Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Here we are again at the time of year when we celebrate a government-sanctioned holiday to pressure me to be thankful even though I'm a whiny, crotchety, old man, with barely an ounce of thankfulness in him. Want me to be thankful? Get off my back about being thankful. ;)

That last bit in the last paragraph was a winking smiley face, for those of you that are 114 year-old hermits living ten miles from nowhere in a shack in the bayou, chain-smoking Pall Malls. It's what people have resorted to use on the Internet to signify "what you just read was an ironic attempt at humor." It's often necessary on the Internet because there are no other clues that the humor-lame need. No laugh tracks, for instance.

Having said all that I remember that many of you don't know what "ironic" means. Well, thanks for asking, it means a lot of things, but in this context it refers to the "winking".

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? Don't make me ever have to use another winking smiley face. You don't need them. It's taken care of in the title: "Adventures in Irony." Don't make me call it "Adventures in Winking."

Here's a relevant news item. Until recently to qualify for Food Stamps your income needed to be under 130% of the poverty level. Now it just has to be below 200% of the poverty level. The theory behind this change is that with rising food prices and rising gas costs, it's getting harder for people to afford food. Hey, I have a crazy idea! Why don't we just raise the poverty level 54%?

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? The Washington State Legislature could get off their collective butts and pass an inflationary increase in government assistance. There's been a 50% increase in the Consumer Price Index since 1993, the last time Washington State raised Government Assistance for the Unemployable (GAU). It's been $339 in all that time, notwithstanding inflation, notwithstanding that, as the state has just recognized in regard to Food Stamps, the CPI doesn't tell the whole story (e.g. rents have gone up way more than 50%), notwithstanding that we're only talking about two-tenths of one per cent of the population that needs it desperately, or they'll become homeless.

Ha, ha, that was a joke! Winking smileys galore! They're already homeless! $339 per month? With rents what they are today?

As a matter of fact, using my outstanding math skills and a cheap $2 calculator, I have been able to estimate with great confidence that if you just increased GAU to an amount sufficient to rent a room and buy clothes, up to 44% of King County's homeless people could get off the streets.

Raise GAU enough, and developers would go after that money. There's your Housing First program. Just like the Food Stamp program is really a benefit for food producers and grocery stores, likewise GAU can be a benefit for construction workers. We could think of it as a bailout, twice removed.

The money it would cost to raise GAU a reasonable amount would be more than offset by the savings in money spent on services.

Of course, that would put a lot of social-service workers out of work. Maybe that's why you don't hear a lot of social-service agencies talking about the ridiculous fact that GAU isn't pegged to inflation, and isn't adequate to prevent homelessness. Hell, I was even tempted not to mention it myself. If homelessness in King County were to end, Real Change wouldn't be needed anymore, and I wouldn't have these opportunities to complain every week.

Want me to be thankful this Thanksgiving? Take some of the energy you were going to apply to feeding the poor one day a year, and apply it to getting our legislature to do what it takes to make half the state's social service industry unemployed. Let them all get jobs in drywall.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diversity Sells!

One day I predict an African-American will be president of the United States of America and we'll all be rich.

The change in America's image from a country that resists its diversity to one that welcomes it may have unforeseen benefits. Today I read a story that noted that after a decline following Sept. 11, 2001, the numbers of foreign students in the US are now surging again. The story contained this quote from a Chinese student: "In China you can seldom find people from the US, but in the US you find people from all over the world."

Now, I'm all for diversity as much as the next liberal. But, you know, when the only sort of thing diversity means is a few hundred people of all different colors on a hilltop singing I'd Like to Buy The World A Coke shoulder to shoulder, it's pretty much reduced to the aesthetics associated with food pyramid posters and puppy dog calendars, and who gives a rat's ass? But you figure out a way to make money off it, you got something worth promoting.

Rich and semi-rich Chinese neo-capitalists are paying for their sons and daughters to come to American Colleges, not because we have better schools, but because there's a shortage of diversity in China. A survey done in 1977 found that just 35 surnames accounted for 70% of the entire population of China. One in ten were Zhangs. Almost all of them speak Chinese! How do you get away from that? Send them to a school where people speak English and Spanglish, that's how!

