Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's A Pod Person, Get Used To It

Right about now I think what should be on everyone's mind is the question, what did the aliens do with the real Gil Kerlikowske, and why?

Last week, something that looked like Gil Kerlikowske and, even more incredible, calling itself Gil Kerlikowske, said it is not going to use the expression "war on drugs" anymore, adding, "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them. We're not at war with people in this country." It then stared directly into cameras, stuck out its tongue, and said, "SKREEEEEEE!"

When the real Gil Kerlikowske was picked by Obama to go from being Seattle's Chief of Police to head of the Office of National Drug Policy, my immediate reaction was "Wuh?" followed by something naughty I shouldn't write here. That's because I had thought that Obama intended to crank down the war on drugs and substitute a focus on treatment, and Gil Kerlikowske had never to my knowledge objected to the war on drugs before, whether or not it wound up being a war on people. In fact, Mr. Kerlikowske had always been a big fan of SWAT teams and busting in doors without knocking.

When the real Kerlikowske has talked about not pursuing enforcement in the past, it wasn't from an objection to the drug war itself. It was just an admission that police resources weren't up to it.

I don't even understand why we're filling a policy position with a police officer. Is there some confusion about the words? "Policy" sounds like "police"? For a policy position you want someone with a record that shows well thought out positions on the policies in question. Now, if it's policies on policing we're talking about, it makes sense to pick a policeman. But the Office of National Drug Policy should be about more than policing, I thought.

Well, I did manage to find a likely reason why Kerlikowske was picked. Seems he had a job once in DC administering a Clinton program. Knowing that, mystery solved. What he's done in the decade or so since probably didn't receive a whole lot of weight, comparatively. But would the Clintons recognize their former pet now, now that he's been implanted or switched out with a pod?

My Mother would have known what to do in a case like this, because she read a lot of cheap books. "Well, what's done is done, no use crying over spilt milk, blah, blah, it's a pod person and that's that, get used to it," is what Mom would have said. OK, Mom, but WHY is he here and who's next? Mom's long gone but I think I know what she would have said. Mom would have said, "It's trying to allay our fears. It wants us to relax and go to sleep, and everything will be just fine in the morning, because you're next, that's who." Then Mom would have said, "So that's all it is, so shut up and go to bed."

So let's summarize. The current Drug Czar, or "Caesar" of US Drug policy, wants us to think we are all safe. The last thing it wants is to stir up panic with talk about wars on this and wars on them. It doesn't want us to find the central pod warehouse and burn it to the ground. "We have not come to wage war," it says. "I mean, me, I, Gil Kerlikowske have not. There is no we. Forget we said that."

Therefore, no matter how many Americans continue to still be incarcerated for various and sundry and mostly nonviolent drug offenses, and no matter how much that undermines our communities and our economic base and our social fabric and corrupts our institutions, the Office of National Drug Policy will no longer call it war.

So, what should it be called, then? Pacification? The Putting to Bed, Permanently, of America?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stupidological Theoryism

Let's talk some more about stupidity!

Our regular two readers know that stupidity is my favorite subject. It was my favorite subject in grade school. I tried to major in stupidology in college, but it wasn't offered in those days. So I have had to study stupidity on my own, working without official recognition.

The founding principle of stupidology, as it has emerged from my studies, is that there are really only a limited number of forms that stupidity takes, and that most of them can be found in nearly all humans who have not been taught to watch specifically for them.

The individual study of stupidology is the only method I know for increasing intelligence. After all, intelligence is merely the relative absence of stupidity in the application of imagination and memory to life's problems. The less stupidity the higher the intelligence. So in order to get smart, stop being stupid.

I have discussed different forms of stupidity in previous columns. My favorite is what I call the Universal Negation stupidity. That is the stupidity that is apparently hard-wired into human brains at birth, which is most clearly expressed in the conviction that if not all things of kind X are Y then all things of kind X are not Y. An example is found in this Lou Dobbsism: Not all of American war veterans are potential terrorists. Therefore no American war veteran is a potential terrorist, and to suggest the possibility is an outrage.

A variation on that Lou Dobbsism that would apply to homelessness in Seattle would go like this: Not all homeless people in Seattle are sex offenders. Therefore no homeless people in Seattle are sex offenders, and so if you're looking for sex offenders you don't have to look there. That is a stupidity, and those who insist that we who desire to find sex offenders in Seattle look among homeless people for sex offenders are right to point that out.

However, one of the tricky things you learn in the study of stupidity is that as soon as you get past one stupidity you almost always run smack into another that was waiting for you around the corner. In this case that next stupidity is almost always the Profiling stupidity.

The Profiling stupidity takes over when you have figured out that Ys can be found among things of kind X, so you immediately ONLY look for Ys among things of kind X. This stupidity is often extremely appealing and attractive. The attraction is that looking for Ys everywhere is time-consuming and expensive, so why not only look for Ys where you know that they could be, and not look for Ys elsewhere (where they could be)?

The answer to why Profiling is stupid is that saving time and money isn't everything. There's also thoroughness for one thing. But even more important than thoroughness, is the negative impact that profiling has on the Profiled immediately, and the Profiler, eventually.

By only looking for Ys in one place, you can only find them there. So the Profiling automatically, by its application, generates the illusion that the Profiled are really the best place to look for the quality sought.

The Profilers, then, become convinced by their own Profiling that thoroughness was more than a waste of time and money, "Gosh, look at this! Every single sex offender we've found was homeless! We were right to only look there!" Meanwhile, their friendly next-door neighbor, who was always as likely to be a sex offender as any homeless person, is looking for an opportunity to rape their toddlers in the alley.

The very real and immediate success of Profiling, by saving time and cost and turning in some results, makes the stupid user of the Profiling stupidly cling harder to it. It's a self-intensifying stupidity.

So to summarize, not only is Profiling merely stupid (because it isn't thorough), it is beyond stupid, because it makes those who do it stupider and stupider over time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Floating My Sign

I didn't want to, but I'm going to have to talk about the Great Flu Epidemic of 2009 this week, because I can't row fast enough against the raging stream.

Before I get started, I want to talk about my receding hairline. It could have been worse. But in 1984, at the age of 35, the year I sometimes pretend was my entry into adulthood, and I decided to let my zodiac sign "float", I also decided to wear hats. The idea was to test the theory that hat-wearing among men causes male-pattern baldness, by myself wearing hats. My experiment has shown conclusively that it prevents male-pattern baldness and causes a receding hairline instead.

So, what I'm saying is, I know a little something about the scientific method. I am a practiced inducer. I have had a scientific inducation.

So I am exactly the person you should come to, to get all your answers to your urgent concerns about the so-called swine flu. My answers won't be based on what Fox news says about. My answers will be based on Science.

Science says flus are caused by viruses, and that viruses are tiny little things that are arguably alive and arguably not. They are therefore the scientific equivalent of the living dead. People call them bugs, but under a microscope they look nothing like bugs. I saw a picture of one once that looked like the thing Captain Kirk made crazy by being illogical with it.

