Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bless the Crazy Cat People

If only homeless folks were treated as well as cats.

Today, I got a pet. His name is Ralph. He's a chatty four year-old Siamese mix. I spend about half the time at my new place alone and thought the company would be nice. The girls have wanted one since Oz died last year, but I wanted to wait 'til they were a bit older. He likes music. He's on my mantel now with his ear about three inches from the Bose coffeecup speaker, listening to Leonard Cohen.

I have a friend who's into the cat rescue scene, so the ordeal of getting him wasn't a huge surprise. It's one of the more harmless varieties of cultish extremism, and I was ready for it.

The first place I went assured me they had plenty of mature, gentle cats to adopt. Then, I arrived with my two five year-olds. Of the dozen or so cats lying about, they said, none were appropriate. "Kids that age will pick them up and carry them around like a rag doll," the woman accused. She said to come back another day and we left disappointed. When I called today to ask if they had any mature cats that would be good with small children, the woman on the other end made a sound that wasn't the least encouraging. "No," she said. "Maybe next week."

I hung up wordlessly and called PAWS. They were much friendlier. Three had come in today who were used to being together, but they were willing to split them. And then there was Ralph, who was sweet and had been there a few months. I said I'd be there within the hour.

After I filled out a form swearing I wouldn't amputate his claws or use him for experiments, I was allowed a visit. Ralph purred as I stroked around his ears. He got excited and gave my palm the tiniest of love bites. My cat at work, also a Siamese mix, does this too, but with more malice. "PULL YOUR HAND AWAY IMMEDIATELY!," the volunteer snapped.

When I said a little love nip didn't bother me she relayed a story about a man who played with his cat too roughly. It bit his girlfriend on the face and then he needed to get rid of it. "That cat has no chance now," she said. "No shelter would take him. I told the guy, 'you created a monster, and now you have to live with him.'"

At this point in my life, I mostly know when a poker face is in my best interest, even if I don't always do it. Mine was on.

I said I was in a bit of a hurry to get my kids from daycare and wanted to pop over to CVS for litter and cat food before I put him in the carrier. The volunteer looked at me with extreme alarm. "It's very, very important to only feed a cat quality food," she patiently explained. I reiterated how I'd had cats for roughly the last twenty-five years and usually fed them Iams.

"I won't buy Iams," she said, "because of their policies on animal testing. It's OK cat food, I suppose, but the company is immoral. I can't support them."

She suggested I go to a place a few blocks away that sold food they might approve of. Once the adoption went through, I'd get some coupons. She suggested I spend another hour or so getting to know the cat, do the paperwork, think about whether I really wanted him, and if I did, I could come back another day when I had more time, get the approved food with their coupons at the very special cat food store, and then, suitably prepared, I could come get Ralph.

I stared at her, struggling to parse the string of words I'd just heard. "Are you saying I can't take this cat home with me now?"

"Oh. No," she said. "That was just a suggestion."

"OK then, I'm ready."

I sat at a table as she went online to activate the animal's micro-chip while another volunteer explained why letting him outside was a virtual death sentence. They told me I shouldn't allow pregnant women to clean the litter box and gave me a certificate for a vets visit good for nine days, which they strongly suggested I use.

Here's a healthy four-year-old cat who's been chipped and has all his shots. I should take him to the vet ... why?

But that's not what I said. I was all concern and sympathetic murmers. I wrote a check for ninety bucks and took my borrowed cat bag in to Ralph's room. Never, in my entire life, has a cat gone so willingly into a carrier.

Maybe I'm projecting, but Ralph seemed pretty keen to get the hell out of there.

I was only ten minutes late to the daycare pick-up. Twins A&B were beside themselves with glee. I dropped eighty dollars at Petco on the way home. It was Ralph's first day and I was already into him for a hundred seventy bucks. I bought the Iams.

I broke two rules in the handout they gave me by allowing the girls to see him and get excited and then leaving him in the car while I got his stuff. I clearly cannot be trusted.

My plans to introduce him to one room first went sideways when Ralph immediately insisted on the full run of the house. I did my best to restrain the girls from hunting him down. He's made himself at home and had steak for dinner. He has a loud purr that goes off the second he is touched.

Ralph's going to be just fine.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Letter to Seattle Times

I witnessed the recent Queen Anne campsite clearances and would like to point out that the photograph of a picture on top of garbage bags that ran with Charles Brown's story was very misleadingly captioned. It said some items are bagged and tagged for retrieval for up to 60 days. This sounds quite humane.

A well-maintained campsite was entered at 7 a.m. and its resident of three years was ordered to leave. His valuable tent, which he’d carefully closed completely before going, was opened with a machete. Of his possessions, three bags were marked for retrieval. Twenty were defined as garbage. A gallery quality drawing was declared trash and placed among the items for disposal featured in the photo.

I know. I asked. “It’s trash,” they said. “Take it.”

A civilized society doesn't say to a man who has made a home in the woods for three years, "You have 72 hours to go or your life goes into a dumpster." You learn who he is, build a relationship, and find the right solution. Mayoral press flak David Takami got the close quote: "This is not a punitive thing." Oh really? Then what would you call it?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Conversation with my five year-olds, mostly about the man in the picture.

Twin B: Who is that man?

Me: That's the man I was telling you about honey, who lost his place to live.

Twin A: We don't pick our ears. Or our noses. Or other people's noses. If you pick other people's noses, they bleed.

Twin B: That's so sad.

Me: I know honey. It made daddy cry.

Twin B: Where is he now?

Me: We don't know honey. They just told him to get out, so they could wreck his house.

Twin B: Why did they wreck his house? Why?

Me: Because his house was someplace they thought it shouldn't be.

Twin B: The forest!

Twin A: People shouldn't live in the forest.

Me: Some people don't have anywhere else to go. So they have to live in the forest. Some people like being alone.

Twin A: Is he a bad guy carrying a gun?

Me: What do you think Mica? Does he look like a bad guy?

Twin B: No! … Why is his mouth open?

Me: Maybe he's saying something.

Twin B: He's saying, "Why did they take away my house?"

Twin A: Why does he not have a place to live?

Me: Because he doesn't have money honey. You have to have money to have a place to live.

Twin B: Why doesn't he have money? Because he's old?

Me: You're probably right honey. You're probably right.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Bleed For The Homeless

I am perhaps insane. This thought dawned this morning as I fought my way up a 90 degree incline through waist high thickets of thorns. This was the lower Queen Anne greenbelt. Homeless campsites were being cleared here today. I apparently wanted to be there very, very badly.

My decision to show up was on the spontaneous side. Our organizing project met last night and briefly considered whether we could muster a response within the next twelve hours. We could not. We would put out a press release to try and counter the City spin. That's what we could do. We have other priorities. I agreed to write it. Many affiliations Freeman, Debbie from Jobs with Justice, and David Bloom of the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness all emailed me quotes and contact info. I figured I'd do it in the morning.

I stayed up until two writing. This in itself is not unusual. I am a man obsessed. My cracked molar was bothering me. The infection still hasn't resolved. I seem to be heading toward root canal. Joy. I took a couple of Ibuprofen, swished with my special rinse, and went to bed. Things started seriously throbbing and by three I was up to take my second to last Vicodin. I was very awake.

The morning would be tight, I thought. I'll knock out the press release now. I curled up on the couch with my laptop and a quilt and went to work. By a bit after six, I was wrapping up. It had been light for awhile. The Queen Anne press event was at 7:30. I could print the thing out, arrive in time for the circus and hand it to reporters directly. I shaved so as not to frighten people, made coffee, popped my Adderall, and was on the road by 7:15. Within a half hour, I was parked in the Super Supplements lot on Elliott Avenue and heading up a trail.

