Sunday, March 30, 2008

So What?

Miles Davis and John Coltrane, doing the classic. I'm so happy that this exists. I love Miles' intensity. And Coltrane. Holy Jesus.

Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah

I might not be writing much this weekend, but I'm finding fun stuff on YouTube. This rocking number comes from The Jetsons. Dig the crazy artwork. Episode plot synopsis below.
"Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah!" - Silly sounding rock and roll song performed on episode "A Date With Jet Screamer" of the cartoon series THE JETSONS/ABC/1962-64. On this particular tale, pop star "Jet Screamer" holds a contest and offers himself as first prize. Judy Jetson wants desperately to meet him and so she a writes a song for the contest. But her father George hates Jet Screamer and tampers with her song lyrics by using a funny sounding phrase "Eep Opp Ork" that his son Elroy uses to communicate in code with his friends. Luckily, Judy's song wins and Jet Screamer performs his new song "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah!" to rave reviews at the Swivel Lounge where his TV show is taped. Actually, the phrase "Eep Opp Ork" (per Elroy) really means "Meet Me Tonight."


A cultural high point of the late-seventies. Devo.
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
Happier than you and me
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
And it determined what he could see
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
One chromosome too many
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
And it determined what he could see
And he wore a hat
And he had a job
And he brought home the bacon
So that no one knew
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
His friends were unaware
Mongoloid he was a mongoloid
Nobody even cared

Da Fockin' Union. It Works For You!

I've watched this twenty times and it still makes me laugh every time. An AFSCME PSA recorded in the 70's with an alternate voice over the announcer did for kicks, apparently rescued from the vault of some local TV station. It's everything unionism should be. Thanks to Bruce for pointing me to this gem. Some highlights from the YouTube comments:
  • I AM fuckin' AFSCME and I love this! I work for the State of Minnesota, and we are in contract negotiatiations right now. I hope our asshole Governor, Tim Pawlenty, has seen this so he knows we're fuckin" AFSCME and we don't take shit from NOBODY!
  • I noticed today that fockin' Clinton's got AFSCME's support. WTF? When did that broad ever make sure my kids didn't get run over by some hard-on?
  • It pisses me off that people think that decent wages, the weekend, the eight hour day, and everything good and decent about the modern workplace were gifted to the worker by the government or by "responsible corporations." Every one of these was won by workers united under union banners. Unions created the middle class and are putting up a helluva fight to maintain it.
  • I'm a proud fockin' membah. I bust my balls everyday so yooze fockas can have lights so yooze can see where you're goin' n' shit!
  • This is from back when the labor movement had a sense of humor. Then Reagan showed up, and we had to stop laughing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pure Raw Profanity

The postings today are a pair. This is some guy with a bunch of Joe Pesci voice samples prank calling some crazy Latino guy who goes ballistic and out Joe Pesci's Joe Pesci. It's kind of amazing.

Potty Mouth Littlefoot

I was looking for a Littlefoot video online for the girls and found this. It's Littlefoot and friends doing Kyle's Mom's a Bitch, from the Bigger, Longer, Uncut South Park movie. Maybe this is only funny to me because my kids love little foot and I've spent far too much of my life watching it with them. The Littlefoot I know would never say things like this.

It appears there's a whole genre of kid culture gone PG on YouTube. Makes me want to take an episode of Arthur and turn it into Glengarry Glen Ross. That would be fun.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Beast (Detail)

The Beast, by Art Hazelwood. Part of the WRAP art project.

The Mayor is Bad. Homeless People Are Sad.

Last night, I wrote this as a comment on the Extending Homelessness post from earlier this week. I was trying to explain why this blog isn't treating CEHKC and United Way as the allies they could and should be. I could of included the Church Council in that list, but for the sake of simplicity didn't. I tried to put the problem in terms that even a first grader could understand. This morning I decided this was too fun to hide away in the comments.

The City's homeless sweeps strategy is part of an ugly national trend, and if ever there was a time to stand with the poor, this is it. While some of us have organized like crazy and put ourselves and our organizations on the line, these institutional players on homelessness in this city have had little or nothing to say. This 1941 image from Dr. Seuss Goes To War; The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, while a tad heavy-handed in this case, was too good to resist.
Bill and Jon are famous homeless helpers. They are on TV and in the news. Everybody loves Bill and Jon.

Bill and Jon know the Mayor. The Mayor is a bad man. See Bill and Jon shake the Mayor's hand. Bill and Jon want to eat ice cream with the Mayor.

See the Mayor do a very bad thing. See the Mayor take blankets from homeless people. The Mayor does not let homeless people sleep. Homeless people are mad.

See them go to jail. See them have no bail. See the Ten Year Plan fail.

The Mayor is bad. Homeless people are sad.

Where are Bill and Jon? Are they under a rock? Did they go for a walk?

Where are Bill and Jon? Are they in a tree? Are they eating brie?

Homeless people are mad. The Mayor is bad. Bill and Jon eat brie in a tree.

Bill and Jon shake the Mayor's hand. Bill and Jon eat ice cream with the Mayor.

Homeless people are mad. The Mayor is bad.

Where are Bill and Jon? Bill and Jon eat brie in a tree. Bill and Jon go for a walk. Bill and Jon are under a rock.

Bill and Jon eat ice cream with the Mayor. Homeless people have been had. We are mad.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nashville Too

This documents a campsite clearance by Nashville Police where residents of a long established encampment were called "homeless pieces of shit" and given twenty seconds warning before officers hauled their stuff down a hill and threw it over a cliff. That city recently shut down a four-year old outdoor feeding program for health code violations and routinely tickets homeless campers for littering. Nashville's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness was adopted in 2004.

What else is happening in Nashville? Read this analysis of the business climate and condo market from, "dedicated to serving the wealth based real estate market in the Middle Tennessee area."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Beast Is Loose Upon The Earth

As Seattle's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness stumbles blindly toward 2014, the logic of ending homelessness without addressing poverty and inequality has hit a wall.

This blindness includes wholesale abdication to the market forces that have reduced Seattle’s affordable housing stock several times faster than the non-profit sector and local government can keep up. We are losing ground.

The blindness also extends to the wage side of the equation. One in four workers in King County earn less than a living wage. New jobs are mostly divided between low-end, poverty wage work and knowledge worker occupations that pay $75K or more annually. Economic security has become increasingly elusive.

While the connections between poverty, homelessness, race, and the revolving door of the prison industry is increasingly well understood, the racialization of poverty continues to deepen.

Federal priorities are a disaster. More than $35 billion in cuts to the federal housing budget since 2004 have been driven by tax cuts, rising healthcare costs, and the enormous cost of an unjust and misbegotten war. This pattern shows little sign of altering.