Viruses have genetic stuff like DNA or RNA. You have lots of both, but you're alive. Your typical virus only has one or the other, and what it has is paltry, so it's needy. Can you say "codependent"?

Your so-called swine flu virus actually has genetic stuff from birds, pigs, and humans. Some people think this means it must have been manufactured in a lab, but Science says that it's not that hard for genetic material from all those sources to get mixed up in one virus. In fact, viruses jump around from host to host fairly easily, and the mixing of genetic material between virus and host or between two viruses infecting the same host happen fairly often.

Some days ago a Canadian pig farmer returned from a trip to Mexico, already with the flu. Apparently, he then sneezed on his pigs, because they got what he had.

That's so important, it bears repeating. He didn't get the flu from his pigs. His pigs got it from him. They got farmer flu. Now that they've got the farmer flu, farmer genes can mix with pig genes to make a new kind of farmer-pig flu. Now say one of the pigs that has the new strain of virus sneezes on the farmer's pet parrot. You could see how that could get you pig-parrot-farmer flu. OK? Well, something like that already happened with this virus in the past.

Now let's talk about what we should do about this situation. By "we" of course, I mean me, © Dr. Wes Browning. How am I going to save my ass while everyone else is losing theirs?

One thing I could do is just sit tight and wait for Science to come up with a vaccine for this thing. That will take, they say, four or five months. By then, they think we may have experienced what they call a "second wave" of infections, and who knows, a third and a fourth, and the viruses could have gotten worse in the meantime. So waiting sucks.

Therefore my plan is to get the disease now while it's on special. After all, it's been said over and over again that the version going around here is mild. Well, then, that's the version I want. Not as pleasant as a vaccine but does the same trick sooner.

I figure the best way for me to get it is to get everybody else to stop panicking and let this sucker run its course. Can I have that, please?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I've Copped Feels

Disclaimer: I suck at philosophy.

I learned this crucial fact in my first college class of my first day in college. I was enrolled in what I would now call Philosophy 101. The professor, whom I would now call Baldy, told us at the outset that every freshman who had enrolled in the course expecting an easy breezy A writing incoherent papers dripping existential BS would show themselves most philosophic by dropping the course immediately. I stayed. As a result, 32 years later, I still wake up shuddering from a recurring nightmare in which I am called upon to write one single correct sentence explaining the point of Socrates' dialog with Gorgias, and then the horror continues on, as I realize I can't do it wide awake either.

I spent 5 weeks not learning anything about said dialog and spent the remainder of the course not learning anything about John Stuart Mill's Liberty and Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience. I really had high hopes for Thoreau's dealy, because the book was just the kind I like, being small in all three dimensions and exceedingly light. But all I could come up with when called upon to explain what I had read was some 500 words to the effect that civil disobedience was a really nifty idea.

I think part of the problem was that Mr. Thoreau's examples were chosen from a time I had not existed. If he had used examples from, like, you know, now, it would have made more sense.

I have since acquired a better feel for the subject of civil disobedience. I have copped a feel, you could say. I would like to share, in a little Socratic exercise.

I will cite three examples from times when I have existed. My apologies to younger people who missed these. 1) Rosa Parks won't get up for white people, 1955. 2) Dr. Michael Lippman spraypaints a Seattle Camel cigarette billboard to say "... a whole new world OF CANCER", 1986. 3) Cheney and friends torture detainees for half this decade or more.

I'll start with the last first. Cheney's justification for waterboarding, etc., is straight out of Civil Disobedience For Dummies. In essence: "Yes, we signed and ratified treaties outlawing it. Yes, (perhaps) those treaties have therefore the force of law, in accordance with our Constitution. But when American lives are at stake, a Higher Law must prevail." Cheney imagines himself as a Rosa Parks of a Post 9-11 World, innocent by virtue of bravely defying an unreasonable and unjust law for the sake of the people, to save lives. The torture memos were just a hedge allowing the "(perhaps)" to be inserted.

Dr. Lippman was caught and charged with a misdemeanor. He pled innocent on the grounds that cancer kills and cigarettes cause cancer and only by making that warning in large letters on that billboard could lives be saved. The law that said he may not deface that billboard, as it was someone else's property, had to give way to a Higher Good. He was innocent by virtue of defying a petty and unreasonable law unjust in its application, in order to save lives. And now nobody smokes.

Many liberals in Seattle then compared Lippman to Rosa Parks. To those of you too young to recall and who haven't had the history lesson, in 1955 Rosa Parks deliberately violated a law that said that a non-white person seated on a bus had to give up their seat to white people when told to do so by the driver, just as if all white people were disabled. She did it because the law was wrong, and she jailed and later convicted of disorderly conduct and fined. And now we have a black president.

So here's the deal. Before you can pass Practical Philosophy For Everyday Applications, you have to figure out whether these are all justified uses of civil disobedience, and if one or two are not, why not?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Swamp & Circumstance

I don't usually like to write about my current life. My life is like the lives of most people, in that it resembles a game of pick-up sticks. I'm afraid anything I say about it will throw the delicate balance off and the whole mess will come tumbling down.

Also, a lot of my current life, like the current lives of most people, consists not of detached documented fact and learned history, but of rumors and speculations, guided by feelings that reek of self-interest and last night's chili. I don't know what's happening or why. I don't know if they're out to get me or if it's my neighbor they want.

Sometimes, though, my current life gets all up in my face, and I feel compelled to stare it back down while typing about it with one hand behind my back.

So, lately, on Sundays I've been opening the Real Change office to vendors, for two hours. This has been going on ever since last fall. It is a fact that Anitra "As Seen On The Amy Goodman Show" Freeman and I come to the office Sundays. I sit behind the desk selling papers to the vendors. In case you haven't heard yet, your vendor pays 35 cents for this paper. At the same time that I'm handling the papers, Anitra is usually on a computer alternately killing Balrogs and writing devastating critiques of the political views of sadly misinformed people, while being on call to run to the back for supplies.

A typical exchange. Me: "WE NEED SUGAR, ANITRA! CAN YOU GET SOME SUGAR? PLEASE!" Her, from across the room, "JUST A MINUTE, I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING!" Ten minutes later, the vendors have sugar for their coffee. I drink mine black. Life goes on.

That's the documented and certain core of my Sundays. What else happens is morass. Swamp and circumstance.

This past Sunday started well. Everyone was psyched that Real Change had been written up twice in the mainstream news last week, once for rocking in general, and once for rocking specifically because our writer, the lovely and talented Rosette "XXX Cupcake" Royale, won a major national award. For his writing! Vendors were selling Real Changes out of their right hands, holding Rosette's picture on page B1 of the Seattle Times in their left.

Before I could start selling, one of the staff phones began ringing. We let it go to voice mail. It rang again. So Anitra picked it up. As I run back and forth I see a look on her face that tells me something bad has happened. I'm wondering what it could be. Did someone get arrested? Am I going to be arrested?

