Thursday, March 29, 2007

Joke Told on a Bus

Anitra and I were at the back of a bus downtown. I was telling her some stuff I saw on the Onion News Network that was funny. A Native American woman overheard us laughing about "Immigrants, the Human Cost" and after a few blocks, offered to tell a joke of her own, which went something like this:

A White Woman was fishing in a stream and having no luck. Then an Indian Woman sat down at her right and started fishing, and immediately hooked a big fish. She struggled and struggled with it and finally landed it.

The next day, the White Woman was fishing, and having no luck. The same Indian Woman sat down on her left, and immediately hooked a huge fish. She struggled and struggled and finally hauled it in.

The White Woman was amazed. She said to the Indian Woman, "You always catch a big fish, and I catch nothing. What's your secret?"

The Indian Woman said, "You took our land, you took our trees, you took away our languages, now you want our secrets? Oh, all right."

She went on, "When I wake up in the morning, I always look at my husband's cock. If it leans to the right, I go to the right when I come to fish, and I always catch a big one."

"But if my husband's cock leans to the left, I go to the left, because that's where the big fish will be."

The White Woman thought about that. Then she said, "But what if your husband's cock is straight up? What do you do then?"

The Indian Woman said, "Oh, on days like that, I don't go fishing."

My Bad

[Shown: The 20th Century. My fault.]

The other night Anitra dragged me to a small public meeting dealing with the Homeless Place of Remembrance Project being planned here in Seattle. The project would create a place in an existing park downtown (Victor Steinbreuck Park, next to the Pike Place Farmer's Market) dedicated to those who have died while living on the streets.

I hate going to public meetings. I hate being in the public. This meeting was so small it was like a high school shop class for a trade nobody wants anymore. Like, when I was in high school you could sign up for electronics shop, but it wasn't cool electronics with transistors and printed circuits, it was all obsolete resistors and vacuum tubes. The only reason to take it, apart from the rare interest in technological history, was to satisfy a shop requirement.

Once trapped in a situation like that, I feel the best strategy is to sit in the back row prepared to heckle and/or shoot spitwads or rubber bands at the neck of any speaker who dares turn his back to me.

So I talked Anitra into settling down with me in adjoining seats in the back row. I got out our handy dandy cheap-ass video camera, just in case something graphic happened. I loaded up on free chips provided, and munched my way though the meeting, praying for a clear shot, of one kind or another.

The first part of the meeting was a slide show all about people who have died and their survivors' grief and joy at having places to feel connected with their lost ones. What a total buzz kill. By the time that was over I was ready to confess all my crimes.

Then there was a speechy bit about the background and history of the project. Since I share a bed with Anitra "I'll Empower Anybody Anywhere" Freeman, I already knew all about the background and history of the project. She had even submitted her own proposal and made me critique it. "You're an artist, Wes. Use your artist eyes and tell me what you think." "No." "Please!" "No." "I'll do the dish-es!" "It's very very memorialistic." "You're not being serious." "Neither were you." And so on. By the time the speechy business was over, I was ready to confess to the 20th Century.

Next we had Questions and Answers about the background and history. At this point a woman in the back row to my far right, who had clearly come to heckle because she was not only in the back row but near the exit, asked how the Parks Department could allow something like this when they have a policy prohibiting memorials in city parks.

A couple of officials from the Parks Department were there to explain that in fact they had taken that policy into account and were not going to let the Homeless Place of Remembrance be an actual memorial. And yes, they said, this would be tricky, and involve "walking a razor's edge" of fine policy distinctions, but they felt goosed and up for it. This answer did not satisfy the heckling woman. "Yes," I thought, "yes, I will have my fun yet. I will not leave early."

Thanks to the heckling woman's refusal to take an answer as a given, the discussion of how any decent parks department could ethically walk a razor's edge passed out of the baroque phase and through the rococco. Finally, just as the razors in my head were melting, she let up, and we moved on to the part of the meeting set aside for brainstorming.

Perhaps I should have mentioned it before now but in fact there is currently no design for a Homeless Place of Remembrance at Victor Steinbreuck Park. There have been designs, but they were to show what designs might look like. There have not been final designs. First the public would be asked to offer ideas. Then a designer would be found and handed the ideas. Then the designer would do a design with or without the ideas handed. Then, I don't know, we build it. Or not.

So we had this brainstorming session. What feelings should the place evoke? What elements of design should it have? What should we expect of the designer/artist that we choose to do the actual designing? Answers from the audience were put on giant post-it notes and stuck up on the wall.

When it came to elements of design, a gentleman sitting in front of Anitra said he didn't want any benches there because that would attract drug dealers and other criminal types.

Now, I've never seen a working drug dealer sitting down. But I am willing to entertain a hypothetical just like the next guy, so I took that idea of drug dealers lounging on park benches kicking back, and I gave that idea a back rub, and shared a beer with it. Then I thought, we can't leave the giant post-it note like this, with the words No Benches written on it.

So I raised my hand and said, "I like benches. I WANT benches there. Lots of benches." I said that if there were enough benches then not only would there be benches for the bad people, there'd be benches for me. But if there were no benches for the bad people, then there would be no benches for anybody, and that's just cutting off your nose to spite your face, or words to that effect.

When I said all this the gentleman sitting in front of Anitra turned around and gave me the meanest full-on scowl I have been handed since my 8th grade arithmetic teacher took a wet one in the neck and guessed I'd sent it.

Thank you, thank you, Anitra, for making me go to that meeting. It was great.

