The Delta Snake Review

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Monday, August 29, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept 5th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts



..."Keep that light in your eye and go directly to it. If you do, you will see the gate. Upon arrival at the gate, when you knock you will be told what you should do."

- John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress)

...capitalism probably isn't like God, but it actually is for many...

Capitalism as a concept is like God, it is what it is, but it's also what it's disciples say it is...America wasn't built on capitalism as we think of it today, it was built by the efforts and conflicts over free land, free animals that provided furs and good, cheap water and even gold that anyone could dig or ruin a stream for...it was, as Orwell said in an essay about Mark Twain, a unique period where men were as close to being totally free as a society could get...women, of course, weren't free, that was true even in Ancient Athens's "Democracy" which was really a warrior/propertied oligarchy bossing around a larger population of women, slaves and peasants...but America in Twain's day still had enough room for an individual to move about and control his fate.

Today's capitalism preaches free markets and uses the word "enterpreneur" like the words heaven and hell to keep the masses thinking that better days are there for those who wait and endure.

Today's capitalism is basically a plantation system that harvests money and would use slave labor if was still legal. It's like an army that believes that the general is doing all the fighting.

The faith that Capitalists preach is that no matter what happens, the little people can always work their way back up...in a job with less pay more often than not, but our lifestyle is already based on the work of coolies paid a few bucks a day to make everything from phones, clothes, and much of our food...in reality the loss of a job can mean a drastic change in lifestyle with service sector jobs only capable of slowing the fall. The ladder rubgs we're supposed to climb have gotten further and further apart.

Capitalism is working overtime to drive down wages, replace humans with H1B visa workers and robots, which have the added bonus of adding more "inefficients" to the population as Jack London put it, to drive wages even lower, and to achieve a return to the Golden Age of Industrialism where everyone except the privileged worked for peanuts...if you're lucky enough to find work.

People talk about illegals taking jobs that Americans won't do; capitalists would prefer that you do that work or they'll use globalism to find someone who will...

...one good thing about capitalism; condiment sections...

I remember a musician once telling me that the band he was in used to buy a sack of potatoes and live on that. To make it less monotonous, they took as many ketchup and salt packets as possible from fast food places.

My preference is beans and bread...bread, as Henry Miller once rhapsodized, was the cheap and filling staple of the down and out artist, but he was talking about freshly baked French bread, and though I love it with cheese, the modern stuff like white bread that he hated so much has improved since then and now is as versatile as play dough...I like to take this particular brand of white bread and squeeze it into a quasi pretzel, and with mustard it tastes pretty much like the real thing...one great contribution by Heinz is packaged BBQ sauce, which transforms a .50 cent can of Campbell's pork and beans into truly magical fruit...one day someone will come up with cheese whiz packets, and all the comforts of home will be at the fingertips of every condiment bar hog...

...Another morning, and a lesson on parking lot etiquette...

...store manager is out this morning, and is politely reminding those that overslept that there's a city ordinance prohibiting overnight parking, which is another way of saying, look, don't put it on our faces, OK?

I stress that the manager was polite because that courtesy isn't always present in other places and that it can turn into a grim "by the book" mood quickly due to a bad apple or two...this morning the wake up call became a better scoot situation as one homeless person goes into a screaming tantrum and we all scatter rather than be the one in the crosshairs of a store manager who's suddenly decided his job is thankless...

I've been in an area where the overnight ordinance is ruthlessly enforced, generally it's the property owner, aka landlord, that's turned the otherwise tolerant store management and police into barracudas cruising for minnows...a woman I knew kept a barely running van in a lot, which was suddenly towed and the occupant, her schizophrenic son, turned out onto the streets. She was able to find him a few hours later that night wandering around downtown in a haze. 

The documentation would simply say a van was towed after a legal warning, the towing company would rack up a prohibitive storage fee to be recouped by auction or salvage, and the Landlord pleased that his garden has one less bug in it...so that berserker going off on the store manager may feel better after "telling off the man" but it's really a violation of an unspoken etiquette, rooted in common sense, that most homeless adhere to and violations can change the fate of someone down the road like that woman who lost her van in a lot that used to be considered a "tolerant" area...by the same token, the outside world sees a screaming banshee, but we've lived in contact with the mentally ill homeless long enough that while the acting up may make us wince, it's possible the guy can't help himself...

What makes an area tolerant is variable and depends on the mix of personalities involved, which smart homeless can recognize is a fluid situation that disappears when that combination goes out of balance. 

