The Strange Case of the Hole!

by David Arthur Walters

I encounter many people of diverse origins while taking my Sunday walks along the shore in South Miami Beach. Some time ago, during the annual wine festival, I espied a buxom beauty standing at the water’s edge with a plastic tumbler in her hand.

I struck up a conversation. She had come over from the other side of Florida with some friends. No, she was not in town for the festival – by the way, she was drinking a plain soda. Her name is Karen, but I sometimes I call her Senorita Cia because of her story about a misinterpretation of a spy game she had played at the Bush Inaugural – one of her messages during the game had been intercepted by the federales, which resulted in the appearance of a special investigator at her office.

Karen was almost as verbose as yours truly, hence we hit it off famously, doing our best to out-talk each other as we strolled southwards in the wet sand. I took a responsible, fatherly interest in her. She is twenty something, faithful, fearless, fateful – providential is the better term. She said she liked Florida, had a great job and fine friends, but was thinking of removing to some better place. I said a good job is something to stay put in for awhile, maybe climb up the ladder a few rungs. Besides, there is always a Better Place, even when you’re ready to drop dead. No doubt she’ll do what she’s inclined to do, I supposed, but what I said did seem to give her pause for a moment.

She said she was to meet her friends at Nikki Beach. She did not know about the tragic fate of young Nikki Penrod, so I filled her in on the accident. She was moved by the story. To deepen the Nikki Culture even further, I made sure she was given a copy of Nikki’s delightful magazine when I dropped her off later.

As we splashed along in the surf, I offered to take her for a little tour of the south end of the beach. She accepted after a couple of sidelong glances – No, he is not a dirty old man. I showed her the pier, then promenaded her alongside the canal: we watched cruise ships and freighters glide by Fisher Island.

Ring! Karen’s dad called her on her cell. Oh, I hope she doesn’t tell him some old guy is taking her into the park, I thought. No problem. After their chat, Karen and I turned towards Nikki’s, walking across the stretch of lawn behind the Continuum condominium tower.

“Ohhh!” Karen gasped and suddenly got shorter – she had stepped knee-deep into an obscure hole.

“Oh, my god!” I exclaimed, and I am not even religious. “Are you okay?”

I envisioned her in the hospital, explaining to her dad, “Dave took me to the park and broke my leg, and then…. ”

“I’m all right,” she said, extracting her shapely leg – her ankle was scratched up some by the rocks in the hole. I fretted and fretted while examining the damage.

“You’re more worried than I am, and it happened to me,” she observed.

“To take you for a little walk and break your leg is not my cup of tea. And what the hell is this hole doing here? By gum, nobody can see it. It’s hidden by leaves and grass. Someone could badly hurt themselves. Maybe we should report it.”

“I think so,” Karen agreed.

“There’s a cop over there.” I nodded at a squad car in the parking lot. “We should report it, just in case your cut gets infected or you get tetanus or something, then get you cleaned up.”

“I think you’re right. Let’s report it.”

We approached the squad car, and I told the policewoman what happened. In Manhattan, I said, if someone reports a dangerous situation, the city is no longer immune, so the next person can sue for damages sustained. She said that was interesting, and she dug in her portable file box for a special form to fill out and forward to the relevant agency.

Karen made an innocent but terrible mistake at that juncture: she leaned into the car window and stretched over the officer to look at the form.

“Get back!” the officer commanded. Startled, we stepped back – she got out of the car with one hand on her weapon.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I got excited and wanted to help.”

“She’s in government relations,” I explained.

“She should know not to relate to government that way.”

“I’m sure she will never do it again,” I assured the cop. Please accept our apologies.”

“I’ll need you to put your name down on the form,” the officer said to Karen – she laid the form down on the hood of the car and started to smooth it out.

“Oh, no, I don’t want my name down on forms,” Karen whispered to me. “You’re a man. Do something.”

“Officer, never mind. My friend isn’t hurt. Maybe you can just let the Parks people know about the hole over there before someone gets badly hurt.”

“I’d rather not say what my name is,” Karen chimed in.

“She’s related to the governor,” I blurted out – what a stupid thing to say!

“Why are you bothering me with this hole, then?” said the cop.

“Good question,” I responded. “Officer, we thank you very much, and apologize for the trouble. I hope that hole gets fixed soon.”

I whisked Karen away before either one of us could say or do something stupid.

“Damn, I can’t believe I said that. I was thinking of you in government relations, and said you were related to the governor. She looked suspicious.”

“Ha, ha,” Karen laughed.

“She probably thinks you’re the governor Bush’s daughter, down here fooling around.”

“Ha, ha, ha! I don’t want my name on forms down here.”

I walked Karen over to Nikki’s so she could clean up her scratches and meet her friends. I didn’t blame her for having second thoughts about having her name down on a police department form which might be posted onto the police database, not after what had happened to her after the inauguration.

Karen and I exchanged numbers at Nikki’s. She reunited with her friends and they went on their way. I returned to the park the next day, found a Parks Department employee raking leaves, and pointed out the hole to him. He said he would mention it to his supervisor. Every Sunday thereafter, I checked to see if the hole was still there. It always was, and I faithfully reported that fact via etext to Karen. We exchanged little notes via our cells, such as:

“The Hole exists!”

“Let’s sell the Hole to a gypsy for ten percent of the take. He’d make a fortune breaking his leg!

“Praise be to Nothing, the Hole is here!”

“I’m going skiing. How’s the Hole?”

“Break a leg. The Hole is fine!”

“A Hole is a Hole is a Hole.”

Not only did our wee exchanges go on for weeks and weeks, the matter of the Hole in itself was actually discussed on a philosophy blog. And while hanging out in the park, I pointed out the Hole to many residents and tourists as a precaution. The Hole prompted a number of amusing remarks from them. I also reported the Hole to another grounds man. As far as I know, nobody was hurt.

And then, on June 12, 2005, during the course of my usual walk through the park, I saw a Parks Department truck traversing the parking lot. I ran in front of the truck, waved it down and reported the Hole to the driver.

“What are you talking about? What hole? I don’t know about any hole,” the man said gruffly.

“The Hole!” I explained what had happened. “Lots of people know about the Hole. It’s been discussed on the Internet.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. What do you mean, on the Internet?”

“There’s a blog about the Hole.”

“Blog?”

“Like a journal.”

“Where is this hole of yours? Show it to me,” he demanded.

I took him to the Hole.

“Why, there is nothing in this hole, no sprinkler down there,” he observed as he cleared the Hole of leaves with his trash-picking tool.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Think? You say people are writing about this hole?”

“Yes, and I am thinking of doing a full report on it myself, as I’m a journalist.”

“Well, this is unbelievable. You tell them that Jimmie Newton saw this hole at eleven o’clock on June twelve,” he said, glancing at his watch, “and that he said he’d fill it up as soon as he found some dirt.”

Sure enough. I inspected the exact spot a short time later, and have this report to file:

READ ALL ABOUT IT!

THE HOLE IS GONE!

And what is the point to all this? Must there always be a point to everything? Is not the Case of the Hole enough to think about?

First Sequel

Visitation to the Hole became part of my Sunday ritual after I wrote ‘The Case of the Hole.’ The sight of the well-filled hole made me feel that I had finally accomplished something, that perhaps my faith in Nothing was not for naught, that Nothing is potentially pregnant with everything, that Nothing is a reliable source of progress after all.

And then something very strange happened on the fourth Sunday: three tunnels of about five inches in diameter and seven inches apart had been bored deeply into the dirt filling the hole. One could see by their irregular, natural twisting that some sort of critters had been at work.

So that’s the cause of the hole, I thought. Critters must live down there. I felt sorry for them, but figured they should relocate so someone doesn’t break her leg in a public park. What kind of critters? For some reason, baby Puerto Rican chupacabras came to mind first of all. On second thought, rats were the most likely candidate.

I spotted a patrol car and decided to report the dangerous situation.

“Officer, do you know about the hole?”

“Hole? What hole?”

“The hole the Parks Department filled up. Some kind of critters have bored holes in it, and if it gets completed dug out again, someone might step in it and break their leg.”

“Where is this hole?” the officer asked.

“Over there, over the bridge, between the palm trees,” I pointed. “I’m thinking rats might live down there.”

“It could be crabs,” he said.

“The hole is famous, you know. People all over the world are reading and talking about it. Have you read my story about the hole?”

I started to tell him the story, but he interrupted me.

“You don’t sound credible,” he said with a frown.

“It’s on the Internet,” I responded, as if that were a font of truth.

“Oh?” He reached for his computer, and I gave him the Internet address of my story. He started to smile as he read, shaking his head a little, at which point I bid him good bye and left him to his duties.