Three homeless people were sitting on lawn chairs and a blanket, enjoying the industrial lookout over Puget Sound. There was a Latino guy who spoke decent English, a heavy-set late-middle-aged woman, and a rangy toothless old fart in the lawn chair. I asked if they'd seen any one. They had not.

"Hey, I know you," growled the toothless one. "You're that Real Change guy. I seen your picture. I wanna ask you something. Why you gotta be making money off the homeless? Money, money, it's all you want. It's all you care about."

"Dude," I said, "you have no fucking idea what you're talking about. We have staff. They like to get paid. We run on a shoestring."

"No, I see it in the paper. You want donations, donations, donations. You shouldn't have your hand out all the time. Take, take, take. You know what I say to you?" He raised a finger to point at me. "GET A GOD-DAMN JOB!"

This pretty much made my morning. The others were laughing. So was I. "OK then," I said. "I'm going to see if I can find anyone." I headed up a trail toward several small nests of camps. The trail ended and I climbed through brush. When I crested onto the back yards of some really nice houses, I decided to head back down and try heading north and then up. As I passed my employment counselor, I handed him a press release. In an hour or two, his camp would be history. Rarely are press releases so prescient.

I went all the way down and a few blocks over and picked up a trail. It petered out into thick brush covered in thorns. I'd been here before and knew that if I just headed up and north, I'd again encounter well-defined trails and the upper encampments. This was where City officials and the press had to be. By then it was getting toward 8:30. I was late. My inner bulldog took over. I was fighting my way up the steep and muddy incline, sometimes on hands and knees. My hands were bleeding from multiple tiny cuts. My cardigan was covered with thorny plant bits that had gotten caught. I was drenched in sweat and not smelling so good.

"I must really love the fucking homeless," I thought. I found the trail. My stomach felt as though I'd just sprinted two miles. I gasped for breath. I puked my morning coffee and frozen waffle to the side of the trail in about five quick gushes.

"I must really love the fucking homeless," I thought again. This amused me to no end. I saw trucks and men in full haz-mat suits with respirators and goggles. I had arrived.

There was Mayoral press flak David Takami, some guy from the Queen Anne Community Council, a woman I didn't recognize who glared daggers, the Parks facilities manager I met on my last tour through, and Sgt. Paul Gracy from West Precinct. They regarded me as one might an annoying but potentially dangerous rodent. Gracy was the first to ask who I was. "Tim Harris from Real Change," I said. "And you're Sgt. Gracy." He admitted to the fact. I said something about all the equipment and personnel and he said something about how very expensive this clean-up would be. About $150,000 to $200,000 before it was over.

This is roughly the sum that has been devoted to outreach and twenty additional shelter beds. Sort of puts it in perspective.

I walked up the hill and saw Linda Brill from King 5. She'd just interviewed me in my office last week. She went to shake my bloody hand and thought better of it. I told her about puking on the side of the trail and made a joke about needing a breath mint. This turned out to be a conversation stopper. She was out of there. Four television stations had arrived, got their shots, and gone. This sort of penetrating journalism apparently doesn't take very long. I fell in with the photographers with the Seattle Times and the PI. They were complaining about how limited their access was, which was weird, since this was a media event. They brushed through to where the action was and I followed.

We pushed into a trail where a well-sealed cold weather dome tent sat at the end. It was a nicely maintained camp. One of the haz-mat guys sliced it open with a machete. "Haven't these people ever heard of a fucking zipper," I thought? We snapped away. A Parks guy began to bellow that all non-Parks personnel needed to leave the area immediately for our own safety. There were just the three of us and we were only a few feet from him. It seemed rude. We kept shooting as we backed out.

Down the trail, a number a haz-mat guys milled. PI-guy asked one a question and he said, "You know we're not supposed to talk to you." I asked if this was a Department of Corrections work crew and the floodgates blew open.

"No," he spat. We're all Parks employees, we all have other jobs, and we're being rotated into this away from our work. I'm a certified arborist. I should be nurturing plants and identifying species." Then he started talking about how his encounters with homeless people in parks had undermined his sympathy. They were crazy, addicted, drunk, and rude. Other than this, he seemed like a nice guy. He wandered away to sit on a log with another worker. He asked that he speak to him in his native Bulgarian.

P-I guy and I walked down the trail to an encampment that had largely pulled up stakes and gone. A blue tarp lay on the ground with other random items. Some tent poles. A cheap IKEA-looking bookshelf. I made a joke about not expecting to encounter Swedish architecture.

We made our way back up the trail where a half-dozen personnel focused on clearing the tent that had been macheted open. Garbage bags were piling up. On top was a color pencil drawing. I asked the Parks Supervisor if this was garbage and if I could have it. She said yes. The other photographers and I marveled at its artistry, and speculated whether this was a self-portrait. A man with a worn face, surrounded by nature.

No one knew what the resident looked like. He had been uninterested in offers of help from outreach workers. That morning he'd been told at 7 a.m. he had to go. His entire life now laid in garbage bags at our feet. There were three bags that had been deemed personal items. These went to storage. There were around twenty that had been defined as trash. These went into a garbage truck.

Someone had made the choice to carefully lay the artwork face-up on top of the piles of garbage bags. There was an African-American man who seemed unhappier about all of this than the rest, and no one looked much like they were enjoying themselves. He didn't want to be photographed. I suspected him.

"There's your next cover for Real Change," he said.

PI guy gave me a ride to my car. He was cool. My hands stung and my fingers were numbed by what felt like hundreds of microscopic nettles. On the way home, I stopped at a drugstore. Faced with a bewildering array of ointments, I asked a pharmacist for advice. He said nothing would help much. I basically just had to wait it out.

Charles Brown, the reporter from the Times, called to ask what I'd seen. We argued about whether full haz-mat suits with respirators and goggles were necessary. I said this was part of the media show. I found myself close to tears as I described what it was like to watch a human being's entire existence disappear into twenty garbage bags. This was, I said, a person, not some variety of exotic hazardous waste. He didn't use any of this. His story followed the standard format for these things, which is to uncritically accept the City's framing and to prominently reference bottles of urine and hypodermic needles.

He did, however, plug the June 8-9 Tent City we're organizing at City Hall, and for that I am grateful. I have photos. I'm well past 40 hours with no sleep. I'll post them tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Homeless Sweeps As Media Spectacle

I got a call from a reporter yesterday asking whether we were doing anything to protest today's sweeps of lower Queen Anne over by Kinnear Park. The Mayors office has alerted the media that they'll be doing sweeps in this area from 7:30-10 am. Oddly, we didn't get the press release. Despite repeated requests, they've neglected to add Real Change to their press list for these sorts of notifications. They apparently prefer their media supine.

Lower Queen Anne is where this odyssey began for us. Last fall, crews went through this area destroying tents and throwing out belongings without posting notice, but left mountains of trash behind. This was repeatedly referred to by the Mayor's staff as a "botched" clean-up, but there was no mistake. The trash was left on purpose. It made a great visual for the press tours conducted since then by Parks Department and the Mayor's Human Services staff.

"Look at the garbage. Over here, we have condoms. Homeless sex. Icky. And look at all the beer bottles. Being homeless is one big party at taxpayer expense. And, oh god, what is that? I think I'm going to be sick. They poop too!"