The fact is, fair or nor, the homeless are generally judged by their worst members and that probably will never change as the perception is based on socioeconomic factors, and on laws that make most of their activities illegal, and thus as vulnerable to public rage as smoking or not picking up your dog's poop...

There's a lot of people in power who will ignore such prejudice and exercise restraint and tolerance, if it's not shoved in their faces, or find their necks stuck way out for their actions. 

The etiquette simply is an acknowledgement that the homeless do have plenty of friends...typecasting is a problem with some homeless as well as the propertied.

That area of behavior is worth a detailed look, maybe in the next blog entry...

...population, food, and homeless whisperers...

I was reading some articles about the homeless in Silicon Valley that were written over a period of time from around 2014 onwards. It was research into the Coyote Creek and Guadalupe River homeless camps in San Jose that were eventually cleared out.

The story of how such camps form and get disbanded is an interesting subject and will be given a fuller essay in the next blog.

What struck me about the articles was that the most of the "negative" ones were written by outsiders, the ones with the most positive spin were by local media. The exception were blogs and independent writers, whose views varied.

One article was the most interesting, as it described the efforts of local groups to coordinate and the interagency conflicts that occurred...which isn't the fascinating  part.

It was that some of the "experts" and groups felt that smaller activist organizations and individuals were actually hurting the cause by creating a "poor allocation of resources."

They felt that the homeless needed to be moved towards soup kitchens and food banks and the food channeled to those places.

This would be fine if it was about money, then it could doled out according to need.

But food? It doesn't make sense to say that food donations need to be channeled to certain organizations when the sum total of the food donated doesn't equal the number of hungry homeless.

From my perspective, as a homeless person, food donations, at this time, is an "all hands" situation and feeding the person in front of you does more good than centralizing it (and creating an inevitable bureaucracy). 

It's too early to politicize compassion. If the activist scene is a little unorganized or chaotic, it's just more people trying to lend a hand, and the more the better...

The early high tech industry benefitted from a large input of products, many of which failed but the strong ones won out. It's called a "free market," and the efforts to feed the homeless is still in that stage. There's no one central concept that's solving the problem after decades of trying. It's best to let everyone who wants to lend a hand try out their idea.

Besides, if everyone is channeled into soup kitchens and food banks, and many of the homeless have to walk to get to one, most will start congregating in those areas...which inevitably brings nearby property owners into play.

As quoted earlier, amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics...

...Boronda Adobe here I come...


...it's a place I'd seen a couple of times while driving around, I decided to hike to it as the road there seemed perfect...like most modern dusty roads, it looks better as a picture...an age old dusty trail littered with hypodermic needles, soda cans, parts of a computer, a tent tarp, and a well hidden tent in the trees...the other side is mainly old houses, with a lot of guard dogs tethered in the front lawns.

It's a evocative and pleasant road in spite of such modern touches. It runs along side an artichoke field and the workers pay no attention to Ivy and me, as distractions cost money when being paid piece rate...I'm glad that my instinct was to walk this road and visit the historical site rather than go to the Steinbeck Center, which is downtown...this area seems like a better place to see Steinbeck's world, and his shrine will always be the books anyway.


...one of the things I liked most was the sign and the view behind it...the Boronda family built their house in 1848, and a simple sign fits the place...


...the first thing you pass on entering is an old half track...it's dedicated to Company C 194th Tank Battalion, which was raised from this area...the half track was a vehicle designed to carry infantry close to tanks. Though it looks powerful, it's armor was only thick enough to stop small arms fire and artillery fragments, and it operated close to the prime target, tanks, which drew the fire of every available weapon...it took a lot of guts to ride in an open vehicle when every available enemy artillery unit was firing into the area. 


...worth remembering...


...the old school building was interesting but the real mojo was inside...outside was the world as it was for the town, for the kids, they had a chance to see a bigger world...


...seeing this room made me think of my old Reminton portable, it was a very early type made with shellac and was the same model that was taken on an ill fated South Pole expedition...I composed some of the poetry that will be used in the book on it...it was taken to the Anarctic because it was the lightest one made at the time, but I'm glad my writing instrument is an iPhone, and not an eight pound typewriter...but looking at this room, the simple table with a quill pen and ink bottle invites one to write...as a teenager I became a pen and ink geek, and spent weekend afternoons copying ink illustrations from old books...it was a tranquil period, and still a fond memory...like that table scene, it reminded me of my old ink bottle and pen used back then, now in storage...


