Monday, December 31, 2007

Winding up with a BANG!

I was feeling pretty good today. Began with helping to put together our homeless community newsletter, The Occasional Times. After this afternoon's WHEEL (homeless women's organizing group) we spent some time talking over the last year. Our organizer, Michele, had to push us to do it because we were all itching to get gone; I ended up grateful I stayed, it was a very rewarding exercise.

Big wins for the year on my personal list:

  1. The publication of our book, Beloved Community: The Sisterhood of Homeless Women in Poetry.

  2. Winning the addition of homeless people as a protected group in Seattle's Malicious Harassment Ordinance (by unanimous vote!).

  3. We saved the Lora Lake Apartments from destruction.
I wound up at Real Change doing some research for WHEEL. Wes was there for the daily Sid-feeding. When Wes announced he was going up to Madison Market, I decided to tag along.

When we got off the bus at 17th & Madison, we jaywalked across the street, slanting downhill toward the market; so I guess you could say we brought it on ourselves. There was a ridge in the asphalt, running lengthwise with the traffic instead of crosswise like a speed-bump. We both tripped over it, almost simultaneously. Wes kept his long legs under him, lurching several steps and flapping "like a clipped-wing chicken trying to fly" as he described himself later. I with my little short legs only managed to avoid falling in the roadway itself. I went face down in the grass at the edge of the sidewalk and lay there while I took stock of how many places I hurt. When I heard Wes's distressed cry of "Oh, shit!" my first thought was, "Did we drop something in the road? Where are my glasses?" His reaction was instead triggered by turning back in relief after he avoided falling down, to find me lying face down and still!

I have only a small bit of bruising on one knee -- which is a miracle, considering how easily I bruise -- but I pulled muscles in my right shoulder badly and it hurt a LOT for the rest of the night. I'm actually writing this on the first, because no way was I using a keyboard last night! It only hurts a little bit now, though. I bought a cold can of rootbeer and kept running it across the sore spots all the way home!

On a bright note, my back feels ever so much better! I thought I had pulled a muscle lifting a worm bin, but maybe it was a slipped disc after all. When I got up from the ground last night, the pain seemed gone! At first I thought it might be just because my shoulder hurt so much worse, but the pain didn't come back as my shoulder pain faded, and my lower back has been more flexible, too.

I don't advise face-first falls as a remedy for lower-back pain, but I will take the serendipitous blessing. :) Sarah N. Dippity rides again!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

For Your Gmail Security

UK-based graphic and logo designer David Airey recently had his domain name stolen through a security hole in Google's free-email service, gmail. The good news is that, with the support of many of the online public and the help of both ICDSoft and GoDaddy, he has it back.

One of the lessons learned during this period is that using a free email service for business purposes is risky. Several comments on Airey's blog contained information that can diminish the risk for all of us (including bloggers).

  • Any web application can be hijacked by taking its session cookie, not just GMail. The increasing sophistication of technology makes it possible for thieves to snatch this information right out of the air. Always use https when accessing webmail, or any other online account. For GMail, go to (and bookmark)

  • The Firefox extension CustomizeGoogle keeps all Google domains locked to https (among the many other useful things it does).

  • You can set up a regular email client, like Thunderbird, Apple Mail, etc, to access GMail via IMAP. This will pretty much make your mail access immune to cross-site scripting attacks.
Write On! And Be Safe!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Climate change deniers never get tired - only their arguments do

According to cognitive scientists, the first thing our brain naturally does when hearing a new statement is believe it. Only afterwards do the habits of skepticism kick in -- if we have trained them -- and send our neurons scouting for any counter-evidence. "It ain't necessarily so" is a trained response -- not a built-in circuit.

So what do you do if your claim is disproved the first time you make it? Repeat it -- over and over and over, until everybody gets tired of correcting you, and then you win!