A week earlier a vendor was badly beaten. What now? While I'm trying to figure this out, I can't just ask Anitra what's up. I have to be all about, "5 papers is $1.75," "8 dollars and a nickel gets you 23," "I'll take badge numbers for chores in 7 minutes 33 seconds," and, "Don't use the microwave until the coffee is done; the fuse will blow."

It's especially disturbing that the phone that rang too much that Anitra was on was our vendor coordinator's phone. I had heard that Michael had been hit by a car recently. I thought he was OK. Was I wrong?

Finally, Anitra came off the phone, and walked to the front of the office, and told us that Michael had died in his sleep.

Michael had been vendor #9347 before he was hired to be vendor coordinator. His two pet rats are sharing our director's office because the place where Michael has been staying wouldn't allow them. One time I had a bird in the office. A couple of years ago at a staff and vendor retreat, Michael and I were paired off during one exercise to tell each other our life stories. We both ran overtime. Ever since then, I've known him forever. Everyone should.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homeless Don't Belong Near Homes?

I just took an online quiz to find out how Malaysian I am. I am 25% Malaysian, it said. That's good to know, isn't it? We all struggle with our identities. Now if I can only figure out what my other three quarters are.

One of the things I've struggled with is how liberal or conservative I am. I've decided those labels are used wrongly all the time. I've decided I am both conservative and liberal, and everyone who isn't both simultaneously is a fool.

Some self-identified conservatives are saying Obama makes America look weak by admitting to other nations that we have made mistakes in the past. How is it conservative to go around saying you have never made mistakes? That's not a political stance at all, it's a character flaw.

Other "conservatives" are saying both that "getting through this recession will take sacrifices from everyone" and that "taxing the rich more is not the answer." Taken separately these do indeed resemble familiar conservative propositions. But together they just prove a kind of schizophrenia. What sacrifices are the rich going to make if not higher taxes? Should we draft them for a shovel-and-pick carrying economic army, a mandatory public works program for the super rich? Will Bill Gates and Paul Allen and friends lay the asphalt for the new Mercer Boulevard? Oh please, say it's so.

The poor, in fact, are sacrificing already, by being poor and getting poorer. So for the "sacrifices from everyone" to ever kick in, the rich have to sacrifice. Again, what? Well, what do they have? Duh, money.

Here's your conservatism: You pick the country you want to live in and you pay for it. You want an America that looks like a Third World country? Fine, that's free. We can abolish all taxes and you can have pregnant barefoot beggars on every street corner. You want an America that has a middle class to aspire to, and HDTVs for all the masses, to keep the revolutions in check, and restore the consumer class to buy the crap your overseas factories make? That's extra.

I started down this rant because of another "Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)" story in the news. The NIMBYs this time were residents of Ferndale, Minnesota. A church there wants to set up a daytime service for homeless people, and the neighbors said, "Homeless people don't belong in a residential neighborhood."

Would that be a conservative position? It's a call back to a simpler time, certainly, when people could say things like "[insert plural of racial epithet] don't belong in a residential neighborhood" and not have to mumble or hide their heads in shame among their white brethren, but it is a slander against conservatism to equate bigotry with the philosophy just because conservatism means to conserve values and bigotry has been a past and passed-up value.

Real conservatism should mean to conserve good values, only. My ancestors, and yours too, if you go back about two hundred generations, valued their enemies' heads for trophies, hearts for food, women for two minutes, and their children for slaves. But those are not values that any non-criminals now want to conserve, so we can remove those values from the discussion of what conservatism means.

Can we please do that with the NIMBYs' "values" too? If homeless people don't belong in any residential neighborhood, where the freaking hell do they belong? A swamp? A big pit with a lid on it? This is not a conservation of a good value; this is just plain asinine unreflective boneheadedness.

Of course they belong in a residential neighborhood, they're residents of this land, they're human beings, humans make neighborhoods. The value you need to conserve is the value of humanity and neighborliness. You let them into your neighborhood and you help them not be homeless, and when you have succeeded in helping them not be homeless, voila! -- no homeless people in your neighborhood!

Done the right way.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Resistance Is Futile

A lot of people believe Greg Nickels is Absolute Ruler of Seattle, maybe because he makes policies without consulting the rest of our alleged government or us, or because he nevertheless uses the royal "we" constantly. But no! It isn't true because sometimes he doesn't immediately get his way. It can take up to a year.

For example, Seattle was put on track to charge 20 cents per plastic grocery bag by the start of this year. But the American Chemistry Council stopped it with a petition. Turns out there was no shortage of people who didn't want to pay a tax without any prior public discussion.

So at this writing the Seattle City Council is poised to vote to let voters vote on whether the plastic grocery bag tax will happen, so that the voters will have the opportunity to bow to Greg Nickels' will on this issue, so that he can get more creds for being the nation's greenest mayor, and so maybe get a bigger plaque. Or maybe he could land a job in Washington, D.C., coming up with better ways to manage their waste -- not a bad outcome.

Meanwhile, it doesn't work that way. That is, if the city council votes to not have a vote, or if they have the vote and the voters say no to the proposed tax, the tax will happen anyway, because it's already been decided. The fact is, Mayor Nickels is going to get his creds if he has to get on his knees to beg Paul Allen to buy an election for him.

The opinion just asserted, that the fix is in, that it's always in, can neither be proved nor disproved, because nobody in or out of Seattle's government really knows what goes on there. This is not entirely because information isn't public, or the dog ate it. It's because you can't access it unless you know whom to ask, the one thing nobody in government can ever tell you.

It's as if you have a hundred experts and one simple question, like, "¿Dónde está el baño?", and you have to go down the line asking one after another, because there's no one designated "expert expert" to tell you which expert has the answer. And then he says his dog ate it.

After minutes of hard thinking I have come up with two insights regarding this matter.

I got this insight while riding on a bus: If our government had an expert expert, or a central office to direct questions about the workings of our government, that would look at first like an addition to the bureaucracy, which you might think would slow government down. But actually, how cool would it be if all the city's departments and agencies could know what each other was doing? It would in fact save us all sorts of false starts, and speed things up!

It would also save time for the rest of us. For instance, we might ask the question, "Who are our true masters?" The expert expert could direct us to an official able to tell us that, since 1962, Seattle has been a ruled by an advance army of the Fat Faced Fungal Hordes from Crab Nebula. Then we could locate one of their representatives, learn that they wish us to pay the tax, and that if we did not we would be incinerated. Knowing that resistance is futile would be a huge time saver, and we could get back to doing what we really enjoy, trying to figure out which celebrity is most totally sexy.

My other insight is that, meanwhile, I have a lot of leeway describing what goes on around here.

As an example, did you know about the plan to raise the $64 million needed to fund the Mercer Street Project? To do it, they're going to sell Magnolia back to the Duwamish, who will use economic stimulus funds from the Obama Administration. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Be Afraid

Last week the Federal Reserve let us know that it would be passing out, altogether, about 1.2 trillion brand-new dollars. In related news, Homelessness Czar Philip Mangano said he sees an urgent need for allocating more money for housing and counseling programs for families, but stopped short of pointing out that we could just make that money up out of thin air, too, if we really wanted to.