...seeing the tractors made me think of my grandfather again...when he had to sell his prune ranch, he took his tractor along to the new place...with the vegetable patch, he made part of an expensive home into a replica of his old back yard...he was a farmer to the end.

...Boronda Adobe may not be a place that draws tourists, but like a book in a library, it may sit on the shelf for years, but somebody will come along and check it out...we're in an age where too many people think a historical site that few people visit is a waste of prime real estate, but Developers rarely leave anything of real value in their slash and burn obsession with money...the Boronda family certainly has...

...the day ends...

...the clerk in the checkout line sees my Ramones t-shirt and gives me a smile and a thumbs up...as I leave a guy is in the corner playing some blues on a beat up old guitar. He's a busker, but not paying attention to the passerbys or working the crowd...the music won't fill his belly, but it will save him, and I feel a little better hearing the blues as I head back to my car...It's sunny and clear today, the car is still running reasonably well and Ivy and I have food, so the road is still open...


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

Today's Topic: important shrines for dogs

As you can see, Ivy has made this bastion of male canine privilege into an inclusive unisex environment!







Sunday, August 28, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Aug 29th: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts


"Children live on one side of dispair, the awakened on the other side."

-Herman Hesse (The Journey To The East)

...people like to count things before they eat...

We've become a generation of people who read labels and counts things before eating...calories, fat and protein content, grams of salt, no gluten, how big or healthy your organs will become if eaten...everything except sugar if it's called something else like corn syrup, "raw" or high glucose.

Now we homeless have a simpler outlook; is it cheap and filling?

I don't count calories, I count how many meals...in other words, do I buy that wonderful ten dollar salad or go with two five dollar burritos...since I like beans, the criteria is stricter; can this meal beat a fifty cent can of beans?

Why buy a Big Mac meal for eight bucks when the Chevron station will sell you two large hot dogs for 1.99? Especially if you can choose between beef, sausage and cheddar filled, with Ivy lobbying strenuously for the latter?

Don't bother with the eating heathy argument. Thanks to America's obsession with eating healthy, the price of even baby carrots has cut rabbits out of the action...but capitalism is adaptable and hot dog and microwave food makers have answered the challenge with a plethora of cheap food guaranteed to induce naps and intestinal regularity as good as any prune.

When you can buy a garden salad with cheese and meat with choice of dressing for two bucks, I'll be first in line...and I root for American food makers to meet the hot dog challenge...otherwise Ivy prefers the cheddar cheese filled hot dogs, and that takes care of lunch for two...now that's the true American way...

...while my guitar gently sleeps...

Cadillacs have a lot of interior space, but it's still a challenge to play a guitar in one. More specifically, to play one without adding nicks, scratches and scuff marks to it's mojo...guitarists will use what is called a "beater," generally a cheapie that's already battered for use around the campfire or in the last few years, a new one that's a repro of an old economy model like the Sears Silvertone, etc.

My problem is that I hate buying a cheap guitar simply as a beater. The one I have, the last of what was once a big collection, is an economy guitar but was chosen because it sounded a lot like my 1933 Gibson.

In other words, I don't want it broken, notwithstanding the fact it's my last guitar. In fact, I kept it even though it has a slightly defective tuning peg because a replacement wouldn't sound like it...even within a model line, individual guitars sound different.

So it's in the same pristine condition from a year ago. Had I known that it would played in a car, maybe I'd have bought a smaller one, but it's too late for that,

Until it gets that first scratch, it's played only when the front seat area is clear and all metal objects (like seat belt buckles) are covered.

The main practice time is late at night because it's quieter and the full sound of the guitar comes out, and to make sure no one around me knows there's a guitar in the car. It's kept hidden behind the front seats under the sun shades and a jacket.

Though it's not an expensive guitar by American standards, it's still an easy thing to sell on Craigslist. That was true even before I hit the road, leaving a guitar in a car exposes it to theft.

It's worth the effort though, being able to play now and then is a real pleasure, and I'm finding that only having one guitar puts the creativity back where it belongs, inside one's mind and fingers.

Also it's like carrying a pocket knife, it's used every so often but it has layers of meaning.

For example, Boy Scout knives are popular as vintage items on eBay and other places. It was the original Swiss Army Knife for many young men.