I am not tired yet. Steven "The JunkMan" Milloy of the Competitive Enterprise Institute posts a Global Warming Denial's Top Ten List as a year-end wrap-up. Here, once again, is why he is still wrong:

  1. Milloy trumpets a study by climate-change skeptics claiming that Observed temperature changes measured over the last 30 years don’t match well with temperatures predicted by the [IPCC's] mathematical climate models..."

    He didn't finish his research. On the same day that Science Daily and Fox News noticed the study, the climate scientists at posted a refutation of it. For a less technical summary, See #3 of Prof. John Mitchell's Climate Change Myths:
    Myth 3 - There is less warming in the upper atmosphere than at the surface which disproves human-induced warming

    We expect greater warming in the upper atmosphere than at the surface in the tropics, but the reverse is true at high latitudes. This expectation holds whether the cause of warming is due to greenhouse gases or changes in the Sun’s output. Until recently, measurements of the temperature changes in the tropics in recent decades did not appear to show greater warming aloft than at the surface. It has now been shown that allowing for uncertainties in the observations, the theoretical and modelling results can be reconciled with the observations.

    The bottom line is that the range of available information is now consistent with increased warming through the troposphere (the lowest region of the atmosphere).
    Turns out, the authors tried the same argument before in 2004 and got trounced. They tried this year with a slightly revised version; they are still wrong.

  2. Milloy says one more time with feeling, "It's all the sun's fault!" This is getting as old as "Evolution is just a theory." One more time, with feeling, "No, it's not!"

  3. It was even warmer 1000 years ago, so we can't be causing the warming now!

    This is one more attempt to sell the Medieval Warming Period as a global phenomenon; still shoddy merchandise. The latest "study" is by Craig Loehle, of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement -- an "environmental resource for the forest products industry" that is largely funded by the forest products industry.

    Find out more on the Medieval Warming Period at GristMill, NOAA, and Wikipedia, as well as the RealClimate entry linked above.

  4. We don't have to do anything to correct global warming: the atmosphere self-regulates.

    One more example of "personal responsibility" conservatives sloughing off any hint of personal responsibility. James Lovelock, who first proposed the vision of a "self-regulating" system Earth, himself thinks we have overloaded the system.

    I think: 1) When you make a mess, do you clean it up yourself or do you wait for the "natural forces of the environment" to decay it? 2) How many people have to lose their livelihoods, lose their homes, sicken, and die while we wait for the climate to "self regulate"? 3) Nature has no reason to favor human interests in her "self-regulation." Natural "self-regulation" could include plague, flood, fire, and other methods more unpleasant to humans than cutting down on driving.

  5. Roll out the Straw Man! A 2005 report on the Atlantic Ocean current raised alarms in some of the media. Milloy uses this as an example of scientists being "alarmist," although scientists themselves were much more cautious about the findings. A better way to prevent future alarmism would have been to improve his readers' understanding of the science, as the scientists at RealClimate did. Further news about the Atlantic Current.
I have gotten a bit tired, after all. I'm going to have to close this blog entry here and continue the list "next year." Do you think that Steven Milloy, who gets paid for this kind of thing, could be induced to do his own research?

More on Steven Milloy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ron Paul will not make you free

I've had a bad cold all week and I don't even really feel like blogging right now, but I am annoyed and fed up, and what's a blog for if you can't rant, eh?

Whatever my criticisms of Ron Paul himself (and I have many), I recognize common interests with most of his supporters. We are angry about the decline of democracy and the engrossment of executive power under all administrations in the last forty years, especially this latest and most blatantly non-democratic administration. We will have an increase of civil liberties in this country, and a return to the balance of powers envisioned by the creators of our Constitution, or we are going to have a new revolution. While there is a division of opinion on what kind of revolution, the feeling of revolution is pretty universal.

Conservatives are feeling trod upon and want to have a revolution that will give them more freedom. Libertarians are feeling trod upon and want to have a revolution that will give them more freedom. Liberals are always certain that everybody is being trod upon and want a perpetual revolution. And everybody is certain that the freedom they want is going to be for everybody else's good -- whether "everybody else" wants it or not!

