bush administration. He is now a private citizen, theoretically, who chiefly works as a writer and political analyst for Fox and Wall Street News, and as a speaker. So how does he have executive immunity from Congressional subpoena? Because he says he does. He won't even appear physically before the House Judiciary Committee to tell them personally that he doesn't have to answer their questions. He has that much executive immunity, which, last I checked, even the president himself doesn't have. He shouldn't call it executive immunity, he should call it deification, and he should order us to tear down Congress and dedicate a temple to him on the same soil.

He is claiming executive immunity even though he has no way of knowing precisely what questions the committee members would ask him were he to appear. Let us put that into perspective. It's like I say, "Excuse me?" and you say, "It's none of your business." What? Or, "Where were you the afternoon of March 15 of last year?" "I didn't do it." What?

It can be understood as proof that Rove claims omniscience. He believes he knows precisely what questions will be asked of him and that there will be no question to which the answer could not be, "I refuse to answer on grounds of executive immunity."

"What is your name, sir?" "I refuse to answer on grounds of executive immunity." "How high can you jump?" "I refuse to answer on grounds of executive immunity." "Who won the World Series in 1944?" "I refuse to answer on grounds of executive immunity."

After all, a True God is also omnipotent, therefore omniprivileged and empowered to answer all questions badly. What's the difference between a duck? The correct answer might be, "One of its legs is both the same," but a True God is able to answer any way He likes, even lying if He so chooses. "42."

"Why isn't Rove in jail right now?" You might as well ask, "Why does death come to all living beings?" A. Because Rove is God and Rove hates little children and cute puppies. Shut up and eat your broccoli.

Years ago I applied for a mathematics teaching position at a local institution of Christian higher education. In addition to the usual interview with established faculty and department head, I had to submit to being interviewed by the president of the university, who in the course of it, asked me, "When you teach calculus, how will you relate it to Christ?"

At the time I thought that the correct answer ought to be, "Not in any way at all, you dottering old moron." But now that I am almost as old as that fool, I realize that God, AKA Karl Rove, AKA Turd Blossom, created not only the world but also the mathematical laws that lie beneath the workings of the world.

Newton and Leibniz may have discovered calculus, but Rove made it be, as He made Heaven and Earth and yes, 17, and He is One in Being with his Son. If He says so.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Man Talk

I'm old. When you read this, I will be older in accordance with that convention regarding birthdays, wherein you age a year all on one day. I hate convention but it's all I've got so I embrace it like a bald man embraces his comb-over.

The Special Theory of Relativity says that you don't age so much as you hurtle, at enormous speed, up your world-lines in the space-time continuum. (I've always wanted to say "up your world-lines.") It's a good thing we are hurtling into the future where nothing has happened yet. If we hurtled into the past we would constantly be stubbing our toes and banging our noses against events that have already been, and is/would be there now, were now to become then.

[Above: A depiction of a naked man hurtling up his world-line. Not 100% accurate. Though it may appear that his past light cone is hurtling up him, I can assure you that is not the case.]

Another good thing about being old and getting older so fast, for me, is that it runs out my biological clock. Barring an unforeseeable catastrophic medical miracle, I will miss the 22nd Century. I've read that the 22nd Century will be the pits. There will be no oil and no coal, so even though there will still be hair dryers and toaster ovens, they won't work. Or, thanks to solar and wind power, they will work if you make an appointment with the power company in advance, or can wait until hurricane season. There will be no food banks, either, because there will only be just enough food in the world to feed the rich.

Here's something to ponder: Food is essential to good health. If you've got scurvy, the prescription is going to be a lemon. But lemons, and all other foods, are over-the-counter. So drug plans won't cover them.

The practice of drug plans not paying for OTC medicine is what I wanted to talk about this week. Being old, it's taken me 5 paragraphs to get to it. Also, being old, I take lots of medicine and some of the best stuff is OTC, and my drug plan won't pay for it, so it's personal.

Doctors are helping patients deal with this situation by prescribing alternative medications that are not OTC. This trick also works if your drug goes generic and gets bumped off your drug plan's formulary. If the patient can't afford Tylenol® in the quantities he needs, prescribe an opiate, instead.

