The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Aug 22nd: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts


"Among the lowborn too
  must be some who spend their time
    in tranquility."

 - Iio Sogi (haiku poet 1421-1502)

...foodie recipes and tips for the homeless...

One of the unintended consequences of meat becoming more expensive is the popularity of foods that have traditionally been the domain of poor folk, soldiers and many bachelors.

Spam, beans, and canned fish have not only become popular but food producers have taken it a step further and diversified.

To a young Boy Scout, beans were a simple choice...it was Campbell's pork and beans or chili. Nowadays there's dozens of flavors, and even spam comes in different permutations.

I've since rediscovered the joys of pork and beans, as it's a nice was to stretch a buck. The best way to spice up the routine is to either add BBQ sauce (taken from a condiment counter of course), or the southern style with potato chips...I don't mean on the side, I mean beans as a dip, or with a crust of chips on top.

Canned fish used to be really cheap before knowledge of the healthy aspects got in the way and caused an increase in price.

What surprised me was that they don't always pack the fish in tight anymore. That was because the oil was more expensive than the fish. One brand I bought on sale was almost all oil with only four fillets in it, I almost thought the things were swimming...

People talk about fast food being the default of many homeless but that's not true...most I've met don't buy fast food, it's too expensive these days.

To eat really cheap yet like a king, you only have to look at gas stations where the opulent jalapeño burger with any size drink can be had for only 2.99...those worried about the effect of red meat can be assured that the amount of soy filler reduces the risk of red meat and the taste difference is negligible once the tongue is burned up by the peppers...I'm heartened that at least one segment of the food market strives to provide the best for less.

...stop the presses...

To examine what can be believed or not about what the media says about the homeless, we'd need to understand a bit more about American journalism.

The main reason I don't automatically assume a news report is true is for the same reason people demand to see a pink slip before buying a used car.

Most people think that knowing a potential partner's sexual history is common sense, yet will eagerly devour food that the media says will make 50 the new 30.

The news is a product, and generally examined for purity about as stringently as an herbal weight loss remedy. 

One often touted standard is if the data came from multiple sources, which is in theory a good one. 

That media manipulaters have known this for decades should have caused a reexamination of this axiom by now...but really, the truth only counts if it brings eyeballs to the product and advertisers keep bringing their cash.

It's like when an interview subject is labeled by the media as someone with street cred or is "streetwise"...it tends to be thought of as a Swahili that can applied in any inner city situation. 

But what can get you in like flint with the Bloods can get you shot if some Cripps or Nortenos find you.

The reality is, yes, there are certain common sense rules about living in the streets, but you won't see any of those applied in a Hollywood film (which people believe accurately portrays people and events) or in many news stories.

Those images of doomed angry types who kick butt, or are supermen a la urban martial arts movies are all people who'll really either end up picking up bars of soap in a prison shower, being shot or stabbed in the back, end up as servile mice following orders from an alpha, or like street walkers and drug addicts, just cattle to be herded and exploited.

A journalist who came from a privileged background and was educated at Harvard can possibly understand "the streets" but is more likely to just compile a bunch of great sounding quotes, feel that the interview subject is "credible" and put it into newsbyte or article form.

In other words, they can be easily snowed or manipulated.

Most "street" types I've met did know their stuff about this or that scene, but I have to add, virtually all were master bullshitters.

In the case of an article or TV news story about the homeless, you really need to know several things before it can be judged as a reliable picture of homelessness.

If the story is about a particular homeless person, the main thing is:

Is the subject engaging in "observed behavior"?

In other words, people will act and talk differently if their behavior is being observed or they have a mic or camera being stuck in their face.

A good description of this phenomena is in Michael Crighton's book, Jurassic Park. He talks about how studying captive animals produces inaccurate data about animal behavior that then gets taken as true for the same animal in the wild.

In the case of a story about the homeless, there's several other questions that should come to mind.

But it's simpler to just give an example of a typical homeless news story (but annotated).

What is the slant?

One of the most typical is "small business owners dealing with the homeless" on their street story. The quote from the small business owner generally runs along the line of being sympathetic at first but that homeless behavior has gone too far and there needs to be a solution to the problem.

The local news media loves this kind of story because it has all the wonderful elements of the sympathetic figure (almost always a female business owner) beset upon by the usual stereotyped horde (the most common image) that's virtually never approached for interviews for their viewpoint (the media prefers spokesman for homeless organizations that look presentable and don't stink) and maybe a quote from the police reassuring the public that proactive steps are being taken to solve the problem.

The "slant," or point of view of the story ensures that the public's image of the homeless is reinforced, and reassures local businesses that the media not only cares about the problem but continues to be a good investment for their advertising dollars.

