Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me. Some Music For Free.

For most of my life, I’ve been a pretty sucky guitar player. When my girls were born five years ago, this was one of the things, along with teaching myself classical Greek, that I eventually let go. Last December, my Sigma (a Japanese Martin knock-off) was one of the dozen or so items I brought along when I divorced and left home to rebuild from a room in a church. Almost right away, I noticed something different about my playing. Somewhere, in the process of getting shattered, I learned to hear. Suddenly, I could play leads that worked. My fingers were now “nimble.” My singing became bearable.

This was my crossroads experience. My temples went gray, I lost 35 pounds, and became frighteningly creative.

To mark my 48th birthday, I've produced a CD to give away to people. If you're not someone who might expect me to walk up and hand you my little hand produced masterpiece, I've softened the blow by signing up for a free MP3 file-sharing service. You can go directly to my download page, or click on the links below for any of the songs.

Belltown Blues is a blues riff that I’ve varied about a hundred ways. Like most of these songs, it was recorded as I went along. I usually go with my first take once I hit on something that feels worth recording. Burn It Down is the first song I’ve written in years. Other than the first stanza, which I redid after finding my groove later in the song, the words were recorded as I made them up. I was in a mood. Rachael’s Song was inspired by a dear friend leaving Real Change, and was written the day I heard the news. Wish You Were Here has been a favorite since I was 15. Dreamy Echoes is that blues thing again. They kind of tie this thing together. Mesmerized by Uncertainty and Revolution of Values use MLK’s Riverside speech, which is an obsession of mine. I did the music for Mesmerized before it occurred to me to incorporate part of Riverside. I reversed the process for Revolution by listening to MLK on a headset and playing against his rhythm. Roque is named for Mr. Dalton, just because it reminds me of him. The Ballad of the Camp4Unity 15 was written on a dare, and is my first ballad. I recorded this as I went along, and plan to polish it up sometime to sell on a pay-what-you-like basis as a fund-raiser for Real Change. Moving On is that damn blues thing again. The Ballad of Dwight Frye is an Alice Cooper song I’ve loved since I was 13 and learned about ten years ago. The lamely named Seattle September began by messing around with a Nirvana song and became something of my own.

Most, if not all of these, have been posted on this blog before, but this is the first time I've put up music for free download. I’ve gone back into Garageband to improve them a bit for the CD, but stopped well short of rerecording anything. As I’m fond of saying, there’s very little perfection in the world, and you won’t find it here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Thinnest of Blue Lines

This morning those of us who were arrested last June 9 in association with the Camp4Unity protest and camp out at City Hall opted to take our case to trial. One condition for accepting the city's offer of community service and dismissal after a year of good behavior was a non-negotiable point of principle that turned out to be a no go for the prosecution.

Several of those arrested have been staying at Nickelsville, and at least one is homeless and has few viable alternatives to camping out. Unless sleeping on public property is exempted as one of the "criminal activities" that would violate the agreement, we said, we would all take our chances with taking the matter to trial.

The City Attorney has charged the Camp4Unity 15 with pedestrian interference and failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer. Defendants face potential penalties of up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine.

After the City Attorney's office refused to meet our conditions in pre-hearing negotiations this morning, the court appearance was largely an administrative matter. It wasn't exactly exciting. As I waited to be called, I sat next to Scott Morrow, who had been up last night preparing a list of 25 alternate locations for Nickelsville. He snores.

Proceedings for our group were briefly interrupted by a hearing for a man who I'll refer to as The Unfortunate Mr. E. As he was led in by an officer wearing the standard blue rubber gloves — cuffed behind his back and garbed in a red prison jumpsuit — I thought, "Wow, this is misdemeanor court. Who let an actual criminal in here." His spider web elbow tat's, shaved head, and long Charlie Manson beard left me speculating over what horrible crime this man had committed. Father raping? Mother stabbing? I was dying to know.

As it turned out, the Unfortunate Mr. E was arrested in 2005 for driving with a suspended license. The matter was retired with time served, which turned out to be 24 days in jail.

"No wonder," I thought, "the city thinks they need a new jail." Knowing that The Unfortunate Mr. E had served 24 days for this heinous crime didn't make me feel any safer. It did, however, make me feel slightly raped as a taxpayer.

Hanging out in a courtroom is always an education. Watching the Unfortunate Mr. E get cuffed behind his back once again so that, presumably, society would be just a little bit safer pending his final processing and release did little to enhance my opinion of the criminal justice system.

Our own trial will be an interesting matter as well. While "entrapment defense" and "Pedestrian Interference" are not words one would normally expect to appear in the same sentence, we're feeling pretty solid on this one.

When I arranged the civil disobedience with Sgt. Lou Eagle of the Seattle Police a few days before the event, I informed him that we would enter the street on 4th Ave in front of City Hall, whereupon we expected SPD to do their bit and arrest us.

"Can you limit your protest to two lanes so we can direct traffic around you," asked Eagle.

"Sure," I said. "We're about making a statement, not gumming up morning traffic."

Pedestrian interference means that we willfully prevented the flow of traffic. Interestingly, while this was once more or less about jaywalking, in recent years it has become the charge the city uses to prosecute no sit/lie ordinance and aggressive panhandling violations.

The morning of our event, our police liaisons were informed that the cops would be more inclined to expedite booking and release us at the precinct rather than take us to jail if we blocked the side street on Cherry instead. We helpfully agreed, and officers lined their bicycles across the intersection as we moved into the street. We were all released at West Precinct 45 minutes later.

So, what do you call it when you do not intend to commit a crime, but the government leads you to do just that?

Which perhaps explains why a Failure to Obey charge was tacked on after the fact. In all communications prior to the arrests, we were told that the charge would be pedestrian interference. When we received our court notifications about six weeks later, the new charge had been added. This is a charge that is seldom, if ever, used against protesters.

We're not the swiftest crew in the world, but it seems like the City Attorney's office might have considered our entrapment defense long before the strategy even dawned upon our lawyers, and tossed in the extra charge to hedge their bets. We'll see how that works for them.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Looking For Some "Friends"

I joined Facebook. This is new and scary. Maybe I should have gone with MySpace. Or perhaps there's something even better that only people under 35 know of. I'm not sure I get "it," but I did it anyway.

Maybe it's because I have some idea that on-line networking might actually be something that matters. Maybe it's because I'm turning 48 and want to pretend I'm still young. Maybe it's because I'm a self-promoting narcissist and I can't resist any opportunity to say "Hey, look at me!"

It wasn't hard to write copy in my profile and post a few videos, but I can't really say that I see the point. Perhaps someone can explain this thing to me. Be sure to speak slowly, and into my good ear

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lending A Hand, And Pushing Back

Tonight Twin B started crying because she got shoved by Twin A. I didn't see the incident, but was called upon to dispense some daddy justice in the aftermath. She'd been walking around with a big pink ball, taking what I considered excessive joy in not allowing her sister to play with the thing.