My head hurts, my nose hurts, my chest hurts, my arthritis hurts, and I'm not feeling tactful tonight. I say a pox on all your houses!

Freedom of thought is meaningless to you if you don't think. Spending one hour researching the argument against one of your own fixed beliefs will do more to advance your freedom of thought that blowing up ten "Ten Commandment" monuments. Freedom of speech is meaningless unless you speak up. When you edit yourself silent you are under a far more efficient tyranny than anyone else can exercise over you. When was the last time you exercised your freedom to associate, face to face and in person? How often do you communicate with your elected officials and governmental bureaucracies? How can anyone give you the "right to petition" if you don't use it?

Cynicism is nothing but laziness and moral cowardice. "All politicians are corrupt" gives all corrupt politicians carte blanche and lets you out of any responsibility for work. What do you think "self-government" meant? You get to cast a vote every now and then and go fishing the rest of the time?

The freedom that most libertarians are hot about is the freedom to enjoy all of the benefits of living in a highly developed country without paying for any of it. By the chance of birth they inherited electricity, indoor plumbing, public hygiene, interstate roads, the internet, and many other blessings they did not earn or create. The very idea that, having benefited from living in a complex society, they have any personal obligation to help maintain it, outrages them!

Honey, if you can be dropped bare naked into the middle of a virgin forest and build a 21st-century civilization from scratch, I will call you a self-made man and agree that you owe no taxes to anyone. In reality as it is, you and I and every soul alive, from those in the most terrible poverty in the middle of the Sudan to Bill Gates the Glorious, receive far more in life than we ever return.

None of us get any benefit whatsoever out of letting anyone else go hungry, homeless, or sick and untreated. All of us become healthier and more prosperous when we increase the health and prosperity of the poorest and weakest among us. A strong country is one with a strong citizenry -- healthy, well-fed, housed, and educated -- and that is a free country.

So get off your free-rider mentality and start increasing the freedom of everyone around you: freedom from want and disease, freedom to study, freedom to raise a family, freedom to travel, freedom to participate in society. That will increase your personal freedom more than the entire World Wide Web's hooting and hollering for Ron Paul.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tim Ceis's Response to Homeless Deaths: The Smirk

Tim Ceis SmirkSeattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis's only response to a homeless women who asked him to explain what the City is doing about the rising numbers of homeless people dying on the streets is a smirk.

I like what Tim Harris has to say about this:
"If I hear one more opportunistic bureaucrat say we've decided to 'end homelessness and stop managing it' as an excuse for leaving people out to freeze in the cold and harassing them in the meanwhile, I think I'm going to have to organize a piss-in on someone's front lawn."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Back Door SLAM!

Allofasudden I don't feel so old ---

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Googling Myself

According to recent news, this is not a rare activity. The latest news&blogs quoting or referring to me (since the roundup I posted on MySpace in July 2006) are:

  • December of last year (2006), KOMO news reported on one of our Women in Black vigils for homeless people who have died outside or by violence in King County. They included two quotes from me: "There are no throwaway people... everyone deserves to be remembered, honored, to have their life remembered when they die." and "With all of the deaths in the community, if I had to bear this alone, I'd go back into depression and be homeless again." (video included)

  • Several videos of me by Wes, this year:

  • In March, Wes reported on a community meeting about the Homeless Place of Remembrance project, something very dear to my heart. You can believe just about everything he says about it (and about me). Just don't believe him when he says he'll confess to the 20th Century.

  • In May, "Jewel Two Snaps" quoted from my essay on "Why Write?" and had fun with some of my writing exercises, including the challenge to "simplify!"

    Try KISSing these phrases yourself:
    • amelioration of affectional starvation
    • languor lures linguistic lapses
    • transcendental fervor
    • cantatas of calumny
    • cantabile concatenations of cant

  • In June, the Seattle P-I quoted me in their report on a Women in Black vigil for Isaac Palmer, a homeless man killed by a brush-clearing tractor.