Friday, March 23, 2007


One of my favorite sandboxes is the sandbox of Values. I like to play with ideas about what Values are, how people get them and what they really do for people. I like to try out new Values and go around and share them with people and see how they react. Then, I throw the made up Values away and see if anyone notices.

People are nuts about Values. Some more than others. I think I may get a third of all my insights about bad Value formation from one guy I know. He's a friend of mine, if by friend you mean person you care about, as opposed to person you want to spend more than 5 minutes a day with. I will call him Guy.

Guy is the poster child for Worn Values. His Values are all put on. Not consciously and one at a time as a game the way I described doing above, but unconsciously and all of them. Every last one of his Values is put on and he doesn't know it.

I've realized this at least since 1997. That was the year I grew my current beard. Guy reacted to my beard-growing by telling me that 1) beards show an unhealthy desire to withdraw from human company by wearing a kind of hairy mask, and 2) men who wear beards are unattractive to women, and 3) it's wrong to wear beards, and 4) "Damn it, Wes, shave that thing off!"

As for 1), Guy lives alone and at that time hadn't had a visitor in 10 years. As for 2) Guy told me about the same time that he'd had an affair with one woman in his life that lasted 2 years, long before. And that at that time he hadn't had a visitor for 10 years. If that wasn't enough to convince me that his beard Value was just put on, he disposed of 3) by growing a beard of his own a few years later, once he'd got use to mine. And of course he has no memory now of ever having said 4). Having put on a new beard-Value, to the effect that beards are OK, Guy now says he could never have said anything like that.

Which tells you what's wrong with unconsciously put on Values. If you put them on playfully you're in control. You don't identify with the Value. Guy thinks he IS the Values he has. But they aren't his.

All the best Values are organic. Invented Values like ideologies usually result in disasters when they're adopted wholesale. Guy's Values aren't ideological Values, they're organic, and I appreciate that. But they aren't organic to him. They're organic to his parents and their parents and masses of other unconscious human agar.

I like to be around people whose Values are as organic to themselves as their own skins. When they identify themselves with their Values, it means something.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Fly for the benefit of Technorati's spiders.

Technorati Profile

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Accept Mickey In Your Heart

Today I will compare and contrast Mickey Mouse and Christ.

The main difference between these two, as I see it, is that Mickey Mouse is owned by a corporation, while Christ lives in the public domain.

I'd like to take a moment now to voice my opposition to the ridiculous extensions of copyrights that have been granted to Disney and others. Fifty years after creation is long enough. If you haven't milked enough profit out of your baby after fifty years, tough.

I hear some of you saying, "Why should images like these belong to the public at all? We don't make inheritors of land give it back after some length of time. Why should Mickey be different than the house my Great Grandpa built?"

The difference is Great Grandpa didn't introduce his house to the public and let its architecture and interior decoration become part of the public culture, for financial gain, the way Disney has done with Mickey.

Or did he? In fact, our acts preserving historic landmarks show that if a piece of real estate has been opened to the public and subsequently burned into the public collective consciousness, even without financial gain, there is some agreement that the public is entitled to a degree of control and access. There are historic images too.

That brings me to a pet peeve I have about Christians. Christians proselytize more than just about all other religions put together by a factor of ten or so. I have had pamphlets about how much Jesus loves me, and how much I need him, and how I'm going to hell if I don't accept Jesus in my heart, shoved in my face on a daily basis, until finally my heart and soul died on a cross of pamphlets, and I rose again on the third day as a digressive smartass.

As a result of all this Jesus is not only in the public domain as a matter of law, but also as a matter of morality.

Whoever whips me, I'm entitled to take their whip away and break it in front of their faces, and they have no right to claim offense. The offense has all been to me.

[Shown: Recently discovered ossuary. Believed to have been made to hold Mickey Mouse's bones, but in fact empty. Thus, evidence that he still lives, if the lingering marketing and the lawsuits hadn't clued you in already.]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Wake

I have assigned a number of special jobs to my Anitra. She is charged with all of our petty thefts, while I take responsibility for the grand larcenies. She pays for the cable, while I pay for the food. Also, when I die, it's her job to guilt all the people who pretended to be my friends into letting themselves be subjected to a wake of my design. The main feature of this wake, which I plan to call "Awake," will be an audio program consisting of about 20 musical selections of my choosing. Here are three of those selections near the beginning.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Tale of Two Parents III

Odd numbers are blue for boys, even numbers are pink for girls, so we return to where we left my Father. That would be Washington, D.C., where he is a printer's apprentice at the Government Printing Office, because that will get him in to the newspaper business, and he will get to be a journalist, and maybe do professional freelance news photography on the side.

There's the occasional family reunion back in Seattle. Here he is on our far right looking tall up against immediate family. Actually he was 5' 6" and felt inadequate about it. But his mother to his right was 4' 11" so next to her he was a giant. The guy to our far left looks shorter only on account of the perspective. Dad's Mother was Scots, but because she was so short and tinted her hair blue I call her my Pictish grandmother.

Notice that he doesn't have a military cut in that shot or in this next one, which is prime evidence concerning my parents.

What we have here is proof that my parents not only met before my Father entered the army, but were an item. That's Mom sitting in front of him, at least 3 years before they were married. Probably more like 6 years before.

I've lost the records I once had of the GPO days. There was an album which was priceless, in which another apprentice drew caricatures of my Dad and razzed him for being so stiff. It also had a picture of him with a description written by classmates. It recalled fondly that he came from the Pacific Northwest with a trumpet and a never-ending supply of tall tales. Those weren't tall tales people, those were just his stories of Seattle. They sounded like tall tales, because in those days Seattle was still an exotic destination. All in all it looks like he had friends among his fellow apprentices.

