Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brenden Foster Made It Simple.

Yesterday my blog had 1,333 visitors. It was a bizarre spike. I'm usually more like 200. Brenden Foster, the homeless-supporting dying eleven year-old with leukemia, died. There was a resurgence of international media attention, and my blog entry on Brenden, now considerably further down on the Google listing, caught just part of the wave.

I was going to write about Brenden and the dozens of comments on the blog (most of which were disturbingly similar), but was saved from the task by this letter, sent to Real Change by one Michael Trepp, a man I don't know from Adam. Michael gets it. Lot's of people get it. It's kind of obvious when you think about it.
A couple of weeks ago I emailed Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata. I informed him that I thought that Mayor Nickels primary failure, concerning the homeless of Seattle, was one of attitude. I told Licata that I did not expect Nickels (or the rest of Seattle government) to have all the answers or to provide all of the solutions.

I had noticed, that when a hard fall rain is about to hit Seattle, Mayor Nickels (via a spokesperson on the tv news) has no problem asking the people of Seattle for help. He had asked us to make sure our storm drains are clear, because its a job that is much too big for city government to handle on its own. I told Licata that I had never seen our Mayor make a similar effort on behalf of the homeless. I had never seen Nickels come before the local tv news audience, asking the people of Seattle, to do what we can to help. The residents of Nickelsville have a more first hand experience, in that, Mayor Nickels could have done something positive to help them establish a permanent (but hopefully not eternal), well run, community supported shantytown (in the model of Portland's Dignity Village), within the Seattle city limits. Instead Nickels chose to harass them and chase them from location to location. He might have earned a name change had he done something to help, but instead, the Nickelsville name stands as a shameful reminder of his initial actions towards this homeless community.

Now, anyone paying attention knows, that Nickels is not entirely responsible for the economic hard times facing the people of Seattle - there is a nationwide increase in hard times and in homelessness. We've had one of the most sorry excuses ever for a president during the past eight years, and there has been a huge vacuum of any real leadership in congress as well. However, when a problem/challenge like Nickelsville comes along, a good leader should, like a good doctor, first do no harm. Then that person would, seeing the immensity of the problem, ask for help from anyone and everyone that he/she could ask, knowing that he/she could never do it on his/her own.

In the case of Nickelsville, Mayor Nickels did not do this. But a young child did. A few days ago there was a KOMO TV News story about eleven year old Brenden Foster, who was moved by the plight facing the people of Nickelsville. Brenden is dying of leukemia, but he is still full of compassion for others, including those who have no place to call home. Because Brendan himself is unable to go and help care for the homeless of Nickelsville, he has asked all of us to do it for him. A dying child succeeds where Mayor Nickels fails. Not in answers or in achievement, but in attitude and effort.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Am Dwight Frye

As part of my ongoing campaign to drive away every regular reader of this blog forever, I've recorded yet another version of Alice Cooper's Ballad of Dwight Frye, a song that has fascinated me since childhood. This one uses a live performance effect on the rhythm and vocals track and something called "British Invasion" on the lead. I get lost for awhile and just go with it. As a result, it's more than eight minutes long. This is how I amuse myself. It beats the shit out of bad tv. Alice fans will appreciate the clip below of The Man, in top form back in the 70s.

Wednesday's Pink

I think I've posted three previous recordings of this song, but I can't stop. If I play this a hundred more times, it'll eventually have some kind of Pink Floyd peak experience, where the laser lights go off in my head and I finally get what's on the dark side of the moon. When you've liked a song since you were fifteen, you kind of get inside the thing. Another seven minute song. Guess I wasn't in a hurry. Since I got so lucky with yesterday's image by googling "blue art," today I tried "pink art" and about 7 pages in got this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday's Blues

These blues actually started Sunday, but today they were done. I recorded them, added a lead, and blew my own mind. I think I'm just going to retire and become a rock god. I don't know shit about music theory, but that cool melody on the rhythm is all about the pinky, man. Tonight I played two leads against it and used the second one all the way through except about the last twenty seconds. I did that better the first time. It kind of builds. Seven minutes and twenty seconds, and it just keeps picking up steam, getting better. Rocking harder. The ending sucks. I just stop.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

C.R. Douglas Gets It

C.R. Douglas at Seattle Inside/Out has been following the sweeps issue for a long time, and he's getting a little pissed off. Early last summer he made me giddy by pressing then Human Services Director Patricia McInturff on where homeless people are supposed to go until she started to twitch. More recently, During Douglas' monthly Ask the Mayor show, Nickels claimed that the people staying at Nickelsville were all political activists who had homes to which they could return. Douglas was obviously taken aback by the Mayor's claim. One expects politicians to distort and lie, but this was way beyond the pale and seems to have put Douglas over the edge. This week's edition of Seattle Inside/Out is his answer.