Diversity is a draw. There have been times in my life when I would have been willing to pay for some myself. For instance in 1978 I landed a plush job in Z├╝rich, where they speak Swiss German. I'd studied two whole years of German in college, and even passed some of my classes. I figured it would come back to me when the natives started speaking German at my face. I was wrong. I had not fully understood the significance of the word "Swiss" in the expression "Swiss German." It's not that the Swiss speak German, it's that they speak something else, called Swiss German.

Swiss German Lesson [Best one on YouTube!]

I would have gladly shelled out extra bucks in college to pay for a Swiss German to teach me his language, had I known his language wasn't German, had I had foresight, and had I had the extra bucks to shell out. The fact that I hadn't had those particular items does not subtract from the fact that others had them (knowledge, foresight, bucks.) But there would not have been enough Swiss Germans to go around anyway, not in this country, so it wouldn't have mattered!

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. His dream included the bit "that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood," and the business about rough places made plain that he cribbed off Isaiah. My dream is that the rest of the world will pay to see Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream happening, especially if they're allowed to take notes, and there are also Brazilians, Swiss Germans, and Ukrainians present at the table.

Let's stop advertising America as a place to send "your poor your tired your huddled masses" to be assimilated and end up resembling some shade of Bruce Willis. Instead let's talk about our diversity portfolio. Let's bill ourselves as Diversity World, and get us some diversity action on the world market. Why should Belgians have all the money?

We're about to have some Kenya in the White House. That in itself will draw more Kenyans. At a certain point that will position us to siphon off some serious African tourist trade.

We need to start right now getting some souvenir shops up and running. Demand is going to be awesome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who's The Dog? You're the Dog!

The incoming president is shopping for a dog for his two daughters. After the election was all over, the tears of joy were wiped away, and the spilled champagne mopped up, the media looked around for new news, and came up with this. It's so great not to be forced to write about torture, war, and economic disaster, for a change. Let's talk about hypoallergenic dogs!

I think I'm like most Americans, in that I did not know there was such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog. I'd heard of hypoallergenic earring studs and hypoallergenic soap. I wear hypoallergenic socks. But the thought that I could get a hypoallergenic dog never crossed my mind. I've looked it up and I've found out that one of the reasons I've never thought of such a thing is that the only really hypoallergenic dog is a bare naked dog. My mind resisted the thought simply because my mind revolted against the idea of calling any sort of naked furless quadruped a dog.

Then I remembered how, in the 90s, about 2 years after Utne Reader declared Belltown the 7th hippest neighborhood in America and it had fully ceased to be true, the place was overrun with people stringing along minute little hairless things that I used to call "long-legged rats." Their owners referred to them as dogs.

Here's what I'm thinking. Obama is just not funny enough by himself. I need me some funny stuff in the White House. He got me Joe Biden, and I thank him for that, but even Joe Biden isn't all that funny. He's no Sarah Palin. But a hairless live ferret morsel passing for a dog you can carry around in a coffee mug, that's a hoot.

Barack to the kids: 'Here's the dog I promised you! Now remember, you need to put him back in his thimble when guests are over, which will be all the time now; otherwise people will think we have rats. Oh, and here's one Swedish meatball. The lickings from it should feed him for a month."

The bottom line is, they don't really make hypoallergenic dogs, they only make hypo-dogs. They're less allergenic because there's less of them. This could be a great metaphor informing Belltown, Seattle, and America.

Greg Nickels wants Seattle to be a major business center and he figures businesses won't locate here if there's homeless people everywhere you look. That's never stopped businesses from locating in New York, San Francisco, or Chicago (home of Boeing), all three of which I have been to and know have at least as much visible homelessness as Seattle does. But let's forget that and accept the premise that visible homelessness would prevent us from being The Big Apple Bye & Bye that we've always wanted to be. We should then be striving to make Seattle hypo-homeless.