Second Sequel

Needless to say, I let Karen know right away that the story of the hole had been continued by some sort of creatures:

THE HOLE IS BACK! THREE HOLES FOUND IN THE FILLED HOLE. MIGHT BE THE WORK OF CHUPACABRAS!

Despite this development, the press still would not run my original story nor send a reporter and photographer out to the scene of the hole. Even the counter-cultural Miami New Times and the frustrated establishment weekly, the SunPost, remained silent after my submissions.

I have often supposed editors cover up reality with fair and unbiased reporting of carefully selected facts instead of digging up the truth of the dirty details. But after I yelled bloody murder in the case of the drowning that the media had ignored, the editor of the SunPost took interest in my article, THE BLIND SPOT. Of course he did not publish it, but laid out some of his own facts in his column one week; and two weeks later he ran a letter of mine in response to his exposition.

Perhaps the expose on THE BLIND SPOT influenced developments at THE HOLE, which I continue to visit religiously.

LO AND BEHOLD! THE HOLE HAS BEEN REFILLED!

Yes, the hole has been refilled, and this time it is doubtful whether any natural critter will work its restoration to nothing, as some sort of black, tarry gravel has been packed down very tightly into the hole, making its excavation highly improbable. Of course an aardvark could do the trick faster than three men with shovels, but aardvarks are not found in South Beach yet. Chupacabras are something else again.

Free Speech in the Public Interest – Attention Bloggers!

SLAPP

INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS OF ANTI-SLAPP SENATE BILL 1312

Free Speech in the Public Interest

31 March 2015

By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR

Florida Senator Don Gaetz has sponsored Senate Bill 1312 to amend Florida’s current statute, Section 768.295, inhibiting government entities and their officials from filing “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” against persons to deprive them of their natural and constitutional right to free speech. SLAPP suits are not only used to shut people up but to extort money from them as well.

Anti-SLAPP legislation has become popular in the United States over the past few years. Florida has lagged behind progressive states inasmuch as its legislation was emasculated to be effective only against government entities that cause its employees or agents to file a legal claim against someone solely to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights to participate in government business. Although lawyers, who are after all the ones who file such suits, are “officers of the court,” there exists a longstanding judicial prejudice against holding them responsible as if they were public officials instead of private individuals.

The remedy provided is an “expeditious” judicial dismissal of valid SLAPP actions filed in court along with the award of court costs, attorney fees, and limited actual damages. The current law has rarely been invoked.

Although the old title is retained, “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits by governmental entities prohibited,” the proposed amendment as it stands today adds the wording, “constitutional rights of free speech” and will presumably protect persons not only from government entities but from other persons as well.

For example: from larger businesses most likely to use the courts to stifle public criticism of their products and conduct, the very interests whose powerful lobby caused the original legislation to be whittled down to actionable against government entities only.

And, rarely, the proposed amendment may protect persons from lawyers who file defamation suits against persons who file complaints against them with the Florida Bar, the disciplinary arm of the Florida Supreme Court, simply to shut them up. Such complaints are “privileged” even if the complaints are false because it is in the public interest to protect people from the powerful legal industry by encouraging them to speak up. The Florida Bar may discipline attorneys for threatening to file defamation suits for that reason although it may choose not to intervene in litigation once a suit is filed pending its resolution. There are less than a handful of such instances that I am aware of.

Now the Bill reads, in part: “It is the intent of the Legislature to protect the right in Florida of Florida’s citizens to exercise their rights of free speech in connection with public issues, and the rights to peacefully assemble, instruct their representatives, and petition for redress of grievances before the various governmental entities of this state as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution… ‘Free speech in connection with public issues’ means any written or oral statement that is protected under applicable law and is made before a governmental entity in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a governmental entity, or is made in or in connection with a play, movie, television program, radio broadcast, audiovisual work, book, magazine article, musical work, news report, or other similar work.”

The Bill as it stands today will not have much impact if passed into law because it leaves the judiciary with almost the same questionable discretion as it already has over the same subject matter. Its prime beneficiary would be the legal industry in its representation of big businesses, namely, mainstream media in its struggle with big business.

  1. Free speech in connection with public issues.”

One most troubling aspect of the Bill is that it separates the notions of free speech and public issues. Since when is free speech not a public issue per se? Is not free speech always of the highest public interest? Do The People really want to leave the definition of what is a public issue or what is in the public’s best interest up to a few judges instead of their political representatives?

The indefinite notion of public interest has long protected fair comment under common law. The standard enunciated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254 bars media liability for defamation of a public official or public figure absent proof that the defamatory statements were published with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth. It is certainly not in the public interest to expose the lives of private individuals to calumny and ridicule.

The Sullivan court stated that an advertisement run in the New York Times “communicated information, expressed opinion, recited grievances, protested claimed abuses, and sought financial support on behalf of a movement whose existence and objectives are matters of the highest public interest and concern.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), commented on the public interest standard it set in Sullivan v. New York Times: “A publisher or broadcaster of defamatory falsehoods about an individual who is neither a public official nor a public figure may not claim the New York Times protection against liability for defamation on the ground that the defamatory statements concern an issue of public or general interest.”

The media defendant in that case claimed that the plaintiff, a lawyer, was a public official, so its statements were protected as being in the public interest under the New York Times standard. The magazine had published a story that his representation of a murder victim’s family in civil litigation against a convicted police officer was part of a Communist conspiracy to discredit the local police, that he had arranged Nuccio’s “frameup,” had a criminal record, and was a “Communist-fronter.”

The Gertz court held that the lawyer was not a “de facto public official” simply because he had served briefly on housing committees, and had appeared at a coroner’s inquest: “Our cases recognize no such concept. Respondent’s suggestion would sweep all lawyers under the New York Times rule as officers of the court, and distort the plain meaning of the “public official” category beyond all recognition. We decline to follow it.”

Furthermore, “To extend the New York Times standard to media defamation of private persons whenever an issue of general or public interest is involved would abridge to an unacceptable degree the legitimate state interest in compensating private individuals for injury to reputation and would occasion the additional difficulty of forcing courts to decide on an ad hoc basis which publications and broadcasts address issues of general or public interest and which do not.”

There really is no tidy definition of public interest in any nation let alone in Florida. A judge may simply wash his hands of the question. For example, an administrative order of the Florida Supreme Court allows the chief judge of a circuit court jurisdiction to make non-confidential records in a case of significant public interest electronically available. I asked Palm Beach Circuit Court Chief Justice Peter D. Blanc to make a rather peculiar case public in the public interest. I pleaded that “it is of significant public interest inasmuch as its subject matter appertains to the ability of officers of the court to pervert judicial process to intimidate, silence, and punish members of the public who file complaints against them with The Florida Bar. And the case is significant because it appertains to the Bar’s failure to restrain all attorneys from doing so, despite the Bar’s opinion, in one case of selective enforcement, that such conduct is unethical inasmuch as it interferes with the administration of justice.”

He responded on Sept. 28, 2011: “You have asked that I take this action based upon your belief that this case is ‘of significant public interest’. Many cases that come through our court system are of significant public interest and the courts and court filings are open to public scrutiny…. I believe there is an inherent conflict between the courts remaining impartial and the courts rating in advance the relative importance to the public of the cases that come before it. It is not appropriate for the court to determine that any one case is worthy of more public scrutiny than another. Although there is an appellate process for trial judges to certify cases of great public importance, those are done primarily in situations where the case raises a conflict in the application of existing laws. The decision that a case is of significant public interest should be made by the public and/or the media, not by the court.”

The bottom line there is that, absent a public clamor on the courthouse steps, it is the Establishment’s Press or the so-called Fourth Branch of Government that determines what a public issue is. In any case, the cavilers will have a field day in court at great expense to the public arguing over that notion.

Is it in the public’s interest to know that a Florida attorney refused to pay a court reporter her fee after he won his case, that she sued him and won on appeal, and that she complained about him in her blog, and he sued her for defamation? The Miami SunPost, a tiny newspaper, published the story about her plight. The attorney threatened to sue the reporter, namely me, offering to buy me a steak at a fine restaurant in order to serve me with process.

He was courteous. I harbor no hard feelings towards him. I said my report was obviously not libelous. He said that only the court could decide one way or another. A defense would cost me at minimum a $20,000 retainer. I had no time nor will to represent myself over one of a thousand articles. He was just routinely cleaning up his Internet reputation.

That is what lawyers do. And that behavior should be more expressly confronted by any amendment to Florida’s SLAPP statute. Free speech is in the public interest if not invasive of privacy of private individuals.