This story, or some variation of it is pretty one of the templates that make up the SOP on covering the homeless. It's still easier to deal with them as a stereotype, or through advocates that know how to deal with the press (speak their lingo and understand there's a deadline to get it out by the evening news).

...you now see one part of the picture...

When people talk about the homeless, it's just as instructive to consider the source. You'll find that this or that comment or attitude about the homeless can often reveal more about the speaker or source than the actual subject.

Most negative views on the subject can be traced back to American attitudes towards winners and "power worship," as Orwell called it. That aspect will be covered in more detail in the future.

...for example, why some homeless don't seem to care about cleanliness...

Do homeless people like to be smelly and dirty?

I imagine some do.

I remember reading an article years ago about how the proliferation of gyms had made sweat sexy. Perhaps it is, though it may have been a case of orange being the new black, polka dot ties projecting power, or women who felt intelligence was sexy, etc...

A homeless person who hasn't bathed in years isn't sexy to many people, and is a classic part of the stereotype.

People read a lot of things into this lack of hygene but the one belief that isn't true is that it's a sign of apathy. It's more nuanced than that.

Decades ago, a woman who belonged to a modern dance troupe told me that there were women who never washed their tights, and that the smell bowled her over. None were homeless.

One homeless friend related this story to me:

"When I was in the shelters, there was this clique that would crowd the shower entrance so a line couldn't form, and prevented others from showering until they got done first."

You could draw a lot of conclusions from this, and most would agree that it was rude behavior. It fits in with a picture of shelters that is too detailed to go into here.

But the important point is that there are homeless that value being clean, and if given access to showers, will use those.

This isn't just a modern thing. 

George Orwell, in his masterful book, "The Road To Wigan Pier," described in one section how coal miners often didn't bother to wash up due to the difficulty of washing away coal dust and exhaustion. 

He noted that in mines where the Union paid to build showers, those were always used by the miners and were popular.

The reason some transients don't keep clean can be due to a variety of reasons, many of which, as noted above, can apply to some in respectable society.

Yet there's that "great unwashed" stereotype. The subject is almost always brought up as part of the picture, like a uniform, and expresses contempt or disgust...but it's a personal remark, like noting someone's bad breath or smelly feet. It's just a sign of disgust, it adds nothing to the picture.

...the media's broad brush...

Probably the worst thing that way too many media writers have done to the "homeless" is to ignorantly apply the term to anyone who didn't have a roof over their heads without bothering to be specific.

They, and other experts that should know better, often include subcultures that may coexist with homeless, but have been around  long before the term homeless (as its applied now) came into use.

The most obvious are heavy drug and booze users previously known to the general public as "junkies," "hop heads," "winos," and a myriad of other terms.

The other is the mentally ill transients, and it should be noted, don't all date from the time decades ago when "Reagan closed all the halfway houses." That reasoning still leaves the other 49 states.

If one were to look for past labels for the type of homeless I've seen, it would include terms like "mountain men," "ascetics," "hobo," "tramp," "migrant," and "beggar." All of whom are different types of people with unique outlooks and aims.

The last term, beggar, though not very flattering, is a term that goes back in history and can explain many of the current attitudes towards the homeless.

Most competent social workers and professionals know that the current label of homelessness is simply a broad term for a collection of subcultures that each require different handling.

When the homeless "take over a neighborhood" or there's a "homeless problem," what's really happening is that one or more of these subcultures have populated an area and their activities have become beyond the capacity of law enforcement and social services to deal with the situation (or somebody calls a news desk or tip line).

When it happens in an area where there's other homeless types, most of which strive to be under the radar, the tendency for the media is to simply refer to all of them as homeless even if the trouble is mainly due to drug users, etc.

It's a case where the term can be technically true, that they all don't live in a home or apartment, but it will end up unfairly subjecting the innocent for the transgressions of a few.

The media knows this and are often just too lazy, or knowing use the term to hopefully maximize audience size (and sell papers and commercial time).

I say they know this because the media will bend over backwards to avoid even the suggestion that terrorists represent all Muslims, or that the character of African Americans is exemplified by the actions of law breakers who just happen to have that ethnicity.

There's various reasons why reporters and editors can be so willfully ignorant about a particular group.

Sure, they run stories all the time about the little people who are screwed over by the privileged and corrupt, but the lives of such people before and after the heartfelt examination is rarely of any interest to them.

How much can the media really get worked up about the government and big business when they depend on them for tax favors, access, and advertising dollars?

It's easier to spank some small fry landlord and please the public than to take on the bigger slum lords, or to decry the moving of American jobs overseas while making sure none of their advertisers are included in the article.

It'll be interesting to briefly examine all the various groups that are lumped in one mass and called homeless...I've run into all those types, and will discuss it in more detail next week.

...the homeless are good for business...