  • Back to Wes, who in June (2006) used our adventures with a broken refrigerator and building management to illustrate fractals.

  • Back to poetry: WHEEL (homeless women's organizing group) has a REAL poetry book out, and Tim Harris reviewed it for Real Change -- starting the blog entry with a vivid description of me editing previous WHEEL chapbooks.

  • In other good news about homelessness -- on December 10, 2007, Seattle amended the city's malicious harassment ordinance (that defines harm or threat of harm to any person or their property on the basis of their membership in a group as a specific crime as "malicious harassment") to include homeless people as a protected class. The P-I article covering a previous committee hearing on the amendment includes this:
    "When you're homeless, especially women, you're afraid all the time. You're afraid when you sleep -- even if you're in a shelter," said Anitra Freeman, who has been homeless. "We have to send a different message to our children, to everyone out there."
  • And back to poetry (again): My most popular poem, by the number of sites quoting it, seems to be "What is Family?"

What Is Family?

Family are the shouts in the dark that keep you awake
trying to be invisible under your blankets.
Family is the warm heart you run to
when everyone else at the rink skates too fast
and you've cut your knees on the ice.
Family are given to you at birth
with your eyes and lips and nose.
They will stick to you wherever you go
and shape how you see
and what you say
and how you are seen
Family are found new each day
wherever you put your heart last.
Family are the people you share bread with,
and whoever you share the lack of bread with.
Sometimes your family aren't people.
Family is whoever lives under the tent of your soul.
Your family can be as big as you are,
and from birth to death, your real, real family
are the ones who make you grow bigger.

poem by Anitra L. Freeman
As I say at my own website, if I post something on the internet, you may use it freely, as long as you
  • Attribute it to me, Anitra L. Freeman.
  • Don't alter it (change the wording). (You may use small sections out of a whole, as long as the context is clear.)
  • Make nonprofit use of it. If you are going to make money, I want money!
  • If you want to make me extra happy, include a link to my website so that readers can find more:
These days, Creative Commons has made such licensing even easier.
Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Anitra L. Freeman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eid Al-Adha

Joyful Eid al-Adha to all Muslim readers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Two vigils on December 19th

This coming Wednesday, December 19th, WHEEL and the Church of Mary Magdalene will hold another Women in Black vigil for another homeless person who died outside in King County. The vigil is from Noon to 1 pm, on the steps of the Seattle Justice Center at 5th & James, across from City Hall.

And while the number of homeless people outside without shelter, being attacked outside, and dying outside, rises, Seattle police confiscate and destroy the personal belongings of homeless people camping in the greenbelts -- while leaving garbage out there untouched!

Real Change has been actively campaigning against this harassment, and has organized a rally at City Hall Wednesday night, 5-6 pm, followed by an all-night sleep-out. Seattle Raging Grannies will be opening the rally, and I will be there singing if my throat don't give out before then! (Wes and I are both coming down with a cold.)

Please come join us -- if not to hear me sing, then to support the right of even the poorest people in Seattle to survive!

Senator Sessions Jumps the Shark

Two of the first news reports I saw today made me very happy: a Federal Judge declared White House visitor logs are public documents ( and Sen. Harry Reid Pulled the FISA Telecom Immunity Bill Off the Senate Floor.

Score two for the U.S. Constitution!

Then I read a quote that sent a chill up my spine. During the debate before Reid pulled the bill, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said, “The civil libertarians among us would rather defend the constitution than protect our nation’s security.” (emphasis added)

Just in case anyone needs a reminder, U.S. Senators take an oath to support the Constitution! If you vote in Alabama, please remind your Senator of his oath.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Rise of the Raging Moderates

Recent conversations I have had with Ron Paul supporters and critics have reminded me all over again why the human species should be reclassified Homo Wannabe-Sapiens.

It isn't that we are all stupid; most people who even know who Ron Paul is are extremely intelligent. That's including both those who consider him the Savior of His Country and those who consider him the latest sign of the Downfall of Civilization.