A prescription-only drug can be re-evaluated by the FDA and made OTC, at which time drug plans will stop paying for it, even though the drug has not changed and the consumers' needs for it have not changed, and even if a doctor continues to prescribe it. What prompts the FDA to make the change in status is evidence that the drug is safer than previously supposed. So, if anything, it should be prescribed more. Instead, patients get switched to prescription-only drugs that as a rule are more dangerous.

If we could only get the principle established once and for all that it's people's health that matters and not the health of drug companies, we could have the sort of health care we deserve. We'd also get, as a side benefit, the means to direct public funds to end homelessness and malnutrition in this country, when doctors can prescribe food and shelter, and public health plans have to provide them.

I should live so long.

Bonus Meander

Let's manage our roads like drug plans. You'd have a Road Plan. You'd opt in at the beginning of the year. There'd be a list of roads you'd be allowed to use at reduced tolls. All other roads would be pay as you go, full price. If the roads listed weren't right for you, you could shop for a new plan for 2009. In the meantime, you get what you got, except the Road Plan company can raise the tolls or drop any road off your list at any time between now and Dec. 31, 2008. If you don't like it, what are you, a communist? Why don't you go live somewhere they don't have roads?

[Below: Your Road plan may pay for you to drive northbound on Aurora at certain hours, but make you pay to drive south. This will be called Managed Transportation Care. We already have this, only they call it "HOV lanes."]

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Yeah, I'm a Militia

The latest term of the US Supreme Court ended Thursday. We're not in a labor camp yet. Let's all share in a collective sigh of relief.

Talk like that often gets me pegged as an extreme liberal, as if conservatives all welcome being sent to labor camps. That's not how it works. A conservative is someone who doesn't mind if YOU are sent to a labor camp. What part of my editorial "We" didn't we understand?

I'm actually so far right I look left because the Universe is curved.

A good issue with which to illustrate my point is the gun control thing. Until last week I was in favor of gun control because I can't get a gun. If I can't get one, I don't want anyone else to have one. This is a deeply conservative view that has been around since the beginning of history. If I don't have a club, you can't have one. If I have one, mine has to be bigger.

In my case the reason I don't have a gun isn't because the state forbids me, but because the economy forbids me. This brings us to Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963. In that case an earlier Supreme Court decided full-out-freaking unanimously that poor people like Clarence Earl Gideon [mugshot left] (who'd been convicted of burglary) were entitled to court appointed lawyers at state expense, forcing Florida to retry Mr. Gideon, which retrial resulted in an acquittal. All of which was based on the 6th Amendment (4 amendments AFTER the 2nd, so only a third as important) which says, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." The justices acknowledged unanimously that a right to something that's denied because you can't afford it is a right not enjoyed.

How would that work if the problem had been that Mrs. Gideon couldn't afford a Glock? Let's say Mrs. Gideon was heading home from the sweatshop at 11 PM and a guy jumped her and stole her last buck fifty for a ride on Metro. But the 2nd Amendment says, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." In The District of Columbia v. Heller, last Thursday, the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia pontificating, said that the framers of the 2nd Amendment meant that all the Mrs. Gideons should have the right to guns.

[Above right: See the baby Glock! Is'ms the cutest widdle baby Glock ever? Yes'ms is!]

That's great, but what good does that do Mrs. Gideon, when the cheapest gun in the pawn shop is over a hundred dollars, and it explodes in your hand when you fire it? The answer is, we now need a Mrs. Gideon v. So-And-So in which the Supreme Court would again acknowledge, hopefully as unanimously as before, that a right denied economically is a right denied, period, and order the states to pass out firearms to all us poor people, at state expense. For the sake of American Freedom!

I trust that, when this issue does make it to the Supreme Court, that the conservative justices especially will rule my way, crediting me with being a bigger conservative son of a bitch than they are.

Make mine an Uzi, I can't aim.

Exercises for the Motivated Reader

1. Take any weird conservative ruling of the Supreme Court, such as, say Hudson v. Michigan, 2006, wherein they decided that if cops broke the law and invaded your house without announcing themselves, "It's all good." Think of at least one way that someone light-years to the right of the Roberts Supreme Court might have said, "No it's not." (Hint: His middle name is Not-My-House and his last name is Wesson.)

2. Commentators on Garcetti v. Ceballos, also 2006, in which the Supremes ruled that public employees could be muzzled, have called it a conservative decision. Explain in 200 words or less what value or principle was conserved. Good luck.

3. If you completed exercise 2, and you're a government employee, turn yourself in to the authorities at once.