What we need to ask ourselves as a nation, is, when do we want to invent new money, and when do we want to just stick with the old stuff we've been using?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not belittling imaginary money. On the contrary, I am saying it is so important that we can't leave the decision of who gets the imaginary money to the Fed and Ben Bernanke. The fact is that imaginary money spends just like credit card money, and we loves it, the precious, and we don't want Ben Bernanke saying only the investors whose phenomenal greed got into us this recession gets it.

How unfair is the current way of doing things? Well, let's see. If I take all the imaginary money the Fed is inventing, and I divide it up equally among all the men, women, and children of America, I get about $4,000 for me. Where's my $4,000? HEY, BERNANKE! WHERE'S MY $4,000?

OK, that wasn't very instructive. Let's look at it another way. The amount of money we're talking about, the new money being created out of thin air, is "worth" (in the spending of its imaginariness) slightly more than all the goods and services produced in the United States and its territories in any given month. So it's just like there was a time-space aberration, and a new month, Fakember, magically happened, and we all got paid as if it was any other month, and we all opted (out of the goodness of our hearts!) to give all our Fakember pay to our government to buy bonds of its own creation. Yo, if our government makes it up, it's ours. Because it's our government, sad to say.

I have the feeling I am not conveying my sense of panic well. So let's talk about the money supply!

The money supply is a fun fiction that calculates money held, like in a bank account, and money loaned on money held, both, even if it's "really" the same money, ha, ha, because we all loves the money, our precious, so we wants the amount of it as high as possible. So we rig the count high to make the most joy!

Anyway, just the US money supply, held by US residents, has been on the order of 10 trillion dollars, until now. Remember, that's not how much money is actually in circulation in the form of bills and coins, that's how much money you get when you add up all the dollars people think they have in the bank or otherwise owed them.

Now, for every 8 fictional dollars, there's a ninth! Yippee! Nine of everything for the price of eight, all around! Lattes, yachts, CD players, you name it!

Wait, no, that's not for you, that's for the banks. Your money, which was already supposed to be in the bank, is being (indirectly) "backed up" by the new money, so YOU get exactly what you thought you had to begin with. YOU get the economy you thought was already yours, you made it with your own work, handed back to you. What does that sound like?

The banks will have to loan out most of the new money. Otherwise what's the point? That's what we mean by restoring your economy in this instance. They will then suck out old-money interest from you and your children, heretofore to be collectively known as "the debtors".

Which the banks will deserve because they worked so hard to get the new money made. Bringing the world's economy to its knees isn't easy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reverse Scapegoating

What's wrong with people?

I ask that question a lot, because I think you know a thing by knowing what's wrong with it. Q. What's wrong with cats? A. They scratch, they bite, they're asocial, and I'm allergic. There, you not only know what's wrong with cats, you know what they are.

People are born knowing how to think. They learn their parents' and neighbors' languages (even if different) faster than a Rhodes Scholar on spring break in Budapest. By the age of just two or three, most know when to duck and when to be out of sight entirely, and for how long.

When I was just 5 years old I was watching one of those new-fangled black and white TV sets that Dad had just bought and brought home. At first, he wasn't going to get one, knowing they had rays that entered your eye-sockets and burned your brains out. But he changed his mind when he found out he could watch the Army-McCarthy Hearings live on one. He decided that for the privilege of rooting for Army in real time he didn't care if his brain was burned out.

Anyway, there was a show on one Sunday that was a live broadcast of a High Holy Mass at some cathedral or other, and the camera panned up to the stained-glass windows and Dad said how pretty it would be if we could see the color. And I was so smart, and could think so well, even at the age of 5, that I could see them. And said so. And everybody laughed.

But a couple years later when I finally got a chance to see stained-glass windows in a cathedral in real life the colors were exactly the way I had seen them on the black and white set! So that proved I had been smarter than the adults that laughed at me.

So if human beings are stupid, and we are, it can't be because we were born stupid. We had to learn stupid. You're smart, so you learn everything real well, but the catch is that means you also learn the stupid really well, too.

Take scapegoating. No one straight out of birth could come up with this stupid idea on his or her own. In fact, professional educators and psychologists have determined that most children don't learn to scapegoat effectively and decisively until they are enrolled in grade schools, which are PLACES OF LEARNING. So that is positive proof that scapegoating is learned.

So is reverse scapegoating. You may have never heard of reverse scapegoating, but it is actually even more common than scapegoating.

There used to be a TV show called Queen For A Day. Four women would come out and one by one tell how hideous their tragic lives were. Then the audience would indicate by applause captured on an applause-o-meter, as a hand was passed over the heads of each contestant, who had the most horrid life. She would become Queen For A Day. She'd get a crown and (red!) robe and fabulous prizes, usually including a washing machine, a refrigerator, and a lifetime supply of a brand-name laundry detergent.

The other three women, whose lives were only a shade less tragic than the winner, would leave with consolation prizes barely justifying a day's neglect of their miserable chores. It never seemed to occur to anyone in charge that the prizes could be distributed more evenly.

Exercises: Going Forth Through Stupid

1. The author wanted to say that Seattle's budgeting process, as it pertains to the Mercer Project, is learned stupidity. But he couldn't think of a way to say it. What's wrong with him?

2. Compare Queen For A Day and its losers with AIG and you. Specifically, why do the executives of AIG have a life-time supply of fat bonuses, and all you get is to watch them waltz up and down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance with tears of joy in their eyes?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comedy Gold

Increasingly, I find the present, the here and now, to be exceedingly unfunny. Even the funny parts of the present are tinged with unfunniness. For example, the spectacle of Republican Party members rising to the defense of Rush Limbaugh would be better if it were not so tinged with Limbaugh.

That explains why I look more and more to the past for hilarity. Even though the past is past, it contains nuggets of hilarity that are still new to most of us, because we were most likely high when it was passing. This includes the public past, which, as it escapes us, turns into history that we then don't understand, since it is a school subject.

A nice illustration occurred to me this week. I was contemplating the fact that racism no longer exists in America, now that we have a black president. At the very moment I was contemplating that irrefutable and ironclad fact the hardest I could, I was also listening to Monkey Time by Major Lance, a 1963 song that taught Americans a dance called "The Monkey" or "The Monkey Time." The song contains such lyrics as "Do the Monkey, yeah (do the Monkey Time) / Ah-twist them hips (twist them hips) / Let your backbone slip (let your backbone slip)." All at once I realized the true origin of white guy dancing. It isn't genetic! Rather, it is a natural lingering cultural artifact of our racist past! All across our country, white people heard "twist them hips, let your backbone slip," but hardly any of them ever saw it done, because we were mostly segregated! So the white guys just followed the directions in the song, and that became white guy dancing, to be later handed down from father to son to grandson! That's sociological comedy!