What makes us Homo Wannabe-Sapiens is how readily we polarize like that. Polarized people can't learn from each other, because they can no longer see any strengths in the other person's argument or any weaknesses in their own. Polarized people don't even seem able to tell the difference between a physical fact and an ideological plank.

This all reminded me of an essay I wrote back in May, when I decided I was a Raging Moderate:

The Rise of the Raging Moderates

The title of one of Jim Hightower's books is There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Lines and Dead Armadillos. The attitude is generally shared even by those on the opposite extreme from Hightower: to be "moderate" means that you don’t believe in, or stand for, anything very strongly.

There is another definition of "moderate." A moderate is interested in solving a problem, not in winning a debate. A moderate places the common good above what is good for any one political party or any other faction. A moderate cares about people and doesn't give much of a fig for ideology. A moderate can see faults in allies and virtues in opponents. Like anyone else, a moderate thinks he's right, or he'd be thinking something else already; but a moderate is willing to find out he's wrong, and change his mind, if the evidence warrants it. A moderate is able to step out of his own viewpoint long enough to listen to and understand a different one. A moderate knows that honest people can honestly disagree, and still have common goals and interests that they can work on together.

A moderate can get angry. A moderate can get tired of being whipsawed between extremists, and say "a pox on ALL your houses!"

The founders of the American system of government spent a lot of time and great intellectual effort on how to forestall any one group, on whatever extreme, from gaining all power and running away with it. They divided and distributed power among different branches and levels of government so that in any conflicts, neither a majority nor a minority could ride roughshod over everyone else; we would all have to negotiate with the people who disagree with us.

And ever since then, extremists have tried to erode that balance of powers and collect all control in the hands of those who see things their way.

Polarization shuts down brain cells. (See Michael Shermer's article in Scientific American: The Political Brain.) The more people you see as your enemies, the more easily manipulated you are by your "friends." Fortunately, both polarized extremes of American politics seem to be losing their credibility. More and more elections depend on the vote of independents who are not arbitrarily aligned left OR Right – who have to be convinced case by case. Less and less independents are stampeded by being told that one party is the one and only force for Good and one party is the one and only force for Evil. An increasing number of voters demand practical results in domestic tranquility, common defense, and general welfare, instead of bigger and louder political slogans.

Books like Jim Hightower's (and, on the other end, Ann Coulter's diatribes about Godless Liberals) are hot sellers these days. On a promising note, so are these:

  • Edward Brooke, the first black U.S. senator since Reconstruction and a Republican elected from the liberal and Democratic state of Massachusetts, has written an autobiography, Bridging the Divide: My Life, covering four decades of American politics.

I would like to paraphrase Senator Danforth in a word to the Moderate Majority:

For a long time, the Radical Right & Radical Left have chanted their messages incessantly, while everyone else disdained the tactic of repetition, repetition, repetition. It is time for a clear statement of what we believe, a statement we repeat relentlessly and a statement that expresses the strength of our convictions:
  • We believe in government of the people, for the people, and by the people, for the common good – not a government of cliques and cronies who sacrifice the welfare of the many to the profit of the few.
  • We believe that all human beings are fallible, including ourselves; therefore no human being has the right of authority over another's conscience. The power of law should only limit the actions of individuals to the extent necessary to preserve the equal rights of all.
  • We believe that government by the people must and will embrace conflicting opinions, even on hot-button issues, even of people with whom we vehemently disagree.
Citizens who support the common good over ideological partisanship should express ourselves clearly and forcefully as the alternative to those who favor divisiveness.
Earlier in this article I referred to brain research showing that partisan political responses involve areas of the brain dealing with emotion, not any of those dealing with cognition. Emotion is, of course, part of all of us. Emotion is not grit in the gears of human intelligence, it is an integral part of reasoning. If you had no emotions, you could make no decisions: you would have no preferences, no priorities, and all choices would be equal. A moderate is as emotional, as passionate about values and principles, as any partisan.