I did the tour myself a few months ago. CR Douglas at the Seattle Channel invited me along. There wasn't much they could do or say to stop me from coming. His was one of the more critical takes. The City prefers it when the media just prints their press releases, and if Nickels understands anything, it's the importance of rewarding loyalty. Douglas got Human Services head Patricia McInturff in his studio and valiantly tried to pin her down on the question of where people are supposed to go. More than 2600 people counted outside last January, with 20 new beds added to accommodate those cleared from the greenbelts. A second grader can see through the math.

But McInturff wasn't having it. "Seattle has a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness," she kept saying. It's a ten year plan, not a two year plan. Blah, blah, blah." City talking points are designed to evade inconvenient questions such as his. He got nowhere.

There's a conveniently located vitamin supplement store where they always invite press to meet for the tour. We know this through our frequent public disclosure requests, which have resulted in reams of paper in our office that detail the inner workings of the Nickels media machine. When I was waiting, I had a nice chat with the built guy who runs the jock fuel outlet. He said the campers didn't bother him at all. They keep an eye out and clean his parking lot. His experience was of responsible people maintaining good neighbor relations. He wouldn't talk to CR on camera.

Today's show sweeps are, in all probability, the opening propaganda shot that marks a return to a more aggressive schedule of clearances. "Look," they'll say. "Icky. What else are we to do? And look! Notices! Outreach! We're consistent. We're humane. We're kinder and gentler."

Then they'll steamroll forward, secure in the knowledge that once the story's been covered on their terms, they've got a good window during which the sweeps will once again be yesterday's news.

Meanwhile, Operation Nightwatch is turning people out into the night with just a bus ticket and a blanket in record numbers.

This is where we get to the Big Lie. The one about the sweeps being OK because we're ending homelessness. We're not. It's getting worse. There are more shelter turn-aways than ever. One Night Count numbers are on the ascent. More people are dying.

We won't be out protesting tomorrow's sweeps. We're too busy organizing to kick the Mayor's ass on June 8-9 when we hold Camp4Unity, our third and largest encampment yet at City Hall. There will be time to get to know each other and build the relationships that sustain and deepen a movement. There will be a memorial service for the dead. Strong statements will be made. Groundwork will be laid. We are gathering force.

Download the flier PDF here, and the handbills here. Spread the word. The real trash is on the 7th floor of City Hall, and he wears a big empty suit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jim Page, Joe Martin, and Artis at Folklife

When I heard that Jim Page, Joe Martin, and Artis the Spoonman — three of my favorite people in the world — would all be sharing a stage at Folklife, my Monday afternoon plans suddenly became clear. Take the girls and the video camera. The sun came out on the drive there. Twin A was in doggy heaven. Twin B waved her arms, nodded her head, and danced. We met our friend Revel, who graciously kept the girls distracted while I shot this video. Then we all ate strawberry shortcake on the grass. A lovely afternoon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Ballad of Dwight Fry

My narcissistic love affair with my new recording equipment continues. This is a 2 AM version of Alice Cooper's 1971 Ballad of Dwight Fry. I played this song for a friend a week or two ago, and her reaction was, "I didn't know Alice Cooper wrote good songs." Yes. Alice Cooper crafted smart, quirky pop gems, and to the twelve or thirteen year-old young Tim Harris, this song was deeply meaningful. I'm not exactly sure why. I identified with it. I still do. The song is off the uniformly brilliant Love It To Death album, best known for his breakthrough hit, "I'm Eighteen." Last year I posted an amazing version of Alice's Is It My Body, also from that record, which remains one of my favorite YouTube music videos of all time.

Dwight Frye (1899-1943) was an early horror movie actor, "The Man with the Thousand-Watt Stare," who specialized in playing the mentally imbalanced. The song is written around a character he may have played. Frye can be seen in his full glory below in his 1933 The Vampire Bat.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Five Year Old Sings Elliott Smith

I got a USB input for my mic and pre-amp today and had my five-year-old Twin B test it for me by singing along with Smith's Christian Brothers. The eponymous first album is one of those CDs I listen to constantly, and it's been that way for a long time. So she knows it. She even knows what parts she's not supposed to say. "I'm not going to sing that 'fucking' part, OK?"
No bad dream fucker's gonna boss me around
Christian brothers gonna take him down
But it can't help me get over
Don't be cross
It's sick what I want
I've seen the boss blink on and off
Fake concerns is what's the matter, man
And you think I ought to shake your motherfucking hand
Well I know how much you care
Don't be cross
It's sick what I want
I've seen the boss blink on and off
Come here by me, I want you here
Nightmares become me, it's so fucking clear
Nightmares become me, it's so fucking clear
You should see her do Needle in the Hay. Below is Smith doing Waltz #2 on Swedish TV. It's appallingly gorgeous.

The 10 Year Plan To End Homelessness Works!

Latest Report from Rick Reynolds at Nightwatch

I came back from the bars last night -- it was 11:45, there were still four women in our shelter dispatch center; two looked like candidates for a nursing home. They could barely walk. Sick enough to require attention, but not sick enough for our messed up health care system.

These two struggled to simply get out the door and to the bus stop. The survival plan for the night was to ride the Metro 174 bus all night. Apparently you can get a transfer that is good all night.

219 served. 18 women turned away into the night with just a blanket. 24 men with no place to go. This is nuts. God help us.

An Official Response from Seattle's Mayor Greg Nickels

Buses are are not an appropriate place for people to spend the night. Seattle is committed to ending homelessness, and has formed a partnership of city and county, human services providers, private charity, and business leaders to take an outcomes-based approach to ending the problem instead of just managing it with shelter and emergency services. Housing with services, not shelter, is the answer to ending homelessness.

It's a ten year plan, not a two year plan. We know we have a ways to go. The 1811 Eastlake project has already saved $2.5 million in emergency services costs by providing housing with services to chronically homeless street alcoholics. Plymouth Housing, $3.5 million commitment, blah, blah, blah. This proves the Ten Year Plan is on track and working. The City of Seattle already spends more than $40 million annually on homelessness and housing. Seattle is a regional and national leader on this issue.

If you would like to know more about how Seattle is ending homelessness, please call Bill Block at the Committee to End Homelessness, and he'll utter more or less the same words while we manipulate our massive, um, amounts of data, and continue to throw away people's survival gear to drive the bums out of town. Or, you could just fuck off directly. Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

Two more takes on Hey Joe. I posted an amazing "I'm not your trained monkey" version that Hendrix did for the BBC awhile ago, but here's more. First, a bunch of stupid looking white guys from 1967 nearly destroy a perfectly good song. David Crosby should have realized it wasn't his day when that thing crawled on top of his head to shit on his lip. Then, Marc Ribot sits in with uber-geeks Medeski, Martin & Wood and gets so far inside the same song that, somewhere in there, time ceases to exist.

Wild, Wild, Wild Thing

I found this while obsessing over all the versions of Hey Joe on YouTube. It's Hendrix at Monterey Pops covering Wild Thing while fucking his guitar. Then he lights it on fire, smashes it to bits, and throws it into the audience. Not recommended from a risk management point of view. I can never quite get over the extent to which Hendrix and his instrument merged into one. It's almost supernatural.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Help. I've Had Too Much To Think.

My class meets for more or less the last time in the morning. They'll show up next week to talk about their papers, do an eval, and leave early. I'm hoping some of them come to our Camp4Unity June 8-9. No more sweeps. No more jails. No more deaths. No more lies. It's fucking poetry isn't it? Poetry by consensus. Amazing really. Just part of why I love RCOP.