Yet, we act as though we can somehow mitigate the wreckage and turn things around with smarter service provision and “Housing First” for the 10-15% of the homeless who are in deepest distress. This will work for some, and with resources, it might work with many.

But housing is not the only broken system.

Child welfare. Education. Transportation. Criminal Justice. Healthcare. Make your own list. It’s all broken. And the solution, goes the mantra, is to cut taxes. Especially for the rich.

Seattle's obsession with reducing visible poverty is a gift to the wealthy delivered at the expense of the most desperately poor. The pretense of there being sufficient help for those targeted by sweeps and other heightened policing strategies is too thin to bear weight. Various establishment players lend credence to the illusion, whether by their silence or their active support.

The Mayor’s “punish the poor” sweeps strategy is a quick and immoral fix to the structural problem of growing poverty, because the Ten Year Plan isn’t getting the poor out of sight fast enough.

It can’t. Getting 950 units of housing up every year, given the resources available, the expenses involved, and the NIMBY attitudes that prevail when housing is an investment to be protected are daunting enough. But homelessness isn’t just about housing. It’s about the failure of multiple interdependent systems.

Why is it that those who seek ever more nuanced understandings of the screwed up poor rarely direct that curiosity toward the production of poverty itself?

The argument for the visionless and narrowly technocratic Ten Year Plan strategy is that growing poverty is beyond our control. We should focus our attention on what can be done. This is both a political choice and a losing strategy. You will be outflanked and forever clearing the wreckage.

Homelessness is a fucking moral outrage. We need to be shouting that from the rooftops. We should not be collaborating in the hiding of the visible poor by any means necessary. We should be screaming, “Yes, here they are! What kind of a society allows this!”

A homeless advocacy paradigm that falls silent when sleeping in public spaces is criminalized does not deserve our support. Advocacy that focuses nearly all of its energy on depoliticized service provision but attends housing lobby day once a year barely deserves the name. Advocacy that doesn’t care to ask why people are poor and who benefits can do no more than ameliorate.

And it will never get better. Not unless we do something different.

There will never be enough services in a world without justice. You want bottom? Look at a third world mega-slum. Services don’t exist. This is what happens when the rich completely vanquish the poor.

Our organizing needs to reduce the distance between those who need and those who serve. We need to break down the labels that define homeless people as a tribe apart. We need to embrace each other as soldiers in the war on poverty. Take chances together. Care for one another. Envision a different world together. And build the power it takes to make a movement.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stigmatizing the Homeless

Just today, I was thinking about all the shit I say to reporters that almost never makes it into print. Here's one time that I can't complain. Robert Dobbs at Tacoma's Weekly Volcano reports on that city's failure to make progress on Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness goals (chronic homelessness up 27% since 2007) and the aggressive crackdown on visible poverty that has overtaken efforts to help.

Refreshingly, Tacoma calls their sweeps policy the Encampment Elimination Program. At least this smelly city to the south doesn't leave you guessing as to what they're about. For the first time in the history of print media, my core concern with the chronic homeless focus actually made it into someone's story. You'll never see this in the Seattle Times.
“The thing that I keep struggling to get my head around is how distant appearances and reality are when it comes to city policy around homelessness,” says Harris. “Everyone has embraced the rhetoric around ending homelessness, but I see very little of it in terms of what is coming to prevail. What this really comes down to is reducing visible homelessness. ” ...

“I don’t think people understand what the 10-year plan is all about,” he says. “Why would the (federal) administration that seems to be (the) most hostile to poor people in 70 years take on this task of solving homelessness? The answer is that it’s not really about solving the issue. Truth is, the chronic homeless make up a very small percentage of the overall population. This is really about visible homelessness. You have this federally backed strategy that is essentially a template for a very sophisticated propaganda model. It’s a way of reframing homelessness to focus on the most visible and dysfunctional and most easy to blame.”

That is one of the most damaging aspects of the 10-year plan, says Harris — it makes the homeless easy to dismiss. Once you stigmatize a population, “it’s pretty easy to do whatever you want to them.”
After decades of advocates stressing that homelessness has many faces and most people don't fit the stereotype, federal funding priorities and local development-driven imperatives to hide poverty have combined to make homelessness all about the drunks, addicts, and crazy people. And the major media is always willing to toe the city line: We're sick of their unsightly misery, and we don't have to tolerate it. They're service-resistant vectors of criminal activity. So screw them, in a compassionate Seattle sort of way.

Speaking of screwing homeless people, the Downtown Seattle Association's long-held dream of shutting down Seattle's public toilets may now come to pass. This has been on their agenda for at least two years, but Tom Rassmussen, citing the lack of evidence that this is really a problem, gave them no traction with City Council. Well, things change. The Department of Public Utilities has generated the report they need to make it into a problem, and they've got Sally Clark on board and a new, more compliant, council. The panhandling legislation can't be far away. See Sharon Chan's Seattle Times story, which also gets my problem with this right.

Tim Harris, executive director for homeless-activist newspaper Real Change, wants the city not only to keep the automated toilets, but also to add portable toilets. Removing toilets would force people to relieve themselves in streets and alleys, Harris said.

"If you don't provide alternatives and viable alternatives, then it's not fair to blame people for activities that they have little choice but to engage in," he said.

Apparently, the plan is to somehow get local businesses and government buildings to staff and more prominently feature the availability of their toilets. Yep. That's the plan. And it will cost just as much as keeping the ones we have.

I actually went into this whole conspiratorial rant about how they'll take the toilets away, and then when the whole downtown smells like a Belltown alley on a hot summer day and there's shit on every doorstep, we'll hear all about the filthy, disgusting, homeless people who are too lazy to even find their way to the bathroom.

But for some reason she didn't use that.

I had high hopes for the Seattle Metropolitan story on the Seattle sweeps that came out in their new April issue, but it turned out to be a rather bland overview and to offer little new.

McInturff said she was "moved" by the three hours of entirely one-sided testimony at January's public hearing. They may tweak the 48-hour notification, and rethink the $25 limitation on goods they're willing to store. Wow. Look at those big-ass crocodile tears running all down her face. They apparently chose not to hear the "throw this heinous piece of crap out, start over, and listen to us this time" theme.

Seattle Metro, having the luxury of magazine-style journalism, should have been the ones to do something in-depth. But instead they accepted the city's frame and pretty much went brain-dead from there, as is standard media practice. I'd link, but they kept it off their website.

Finally, my friend Silja Talvi got a great piece into the April In These Times that covers the Seattle sweeps issue as a stark example of national trends and linking it to the development boom. She calls it a homeless eradication program. Nice phrase. I'd like to see it stick. They didn't have the story online when I checked, but maybe they will sometime.