According to other brain research, the thinking of teenagers is dominated by the emotional circuits of the brain, and part of the maturation process is the cerebral circuits becoming increasingly active. The emotional circuits are never completely cut out of the thinking process; in what we call more mature thinking, however, the cerebral circuits play the dominant role.

A moderate is as emotional, as passionate about values and principles, as any partisan. A moderate, however, can still think, and listen, even when passionate.

Perhaps it is time for us all to just grow up.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

All Together Now: Changing Society to End Homelessness

May 9, 2007, I gave a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless. I've broken the text of the speech into several separate posts so that nobody has to read all of the speech. For those who would like to read the whole speech, here's the whole sequence:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness
  4. Ending Homelessness: for real

Ending Homelessness: for real

Current community efforts to help homeless people should continue. When we have a flood, we have to get people to high ground, get them fed and keep them warm.

People will always have problems, and people will always have some problems they need the help of other people to solve. There is not one human problem that isn’t easier to solve when you are in safe, clean, secure housing. There is not one human problem that isn’t harder to solve when you’re homeless.

My husband has a doctorate in math, and I checked this with him to make sure I'm right: If you have 100 people and 80 houses, at one person per house you will have 20 homeless people. If you move all 20 of those people into houses, you will displace 20 currently housed people, and still have 20 homeless people. If you improve the health, income, and education level of all the people currently homeless, you will have 20 healthy, wealthy, and well-educated homeless people.

I also checked this math with him: If you start with 20 homeless people, build 20 new houses and tear down 30, you will have 30 homeless people. The only thing Wes found wrong with that is that in real life, we are not losing housing at one-and-a-half times the rate we are creating it, we are losing housing at four times the rate we are creating it.

Building more affordable housing would be a step in the right direction. What we really need to do is rebuild the middle class. And just as labor and unemployed were allies in the campaign to create unemployment insurance, you -- what is left of the middle class and the people who are very poor and who are homeless -- need to be allies in building a society that will not have a big black hole in the middle.
  • We need to decrease the wealth divide. "Redistribution of wealth" is a dirty term to many people, so stop it: stop redistributing wealth from the majority at the bottom to the minority at the top.

    Much of the accumulation of wealth depends on unpaid labor, like that of volunteers and mothers and even homeless people. A living wage is the minimum fair return for labor. A labor force with strong bargaining power was one of the forces that built America's middle class. A strong middle class is the backbone of the country and the mainstay against homelessness.

  • We need to change the housing market.

    • Make it profitable to create affordable housing. Some methods could be: tax incentives, subsidies, federal housing money.

    • Make it unprofitable to destroy affordable housing. Some possible methods: tax penalties; a legislative cap on condo conversions.

    • Get the federal government back into the creation of housing.

    A rising tide really does lift all boats, IF it rises from the bottom up. When everyone has housing, the economy booms. Nobody really benefits from having large numbers of people outside, unsheltered, hungry, and sick. It's an accident that occurs as the result of systems that some people do profit from. Change the system and more people will profit.

  • Remember the potholes? Studying other cities that don't have potholes, to see what they are doing right? Countries that have a fraction of the homelessness that we do also have universal health care. It's time to bite the bullet and get it here.

  • Let's change the social attitude. It is NOT virtuous to promote your own gain without regard for any cost to others. We ARE responsible for, and to, each other.
Speaking of responsibility: How can you claim to care about a homeless person's future when you do not take care that he survives tonight? When I am told that "increasing shelter now is politically impossible," I know that all the talk about caring for homeless people is lip service. If you care about somebody, if you value them as a person, you do whatever it takes to keep them alive. That means MORE shelter right now, not less. It means allowing Tent Cities or any other interim survival mechanism until there is enough housing for everyone.

There is no either-or, short-term solutions OR long-term solutions. If we care about each other, we keep each other alive tonight AND we work to make the future better for each other.