Then Pearl Harbor was attacked. It seemed like everybody was enlisting. My Father began to tell people of his plan to join the Navy. But he procrastinated about it. He never joined the Navy, instead he got an army draft notice for a John W. Browning. He found out that the notice was for a John Walter rather than a John Wesley, and could have gotten out of it, but decided what the heck and went through with the draft process. Maybe he thought it would look like he was trying to dodge the draft if he made an issue of it.

I wasn't there, but I'm convinced from everything my Father ever said about it that the Army swallowed him up emotionally. He was, as I've said, a very simple animal when it came to feelings. When he found something to be loyal to, he locked onto it. He locked onto his own Mother. He locked onto Seattle, which was always the greatest city in the world to him. And when the Army took over his life it became his new fraternity, replacing the GPO.

It didn't matter that he was never sent to the war. Even though he sat the war out in a camp in Florida, he still imprinted on army life and his unit, and years later would talk about having served in two wars, WWII and Korea, not just one.

When the war was over and Dad's service was up, he could have resumed his dream of becoming a journalist. There was nothing stopping him. He had managed to finish his apprenticeship before joining the army. But he had a girlfriend he wanted to marry and have a family with, and he had the idea that the US Army was his new best friend. So he entered Officers Candidate School. He scored high on his tests and got placed in the Army Security Agency.

So, in early 1948 Lieutenant John Wesley and Jemmie became married in a civil ceremony by a Washington D.C. Justice of the Peace. They were married on my Mother's birthday because for all his intelligence she didn't think he could be counted on to remember both a birthday and a wedding anniversary every year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Another Frivolous Hobby

Another frivolous hobby of mine is the manufacturing of theories. I don't mean scientific theories. I mean theories in the lay sense. The idea is to come up with plausible but unproven explanations for things that sound like they might have been proven if they had been adequately bolstered with all the studies and footnotes and expert opinions that one usually expects theories to be bolstered by. I like to make these up. Today I will share my all time favorite of these, which I call, "How Scotland Got Its Name."

Somewhere to the Northeast of the Balkan Peninsula in the neighborhood of what is now the Ukraine, there lived in the time of the ancient Greeks a people we in retrospect call The Scythians. We pronounce that as if it were spelled Sithians. But that was not how their name was pronounced in their time. We in fact derive the spelling of their name from the Romans, who wrote it SCYTHIA, who transcribed from the Greeks, who in turn spelled it ΣΚΥΘΙΑ.

Now, it so happens that we know how to pronounce ancient Greek, because they told us. They actually left behind manuscripts that describe in detail, with cut-away diagrams even, how to pronounce the letters of their phonetic alphabet. Put your lips so, put your tongue so, blah, blah, blah. The ancient Greeks gave us the first books on linguistics.

We also know, by the way, that the Romans, who studied extensively under Greek teachers, and didn't dare antagonize them, transcribed Greek into Latin extremely consistently. This is in fact the primary evidence we have for how ancient Latin sounded. Since C transcribed Greek K in SCYTHIA, therefore it sounded there as K not as S. And so forth.

Therefore the name SCYTHIA was in those ancient times pronounced roughly as we would pronounce scütia. The u with the two dots being like German u-umlaut. The h is gone because it turns out the Greeks pronounced Θ closer to T than to English TH, so much closer it's not worth trying to represent the difference, you wouldn't be able to hear it anyway.

So we should call the Scythians the Scütians. Let's do that.

Getting on with our theory, it's time for me to mention that eventually the Romans made military incursions into Scütian territories, and captured many, many, Scütians including Scütian soldiers. It was a common practice of the Romans to allow captured soldiers to live relatively free lives if they would fight for the Roman army. In effect the captured soldiers would have a choice, enslavement, or conscription. Basically the same choice we gave Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII. We lock you up, or you go to war.

Just like what we did with Japanese-Americans, the Romans thought they'd better not use Scütians on the Scütian front. Better instead use them in wars on the opposite end of the Empire.

So a Scütian Division, or Batallion, or whatnot, I don't know the difference, was sent to Britain after the Romans conquered the Britonic Celts in the South of that island. And they helped build Hadrian's wall, which I'm sure you've heard of, meant to protect the part that had been conquered from the part to the North that had not yet been conquered.

To conclude this theory, all I have to tell you is that to further motivate the Scütian conscripts to do the boring job of manning Hadrian's wall year after year, and fighting the crazed barbarians that would occasionally try to over-run it from the North, the Romans said to the Scütians, "Look, if you can just hold out a while longer, and help out when we're ready to invade the North, we will name it after you, and to prove we mean it, we are calling it Scütland on all our maps, even now."

The OK Generation

At the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. logo for King County, one of the speakers made it sound like Baby Boomers made the sixties civil rights movement happen. This reminds me once more of one of my pet peeves.

There seems to be two general opinions regarding this Baby Boomer Generation of mine. They are both wrong.

The first wrong view is that we were glorious idealists who brought about the end of segregation and ended an evil war.

The second wrong view is that we are and were a bunch of spoiled brats who, in our endlessly selfish quest for new kicks and turn ons and toys and debauched sex and rock & roll, are responsible for everything that is currently wrong with America, including but not limited to AIDS, crack, meth, crack whores, too much sex, too little sex, American Idol, SUVs, wussy foreign imports, The Dixie Chicks, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, delaying the fall of soviet communism, causing the fall of soviet communism, Clinton's blowjobs, making Reagan look good, making George Bush look good, George W Bush himself, rap, the Christian Right, LaRoucheys, besmirching liberalism, bringing liberalism into being, too much Monty Python on KCTS, Trekkies, and you can't get good weed [pussy / acid / shrooms] anymore, they used it all up between '67 and '71, and now all the weed [pussy / acid /shrooms] smells like burro butt.