Personal pasts can also be treasure troves of comedy. Recent assaults on cab drivers in Seattle and Tacoma have reminded me of my own side-splitting experiences in the 80s as a Seattle cab driver.

It even started out comical. I was planning to look for new work anyway, when I saw a headline that said a Seattle cab driver had been shot and killed. I immediately thought that there would have to be an opening at that cab company for a driver! And -- ha, ha -- there was!

Altogether I drove cab in Seattle as a lease driver for five years, from May '82 until the state certified me mad in May '87. I crashed cabs six times during those years. Each crash was a laugh-fest I'll never forget; those were good times.

Remember the recession we had in the early 80s? You ought to, because you just heard about it last week when the national unemployment hit 8.1% and people said it was the worst unemployment since 1983. For Seattle cab drivers 1984 was the worst, though. A lot of business conventions that had been planned for Seattle that year were canceled, impoverishing local cab drivers. It was also my personal worst year, as I was homeless most of it. Still, it was a hoot.

One of my favorite funny moments happened one night when a woman was riding my cab home from work. She lived near Broadway, and as we approached her home she told me she'd started taking cabs home instead of buses to avoid all the homeless people on the buses. When I told her I was homeless, she said "NO! You can't be!" and I laughed and laughed.

Another amusing moment came about when a man took my cab for an 8-dollar trip and gave me a twenty, telling me to keep the change. He said I deserved it for being so cheerful and not giving him a hard luck story like the other cab drivers always did. In effect, he rewarded me with a $12 tip for having had a manic swing!

That's what this country needs today. We need a manic swing to get through the bad times.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mmm, Fried Chicken

Every week I check the news to see if it will write this column for me. Usually it does. So far, the best example of that came with a report from New Zealand that a chicken there was suspected of being a suicide bomber. You can't NOT write a column when you're handed news like that!

Generally if the news fails me it's because it just isn't that interesting. Let's say it's a week where the only thing that happened was Jeff Renner said "Doppler" a record number of times. That would be a good week to write abstractly about the environmental cost of puppies, or efforts to legalize medicinal insane laughter, or the role of education, or the lack of it, in the employment of ceiling fans during winter.

This week, however, there is no shortage of interesting news. The problem is it's all too interesting. Six months ago I didn't think the Dow Jones could fascinate. Now it fascinates to the bone. It fascinates like a wild Bengal Tiger pawing through my innards, looking for the tasty bits.

Six months ago I thought the biggest danger we faced, economically, was that a lot more people would become homeless in America who have never been homeless before. Now I'm afraid the biggest danger we face is that plus riots, plus mass starvation, plus the people who have been homeless will get to be homeless again, plus our babies will all be two-headed, and the only thing on TV will be Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, on all channels, in high def.

An indication of how bad things are: no one you know wants to take Mayor Nickels' job away from him. His current approval rating (33%) is lower than the approval rating of Single Parenthood (37%), but everyone who has a passing reputation as a leader wants to stick Nickels with the mayorship just one more term.

In 1997, I even offered my own self up as a write-in candidate for mayor of Seattle on the Pizza Party ticket. This time around, forget it. The salary would be great, and I'm sure the office has a fantastic view, but I don't want to be there when the villagers surround City Hall with the pitchforks and the torches, blaming me for their 20-cent grocery bags, their increasing pestilence and poverty, their consolation trolleys to nowhere they want to go, their two-headed babies.

So, anyway, what I'm trying to get at is, all I want to talk about this week is how much I like to cook my own food, and what I want people to understand about that.

When I tell folks I like to cook my own food, they invariably say, "Oh, so you're a good cook, huh?" That proves that their values are shot to hell. As long as human beings have crappy values like that, it will be necessary for people like me to set them straight. NO, I am not a particularly good cook, and that is NOT a proper reason to want to cook one's own food.

A proper reason to cook my own food (my reason) is that I get to be in control. My biscuits may end up tasting like burned sawdust and have the texture of modeling clay, but they will be MY biscuits.

It was precisely being homeless, too often and too long, which led to my need to be in control in matters of food. When you're homeless in the city you're eating other people's cooking day after day, meal after meal, because you don't have a kitchen and you can't set up a hibachi on the sidewalk. It's all part of the general powerlessness of the condition, going hand in hand with not being able to sleep under a roof or shower when you need to.

When I was homeless the burgers were always too salty, and you could never scrape off enough. Now, I want to enjoy my country, but it's been over-Bushed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fear of Swimming

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and boy, do we have a lot of that!

I'm afraid of the Navy's proposed Swimmer Interdiction Security System (appropriately, SISS). This was described as follows in the Seattle Times: "The Navy-trained dolphins would find... threatening divers, then make way for the California [!] sea lions to clamp a cuff around the intruder's ankle. A line attached to the cuff would stretch up to a boat on the surface to snag the diver." Not just any sea lions. California sea lions.

It scares me that I'm supposed to be so afraid of threatening divers. Where did these come from all of the sudden? What does it say about a diver, that, even though he possesses a nuclear bomb he can smuggle to within yards of our coasts, he'd rather attach it to one of our ships in the bay than go the extra distance and blow it up on shore? Sounds like a nut-case to me.

As "proof" that SISS works, the Navy notes it has already been used on the East Coast, where "the dolphins and sea lions have responded to some false alarms but haven't faced a human intruder."

My US Navy, creating false alarms in our ports and meeting them, to keep me safe! -- irony of the week.

Attorney General Eric Holder got Americans' panties in knots last week with a quote about fear. A lot of people missed Mr. Holder's point. They heard him say America is a nation of racists. They countered by saying, "Whoa, hey there Butch! We just voted in a black president! That PROVES we aren't racist." To this I say, you all clean out your ears: he didn't say "racists", he said "cowards."

Not hearing the scary word is the proof that it applies. Americans are totally abjectly scared witless at even the suggestion that they are cowards. If Mr. Holder had said, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, a nation of racists," the headline would just have been, "New Attorney General abuses commas in speech." As it happens, what he said was more like, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as blah blah blah, YOU'RE ALL YELLAH."

Evidence of American cowardice can be found all over the place without specifically looking at race relations, and Eric Holder, who has opposed the legalization of torture for terrorist suspects, has probably thought about a good deal of that evidence.

For example, you could make a big racial deal about the fact that more than 30 out of every 1000 black men in this country are jailed at any moment, compared to 5 out of every 1000 white men. You could talk about how that exposes racial hatreds. But really, how much a country locks people up is, beyond a certain point, just a measure of how cowardly that country is. The United States has gone far beyond reasonable incarceration rates. We currently locked people up at rates comparable to Stalin's and Mao's, so we are that scared. Yes, Stalin was scared mostly of Georgians and Ukrainians, while we're mostly scared of blacks, but the thing that matters, what needs to be dealt with, is, we're scared.