Douglas goes out on the street to show how bad things are, and then brings Human Services Director Alan Painter, Committee to End Homelessness in King County ED Bill Block, Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness ED Alison Eisinger, and Operation NightWatch Director Rick Reynolds into the studio to get some answers. On a scale of 1-10 this show is an 11.

As Painter recites the city talking points in response to Douglas' questions, he looks as though he might be seated on a tack. It's a painful display. Douglas wanted SKCCH Director Alison Eisinger to just flat out say she supports Nickelsville as a solution, but for whatever reason, she couldn't go there. This left it up to Rick Reynolds, who admirably rises to the occasion by humanizing the problem and calling for something better. "Why do we continue to have persistent tenting situations if the need is being met? … It's a band-aid, but how many of us have never needed a band-aid?" He is riveting. Even Bill Block goes a little off the plantation, but not dangerously so. He mostly sticks to his talking points.

The Mayor's script is seriously lacking in credibility. Maybe it's time to try something else.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Like Pink Live

I Like Pink, loose and very blue. Q Cafe Nickelsville Benefit, Nov. 15, 2008. Performance recorded by Mr. Doug McKeehan

Have Mercy Live

I can't really quite believe I pulled this off in front of an audience. I forgot the bridge and didn't repeat the first two verses at the end, but it's just as well. My fifteen minute set ended at 14:30. Q Cafe, Nickelsville Benefit, Nov. 15, 2008

Dancing Barefoot Live

Revel and I opened the set with this. I started out kind of nervous, but lost myself in the song midway through and recovered. Q Cafe Nickelsville Benefit, Nov. 15, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rising Waters

I attended a secret meeting on homelessness last Friday. Many members of the inner cabal were in attendance. I didn't even have to crash the thing. The press was not invited, as there were delicate matters under discussion. How screwed are homeless people? Who is screwing them? And so forth.

Therefore, I can only discuss this meeting by cloaking the proceedings in extreme allegory. I have chosen the river babies trope, which has the metaphorical happiness of being infinitely extendable. The following events may or may not have occurred.

It was noon, and the Kingdom smelled of portabello paninis. The Juridical Commission on Criblessness was in Seattle to review the local plight of the Riverbabies. Gathered with the Commission were many of the leading advocates and caretakers for the Riverbabies. Or of the Riverbabies, as was now the preferred term.

Riverbabynessness — from the early days, when just a few people were pulling babies out of the stream, all the way through to the large well-lit open rooms, which played Brahms while babies laid teeny toe to adorable head throughout the vast facility — had continued to grow. There still wasn't enough room. The babies were coming faster than anyone knew how to handle. Families First, once the goal for all babies, was now the fate of maybe one in ten. Many of these were speaking in complete sentences before finally joining a family. Most people simply didn't have the additional means to help, and those who did mostly didn't like babies.

The Kingdom was overextended and badly managed. The Skypeople, about 1% of the realm, reveled in vast piles of gold while the Invisibles, the bottom 15% or so, lived in conditions of utter misery. For most of the kingdom, life was filled with worry and risk.

The Riverbabies were now overflowing the banks and getting lodged out in the weeds. These were called the Outliers. There was the incident where a gang of youths used one as a soccer ball. A brief public outcry occurred, and then everyone stopped caring again. Most people had become very accustomed to the Riverbabies, to the point of hardly noticing them. The Outliers and the Riverbabies were outwardly indistinguishable. It was their surroundings that made the difference. An indoor Riverbaby was legal. An outdoor Riverbaby was not.

The King's Riverbaby sweeps had been in the press a lot lately, and the King himself was increasingly forced to defend his policies. It didn't help that he had grown more swollen with each passing day of regal tenancy. His neck poured up over his collar in angry waves of exfoliated pink flesh, rising into a doughy ball of obscenely pouty lips, flapping jowls, and bulbous nose. The King's tiny flat gray eyes swam in small seas of bright pink nestled against the fleshy shores of his brow. They alternated between frightened and bored as they darted about, often finally fixing in a defiant glare that still seemed somehow dead. The expensive haircut strangely accentuated the oddness of the King's bullet-shaped head, which resembled a slug fired into a block of wood and retrieved as evidence.