"She pushed me," she wailed.

"Well, baby, when you play keep-away, one of the risks you run is that you might get pushed."

As soon as I said it, I realized the richness of the metaphor.

As Nickelsville continues this weekend in the state-owned parking lot adjacent to the original site, the Mayor is under increasing pressure to do something real to ease the pain of Seattle's homeless. He received a letter recently from a delegation of electeds who attended the Committee to End Homelessness in King County's legislative breakfast this week. The Mayor was there as well. He's all about ending homelessness. Just ask him. But when a few ministers asked him to meet with faith community leaders to discuss Nickelsville and his homeless sweeps policies, the Mayor replied, "Absolutely not. It's going down."

Fortunately, others are working to hold him accountable as well. Here's the letter.
Letter to the Mayor: September 26, 2008
The Honorable Greg Nickels Mayor of Seattle, Seattle City Hall

Dear Mayor Nickels,

As legislators representing districts in the Seattle area, we are calling on you today to enter into discussions with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Real Change, Veterans for Peace Chapter 92 and other interested parties in order to craft a humane and productive path forward in regards to the real and urgent needs of the homeless and destitute people of Seattle.

The City of Seattle has been an important partner in the state goal to end homelessness. We know you share the desire to substantively address the complex and difficult issues affecting homeless people. As many of us discussed yesterday at the Legislative Breakfast for the King County Coalition to End Homelessness, you have put real resources on the ground to accomplish this goal, just as the state has.

In light of our shared commitment, we feel the positive path forward would be to negotiate with the Church Council for the removal of tents and to enter in to partnership discussions with these organizations to identify both short and long term solutions to help our homeless people, instead of the City of Seattle taking immediate action.

As we approach the winter months where homelessness becomes an even harsher and more difficult reality for many men, women and families, we hope you will quickly and urgently move to bring people together in partnership and dialogue. We appreciate your immediate attention to this request and would be happy to participate in solution-oriented discussions.

Thank you and sincerely,

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th District, Sen. Joe McDermott, 34th District, Rep. Eileen Cody, 34th District, Rep. Sharon Nelson, 34th District, Rep. Bob Hasegawa, 11th District, Rep. Ruth Kagi, 32nd District, Rep. Maralyn Chase, 32nd District, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, 36th District, Rep. Helen Sommers, 36th District, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, 37th District, Rep. Eric Pettigrew, 37th District, Rep. Frank Chopp, 43rd District, Rep. Phyllis Guiterrez Kenney, 46th District
Over the past week, I've seen some remarkable sights. The Chief of the Duwamish tribe standing in solidarity with homeless people. The Governor intervening to give the Church Council more time to find a solution for the encampment. Twenty-two people being arrested rather than give ground. Hundreds of supporters turning out to offer support and solidarity to homeless campers. A media frenzy unlike anything I've ever witnessed (and I was at UMass-Amherst for the Abbie Hoffman/Amy Carter show), with coverage that was almost entirely sympathetic to the campers. A neighborhood community council welcoming the campers into their midst. Homeless people managing a large encampment with what can only be termed grace under fire. People coping with extraordinary personal challenges acting with bravery and commitment, and many, many others pitching in with both hands to help their efforts succeed.

This past week, I witnessed much more than a homeless encampment. I saw a movement, in action, winning. The Mayor's Big Lie that Seattle provides shelter and services to anyone who needs it is less credible than ever, and the pressure is mounting for him to make those words real.

Just tonight, Linda Brill of King5, who has been on this story like white on rice, drove another spike into the Mayor's groin. Some of the Nickelodeans who accepted the city's "guarantee" of shelter, it turns out, didn't get it. The shelters were full. They were turned away from Operation Nightwatch last night with a bus ticket back to Nickelsville.

This, to anyone who is aware of the state of emergency shelter in Seattle, is completely unsurprising.

This afternoon, Revel and I took the girls to Kubota Garden, a magical 20-acre Japanese garden in South Seattle, and swung by Nickelsville on the way home. The Nickelodeons were awash in donated fruit so we were given a bag of pears to take home. The girls were given Dum-dums to suck on and I was handed a stack of kid books as well. Twin A wore her pirate hat and made "aargh" sounds at anyone who cared to listen. Several neighbors came by and let the girls pet their dogs. They had supplies to donate. One was handing out copies of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights that she'd photocopied onto pink paper.

"What do you think is going to happen," asked one of the neighbors?

"Hard to say," I said, "but the Mayor is under a lot of pressure to find a solution."

"I know what he should do," she snorted. "He should open that land back up and let them back in. They aren't bothering anyone."

"I know," I said. "You're right. But this is a guy who's driven by ego. He's not going to admit a mistake."

"Ooh yeah," she smirked. "It takes a real big man to beat up on people who have absolutely nothing."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Friday, September 26, 2008

We Have Hammers

As police moved in to arrest the 22 Nickelodians who refused to leave, the folks engaged in building a shack on the DoT property being cleared just kept going. It made me think of a song.

Cactuses In The Infinite

Revel filmed this, one of many extraordinary Nickelsville moments. While this short poem ends on a dark note, the sense of being trapped in an unbearable present is one that many homeless people share.

Saint Judd?

I don't know whether it was the Madonna who heard that big fat Hail Mary, or if it was by intercession of St. Jude, but Nickelsville stands. Thanks to some impressive work from the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Gov. Gregoire's aide Ron Judd showed up at around one o'clock — just as arrests were beginning. He brought news that the parking lot on Marginal Way was still technically under the State control, and that he'd negotiated a truce with the city. Nickelsville would be allowed to stay on state property until the close of Wednesday.

The phalanx of cops and horses that sat around the corner on Highland behind the Subway would not be deployed.

As Seattle Police set to work arresting the 22 people who chose to make their stand on the city's proposed site for a new jail, others busied themselves carrying pink tents and other supplies over the berm and into the safe zone. Once all the media trucks are out of there, the lot will be big enough to accommodate a few hundred.

Chief Hansen of the Duwamish said their tribe holds claim to the land as well, and was in touch with the Governor. She was there this morning, and said, "My tribe has been homeless since 1864. We know what it' s like to go without an identity."

During the one-week grace period, Nickelsville organizers will work to secure more permanent location for the survival encampment.

Call Gregoire: (360) 902-4111

My phone was set for seven to get the girls off to kindergarten, but they're their own alarm. I heard their voices before I saw them. They were on the move and had me surrounded. I was about to retaliate by unleashing the tummy tickle when the phone went off. It was the real ring, which sounds sort of like an east Indian techno samba. It was Scott Morrow at 6:45.

"Is 'it going down,'" I asked?