Needle in the Hay

In honor of United Way's recent discovery that there's a heroin trade in Downtown Seattle that is linked to visible poverty, here's Elliot Smith, live in Seattle in 2000, kicking out a rocked up Needle in the Hay.
Your hand on his arm
Haystack charm around your neck
Strung out and thin
Calling some friend, trying to cash some check
He's acting dumb
That's what you've come to expect
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
He's wearing your clothes
Head down to toes, a reaction to you
You say you know what he did
But you idiot kid, you don't have a clue
Sometimes they just get caught in the eye, you're pulling him through
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Now on the bus
Nearly touching this dirty retreat
Falling out 6th and powell, a dead sweat in my teeth
Gonna walk walk walk
Four more blocks, plus the one in my brain
Down downstairs to the man, he's gonna make it all okay
I can't beat myself
I can't beat myself
And I don't want to talk
I'm taking the cure
So I can be quiet wherever I want
So leave me alone
You ought to be proud that I'm getting good marks
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

Monday, March 24, 2008

Extending Homelessness

I cleaned my desktop icons last week and came across this. It made me all nostalgic and got me thinking about what these players all have in common.

Last October, I took a PDF of some things coming up into Photoshop and rewrote the parts that spoke to me, and then republished a document that looked much like the original. Most people thought it was great and had a laugh. But these people freaked.

This is the Terrible Thing I did that caused my Board President to quit, caused three tables of United Way people to NOT ATTEND our Annual Breakfast a few days later (they paid), and had Sandy Brown half a hair from threatening legal action?

All on the same day.

The fire the Out-of-Control founders-diseased asshole faction was also well represented that day in the comments section of the Sandy Brown post.

I posted Sandy Brown's voice mail demanding that I remove the Church Council logo from an already widely distributed image. Some people said that was unethical. A breach of some sort of implied confidentiality. I think some people just don't like surprises, and would rather I have more "discretion."

The love is basically gone with United Way as well. They used to at least talk about giving us money. Now, even Vince barely returns my calls.

Street Roots down in Portland's feelin' the love from their United Way. If Vince got me $60K, I'd of at least called him before I put out the flier. It's enough to make you think twice.

But I can't even get these guys to buy an ad. When we went activist a few years back, they ran scared.

None of these guys have had a damn thing to say about the Seattle homeless sweeps unless they're for it. This is a bad thing, because they are the institutional players, and the City knows that if they're on board they can do whatever they want, because the rest of us, when it comes right down to it, don't really matter all that much.

Bill is scrupulously avoidant of the sweeps issue. As is United Way. The Interfaith Task Force is on the right side and has helped with the organizing, but the Church Council has gone dark, unless you count Bill and Sandy's bland neutralities to the press about the City being on the right track.

"What's being proposed is a big step in the right direction. I'm glad to see that the city is responding out of a sense of humanity toward people who are in encampments," said the Rev. Sandy Brown, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He and several other advocates for the homeless were briefed Thursday on the protocol by city officials.

Brown's main concerns were that the city have outreach workers available to notify and refer homeless campers, and that shelter beds be available for those losing their campsite.

That's actually not a bad position to have, if you back it up with negotiation, transparency, oversight, and action. But none of these guys are getting involved in anything like that.

At the briefing referred to above, advocates were told that their role in shaping policy would be limited to participation in public comment. Apparently, that's OK with United Way, CEHKC, and Church Council, because their participation in and support for efforts to oppose the sweeps has been Zero. They and the City, so far as it appears, are on the same page.

They shouldn't get to just go dark. They should either declare their support for the city's policy, or come on board with those of us who want a real discussion of what it would take to address homelessness in Seattle.

Then, at least, we'd know what's what. They have important, complicated, and powerful relationships to maintain. We understand. It's a powerful feeling, we imagine, being on the inside.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fight the Power

This is Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing performed with Fisher-Price Sesame Street toys. I was watching it it with the girls, and Twin B says, "Why did he say 'fuckin' put me down Ernie?' Why did Oscar the Grouch say that?"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fear and Loathing

Friday morning, I got a taste of what happens to Seattle's poor and mentally ill. I'd been at work for maybe five minutes when one of the staff came to get me. "There's a woman up front who's scared and seeing things. We don't really know what to do with her."

I didn't either. She wasn't someone we knew, although I'd seen her around the neighborhood. And not in an especially good way. But this morning she was in our office, terrified of the "terrible impact" of the windows blowing out and the walls cracking and the things flying around that no one else could see. She wimpered and cowered. I told her she was safe. She grabbed on for dear life and didn't let go.

We got some shoes from the back. She came in with just one. Staff made calls while I tried to keep her calm.

A few weeks ago, we called the cops for help. A vendor said he was serious about suicide right then and there. It would be by intravenous drug overdose and he had the means. After talking hit a wall, staff called 911. The first one through the door had his Taser drawn and ready. When our vendor got mouthy, he used it.

This, apparently, is SPD standard procedure with the Black and poor.

Suddenly, our guy's on the ground in shock with a beefy cop driving a knee into his back. An ugly scene in a crowded office.

So we weren't doing that. We tried the MHPs. No one available any time soon. They recommended Harborview. At the moment, our new friend wasn't going anywhere.

The vendor from a few weeks before was taken to Harborview too. They held him for a while and released him empty-handed to the street at around 10 PM. Great.

Meanwhile, there she was, eyes wide and all damp with sweat. She smelled like dog and I wondered why. Her pants kept falling down around her knees. She had jeans that wouldn't stay snapped, and sweatpants over those about four sizes too big. The falling sweatpants pulled the jeans with them, and she kept grabbing to pull them up as she ducked to avoid the terrible flying things.

After awhile, we got a name and started calling around to find a case manager. People knew who she was. Not schizophrenic, they said. Just borderline and manic-depressive. Probably a drug episode. Try Harborview. No one was coming.

I've noticed before that when faced with childlike, pathetic people in acute crisis, I slip into daddy mode. That's my four-year-old. Her knee is skinned and she's crying. I'm all empathy, presence, and love. I called her hon and babe as I walked her around the office and offered unique advice such as "turn around three times and they'll stay away."

The essence of dealing with an upset four-year-old is distraction. I use what I know. She slowly turned, arms out, while I counted. We walked back and forth from the front office to the back with her and our fearless intern, trying different rooms. She kept pulling me off balance as she moved me around to be between her and the demons.

I extracted myself from her grip long enough to get some orange juice and trail mix down the street. Food didn't interest her much, but the juice seemed to help. Our efforts to get her into some pants that might stay up weren't really going anywhere. Modesty was trumped by animal fear. I worried that eventually she'd just leave, running down the street with her pants falling off.

Pants, shoes, and company were about all we had to offer. We debated Harborview some more. She seemed to be calming. We got a quilt from the back and got her into a chair.