If we care about each other, we will continue to increase our efforts to take care of people who are now homeless, get them out of homelessness, and prevent other people from falling into the hole. And, because we care about each other, we will also change our economy, our housing market, our government policies, our health care system, and whatever else it takes, to eliminate the black hole of homelessness forever.

This is part 4 of my speech at the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless Conference, May 2007. The first three parts were:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness

Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness

Here in Seattle, the group in charge of our "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness" is called the Committee to End Homelessness. Other areas of the U.S. have their own Ten Year Plans and their own Committees. Whatever they are called in other cities, these are equal realities across the country:

  1. There are more people homeless now than when all the "Ten Year Plans" to end homelessness began.

  2. More of the people with the most severe problems are ending up out on the street late at night when all the shelters are full.

  3. More people are dying outside, homeless and without shelter, every year.

  4. Violence against homeless people is increasing.

  5. With all the new low-cost housing created, three times as much is lost to redevelopment and condo conversions. We have a net loss.

  6. The wealth gap is widening, the middle class is vanishing like buffalo, job insecurity has become the new norm.

  7. Health care costs keep rising, along with the numbers of people who can’t afford health insurance.

  8. At a Roots of Poverty conference I attended years ago, incarceration was identified as one of the roots of poverty, and to this day, nothing has changed. The U.S. has the highest number of people incarcerated than any other country in the rest of the world, and it’s giving Communist Red China a run for the money for the world record. We’ve already got their official numbers beat. Let’s see if we can beat their unofficial numbers!

  9. Our social fabric is cut to shreds. Lack, or loss, of a social network is the most basic reason a housed person becomes a “homeless person.” The lack, or loss, of a sense of community, of responsibility to our neighbor whatever her religion, politics, or even personality, is the basic reason the black hole of homelessness exists for her to fall into.

  10. Respect for human dignity is at an all-time low. The homeless person who is at the bottom of the housing market is also at the bottom of the clothing market, and he doesn’t go naked, does he? No. THAT would offend our morality.
Forty years ago, people had problems. We had alcoholics, drug addicts, mental illness, domestic violence, people with physical disabilities and severe illnesses who were not able to work, people getting out of prison, people getting out of the hospital, people getting out of foster care – all of the reasons given for why people are homeless today. We had a fraction of the numbers of homeless people that we have today.

What has happened over the last forty years?

  1. The real income (purchasing power) of 60% of our population has gone down.

  2. The federal government has invested less and less money in housing. Since 1996 they've spent $0.

  3. In private housing development, developers seek the most profit out of every square inch of real estate, resulting in the continual destruction of low-cost housing in order to put up high-cost housing.

  4. The cost of health care has continued to rise, while less and less of the population have any form of health insurance.

  5. The numbers of homeless people have skyrocketed.

  6. The stigma of homelessness was created. Unemployment insurance was won by a campaign of working people and out-of-work, often homeless people, allied. Most housed people at that time had no problem seeing themselves in the shoes of someone who was homeless. Now “homeless” is a separate class, and homeless people are to be treated differently than anyone else is treated.

What happened in the last forty years was, we created homelessness. In order to end it, we have to reverse what we did to create it.

So far, none of the Ten Year Plans are doing that.

This is part 3 of my speech at the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless Conference, May 2007. The whole sequence is:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness
  4. Ending Homelessness: for real

A Word to the Housed

We all know homelessness hurts homeless people. Some are beginning to realize that homelessness hurts all of us.

The full reality is, the same system that creates homelessness creates most of your problems, too. You work hard to help people who often yell at you because they can't yell at the people who are really abusing and frustrating them; you accomplish something each day but the scope of the problem keeps getting worse; then you go home and wrestle with the bills and worry over how you are going to pay for your son's dental care or your daughter's education.

We're all in this together. To get out of it, we all have to work together. The noble housed people don't have to rescue the poor homeless people; the oppressed homeless people do not have to force the privileged housed people to rescue them. All us chickens have to work together to rebuild the leaky henhouse. 'Cause guess what? There's nobody here but us chickens.

