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.