You have to admit it to talk about it. You have to talk about it to get over it. So come on everybody, say it: "I'm afraid of [name your fear]." Fears you could fess up to include: Large black males, small black males, white men with moustaches, old white men, young white men, women who dress like men, Arabs of all ages shapes and sizes, loud gay people, loud people on buses, people who could do your job, people who know more languages than you do, people who could do your job in another language, clowns, pit bulls, Californian naval sea lions.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stereotyping Fun

Some people are more addicted to internet games than I am. I'm just throwing that out there right off, to preserve a small measure of dignity. I am NOT the most internet-game-addicted human on the planet. I'm only "nicely" addicted.

As proof that I am not all that bad off, I point out that my character ("J Schmertzgarten") in a certain pirate game is only a Level 2 Swashbuckler after more than a month of play. If I were a really serious addict I would be playing at a three-digit level, and my principal weapon would not still be my only weapon, namely the block of wood with the nail in it. And I would have my parrot by now.

As proof that I am nevertheless bad off enough to warrant pity, I'm starting to see the entire world through the lens of internet games. So, recently, I was thinking that the current economy could easily end up with the 40% of the population being homeless, and wondered how to prepare people for that condition. And all I could come up with was to ask people, "What style of homeless person do you want to be?"

So, say you're going to be homeless. Step 1; pick your character's name. It must be fewer than 20 letters and spaces, more than 3 letters, reasonably decent, and not be already taken. So you may not be Jesus Was II, Pope Kirk XVI, Johnny Snapple Sneeze, Sir Wanksalot, or Doc Pay.

Step 2; choose your character's style. Your style will affect your power, mobility, stamina, and stealth, how quickly you can earn experience points, and the weapons available to you.

Suppose power is most important to you. You should be The Street Expert. The Street Expert specializes in knowing where all the services are. He has every color and code bus transfer in his possession, and he has the ability to know which color and code is in effect every day, even before the first bus of the morning. He eats every day at community meals, he can find a place to sleep around any corner, and his principal weapon is a Disarming Grin.

If mobility is what you want, forget the buses and be The Car Camper. You'll be able to move freely without checking schedules. You'll even be able to go to other cities. But watch out -- if your stamina drops and you run out of dollars for gas and repairs, you'll be a stationary target. The Car Camper is a favorite of new players because she has excellent defenses and is able to save up more goods and keep them longer. She eats food bank food, cold and raw, and her main weapon is a Wilting Scowl.

The Rough Sleeper sleeps in the rough. He has the stamina for it. He may or may not have a tent or sleeping bag. Either way, he's home in the rough and sleeps there. When he's sleeping his defenses are high, but during the day his style makes him easy to spot, so he has to keep on the move, which can be difficult for him. He eats berries and squirrels and can bludgeon you with a Stony Disposition.

The stealthiest style is The Fashionator. The Fashionator passes for housed by means of his/her fashion sense and attention to hygiene. The Fashionator is hardest to target, but maintaining his/her invisibility takes a lot of energy/stamina points, so playing this style requires a lot of concentration. He/she has the best chance of couch surfing, landing a day job. Eats at fast-food joints and possesses the Killer Outlook.

Now that you've selected your character's style, you're ready for your first chance to earn experience points! A Level 1 Street Expert challenges your place in line at the church feed! Stand your ground and win 1 Experience Point and graduate to Level 2!

I always say the best stereotypes are the ones we make up as we go along.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Communities Replaced By Kennels

I know I have high blood pressure, but I often do things that might make it worse. For example, I attended some subcommittee meetings of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. I knew it was bad for my circulation when a speaker, talking about a program to permanently house homeless women, said that it was policy to try and keep the women's partners away (referred to collectively as "the boyfriends") on the grounds that they're "generally" "part of the problem."

I expressed the view that each case should be carefully considered. Human relationships should not be assumed poisonous as a matter of course, I thought. Social agencies should not be so arrogant, I thought, as to suppose that they can re-engineer society by means of a reckless, blind, wholesale destruction of its existing bonds, to replace them by the forced bonds of institutions and the artificial communities that social agencies invariably try to foster. Societies are grown, not manufactured. My caseworker can never be my best friend. The institutions I am thrown into should not force me to only socialize with fellow "clients." A twelve-step program can't be my family. And not every woman who is homeless is homeless because SHE has "a problem."

I tried to express these thoughts in the meeting, at which about 20 representatives of King County social service agencies were in attendance, and not one of them openly agreed with me during the meeting, although a few looked concerned that I might explode and soil their suits with my brains. I stopped going to those meetings about then, and I am quite pleased to report that, soon after, I stopped needing beta-blockers to keep my blood pressure down. So, there was good in the world, for a time.

But the nihilistic, life-rejecting, attitude that was in evidence at that meeting is still all around me, and I may have to take up the atenolol again.

Take the recent school closures. Apparently the idea is that one school is as good as any other. Hey, let's close ALL the existing schools and open up one great big one in a warehouse in SODO! A school's a school!

With all the money we could save by having only one Seattle school, we could pay the projected annual costs for the proposed Seattle municipal jail. Here's another cool idea: We could build the new jail for misdemeanants directly across the street from the one big school, and use part of it to house the kids when they're not in school. There would be no more arguments about who would have to bus to school!

After all, parents and families are part of the problem. Their insistence that "their" children stay with them prevents the city from establishing a convenient citizenry. The kids don't need the parents they have, and they would be far better off with the parents the city assigns them.

In fact, we can contract out the jobs of parenting to the same companies that will supply the new jail with its guards and managers. There isn't much difference between a jailer and a parent anyway, except that a jailer is a professional. One inadvertent advantage of the arrangement would be that when our kids grow up and become the outcasts of our society that we plan them to be, they will feel right at home in the Seattle jail. Because they WILL be home!

Assume the worst of human beings, plan for it, and thereby make it happen. Destroy human bonds and watch the inevitable result, namely a substitution of those bonds by vapid, sterile, institutional arrangements that are only communities in the sense that kennels are. Then, when everyone is reduced to the level of domestic dogs, you can say their dependence proves they needed you, and they needed the collars you thoughtfully provided them, and they needed their leashes. Convince even them, and they'll love you, lick your boots, and swear life itself was "the problem."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dreaming of a Sigurdardottir Future

With crisis comes opportunity. As The Onion's headline put it, "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job." White People decided it was safe to pass up power for once. Know what could be better than letting an African-American take over during the worst economic disaster since Dad wore short pants? Getting one with "Hussein" in his name to do it.

I was reminded of that by the news that Johanna Sigurdardottir has become the world's first openly gay prime minister. It took the near total collapse of Iceland's economy. Until recently the Icelandic economy was based on money. Now it is securely founded on rocks. As rocks, for export, are never in short supply, Iceland's new economy can't ever get worse. So the heterosexuals figured this would be as good a time as any to put a lesbian in charge.

This is clearly a good time, politically speaking, to be an openly gay African-American woman with an Arabic middle name. Maybe we could get one to be mayor of Seattle. If not, I would like to recommend that we find a homeless person to do it.