But more about that later. I'm having them write 3-4 pages about what they learned. I thought that maybe if I'm having them do it, I should too.

The best thing about this class, oddly, isn't the $2,000. It's the opportunity to rethink and to deepen how I see my work. It's strange to see it put that way. My work. More than twenty years of being with homeless people and obsessed with homelessness. Every once in a while, some idiot comments here that blogging is easy and that I really haven't ever done anything to end homelessness. Like run a transitional housing program or something like that I suppose. Give me a break.

Anyway. Without stopping to think once in a while, things just sort of go on, and you keep doing what you've been doing as if nothing around you has changed. If you do some of your thinking in public, it's even better. Then you get the experience of saying things most people aren't and wondering whether you've secretly become insane, and everybody but you knows.

Last year, I taught the Ten Year Plan paradigm against the more structural approach offered by people like Peter Marcuse and Todd Depastino. I pretty much blew my own mind. My outrage grew like the Grinch's heart. It got bigger and bigger until it busted out of the old frame. The same thing happened this year. I added Timothy Gibson, and had the sweeps to illustrate first hand what happens when the winners in the global economy come up against the problem of surplus people.

The sweeps would have put me over the top whether I was teaching the class or not. My friend Anitra once made me laugh by calling me the Malcolm X of homelessness. Now I'm starting to think she might be right.

And that sort of scares me.

Each time, there's new stuff that comes out of the same texts. The highlight for me again was Marcuse's 1988 Neutralizing Homelessness. Last year, I was blown away with the correspondence between his list of Four Tactics to Pretend to Address Homelessness and the Ten Year Plan paradigm. This year, it was his argument that modern homelessness is mostly about permanently surplus people.

Marcuse says homeless people and poverty class people of color in general are the "surplus of the surplus," and have been written off as waste that needn't be maintained. When there is some anticipation that an economically superfluous population will one day again be needed, he says, then housing and benefits, however paltry, will be provided. If not, well, it's pretty much to the wolves with you.

This is about more than a shift in the structure of the economy, he says. It's about a shift in power relations. The overall terms of labor are degraded when there's a huge permanent surplus pool down there on the bottom. Homelessness isn't about the system failing. It's about the system working perfectly.

While the waste needn't be maintained, it must nonetheless be contained. This year I also added readings from Bruce Western, the Kennedy School guy whose pioneering research on incarceration has documented the link between the war on drugs and the racialization of poverty. My friend Stephanie came to guest lecture and gave me shit for focusing on black males and having a white male's text when women of color are the fastest growing prison population and my good friend Silja's written a whole fucking book on this. This led to us ad-libbing some dialogue in character, where I was the dealer who rolled on my homey for a lighter sentence, and she was my unwitting but loyal girlfriend who got the book thrown at her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I look around the room at times like this to see what the students are thinking, and I see anger, disgust, shock, and outrage. It's what I'm feeling too. It's what we should all be feeling. The only reason we don't is that it's hidden in plain sight. Those of us with the privilege to be anesthetized by comfort can look the other way. We usually do. Despite this, I'm not giving up on the middle-class. We need each other, whether they realize it or not.

When you look at the criminalization of the poor in light of the globalization that Marcuse, Depastino, and Gibson all similarly discuss, you start writing songs like Burn It Down. Especially when Seattle has gone all "consistent and humane" on the homeless and is looking to build a new fucking jail by 2012 just for misdemeanants that almost nobody is talking about. The Ten Year Plan crowd has their Color of Homelessness report, but somehow they haven't made the connection. Odd, huh? Not really.

Depastino talks about how the deserving/undeserving poor frame leads to homeless policy where women and kids get into transitional shelter while single men, especially those of color, mostly get repression. This hit straight home for me this time.

It's getting late, and class is in the morning. Fortunately I don't have to do much. Wes and Anitra are coming.

Wes reminded me at City Hall a few weeks ago that he's been doing his column for twelve years and nine months, and Anitra came along to the editorial committee just three months after. We make each other laugh. They are old friends and it's going to be fun. Even better, I can rely on them to blow my students' minds. Smart pissed off people who can make you laugh are too rare. Everybody really ought to know several.

I find myself struggling with how to make the root globalization connections in the everyday work, and thinking through what this means. So long as homelessness is viewed as an isolated issue apart, we get neo-liberal Ten Year Plan palliatives that do more to obscure than fundamentally solve. For more than a year, I've struggled with the problem of connecting homelessness to broader economic vulnerability. Over the past few months the way has become more clear, but I'm not there yet.

On my mantle sits The Post-Fordism Reader, A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism, and Punishment & Inequality in America. I'm working on it. Somewhere in there is a way to make the connections that's clean, simple, and easy to grasp without getting lost in a bunch of psuedo-marxist rhetorical complication.

When so few people involved in homelessness talk about this stuff, it's easy to start feeling like I've crawled way out on some sort of crazy-ass limb where people like me go to be dismissed as "radical" and then die. For a guy who runs an organization as high profile and financially tenuous as Real Change, that can feel like a scary place to be.

My last fund raising pitch for the paper made the globalization connection, and I had to wonder if I was shooting myself and Real Change in the foot. "Is this too left," I asked our newsroom, "because I can't tell anymore."

I can't. I really can't. To me, it's just becoming the obvious truth that needs to be said.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A True Revolution of Values

I went all Tracy Chapman on the last 11 minutes of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's Riverside Speech last night. It's an amazing speech that remains utterly relevant and inspiring. Here's an article from the Village Voice archives that does a remarkable job of drawing the line from 1967 to now. Anyone who thinks the "giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism" are dead isn't paying any attention at all. If you're looking for a meaningful way to spend the next 11 minutes, have a listen while you read the Voice piece in a different window. Serious Apesma's Lament fans will recall this project began about a month ago, with Mesmerized by Uncertainty, which drew from the beginning of the speech.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Talkin' Bout Crisis Here

It’s become hackneyed to observe that the Chinese character for “crisis” is made up of two words: danger and opportunity. This actually isn’t correct. While danger works well for the first part, the second more aptly translates as “crucial point.”

This makes “crisis” the perfect description of Real Change as we near the mid-point of our summer fund drive.

There are “dangers.” A recession looms. We are entering a heated political season that will offer stiff competition for scarce grassroots dollars. There are staff transitions afoot that will be challenging. Meanwhile, we are stretched thin, and Real Change’s budget balances at a precarious tipping point.

At the risk of once again sounding like a page out of Management for Dummies, “failure” in our fund drive “is not an option.”

And, we are at a “crucial point.” Our deepening experiment in relationship-based organizing has resulted in the most powerful grassroots homeless organizing model this City has seen in more than a decade, just when we need it most.

Seattle is the definition of a global city. As the logic of the new economy widens the gap between rich and poor, the middle struggles harder to stay in place. We see the two poles of this in both the downtown condo boom and the drive to criminalize the poor. The human and civil rights crisis this represents — and the broader economic implications for us all — is profound. There is much, much work to be done.

Our mission, as I explained at a vendor meeting the other day, has three program elements. Real Change provides opportunity and a voice to low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty. Let’s examine each of these in terms of the Chinese sense of crisis.

My appearance at a vendor meeting the other day was to lead a discussion on our capacity, and what we can and can’t do. We can’t be a drop-in center. Decreases in area homeless day center availability and other services have led to us trying to fill the gap. We can’t. It’s eating our front office staff alive. We’ve shifted our policy to have two hours every mid-afternoon when computers are available for use and staff is focused on being present to the vendors and meeting their needs for help and companionship. Other than this, we’re available for folks to get papers and to resolve turf issues.