  1. Protected under applicable law”

Of course one should not be restrained in advance from speaking freely. That does not mean that inciting riots and wrongly defaming people should be protected. Applicable law holds people to account for speech harmful to the public interest. The problem with applicable law, when it is common law including interpretation of vague legislation, is that it is whatever judges say that it is, and that changes from time to time in an irrational manner. Anti-SLAPP legislation should be more specific about the nature of laws The People want to be applicable.

  1. “Without Merit”

It would be contrary to the public interest to dismiss meritorious defamation suits. And jurists will cavil ad infinitum over merit. Again, the Bill reads that, “A person or governmental entity in this state may not shall file or cause to be filed, through its employees, any lawsuit, cause of action, claim, cross-claim, or counterclaim against another a person or entity without merit and primarily solely because such person or entity has exercised the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue….”

For instance, multiple counts of a defamation complaint will be quibbled over as to whether they are actionable according to the shifting sands of common law rendered subject to the intuition of judges of varying qualifications and personal dispositions. And who can say for sure what the sole reason for a complaint is?

  1. Expeditiously disposed of.”

The Bill reads, “It is the intent of the Legislature that such lawsuits be expeditiously disposed of by the courts,” but no deadlines are given, such as 30 days, or 60 days.

“The person or entity petitioner may file a motion for summary judgment, together with supplemental affidavits, seeking a determination that the claimant’s or governmental entity’s lawsuit has been brought in violation of this section. The claimant or governmental entity shall thereafter file its response and any supplemental affidavits. As soon as practicable, the court shall set a hearing on the petitioner’s motion, which shall be held at the earliest possible time after the filing of the claimant’s or governmental entity’s response.”

What, “As soon as practicable?” The cases may drag on interminably, and then there are the appeals.

  1. The court may award.”

“The court may award, subject to the limitations in s. 768.28, the party sued by a governmental entity actual damages arising from the governmental entity’s violation of this section act. The court shall award the prevailing party reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in connection with a claim that an action was filed in violation of this section.” Sec. 768.28 limits damages to one person at $200,000, and $300,000 is the maximum that can be awarded to multiple persons from the same incident. Anything in excess of those amounts may be awarded by the legislature itself.

Why “may” the court award actual damages, and only upon a government entity’s violation? Should not the word be “shall,” and government entities and others be treated equally?

The remedy given by the Senate Bill as it now stands offers nothing new to non-government entities over what can already be had without the anti-SLAPP legislation. Court costs taxed to the loser, and attorney fees may be sanctioned on the plaintiff and counsel in cases of sham pleadings, are already available under Chapter 57 of the Florida Statutes.

What the anti-SLAPP amendment should do is provide for the award of costs, attorneys fees, actual damages for all, and a mandatory fine of $100,000 against persons who file SLAPP pleadings. All the above should be imposed jointly and severally on the lawyers and their clients.

  1. The Attorney General may defend.

The fact of the matter is that most journalists today, although not paupers, cannot afford to hire attorneys to mount any sort of defense to a defamation suit including a SLAPP pleading. Indeed, they might be impoverished whether they respond or not.

It is therefore in the public interest, if that is what legislators are really concerned about, to provide that the Attorney General may upon request defend any person whose net worth is less than $500,000 from SLAPP suits.

Conclusion:

The Senate Bill as it stands today is a step in the right direction, and presents an opportunity to do the right thing. However, the legislation as now proposed by the Senate offers little more remedy in terms of time and money than is already available to the general public. Its prime beneficiary would be the well-funded i.e. the established press and its attorneys who will vouch that whatever issue taken up by their clients is of significant public interest or a public issue simply because they published it.

The Florida Press Association has not responded by press time to our comments on the proposal. The establishment press has not reported on this important legislative effort in the public interest. That may be because it fears big business will mount a formidable opposition, and attempt to corrupt legislators. The Florida Bar apparently considers the Bill of little moment since it has taken no position on the proposal, and its general counsel has not responded to requests for comment.

# #

Paul’s Last Stand – His Suicide Essay May Be His Best

FACE
Painting by Sebastian Ferreira

PAUL’S LAST STAND BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

The author’s suicide essay may be his very best

Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know, takes pride in the enormous inventory of unpublished essays he has written since he quit his perfect job and moved to Paradise to devote himself to his writing career. His rose soon grew thorns. He thought his savings would be sufficient for him to ramp up to fame and fortune; alas, he has now fallen pathetically short of his imagined fame and fortune: he has sold only two of his brilliant essays over the last five years, both to a Catholic journal. It is not that Paul’s work is worthless; he is just not cut out to be in any sales department, let alone be his own marketing staff of one.

Needless to say, Paul is a rather bookish man. Albeit he lives in Paradise, he is often in the library, his Heaven on Earth. He calls his library “the Ark of Civilization”, and claims that it is a shame that only two or three people besides vagrant wayfarers are on board on any given day. But never mind, for who has time to rub shoulders with the locals when one has the intimate company of the greatest minds that ever thought?

Mind you that Paul, despite being a bookworm when not writing, is not really standoffish: he is in fact gregarious when not engaged in literary pursuits; but his gregariousness has little social support. You see, Paul is a member of a race even more despised over the centuries than the Jewish and the black race; to wit: he belongs to the intellectual race, which can be Jewish or black. He is fond of ‘vulgar’ people as people, as well as the intellectual elite as people, but the feeling is far from mutual. Many people get a college degree not for the liberty of a liberal education but to get a better paying office job. Paul takes his liberty too literally. Arrogant anti-intellectuals have no interest in his merely ‘academic’ liberty, thus his discourse sails over their heads. He cares little for sports. Although he enjoys sex, he doesn’t care to discuss the most popular topic, ‘pussy.’ To make hanging out with the guys even worse, he does not get racist jokes, hence they think he is a stupid intellectual.

Since there is little love lost among the violently clashing wits of his own kind, the library is actually the ideal place for Paul – his vision of a stately throne is a private author’s desk at New York Public Library. The library in Paradise is a cool and empty place to be on muggy days. The books love to be read and to have notes taken from their pages. Once in awhile a new security guard, seeing Paul around so often and wondering if he should be discriminated against, asks him if he is homeless, to which he replies, with a smile, “So what if I am?” He gets no answer, except, “Never mind.” The librarians are quite nice; the only thing he likes about the current U.S. president is that he had the good taste to marry a librarian.

No, Paul is not homeless, at least not yet. But homelessness is looming ever more near as the days pass. Again, Paul’s sales are not ramping up to his production schedule. He is the greatest author the world will ever or never know, but he is not a salesman. Therefore he has been seeking work lately, as a keeper of books, of course. He has fine credentials, including glowing letters of recommendation concerning his proven abilities as a controller, accountant, and bookkeeper.

Paul applied for part-time or temporary work at first so that he could keep up his furious research and writing pace. Since no such engagements were forthcoming, he applied for 412 full-time jobs. He managed to get five interviews and one job offer, for $10 an hour, which he declined because he thought he could do better than twenty-percent of his last pay rate. He has had occasion to regret turning down that job, for now he is on the verge of eviction and is willing to take up anything for any income. Times are especially bad for unemployed liberal writers since the Republicans took over; for instance, car thefts in Paradise are up forty-five percent this year. Nonetheless, with his excellent references, what is Paul’s problem? He doesn’t know for a fact. On the one hand, he thinks he is having a bad run of luck. On the other hand, he supposes the hypothesis of cause and effect might provide a commonsensical explanation, hence he has speculated on the possible causes of his help being so unwanted. For one thing, that he is an off-color stranger in Paradise, and there is not much Paradise to be shared with those who are far from flush. And that he is over fifty but not eligible for Social Security; thus he falls into a sort of limbo pending his warehousing for death. His age-bracket, a bracket that in traditional cultures is associated with experience and wisdom, is a bracket young managers and executives have small interest in. After all, after leaving home and getting a job with the corporation, who wants to hire someone who reminds them of their dads? Anyway, he has had his chance and he is not a top executive or retired to Palm Springs already, so there must be something terribly wrong with him.

Fast-paced companies today are looking for career-minded people who have three to five years of experience and who must have pushed the latest sequence of buttons many times. These detail-oriented, highly motivated people must be able to independently follow instructions in order to meet deadlines under pressure while making sacrifices. During his second interview, Paul was asked what sacrifices he would be willing to make if he were asked to work overtime. He said, “I would be willing to sacrifice at least one chicken. I would sacrifice a wife, but I don’t have one at present.” The interviewer, one of the many thousands of under-paid women in Human Resources, grimaced; end of interview: a sense of humor was definitely not wanted by that firm, a rather large one whose operating attitude reminds one of the United States Army.