The advantages to the rest of Seattle are obvious. Housed people will not be blamed as the economy goes further down the toilet. The homeless person gets the blame and the daily headaches of trying to save it. When it's flushed as far as possible toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a housed person can take the job back and take credit for saving Seattle.

Homeless people have been blamed for this country's economic problems before. The usual argument is a variation on the proof that hippies caused Nixon, and Baby Boomers caused the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It goes like this: "If homeless people only got off their butts and got jobs and contributed to the economy and paid taxes like the rest of us, the economy wouldn't be in the mess it's in." For fun, read that sentence with the words "illegal immigrant" in place of "homeless people." If only those homeless people would take our jobs! But they can't, because they're already taken! And nobody wants to hire someone without a permanent address!

Sometimes people say to me, "Hey, Dr. Wes, why don't you run for mayor? I'd vote for you!" Hey, sure, thanks, and why don't I stick red-hot pokers in my eyes? But seriously, I am currently housed, so I'm not the one you want. You want someone who'll really appreciate the office. Someone who'll appreciate the office's electrical outlets, its roof, its walls, and its insulated windows.

You need someone to hold the office/potato until it cools off.

There's a precedent. Back in 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became mayor during a period of such political corruption in Seattle that most men were ashamed to be in the running. She cleaned up the politics of the city in one term, and then the city went straight back to electing men for mayor all the time, so no permanent harm was done. City Hall now has a room named after her, away from where the politicians meet.

Today we can take the opportunity to advance the cause of homeless people the same way. Who better to put in charge of the city when unemployment is the highest it's been in almost 40 years, than someone who can't get a wage paying job anyway? Who knows better how to live within a meager budget, than someone who never has any money? In its time of economic shortfall, Seattle needs to be run like a homeless camp. They don't waste money in homeless camps. And the best person to get to run Seattle like a homeless camp is someone who is currently living in one.

Then, when Seattle's economy is as stable and sound as Iceland's, firmly resting on the ground, so to speak, the city can go back to electing housed men for mayor all the time and put the nightmare behind it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

But Inspections Are Free

The saying on the street is "There's no such thing as a free lunch." You have to sit through the sermon, at least. It also applies off the street. My experience with subsidized housing is there's no such thing as a free subsidy, either.

People who live in subsidized housing live under rules and regulations that those who have never experienced them imagine only pertain to totalitarian states. I get a minimum of two invasions of my room every month. One for bug spray, one for "inspection." "You are not required to be present for this violation of your privacy." The rules for passing inspection are set by bureaucratic pinheaded suits who have never lived in a 200 square foot studio apartment, or visited one, or know anyone who has. Therefore the rules are insane, as rules tend to be that are not based in any way on any knowledge of reality. Therefore I'm always failing my "inspection" and required to be "re-inspected", at which time I must have corrected the cause of my "failure". So usually there are 3 invasions per month. Re-re-inspections are also possible.

Fortunately, at the re-inspection I can't fail anything I passed at the inspection. So, let's say I failed the inspection because the right side of the room was too cluttered. If the note says, "Your room failed inspection/ the right side was too cluttered/ please correct this for re-inspection on [Month/Day]," that means I can take all the junk on the right side and slide it to the left side. Now the left side is cluttered, but that's OK, because the left side passed previously. So sometimes the insanity works in my favor!

This month I have failed inspection because there isn't a 3-foot wide path from the entrance to my room to the window. The rule that I must have such a path, I've been told repeatedly, is based on the need of paramedics to get a gurney to my limp dying body when it's time for my last trip to Harborview before final discharge to my Eternal Studio in the Burning Pit of Hell. I will presently amuse myself by describing in print how bat spit insane the 3-foot rule is.

First of all, the entrance to my room is itself 2 feet 10 inches wide. So if the gurney is 3 feet wide it can't even get in the door. If they bring in a super-transformer-gurney that can tuck its sides in to get in the door, let the stupid thing tuck its sides in the rest of the way.

If they can't get to my limp dying body because my stuff is in the way, how did I get there? If I store stuff up near the window, that means I'm not going to be dying at the window. I'll be dying someplace I can get to. Do they think I'm going to climb over my stuff just before dying? What, just to make extra work for the paramedics? I don't think playing a lame practical joke on the paramedics is going to be a big priority when I'm choking on that pretzel.

If there's an earthquake and the building pancakes and I'm trapped in an air pocket with tons of rubble around me, am I going to be left to die on the grounds that a gurney can't be rolled up alongside me?

For that matter, if inspection is at 3 PM, and the earthquake was at 2:59 PM and I didn't clean up the mess by the time the inspectors arrive, did I fail? Answer: Yes! Because the rules are made by dumb-asses!

Meanwhile, suppose you don't live in subsidized housing. Let's say you're a serial killer who likes to chop your victims up and saves the variety meats in a freezer in your basement in your own house. Lucky you, you don't get inspected monthly! It's your reward for pulling your own weight in society!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Bob Hope to End All Bob Hopes

Whenever the national media obsesses on one subject for days I call it a Bob Hope. That's because, at the end of May 2003, the media obsessed on Hope's 100th birthday for a week, and then just two months later obsessed another week as they poured out his eulogies. If only he had passed away a week BEFORE his 100th birthday, we could have got birthday and death all wrapped up in one week, BUT NO, he had to drag it out. We ended up with at least four "Bob Hopes" that year, two due to Bob Hope himself, one to the Iraq invasion, and one to Martha Stewart.

This week's Bob Hope is Obama's inauguration. Not only has he got himself being presidentially inaugurated, Obama has cleverly arranged this for the same week the country honors Martin Luther King, Jr., a fact which gives his inauguration the punditry-significance equivalent of a telephone book on a high chair. Without MLKJr Day during the same week: "Obama's inauguration is the most important event in African-American history since the invention of peanut butter." With MLKJr Day the same week: "Obama's inauguration is the most important event in African-American history since the invention of peanut butter, and wouldn't Martin Luther King, Jr., be just tickled pink?"

I'm writing this Monday. Israel couldn't simply announce they'd be pulling out of Gaza by tomorrow morning. They had to feed the ongoing Bob Hope-itude, the current Bob Hope-unami, by announcing a pullout "in time for Obama's swearing in."

Were it not for Obama's impending assumption of office, last Thursday's pretty river landing of an Airbus 320 by Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III might have been mainly an opportunity for the press to inquire into the relative vulnerabilities of French-made planes versus properly made planes, with regards to large water fowl. Instead, we get "Isn't this a wonderful thing to have happen now, in time for Obama's inauguration, to show what kind of great country we live in, where we can all pull together in times of need?" over and over again on CNN and Fox. With multiple testimonies from average American Hudson River ferry boat workers.

There's nothing the media can't tie to Obama. Chris Rock recently put out a DVD of a tour in which he made very few references to Obama. So CNN had to interview Chris Rock this week, focusing on why he had so little to say about Obama. Tomorrow they can interview an actual rock and ask it the same question. The next day they can do a piece on why the B in BLT doesn't stand for Barack.