At a time when we’ve gone from an average of 275 vendors a month to about 330, this is a workable survival strategy. The paper, we consistently hear, is better than ever. This month, three of our news staff will receive awards from the Society for Professional Journalists. Our circulation is at record highs and rising. We are the newspaper Seattle needs now: linking issues, supporting movement building, providing opportunity for our vendors to succeed with a paper the public respects. We’re getting it right and moving in the direction that these times demand.

A Voice
The global economy excels at delivering attractively priced consumer goods and responding to demands of investors as it undermines democracy and writes off those who are surplus. Within this arrangement, most of us lose, but those who lose the most are at the margins of the economy. They are dehumanized, criminalized, and redundant. This is a human and civil rights crisis, and Seattle’s drive to wipe out survival encampments without providing adequate alternatives is properly viewed through this lens.

At a time when those at the margins are almost always defined by others, we are providing the means for poor people to be heard. A cultural project is producing a DVD of vendor voices. Leaders who know poverty first hand are being developed through our organizing project, and are often found speaking out at events and testifying before officials. We are ensuring that the very most vulnerable — those at the most risk who have been written off almost entirely by the new economy — have opportunities to speak for themselves. Real Change is fundamentally about humanization. Building a voice for the voiceless is an essential task.

Taking Action
These are precarious times. Recession or depression could easily take disturbing trends toward the criminalization of poverty in a more ugly direction. The deepening racialization and feminization of poverty and the erosion of the middle-class holds serious dangers for all of us. This is a time to be bold. To question old ways of organizing that haven’t worked. To reach out across issue and class, build for power, and be strong.

The Real Change Organizing Project is building a relational, cross-class organizing model that respectfully combines the assets of the middle-class and the authenticity, passion, and direct experience of those most affected by homelessness and poverty. Our last protest brought 150 people out to camp overnight at City Hall. This was more than “an action.” It was a bonding experience. On June 8-9th, we’re doing it again. Our work is at the heart of the movement building that is so necessary. We are, in Gandhi’s words, being the change we want to see. A re-invention of “homeless advocacy” to work across class and directly take on poverty and inequality is, we think, the crucial work of the moment.

Over the years, I’ve found that effective fundraising is grounded in two principles. The first is that the work needs to be effective, accountable, and grounded in an authentic passion for justice. Ours consistently meets this test. Our donors have recognized this through their increased support year after year. The second is that you need to ask.

We’re asking. There are dangers. We are at a crucial point. We need your support. Please visit our website to find a safe, online giving option, and make a meaningful gift today. All gifts are fully tax-deductible. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Assume Griplessness"

Last night I was complaining to a friend about how every time I seem to turn a corner in coping with my divorce, there's another corner there in front of me. It's been more than six months. I'm sleeping fine. I'm about 40 pounds lighter, but could well afford to lose the weight. The white hairs around my temples have suddenly multiplied. but it gives me a more distinguished aura. Things with my kids are in a very good place. The time I spend with them is quality, and I'm seeing lots of them. I love our new place and I love the person I'm becoming.

And yet. I regularly run up against the fact that I'm not doing as well as I think. Work is overwhelming. Focus is hard. Emotions keep unfolding. I told my friend last night that I needed to get a grip. As someone who's been there and knows plenty of others who've traveled the same road, he said something profound. Over the years, I've come to regard genius as having a talent for the obvious which remains hidden. His advice meets the definition.

I cannot simply will myself into a more clear and productive space. I need to invite others to help, and focus where I can be at my best. "You keep saying you need to get a grip," he said, "but there's no reason to think that's suddenly going to happen. You're slogging through shit, and you will be for awhile. Assume griplessness."

Assume griplessness. For now, it's my new motto.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tear Down Their Cottages. Burn Their Corn.

Why does this song resonate so much with me right now? Hmmm ...

I figured today out how to put my own spin on the Billy Bragg classic. I tried to get it perfect for far too long today before settling for this. You can see where I'm reading the lyrics I haven't learned yet, and my voice is hoarse in a less than pleasing sort of way, but I'm getting somewhere with it. Give me another week and I'll have it nailed.

Meanwhile, an update on the last post. I couldn't stop thinking about how absurd it was for my dentist to advise Advil for a cracked and infected molar. I googled around and discovered that the war on drugs has become a war on doctors. This from the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Part of the problem is that doctors don't want to deal with the paperwork involved.

They must file records to state and federal regulators every time they prescribe a Schedule II or III drug. The state forms, submitted monthly, include the patient's name, address and birth date, the physician's medical license number and controlled substance registration number, and the amount of drugs the doctor dispenses every day.

Doctors who prescribe restricted drugs talk about frightening encounters with law enforcement agents, Hertzka said.

"Investigators ask for records (while) in some cases, these doctors have waiting rooms filled with patients," he said. "The whole thing is worrisome, whether it's the Medical Board or the DEA or federal law enforcement." ...

"There is physicians' fear (of the DEA) similar to the public's fear of the IRS," Patchin said. "They say it is just an investigation, but it is frightening just to receive a letter from any regulatory body.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Pain Saga Continues ...

I've just been reduced to begging. Yesterday I was down to three Extra Strength Vicodins and called the dentist's cell to ask for a refill. He didn't return my call. This morning when I got up I took the second to last one and left a more pointed message. He called an hour later. He said he didn't call because he was out of town and his cell wasn't charged. He was probably out sailing or something. Dentists tend to be people who hate their work and compensate with expensive hobbies.

"Have you ever tried Ibuprofen and Advil," he asked? "I'm reluctant to prescribe more because, you know, it's a controlled substance."

Well, no shit? I sort of lost it.

"You know, I'm 47, and I've dealt with pain before. I know you can take Ibuprofen and Tylenol on top of each other because they work differently, and that's what I was doing before I ever came to see you. It doesn't touch it. I've been trying to make them last by waiting until the pain starts to spread through my jaw and the side of my face. I'm not some drug-seeking addict trying to score. This is serious pain, and I need a refill." My voice was cracking. I was pissed.

He refilled for six more. Hall-lay-fucking-looya! I thought I was going to have to get on the phone to survey my friends for leftovers.

Meanwhile, I can feel the crack on the side of my molar with my finger, and I'm not at all sure the antibiotics are going to do the trick. I probably just need to have the damn thing out, which sucks because the wisdom teeth have been gone for years. It's a big fucking tooth, and I kind of need the thing.

I've noticed that my Adderall makes me grind my teeth sometimes. It's a common side effect. It seems my molar is the first casualty. Like I need this.

The World Turned Upside Down

Lots of people have recorded The World Turned Upside Down, written by Leon Rosselson in 1975, but Billy Bragg is still the King. I'm still capable of getting a bit teary over this. Power proves its ruthlessness time and again, but in better times we tend to forget. It's an old story.

The original lyrics from which the modern version was derived appear below. These are by Gerard Winstanley and first appeared in print in 1719.
You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,
You noble Diggers all, stand up now,
The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name
Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame
Stand up now, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,
Your houses they pull down, stand up now.
Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town,
But the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

With spades and hoes and plowes, stand up now, stand up now,
With spades and hoes and plowes stand up now,
Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold
To kill you if they could, and rights from you to hold.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now, stand up now
Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now.
Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin
To make a gaole a gin, to serve poor men therein.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The gentrye are all round, stand up now, stand up now,
The gentrye are all round, stand up now.
The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,
Theire wisdom's so profound, to cheat us of our ground.
Stand up now, stand up now.