Those who weren't in the Scouts might think the appeal is in some sort of phallic or movie hero image, but it was part of the rite of passage into adulthood.

Boy Scouts were allowed to carry a knife that in school could get them suspended or sent home. It was part of a young man's initiation into adulthood to carry a tool that had a stringent code of safety and responsibility.

In my troop, even pointing the knife at someone 10 feet away meant you were immediately sent home from a camp. The principle was that you should always be aware of where the point and edge was, that it wasn't a toy.

It was a sort of Bushido code, and it's strictness only enhanced the feeling that you were leaving the playground for bigger things. Even the idea of it being a weapon seemed trivial and juvenile.

...homeless people throughout the ages...

The current picture of the homeless is pretty much what you see in the media...google the term and select a search via images and that's what defines us in most people's minds.

The media does attempt to cover the homeless problem, and is generally sincere, so it can be easy to interpret my comments as criticism, but it's not...it's just clarification.  Describing the antics of some druggies who happen to be homeless as a "homeless problem" is not helpful to the majority that try to stay under the radar and work their way out of the life.

The media has the power to define a group by it's coverage, and does so as human beings, with subconscious or overt agendas and attitudes.

The definition of a homeless person is someone without a home, for whatever reason. Whether that image was negative, positive, or so what, depended on the era and circumstances.

No one has framed Jesus or Buddha's life in homeless terms, or the Chinese and Irish who lived in tents (at best) while building the Transcontinental Railroad. They were defined by what they did, at least by historians.

When a person went off and lived in a cave to contemplate things, it was called acetic, and musicians on tour in medieval times labeled as wandering minstrels or troubadours. Homer, whether it was just him or a traveling band of poets under that franchise name (historical theories vary) is just known as the guy who wrote the Iliad.

...hoboes and tramps...

Hoboes, or tramps have varied in movie images, from Charlie Chaplain's endearing humble soul to Lee Marvin as the tough but pragmatic King Of Hoboes, and songs like Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" described the wandering, desultory life in warm terms.

America doesn't have a long history of seeing homelessness as a problem...in earlier times a person could simply head west and start a new life, and most negative views resulted from the collision of "civilization" and the homeless.

An early literary example is in James Finnimore Cooper's The Pioneers (incidently the first book of the Pathfinder series) where Natty Bumpo (later the Pathfinder or Deerslayer in books about his earlier days) is embroiled in a dispute with a judge over killing a deer. 

The theme is about who owns nature and public ownership and that goes to the heart of any negative image of modern homeless (besides lumping all the subcultures into one group).

In an earlier times, a person could just move on. Which can't happen now, as every piece of this country is under private or "public" ownership. 

It goes without saying that you can't sleep on private property without the owner's consent, and even that isn't possible in most cases due to liability law.

The public ownership of land, which is both real and conceptual, has the irony of prohibiting living on public land even if the if the person is a part of the public.

There no point in getting too deeply into this collision between the Wild West and civilization other than to acknowledge it exists and that the law isn't on the side of the homeless.

The thing about being able to go west, and start a new life was that self sufficiency was possible back then...sure, you had to learn to hunt, face the wrath of some very wronged and ticked off Native Americans (or conclude an individual peace agreement), farm crops or start a business, but it was possible.

Americans still have that core belief, that there's work out there for the taking to any hard working soul, so to some, unemployment is often seen as a lifestyle choice.

Given that life is hard enough for most of the employed mainstream, convincing them that homelessness is a problem can be a hard sell. Asking people who can barely pay a mortgage or rent to shelter or house people at public expense can create resentment.

It's a resentment that serves the privileged, and distracts from the real issues. When the news reports that the government has paid some silly amount for toilet seats, it's met with a shrug or rolled eyes. If the bankers lose people's life savings over crooked loans, they get a trillion dollars.

Yet extension of unemployment benefits get scrutinized and attacked as too expensive.

Again, it's just worth pointing out as a factor in attitudes towards the transients, it's not something that's going to change anytime soon.

What matters is following the money. Most aid and welfare programs are not purely funded by the Feds, it's mainly the state's and by extension counties and cities. That means local funding and taxes.

In other words, the average American may not feel they have any control over billion dollar wars, but they can control what's in their neighborhood. Sort of, that is.

Homelessness is essentially a local problem and that's why media coverage can vary so much in content. The stories have the power to define the problem for that day or week, but that image will persist in viewer's mind afterwards as part of the overall picture.