A recent Riverbaby Uprising had drawn much attention to the King's edict, and people were once again beginning to notice the Problem, as it was commonly called. After all, the waters were continually rising. Some would walk to the banks nearly everyday, commenting nervously to one another on how the depths had just claimed some new point of interest. A fence post. A field. A parked car. An unlucky cow.

Various squires of the King, both loyal and disloyal, were there before the Commission, as were the key shysters and proles, and, of course, the star baby tenders, allies, and agitators. Discussion was mostly polite. They nibbled on inexpensively catered sandwiches and drank urns of coffee with their brownie triangles. A few of the villagers didn't seem to know why they were there. Some of the more loquacious tenders prattled on about the details of tendenceship, oblivious to the waters that would soon swamp their feeble efforts.

The core facts regarding the Riverbaby sweeps were read. Upbeat assurances of progress on the Problem were offered by the Top Tender. Many tenders still adhered to a Riverbaby creed based upon a belief in the Number Ten. The Top Tender was the chief local exponent of this belief system which had swept the Kingdom hence and hither.

One of the agitators asked the Top Tender why the Outliers were of such little regard to Ten Worshippers. The Top Tender replied that while individual Ten Worshippers might have their own opinions, his belief system had no democratic process that allowed for resolution of differences or airing of controversy. This may anger some of the Ten Worshippers, he wordlessly implied, and gravely fracture the Tendence Coalition, which, sadly, was failing miserably in its meticulously meretricious yet metrically misleading goals. Eventually, the Top Tender remembered that the Tendence Coalition had set a standard for the King based on the King's standard, and boldly announced his bright thought, assured that those assembled would thricely applaud and dance a jig. None did.

A Juridical Commissioner noted — once many of the inner cabal scurried to other appointments and the others had resorted to chatting semi-furtively among themselves — that this was the way of the Ten Worshippers in most Kingdoms. The Outliers make the SkyPeople uncomfortable, and are thereby the enemy of the King, for the King is of the Skypeople and not of the rest of us. Ten Worshippers are often loath to offend the King. For the King is mighty, and holds their fate within his pudgy yet powerful hands.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Sigh. Another night up til 1:30 or 2:00. I'm so screwed. This song, however, keeps evolving. Over the past week, as I prepared to play live, it became an obsession. I love the slide up to hit the harmonics on the way down and that little slide back up. It seems like there's around 300 ways that can happen, and each one surprises me just a little. I added some American Clean effect to the guitar and suddenly I sound like Billy Bragg meets Gang of Four. Put the live simulation reverb on the vocals and — bang — I'm kind of an emo punk act. I can't think really of who the vocals remind me of. Me, I guess.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nickelsville: The Musical

Here's a slide show/movie with song accompaniment that Revel made for Saturday's Nickelsville Benefit at Q Cafe. Contributors include Tajuan Treamalle, Richard White, Revel, Patricia Gray, Alex Becker, and others. The event raised more than $2,500 for the cause. Kudos to Dustin Cross for organizing a fine event.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dancing Barefoot

Last night I played in front of "people" for the first time in about twenty years. When I did it then, I sucked. That was a Street Magazine party, organized as a talent show. I made up some Devo-ish thing about art school people. They were an easy target. People dug it, and some guy asked me to play his cafe. I had one song I was good at at, and a handful of others that sucked. I declined.

Last night Revel and I did Dancing Barefoot in front of maybe 125 people at the Nickelsville Benefit. Then I did a fast, hard Have Mercy, which I managed not to tremendously fuck up (I'm prone to forgetting lyrics), and closed with a loose and hammy I Like Pink.

It was cool to have a sound guy giving me some reverb and making it sound nice. I've gotten very comfortable in front of audiences as a speaker, but performing as an artist is different. You're much more exposed. You kind of have to let go for it to work. When it works, you feel very high and very focused. I do, anyway.

Doing Dancing Barefoot in a christian setting brought out more of its god stuff for us. It's about intense love, connection, ecstasy, God, the universe, redemption. The big stuff.

The version posted here is hot. Revel and I did four takes on this song today, thinking that maybe after more practice and new strings on the guitar we'd get something good. None were better than the first, done at 9 am the morning after we learned it. I added a little reverb and a lead track tonight, and, well, it's pretty damn good. Really. Put on some headphones and listen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Do You Think You Can Tell?