I had to go. It had been two hours and I had a meeting I didn't want to cancel again. I told her she'd be OK while I pried her grip from my arm.

One of our women vendors came in and I asked if she'd seen her. She looked her up and down with the disgust that comes from being too close for comfort. Yeah. She knew her. Did she know what was going on? Crack and meth, she said. Call Harborview. That's what DESC does when this happens.

We'd already called DESC on the chance that someone might be able to come, and that's what they'd said. Call Harborview.

Staff stayed with her as she hunkered down under the blanket.

Over lunch, a friend described how someone she'd been close to mixed crack and meth. When he got it right, he was superman. When he got it wrong, he looked just like our visitor. Curled into a ball, terrified of the visions, begging for help.

I drove back to the office and found a spot right across the street. A woman walking by said she'd taped an hour's worth of parking to the meter. My day was looking up. I put it on my window and went inside.

Our hallucinating meth-case was gone. Not long after I left she became lucid enough to volunteer an address and phone number. Her boyfriend was there in twenty minutes to take her home. He'd seen this before.

An hour later, I couldn't find my keys. I went out and looked at the car. Little clouds of exhaust came from the tailpipe. My keys were locked inside, with the engine running.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tom Terrific

TV has changed a lot since I was a kid. When I was my daughters' age, it was Captain Kangaroo, this semi-portly guy in a strangely cut suit who had greying hair that looked like it was cut by his mom. He'd chat awhile with Mister Greenjeans and the moose puppet behind his counter and then maybe show us how to do something cool with construction paper and glue. It was a slower time.

Tom Terrific
was part of the show. I don't think I've seen this since I was about four, but I always remembered Tom — the little line-drawing guy who wears a funnel and turns into stuff — and his faithful companion Mighty Manfred the Wonderdog. The cartoon was first made in the late 50s' but was in reruns on Captain Kangaroo through 1964.

I'm starting to get a little bored with Chilly Willy and wanted something else to show Twins A&B. I found this. They laughed, but Chilly Willy is better. Even by 50's standards, this is primitive. Maybe that was the point.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Googling "Seattle Homeless"

I found out why the four-month-old Typical Seattle Homeless Encampment Scene is still, with 250 hits since late January, my single most visited page. The majority of readers here don't go to a specific link. They just land on Apesma's Lament and scroll down through the posts. But some do, and the Top Ten Posts list at right ranks the busiest pages. I only pay for StatCounter to log the last 10,000 visits, so after a few months, most posts sort of drop off into oblivion. But this one from December 9 has weirdly stayed right up top. The mystery is now solved.

When you Google "Seattle Homeless" it's number three, and looks like this:

Apesma's Lament: Typical Seattle Homeless Encampment Scene
The image at right, if you've been reading local press accounts o
f Seattle homeless encampments, is the sort of scene that takes place hundreds of times a ... - 265k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

I think that's pretty cool.

The next post down is something on the WRAP blog, which turns out to be SKCCH ED Alison Eisinger giving a kick-ass speech at our first sweeps protest on December 19.

And the fifth hit was this remarkable thread from, where an overly contrived question about homelessness in Seattle — Should it keep this brave New Yorker away? — blossoms into a frank and often touching exchange of perspectives.

Number one was a Mariners fundraiser on the Good News In Sports blog, about good people who play in sports, doing good things, and number two was some weird thing that I'll have to figure out later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Double Pneumonia? Priceless!

This from the Real Change staff bathroom bulletin board. We received this Thank You note after our encampment at City Hall last week.

Smart Cartoonist. Fatcat Mayor.

Jeremy Eaton's cartoon in the current issue of the Queen Anne and Magnolia News conveys a complicated idea with admirable accuracy. The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness doesn't tone down visible poverty fast enough to meet the needs of at-risk condo developers, so the Mayor has accelerated the timeline with sweeps of homeless encampments.

But Eaton gets the logic across far more cleverly.

Bad Road Ahead

Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project flew up from San Francisco last week to be here for our encampment at City Hall. WRAP is a west coast coalition of homeless activists, and between us, we’ve seen it all.

The day after the protest, which drew more than 150 people overnight and at least 50 others to leaflet during the day, Paul looked at me and said, “You guys are headed down the same ugly road as San Francisco and LA.”

Much as I’d like to think otherwise, he’s right. While city spokespeople describe how their new policy addresses advocates’ concerns by providing 48-hours notice, storage, outreach, and shelter, not one single homeless advocate, service provider, or homeless person I’ve talked to believes this to be true.

This intransigence — this rock solid commitment to a policy that is both inhumane and immoral — is a measure of what’s at stake.

This isn’t rocket social science. Big money is riding on downtown condos. Overbuilding and economic downturn have added to the fear. Those who buy — often several years ahead of the opening — have been sold on safety. Visible poverty makes people nervous. The City responds with sweeps, and dresses these up in the rhetoric of compassion.

It’s a well-worn script. Google “homeless sweeps” and aside from Seattle you’ll see San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Contra Costa County, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Fresno, and even Covington, KY. That’s just in the first 30 hits.

And the official line is always the same:
"This is a humanitarian approach," said Cynthia Belon, director of Contra Costa County's homeless program. "It's far more effective to give someone a place in a shelter and an appointment for them to get help."
But here’s the rub. The shelters are full and services are stretched to the breaking point. A long and ugly road stretches before us, not headed anywhere good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The BBC reports on the situation in LA, where more than 100,000 home foreclosures have led to an explosion in Tent Cities of the dispossessed. These have been dubbed "subprimevilles."

Here also is a Reuters story from about a year ago about subprime foreclosure victims living in cars.
"It's an old saying in the social services world that most people are one to six paychecks away from being homeless. But if you can't make your mortgage, it's more like a month or two. It's really fragile out there, particularly with the subprime situation," said William Wise, a spokesman for relief agency St. Vincent de Paul of Eugene, which works with the city to find overnight parking spots for homeless people.
Rather remarkable that coverage of this story seems limited to postings of the BBC clip by bloggers. Google turned up no coverage of the subprimevilles by mainstream U.S. media. This story from last November by Democracy Now reports on how subprime foreclosures have disproportionately hit minorities. Over the past year, the foreclosure rate has risen by nearly 100%.

I did come across this article, Plan Would End Homeless Tent Cities, from a year and a half ago in the LA Times, which details the compromise reached between the City and the ACLU on police action against homeless encampments. Does this sound familiar?
"Any settlement that leaves people living on the street in filthy conditions and permits chaos from 9 to 6 every night in one critical area of the city is unacceptable," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn. ...

[Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa has said that improving skid row by increasing affordable housing and improving homeless services is one of his top priorities. There's also been a flurry of legislation in Sacramento aimed at reducing the "dumping" of homeless people downtown and at beefing up law enforcement.
Anyone who believes that campsite clearances and the increased criminalization of visible poverty is driven by noble intent isn't paying attention.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ten Tents My Ass

These north and south partial views of the City Hall encampment last week, shot at night by Doug McKeehan when most people were inside their tents sleeping, give a sense of how many people braved the steady rain to participate in the overnight portion of the event. Organizers counted 48 tents plus various plastic-wrapped sleeping bags and cardboard boxes. They estimate that 150-175 people stayed overnight, and at least 50 additional participants helped with daytime visibility protests. Sharon Chan of the Seattle Times dropped by at 5:30 for the dinner and reported ten tents in her story the next day.

When Sharon called me at home for a quote, she asked how many would be staying the night. We'd been seeing huge interest and feeling real momentum, but most people who planned on staying hadn't officially committed. So, basically, I had no idea. "Two-hundred," I confidently replied.

"We're sending a photographer, but if I get there and see twenty people, there won't be a story," she said.

So I guess we dodged that bullet.

Her story was notable in that human services Director Patricia McInturff said she "doesn't like the term 'sweeps.'"
"They're unauthorized encampments," she said. "The city has been cleaning up unauthorized encampments for 20 years. I think the new protocol is a giant step forward" with its inclusion of outreach, storage options and additional shelter.
Well, Patricia, if the City hadn't accelerated the pace by a factor of maybe twenty, and if the outreach, storage, and shelter you refer to had some reality to them, then you'd be right.

But as things are, you're a lying sack of shit and we're not stupid. They're sweeps. We know it. You know it. For once in your life, just tell the truth. Preferably, before you retire.

It takes a lot of people to pull something like this off. Operation Sack Lunch took care of the evening meal and helped with hospitality. The Real Change staff and Rachael and Natalie in particular put in heroic efforts during the preceding weeks. Board member David Bloom rounded up the ecumenical meal servers. Real Change vendors were there in force and helped spread the word, and whole bunches of RCOP members took leadership in the weeks and days leading up to the protest. Paul Boden from WRAP flew up from San Francisco and lent a hand as a seasoned pro over Thursday and Friday (Rachael handed him the press calls). And then there was the woman who dropped off a box of tangerines and wished us the best and all the others like her who did their small part.

In short, people pulled together and pulled it off. Last December, when we promised we'd be back, there were less than fifty of us overnight. This time, there were more than one-hundred-fifty. We're building power. The City's lies don't fool us, and we're not going away any time soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Buster Keaton/Bill Frisell

I'm worn out for the moment on bitching about the City's Final Solution to homelessness, so let's have another silent film with esoteric music. Someone put up Buster Keaton's Go West with Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, and Joey Baron doing their score. That's a show at The Moore I'll regret missing for the rest of my life.

I've played the movie and the CD together before, and while there's something to be said for a real screen and stereo, this is easier and has Japanese subtitles. I think it's 63 minutes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fussell and Faust, w/Accordion

Last night I was reading Paul Fussell's humorous classic on class, named, straightforwardly enough, "Class," when he discussed symphony orchestras, which exemplify the hierarchies that shape our sense of what's best and worst and create various unrecognized snobberies. In this scheme violins are best, and accordions down somewhere near the kazoo.

Which made me look on Youtube for something by accordion genius Guy Klucevsek. I found this excerpt from an original score for F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent film "Faust," recorded live at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Feb 6th, 2003.

Part of the appeal, aside from the awesome four horsemen of the apocalypse, angel, and devil, is the how this Faust subverts assumptions about class without even seeming to try. Faust as 1927 silent movie. Highbrow meets lowbrow. My guess is that the original audience was more prole than middle. Opera: high class. Jazz: low class. Accordion: no class. Performed at MIT: class X.

In my circles, we tend to talk about five classes: owning, professional-middle, middle, working, and poverty class. Fussell enumerates nine: Top out-of-site, upper, upper-middle, middle,
high-proletarian, middle-proletarian, low-proletarian, destitute, bottom-out-of-site. His scale, while too unwieldy for use in groups, explains more. The top and bottom, he says, exhibit the tendency of extremes to meet. Neither top out-of-sight nor bottom out-of-sight will, for example, carry any cash.

Both, also, have exploded over the 25 years since he wrote.

Fussell describes a tenth category of creative-types who are often also class exiles of sorts. This is me. Class X. Largely free of class anxiety. Often employs adverbial form but says 'fuck.' In control of own labor. Doing work I like. Well-read yet avoidant of best-sellers. Strangely eclectic. Indifferent dresser. Etcetera.

Class X is the place to be.

The musicians, by the way, are: Phillip Johnston: saxophone, piano, ukulele; Kate Sullivan, voice; Guy Klucevsek: accordion; Tomas Ulrich, cello.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dry Bones Get Up And Walk

Rev. Rich Lang turned out at the encampment last night to serve dinner in full ecclesial drag. Rich always looks good in white, and the colorful stole brings out the ruddiness in his cheeks. He was joined by around ten other faith community leaders in that most basic of communal activities, the serving of food.

Not that I was there. In an unusual fit of self-preservation, I slept for 12 hours last night in a warm bed. I've seen Rich in drag enough that even this wasn't enough to get me out in last night's rain.

You can see a photo of the meal being served underneath the canopy I purchased on sale Thursday night at Big Five for $99. Here's the Seattle Times story by Sharon Chan from this morning. She counts 10 tents during the meal, but Paul Boden told me this morning that they counted 48 tents last night, not including the cardboard boxes and "burritos," which is what organizers called the hardy plastic sheet wrapped sleeping bag people strewn throughout the site. What can I say? The Real Change Organizing Project rocks hard. And the "facts" in the reporting kinda suck.

But Rich has been kind of losing it lately because the church, for the most part, is deep in the same narcotic, consumerist slumber as everyone else. Instead of being the passionate and inspired counter-cultural centers of resistance and community that these times call for, most churches and synagogues are lukewarm at best.

And any product of the Catholic schools such as myself knows how the lord feels about the lukewarm. Revelations 3:15 was the very first bible verse I'd memorize, due to its immense appeal to a second grader. "So then, because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of my mouth."

Other translations have different renderings. The words spew and spit are also used. The more delicate Modern Translation avoids peristaltic unpleasantness altogether with "I will have no more to do with you."

Revelations 3:17, however, gets to the heart of things. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

Anyway, Rich hasn't been so impressed lately with the social justice commitment of most churches, and was deeply disappointed when a Seattle church opted this week against hosting Tent City for no other reason than that it would not be proper.