CNN also highlighted the remarkable similarities between the rush of travelers to DC and the Inauguration to the annual Hajj to Mecca. Hajj: lots of people. Inauguration: lots of people. Hajj: a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah. Inauguration: a demonstration of the solidarity of the American people and their submission to their elected leader. Hajj: Includes the rite of Ramy al-Jamarat in which pilgrims throw stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. Inauguration: this year, for the first time in history, there will be much throwing of shoes to signify the pilgrims' contempt of the last president. I'm crossing my fingers hoping that the last will become a great new American tradition.

Clearly, this country hungers for opportunities to engage in mass behaviors. Following American Idol, Survivor, and the NFL isn't enough. A nation of extroverts, we need structured mass play on the level of Children of the Corn. This is America, the land of Hope. We can accomplish anything we try. We can create a Mother of All Bob Hopes.

I propose that whenever the country is down in the dumps, say with a recession, or say a depressing war occupies too much of our attention, we hold a week long Throwing of the Shoes at the Bush Ceremony.

You may work the details out amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

America Has PreTSD

In writing, it always helps me to collect my "thoughts" if I can think of one word or a short phrase that sums up what I plan to dribble over. Let this week's word or short phrase be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)!

I've been meaning to talk about PTSD for some time. For one thing, there's a lot of it going around. For another, I have caught some.

Last week Jim Page walked into the Real Change and invited me to a house concert set for the next day. I mentioned that my PTSD might prevent me going. He mentioned back that he himself has Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'll be getting to that later. But first I want to explain how the Post-kind of TSD can make it hard to do things on the spur of a moment.

Usually I won't go to any event for which I have less than 48 hours to get used to the idea. One time I agreed to go to a community meal with 3 hours notice. I found myself waiting in line alone for the dinner to start, with loud conversations battering me from all sides. The ensuing panic attack didn't make me stronger.

People often tell me, "Wes, suck it up. We've all had bad things happen to us in the past. The trick is to put it behind you and get on with your life." These people are sadly misinformed. They think that the panic attacks are caused by dwelling on bad memories, which is wrong. So as a public service I will explain what really happens.

First of all, yes, there is the Trauma. Note that it is capitalized. We aren't talking about little t trauma. We ARE talking about the time Mom tried to suffocate me after Dad drove off to leave me to collapse into the pool made by the geyser of blood from my temple. We are NOT talking about dead goldfish or simple corporal punishment, unless there were thousands of screaming goldfish, or unless by simple you mean by the rack or thumbscrews or such.

Big T Trauma isn't just more traumatic than little t trauma. There are qualitative differences. Big T Traumas undermine your world view and force you to be on your guard for years to come.

After my Father nearly killed me, and after my Mother tried to, I still had to live with those people! If you can't trust your parents to not try to kill you, you can't trust strangers to not try to kill you, either. So I had to spend years looking over my shoulder, ready to duck.

It's that long period of necessary vigilance that gives rise to most of the unpleasant symptoms of PTSD. By the time you get the diagnosis, you have worn out your vigilance machinery. You have arthritis of the vigilator joints. Your original injuries have more or less ceased to be a factor. Being told to forget about them is useless. You might as well tell me to forget the Hundred Years War. Have done so -- doesn't help.

The phrase "panic attack" adds to the confusion. The "panic" is not in response to any fear. It just is. The disorder is this: That you get the physical symptoms of panic when you KNOW there is nothing to be afraid of. Being told there is nothing to be afraid of, over and over, by well meaning people, when YOU ALREADY KNEW THAT, could result in someone taking someone's head off, tossing a penny in the socket and making a wish. Ha! Get it? Means "well"! I just channeled Shakespeare!

Getting back to Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you've followed me so far you should understand now that Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder is just as bad as the Post-kind. It's all about being on Orange and Red Alert so long they look Blue to you. Your alert button is broke. Sometimes it doesn't work at all; sometimes it gets stuck.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Embrace Your Stupidity

Every day I am more and more convinced that the main difference between smart people and stupid people is that stupid people have all the answers.

As a corollary, to write opinion regularly you must avidly embrace your own stupidity, and roll with it.

So say I wanted to write this week's column about Barack Obama's selection of Reverend Rick Warren to do the invocation at the inauguration. Just to mention Rick Warren's name here is an Adventure in Stupidity in itself. Why don't I just save myself the trouble, turn in a column with the words "I have nothing better to do in life than smack myself in the head with a 5-pound sledge hammer" repeated 33 times, and then smack myself in the head with a 5-pound sledgehammer? Should I mention that Obama might likewise have saved himself some trouble? Probably I should not. Just go to the hardware store, Wes, and get the hammer.

There are times when you can't take a side on a topic without inviting hate mail. Turns out that anti-abortionists, for instance, are as angry with Rick Warren for accepting the Obama invitation as the Gay Community is at Obama for offering it. You could make a case that Obama invited Warren in order to drive a wedge between anti-abortionists. Then, you could move to New Zealand, like you always wanted to, and live out the rest of your life raising chickens for slaughter, telling everyone you meet your name is Sally and you're really a vegetarian.

Or, take the case of the guy who shot up his former wife, their family, and in-laws, set fire to her house, and might have escaped safely to Canada if it were not for the one flaw in his plan, that his Santa suit caught fire in the commission of his own arson, and burned to his skin. If I had written that myself, it would have been a clown costume. Which brings up my opinion of clowns. I tend to think that, since clowns make fun of everything, it gives you the right to make fun of clowns. Not all clowns, it turns out, share that view. So I fall back on solipsist jokes. Why didn't the solipsist laugh at my joke about him? A. Because it didn't exist.

My point being, if I use this space to share an opinion of mass murder, such as "mass murder is unfortunate", I'm just asking for trouble. Someone will send a three-page letter in 8 point Courier telling me that my opinion is ill-informed and biased. "I have read Real Change for years, and in all that time you have never, NEVER, mentioned the good works that mass murderers do for their communities, or exposed the people that drive mass murderers to murder. Just this morning someone cut me off at the Mercer exit. Would you write about that? NO!"

Another fall back is liturgical-calendar humor. "Yesterday, I had an Epiphany!" Ha. "Advent-ures in Advent-ends." Ha, ha!

It's true. I was watching CNN covering the Israel-Gaza conflict, a conflict I don't dare have any opinion of, and they showed emails from viewers answering the question, "How would you solve the Israel-Gaza problem?" A number of stupid opinions followed. My favorite, which led to the small e epiphany, was the one from a Canadian that said something to the effect that "we" should completely rebuild the infrastructure in Gaza and spread the people around better, so that it would be easier for "us" to spot the Hamas soldiers among them.

OK. I won't venture an opinion of my own of the kind. I have no solution. But I will say this much. If Canada ever mucks with the infrastructure of Gaza or sends its people to spread out the Gazanians or whatever they're called, all hell would break loose.

Some people can't see that "rebuilding infrastructures" and "spreading people around" are not solutions to violence. They are descriptions of violence.