"The cops aren't here yet, but we've split the camp in two. Half of it's where we were, on WashDoT land, and the rest is in the parking lot, which is owned by the state. The parking lot has never been posted for campsite removal."

"Scott, you're a fucking genius."

"We need you to tell people to call the Governor to ask that the state not violate it's own new policies by clearing a camp without notification."

"OK. But right now, I need to get my kids to school. I won't be able to do much for a couple of hours.

"I understand my friend. Whatever you can do."

"Alright man. Good luck."

So, for what it's worth, there it is.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nickelsville Talking Point

You gotta hand it to the Nickels people. They know how to stay on message. Every time Greg opens his mouth on Nickelsville, he says something like, "I respect their right to make a political statement," or "It's obvious it's a political demonstration." Karen Zaugg Black, his spokesperson, is in the PI tonight saying, "We certainly recognize that this is a political demonstration." Here she is again in the Times: "What I heard the mayor say today was that people have political demonstrations to make a point about an issue, and I respect that."

These people should spend more time talking to the people in the camp. Homeless campers don't give a crap about politics. What they want is a safe place to stay, and a supportive community where they have a voice.

Is that political? I think it's pretty much what we all want

Erik Lacitis, the Mayor's boy at the Times, went all meta on the Mayor's message, and interviewed three consultants who agreed that the "public relations stunt" was poorly timed, since the crashing economy would focus people's attention on their own pain. As Cathy Allen put it, "The people you know who are hurting are far more important than the people you don't know who are hurting."

I think the consultants are wrong on this one. The media, except for Lacitis and one dishonest op-ed by his newspaper, has been extraordinarily sympathetic. The encampment has continued to expose the lie that homeless people in Seattle are taken care of, and the Mayor will look like the shit that he is when he bulldozes the camp.

The convergence of an economy on the skids and a tent city full of people who are experiencing hard times, I think, makes us a little more likely to consider homelessness through the lens of our own economic vulnerability. In other words, I think the timing makes people more sympathetic, not less.

Lacitis also took pains to cover the Mayor's other talking points: Seattle does more to help the homeless than anyone, and anyone who wants shelter can get it.

This is, of course, a lie. John Iwasaki's PI article mentions that 12 men and 12 women were turned away from Nightwatch the night Nickelsville went up. That means the shelters were full enough that 24 people who were trying to get in could not. This is the case more often than not, which is why lots of people stop trying to get into shelter and sleep out instead.

This is hardly a big secret to anyone who deals with homelessness and doesn't, figuratively speaking, have his lips around the Mayor's dick.

Nickelsville is visible evidence that city policy on homelessness — which entails holding the line against new shelter while punishing those who are left to sleep outside for trying to survive — fails miserably when it comes to meeting the need that exists. The Mayor's dismissal of the tent city as a "political statement" is itself a politically calculated evasion.

Tim Ceis came by the camp tonight to say that clearances would begin between six and seven am in the morning. Someone else will have to be there for me. I'll be taking my kids to school.

Gonna Vote For McCain, To Me You're A Shitstain!

"If Barack Obama doesn't become the next President of the United States, I'm going to blame the Jews." Sarah Silverman calls for "The Great Schlep." I love her sexy potty mouth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Christ Came To Nickelsville

Tonight I drove my codeine cough syrup addled ass down to Nickelsville for a 7 pm "strategy meeting" to discuss how the homeless campers were going to deal with their eviction, scheduled for sometime after 5 pm tomorrow. The media keeps asking us for a convenient time to arrive for the requisite dramatic footage. The answer, for the record, is "We don't know. Ask Greg."

The meeting was all about morale boosting and solidarity building. With media and cops in attendance, little actual planning was either possible or desirable.

There were numerous moments that made being there worthwhile. Within moments of my arrival, for instance, El Centro de la Raza Director Roberto Maestes greeted me as "young man." While this was probably because he couldn't remember my name, it still did my about-to-turn-48 heart good. This is a guy who was in the thick of Wounded Knee when I was just a pimply thirteen-year-old stoner.

I also spoke with a mysterious man named Harry. The last time I saw him was when we met at the Camp4Unity demonstration last June. A few hours before my arrest, we had a brief conversation that culminated in him handing me a hundred dollar bill he'd found on a sidewalk. "I don't want you to just pay the electric bill with this. Do something special." I told him tonight that one of our more challenged vendors had told me that he and his equally challenged wife were having a very tough time, and he just wished they could afford go out for dinner. I was able to say, "I'm going to make you very happy. Go somewhere nice." This, in turn, made Harry very happy.

Jim Page told me that if Mayor Nickels evicted the campers, he'd retaliate by playing a concert on his front lawn. This is the most original threat I've heard in years.

I told Nickelsville organizer Scott Morrow that I'd been spending my idle moments while home sick pondering what his life was like right now. This made him smile.

But the moment that had me thinking on my drive home was my conversation with the young man in the tan cap. He was PTSD, he said, and had lost a good ninety jobs in recent years. "I can't stay in shelters," he said. "I can't cope with the people." His cap said Heb. 10:10 across the bill. "What's Hebrews 10:10," I asked.

He grew slightly agitated and reached for his pocket bible. "You'd think I'd know this by now," he said, "since people keep asking."

He found it. "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all," he read. His face grew serious and he looked me dead in the eye. "I think that if Jesus were alive, he'd be right here in Nickelsville."

"Jesus is right here in Nickelsville," I said, believing every word of it. "Places like this, where people come together to love and care for eachother, is where Jesus lives."

As I drove home, I considered how it is that I, an existentalist agnostic if ever there was, could say such a thing and actually believe it to be true.

The answer is surprisingly simple. God is love, and you don't need to believe in God to believe in love. Our notions of God are just framework for what's real. What's real is love, and love is real. And anyone who was at Nickelsville tonight knows just what I mean.

Ending Homelessness, Chicago-Style

Fresh from the rumor mill: Reverends Bill Kirlin-Hackett and David Bloom cornered Mayor Greg Nickels after a meeting today to ask that hizzoner meet with representatives of the faith community before following through on his promise to raze Nickelsville this week. The Mayor, who has yet to agree to a meeting with advocates to discuss the homeless sweeps issue, ever, said, "Absolutely not. It's going down."

A reply worthy of a man who is reputed to worship legendary Chicago Boss Richard J. Daley.

The Mayor went on to say, "Dose fockin' pink tents, see? Dose is makin' me look bad, see? You take all dose tent poles you got dere, you bundle 'em up togeddah, and you cram 'em up yer mudda-fockin' a-a-a-ss, see? You got dat?"

OK. I made that last part up. But it's probably what he wanted to say.

Seattle's Corporate Lapdog Weighs In, Again

Last December, Apesmas Lament asked whether the Seattle Times' editorial board was most akin to a Fat Ugly Hog or a Corporate Lapdog and readers responded. The Corporate Lapdog emerged victorious by a decisive 38-7 margin.