I've been playing a bit compulsively lately and revisited this one tonight. The voice kind of gives away a few times, but overall, it's a nice, slow, take on a song that never stops being relevant. Wish You Were Here got burned into my brain during a time when a bong and an 8-track tape deck were standard automotive equipment. Someday I'll get ambitious and learn the slidey high part that's missing.

I Smell Toast

An article in Crosscut this morning describes Wednesday's Real Change Annual Breakfast as "a rally to dump Mayor Greg Nickels and, for that matter, much of the Seattle City Council." I didn't think we were being that obvious.

We got some good laughs with a video of the mayor lying, and called for support of the Nick Licata sponsored bond issue proviso that will slow down Seattle's new jail long enough to consider alternatives. My speech on this at the NW Socialists Conference is also the featured video at the Socialist Worker national website.

And yes, the Real Change 14th anniversary Nurturing the Grassroots breakfast, which drew 450 people and raised more than $71,500 to fund our organizing, was hardly a meeting of the Mayor Nickels fan club. For that, we'd need a much smaller room and better food. With the Nickels' approval ratings down to 31%, and at 26% among frequent voters, the Mayor is burnt political toast.
The Wednesday morning annual Real Change breakfast had aspects of a Dump Nickels rally. Homeless advocates showed film footage in which they alleged that Nickels was lying outright both about the amount of present available housing for the homeless and the nature of the Nickelsville tent city encampment now situated in the University District. The people at Nickelsville were not really homeless, Nickels alleged on a giant TV screen at the breakfast, but really activists posing as homeless. They went home to their own beds at night. Nickelsville residents attested that they had no homes or beds of their own. The mayor's proposal for a multimllion-dollar new city jail also came under fire. The present jail's population, it was asserted, has shrunk rather than risen in recent years.
The article links to Aimee Curl's Seattle Weekly piece on Nickelsville of last week, which graciously gave me the close quote.
Real Change Executive Director Tim Harris calls Nickelsville a "fabulous success," in large part because "it's still there." Still, he's skeptical that they'll ever be able to build a Dignity Village–like settlement. "At least not under this mayor," Harris says. "He's really dug in. He's really inflexible. But it's not a given that he'll win the next term."
To quote the bard — Lou Reed, to be specific — "He's done. Stick a fork in his ass and turn him over."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ode To Pumpkin Pie

Tonight the girls came home from Kindergarten singing a new song. I remembered it as my first feat of lyrical memorization. I was going to be the last kid in second grade to get it. Then, on the playground, while picking those little red berries that spit seed in a weapon-like manner when you squeeze them, Pat Lambert let me in on the secret. You can sing and it sticks. I was amazed. Twin B got all shy when we went to record, and her version was different from the one I knew. I tried getting tab off the net, and this, amazingly, got me nowhere. If the chords to this classic are anywhere online, they'll probably charge you $5 to download it. Weird. So, I played it the way it sounded to me, and turned it into a rocker.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why Protest Politics Matters.

Today was the Real Change breakfast. The slide show above ran at the beginning and close, and is by Revel with music by me.

Sherman ran a lovely and funny extended metaphor that drew upon his ever deepening life as a frequent flyer. John Bayly, the Real Change vendor who made the pitch, did the best job I've ever seen, anywhere. We had about 450 people there and raised at least $71,500. We're still counting.

I talked about hope, reality, and the importance of protest politics.

This is one version of the future, I said: Grassroots activism grows. The political climate changes. There's a major investment in clean energy, and we put people to work. We finally get out of Iraq, and we figure out how to do health care. A bunch of bad executive orders get reversed. We get a few supreme court justices, and so forth.

But then, what about inequality, which has increased steadily since 73. The pace of that is only accelerating, especially at the top and bottom-most ends.

How much political will will it take to decrease inequality, I asked? I mean, ending homelessness; that's one thing we can all get around the table on, but reducing inequality? That's communism. And, as Sherman noted this morning, you're not allowed to call in sick on communism. Too few others are picking up the slack.

Here’s another version of the future, I said. Obama does what he can, but the economy continues to slide. Localities face budget deficits year after year. The war goes on. It turns out to be surprisingly intractable. No meaningful health care reform is passed because people think Obama’s going to do everything for us and they mostly let the insurance and drug companies dictate the terms. Tax reform is mild, and the financial system gets some tweaks, but mostly continues to run without transparency or accountability. Inequality continues to widen. Homelessness grows, as has been the trend since the 70’s. Local budgets are tight. The political will to end homelessness fades and grows more jaded. Poor people are increasingly criminalized. Seattle’s new jail, after just four years, is operating at capacity. Racial disproportionality in the prison and homeless populations keeps increasing. And so forth.