The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now, stand up now,
The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,
To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,
The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes.
Stand up now, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now,
The clergy they come in, stand up now.
The clergy they come in, and say it is a sin
That we should now begin, our freedom for to win.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The tithe they yet will have, stand up now,stand up now,
The tithes they yet will have, stand up now.
The tithes they yet will have, and lawyers their fees crave,
And this they say is brave, to make the poor their slave.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

'Gainst lawyers and gainst Priests, stand up now,stand up now,
'Gainst lawyers and gainst Priests stand up now.
For tyrants they are both even flatt against their oath,
To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,
The club is all their law, stand up now.
The club is all their law to keep men in awe,
Buth they no vision saw to maintain such a law.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now, stand up now,
The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now;
The Cavaleers are foes, themselves they do disclose
By verses not in prose to please the singing boyes.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now,
To conquer them by love, come in now;
To conquer them by love, as it does you behove,
For he is King above, noe power is like to love,
Glory heere, Diggers all.

I realized yesterday that this song, having three chords, is within my limited guitar playing abilities. I worked it out and later found this lovely cover by some anonymous guy who whose playing can be followed quite clearly. I was excited to see that we'd heard it the same way, bouncing the E and throwing in the grace B at the end. Rock on!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Zen Koan Cheat Sheet

My class at UW is coming to a close all too soon. Next week is the Wes and Anitra show. If these kids think I'm a freak they ain't seen nothin' yet. Today my friend Sarah Dooling came to discuss the research she did for the PhD she's finishing up. In interviews of 80 homeless people, she found that the normative ideas of home and the limited notions of housing and shelter that these offer do not meet the needs of many of the single homeless people that spoke with her. "Home" to many of these people has little to do with four walls and a roof.

While Sarah spoke highly of the 1811 Eastlake project as a program that suspends the moral calculus of deserving and undeserving poor to meet people where they are in a way that is more cost-effective than the alternative, this is one program serving 75 people. We need many more 1811 Eastlakes. It's a beginning. Not an end. Meanwhile, a radical disconnect exists between the cost of housing and the earning power of the poor and working class.

Much of our time has been spent in exploring the contradictions of the Ten Year Plan paradigm for ending homelessness. Sarah went into this some today as well. Why do the Governing Board, the Interagency Council, and the Consumer Advisory Group all meet separately, with the Director acting as the node of communication between these bodies? Why is the inclusion of homeless people in the process so tokenized and embedded in a relationship of powerlessness? What's up with the fetishized goal of 9,500 units of housing, which pretends that the various market relationships that create homelessness will stand frozen in place for a full decade? Why should we believe that Governing Board member and multi-millionaire businessman Blake Nordstrom — who doesn't want a bunch of homeless people in Victor Steinbrueck Park crapping up the view from his luxury penthouse — is motivated by great humanitarian ideals, or that his much acclaimed business acumen contains the solution to homelessness?

And so forth. The gaps in sense and logic are legion.

Our reading for today was the final chapter of Todd Depastino's extraordinary Citizen Hobo, which traces the evolution of homelessness in America from the post-Civil War period forward. While post-World War II education benefits for white returning GIs, readily available FHA loans for white people, and the Fordist pact between government, business, and labor led to steady reductions in inequality and a rising standard of living — primarily for white people — and the virtual elimination of homelessness, the onslaught of the globalized economy drew what was underneath all along out into the open and blew it apart.

Women, kids, and people of color — those who have been most economically vulnerable all along — are the big losers in the new social order. The economic gains of feminism split across class lines, as did the economic progress that followed the civil rights movement. The racialization and the feminization of poverty drove wedges between the poor and their middle class allies just as homelessness was being reinvented in the context of a globalized economy.

While it is commonly understood that woman and children are the largest and fastest growing sector of the homeless, and that people of color — and Blacks in particular — experience homelessness far disproportionately to their percentage of general population, the Ten Year Plan paradigm narrowly draws our attention to the visible poor: the dysfunctional by definition ten to fifteen percent of the homeless who have been defined as "chronic."

While the chronic homelessness obsession is relatively new, the deserving versus undeserving poor debate never left us. For years, advocates focused their attention on homeless families. While this may have been politically expedient, it may have laid the seeds for where we now find ourselves. Depastino writes,
With their ability to arouse pity and inspire protectionist intervention, homeless women, especially those with dependent children [became] the most recognizable emblems of homeless victimization. By contrast, homeless Black and Hispanic men, who tended to remain on the streets far longer than their female counterparts, raised the specter of an undomesticated and "savage" masculinity in need of stern control. This dual face of homelessness — "worthy" mothers on the one hand and "unworthy" men of color on the other — governed the most common responses to the crisis: calls for charity and government shelters and demands for police action against panhandlers and squatters.
Over the eighties and into the nineties, he says, liberals and conservatives fought over the definition of homelessness, and for a time, the liberals won. The "broad constructionist" approach of focusing on women and children as economic victims largely beat out the conservative "strict constructionist" strategy of defining homeless people as "men who had exchanged the responsibilities of bread winning for the "savage" dangers and freedoms of the streets."

I would argue that this "victory" was both temporary and illusory.

At the beginning of my class, I offered the Ten Year Plan paradigm contradiction for consideration as a zen koan. Why would the Bush administration — arguably the most hostile administration to the interests of poor people since Hoover — take upon themselves the "challenge" of ending homelessness? Even as they continue to slash the federal housing budget and other supports to poor people. In what universe does this proposition make sense? I proposed to my students that this, an apparently, absurd, unsolvable conundrum, when meditated upon diligently, may offer the beginnings of enlightenment.

Today after class, Sarah and I went to Than Brothers, the site of my horrible accident, for an incident free bowl of pho. I shared the results of my own enlightenment over lunch.

"It's about redefinition," I said. "It's a thin pretense of a solution that leverages the relatively paltry levels of federal funding for homeless services to narrow the advocacy focus to the most stigmatized sector of homeless people. It distracts us from making the connections to globalization by focusing relentlessly on the fucked up and easy to blame poor. Also, cities are being re-invented in the post-Fordist era as islands of affluence, where those who can afford urban living are attracted by the upscale amenities. Visible poverty runs counter to the interests of the huge investment capital that is at stake in this reinvention. There's an alignment of interests there. This is about reducing homelessness in the public imagination to the undeserving poor and uncoupling the issue from poverty and globalization."

Sarah stopped eating her pho. "That's dead on," she said. Damn right it is.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Song for Rachael Leaving

It hurts to see her go, but six and a half years is a pretty good run. Rachael Myers is leaving the lead organizer position at Real Change to take the ED job at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. I remember her interview in late-2001 for the organizer position. She was the stand-out in a weird field. There was bizarrely over-qualified guy who dropped out because the pay was too low. Someone else said he wanted the job so he could pursue his true love, academic research. Another thought an organizer was someone who arranged closets and such, and was prepared to bring these skills to Real Change. And then there was Rachael. Scary smart and even-keeled as they come. Some of the artists at StreetLife Gallery were putting up signs down the street calling me a poverty pimp. She wanted to know what that was about. She also asked pointed questions about what we were doing on issues of race.

Rachael came on toward the tail end of the early days, before the remodel, when the front office and its computers was held together with chewing gum and bailing wire. The absence of a decent air system was not good news for the olfactorily gifted. Her thought, she later fessed up, was that this was a recession job. Eager to keep her, I got her a decent office chair. This, apparently, was enough. Real Change grew on her like mushrooms under a May cowpie.