This morning's op-ed describes Nickelsville as a transparent political ploy that "Seattle doesn't deserve" and called for it's immediate destruction. The editorial was typical in its intellectual dishonesty and disregard for fact.

Noone should be surprised. Their record is nothing if not consistent. Last December, the Times first weighed in on the homeless encampments issue with the eloquent Squatters Be Gone, which took homeless people who survive outside of Seattle's overburdened shelter system to task for the "easy permissiveness" of their rule-breaking life style. Last January, they again sounded this theme, saying that homeless people camped in greenbelts were exercising the "Huckleberry Finn option." In a play on the city's branding of homeless sweeps as "humane and consistent" they approvingly described the Mayor's new policy as "humane and insistent." Clever. Last June, this newspaper again distinguished itself by dismissing SHARE/WHEEL's eastside survival encampment as "pointless."

At no point in any of these editorials did the Times board come to grips with basic fact. 2,631 people were counted outside of a packed shelter system on a freezing January night this year. Operation Nightwatch, the shelter referral point of last resort is turning people away in record numbers. There isn't enough shelter. Where are people supposed to go?

Happily, the Seattle Times editorial board doesn't always tell its reporters and columnists what and how to write. Columnist Danny Westneat has asked the question about as pointedly as possible. Nicole Brodeur's columns have become more sympathetic over the past year, and reporters Jonathan Martin, John Iwasaki, Sharon Chan, Eric Lacitis, Mike Carter, Drew DeSilver, and Sean Rose have all reported honestly and conscientiously on the homeless sweeps issue.

But the editorials have been uniformly one-sided, heartless, and oblivious to fact. Today's is typical. There is no acknowledgement that the shelters are full and that homeless people need to be somewhere. It confuses the claim that the city is "offering" shelter to campers with the fiction that enough shelter has actually been "provided." It paints the Mayor as noble, caring, and put upon, and homeless people and their organizers as sneaky, lazy, and politically motivated. Nickelsville, they say in a truly Ayn Randian moment, is a bid for "entitlement."

Homeless people in Seattle. They're so entitled. The Times really hates that.

The Seattle Times editorial board doesn't give a shit about homeless people. Fortunately, others do. If you're looking for a good reason to not give up on the human race, go to the West Seattle blog to see the Highland Park Action Committee extend a welcome to their new neighbors. The video of neighborhood activist Dorsol Plants' speech on why Nickelsville is necessary makes me want to send him flowers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dharmonic Convergence

While I’m not usually given to seeing political events through a mystical lens, I’m thinking the convergence of circumstances surrounding this week’s Nickelsville encampment can only be attributed to a perfect alignment of the stars. We’re just not clever or powerful enough to plan this one.

The encampment, named to recall the Hoovervilles of the thirties, happened to occur the same week of a proposed financial industry bailout that, combined with other recent Hail Mary maneuvers to rescue the economy, may run to over a trillion dollars. The coming depression has led to lowered revenue projections at all levels of government that will put already tenuous human service programs at great risk during the upcoming budget session.

The land upon which Nickelsville sits is one of the four sites proposed by the city for a new 7-acre jail facility. While Real Change is building a No New Jail campaign to challenge the idea that more cops, more arrests of people who are poor and disproportionately black, and ever-expanding numbers of those behind bars is an effective or moral use of resources, the siting of Nickelsville on the Marginal Way land parcel was a happy accident. For security reasons, we didn’t know where the site would be until an hour before we arrived at 4 am Monday morning.

Last night, the Highland Park Action Committee voted to support the encampment until other use can be found for the land.

The Mayor has chosen to pretend that this survival effort — organized by a loose but potent grouping of homeless people and advocates — is just another homeless encampment to be posted for clearance and dismantled in three days. Nickelsville is much more than that. It’s a sign of the times.

God-ray photo by Revel.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nickelsville: In the Pink

As I was leaving Nickelsville this morning, three homeless guys with backpacks crested the hill to behold a sea of 150 fuchsia tents. The oldest of them — tall, gaunt, and weathered as the road itself — beamed at the sight. Snapping a few final photos, I must of looked something like press. "You looking for a headline," he smiled? "How about, "We're in the pink?"

Pink, fuschia, whatever. The 150 tents that were unwittingly donated to Real Change last week by the Girl Scouts of America look a lot like salvation to the hundreds of homeless who have been chased pillar to post in this town since the City began hounding homeless campers more than year ago. Apparently, the use of these tents for their annual Jamboree is a one time deal. Normally, we would have passed these on one at a time to those who have had their survival gear stolen by the city. Due to a happy accident of timing, however, we were able to expedite the process by passing them onto the Nickelsville organizing committee.

When we arrived at slightly after four this morning, the advance guard was still hacking a trail through the blackberry brambles into the Highland Ave and Marginal Way site that led down the hill from the small parking lot. Piles of pink sat in wait, and the tents went up in the dark first by twos and three and then fives and tens as more people arrived. The atmosphere was a bit tense as we raced against the expected arrival of the police. Organizers maintained cover by asking cars that pulled into the lot to discharge their loads and repark elsewhere. As the sun came up, the site was bathed in gold and god rays reached down to kiss the ground with radiant light.

The police never came. Nickelsville supporter and El Centro de la Raza Director Roberto Maestes was one of the first on the scene along with Scott Morrow. The site, he thought, was on Duwamish land. This we speculated, might add an interesting wrinkle to the common expectation that police would soon arrive in force to deliver the standard five minute warning before clearing the area.

I entered a few key numbers into my cel and wandered over to the main intersection to wave in the bewildered media vans who couldn't see shit from the road. My other thought was that if I saw something that looked like a bus full of robocops I might be able to offer a few minutes advance warning. No robocops came, but KOMO soon had their twenty-five foot live transmission tower telescoped into the early morning sky. A news copter circled overhead. After this, the site was easier to find.

By noon, Mayor Nickels had informed an inquiring media that the site would soon be posted for clearance in three days, per city protocol on homeless encampments. I guess the protocols are good for something. In three days, hopefully, enough supporters with plastic in their pockets and little to lose by risking arrest will arrive to act in solidarity with the homeless and help hold the fort.

Please understand that this isn't a "protest." It's a survival strategy for the hundreds of homeless people who have nowhere else to go. This year's one night homeless count found 2,631 homeless people surviving outside after the shelters were full.

To offset the campsite clearances, the city added 55 new beds. For the curious, that's about a 47:1 ratio of outdoor homeless to new beds.

More than a year ago, Mayor Nickels began a ruthless zero tolerance policy of campsite clearances from public land, knowing full well that the shelters are packed like a 358 bus headed north at rush hour. That's the bus that blows past you without stopping after you've waited twenty minutes for it's arrival. Frustrating. But not as bad as showing up for shelter and being turned away with maybe a blanket and a bus ticket once the beds are full.