The difference, I said, will depend upon the strength of grassroots organizing.

Last night, I thought about protest politics, and what I was going to say about why the work matters. After all, we haven't exactly stopped the homeless sweeps yet; although we have made the practices a good deal more visible and forced the Mayor to at least a pretense of accountability. But there's been another win that might allow for a win later.

We shifted the frame. Protest politics changes the frame.

City framing on the homeless sweeps issue was clear, if not original: Camping is illegal. The plan is consistent and compassionate. This is a ten year plan, not a two year plan. Hypodermic needles, human feces, and bottles of urine are everywhere. Insert number tons of garbage removed here. The greenbelts have become places of danger and filth, and we should fear the filthy, dangerous people.

We changed that. Right around June 8-9, during Camp4Unity and the arrests in the street, the media was starting to get more critical, and we shoved it over the top. Our own good press sort of astonished us. We were seen as in the right, and the City was shown to have a problem to solve, and the sweeps were not a help.

The city lost control of the frame and a new one was born.

There’s nowhere for people to go. People are doing something to help themselves. Why not help them? Pink tents are cool. Brenden Foster said "They're probably starving, and we should help them." Homelessness is growing. The ripples of the economic meltdown are spreading, and the response is known to be inadequate.

The Mayor is now seen as persecuting homeless people without providing real alternatives. Were he at all accountable, we'd be winning.

With the city poised to ram it's vertical municipal jail down our throats, new feats of reframing are required.

The jail will cost $220M to build and $19M to operate, at minimum. This kind of money is better spent on upstream solutions. Our city jail numbers are down 38% while overall population is up 8%. Yet, the Mayor is slamming it through. the new jail represents the continuation of a failed strategy: reliance upon incarceration for the mitigation of urban ills. It doesn't work. It just deepens poverty. And yet, here we are, poised to spend millions in the service of ruining lives when we should be putting resources into rebuilding them.

The city frame is that the jail is inevitable. The downward trends in jail population, they argue, are unsustainable, and will reverse. There’s no alternative. The question is before the electorate is merely one of where to put the thing.

The new jail is a bricks and mortar commitment to a dismal future for the poor. 1 in 99 Americans is already behind bars. 1 in 9 Black males aged 20-24 are in jail. A Black male high school drop-out has a 2 in 3 chance of landing in prison by age 35. These sorts of numbers decimate communities, and create ever deepening spirals of poverty.

We have a narrow window where we can still say enough is enough and change the frame. And it won't be done by asking quietly. You can bet on that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Short and Sweet

Today, the Seattle PI editorial board weighed in on the new jail. While I'm thinking that more than "duty" is driving Nickels to hardball this thing through as fast as he can, this is still a welcome turning point on the issue. Up until now, nearly all the press has centered on the question of where the facility will be sited. The proposed City Council proviso is one of the very few tools available to slow this freight train down. The hearing is Friday at 9:30 in Council Chambers. Showing up matters. So does calling Councilmembers. Do it now.
A New Jail: Shaky finances

With the city's budget turning shaky, the last thing to spend money on should be a new jail. It's not a priority when people are hurting.

The Seattle City Council is weighing a good step toward investigating the necessity of a new jail. The council could withhold millions in facility funding for 2009 and 2010 until the city studies whether it might avert the need with new policies and programs on drug arrests.

Duty, not enthusiasm, has driven Mayor Greg Nickels' work on a jail. A mayoral adviser welcomed the idea of studying whether most drug offenders could be diverted -- safely and efficiently -- to social services before being jailed. A key would be King County funding enough services through a new mental health and substance abuse sales tax.

The county and city have to make tough budget choices. If public safety can be preserved without a new jail, everyone will be happier.

Have Some Mercy, Will Ya?

OK. I'll be honest. This is so good it's fucking scary. I've been practicing this one for the Nickelsville Benefit on Saturday, and I think I've broken through to the other side. It's just 4:22, but it feels longer. I'd of kept going, but that knock you hear toward the end is my neighbor, at 11. Oops. I guess I was being loud.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dancing Barefoot

Revel and I practiced this a few times last night and knocked it out this morning before coffee. We're clearly a duo act. Patti Smith's Dancing Barefoot, with feeling.

A Socialist Perspective on the New City Jail.