When the twins were born, I was laid off in a manner that eerily coincided with my need for extended paternity leave. She'd been there less than two years, but was the obvious choice for Acting ED. I'd trust her with pretty much anything. She is — as I reluctantly fessed up for the reference call — a total rock star.

I'll miss her. Over the years, we've developed the ability to communicate telepathically and in half sentences. It's a little like one of the more useful bits of my brain found a better job and gave three weeks notice. So, I wrote her a song. It's an instrumental. It's sort of slow and sad, but sort of beautiful and hopeful at the same time. The first version came out the day she told me, but I made it slower, with a proper beginning, middle, and end. Today's massive doses of Vicodin seemed to help.

Rachael leading the WLIHA is good news for poor people. She's got the fire. I'm happy for her. Ben left the organization in great shape, and Rachael's stepping into the job she deserves.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Woe To the Unrighteous

From Chapter 22. Another Jeremiah gem courtesy my friend Donna.
13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his countrymen work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.

14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.'
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.

15 "Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.

16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?"
declares the LORD.

17 "But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Things Fall Apart

"Daddy's peeing out of his mouth," laughed Twin B. "No he's not," defended Twin A. "Yes he is! It's going into the toilet, so he's peeing." "No he's not!" "Yes he is!"

The commentary of my five-year-olds raged back and forth as I sat on the side of the tub projectile vomiting for about the sixth time today. Nothing stays down. Even Pedia-lite.

This has been one of the suckier days of my life. I taught Twin B to say, "sucks to be daddy" just to mark the occasion.

A few days ago the whole right side of my face started experiencing intense pain, radiating from my bottom molar up through my temple and down my chin and neck. I tried Ibuprofen and topical anaesthesia, knowing it was ridiculous. Yesterday a dentist diagnosed a cracked molar that had become infected and prescribed antibiotics and Vicodin. He said I should take the pain meds at night to sleep and stick with Ibuprofen during the day.

Yeah. Right. When, exactly, did the entire medical profession decide that everyone experiencing pain is a drug-seeking whiner? If Ibuprofen was doing it for me, I wouldn't be in his office.

As it turned out, even two Vicodins wasn't touching it. The pain felt like the tooth was highly pressurized from the inside, and might explode at any moment, spraying my mouth with shards of enamel and huge globs of pus. This feeling crept sharply toward my temple and down my neck as well, leaving me with the mother of all migraines. Were I in an emergency room, I'd be telling them this is a nine or ten.

I called and they upgraded the Vicodin to Extra Strength. I just had to go get it.

I have the girls this week while mom's on vacation. Twin B woke up puking this morning, and so did I. I couldn't just have a simple dental emergency. No. I had to come down with flu and deal with a sick kid as well.

So Twins A&B stayed home and quietly played while I sat groaning on the couch, devising various strategies to keep pain meds and antibiotics down when even a few sips of orange juice would spectacularly arise. Twin B didn't eat much. but by noon she basically seemed fine. Twin A was Twin A.

It was getting toward evening. The idea of getting the girls dressed and into the car to go get the heavier pain meds seemed overwhelming. I decided to reach out. I stared at the phone numbers on my cell, formulating my criteria: someone who might be able to drop everything for an hour or two, has a car, and is a true friend. I made three calls. Two were returned within the hour. Mary was visiting her elderly mom at a nursing home the next day and didn't want to risk the contagion. She said she'd do her Buddhist healing vibe thing for me. Perhaps it helped.

Bruce packed his girls into his car, picked up my meds and Gatorade, and arrived wearing a germ filter, which kind of freaked out my neighbor. I thought of putting up a big handmade Quarantine sign just for fun.

The pharmacist gave him advice for overcoming the medication vomiting problem that had thus far vexed me. Take half a Vicoden at a time, with little tiny sips of pedia-lite. Keep the stomach empty. Everytime I have a glass of orange juice, I'm throwing a party for my little viral friends.

This week, Dr. Wes wrote a column about how the nuclear family is an invention of capitalism that doesn't offer the support one needs. Families crumble under the pressure. You simply can't be everything to each other.
The extended family, not the nuclear family, is the norm among those cultures that have low rates of homelessness. If you want to blame homelessness on a breakdown of families, you have to lament the replacement of the extended family by the nuclear family, rather than the breakdown of the nuclear family. By the time the nuclear family has replaced the extended family, social disintegration is inevitable, because the nuclear family sucks. ...

Recent U.S. Census data on internal migration shows that one out of every five people living in the United States over the age of one year lived in a different state one year before. Another one out of five lived in the same state, but a different county. With that kind of mobility, there’s no hope of reinventing extended families anytime soon.

We think nuclear families are the norm because corporations promote them. They don’t want us nostalgic for extended families. They like us mobile and fluid. So corporations have used images of nuclear families in the majority of their advertising since Sears Catalogs. The propaganda has worked.

As for nuclear families sucking? Well, it took corporations, a massive civil war, a couple of massive depressions, a Dust Bowl, and two world wars to shatter the extended family. Whereas nuclear families collapse every day from their own inadequacy.

You think the nuclear family sucks? Try the post-divorce nuclear family. These, increasingly, seem to descend from a tree of similar post-divorce nuclear families. My parents never divorced, but they should have. Theirs is a case study in marriage as extended misery. My ex-wife's parents divorced during her early-adolescence. The atoms keep splitting.

It's a sobering moment when you understand that you are now alone, but with kids. This really hit me hard the first time I was asked who my emergency contact was. My parents and I are quite estranged. My sister lives in Sioux Falls, and we talk briefly maybe six to ten times a year. So, who? I haven't even told the person I put down. How lame is that? What if I told him right now? It's the perfect time. He's already picking up my pain meds for me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Pigs Fly, They Go To La Quinta

The BBC reports that Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame has recovered the tattered shreds of his Obama-voting bus-sized pig balloon that escaped last week during a show at the Coachella music Festival.
The animal's flanks carried the slogans "fear builds walls" and "don't be led to the slaughter", with a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding two meat cleavers.

Former Pink Floyd star Waters said "that's my pig" as it drifted away during Sunday's gig.

In a stunning demonstration of upward mobility, the pig flew six miles from Indio, CA, a largely Latino community with a per capita income of $13, 525 to the upscale and mostly white community of La Quinta, home to a sizable minority of millionaires and numerous golf courses, with a per capita income of $27,284. Two neighbors are splitting the $10,000 reward. Some people get all the breaks.

If you didn't care what happened to me,
And I didn't care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggars to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Logic of Annihilation

I've been reading Susan George's Lugano Report. Someone left it in the staff bathroom and I made it mine. Books come to us. Sometimes at just the right time to push us over the edge.

The premise is that a bunch of out-of-sight-rich people are anonymously convened by World Bank, IMF, and WTO types to soberly analyze how to save liberal capitalism from the contradictions of globalization and to deliver whatever conclusions they may, untainted by sentimentality or other political considerations. They publish their findings as a report, named for the exclusive Swiss town in which they convened.

They note in passing that while globalization produces widening inequality, the gains of one pole do not come at the expense of the other. Wealth is being created. That some "losers" don't share in the bounty is another, unrelated, matter.

Philip Mangano said something very much like this to me once. We were having dinner, back when he was new and I hadn't entirely come out as the enemy. As far as I know it was his first Seattle visit. We reconnected as Boston acquaintances.
As Phil and I, two over-privileged white guys whose most pressing problem at the moment was the interruptions of the over-solicitous waitstaff, sat there sorting out the future of the homeless, we kept coming back to the same issue, mainly because Phil kept dodging the question: what about inequality?