And so, his most recent sermon, Dry Bones, is a masterpiece of vision, passion, love, and yes, frustration. He rolled out a bit of it last night at the event. But listen to the real thing, where he riffs off of Ezekial, delivered at Trinity last Sunday. You could just read it, but it's not the same. You'd miss the revisions and ad libs and hearing him get all choked up in the beginning. The recording starts with a few minutes of something else, so don't let that throw you. Preacherman can preach. Make them bones get up and walk. Amen.

The Homeless Are Icky.

The people have spoken. By a broad plurality of 72%, the 36 people who weighed in have decided that Seattle's homeless sweeps are happening primarily because "the homeless are icky" and get in the way of maximizing downtown investment capital. About as many people believe "it's just the right thing to do" as believe that the sweeps are about bringing down the Asian heroin cartel, which isn't many. The City Hall lobby pulled hard for neighborhood demand, but not many of those people really read my blog, so they managed a mere 22%.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Bureaucrats Attack ...

Paul Boden took off with my car this morning. I gave him the key, along with my blow-up air pad and sleeping bag. He wasn't sure he could manage the straight shot down Aurora and the left on 2nd to get to the Real Change office, but this is a guy who once spent two years hitching around Europe on no money. I had faith.

As for me, both my kids are sick with fevers and me along with them. Paul and a couple hundred others are sleeping out at City Hall tonight, but my sorry ass is here in bed. I probably wouldn't be much good anyway. I tried calling a reporter back today and it took me five minutes to remember my own phone number.

Paul is the ED of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a left-coast collaboration of grassroots homeless advocacy organizations who all face similar issues: local gentrification, rising homelessness, and municipalities that have gone on the attack against the visible poor. He's up from San Francisco to see the Seattle situation for himself.

Until recently, Seattle had the decency to be out of step with regional trends on screwing the poor, but we're learning fast. The great thing about WRAP is that we know what to expect. Everything we're seeing here has happened before in places like San Francisco and LA. But they're the vanguard. These cities have attained a level of meanness to which Seattle can only aspire.

This morning — as I sat assessing whether my racing heart and labored breathing should keep me from standing around in the rain and staying up all night at City Hall Plaza — Paul was on the phone to his people. Today's Chronicle ran an attack piece on the Coalition on Homelessness there.

Had the meddlesome San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness' Citation Defense Program not insisted on adding the burden of proof to the city's prosecution of James Allen Hill, writes columnist CW Nevius, the 38-year-old homeless man would have received the services he needs and would not have inconveniently overdosed on heroin in the city library.

Hill was a hard case, what is known in some circles around here as a "frequent flyer." He was cited at least fifteen times in less than half as many months for open container and public drunkenness. He once peed right on a police car. SFCOH, apparently got the last of these citations dismissed as well as several others. They have this wacky theory that homeless people who are ticketed by cops should have due process, and have an 89% success rate of getting charges dismissed.

"Services" is one of this slippery words that means something other than what you might think. It's like when Human Services head Patricia McInturff says the City of Seattle will hold onto and return people's "personal property" when they do sweeps of homeless campsites. To most of us, that would mean their stuff, including their survival gear. But to the City, it simply means identification, military papers, prescriptions, eyeglasses, and perhaps photos, so long as they've thought to attach contact information to these items.

Likewise, in San Francisco, "services" is much more likely to mean a spot in a shelter or a drop-in center than treatment, mental health counseling, or help getting a place. Access to these things lag far behind demand, even for those whom the court requires to get help.

But while services are a bit of an illusion, the citations are real, and so are the bench warrants and fines that pile up when they're ignored. So SFCOH and a similar group in LA have organized a legal line of defense. And for this they, and their funding, are under attack.

Apparently, Hill actually accepted services in one of the citations that attorneys settled. Nevius knew this, but it didn't fit in his man-dead-due-to-meddlesome-advocates frame. Facts are inconvenient things.
Often cases like Hill's never even make it to court. The district attorney's office says that is because homeless advocate attorneys drag out the process as long as possible, creating a paper bottleneck in the courts with "burden of proof" legal requests. There are so many steps and appeals that any misstep can result in a dismissal, which the DA's office says is why hundreds of "quality of life"' infractions are thrown out.

To illustrate, Assistant District Attorney Paul Henderson went through court records and found six cases in which Hill was represented in court by Homeless Coalition attorneys. In what has become a familiar refrain, those attorneys got three of the cases dismissed before they came to trial.

In the other three active cases, prosecutors had offered to drop the charges if Hill agreed to go into treatment for his alcohol problem, Henderson said.

"In other words, we were saying, we don't want to prosecute him, fine him, or send him to jail, but he's got to go to services. And he's got to show us proof that he's gone," he said.

The offer was declined as Hill's attorneys fought the citations. They were still fighting them when he died.

"There's a really good chance we could have saved this guy's life," said Dariush Kayhan, the city's homeless coordinator.

Dariush Kayhan was just hired at $169K to run San Francisco's homeless services for the City. That's before benefits. It takes a lot of money to live in the Bay Area, but it takes even more to ensure loyalty.

The James Hill story doesn't add up.

Fifteen citations. The Coalition took on six of them and won half. That leaves twelve other opportunities since last August for the City to get James Hill the "services" he needed.

Here's the thing that I've noticed. The more cities say they've committed to "no longer managing homelessness" and are committed to "ending homelessness in 10 years," the greater their hostility toward the advocates who might have a different idea as to how this should be done. And the more sophisticated and less honest their management of homelessness becomes.

It's happening everywhere. The bureaucrats, threatened by the advocates, have placed themselves in charge. The package comes with a commitment to affordable housing that they wave around like an invisibility cloak to hide it's sheer inadequacy. Since "housing and not shelter is the answer to homelessness," there is a slow but sure attrition in emergency shelter options. And then there is the increased repression of the visible poor.

In the twenty years since Mayor Giuliani became the darling of New York by "cleaning up" Times Square, the methods have become more sophisticated and cloaked in the language of compassion.

There is greatly increased police attention supplemented by private security hired by the local Business Improvement District.

There is an emphasis upon issuing citations that turn into bench warrants and other forms of criminal charges.

Laws are passed against activities, such as sleeping, in which the poor are likely to engage.

And there are campsite clearances, performed for the good of those who have nowhere else to go.

And the human services community, with some exceptions, is cowed into submission.

At some point, they go after the advocates themselves. Most service providers are restrained by the fact that their funding comes from the city. Those who stand up are eventually subjected to delegitimation tactics, mean-spirited press attacks, and whisper campaigns directed toward major funders.

In other words, it's war. War on the poor. And war on those who side with them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'll Be There

This clip from Director John Ford's 1940 Grapes of Wrath still resonates. Tom Joad's goodbye speech. Different time. Same sentiment.
You know what I've been thinkin' about?
'bout Casey. 'bout what he said, what he done.
'bout how he died. And I remember all of it.
I've been thinking about us too.
'bout our people livin' like pigs and good rich land layin' fallow.
With maybe one guy with a million acres
and a hundred thousand farmers starvin.'
And' I been wonderin' if all our folkses got together and yelled ...