But Paul is not giving up. This very morning he is sending out more resumes, and he will make calls until he is blue in the face and his ears are sore – he does not have a speaker-phone. Then he will write late into the night until he is exhausted. Then he will go to bed for a couple of hours. He can barely sleep at night because he is tormented by the looming prospect of houselessness. Just before he went to bed last evening, he witnessed an absurd scene on his 13″ television:

A woman of thirty or so had found her husband sleeping with another woman; there are no kids; she got the house and alimony. Now she enters her abode. She misses her husband, looks at his photo, and is obviously depressed. Maybe she made a bad mistake, and now she is all alone. Tears stream down her face as she walks through the luxuriously furnished rooms of her home, and finally throws herself onto her huge bed. She takes up the fetal position and moans. Fade out.

Woe is me, thought Paul. What numbskulls these people are!

In the good old days, homelessness was not a curse but was a virtue to wise men. In those days, Confucius himself would sleep in the dirt with the crook of his arm as a pillow rather than work for the wrong prince. Some of the Greek wise men would not work for any prince or price, for they in Truth were already wealthy, powerful and free citizens of the Cosmos. As far as they were concerned, poverty consists in desiring things, in wanting fools’ gold instead of wisdom. And if poverty is a lack of temporal things, then, at least for Franciscans, Poverty is a Lady to be loved. Indeed, how can someone who is busy chasing after the things of the world become wise? Worldly people did not despise such wise men very much providing they did not get in the way. People even felt obligated to give them alms in India. But never mind: nowadays homelessness, or rather houselessness, is considered the worst of all curses, and homeless people are despised and feared as if they were Dr. Frankenstein’s monsters.

In any event, Paul Bowman is no young man today; and this is not the Sixties where bohemians took some pride in vagrancy; nor is it the Great Depression where hoboes had the comfort of numbers even though the bulls beat some of them to death for loitering. There is plenty of food and shelter to go around, but this is the day when everyone has the duty to work, even at the production of junk, trash and garbage, just to get something to eat and shelter from the elements and the spite of people who fear homeless people.

Paul once wondered why people in This Great Nation of Ours, Leader of World Civilization, have a duty to work but no right to work. He asked the president, “Why?” But of course, since Paul is still a nobody, not yet the greatest author in the world, he got no reply. He thought, If the almighty president himself cannot provide me even with a meaningless, wage-slavery job, why should I care about the president and his damaged Pentagon? Or, for that matter, the commercial system it protects? After all, it is a system that intentionally makes things scarce in order for the few to make enormous profits. But never mind that, Paul told himself, for I am willing to cooperate, even though the culo with the great job on television says six-percent unemployment is just right.

Paul is not lazy. As a matter of fact, he works up to 70 hours per week without pay. He wants to belong to society, even if that means holding down a meaningless job so he can do his meaningful work in his spare hours. Just as Ssu-ma suffered castration to complete his history, Paul is willing to kowtow to become the greatest author the world will ever know. Alas that he gave up his job for the American dream. Now alas that nobody presently wants his mind or body in any form, either at the drill press or adding machine, or at his writing desk. Yet again, he has not given up. He rejects homelessness as an alternative. He understands why another man in similar circumstances is planning suicide on Thanksgiving Day. And why not suicide instead of a slow death on the streets? where the false Christianity causing the problem wants to deprive people of their real opium? As Seneca said, “Do you like to be wretched? Live. Do you like it or not? It is in your power to return from whence you come.”

A man’s individual life is his last private refuge, Paul thought, and the state that makes suicide a crime commits the ultimate invasion of the liberty of privacy. How absurd it is that those who would kill each other in war would not allow a man to kill himself! Paul does not blame others or himself for his bad luck; he is not disposed to go on a killing spree at a useless employment office. But he loves his freedom and he does not want to be a despised houseless man without means even to continue with his beloved work. Therefore Paul, a true libertarian, has a marketing plan for his Last Day, the day the marshals are to evict him, if it comes to that.

Paul lives on a high floor from which he plans to take his last stand, and to jump to his death if push comes to shove. He has mounted a camera in order to broadcast his leap, live over the Internet, and also to record it elsewhere for posterity. He has composed another one of his brilliant essays to memorialize the tragic loss of the greatest author the world will ever or never know. The essay encourages talented artists to risk everything, even their lives, to live an artistic life. As has been noted, Paul detests marketing, perhaps because he unconsciously fears failure, yet now he is so convinced of the value of his work that he believes the filming of his death-defying leap, together with his last brilliant essay and his accumulated inventory, will be the very promotional scheme that will make him the greatest author the world has ever known to date.

Spinoza’s Godl

RICK NOTHING

SPINOZA’S GOD BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

It is amazing how arrogant we can become in the name of an imagined god or indefinite divinity while we think we are being ever so humble. We have unwittingly hidden our pride along with our ignorance behind such names.

When our gods are criticized, we support them with our revelations or intuitions instead of the plain facts which any sane person could perceive, and we condemn the sheer stupidity of anyone who does not possess our fine wisdom—why such powerful gods need our support is a mystery.

When push comes to shove, the faithful, instead of pointing their fingers at names of gods, point their weapons at each other and prove their points; it soon becomes bloody obvious who the gods really are, and that their main interests are on Earth.

Any proposition we might faithfully refer to the arbitrary symbol, “god”, no matter how ill conceived it may be, takes on the appearance of certainty; it seems to have the perfect clarity of absolute truth. It is really our own dignity that is at stake, therefore we might defend our ideas about our god to the last, convinced of the ignorance or diabolical malevolence of anyone who bothers to disagree. Hence the symbol stands not for objective truth, nor does it indicate the highest power, but rather denotes the demonstration of our blind faith in our pride and prejudicial ignorance. Those who know something adequately have no need for a name to excuse their ignorance; if they do not know something, an “I don’t know” is adequate.

The Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza laid out his divine rules for adequate thinking in his philosophical tracts. For him, a perfectly clear idea is a true idea. A true idea is different from its objects, but corresponds to those objects just as the idea of a circle corresponds to all visible circles.

However, that correspondence is not understood or induced from observation of the objects themselves, but is rather deduced from the intrinsic nature of the idea, to the extent that idea is adequate to God, because God constitutes the essence of the human soul.

In other words, Ideas are true, clear, and distinct only when they are adequate to divinity, when they are divine. That is to say, the human mind, insofar as it possesses adequate ideas, is one with the divine mind.

In fine, true ideas are divine.

Our ideas are inadequate when they are partial or confused one with the other. But there is no doubt concerning a true idea: it carries with it, as its intrinsic nature or divine adequacy, immediate certainty. There is no absolutely doubt about it.

Spinoza made that perfectly clear:

“He who has a true idea knows at the same time that he has a true idea, nor can he doubt the truth of the thing…. What can there be more clear and more certain than a true idea is the standard of truth? Even as light displays both itself and darkness, so is truth a standard both of itself and of falsity…. Our mind, in so far as it perceives things truly, is part of the infinite intellect of God; therefore, the clear and distinct ideas of the mind are as necessarily true as the ideas of God…. No one can know the nature of the highest certainty unless he possesses an adequate idea of the subjective essence of a thing; for certainty is identical with such subjective essence….”

We admire the circular thinking of our metaphysical geometrician as he approximates a perfect circle on his way to a monistic, non-dimensional point where the doubt arising from differences is entirely done away with. Yes, indeed, and may the skeptics be dismissed out of hand, for our object is not doubt but is certitude.

Spinoza’s Ethics summarily disposes of skeptics:

“If there yet remains some skeptic who doubts of our primary truth, and of all the deductions we make, taking such truth as our standard, he must either be arguing in bad faith, or we must confess that there are some men in complete mental blindness, either innate or due to misconceptions…. With such persons one should not speak of sciences…. If they deny, grant, or gainsay, they know not that they deny, grant, or gainsay, so they ought to be regarded as automatics utterly devoid of intelligence….”

The best argument against stupidity is a stupid argument. The best way to prove an absolute presupposition which is self-evident is simply to propose it and to call anyone who disagrees with it stupid. And perhaps they are stupid for even bothering to refute what really amounts to nothing in particular. Nothing is perfect, for how can Nothing be disproved?

Despite Spinoza’s intuition of the divine clarity from which everything may be clearly deduced if the philosopher is adequate to the Subject, the proof of the existence of the Subject of subjects has not yet been demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt. Living philosophy does not run along geometrical tracks to concentration camps. No Final Solution has been settled upon us once and for all, and may skeptics forbid it. Over-arching generalities all too often tend to be destructive partialities—let the skeptics have at them before they leave the station. Of course, the generality proposed might be Nothing; in which case we may for very good reason joyfully praise Nothing on a regular basis and proceed with our lives.

