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.