As I left at around ten, the Honeybuckets were coming off the flatbed and being carried down the hill. Nickelsville was established.

I just did an interview on the sidewalk outside Real Change with the omnipresent Linda Brill of King 5. When Brill asked me to respond to the Mayor's assertion that Nickelsville was "political" i said, "It's not political. What's political is the mayor chasing homeless people out of town to make way for downtown condos. This is about survival."

"There will be a standoff, I said, "and the Mayor will have a decision to make."

The story continues.

Photos by Revel, except for Iwo Jima Honeybucket. That one was me.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Out For The Count

In case you missed it, the New York Times covered the homeless definitions issue that is at the heart of the national legislative debate right now. The article is odd. Somehow, the reporter managed to write 1,100 words on the subject and still miss the point.

This year's renewal of $1.7 billion in federal legislation to fund homeless programs has centered on the issue of whether those who are considered homeless under the Department of Education definition and thus able to attend public school — those doubled up or living vulnerably in poverty motels — should also be eligible for homeless assistance from HUD.

One position is that homeless is homeless, and the nation needs to step up and deal with reality. The other, which is supported by President Bush and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, argues that in a time of limited resources, we need to focus on those who are most desperate.
Several advocacy groups, including the National Coalition for the Homeless, argue that the HUD definition should more closely mirror the Education Department’s. ... These advocates note that many families live in communities where shelters are full or nonexistent. In other places, some say, shelters sometimes bar large families, families with two parents or those with boys older than 10.

“I think we have to take care of our most vulnerable,” Ms. Biggert said. “Shouldn’t children as well as the others be a priority?”

Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, echoed those concerns. “This is really about our nation acknowledging the extent of the housing crisis and the devastation it wreaks on children, youth and family,” she said. “The housing crisis is bigger than the emergency system put in place to address it 20 years ago.”

Opponents of a broad expansion of the definition counter that demand for shelter beds already exceeds supply. About 700,000 people live in shelters or on the streets on any given day, housing officials say. But federal dollars finance only 170,000 beds.

Some advocates also fear that communities would shift resources from single, mentally ill or addicted people to doubled-up families who were newly classified as homeless. Such families are typically easier to serve and politically more appealing.

“Nobody thinks that these families are having an easy time of it,” said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “But when push comes to shove, when you’ve got people in apartments and people in shelters and on the streets, the people in the latter group need the help more.” ...

Whatever the number, “we need to deal with the most desperate the best that we can and keep working” toward greater expansion, said Representative Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who heads the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. “We don’t want to create competition and have people at each other’s throats for limited space.”
OK. So let's review. Less than 25% of current shelter receives any federal support. This shelter, numbered at 700,000 or so beds, does not include those who lack housing but are not literally on the street or in a homeless shelter already. Counting these, worry some, would stretch already scarce federal support even more thinly, leading to some sort of ugly Darwinian competition for shelter beds that don't exist. Regardless of which version of the expanded definition gets passed, no new resources will be made available.

When it comes to poor people, the feds are officially out of money. Large badly-run financial institutions, on the other hand, are always a good public investment

Which means this debate, for now, isn't about whether the numbers of homeless people who get help gets expanded. It's more about how accurately we account for the various ways in which poor people are being fucked.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, homeless advocates routinely took great pains to point out that families with children make up the great majority of those who are homeless. Those who look homeless — the mentally ill, drunk, and addicted — were the red headed step children of homeless advocacy. These two categories — sympathetic families with kids and somewhat frightening single men — divided neatly across the lines of deserving and undeserving poor. Homeless families got shelter and transitional housing, and single homeless men with problems got hot soup, a mat on the floor if they were lucky, and a bus ticket out of town.

Then came the glitzification (I just made that word up) of our downtown areas and the national preoccupation with ending chronic (read visible) homelessness. Suddenly, homelessness became all about the most dysfunctional: the drunk, the addicted, the mentally ill. These problematic but relative few have become the focus of our concern, and the cure usually resembles small servings of carrot paired with liberal helpings of stick.

"Homeless advocacy" became the new found passion of hundreds of instant experts. Quasi-governmental public/private planning bodies erupted across the country to manage the growing contradiction of growing affluence and poverty in a changing urban landscape. Ending chronic homelessness through ten year plans became the driving paradigm as desperate localities uncritically followed the money that trickled down from the feds. The definition of "chronically homeless" itself began to narrow. The numbers went down. Success was declared.

To now broaden the definition would be to undermine the illusion that means so much to so many. This we cannot do.

The federally imposed Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness template has reduced our scope of concern to the homeless that are bad for business. As for the others, if we don't see them, they don't exist. We can pretend, along with the NAEH's Steve Berg, that raising kids in an exhorbitantly priced, crack-infested transient hotel is the same thing as having "an apartment."

What I'm saying here is this: One can't understand why the federal definition of homelessness should be expanded without first understanding how and why it has been narrowed. The HUD press releases focus on reductions in chronic homelessness. When family homelessness increases, the media is seldom alerted.

Poverty in America isn't news anymore. Not unless it pisses on your sidewalk.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How Much Is $1,000,000,000,000 Anyway?

Today's news is that, combined with other bailouts, taxpayer cost of the proposed latest effort to stem the meltdown may top one trillion dollars.

That's One Trillion Dollars.

How much is this, really? A trillion dollars is about one-third of the entire federal budget recently proposed by G.W. Bush. A trillion seconds ago, which is 31,688 years, the Neanderthals were in charge. A trillion days would take 2.7 billion years. According to NPR, "$1 trillion would be enough money to buy about a 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every person in the United States." A cube of one trillion dried peas would be 198 feet along each edge. A trillion pennies would weigh 3.1 million tons. A trillion dollars is roughly the cost of the war in Iraq thus far.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem like all that much. The combined wealth of all the world's billionaires is just $3.5 trillion. A trillion is just 1/18th of the gross national product for the entire world. Google says there are about a trillion URLs on the internet. The US deficit is already $8 trillion, so what's a trillion more?

My favorite visual comes from The NYT's Bob Herbert.
It's not easy to explain just how much money $1 trillion really is. Imagine a stack of bills worth $1 million that is roughly six inches high. (Think big denominations — a mix of $100 bills and $1,000 bills, mostly $1,000's.) If the six-inch stack were enlarged to the point where it was worth $1 billion, it would be as tall as the Washington Monument, about 500 feet. If it were worth $1 trillion, the stack would be 95 miles high.
A trillion dollars. That's a lot.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Communist Manifestoon

In honor of this week's financial meltdown — and the acute denial of most Americans over how close we might be to total system failure — here's a fresh take on Karl Marx's 1848 classic, starring Betty Boop, Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear, Underdog, Krazy Kat, Mr. Magoo, Bullwinkle the Moose, Boris, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, and a cast of thousands.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seattle Steroids Abuse Receives National Attention

With the economy in flames, the launch of Nickelsville looming, and organizers in Ballard looking to establish safe zones for the growing numbers of car campers, the notion that anyone is "ending homelessness" through better use of data and smarter deployment of resources is becoming more ludicrous by the day.