Maybe it's like Casey says. Fellow ain't got a soul of his own.
Just a little piece of a big soul.
The one big soul that belongs to everybody.
I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere.
Wherever you can look.
Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there.
Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there.
I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad.
I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry
and they know supper's ready.
And when people are eatin' the stuff they raise,
Livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Big Squeeze

Help Us Build a Strong Movement
for Economic Justice in Seattle and Beyond

Since 1973, income disparity in America has steadily grown. The homelessness that began in the seventies and exploded into crisis over the next decade has become a fixture of our economic and civic lives. Over this period, the majority of us have experienced increased economic vulnerability.

Private charity and local government alone are poorly equipped to fix a system that consistently produces greater levels of inequality. Real solutions to economic injustice require us to build alliances across our differences and organize for power.

America has a growing poverty class that is characterized by vulnerability to housing loss. For many, access to this most basic of human needs is out of reach entirely. Recent federal funding priorities have shifted resources away from family and rural homelessness to address the problem of the “chronically homeless,” a population that represents approximately ten percent of those who lack housing. These priorities deflect attention from issues of poverty and inequality by presenting homelessness as mostly a problem of individual dysfunction, as opposed to being the result of deliberate policy decisions that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the majority.

Meanwhile, income and wealth disparity have returned to pre-1930s levels, with wealth inequality leading the way. As government has become more beholden to the corporate interests that operate within a globalized economy, the fortunes of all but the most affluent twenty percent have largely declined.

The richest one percent — who now enjoy one-hundred-ninety times the wealth of the median American household — have done best of all. One in one hundred households hold an average of $14.8 million in assets, while median family wealth stands at just $82,000.

Working and middle class people have been hit hard. As wealth in the United States transfers upward, the very commodities that offer a toehold in the American Dream — healthcare, housing, and quality education — have risen most dramatically in cost.

Low-income people of color have been hit hardest of all. Infant mortality rates and unemployment disparity in minority communities are again on the rise after years of improvement. Incarceration trends that disproportionately target African-Americans have led to reduced economic opportunities and a deepening racialization of poverty. People of color have long been disproportionately at risk of homelessness.

While payday and sub-prime lenders prey upon the most vulnerable, debt is an experience that most of us share. More than fifty million Americans have negative assets. In other words, many of us now owe more than we own.

We are working more jobs and longer hours, and the margin for error has become increasingly thin. While most of us will not become homeless, many will come close.

Homelessness, heightened inequality, and ever-deepening debt are not the inevitable by-product of blind market forces. As corporate interests have largely captured the democratic process, our money-driven politics have ceased to serve the common good.

The divisions that exist within the national economy are easily seen in the new Seattle downtown. Within just a few blocks — near Pike Place Market, Benaroya Hall, and the newly expanded Seattle Art Museum — four luxury towers will add 505 new condos with an average value of $2.2 million each.

As the cost of housing in Seattle and our City’s median income grow further apart, homelessness and economic vulnerability have increased.

A home in Seattle now costs nearly eight times the Seattle median income. This ratio has widened by thirty-nine percent since 2000. Average rent rose by more than ten percent last year to reach an all time high of $1,052.

Rental vacancies are below three percent. Those who have poor credit or other problems are often unable to compete for scarce affordable market-rate apartments. Waiting lists for Seattle’s 20,800 subsidized units — a number that includes federally supported Section 8 housing vouchers — are typically one to three years long.

The new popularity of urban living can be seen in the proliferation of construction cranes throughout the downtown. Forty-nine new condo projects are scheduled for completion in this area by 2010. Drawn by the cultural amenities of the city and the attractions of a short commute, 23,000 people have moved to Seattle since 2000. Condo conversion alone has led to the loss of nearly 5,000 rental units in the past three years. More than two thirds of these were affordable to those at eighty percent of median income or below.

Despite the construction boom, Seattle leads the Puget Sound region in work that doesn’t pay. One in four people in our city earn less than a living wage. This has been defined as pay that “allows families to meet their basic needs, without public assistance, and that provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead.” For King County, this has been calculated at $28 an hour for a family of three with a single wage earner, or $12 an hour for a single adult.

Local growth in high wage jobs such as computer programmer or software engineer are more than matched by an expanding low wage sector of clerks, janitors, and sales personnel. Nearly seventy percent of the 240,000 jobs added in Washington State between 2002 and 2006 paid below eighty percent of median income.

Given the failure of wages to keep pace with the cost of housing, it is not surprising to find homelessness on the rise. The 2008 street homeless One Night Count, organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, found 2,631 people surviving outside of an overcrowded system of shelter and transitional housing. This represents a 15% countywide increase over the previous year. A comparison of areas counted in Seattle this year and last yields a sobering 18% increase in street homelessness.

As the demographics of urban living have shifted toward those who can afford it, extreme poverty has become increasingly criminalized. Expanded anti-panhandling legislation, bans on public feeding, a rise in private security forces hired by and accountable to downtown interests, prohibitions on car camping, and sweeps of homeless campsites are all typical strategies to reduce visible homelessness in cities across America.

Despite the clear evidence that the basic survival needs of Seattle’s homeless are not being met, the City has recently defined all camping and storage of personal items on public property as “unauthorized” and illegal. A policy of general tolerance — with campsite clearances triggered by a pattern of neighborhood complaints — has given way to regularly scheduled sweeps of known encampments.

These new policies criminalize survival while offering little to no real assistance to those who are displaced. No Trespass citations bar campers from public property and result in criminal charges when violated. Clearance crews are directed to immediately dispose of all survival gear — tarps, sleeping bags, blankets, and tents — that remain in areas where 48-hour clearance notices are posted.

This has little or nothing to do with Seattle’s commitment to ending homelessness, and merely deepens the misery of those who have the least.

A Seattle economic justice agenda must promote housing affordability and economic opportunity while recognizing the right of homeless people not just to survive, but also to secure the help they desperately need.

Homelessness is the extreme end of a growing continuum of economic vulnerability. It is in our mutual self-interest to protect those who suffer most while we work together to restore economic democracy.

Download the Real Change 2007 Annual Report here. The photo of the Fifteen Twenty-One ("designed exclusively for the confident few") over on Second Ave where the Green Tortoise used to be is Revel Smith

The Race for Wages: Livable Wage Jobs in the Current Economy, Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. December, 2007
A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. January 2006.
Skills Required: Preparing Puget Sound for Tomorrow’s Middle Wage Jobs
, Seattle Jobs Initiative. March, 2008
The State of Working America 2006/2007
, Economic Policy Institute (
The Squandering of America, Robert Kuttner, Knopf, 2008.
Locked Out, a web only American Prospect interview with Bruce Western, author of Punishment and Inequality in America. December 5, 2006.
Affordable Housing Action Agenda, Seattle Planning Commission Report. Feb., 2008.
Summary of the 2008 Unsheltered Homeless Count in Selected Areas of King County, Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness. January, 2008
United Way King County Community Assessment (

Monday, March 10, 2008

Help. Don't Harass. Stop the Sweeps.