Spinoza suffered his time and circumstances. He was a creature of his god, a reaction to the popular one-god professed by his excommunicators. His god is much more skeptical than the customary idols of religious monopolies. Spinoza’s god is the Being of beings, the eternal, infinite substance of reality; everything is good is god; there is no evil; there is nothing outside of god. In a word, Spinoza was a pantheist, which made him an atheist to theists who claimed monopolies for their exclusive gods. His god is everything, hence nothing in particular; his god is the substance of the infinitely good universe of which we know only mind and matter; there are an infinite number of other attributes we do not know.

To those who need seemingly clear definitions, Spinoza’s pantheism does smell to high heaven of atheism, of no god at all under the mere pagan name “god.” Yet no doubt Spinoza loved the god of his salvation passionately.

As for his pontifications on the clear understanding of true ideas adequate to his god, he might as well have praised Nothing. After all, since his divine intelligence is infinite and his true ideas are infinitely related as an infinitely complex machine, his few “true” ideas, which are perfectly clear to him because they are divine, amount to nothing in comparison to his ignorance of his infinite divinity. But he thought he had ahold of something divine, something necessary; something beyond good and evil for the good reason that necessity alone is good—mysticism is essentially amoral.

Nothing, although perfect with all the dirty beings extracted from Being, was not good enough for Spinoza.

Spinoza seemed convinced that his understanding of his god had its own reward, that his understanding automatically made him virtuous. His love for his god is intellectual, unemotional. The intellectual love and obedience to ‘god,’ compliance with the absolute power and law of the universe for the benefit of humankind, is the ultimate goal of ethical scientists. However, there is no possibility of universal empirical verification from those who know Being or Nothing hence have rid themselves of essents. In the grand clarity of his true understanding, he felt he was in possession of divine wisdom, for which he wove an elaborate rational cloak.

We may find Spinoza’s unemotional mental calisthenics arid. After all, we are motivated or literally moved by emotions. Human values depend on emotions: he who has none is immoral. Still, Spinoza’s geometry is rather elegant. He inspired German Romanticism, which had its arid, scientific aspect. Hard-headed Modernists like Ayn Rand were passionate about dispassionate scientific progress—see her Romantic Manifesto.

Spinoza still has his attractions. Many of his passages are beautifully expressed sublimations of the usual passions, including the desire to be God Almighty, a desire that would be expressed in another manner by existentialists to come in their worship of the transcendental ego. His true god may not be as abstract and impersonal as he might have believed.

-XYX-

David Arthur Walters

Honolulu 1999

South Beach School Kids Thank and Honor Soldiers

Wounded Kids Greeting

South Pointe Elementary School Thank and Honor All Soldiers

 Wounded Cycles Sitting

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN THANK AND HONOR SOLDIERS

January 8, 2015

I was given cause to reflect on several wars when I passed by South Pointe Elementary School the day before my birthday this year and encountered schoolchildren greeting wounded soldiers kicking off a four-day Soldier’s Ride sponsored by the Wounded Warriors Project.

Wounded Fence

My memories of war are nowhere near as painful as the physical and psychological wounds suffered by our brave and courageous war veterans. Yet I am a product of World War II. My father and mother met at a theatre when her baby daughter reached over to pull on the brass buttons of his uniform. Her husband had been killed on a dam project.

Although I have never been on a battlefield, I often imagined I was there when I was on the elementary school playground playing at war during the Korean “police action.”

My best friend’s dad, home from Korea, hung himself in the garage where we played, and his mother followed suit a few weeks later on. I did not understand.

Combat became my favorite television program. I ran away from home to Chicago for good at age thirteen, and someone gave me a copy of The Ugly American to read. By the time President Johnson declared the “police action” in Vietnam, I was well disposed to violence. Enter Dr. Leary.

A few years hence, I was a pacifist being tear-gassed in front of the Chicago armory, where communists were handing out pamphlets.

I attended demonstrations in Washington, went to the White House, and recommended that President Nixon read Moby Dick.

I was dead set against both Bush wars on Iraq, certain that they would backfire on the United States. I marched against the first Bush war in New York City as patriotic Americans rained bottles on our heads from the buildings above, and demonstrated against the second Bush war in Honolulu as observers yelled obscenities at us. By the way, Vietnam veterans were among the demonstrators.

I studied war for hours on end at the university, and I found no cause for war in books other than it is human nature to wage war to make peace, some say for the moral improvement of the race. Other animals wage war as well, and not for food, mates, or territory.

Now I am wary of pre-emptive wars. Yet a war waged to save millions from being murdered for nothing if they can be saved is a just war in my opinion. I would sacrifice my own life in a defensive war. Sometimes I wish I had been killed in war, such has been my history, which seems in retrospect to have been quite a mistake at every juncture.

I would never wish myself wounded, to survive only to be forgotten by my own country, to come home and be shortchanged by the nation I served. I am not one to hold the soldier responsible for the politicians’ mistakes, to spit on him when he returns. No, I like the children at South Pointe Elementary School thank and honor the men and women for serving our country, for if no one answered when called to duty because someone thought the cause might be wrong, there would be no country worth fighting for.

Wounded Erect Bikes

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 https://www.scribd.com/collections/2633415/Waging-War-to-Make-Peace

Bringing Homeless People Home

BRINGING HOMELESS PEOPLE HOME
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

If pious talkers actually practiced the love they so fervently preach, involuntary homelessness in our prosperous society would not exist.

If the ancient command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, were extended to all humankind and actually practiced, involuntary poverty and homelessness would be eradicated in every neighborhood.

If the millions of Americans who profess faith had genuine faith, there would be no homelessness.

So let us be honest with ourselves: any truly faithful ‘fool’ would go out into the street right now and bring a homeless person home. And the most prudent faithful person would at least keep his family members or friends at home in the first place.

We are expected to lie in order to appear to be good, and to take care lest we offend someone’s religious faith or quasi-religious ideology. Nevertheless, if we really have faith in the power of truth, we should be honest from time to time, even if that means saying:

“I am a selfish person and I could really care less about homeless people except I’m afraid to be one. Maybe that’s why god put them there, to scare us.”

No doubt there are many charitable deeds being done by kind individuals and groups on a daily basis. Yet most of us are cultivated to be far more concerned about ourselves than about those who are much less fortunate, so why not just admit it? Indeed, the most honest approach for many of us would be to throw off the false political or religious piety and dispense with the pernicious propaganda, and state:

“I don’t give a damn about the homeless. Let someone else deal with them if they want to, but not on my nickel, or just let them die – the world is overpopulated with weak people, and they’re not my problem.”

Bookstores have many Self Help shelves filled with books, but nary a shelf labeled ‘Help Others’. Why would any red-blooded American individual trained in self-help voluntarily help the homeless? Apparently times have changed over the centuries in that regard: there was a pressing need for neighborly love in ancient civilizations although communities were much more closely knit than our own. Indeed, some historians believe civilization itself is based not on pseudo-Darwinian “survival of the fittest” or “might makes right”, but on protecting the weakest members of society – they believe the social and political status of women is a measure of civilization. Good Christians are credited with such an advance of civilization, but there are two sides to every coin, and for some people Christianity is a feel-good religious justification for exploiting one another, believing that if everyone is overcharged, somehow all will be enriched. Julian the Apostate complained about homelessness among Christians, whom he believed were selfish and anti-social and interested only in their own personal salvation, but he well noted and admired the lack of homelessness in Jewish communities – of course his flattery was in part due to the need for allies in the region.

A growing mass of people has subjected itself to the reign of greed and has contempt for the very idea of neighborly love and its “slave religion”, although many of them praise God in churches on Sunday. The idea of loving neighbors is repugnant to neighbors, particularly neighbors who prize the obsessive pursuit of private property. We are taught in the Great Nation of Ours to look out for Number One, to be Individualists; to replace war with political economics and compete in the latent-hostility business; we learn to love property and its abstract unit-of-exchange god at an early age.

Our friends and associates may run out on us when we run out of money and property. Our mates often flee as well. Many spouses and children are abused and even murdered when the little king of the castle loses the dignity of being able to support his family, and turns his self-contempt on his family members (when the conditions of unemployment were direst, during the Industrial Revolution, men occasionally murdered their families to save them from the degradation of life on the streets and in orphanages). And we should not forget how queens can drive kings to despair.

A current example of the worst effect homelessness might have on a fragile family was reported by the Associated Press and carried in Sunday papers on January 29, 2006 under the heading, Suicide rate escalates…. Hurricane Katrina threw Jerome Spears and his fiancée Rachel Harris out of New Orleans and therefore out of work:

“Spears shot his fiancée to death, severely wounded her 4-year-old son with a bullet to the back of the head, and then killed himself. The 5-month-old daughter, born amid the Katrina chaos, was unharmed but is now an orphan.”