Run a story about how the "homeless" are creating problems and that's the picture created. Media tends to try and make it a story with conflict, and points of view, and to use quotes that they feel illustrate the story.

The media would never describe a gang killing by ethnicity, yet will simply apply the homeless tag to any story involving transients. It only adds to the generalized narrative, no matter if the media outlet website includes listings of homeless organizations that would give a different picture.

...so what is a homeless person?...

A homeless person is someone without a home. In this era, that means there's no where to go as every bit of property around is owned and regulated to prohibit squatting or settling. 

Any location they can sleep in is decided by law, individual consent or the discretion of the local police or government.

In a country that sees home ownership as an ultimate goal, and essentially makes any alternative besides buying or renting difficult or illegal, it creates a class of homeless.

...subcultures and who's helping...

The homeless population includes a diverse collection of subcultures. Some very much in need of help, some that don't want your help, who just want drugs, don't want to be there, or don't even know they're homeless.

Give traditional aid to the wrong group of people, like druggies, and you'll get ripped off. Yet there's very good reasons for society to deal with and help them. The problem is finding the right method or program.

Like most government efforts, helping the homeless through public programs is probably getting more expensive than simply building housing, though HUD has proven that public housing can be a sinkhole for public dollars.

There's no easy answers; there's a tangle of organizations and agencies that will absorb any new money allotted for a fresh new effort. The area is unregulated, so I've heard from homeless both good and bad things about the various efforts to help. 

...the service that everyone likes...

The one service that never gets criticism is soup kitchens or food bank organizations. Any homeless person I've ever talked to is grateful that they can get a free meal at St. Vincent's or elsewhere.

If in doubt where to donate or volunteer, try one of the above. It may not be a permanent solution, but it helps where it's needed most, keeping people alive on day at a time and with dignity. I've never heard otherwise from people who'd know.

...why money fails...

It's a consequence of "throwing money at the problem," which is really thinking that money is an all powerful God that solves any problem. 

Money solves legal problems for the rich, it can buy votes, allow a person to treat lower classes with contempt, influences people, corrupts, makes people commit crimes, and open many doors.

People will criticize aid programs as wasted money and cite the cost, but money can only buy things...you can't "buy" an end to homelessness, it's not an aircraft carrier or a jet for a Senator.

...let's get down to the nitty gritty...

All of that stuff is just intellectual and historical underpinnings that influence attitudes, but what causes the positive or negative view of homeless in the average person?

When you see some anonymous troll telling the "drug taking parasite homeless" to go get a job, or wondering why the police haven't rounded them all up (and put them in jail or at least out of their neighborhood), what is the real complaint, what do they really want?

One theory I've heard from other homeless is that those angry types want them punished for not being like they picture themselves...that is, someone grinding it out, paying rent or mortgage, putting food on the table, and having to support a lot of free loaders who won't buckle under and do the same thing.

That's a good observation, and valid in many ways, but the struggle of life and supporting free loaders can't be the only explanation.

The whole government is a massive burden on the taxpayers and the news brings constant reminders that big business and special interest groups literally divide up tax money as if it was theirs...people see an entertainment industry full of people who think their talent deserves money and fame and not as good fortune that's given them by a public who still has to work for every dollar.

Those are all just abstractions to the average person, but it all pounds into them the point that there's people up there that sponge off the public and feel they deserve it, or worse, think they're just smarter and everyone else is just a sucker.

The attitude attached to the homeless is anger that comes out from under cover in such places as comment sections, and the transient is an easy target for that anger, and some homeless are their own worst enemy and add to that by their behavior.

It's simply easier to hit out at some homeless person than a Senator or CEO.

...we can only hate what we see...

What needs to be understood, even by the media who should know better, is that a lot of what people see in the news is only a part of the homeless population. A large number prefer to stay under the radar and will rarely be seen unless looked for, or simply out of the camera shot.

Others are in camps, or park in places that only the police know are there but are left alone under compassionate enforcement policies or only acted on if trouble starts.

That's a subject in itself, how a camp forms or an area becomes a night sleep area, and how those manage to become trouble spots. 

I'll describe what I've seen in the half dozen or so areas where such gatherings  and how those end up badly in most cases.

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

Today's Topic: Being a good watchdog

Ivy seen here pulling sentry duty in her role as watchdog. Since she is pretty small, her field of vision is improved by taking station on various vistas.


Ivy seen here scanning the horizon for threats from a tree...







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 jalapeƱo 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...