Jack London refered to it as the "surplus labor army." It's that pool of unemployed or underutilized labor that helps keeps wages down and workers too scared to think about heretical concepts like unions and working conditions.

The whole "globalism" concept is not a utopian vision of mankind without borders, it's an atavistic capitalist paradise where cheaper labor can always be found to replace people who begin to show ingratitude by demanding higher wages and safe working conditions.

George Orwell in his review of a Jack London book had him pegged perfectly as a racist whose religion was Darwin, but also added that because of that, London's view of capitalism as a born again socialist was more accurate and realistic than many who simply adopted Marx as their new faith.

In other words, when London coined the term Surplus Labor Army, it wasn't an intellectual sneer but a simple statement of fact by someone who understood capitalism as we know it.

Intellectuals like to talk about capitalism as a money grubbing trip, but the true capitalist doesn't talk or think in monetary terms. 

New rich and the middle class bourgeoisie talk about making profits; real capitalists talk about markets and making sure governments protect their interests.

In other words, the small fry frets about whether the business will make money...a red blooded buccaneer talks about how many troops are needed to ensure that their interests are safe from peasant armies or what dictator should be running that country at taxpayer expense (not their tax money of course).

...what crisis, business is good...

London would have understood the current immigration "crisis." If the remaining American jobs that can't be shipped overseas carry too much labor cost, then open the borders.

Sure, there'll be hundreds of thousands of unskilled people coming in (the real imported labor is brought in under the radar using the H1B visa program) but the burden of providing services is going to be borne by the taxpayers anyway.

There's the usual conspiracy theories that the wave of illegals and immigrants is to stuff the ballot box, pipeline for terrorists, drug smuggling, new tax payers to save social security, and so on, all probably at least partially true.

The real point is to keep unemployment high, and wages low, and even those low level jobs open to illegals are going away once the full on robotic era finally comes.

The immigration crisis isn't about a horde of people coming in and creating chaos. That's just the distraction (aided by a willfully ignorant media) to keep the public from realizing that illegal immigration wouldn't be happening if there wasn't American businesses providing the market, and of course making sure too many come in so that there's always less jobs than workers.

As the saying goes, "amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics."

...besides the bums and panhandlers...

A good part of the homeless are in the catagory of expendable labor. Many do the unskilled, semi-skilled and project length only labor (the high tech version is called contractors). 

They have a feast or famine wage pattern and often end up sleeping in their cars (if lucky enough to own one, unlike many retail workers who have to walk or drive junkers) in an region like Silicon Valley where even the well off can have a problem finding a roof to live under.

That's where the idea that the homeless like and/or their lifestyle falls apart. There's people in the high tech industry that make good wages but can't afford a place in a sky high real estate market.

One of the things I saw at a rest stop near the heart of Silicon Valley were millennial and baby boomer homeless. They had nice cars, but nowhere to live.

It's even tougher for young women. To leave an abusive partner can mean life in a car. There's no where to go that a young woman can afford if friends or family can't help them.

Just about every homeless woman I talked to, or was told about, had the same story. They had an abusive or controlling partner and when they left, their only refuge was their car. 

News articles talk about how many have to find a male protector, particularly in the camps, which given how many actually can find such a kind protective man in the mainstream world, and that's a pretty thin rope.

When I saw this or that woman arriving at the rest stop, and locking down their car and not leaving to even go to the bathroom (some would wait till very late at night and sneak over), it would make me see that for all the talk of equality, women still take a lot of crap.

Some of the strongest human beings I've ever seen are homeless women who keep their independence in cars instead of just mating up with a strong guy. 

Which makes me shake my head in wonder about society. A woman strong enough to break the abuse cycle has to also take on the daunting (and dangerous in some areas) obstacle of being homeless in an environment with plenty of predators who look for lone women.

That's not a homeless problem though, just a microcosm of the real world even in a lot of the United States.

Next week: talking about hoboes, how to practice guitar in a car, homeless stages of denial (and where their perception is often superior about society), and much more...


The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: doggie transportation
and getting into stores without leaving her outside where she starts barking and acting up...

An indispensable accessory is Ivy's doggie carrier, which features attractive fake Gucci styling, a decent sized side pocket and long straps so that it can be carried slung over the shoulder (preventing the load from feeling like a bowling ball).

It won't get her into a restaurant of course, but many small businesses are tolerant about ivy's presence if she's in the carrier and thus prevented from acting out fantasies like the carpet being a lush meadow in which to pee.

On hot days it's an essential part of walk and hiking equipment as it can not only carry a water bowl and water, but also her if she becomes tired of walking (for her it's about 15 minutes, or immediately if she sees me packing it for a hike).


Ivy seen here "assuming the position" when she sees me with the bag and thinking she gets to go in right away instead of walking a bit first...