Despite their compassion, the leadership has neglected the more vicious roots of the dominant political-economic ideology of the United States, the so-called ‘America Way’ of doing things, a way that includes, in South Miami Beach (2006) for example, hiring off-duty cops to kick down the apartment doors of tenants who cannot afford soaring rents elsewhere when their building is sold for conversion – some who were unable to come up with the equivalent of three-months high rent in advance for another apartment have been seen sleeping on the streets. In fact, the logical conclusion of the reign of greed exemplified by Miami will not be a pretty sight to behold; it can be foreseen now, for instance, sleeping in Washington Avenue doorways.

The moral and ethical negligence is not the sole fault of war mongering compassionate neoconservatives and economic-inequality Texanomics unleashed on the unwitting nation: it was merely business as usual after the neoconservatives upstaged the compassionate neoliberals, who were riding high during the Dot.com boom.

For instance, in the paradisiacal State of Hawaii – a state rated highly for its health, wealth and natural beauty, and highly ranked for its “meanness” to homeless people – soaring housing costs coupled with low wages were privately applauded for “keeping the riffraff out.” Of course high prices and low labor costs were publicly deplored. Naturally a great deal of profit can be had in the difference between income and costs; to lower costs even further, taxes were depicted as spoiler – eventually Democrats turned out to be Republicans in sheep’s clothing.

Stanley Hong, past president of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of Hawaii, wrote a succinct summary of the predominant political-economic perspective under the caption, ‘The Will To Change’ – his article appeared in the Chamber’s Small Business On The Move ’98. Mr. Hong reiterated the usual business refrain, advising everyone to “adjust” to his premise, that the following steps would somehow have a salutary effect on small business: downsize both government and business while decreasing the size of government in proportion to business, and, at the same time, privatize traditional government functions. This arrangement would naturally leave business in charge of society, steered by unelected captains. He offered as “scientific evidence” of probable salvation the report of a Mainland investment bank. He admitted that some opposition did exist to his premise, but neither stated nor answered its arguments, nor did he advise where the opposition’s views might be found in the glare of megamedia advertising conglomerations.

Mr. Hong spoke well for the consolidation of business and the further concentration of wealth and other forms of power into the gigantic facilities of the major vested interests, but the political-economic policies advocated are unfavorable to small business development, better government, and social well-being. Social workers Sylvia Yuen, Barbara DeBaryshe, and Ivette Rodgriquez Stern at the Center for the Family at the University of Hawaii at Manoa pointed out, in a 1997 two-page spread in the Honolulu Advertiser, the social consequences implied by the policies represented by Mr. Hong: family violence, homicide, suicide, physical illness, depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention homelessness. The authors presented a bulleted list of how victims should behave in order to adjust to their circumstances; the suggested behavior did not include political protest and civil disobedience. The advice given is, in many respects, entirely laudable, but Hawaiians were left lamenting the day when humanism became a “science” of describing and conforming to the status quo and its prevalent ideology. Nowadays “bullets”, blank vestiges of the ability to judge and evaluate according to priorities, have replaced the numbering of How Tos.

We do have social welfare for needy people, but not nearly as much welfare we have to defend the interests of the upper middle and high class – high military expenditures are required to maintain their welfare. Voluntarily paying taxes for social welfare is a form of “loving” at long distance, albeit not as charitable as we would like to think; for many, “voluntary compliance” with the tax laws is hardly voluntary.

As for the elderly, now that the society is growing older and the young are called upon to support more and more elders, the ungrateful young want to dismantle the social security programs so they will not have to support those who provided them with their platform – the younger voters elect rich old politicians to break the word of Uncle Sam and cut the throats of the poor and elderly.

We vaguely recall one of Thomas Hardy’s novels: A scandalously unmarried couple and their children stick together through thick and thin: he finally gets a job; they get married; husband and wife come joyfully home and find the kids dead, hung by the neck by the eldest; a note is tacked to the wall: WE ARE TOO MANY. Well, in our faith-based Jonestownian utopia, what’s left of the Social Security Administration hands out suicide pills to the elderly with a note, YOU ARE TOO MANY.

The political drift to carelessness is not altogether hopeless. Notwithstanding the leadership’s successful efforts, based on the politics of fear, to cut poor programs and to widen the gap between rich and poor, increasing homelessness by 20%, economic plans that might alleviate poverty are still being proposed by a few politically perverse diehards in Congress. But alas, even if the motions were not tabled, the legislation might fail given the corrupted Congress.

Wherefore we had better take faith based charity seriously, and reconsider the ancient commandment to love our neighbors as well as ourselves – if the current bipartisan leadership’s economic inequality program continues apace, many unsuspecting hard workers might find themselves on the streets without a private place to eat, sleep, or relieve themselves. We might start by making sure that we treat our own families and friends well, and make sure they have homes. We might become better acquainted with the poor and needy in our own neighborhoods instead of fearing, hating, and even murdering them with baseball bats. It is all too brutishly human to abuse the “enemy”, those who exemplify our worst fears – of poverty, weakness, infirmity, old age hence death, and so on. Perhaps only the truer or “foolish” Christians will dare to invite vagrants into their homes even if they happen to be family members, thus putting their property and lives at risk. But a list of a thousand other good deeds to give the homeless a hand up if not a handout can be easily devised.

Instead of repeating hackneyed half-truths and relying on false justifications for not taking personal responsibility, everyone can do something here and now, no matter how little it may seem, to help homeless people.

If direct contact with indigent persons is unwanted, numerous personal steps can be taken to help or even confront persons who are experts in dealing with the various issues – including the under funding and incompetent administration of social programs. Even then, we should be aware that one of our biggest social problems today is that we do not have personal problems any more – we have impersonal “issues.” Rather than personally solving real problems with effective personal action, we convert them into “issues” to be impersonally discussed in committee and impersonally handled with absurd forms, and latex gloves if any action is finally taken. Rather than helping the homeless people in our neighborhoods with little acts, we prefer to appoint others to raise funds to further discuss the “issues” – we avoid personal involvement and delegate the decision-making to representatives, who, in turn, often have the problems inadequately addressed, even if they are not wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Our representatives, including those involved in privatized charity programs, are sometimes too eager to prostitute themselves to organized greed. In politics, all sorts of specious arguments are made to justify the sociopathic tendency of large campaign contributors, including those who believe a political right to a job for those who cannot otherwise find one would destroy the American Way. When food and shelter is provided and numerous homeless people show up, the charity, the food and shelter provided, is declared to be the very cause of homelessness. Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies assisting the unemployed, poor, and downtrodden victims of abuse often do not cooperate or give people a hand up once they are designated “homeless”; public officials and private officers insist they do not have authority to assist homeless people, or that simply is not their job.

Relatively comfortable people, seeing the bottom rising as they are pushed down, will clamor for reform, playing into the hands of vested interests who would reduce them to penury as well if there were a profit in it. The beggar’s plea, “It could happen to you,” is true. Even then few people will care, for the cult of greed and gilded individualism has managed to thoroughly stigmatize vulnerable people, laying personal blame on them for not succeeding in the competitive war of all against all for the most money and stuff it can buy. And will the poor revolt? That is not likely, not in the absence of a small terrorist minority: human beings are resilient and will withstand terrible conditions, often because they fear losing what little they might have left. But their will be some revolt in the form of lesser crimes against the state than revolution.

There were too many to sweep under the rug, to hold in costly and ineffective institutions. Faith-based charity, given faith as we know it, does not work either. Now the visibility of homelessness in our neighborhoods demonstrates the personal-salvation selfishness at the core of bad faith, which is atheism, a contempt for humankind exceeding that of the fallen angel.

Yes, the primary objective was once to keep the real problem, the failure of society, out of sight; and to that end the police force, courts, prisons, and mental hospitals were ultimately indispensable. After all, the police power’s prime directive is to shield the power elite, among whom we find many decent men and women, who, besides paying taxes, voluntarily invest considerable personal time along with billions of dollars in social programs to help needy people overseas. Still, we cannot help but notice that many powerful people who profess faith and love and charity would be in prison if equality under the law prevailed instead of inequality under wealthy men. Mind you, however, that we should not be too hasty to condemn our idols, those whom we secretly and even openly emulate as we capitulate to the petty private capitalist within each of us, whose two-faced god is the bookends at each end of M-C-M. And the deleterious results of this lopsided formula will be rubbed in our faces, for “they are too many” to keep out of sight.