Elliot Stoller was videotaping last night when I spoke at the NW Socialists Conference on the city's new jail. Now I know what I look like. You can send an email to City Council supporting a proviso in the City's bond issue to fund the jail siting process that would direct the City to explore alternatives to the jail before being allowed spend the majority of the money they intend to allocate for this process. There is a hearing this Friday in Council Chambers at 9:30 am, and your testimony on this issue is needed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Distance of the Moon

Twin B got me talking and thinking about the moon the other night, and specifically requested that I put "Moon, story, kid," into a "search engine." Which brought me to this, quite possibly the single most beautiful, trippy thing I have ever found on the internet. A stop animation film, based on Italo Calvino's The Distance of the Moon. The subtitles are hard to read, so I transcribed.
At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin,
the moon was very close to the Earth.
The the tides gradually pushed her far away:
the tides that the moon herself causes in the Earth's water.
where the Earth slowly loses energy.

There were times when the full moon was so low,
and the tide was so high,
that the moon almost got wet from the sea water.

There were quite a few of us.
The Captain. My deaf cousin. Ms. Vhd Vhd. And me.
And sometimes little Xithix, she was twelve or so at that time.
What in the world we went up on the moon for?
Ahh ... we went to collect the moon milk.

The moon milk was very thick. It was composed chiefly of
vegetal juices, tadpoles, pollen, worms,
mineral salts and combustion residue,
not in the pure state, obviously,
after filtering it, some bodies remained:
fingernails, cartilage, nails, seahorses,
at times even a comb.

This is the story of how my love for that woman began.
Shortly I realized whom the lady kept looking at insistently.
In her eyes I could read the thoughts,
that the deaf man's familiarity with the moon were arousing in her.

And when he disappeared in his mysterious lunar explorations,
I saw her become restless. And then it was all clear to me.
How Ms. Vhd Vhd was becoming jealous of the moon.
And how I was jealous of my cousin.

"This time I want to go up there too," said the lady.
"Did you see him," she asked?
My cousin was deeply busy doing his things.
He did not notice anything other than the moon, his true love.

Surely there was something strange about that night.
What's happening? The moon is going away.
"Where's the lady," I shouted.
The lady had also tried to jump like the deaf.
But she was still only floating a few yards from the moon.
Without thinking, I climbed up quickly,
and held her harp out toward her so she can grasp it.

I should have been happy.
At last, she and I alone, away from everything.
Now, I thought to myself, I'll enjoy her being close to me.
Just like the deaf and the Moon who made me so jealous.

A month of days and lunar nights stretched before us,
We faced deep oceans, deserts of glowing lapill, continents of ice,
rocky walls of mountain chains, gashed by deep rivers,
swampy cities, stone graveyards and empires of clay and mud.

I thought only of the Earth, the world we came from,
Up there, it was as if I were no longer that I, nor she that she.
I was eager to return to the Earth, and trembled at the fear of having lost it.

But she? nothing. She felt nothing.
She never raised her eyes to our old planet.
She had probably realized that my cousin loved only the moon.

When the Moon had completed its circling of the planet,
I found myself in the same position again.
I couldn't believe how we drew away.
Our boat looked so tiny.

Suddenly, my cousin, it couldn't have been anyone else.
He was so in love with the moon.
And if the moon now tended to go away from him
then he would take delight in this separation, just as, til now,
he had delighted in the Moon's nearness.

And I? I didn't hesitate anymore.

Ahh ... finally. My eyes gazed at the Moon, forever beyond my reach, as I sought her.
I saw her there, or it seemed so, where I had left her.
She was all alone.

That's how I remember her even today,
When the moon has become that remote flat circle,
I still look for her.
And when the Moon is full the dogs are howling all night long,
and I'm with them, silently.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning From Brenden Foster

Eleven year-old Brenden Foster is a boy dying of leukemia who wishes things were better for homeless people. He has asked that people do what they can to support Nickelsville. On Friday, KOMO reports, a group came by the homeless camp with sandwiches to fulfill Brenden's wish.

"I was coming back from one of my clinic appoints and I saw this big thing of homeless people, and then I thought I should just get them something. ... They're probably starving, so, give them a chance."

I'm no sap, but this video, with the dying Brenden being so matter of fact about how people who need help should get it, moves me to tears every time. At eleven, he's grasped what should be obvious to us all. We're a community, and should care for each other. What could be more elementary? May the spirit of Brenden live on in all of us.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Have Mercy, Live

On November 15th I'll be playing a couple of tunes at the Nickelsville Benefit, which means actually learning my songs. I mostly forget them as soon as they're made up. It's a fairly ineffective means of building a repertoire. This one's starting to feel ready.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Revolution Starts Here

"Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, 'Things are finally as terrible as we're willing to tolerate," said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. "To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you."