A big load of duck drip.

Contrary to everything you've been told, Baby Boomers did not all march with Martin Luther King Jr. They did not become Freedom Fighters en masse. They did not even rally against the Vietnam war to the degree the media at the time portrayed. When Seattle had its Freeway March against the war, the march was well publicized in advance at UW. Five thousand students participated, which the local news played up as if it were a youth revolution in the making. But there were over 30,000 students enrolled at UW at the time. 85% of all UW students sat that one out. 85% OR MORE of all Boomers everywhere in the land sat almost everything out you've read about.

Boomer drug use was no greater than that of the Roaring Twenties, when the drug war really got started, with what was seen through the distortions of the media of that era as an "epidemic" of heroine addiction. The popularity of weed was well known to boomers as having been firmly entrenched among the Beats, who were not Boomers, and the Beats knew they were copying behaviors stereotypic of participants of the Harlem Renaissance. The free sex was definitely more free back then owing to the lack of AIDS, which we did NOT invent or cause, but it was also more free in every earlier generation, as long as no one talked about it. And who talked about it when we did it? The media.

Now I will tell you the real achievement of the Baby Boomer Generation. Every generation before us had been bad mouthed in the media of their day. But none of them before had to grow up in a television age with only 3 or 4 channels, in the middle of an explosion of knowledge about psychological manipulation.

Advertisers used the fact that they could mount focused hot media blitzes on the few channels to reach all of us cheaply. TV was at its utmost effective. It was more immediate than radio. It was less fragmented than now and the internet didn't compete with it. While our own government researched and experimented with psychological operations techniques inspired by the KGB, the Nazi propaganda machine, and Chinese brainwashers, to wage the Cold War, those techniques filtered down to the corporations that collaborated with the government and the military and they deliberately employed them to manipulate the general public.

[Shown: A US Psy Ops insignia adopted in 1967, for the 5th Psychological Operations Battalion.]

The chief tool in all this was the same systematic perversion of normal human socialization that made the Milgram experiments work. The advertisers told us day after day we had to get our parents to buy us the next thing that ever body is going to have to have. Be the first kid on your block... don't be left out... So I got chaps, and toy six-shooters at one point. At another point I had to have a coon-skin cap like Davy Crockett, or I would be a disgrace. Hula Hoops and Frisbees became necessities. Not knowing the latest hit dance was taboo. Learn the dance, buy the single.

Then the civil rights movement made serious headway, thanks mainly to older heads. About that time growing numbers of Boomers caught on to what was happening all at once. There was already a large literature on the dangers of conformity. But Boomers figured out that something more insidious than mere undirected conformity was happening. It wasn't undirected.

There was a common feeling, that emerged over the course the second half of the sixties, that the civil rights movement was all about making the US a place where you could be free to be Black, i.e., a place where you could be free to do what you had no other choice but to do, but that it was remaining a place where, thanks to government meddling & demands of employers and schools & reactionary social pressures bolstered by media in the pocket of corporations, there was barely any freedom to make choices.

The absurdity of the situation first became evident when the same media that brought us the Beatles, also portrayed us as dangerous filthy radical revolutionaries when our guys started copying the Beatles and growing their hair longer. Today it may all seem silly, but remember that we Boomers grew up being told that WWII was fought to make us free. If my freedom is only to wear a crewcut and slacks uniform & if a simple frivolous choice like choosing to grow my hair two inches longer than boot camp style is going to get me branded as an enemy of the state and I'm not going to be able to get a job and my school is going to suspend me, what's going to happen to me if I choose to do something significant that isn't universally approved? I'm only free to do what 100% of America says I can?

So a bunch of us tested that out. And we found out you could get your skull cracked if you did virtually anything out of line. Like for instance oppose a war instead of support it.

The opposition to the Vietnam War was partly about the draft. It was partly about the war itself, that it went on too long and it was pointless. But deep down it was a generation's test of the promise of freedom in this country, and the country failed. "You call this a free country and say we have free speech, but when I take you up on that and exercise my right to speak out against the war, you call up the National Guard." It was a test. It was about an entire generation being told that you're free to be any color you happen to be, but don't let it go to your heads.

So we let it go to our heads. There were excesses, but bear in mind that the excess were all committed by a minority. The only thing the general majority of Boomers had in common was that we all knew how absurd the media's coverage of it all was. That was the glue that held us together.

The sense of the absurdity of the media's manipulation of us coupled with its simultaneous stereotyping around the outcomes of its manipulations, was encapsulated in the ironic phrase, "Stop making sense." The media was trying to make our sense for us. Even people who didn't do drugs, like me, knew what it was the drug use was rebelling against. Everyone was looking for another channel, one that wasn't owned and programmed by the Man.

Then, in the late sixties, Boomers learned how to turn the tables on the corporations and the government and the media, by using the power of the media itself, stealing the show and exploiting the media right back.

Our great achievement was half shaking off the media's grip on us. We didn't completely shake them off. But we made a start. And every generation after us has had it that much easier to see through the media lies about them and to shake off the continuing efforts to manipulate them. Because we created a template of attitudes and tricks to cope.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

More Daymon, Royalty

Still waiting for the unveiling of the Dr. King logo for King County, Washington State, USA, 3/11/07, DaNell Daymon & Royalty keep us satisfied with the passage of time.

We Shall Overcome II

New batteries in place just in time to catch the end of this performance. DaNell Daymon & Royalty.