The New York Times Magazine had just documented for the thousandth time since the Reagan administration that the gap between the rich and poor is wider than ever. How could the Bush administration fix homelessness without discussing economic justice?

Phil, staring at his pasta, became uncharacteristically silent. When he finally spoke, it was to say that people getting rich had little to do with others becoming poor. While a rising tide, he admits, does not lift all boats, it does not follow that big ships sink little ones (my metaphor, not his).
I imagine this isn't an uncommon opinion in some circles.

After dismissing the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights as out of date and defining any downward transfer of wealth or resources as unrealistic, the commission comes to the heart of the matter.

There are simply too many people who have no value, and their sustenance drags down everyone else. In the global economy, individual human rights have become an unsustainable anachronism. The logic of the past no longer holds.
"We have ... lost touch with the notions of collective offence and the greatest good of the whole. This good may sometimes necessitate coercion and sacrifices which our era no longer recognizes as legally or morally justifiable. Our societies are hard put to apply the concept of collective responsibility, much less that of collective guilt for the state of the Commonweal.

The proof is that we still consider it 'ethically correct' that illiterate, unemployable, superfluous, and degenerate people continue to proliferate and to propagate as much as they like; to the point that judgments such as this one cannot even be expressed in public without immediate censure, pious denunciation, and, in certain contexts, legal action. Plato, Aristotle, and Tertullian wouold have been dismayed by this state of affairs, just as they would have been astonished by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The world population, they recommend, should be reduced by about 2 billion people in twenty years, or by about a hundred million people a year over two decades.

For this to happen, however, the commonsense of things needs to change. People would not, without careful groundwork being laid, come to accept the idea.

What makes this book both so brilliant and disturbing is that the data going into the analysis is real. There are ruling class biases, but she's not making anything up. Her grasp of the literature and culture of global capitalism is complete and her feel for the bureaucratic mindset is astonishing. The effect is chilling, and all too real for comfort.
It is plain that the market, on its own, cannot create mass welfare under present demographic conditions and that these must consequently be corrected. For genuine population control to become acceptable, a new culture of thought and opinion must be instituted; one which does not assume doctrinaire and unlimited personal freedom as its starting point or 'human rights' as its fulcrum.
She goes on to describe the various superstructural changes that might be employed to bring about this shift, changes that use available educational, policy, and media apparatus to chip away at the old order and usher in the new.

This is a fantasy. While George extends current logic to its conclusion, we're not there yet. But it's where we're going.

The other day I watched a guy call for the "euthanization" of drug dealers at a City Council meeting. He said that's what "we" would do.
"On the fourth conviction, we're going to euthanize him. I know this sounds drastic, but it is the leverage tool to get compliance to stop the bleeding of taxpayers dollars for prisons and police officers. It addresses the problem to the point."
Who the hell is we? I don't think it's too early to start asking this question. This, I've been thinking, is how it begins. People like him start pushing the limits. Maybe they start running for office. Toss in a terrorist attack and a depression, and all bets are off. Things would get very ugly very fast.

These are not normal times.

This is part of why I find the new enthusiasm for homeless sweeps, with its focus on the criminality and public health risk of outdoor survival, so incredibly disturbing. As community after community seeks to actively criminalize squatting on public land, the logic of global capitalism and surplus people is several orders removed from the bureaucratic imposition of order. And yet, it is there.

People are being removed and criminalized without regard to their rights or need for survival, and this is already acceptable to many. At bottom, their removal is a by-product of heightened 'quality of life' expectations that co-occur with rising property values. Their misery is inconvenient.

The equation runs like this: camping on public land is illegal, therefore, all campers are in violation of the law and engaged in criminal activity. Arrest them, or at least make them leave. For this to work, under present notions of morality, there must be an alternative. One needn't bother making the alternative credible. No one of any consequence is watching all that closely.

The warm pretense of services softens the glare of the hard icy terrain. We're on the slope, and we're sliding.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Wedding Day

One of the good things about starting smoking again is that I find myself hanging out with the vendors more than I used to. When you're out on the sidewalk every hour or two, it just happens.

John was out with me once and we were talking about how he is a leader. He'd spoken movingly at the public hearing on campsite protocols on how homeless people bleed the same blood as the City department heads assembled on the panel. He had them. He had us all. It was a powerful moment.

He turned to offer a profile. "Who do you see?"

John is 6'4 and rail thin. His face is long, emaciated, and lined in a handsome way. His eyes are huge and darkened underneath. His speech is a map of Brooklyn. I didn't know what to say.

"Think if I had a beard," he motioned. "Abraham Lincoln."

I saw it. A tall sad Lincoln, with the same dark intelligent eyes. It was him.

He offered to grow and keep a beard if it would help RCOP in some way.

John's been sleeping out. He was in a transitional housing program, but left it for a woman. No couples. She needed him more than he needed housing. Then they found a place, far north of Seattle. By bus, they say, it isn't bad. It beats trying to stay a step ahead of the sweeps.

They both sell Real Change still. Both have more challenges than most of us can imagine.

Today, they were married. I was the best man. Our Jesuit Volunteer Corp organizing intern was the maid of honor. My five-year-olds were the flower girls. The color scheme was pink and white. I put them in matching pants and sweater get-ups and bought two $7.50 bouquets of tulips at Top. Pink and white, one for each of them. They bore these before the bride.

Fittingly, the wedding was a guerrilla affair that inverted the line between public and private. Rain ruled out Plan A, at Victor Steinbrueck Park. Plan B was less scenic. A Seattle Center staff person said he didn't remember any other weddings. Apparently, few people opt to wed in a fast food court. We were near the Starbucks, over on the side near Pizza Haven.

John was nearly an hour late.

"What do we do," someone asked. "After a half-hour," I said, "you console the bride."
Twins A&B and I were looking down at the bat people in the Children's Museum forest when word came. "The groom is here."

He missed the bus. They don't run that often on Sunday. Being poor, he had no cell phone. He carried his new shoes to change on the bus so they wouldn't get scuffed. A woman asked if he was going to church.

"I'm going to my wedding, but I'm a half hour late!"

"Driver," she said. "Step on it."

People settled into their places. The Church of Universal Life minister and her husband were champions. She brought a handmade cake that resembled a topographical map of somewhere like Scotland and had huge flourishes of decorative pink frosting reaching skyward. I took my place off to the side by John. The ring was in my pocket. The procession made its way across the food court. Twin A ran ahead with her white tulips, swinging them at people and things like a club.

The bride and groom read vows promising to love one another, and were joined. They were in that moment of intensity that anyone who's been there knows. Time stops. There are two of you. You are together.

The wedding was witnessed by some Real Change staff and volunteers, a few friends made while selling the paper (the minister), Wes, Anitra, and a small circle of vendors who are dear to one another. A few onlookers who happened to be at Seattle Center and liked weddings filled out the crowd to around twenty.

The bride and groom cut the cake with a teeny plastic knife and smashed it into each others faces. She threw a bouquet into a small group of unwilling females. He threw a garter towards an equally unenthusiastic group of men. Except for one, who really seemed to want it. The bride and groom looked blissed. It was a sweet day.

There was not the pile of gifts one is accustomed to seeing at these things. Nobody was handing anybody any envelopes of cash. Yet these two need the same things as any couple starting out, but more so. They have nothing. It would be nice for them to feel the kindness of strangers. If you have things, I'd be happy to hear from you.

Below are a couple of photos from Revel of the wedding party and the Tim Harris Break Dance Ensemble.