Added Obama, "It's a great day for our nation."

Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama's victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

The Onion, Nov. 5, 2008

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for the Democratic primary debates, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me ... answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

Post-election behind the scenes report from Newsweek Team

First and Pike last night looked and felt something like the liberation of France after the Nazi occupation. Ecstatic strangers high-fived each other in the streets. People leaned out of car windows shouting "Obama" while drivers leaned on ther horns. Huge crowds took over the street chanting "Yes We Can." People were crying out of sheer joy. Just as things seemed to be dying down a bit after midnight, another large crowd poured into the downtown, complete with marching band. Never, in my life, have I seen anything like it. Hope has been unleashed.

Today, the real work begins. America is going the way of all empires, and has been for awhile. We are militarily overextended, and the costs in blood and treasure are unsustainable. The elites are entirely focused on getting theirs while the getting is still good and the rest of us are going down. The system is in the beginning stages of collapse and the halfwit son of the former King is in charge.

Like probably half the people I know, I found myself tearing up during Obama's victory speech. While his story of progress in America through the eyes of a 106-year-old woman was rhetorically masterful and measured up to the magnitude of the moment, that's not what got me. My own tears of gratitude came because here, finally, someone — someone who is going to be President of the United States — was telling the truth.

Change won't be easy. People will have to sacrifice. It will be a long hard climb. We, the people, were invited to join in the remaking of America, "block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand," and to "look after not only ourselves, but each other."

Seeing all the young people in the streets last night gave me more hope for the future than I've ever felt in my life. I look at my five year old daughters and wonder what horrors they'll see. Civil war in America? Drinking water at $5 a gallon? Massive migrations due to coastal flooding? Mega-slums right here in the United States? But hope was in the streets last night.

On the other side stand the forces of reaction, and they will not easily fade into the night. An otherwise normal looking woman — my apartment building manager — told me in all seriousness last week that Obama is the Antichrist. "It's all in Revelations," she said. Read Revelations."

It's going to be one hell of a ride.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The "O" Stands For Organize

As Real Change goes to press on Election Day, the streets of Seattle are filled with happy people. CNN’s electoral map indicates that McCain needs to take all of his safe and leaning states, all of the “too close to call” states, and draw 26 additional electoral college votes from those leaning toward Obama to hit his 270. It’s never over until it’s over, but basically, it’s over. We’re in a new political era, and grassroots organizing has never been more important.

There are those who say that Obama has, during the long, hard, run, revealed himself as just another bought off middle-of-the-roader who doesn’t really represent change. What part of “electable” do they not understand? This is a time for hope, not cynicism. The seeds of change have rarely seen more fertile ground. The rest is up to us.

History is clear. Politicians don’t drive social change movements. Social change movements drive politicians. When enough people face enough systemic pressure, and the possibility for real change is credible, enormous shifts in political reality become possible.

Most of the time, the message from inside the DC beltway is “can’t change, don’t try.” When a Presidential candidate says change is possible, but only when an organized grassroots seizes the day and makes the demand, a rare truth is being spoken.

This is an extraordinary moment, and it won’t last. Those of us who care about social and economic justice need to organize like our lives, our planet, and our democracy, depend on it. They do.

Real Change strengthens and supports the work of Seattle’s progressive community and defends the interests of those who have the least. We have set an aggressive goal of raising $180,000 in reader donations by January. This is about a third more than we raised during last year’s drive. We can enter 2009 weak, or we can enter 2009 strong. We’re doing the work, but the rest is up to you.

Please send your gift to Real Change today, at 2129 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121, or visit our website at to make a secure, fully tax-deductible, on-line donation. Your support of our work has never mattered more.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Life As A Rageaholic

Frequent readers of the Lament may have noticed a certain attrition of volume of late. That's because this has been, mildly speaking, my week of personal hell. I spent Wednesday morning in divorce court, having my character dismantled and ground into the mud. I came out the other end having most weekends with my twin five year-olds and on the hook for full child support, which amounts, in this case, to around 44% of my income. I paid rent for November with a VISA credit card check. Penury and debt. Sweet.

I arrived at court in the dark Hickey-Freeman pinstripe suit I bought at a garage sale for $50. The tailors at Men's Warehouse were agog at my good fortune. The last time I wore this was to my sister-in-law's wedding four years ago. That would be my former sister in law. My belt kept the 36" slacks up on what are now my 32" hips, but the jacket fit perfectly. I seem to be in Phase II of the Divorce Weight-loss Plan.