We Shall Overcome I

DaNell Daymon & Royalty. Prelude to the unveiling of Dr. King's likeness for King County's new logo. My batteries died, but by Part II I got new ones in.

Unveiling Dr. King Logo at County King

The unveiling at Mount Zion Baptist Church of the MLKJr Logo for King County 3/11/07 accompanied by the awesome celebratory sounds and kinetic energies of DaNell Daymon & Royalty.

Not So Bad Ancestors

[The subsidized apartment building I live in is called The Union Hotel. It's run by DESC, Seattle's Downtown Emergency Service Center. All the residents have been homeless. I write a column for the monthly building newsletter. The column is called Out of My Mind. I'm posting them here, because I can. This is the first one after a 3 month hiatus, due to Shelby our manager having a baby girl. -- wes]

My last name is Browning and I've been aware for a long time that the "Brown" part of it came from the Normans -- a fact that, when I first learned it, gave me no pleasure at all. It was as if I learned my ancestors were slave-owners, or the Taliban. What does history have to say about the Normans? Well, they spoke French, badly. They all were named Brun or Bill, Rollo or Roland. In the mid 11th century their Duke Billy got it into his head he was the King of England, so he decided to conquer it, sort of like Hitler woke up one morning and decided to be King of Poland. As a result all of us who speak English now speak French badly, as when we say beef instead of boeuf.

Aside from that, the Normans are mainly famous for their crummy rule of England. The Sheriff of Nottingham was a crummy Norman. Robin Hood's band of Merry Men were not, whatever Robin Hood was. So basically, all my life I have thought of my Norman ancestors as the guys you boo at in the movies.

Then Saturday I read in the Seattle Times that the Island of Sark, in the English Channel, still retains mostly Norman law and custom and that one of these laws is the law of "Clameur de haro." I looked it up and sure enough, it's a real law established by none other than Rollo "the Viking" Jarl of Ortney (855-931), Founder of the Normans, and it means "Cry of distress," and the law goes like this:

Say someone's messing with you. In front of them and a witness, you first get down on one knee, like you're really humble. Then you say "Haro! Haro! Haro! À l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort," which means "Hey! Hey! Hey! Help me, Prince, I'm being messed with." Then you say the Lord's Prayer in bad French.

The result is they have to stop their messing with you until the courts straighten it out! Is that cool or what?

The lesson I take from all this is that no matter how crummy you think your ancestors, or your loud drunken neighbors, or clog dancers, are, you could still find out something cool about them before you're sixty.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Categories of Funny

I believe deeply in the worth of frivolous enterprises. I was once horrified to hear a young man say that not only did he have no hobbies but he recommended that no one have hobbies and thought ill of anyone who did, because they (hobbies) were frivolous. I thought extremely ill of him for saying so.

Frivolity is the only thing that makes life worth living. All seriousness has as its ultimate purpose the making way for more and better frivolity. When we ask that there be no war, we ask it so that children can play, and old men can dream. When we ask that there be no hunger we do so because it's so hard to waste time when you're starving. And so on.

So I am proud to say I have frivolous hobbies. My favorite of these is the collecting of categories of funniness and sample instances of the different categories I find.

There are of course, two main classes of funny. These are the Funny Ha Ha, and the Funny Peculiar. There is a great deal of overlap between these, as Steven Wright and The Darwin Awards demonstrate. But no slaughter begins without a good whack, as they say, so we begin here, with this good clumsy distinction cleaving the temple of our unsuspecting obsession.

Throughout the literature you will find it acknowledged that no one knows what makes for Funny Ha Ha. Not only that, but no one is going to know, if by know you mean in a certified scientific way, because there is no certifiably scientific human out there who wants to stick his or her neck out to say they know what makes stuff funny to laugh and what doesn't, because they can all visualize that dreadful career moment when they haul out the A material at the Symposium, or what their calculations showed was the A material, and they bomb.

They bomb. And they all know they will bomb. Every idiot in history who has ever thought he knew what was funny has gotten up on a stage and he or she has bombed. There is no exception. The lucky ones manage to get off the stage before flames burst out of their ears. The unlucky ones explode amid cries of "You suck!" and "You Stink!" and they break out in boils, and the ghost of Michael Richards Present sucks their hearts out. Later they may succeed at not bombing but by then they will have forgot all the theory they brought to it.

What is not commonly acknowledged however, but what is equally mysterious, is that there is no scientific explanation of the Funny Peculiar Category either. No one has been able to qualify and quantify the precise properties by which an item of the universe enters into the Funny Peculiar, and gets Funny Peculiar Juice on it, and so becomes Funny Peculiar itself. "You call that peculiar? You stink!" It's not as often heard as it once was, since the Side Show and the Freak Show have largely become camp.

But there was a time when any year at a dozen fairs and circuses near you had Side Show exhibits where constant heckling could be heard. "That's not weird! That's just lame!" "That's fakey! I want my money back! I came here to see real freaks!"

On the other hand, who knew that Fejee Mermaid would be such a hit?

Friday, March 9, 2007

A Tale of Two Parents II

My Mother was born in 1914 on a farm near Okaton, South Dakota. Recently I read a census report that said Okaton's population is now 3.45% Asian/Pacific islander. That sounded impressive to me, until I found out that was entirely due to one Samoan. I'm very sure there was no Samoan when my Mother lived there.

My Mother was born to James and Jennie. James had four daughters and no sons. He wanted a son badly. My Mother was his fourth try at getting a James Jr. When she wasn't a son they named her Jennie instead of James, but soon they were calling her Jemmie, as if he couldn't let the original plan go.