This is part 2 of my speech at the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless Conference, May 2007. The entire sequence is:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness
  4. Ending Homelessness: for real

The Pothole Analogy

Imagine this scenario:

    One of your downtown streets has a big pothole in it. It's been growing for years, and other than a lot of new hires in the auto repair industry, nothing much has been done about it. Public pressure is rising. Finally, the city government acts. They do a serious study, and they find that people who have pothole accidents have a lot of problems. Nearsightedness, ADD, alcoholism... and that although the towing and auto repair industries have been booming for years, they haven’t decreased pothole accidents.

    With a lot of publicity (and not much money) the city starts a Pothole Accident Prevention Program (PAPP). Towing companies and auto repair companies that wish to do any business with the city are required to refer the drivers in pothole accidents to counseling, so that they will get treatment for their problems and avoid potholes in the future. The most lucrative contracts and tax breaks go to the companies whose customers go the longest without another pothole accident. None of the companies are given any authority to fix the pothole.

    The auto industry goes along with the PAPP because it’s politically impossible to get money to fix potholes right now, and at least this way something is being done. And isn’t it good to help people who have problems like nearsightedness, ADD, and alcoholism?

In real life, of course, the city would just fill in the pothole. Right? A city that had a high occurrence of potholes would try to make its streets more pothole-proof – right?

Homelessness is a hole in the street. The people who fall into that hole need help to get out of it. They have problems that need to be addressed. All of that is necessary and worthwhile action. It will not end homelessness, any more than auto repair and driver education will end potholes.

This is part 1 of my speech at the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless Conference, May 2007. The entire sequence is:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness
  4. Ending Homelessness: for real

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The war on science

Nova had an excellent documentary recently, "Intelligent Design on Trial." You can still view it online.

The push to teach "Intelligent Design" on an equal footing with the theory of evolution is part and parcel of a determined assault on the standards of intellectual inquiry that underpin democracy itself.

The foundation of democracy is liberalism, and the foundation of liberalism is the premise that truth is discovered by free inquiry -- and is always in the process of discovery. Anyone and everyone can make a claim, anyone and everyone can challenge a claim, and all debate is public and based on publicly available evidence.

In the worldview of a certain kind of conservative, there has to be an Authority over everything. When scholars say that truth is not subject to the authority of Scripture, scriptural conservatives think that they are trying to replace that authority with something else. In the worldview of those scholars, however, truth IS the authority, and the only authority.

This is intellectual humility. Enlightenment inquiry acknowledges the limitations of human reason, and therefore requires that all claims be subject to independent test, and always open to question and revision. The more tests a claim stands up to, the more credible it is -- but nothing is absolutely certain, because we aren't absolutely perfect.

To claim that "revealed truth" IS absolutely certain is not "humility" -- it is the ultimate in egotism. The claim that you know God and you know what God said and you understand it beyond question, the refusal to subject your own worldview to any test, are the hallmarks of religious fundamentalism, and they are hallmarks of arrogance. It is no coincidence that the same people who make these claims call democracy "demoncracy" and believe it should be severely restricted. Democracy depends on open dialogue more than it depends on the vote; an open dialogue in which all claims can be tested independently, and there is no special authority over truth.

"Intelligent Design" is not a scientific theory, because it is not testable; it provides no structure on which testable predictions can be made. This is not simply because the proponents of ID do not understand science. It is because they do not want to understand science. The concept of a truth that is independent of authority and always subject to question is inconceivable to them. It frightens them. And until they can confront this fear and accept the reality that the truth IS beyond perfect understanding, they will never understand the scientific debate.

The debate must continue, but it must continue by the rules of scientific reasoning; Enlightenment intellectual ethics. Do not allow those rules to be subverted by "Intelligent Design" proponents trying to run onto the football field with a baseball bat to slam the frizbie into the basket.