Today brings a bit of reality to the mix from the Associated Press' Evelyn Nievens. Her story, In hard times, tent cities rise across the country, has centered the nation's attention, for a few days anyway, upon the obvious.

Nievens' reporting made headlines everywhere from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to USA Today to MSNBC and the Huffington Post and several hundred newspapers and blogs in between.
From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report's release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.

"It's clear that poverty and homelessness have increased," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. "The economy is in chaos, we're in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future."

The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up.

"What you're seeing is encampments that I haven't seen since the 80s," said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.

The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a 12 percent drop in homelessness nationally in two years, from about 754,000 in January 2005 to 666,000 in January 2007. But the 2007 numbers omitted people who previously had been considered homeless - such as those staying with relatives or friends or living in campgrounds or motel rooms for more than a week.

In addition, the housing and economic crisis began soon after HUD's most recent data was compiled.

"The data predates the housing crisis," said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD. "From the headlines, it might appear that the report is about yesterday. How is the housing situation affecting homelessness? That's a great question. We're still trying to get to that."

In Seattle, which is experiencing a building boom and an influx of affluent professionals in neighborhoods the working class once owned, homeless encampments have been springing up - in remote places to avoid police sweeps.

"What's happening in Seattle is what's happening everywhere else - on steroids," said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, an advocacy organization that publishes a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.

Homeless people and their advocates have organized three tent cities at City Hall in recent months to call attention to the homeless and protest the sweeps - acts of militancy, said Harris, "that we really haven't seen around homeless activism since the early '90s."

Cool. We're organizing, and HUD is working on getting around to looking at the problem. Real solutions can't be far off.

Ever do a vanity Google? I just did. Googling the exact phrase "What's happening in Seattle is what's happening everywhere else - on steroids," said Tim Harris receives 1,010 matches just now. Sweet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Comfortably Numb

When I posted Wish You Were Here yesterday, I didn't know Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright had just died at age 65. Here's their final performance at Live 8. The 2005 benefit was the first time the entire band had performed together in 24 years. The concert was organized to support the Make Poverty History campaign. David Gilmore's closing solo is stupendous.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wish You Were Here

Learned this one today. There's something about getting inside a lyric that makes you hear it differently. I'd always thought this was a song about bad choices; the sort that make you feel your life has been wasted. Like my dad. One of the few real things he ever said to me was that becoming an insurance agent was the worst decision of his life. He had a Masters in Romance Languages and was an expert in classical Spanish. No money in that. Sales, he thought, would be secure. It wasn't.

What he did to make "a living" became deadening. Which brings me to what I'd missed about this song. Fear makes us vacant and not "here," and the choices we make out of fear carry over to everything else. We think we can compartmentalize and be shut down in just one part of our lives but we can't. Being checked out is a 360 degree commitment. The song's a bit rough, but I like it that way. Perfection is overrated.

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have you found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Somebody Better Stop The Bleeding

Once in awhile, a news story says a lot more than what’s on the page. This month, South Seattle’s Operational Emergency Center closed its doors to the 187,000 people they served last year. One of Seattle’s largest food banks has closed after 35 years. A balloon payment on a needed building upgrade came due and they didn’t have it. The credit crunch made refinancing impossible and no angels were waiting in the wings.

The food bank’s story of needed upgrades, escalating energy costs, and plans gone awry due to increased expenses and a poor economy is one that many of us share. It’s a story of economic vulnerability. With the very poor, it happens all the time. The margin for error is thin to non-existent. The car transmission fails. Getting to work takes three buses and with kids it’s easy to be late. The job is lost, the rent comes due, end of sad story.

For others, the margin is less thin, but times are still perilous. More and more of us have become less able to securely weather a few hard knocks in a row. And when the worst happens, help is getting harder and harder to find.

When OEC hit the wall of things gone wrong, there wasn’t a cushion. Private money for meeting human basic needs that should really be supported by government anyway just isn’t adequately there. Food banks, said the funders, are just band-aids, and not the solution.

But here’s the thing. Times are very hard, and when you don’t have band-aids, people bleed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Clean To The Bone

Revel's sister Nan and her husband Frank came over for dinner tonight. Revel told me they were salt of the earth types and that Frank played guitar. He taught her when she was a kid and gave her the Yamaha classical that she uses now. While the salmon was cooking over rosemary sprigs on the propane hibachi we borrowed from our neighbor, Frank played and sang some songs he wrote while Revel and I took turns playing lead. After dinner, we decided to record one of them in Garageband. Frank did a track on guitar and vocals, and then I made a lead to go with it. After that, I showed Frank how to upload his stuff to imeem and become famous. Here's Clean To The Bone.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Family Artifact

My mother is the queen of random. At Christmas, birthdays, and sometimes for no reason at all, a box will arrive. Some of the things I've received include tourism guides to Sioux Falls, SD (my home town), ten year old issues of Cat Fancier magazine, my Cub Scout relics and First Communion certificate and paraphernalia, mildewed books by forgotten authors, and this lamp, sans shade. For some reason I'd prefer not to think too hard about, my mother looked at this lamp one day and said to herself, without irony, "I think Tim would want this." I tried to leave it behind at my ex-wife's. but it didn't work. She delivered it to my new apartment. My prized little hobo boy lamp.

In an insane moment, I thought this might be one of those Antique Roadshow kind of things, where the hideous bad art that's been sitting in Aunt Mildred's attic is appraised at $450,000. I looked around online, and there was little evidence that anything of value had ever been produced by Don Ward Industries. Similar cultural abominations were going on Ebay for about $3.

And so, I am left to contemplate the mystery of the lamp. Who is this cheeky hobo boy with the battered hat? Why is he following me? What horrible nuclear accident is responsible for his deformed dog? What, other than flight, would be a suitable response to being confronted in person by this freakish little gnome with the yellow flowers. Why are his legs crossed like that? Does he need to pee? If I gave this lamp to Goodwill, would some art school stoner make a bong out of him? Can God exist in a universe where this sort of thing happens? I can't bring myself to throw him away, but I'm working on it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Great Moments In Ukulele HIstory

Another blow-off post from the man who can't keep up. One of my peak concert experiences ever was Patti Smith doing Smells Like Teen Spirit last summer at the Showbox. This, had I seen it, may have rated a close second. The anthem of Generation X, played by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Part of the charm here is that the audience can't quite believe what they're seeing. For comparison purposes, I've included Nirvana's brilliant original, which unexpectedly became the most popular MTV video of all time.