The oldest of the four sisters was much older than the other three. She died in her twenties of an infection, while waiting for medical help to arrive from the nearest town that had a doctor. She had been left in the care of the second oldest, Alta, who might have been 9. I believe this story accounts for a detail my Mother added only months before she died. She says that Alta tortured her sexually.

Knowing Alta, I suspect my Mother got a urethral infection, and Alta, fearing she'd be responsible for losing another sister, tried to fix it on her own. That was the way Alta was later when I knew her. If you had a problem, she'd fix it, lovingly, with the help of God all the way, with a straightened out wire coat-hanger, if necessary. I didn't learn until it was too late, never tell Alta you have a problem.

Here's a picture I was told was taken the day the family left the Okaton farm. My Mother is on her Dad's knee. I imagine the men standing by the car were from the bank.

Suddenly, after Okaton, James had a farm outside Strafford, Missouri, near Springfield. James probably benefited from a helping hand from his own Father, who had connections in Missouri.

I love how in all the photos of south-western Missouri the horizon is tilted. It makes you feel like you're out on the ocean, and the ship is listing. That's how it feels when you're there too.

The shot below of my Mother's high-school graduating class is a treasure not only because 3 of the 4 guys are in overalls, but because it shows the trait of my Mother I am most pleased to share. She's the third female seated in front from our right. She can also be identified as the only one in the picture giggling. Other traits of my Mother I enjoyed: she was relatively good at math, although untrained; she could return putdowns at twice the strength dealt; I have her hair.

Out of school, my Mother could have stayed on the farm, if she wanted to have no kind of life, if she didn't want to find men, if she didn't want to marry some man with a career who would lift her out of overall-country and set her up pretty in the land of silk. So, OK, she left. For Washington D.C.! And landed work in a department store! Close to the Government Printing Office! The plot moves!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Tale of Two Parents I

I wanted to talk about my parents because there's so much to say about them, and it excuses my talking.
My Father, John Wesley B., should have appreciated that if he were alive to read it. We hated each other mostly. He called me idiot and I called him nothing. He used to complain at finding evidence of my existence in his living room, and made me erase it. He said children were meant to be seen and not heard, and then not seen either, so I made him eat his words by not speaking directly to him unless spoken to, beginning in 1954 and not ending until 1976. In spite of my never speaking directly to him, he constantly bitched that I would incessantly run off at the mouth. But I think toward the end of his life he began to appreciate that my loquaciousness was inherited as much from him as from my mother, and that it was something we at least had in common.

Dad was born south of Seattle in Auburn in 1917, to a man who'd done electrical work for the coal mines. His Father later settled into a house on Beacon Hill in Seattle, when Dad was starting school.

Growing up he was most noted for being an insatiable reader and gifted student. He was so gifted and diligent as a student that he eventually received a plaque from the Seattle Public School system honoring him for having never got a grade less than A, or missed a single day of school for any reason from Kindergarten through all twelve grades. I had to find that plaque myself. It was buried in a box of junk in the basement. My Father didn't want anyone to see it. I'll say why in a moment.

This picture proves Dad had friends when he was a kid, although some things he said indicated that he was often isolated. He's at our left, hanging with buddies outside of the old building at Van Asselt Elementary, which I also attended. In fact my 3rd grade teacher was old Mrs. Haugen, who had also had my Father as a student. As soon as she heard my name, she said, "You're not John's son are you?" Then she said, in front of the whole class, that if I was only half as good a pupil as my Dad was I'd be the best that year. I couldn't have been more embarrassed. My first day at that school and already marked as the best candidate for top new school egghead. Thank You Mrs. Haugen.

Dad Grew up with the Jazz Era and fell in love with it. He soaked up Seattle's Jazz scene. So while he had many interests, including writing and photography, his main goal was to become a jazz musician. He took up the horn, and his teachers were sure that he would get a music scholarship to go to college. He would need a scholarship to start college in the middle of the Great Depression. It would let him pursue music while also letting him read and study as much as he wanted for another four years.

But just before his senior year in high school he suffered a violent attack by a relative. I heard this story only a couple of times. He didn't like to talk about it, and when it came up it came up because my Mother dragged it out of him. So the details are sketchy, but apparently a step-grandmother went berserk that summer, chased Dad around the yard with a hatchet, and whacked him on the right side of his head with it.

The damage didn't take away all his musical ability. Just like the Peter Lorre character in M, my Dad could whistle the entirety of Hall of the Mountain King. He retained that. What he lost was the ability to learn to whistle anything new that he hadn't heard before the injury. A music scholarship was out of the question.

Other symptoms were more subtle. He had a slight droop of the left side of his face. His speech was slightly wooden. His emotional range was limited, mainly to angry and not angry. But he did those so well only I ever seemed to notice there was little else.

There's reason to think that Dad's last year in high school was orchestrated by his teachers to enable him to get his plaque even though his music ability was mostly gone. The accommodation didn't sit well with him and he didn't want to think about the plaque that resulted, because it was a reminder of a horrible loss.

Dad fell back on his other interests. He dreamed of becoming a journalist the hard way, without the benefit of college. He would start as a printer and work his way up. Since it was still the Great depression, the best place to be a printer's apprentice was at the Government Printing Office in Washington D.C. He continued practicing his amateur photography. His photos are distinguished by the preference for structures over humans, although humans sometimes find their way in. Here's a self-portrait. The switch tripping the camera is hidden in one of his hands. (To be continued.)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

William Wegman Rocks

I was looking over my YouTube posts and was astonished to find the video below listed as "related" to one of mine. This is amazing to me, not only because I can't see what the relationship could be, but because the artist ultimately responsible for the so-called related video, William Wegman, has always been one of my favorites, and it's like YouTube knew that and was trying to make me feel loved by telling me that I remind them of him.