The government or any other abstract entity cannot solve our social and personal problems; only persons can restore a healthy balance to our social life. A person is a dynamic relationship of the individual or living unit, whose essence is the will to persist, and the community of individuals, who need each other for self-preservation, and who together, in moving conflict and consensus, constitute the social persona, each persona having its variations according to its perception and will. Now too many of us protest against the “liberal” or social side of the personal coin. Too many of us piously and unwittingly preach the half-truth dogma of the cult of gilded individualism, the popular political religion. It is a religion of materialism and atheism disguised by religious professions and political cults, often by those who protest the salvation-effect of Good Works and rely, instead, on the Anything Goes Faith of Feel Good Religion – the Christians call it ‘hypocrisy.’ It is a total denial of the natural world including society, a denial that issues a license to destroy the world and each other for a fleeting profit in the mere name of love. The mission heaps up individual gains while selfishly counting on individual salvation in a nebulous hereafter.

All persons who truly care about others and therefore themselves, whose faith is life and not death, will do something every month without fail to help those homeless people who want assistance and are willing to accept it. Again, a thousand good deeds can be done, or 999 deeds short of actually bringing homeless people into your own home.

Public Comments

irishma416: This is well written and well thought out. I checked disagree because I think there are other ways to help besides bringing a stranger into my home. I do donate quite a bit of my time, money, and as many material products as I can to shelters and other donation points. I don’t have the room to have someone move in with me and frankly don’t think I’d risk my family to do so. Perhaps I read you wrong on that point. * Bobbie

tjodray: You know how I feel about this issue my friend. Very well done!

aardy: Of course time. money, and materials donated will be very helpful.

boykev: hmmm. New York before Rudy…New York WITH Rudy…I’ll stick with Rudy. It’s much cleaner now.

white_lace: awesome writing, and hitting it right where it is.

derwriter: I have learned first-hand what it is like to be homeless. In our case, I simply did not have enough money to go around, and once it happens, it takes a great deal of perseverance and refusal to become embarrassed over the situation to get past it. Another of my life-changing teachings. Don’t think I will write to Hillary, however, about any of it. I consider her to the Black Queen.

andyk: The ambivalence and insensitivity towards the homeless, as you so eloquently point out in this article, is the largest contributing factor in our seeming inability to stem the tide of people being forced onto our nation’s streets. Whoever knows anyone that is living from paycheck to paycheck in this country, including themselves, must recognize that this crisis not only affects them on a societal level, but on a clearly personal one, as well. I hope that well-written and informed articles such as this, will serve to open people’s eyes and hearts to this ever-increasing problem.

rorajoey: I’m not surprised that homelessness is an increasing problem, with the price of homes (and everything else!) going up so high. When did society first begin to willingly put themselves into debt for 5 years to buy a vehicle, or for 30 years to buy a home? And what happens when our employer “downsizes” or declares bankruptcy, or simply decides we’re no longer fit for employment? I’m saddened by the fact that, in spite of our increasing population, an exponentially decreasing percentage thereof can actually hope to realize “the American dream,” no matter how hard they work.

dcoyote: Welfare is not dedicated to the eradication of poverty, nor are government agencies that ‘deal’ with the homeless. Every one of those ‘agencies’ are devoted to expanding their budgets and even further entrenching their civil service jobs. Can anyone seriously tell me that welfare workers are trying to put themselves out of work? ‘The system’ is designed to survive. The entire system is “tax welfare”.

mareeroe: I’m not from your Country but homelessness is a problem in our Capital City too. I drive every morning through an area where there are homeless people in doorways and on sidewalks near a homeless shelter and a mental home. I don’t do anything except wonder how can they live like that, pity them, and think to myself that they are mostly drug or alcohol dependent or mental patients. Some of them scare me but you have made me think.

jmk444: One area in which I appear to disagree with you is over your inference that people “selfishly” going about their business (working to take care of their families) are somehow directly or indirectly responsible for the homelessness of others. I don’t believe that is in any way the case. //// There are indeed many causes of homelessness (various mental illnesses, substance abuse, etc) – skilled, ambitious people who merely lose their jobs can usually find another. Are there are unfortunates who get burned out of their homes or lose their source of income in a strange city – these are the easiest ones to help and the ones most likely to get out of this predicament fastest. The idea of taking an alcoholic, a drug abuser, or someone with mental health problems into our homes is an unrealistic one. All of these people need help, not merely love. They need specialized medical care that can only be administered in an institution. //// Fine writing despite our differences of opinion.

homelost: Perhaps “mental illness” as officially defined may run as high as 2/3 of a homeless population in JMK’s neighborhood, where residents are known to exaggerate statistics to justify their callousness; however, recent studies indicate that the overall fraction is about 1/4. In any case, when speaking of mental illness, we should keep in mind that, although there are some seriously ill people out there who require professional care in institutions, nosology or diagnostic definitions are produced by the psychiatric industry, which is supported by the government; nosology is in fact a method often used to define people in order to control them, in order to imprison them in institutions instead of taking them home. Yes, there is drug and alcohol abuse; however, there is a high incidence of that in the population who have homes (pity the man with a $500 monthly bar tab is afraid a wino might have a drink at the public expense!) And, we should not forget that around 38% of homeless people do have jobs. To view information about the homeless including statistics, go to the National Coalition for the Homeless’ site: nch.ari.net

victorbuhagiar: Once I was Malta’s representative on the FAO in Rome. Everyone agreed people needed help. Action: NIL. I was relieved when the Government appointed someone else.

aardy: The inference referred to by my friend jmk444 is his, not mine. And there is some unavoidable truth to it.

erinys: There are several problems that bleed into the “homelessness issue”. One is that everywhere in North America, mental health facilities are under funded and neglected. (This is especially true in the United States, where the military industrial complex demands an unbelievably huge share of the taxpayer’s pie…) A great many people become homeless after being turned out of hospitals, live-in clinics, and halfway houses. These places are constantly being closed or downsized for lack of funding–even when the inmates are blatantly unable to function normally and take care of themselves. Can we take these people into our homes? Don’t be absurd! The average citizen, no matter how compassionate and well meaning, cannot possibly care for a mentally ill person in his or her home: we don’t have the time, the medication, or the training. It would be stupid and dangerous for all concerned. Of course, not all the homeless are mentally ill; there are other homelessness-related problems. Drug and alcohol abuse cannot be discounted–this is the sort of personal problem that keeps people out of faith-based shelters, very often, and also keeps them from being able to bootstrap themselves out of homelessness. Again, it isn’t the private citizen’s job to take a drunk or a drug addict into his home: it’s dangerous and stupid for all concerned. Let’s face it: junkies and drunks are not trustworthy houseguests. They’re liable to steal from you or harm your family; it’s not your moral obligation to give them the chance to harm you. In the United States, of course, there are a lot of other problems which are far less common in Canada…especially with the working poor, who are often forced to live out of their cars because they can’t find safe or affordable shelter. Decent, safe, low-income housing is in EXTREMELY short supply in the USA! Housing projects in America are a very low priority. They are deliberately built in the places where real estate values are lowest, and then they’re poorly maintained, badly policed and always over-crowded. You build a housing project in America, you instantly create a slum within a slum! And even given how depressing, unhygienic and violent these places often are, many people would be grateful for a chance to live there: they can’t find a spot. There’s not enough room in those slums–much as someone might like to spend a pitiful paycheck from a bad service job on rent, they simply don’t get the chance! In Canada, by contrast–most particularly in Vancouver, BC, where I’ve been living for the last five years–low-income housing projects are a big priority. Not only do they build a lot of them, but the buildings are attractive, well maintained, and scattered throughout the city in a wide variety of neighborhoods. They are not isolated in the poorest areas or segregated by race, their denizens deliberately kept far away from a proper police presence, decent schools or public parks: on the contrary, they’re often built in extremely desirable locations. The nearest to me personally is within a stone’s throw of one of the most beautiful green areas in the city, Queen Elizabeth Park, and the surrounding neighborhood is full of upper-middle-class homes and rolling green lawns. A poor person can live there with a little dignity and maybe even a glimmer of hope for the future.

aardy: A woman gave up her inexpensive rented house here and moved in with her boyfriend, at his behest, along with her furniture. She was in an accident and could not return to work. Her boyfriend, a wealthy man, kicked her out of the apartment because he was seeing other women. She was flat broke. She wanted to commit suicide, but was worried about her dog. She called her hairdresser to ask her to care for her dog. The hairdresser took both of them in.

trinity: I think the biggest thing is fear – everyone knows it could be them – there is a serious problem with our Mental Health policies and there is a sense of apathy from everyone on that issue..

comebackkenny: When asked, some homeless people admit that they want to be left alone, free food and free clothes. They do not want responsibility, to pay taxes, bathe, or be told where to sleep. One such homeless was thrown out of a public library for odor problems sued the city for $40,000 and won. He is still there.