That way, in boardrooms all across the US there can be conversations that go: "Gosh, I had to see a homeless person on my way to our offices on the 70th floor of our skyscraper. How awful! Can't we do something about that?" "Why yes, I was looking on Craigslist for an ugly dog and I noticed that Seattle is up for sale, and it's listed as hypo-homeless." "That's great! Let's sell this skyscraper and buy a new one in Seattle, and work there."

In reality, this is America, not the United Arab Emirates. In America, there is no such thing as a hypo-homeless city. The closest thing to a hypo-homeless city in the world is Dubai, which passes its wealth out among its citizens, so that not one is poor by any standard. That will not happen here, even with the socialist in the White House.

[Right: Some would say Dubai can afford to be so socialistic.]

So, the only real way that Seattle can be hypo-homeless, is for her to be hypo-urban. Without sharing the wealth that is created on the backs of our citizens and from their resources, we can only have less homelessness than other American cities by being less city.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truman Defeats McCain

Wow! Wasn't that election a surprise? Who could have guessed Truman would win?

OK, so it's 6 AM the Monday before as I write this and I think I know who will win the presidency, but don't know for a fact. So what do I do, send this column out as a letter to Future World?

I did that once. Back in 1971, as I was about to head off to grad school, I wrote a letter to my self of ten years later, and stuck it in a "time capsule," with a note to myself to open it in 1981. I did that, and found all this crap about the Viet Nam War and Nixon that made absolutely no sense. The 1971-me seemed to think the 1981-me would be either dead in a rice paddy or living in a colony on Mars.

Sometimes I prognosticate well. In the Spring of 1978 I starting telling people there would be a revolution in Iran soon. I guessed that much sitting in the UW Husky Cafeteria, overhearing visiting Iranian students try to explain their country's politics to other foreign students. Events six months and after would indicate I outdid the CIA and the National Security Agency on that one.

On the other hand I was sure Hubert Humphrey would beat Nixon in '68. It was the last significant cash bet I ever made in my life. I still owe some guy $20. I figure he'll never collect, since he probably died in a rice paddy, possibly the same year.

[Right: I'm convinced that Humphrey would have won in '68 if he hadn't been tickled pink all the time.]

Just 8 years ago I half-believed Nader supporters' claims that if Bush won the 2000 election and people saw how he governed 2000 to 2004, the Republicans would lose in 2004 for sure. He won; they saw; they voted him back in anyway. All his mistakes made them want him more. He screws up so much we suffer the worst single terrorist act in the world on his watch, and people wanted him back "to protect us from terrorism." How do you predict that kind of cosmically-proportioned mass stupidity? It's like trying to guess which way a football will bounce. America isn't round.

Speaking of things not round, one of my heroes, Benoit Mandelbrot, touched upon this very subject a week ago on PBS, the same day the Fed cut the overnight interest rate to 1%. He basically said we're living in a chaotic economy. In other words, the world economy is not round, so you don't know which way it will bounce. (Mandelbrot is the expert on things such as are highly not round.)

In fact the Federal reserve cut that interest rate without knowing what effect it could have. It seemed like a good idea, because it's helped ease us out of recessions in the past. But we're in a credit crunch. How do you encourage credit by making it worth less to the creditor? I don't know! And neither does your government! They're flying blind!

I'm going to make one small effort to predict something, in spite of my own and Mandelbrot's warnings.

Right now the 10-year interest rates for US government notes, adjusted for current inflation, is negative 1%. I'm going to predict that if that doesn't turn around by next fall, we will then be looking back at our current economic condition and calling it good.

I may not know which way a football will bounce, but I know what happens if you toss it down a well.

For Extra Negative Credit

1. Try to predict something really important, like global warming. Now, before doing anything else, try to predict the opposite of what you predicted the first time. Next, try to predict which of your predictions is better. Show your work, in detail, with footnotes and bibliography. Nothing got better, did it? Welcome to Science!

2. Where's my jet-car? Where's my anti-gravity suit? Where's my 3D tele-smell-a-vision?

3. Can you understand stupidity without having personally experienced it? Think carefully before you answer.