If you don't know who William Wegman is click on the YouTube logo on the video image and read the description by the posting collective zimmerfrei. All I'm going to say here right now is, here's some of that Fey I was talking about, and William Wegman does it.

My Early Humor(s)

As you all should know, the word humor comes from the ancient Greek word for bodily fluids. The ancient Greeks were polytheists. That is why they allowed that different people could have different bodily fluids, or that any one person might have several bodily fluids at once, and that all that was alright.

At first, the Greeks recognized seven basic kinds of humors, or bodily fluids, namely Sanguine (blood), Choleric (yellow bile), Phlegmatic (phlegm), Melancholic (black bile), Pissy (urine), Spunky (jizm), and Mammary (milk). But right from the start political correctness reared its ugly butt, and ruled that the last two were too gender-specific, and had to be replaced by Emissions. That was subsumed into Pissy, even though everyone but the Germans knew Pissy and Spunky were totally unrelated. Yes, they did too have Germans back then. The Greeks called them mounts.

Finally, Pissy was eliminated altogether by the post-Socratic theorists, who said Piss is yellow, Cholera is yellow -- so they're the same, see? Yeah, and like Bush is shitty, and my shit is shitty -- so Bush comes out of my ass, see? I'll talk more about theory, and theorists, and how much I love theory and theorists, later. Right now I'm talking about humor(s) (see title).
Here is a rare photo of my emotional state at age four. As you can see, my Father was still asserting that our family would never in a million years own a television, or wake up out of the Dark Ages, or stop beating me bloody and leaving me in ditches. My main humor at this age is the Phlegm humor. I am cold and moist, sluggish and pallid.

This is a snapshot of my emotional state just one year later. To the untrained eye there is virtually no change, except that I have now divided into a fat man and a weird black cat. But if you look very closely you will see that the Army-McCarthy Hearings have come and gone in the background , and my Father got a TV so he could scream at McCarthy in real-time. Having a TV and watching the Army-McCarthy Hearings changed my main humor to Sanguine. I became hot and moist, amorous, happy, generous, optimistic, and irresponsible. Still moist, but a hot moist. I sought out girls to play "house" with. These were generally imaginary girls, as the nearest house with a real girl in it was a mile away, at the time.

As I began school we moved closer to civilization and I encountered actual other humans and their spawn. Among these were religious bigots. I have since come to understand that Christian religious bigots fall neatly into two distinct classes, and that this is all you need to know about them. The two classes consist of 1) Puritans and their ilk, who don't want anyone to laugh, because amusement springs from the Devil, and 2) Evangelicals and their ilk, who expect everyone to have a big fuckin smiley face and laugh and be joyous because "Haven't you heard the Good News? Christ is here!" -- Halle-fuckin-lujah.

My attitude was and is the pagan attitude of I'll laugh when the Laugh God moves me to laugh and I won't laugh when the Laugh God wants a smoke break. Get your religions off my bodily fluids.

A study of my early humor(s) is not complete without a reference to the man pictured below, Percy Dovetonsils.

This man is wearing funny glasses to view the world. That does not mean he does not see the world. It means he sees the world through funny glasses, as opposed to rose-colored glasses, say. Metaphorically, he uses humor to see and understand reality, get it?

I want to end this post on that note, combined, or amalgamated, with this additional one, said by some guy played by Jack Nicholson, which I would like to place with the first note in a sack, so they can fight each other and roll around the floor for my entertainment: "People who speak in metaphors should shampoo my crotch."

Friday, March 2, 2007

John Cunningham Lilly

At the lunch Wednesday for Robert (Mexican Lunch -- Tahitian Music, posted Feb. 28) the topic of conversation turned, as it often does when you have two hippy-aged old farts like Robert and me in the room, to the question, "What kinds of drugs did you do, or can't you remember?" People are often surprised to learn, especially after reading my writing, but also after looking at me, that I have never done any hallucinogens whatsoever. To excuse myself for that, I always mention the natural auditory and visual hallucinations I had during that little teenage psychotic episode of mine, that convinced me that I shouldn't do those kind of drugs for the same reason I shouldn't smoke while pumping gas.

Then, to explain why I didn't change my mind and try some acid or mescaline in graduate school, say, when the psychosis would have been far enough behind me as to encourage my native recklessness, I mention the caution inspired by the story of John Lilly, the great dolphin scientist and famed acid-neuronaut . When I did this at our lunch only Anitra, who is exactly eight days younger than myself, knew of whom I was speaking. I expected Robert wouldn't know, even though, as I've said, he's about my age, because Robert isn't that into the details of the Persian Carpet of Life, so to speak. Except for Tim Harris, our Director, I thought youth and 9-11 excused the rest of the party for not knowing who Lilly was. Most of his celebrity was achieved before they were born, and the fact that he picked 19 days after 9-11 to die meant there wasn't the usual national 5 minutes of obituary for the old guy that might have clued the younger generation in.

But when Tim didn't know I have to say I was a little surprised. Here's a guy whose blog (Apesma's Lament) is named for a Captain Beefheart lyric. He's posted a medical illustration of an extended hemorrhoid on said site, as well as a 5-7-6 Haiku. So he NEEDS to know who John Cunningham Lilly was and still is. Therefore I am talking about that.

In this picture, found on a web page titled "John C. Lilly Community of One Love" we see, from left to right, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and John C. Lilly, hanging out in 1991. This gives you one idea who he was.