Below are college orchestra and piano versions of the same song. I usually don't go for videos with a still image, but the piano arrangement is so beautiful I'm making an exception.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We Shall Overcome!

I played a pretty little melody on two strings and did some chords over it to deepen things up a bit, but when I was done it just sounded kind of wussy. Garage band to the rescue. I amped up the scorched lead and big wheels effects to get a wall o' pain thing going. It seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's a G-D-C Kinda Thing

I was going to write about inequality tonight, but did this instead. I'm probably better off for it. I don't imagine the music obsession will take over this blog for much longer, but at the moment, it's sort of taken over my life. Knockin' On Heaven's Door isn't about the chords. Those, in my head, are just G-D-C, over and over and over again. It's about how you play them. This one puts me in a trance, for, like, eight minutes. I can use that. I really can.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Managing The Data

For 28 years, the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) and Operation Nightwatch have conducted the nation’s longest running and most community-driven annual count of persons experiencing homelessness. This year’s count involved 900 volunteers in conducting a physical street tally of unsheltered homeless people in the early morning hours of a freezing January night. There were 2,631.

Numbers are inherently political. At a time when HUD claims that Ten Year Plans to End Homelessness have reduced chronic homelessness nationwide by 30% — despite rising housing costs, widening inequality, and a relentless assault on federal programs that serve the poor, Seattle’s news this year that street homelessness was up by 15% was especially unwelcome. That number rises to 18% when limited to areas in Seattle that align across the 2007 and 2008 counts.

Nobody wants to see the numbers of homeless people in Seattle rise. This is not news to celebrate. Nor is this news to bury or deny.

Since the creation of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, funding for the One Night Count has come through that body. This arrangement has helped fund staffing for SKCCH. The report used to be produced in Word Perfect. Now, it is a glossy, professionally designed 20-pager.

This support comes at a potential cost. CEHKC has a well-defined interest in showing progress. The count, as opposed to growing homelessness, is viewed by some as a problem to be fixed. At a recent Interagency Council meeting of CEHKC, Director Bill Block clearly indicated that he wants more control over the published report and even the count itself.

SKCCH, he said, puts too much "spin" on the numbers. This from the man who routinely states that the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is on track by counting units "in the pipeline" when the internal documents clearly state that 10YP goals are being missed by half.

This is a case of politics potentially getting in the way of truth. We prefer things the other way around. The take-over of the One Night Count wouldn’t happen without a fight, and we here at Real Change know whose side we’re on.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

A number of years ago I visited London for a conference of the International Network of Street Papers. I was only there for a week, but made the most of it. Among the destinations were the British Museum, the Karl Marx Memorial Library on Clerkenwell Road — where from 1902-1903 Lenin worked on the Socialist newspaper Iskra (Russian for Spark) — and Oxford, where I sat at the very table where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien would drink warm beer and eruditely shoot the shit. While sitting at this table, I showed my friend Fiona, an anarchist friend I first met at UMass-Amherst, the gargoyle plaster casts I'd bought that day as my big splurge trip souvenirs. They replicated those I'd seen at Christ Church, and offered a medieval portrayal of The Seven Deadly Sins.

While the Bible has several listings of sins to avoid, these have surprisingly little correlation to the standard list of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Envy, and Pride. The closest come from Proverbs and Galatians.

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.
Proverbs 6:16-19

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21

As a lapsed Catholic, I can still enumerate the seven deadly sins and their converse virtues with minimal prompting, and was blown away by the humor and aristry of their rendering as gargoyles. I was thinking about these today.

Lust (

I love this little guy, who appears to be getting off on some sort of Rabelaisian medieval porn. My own sense is that lust isn't such an issue unless it's obsessive, at which point it becomes a bit soul-destroying. Otherwise, one runs around chanting "Think pure thoughts, think pure thoughts" to oneself, and that's a bit freakish as well and leads nowhere good. The associate virtue is chastity, which, in and of itself, offers little to recommend.

Gluttony (gula)

Another of those moderation things. Gluttony is is, I think, about avoiding oneself by sating the senses. I feel shitty about my life, so I'll sit in front the the TV every night watching DVDs of Six Feet Under while eating a bowl of mixed nuts and chocolate chips. The thing I've noticed about the Deadlies is that they're all, in one way or another, about avoiding oneself. Associate virtue: temperance. If that means moderation, I'm for it. If it means being an uptight parody of a prohibitionist, not so much.

Greed (avaritia)

One of the first things that struck me about these gargoyles is how close greed looks to anger. There's an insight there, in that wanting too much for oneself often has its flip side of hating those who don't have enough. Greed and hate go together. The opposed virtue is charity, which isn't really enough. This guy, by the way, has pound signs for eyeballs.

Sloth (acedia)

What I love about sloth guy is how totally fucking bored he looks. Were I God, boredom would probably piss me off more than anything. My boredom threshold is set fairly low, but I do my best to avoid this one. With so much to marvel at, get worked up over, and love and create, life is just too short. The partner virtue, says the Catholics, is diligence, This, to me, seems pale. If life is about avoiding boredom, it's also about much more that the pursuance of "diligence."

Anger (ira)

Here I'd have to distinguish between righteous anger and just getting all pissy about stuff that one should rise above. One is focused and leads to actions which are good, and the other is dissipating, and, again, takes us away from understanding much about ourselves. When someone really pisses us off, I think, we should pay attention to that and ask what it says about ourselves. Associate virtue: patience. I like that.

Envy (invidia)

Look at this scheming asshole and tell me if this is someone you want to be around. Sadly, our whole consumer culture is based on the idea of other people having crap we'd rather have ourselves. Our life energy is better invested in, oh, say, saving the planet so our children don't have to live in a shithole, than in acquiring a hot car or huge flat screen TV. Associate virtue: kindness. I prefer compassion, which the Dalai Lama has defined as empathy plus responsibility.

Pride (superbia)

I love this guy as well, with his supercilious expression and hands folded in prayer, awash in the spiritual pride of being better than everyone else. He's the very portrait of self-involved uselessness. This, like the others, is about focusing on oneself to the exclusion of others, or, conversely, the faults of others as opposed to oneself. The Catholics say we should instead practice humility. I'm with them on this one.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ballad of Dwight Frye, Again

The music obsession has progressed. I rerecorded the Ballad of Dwight Frye today, figuring I could do a hell of lot better than last time. Back then, I recorded the guitar first and then did the vocals as a second track. This time, I proved I can both walk and chew gum by doing it all at once. Total time saver.