Last night, about 40 people showed up at Trinity United Methodist in Ballard to hear more about the protest camp at City Hall this Thursday. For most, it was their first meeting. We began with a welcome and a brief overview of the issue, and then went around with introductions, inviting people to say why they were there. The scheduled 15 minutes stretched into a half-hour as person after person described why this matters. For several, it was personal. They themselves or those to whom they are close have survival camped in Seattle. To have this option foreclosed by the City without any real alternatives being offered was just too damn much. Some spoke of growing inequality and the scary places that train might be headed. Clearing homeless campsites, for them, seems like a good pace to draw the line. Others were ashamed for their City. Nearly all spoke of deep moral disgust. If you want a summary, activist photographer Elliot Stoller showed up with a video camera and did a few interviews to post on YouTube.

Please join us this Thursday for a downtown visibility shift or for the overnight encampment. Go to and click on the Take Action logo up top. This will take you to our advocacy page where you can pledge your participation in the Day of Action. Sign up for a visibility shift. Commit to staying overnight. Download a petition to distribute, or simply add your name to the many who have already signed.

Cindy and Craig Corrie

I was Googling around for an Elliot Stoller photo site and came across this at what appears to be his personal photo album (he has an adorable hippy kid). It is pithily captioned ...
Cindy and Craig Corrie. Their daughter, Rachel, was killed by an Israeli operating a bulldozer. Rachel was trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home.
And I nearly came to tears. The Rachel Corrie Memorial website gives meaning to a senseless death.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Dumbest Post Ever

It's good to have geeky friends, but not too many of them. Today Revel told me about The Hamster Dance, and it's brilliant successor, The Satanic Hamster Dance. Apparently, in some circles, these are well known internet phenomena. She sent me the links. I played them over each other without really intending and sat listening for longer than any normal person can possibly justify. What is happening to me? I posted the result above, in case you're too chicken. You should know that I resisted the temptation to experiment with the synchronization. I take some comfort in this.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

David Thomas Broughton Is In My Head.

Every few years or so, an artist so completely takes over my imagination that I can't stop the obsession. I'll listen nonstop, putting some tracks on repeat seven or eight times. So it is with Leeds artist David Thomas Broughton's It's In their Somewhere. Broughton uses loops and a drum machine along with whatever else he likes — this record, for example, elevates the duck call to a classical instrument — to create layered circles of meditative sound over darkly poetic lyrics, all offered in a strangely raw warble that, again, has taken up residence in my head.

The clip above from Madrid in 2007 begins with Broughton adding vocal loops to the hypnotically gorgeous One Day while he bangs off-tempo percussion off the mike stand with his finger. Then he rocks back and forth like an autistic child for a while and loops into So Much Sin by rapping his knuckles on his guitar. This is the place where madness, genius, and art meet.

Broughton's MySpace page offers another dirge-like live version of So Much Sin To Forgive, recorded in London's Holy Trinity Church with 7 Hertz (The second version. The first is even slower and plays over some sort of found sound sample.) that is typically haunting, but the recording on It's In There Somewhere is breathtakingly perfect. I should know. I've heard it maybe a hundred times over the past few weeks, not counting the times it wasn't actually playing.

And how can you argue with writing like this:
Put your finger, to your other finger
While you're not a hundred percent
You'll be feeling yourself again. ...
God loves a murderer
Because there's so much sin to forgive.
This one is on Birdwar Records ("making children cry since 2004"), and most of his work can be purchased online at You can also download his debut EP, The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, at 99 cents a track from the MySpace page and, surprisingly, from iTunes at $4.95 for the EP. With five long tracks, it's a bargain. Here's the full review from the catalogue.
“The Complete Guide to Insufficiency stands as one hell of a debut, and easily one of the finest records of 2005.” – Coke Machine Glow

“Remarkable, like a timeless classic or an obscure LP you discovered in a dusty second hand shop.” – Angry Ape

In this day and age, where an artist’s merit is often judged by a snippet of an MP3, David Thomas Broughton has created an anomaly- a work that deserves your undivided attention. Spreading 5 tracks across 40 minutes, Broughton develops his eerie folk songs into epic mantras on death, war, love, and sex.

Seeking to capture the controlled chaos of David’s live show, the album was recorded in one complete take in Wrangthorn Church, Leeds, England, with minimal tweaking and tampering in the subsequent mix. The result is a truthful representation of Broughton’s music, warts and all.

The church is as integral a part of the sound as any other instrument, making its presence known in subtle ways throughout the album. Its ghostly reverb creates a solemnity and sense of isolation, and when Broughton sings “My body rots while she is weeping/And I’ll remain forever sleeping,” one can easily envision him calling from beyond the grave. The pealing church bells at Wrangthorn also create a chance moment of beauty at the end of “Unmarked Grave,” unexpectedly becoming part of Broughton’s vocal loop.

The Complete Guide to Insufficieny is comparable to such forebears as John Fahey and Nick Drake, as well as contemporaries Antony and the Johnsons and Neutral Milk Hotel, but even these comparisons don’t fully convey the scope and beauty of Broughton’s sound.

Using simple tools- an acoustic guitar, some looping pedals, a cheap drum machine - Broughton has created a singular statement of purpose and artistic intent. Long after “freak-folk” is no longer a trend, listeners will still be pulling The Complete Guide to Insufficiency off the shelf.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Stained Glass Jesus

Does the City of Seattle's position on homeless encampments seem a bit opaque? The Real Change Organizing Project position, on the other hand, is as clear as a stained glass Jesus. Look.

Help. Don't Harass.
The 2008 One Night Count found more than 2,600 persons surviving outside in greater Seattle on a winter night when emergency shelters were full. Meanwhile, the Mayor's Office continues to pursue a policy of demolishing homeless people's encampments and throwing away their property without providing any alternative shelter. It is inhumane and immoral to punish people for living outside when there is not enough shelter or affordable housing to meet the need.

We, the undersigned call on Mayor Nickels to stop all non-emergency sweeps immediately and expand housing and services instead of criminalizing survival.

Please join the Real Change Organizing Project and the following list of endorsers in signing the petition to the Mayor. The Seattle we know doesn't do homeless sweeps and we want the Mayor to stop. Additional organizational endorsements are welcome. Please contact Real Change.

Organizational Signers