Another way you can get an idea of him is to read the fourth book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Chapter 31 of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish introduces a character called Wonko the Sane, and named John Watson, who lives in the outside part of an inside-out house called Outside the Asylum (the inside part being the part the rest of us are living in.) The Wonko character is obviously an amalgam of about 80% John C. Lilly with about 20% James Watson (of Watson and Crick.) John C. Lilly was the dolphin scientist of the two. But both had interests in neurology.

Lilly was the one guy most responsible for the popular notion that if Cetaceans aren't really really smart, they're at least like, really sensitive, and wise. One of the things he worked hard on, besides attempting to learn how dolphins talk to one another so we could join in their conversations, was at understanding how dolphins see with sonar. Lilly came to the think that dolphins and whales have the neurological capacity and the sensory equipment necessary to see in sonar not only in stereo (like we do with our eyes) but in true 3-D. The difference between stereo and true 3-D is the difference between seeing the surfaces of your surroundings and seeing the insides as well. John Lilly arrived at the tentative conclusion that dolphins could see the workings of each others internal organs and so could read moods and feelings off internal states. He realized that if true this could make understanding a dolphin language beyond all human capacity because we could never grasp its context. We don't have any way to relate to that kind of continuous unrelenting intimacy.

These ideas spawned the best Star Trek movie with the original cast ever, IV, The Voyage Home, with humpback whales in place of dolphins. We also got Day of the Dolphins, sadly.

Before trying to understand the different ways another species might conceptualize reality as a context for communication, Lilly thought of going back to square one and seeing what happens when you remove the context altogether. That was the gist of the idea of sensory-deprivation tanks. Lilly may not have been the first to think of exploring sensory-deprivation, but he made it work. He solved the engineering problems and he wrote about his experiments and fired the public up about it. That got us Altered States and at least one Simpson episode.

Lilly's involvement with LSD was big-time. Like Timothy Leary, John Lilly's career was begun in league with the CIA and the Military-Industrial Complex. The military probably funded his earliest research, which involved mapping brain activity on cathode ray tubes. The sensory deprivation research began in 1954. By the early sixties Lilly was incorporating LSD in his sensory-deprivation experiments. The LSD was provided by the CIA as part of a project called MK-ULTRA.

In MK-ULTRA, also called MKULTRA, and later MKSEARCH, the MK apparently stood for Mind Kontrol. Maybe they wanted to avoid MCULTRA for fear their acronym would end up on a fast-food menu. Anyway MK-ULTRA was all about the CIA's attempt to discover cool new ways to manipulate people's minds. MK-ULTRA research included sensory-deprivation studies from the outset, and they may have funded all of Lilly's 1950s experiments on that. But by the sixties they were definitely supporting Lilly.

I don't think Lilly took part in it himself, but some of the other research involving sensory-deprivation for the CIA explored its use as a means of enhancing the impact of psychological torture.

I read about Lilly's work with dolphins before I got to graduate school. By the time I got to grad school, Lilly had written Centre of the Cyclone, which documents his LSD experimentation, both official and personal. One of his stories details a singularly bad trip in which he saw his wife as a hairy ape and freaked out. That was enough to convince me that I didn't want the stuff, because I was looking to get laid, and didn't need those sorts of complications. Reading the book I got the impression that Lilly was pretty scared by the whole thing.

It must not have scared him too much though, because not much later he was back at it, this time with ketamines. He is reported to have tried to warn President Ford at one point that computers were trying to take over the world.

By the end of his life Lilly had his own website, so he must have decided to stop fearing the computers and learn to communicate with them from within their own frameworks. Lilly lives on at that website.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Feel the Clove

Here's a huge pet peeve of mine. Why does every single trained cook on the planet overcook garlic? What's up with that? You've got geniuses with friggin' DEGREES in cooking. They haven't heard of Al Dente? They think he's just about pasta?

Let me tell you how to cook garlic. There's nobody else here who's going to tell you, obviously.

Step one. Get over your 20th century idea that microwave ovens aren't real ovens. I could go on and on about the molecular resonance frequency of H-2-O and how heat is heat AND IT ISN'T NUCLEAR RADIATION and so forth and none of it would ever sink in BUT THE BOTTOM LINE is GET OVER THE IGNORANCE.

There's no better way to cook garlic than this: put an entire head, or bulb, if you prefer to call it that, and stick it in your modern microwavicular oven set on high and "zap" it AS IS unskinned in any way for between 20 and 30 seconds, depending on the size of the head. Little head, 20 seconds, big head, 30 seconds. Unless it's Elephant Garlic, in which case figure it out yourself, I don't eat elephant.

Step two. There's no step two. Separate the cloves, peel them, and eat them. You're done. You'll notice they aren't mushy, the way they are in every restaurant. You'll notice they still have some snap when you bite into them. There's your Al Dente. And the burn isn't completely gone, it's just manageable.

While I'm on the subject a recent study has announced that garlic doesn't really lower cholesterol. The so-called scientists who authored this study based it on an experiment in which they fed a whole bunch of people the equivalent of six cloves of garlic a week. (One a day with a day off "for rest.")

Oh PLEASE. Any serious garlic eater can tell you one clove a day is nothing. It takes a head (or bulb, if you prefer) to really clean your pipes, if you know what I mean, and if you've had a head a day, you know what I mean. These scientists clearly know nothing of the kind, if they think a lousy clove a day is going to make a dent in your grease deposits.

One final observation. If you have difficulty eating garlic, because of its bite, I'll bet it never occurred to you to mince it up and mix it with your raspberry Jello. That would help.

Ka Mate Kat

A fantasy I often have involving the Maori haka made famous by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and our office cat Sidney Cross-eyed Vicious.