The best revenge, I think, is to show up at divorce court looking hot.

There were five cases on the morning docket prior to my own. It was more than striking to see that, with one exception, each embittered couple preceeding us was a domestic violence situation. Among divorcees, apparently, battering is epidemic. As we sat there, watching people who have grown to despise eachother slice and jab away, my lawyer whispered that this is typical. It's a real problem he said. DV is real, but divorce court somewhat cheapens the whole deal.

Sadly, I didn't escape this fate.

There was a push. It wasn't a flying across the room push. It was more of a get the fuck out of my face push. She was moved by inches, not feet. Still, it was a personal low. My reptilian brain got the better of me. Twenty years of increasingly toxic marital warfare culminated in the mother of all slash and burns that day. We very unpleasantly agreed we were done.

Several friends said at the time that The Push would come to define the divorce. I didn't beleive them, but they were right. After twenty utterly violence-free years, that moment made me into a batterer. As exit narratives go, it served nicely.

On it's own, however, The Push didn't measure up to the job. It took this blog to turn me into a monster.

If you want a terrifying spectacle of the law in action, you really can't do better than divorce court. Lives are decided based upon a twenty minute scan of boxes of material and a half-hour of lawyerly distortion. Forget nuance and forget principles. It's war, and the strongest superficial impression wins.

In Washington state, men are unusually screwed. While most states have moved on to co-parenting being in the best interests of the kids, here, it's still pretty much 1973. Actually, that's not true. In 1973, I'd have seen my kids every other weekend for maybe an overnight. As bad as they are, things have improved.

But anyway, onto the evidence. My autobiography project was entered into the record through a post written in October of 2007, The Year of Living Dangerously. This piece describes a day where I was abducted while hitchhiking, taken to the woods, stripped at knifepoint, forced to roll in the mud, and left naked to find my way back to town. I was eighteen. I knew the people who did it and tracked them down with a chin-up bar. Luckily, someone intervened and talked me down. Nothing happened.

In court, however, this became evidence of my lifelong predisposition to violence. The judge, of course, never read the post. She simply heard my wife's lawyer assert that I myself brag that I tracked someone down with a steel bar.

A straight line was drawn from here to my present day sociopathic rage through the May 2007 Taking Matters Into My Own Hands. This describes a night at Real Change when, two hours after closing and after numerous calls to police, I physically evicted a belligerent drunken homeless guy from Real Change. I went to the back room for a crow bar before I pulled him off the couch and shoved him out the door. He may have had a weapon. I wanted him to be impressed. My own weapon, of course, was never deployed.

This became, "For gods sake, your honor, just last year he chased a homeless man down with a crowbar."

At this, the judge looked at me as though I were some sort of particularly unpleasant bug.

The best, though, was lifted from the Apesma's Lament initial About Me statement, which I replaced about a year ago with what stands now. This read, as some of you may remember:
If my life were an open book, it would be banned in Abilene, Texas and in many parts of Missouri. If it were a work of art, it would be a messy finger painting by a Ritalin-addled third grader. If my life were a prayer, the assumption would be that God, as a projection of myself, is a distracted asshole who is trying to do better. This is who I am. These are my thoughts. Apesmas Lament is my daily forum where I write about whatever pisses me off or turns me on. I’m also working through a memoir of sorts, because my story amuses me, if no one else. My normal state of mind these days is a more-or-less functional state of rage. Most of the time I feel like we’re living in a post-industrial, advanced capitalist version of Wiemar Germany, and we’re mostly too fucking comfortable to really notice or care. My sense of humor and my family help to keep me sane, but barely. I have a job, but I am not that. I am what I am. Don't let this confuse you.
This became, "He says himself in his blog that he lives in a constant state of rage. His words, your honor." A more normal person would be more judiciously anesthetized to the horror-show of modern life through shopping and pop culture. My bad.

For a few days, I considered pulling the plug on Apesma. Having my own words used so glibly and devastatingly against me came as more of a shock than perhaps it should. As a writer, I've gotten into the habit of personal disclosure. I knew there were risks, but this was more than I bargained for.

I'm over it, but daily posts, at least for now, are no longer in the cards. The stakes at work and at home are high. And, I have a book working it's way out. Apesma turned me into a real writer, but I'm still not a bad guy, no matter what they say.