sekhmet: One of my very best friends, who now works for the screen actors guild in recruiting, was also homeless. He still *serves* (operative word) the homeless. Maybe we should look at helping other people as serving them – then maybe there might be a bit more compassion in the world. Well written, my friend.

tuggy: I almost ended up on the streets with my illness(physical) and no family support. A couple of times I had to go to shelters.

aardy: I was homeless three times in my life, once for two years. Believe me, the “homeless people want to be homeless” excuse does not wash with me, though there are some who prefer it.

christine doiron: I agree with what you say about most of the “faithful” not actually being faithful, but just kidding themselves. However, it would be irresponsible to bring any stranger into our home off the street. I wouldn’t do this any more than I would pick up a hitchhiker, or walk through Central Park at 2am.

aardy: The second time I was homeless was after I was robbed in a hotel room where I was staying over night. I had flown into town with my whole savings in cash, and planned on renting a place the next day. So I was on the street. Alan and Karen, two complete strangers, took me into their luxury condominium, because they overheard me telling my story. They were writers. We wrote a script for Hawaii Five-O. After I got on my feet and got an apartment, they came and asked me to move back in with them.

moongazer: Well written and thought provoking.

moviegeek: Good article.. though the title could use some re-wording — my first thought seeing it was that someone was being satirical, the idea of “blowing away” the homeless 😉

blutwilight: Well written! I’ve known a few people who would have been homeless without the help of their friends and family. I wrote a story about one of these people. Some people I’ve known had drug problems while others had mental problems. Some children I’ve cared for and taken in alot because they didn’t have food, electricity, etc in their home. I used to see a ‘bag woman’ every morning on my way to work. One day I left her a whole bag of food to put in her cart she pushed around. She ran away from it. I hope she went back after I left though. She changed her route after that and I didn’t see her anymore. Once a man knocked on the door of where I was working and told me he was hungry and needed money. I told him I didn’t have any money and I gave him my lunch I had made for me that day. I went out about an hr later and he had thrown my lunch on the ground without touching it. So many different types of homeless people. Sometimes it’s hard to know which ones really need help, but we can do our small part in our little corner of the world.

cathy: very well written, and unfortunately alot of truth here. I think the people who are so comfortable, and smug in their lives don’t realize how quickly it can disappear. Many hardworking families are one paycheck away from the streets.

aardy: My first experience with homelessness was when I ran away from an abusive home at age 12. I wound up on the streets of a town in the Midwest. I was starving. The Indians on the street helped me get a job with a wrecking crew; based on that job promise, the Indians helped me get a meal card at a restaurant and one-week’s credit at a flop-house (one wall of my “room” was taped together newspaper comics). A few weeks later I was stopped by the police at midnight while walking back to the hotel from a second job I got carting cement around to construct a grain silo. I showed them my father’s ID which I had taken with me; they did not fall for it as he was three times my age. Hence back home until the time I ran away for good.

andre: Well said. Though politicians won’t do much. The homeless are an insignificant voting constituency. The letter should be sent to ALL senators. It’s not just a New York problem .What can i do?

WhatCanIDo?: Alot of homeless people have mental illnesses. They need professional help, too bad no one in their right minds would want to take this matter in their own hands. Especially with children. If they ever legalize bud, there would be enough jobs to seriously reduce homeless people, and give them a job.

witchhazelnut: sad, really…I work in social services and the gov’t barely pays US a living wage, so you know they’ll never fund the homeless issues..

aardy: Only once was I harmed by taking in a homeless person; ironically, I became homeless for a few days as a consequence. See my essay “Being Rolled” for my account of that incident as well as a fuller account of the incident above.

tinakrause: Excellent points here, and an excellent article. Makes one definately think.

aardy: I accept the National Coalition’s definition of homelessness. As I said above, I was once homeless for 2 years: I lived on the streets of Chicago from a bit over age 13 to almost 16–I had no permanent shelter and often slept in parks, libraries, subways, bus depots and train stations. although someone occasionally took me in. I wonder if anyone would be so charitable to accept that as a fair definition of homeless, or does one have to be over 18?

helgar: Awesome, articulate and powerful article. Thanks for raising consciousness about this complex problem. I admit to being of two minds when I run into it, far too frequently, here in Toronto. I will be disposed to be more helpful and less judgmental, in future. Homelessness is a disgrace to the neighborhood!

Suicide by Writing – The Man Who Wrote Himself to Death

Rocks

THE MAN WHO WROTE HIMSELF TO DEATH
by David Arthur Walters

Once upon a time there lived an unknown author with a bad case of writer’s block who suddenly realized that writing is indeed futile, so he wrote himself to death.

His name was George Harvey. He was often seen walking around the neighborhood with a silly smile on his face and with a blood-red covered book in his hand entitled SUICIDE, authored by one Emile Durkheim. That very book was found on his desk after his death, opened to a well-worn page wherein he had underlined a few sentences as follows:

“One does not advance when one walks toward no goal, or, which is the same thing, when his goal is infinity…. To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness. Of course, men may hope contrary to all reason, and hope has its pleasures even when unreasonable. It may sustain him for a time but it cannot survive the repeated disappointments of experience indefinitely….Shall action as such be considered agreeable? First, only on condition of blindness to its uselessness….”

On that page’s margin George had scrawled in red, “So much for God! So much the search for Wisdom! Well, then, I shall proceed because of my spite for futility!”

Since George lived alone, his death was discovered though the sense of smell. His decaying body was found slumped over his desk with a cheap ballpoint pen in the hand that had apparently written these words just before its master’s demise:

“Because of your rejection I die triumphant by my own hand, writing myself to death for the sheer hell of it. You will find my manuscript ‘The Wonderful Futility of a Meaningless Life’ in the refrigerator. It is with the greatest pride in my contempt for the futility inspired by my fellow man that I present proof….” the note trailed off.

After his body was found, the police were obliged to make a few cursory inquires even though George had apparently died of natural causes – notwithstanding the suicide note which was obviously the work of, as the police psychologist said, “a nutcase.” And indeed he had died of natural causes: overwork, junk-food and heartbreak are natural to modern man. When the police inquired, George’s next door neighbors knew next to nothing about him or for that matter about each other. They lived in a building where it was considered either an imposition or downright dangerous to say anything to a resident let alone look one in the eye.

Nevertheless Sally, who lived across the hall from George, said she had actually spoken to him on at least two occasions. Once, upon being asked by him what she had done on New Year’s Eve, when she replied ‘nothing’, he had said that was a shame as he was doing nothing too, so they should have gotten together. She said she cut the conversation short there as she thought he was being too forward. She said it occurred to her that a loner like George might fit the profile of a serial killer.

Sally reported that George approached her on another occasion at a magazine rack in the Seven-Eleven store across the street, whereupon she averted her eyes and gave every sign she was too occupied to be engaged. But George persisted, so she asked him how he was. He said that he was very angry because an editor had sent him several letters rejecting his articles, and that the editor had said nothing further about George’s work but had instead quoted at length someone named Chesterton. George told Sally he had a laundry bag full of rejection slips, everyone of them being the standard unsigned form, but this particular editor had taken it upon himself to quote some other author’s snide remarks that had no relevance to the work he had submitted.

Sally extended the courtesy of asking who the said Chesterton was. George said Chesterton was a pompous ass who wanted to fill up the world with facetious remarks. He then said that he, George, wanted to bomb the editor’s offices. At that point Sally broke off the encounter and never spoke to George again. In fact, she carefully avoided him thereafter, always looking for him through her door’s peephole into the hall before leaving her apartment, crossing the street whenever she saw him coming, and other such precautionary tactics.

That was all the information that could be gleaned from the neighbors. No friends or relatives could be located, if there were any. George’s body was unclaimed and quickly disposed of given its decomposed state. His manuscript, which had filled his entire refrigerator with shelves removed, was burned along with the rest of his personal effects. Surely he would have been pleased by that, for he knew all along that his writing and his life were futile. That is why he wrote, why he overcame his writer’s block, why he wrote himself to death.

All that remains of George Harvey is a few memories – of his silly smile as he strolled along clutching his blood-red book on suicide, of his dislike for Chesterton and his hatred for the editor who quoted Chesterton, and the stink of his carcass. Even those memorable remnants of George shall soon vanish from the face of the Earth. That is, unless this tale survives. And I believe it should survive, for it is the only account of the first known case of suicide by writing.

# # #

Note: This short-short story has caused a few readers to publicly express concerns about my sanity. During my historical research into the culture of suicide, I encountered a true account of artistic nihilists who were painting their masterpieces and destroying them before anyone could see them, then destroying themselves as well