This Is My Brain On My Brain

Tonight's creation is a sliding G something that's been evolving for a few months. It's a happy, hopeful sort of blues. I liked it fine without effects. I don't need no stinking effects. This is just what my guitar sounds like. If it ain't good enough, then fuck it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


We got out the chords for kids songs this afternoon and I noticed that Twin B was singing on key an octave higher (or two). Revel recorded this one for posterity. Below is another we found while flipping through the 17 Youtube videos for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, featuring four kids and their alien dopplegangers.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sweet Nothin'

My Favorite Velvet Underground song ever, run over Laurel and Hardy footage that is, well, strangely mesmerizing.
Say a word for Jimmy Brown
He ain't got nothing at all
Not the shirt right of his back
He ain't got nothing at all
And say a word for Ginger Brown
Walks with his head down to the ground
Took the shoes right of his feet
To poor boy right out in the street

And this is what he said
Oh sweet nuthin'
She ain't got nothing at all
Oh sweet nutin'
She ain't got nothing at all

Say a word for Polly May
She can't tell the night from the day
They threw her out in the street
But just like a cat she landed on her feet
And say a word for Joanna Love
She ain't got nothing at all
'Cos everyday she falls in love
And everynight she falls when she does

She said
Oh sweet nuthin'
You know she ain't got nothing at all
Oh sweet nutin'
She ain't got nothing at all

Oh let me hear you!

Say a word for Jimmy Brown
He ain't got nothing at all
Not a shirt right of his back
He ain't got nothing at all
And say a word for Ginger Brown
Walks with his head down to the ground
Took the shoes right of his feet
To poor boy right out in the street

And this is what he said
Oh sweet nuthin'
She ain't got nothing at all
Oh sweet nutin'
She ain't got nothing at all
She ain't got nothing at all
Oh sweet nutin'

She ain't got nothing at all
She ain't got nothing at all
She ain't got nothing at all

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Hitchhiker

The hitchhiker looked like he might be the Vice-President of a bank. Conservative navy suit and tie with a white shirt. Late-fifties. Sixty pounds to the heavy side. Close-cropped gray hair. Nice shoes. Thumb out.

"Where you headed"


"I'm going to Pike and Boren"

"I'm going a block from there."

"Great. You can navigate me."
There was a boy with x--ray eyes
and people would say he could see through anything he likes.
He could see through stone he could see though skies.
He could see through himself so he couldn't tell a lie, so he couldn't tell a lie ...
You know somethin's comin' for you and it's comin' fast.
He settled in and buckled up as I pulled off of 205th onto I-5. The Whore Moans' Boy With X-ray Eyes played on the car stereo through my iPod. The window was down.

"Mind if I finish my cigarette?"

"Not at all. It's your car. My wife moved out and took both of ours. You'd think she could have left me one."

"I can relate. My wife and I separated last November."

"Hmmm. Sorry. This is round four for me."


Shoreline and Edmonds has these huge 200-400 unit apartment complexes where every other person is recently divorced. You don't have to ask. You can smell it on them. They're like divorcee refugee camps. I'd just left mine and, apparently, passed his.

The extended opening feedback whine from Anthrax came through the speakers.

"Well, this is perfect then. What we're listening to? It's my divorce CD. It's called Thanksgiving. I made it for friends awhile ago and for some reason decided to put it on for the ride in. It's been months since I've played it. It's all songs I listened to over and over during the first few months. That was my selection criteria. It had to be music I'd put on repeat play. My therapist loved it. He'd never seen anyone make a CD as a coping strategy."

He laughed. "Who's this?"

"Gang of Four. They were a post-punk band from the early eighties. Very influential."

He grinned sheepishly. "I stopped paying attention in around '73 with Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin."

"Well, you've got a lot of catching up to do, and we've got a good ride. We'll just turn it up and enjoy."
Woke up this morning desperation a.m.
What I've been saying won't say them again
My head's not empty, it's full with my brain
The thoughts I'm thinking
Like piss down a drain
And I feel like a beetle on its back
And there's no way for me to get up
Love'll get you like a case of anthrax
And that's something I don't want to catch
Ought to control what I do to my mind
Nothing in there but sunshades for the blind
Only yesterday I said to myself
The things I'm doing are not good
For my health.
He listened intently. "My son plays drums in a punk band. He's thirty and has tattoos all over."

"Sounds like he's got a fun life."

My new friend looked happy and far away. "Yeah. He does."

A moment passed. "I have twin five year olds."

"Boys? Girls?"


"Where are they?"

"We share."

"That's good."

He went silent as Elvis Costello sang Poor Napoleon. I can't lie on this bed anymore. It burns my skin. You can take the truthful things you said to me and put them on the head of a pin. I sang along softly like I have a hundred times. The evenly rising notes and Elvis' throaty voice make it irresistible.

"The lawyers are killing me."

"Tell me about it. My wife's on her second and goin' for broke. I'm broke, anyway. And you want to hear the punchline?"

He looked at me expectantly.

"She's a Quaker!"

My new friend stomped his feet, slapped the dash, and laughed himself pink. Pretty fuckin' funny, I guess.

The traffic slowed. I rolled my window back down and lit another cigarette, steering for a moment with my elbows.

Lucinda Williams sang.
I know what I think I saw
And what I thought I’d seen
And what was coming and what was going
And everything in between

And what I thought I heard you say
And what you really said
And what I thought you thought I thought
Was actually in your head

And what you meant to tell me
And what I meant to say
And what I said you said I said
And what went the other way

I know what you did to me
And I know what we did
And who did what to who and who
The hell were you trying to kid.
"I'm not really working today. Just going in for like half an hour. Stopping by to see the goats at Boren and Pike. I'm the Director of Real Change."

His eyes widened slightly and he put his hand out to shake. "It's a good thing you do. I just bought my first one last week."

"Well, you should read it. It's a great fuckin' paper."

"I will."

"My picture's on page two."

We took the Stewart Street exit and the left on Boren. I drove up the hill.

"I can get off up at the next light."

He got out at Pine. The opening riffs of Maggotbrain played. "Play it like your momma just died," Bootsy Collins said. He did. Electrified liquid anguish. Blues like blues had never been played.

I stopped. We shook hands again. "Get in touch sometime if you like. The main email in the paper is mine" He smiled warmly. "I will."

The light went green and I took the right onto Pike and parked in a no parking area. The engine ran while I watched the goats graze. I turned up the volume. David Thomas Broughton's otherworldly voice enveloped me in warm sound.
Put your finger, to your other finger.
While you're not a hundred-percent, you'll be feeling yourself again.
Divorce CD Playlist:
1. Glory Be, R.L. Burnside
2. X-ray Eyes, The Whore Moans
3. Anthrax [remastered], Gang of Four
4. Methamphetamine Blues, Mark Lanagan
5. Poor Napoleon, Elvis Costello/Bill Frisell
6. Explosions Were Heard, Kinetic Stereokids
7. Wrap My Head Around That, Lucinda Williams
8. Over and Out, The Narrows
9. Maggotbrain [remastered], Funkadelic
10. So Much Sin to Forgive, David Thomas Broughton
11. Lucy’s Ride, Wooden Shjips
12.) Acid Blues, Tim Harris