Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Bad Impulse

A film crew took over part of my fiance's neighborhood. There were trucks filled with sleek chrome equipment and lights, a crane, and young men running around in black t-shirts. Yesterday morning, they were setting up cones to reserve parking spaces for themselves.

The film and television industry are supposed to post notices about this sort of thing. In my old neighborhood in Echo Park, we got them regularly: it was usually The Shield, which often filmed episodes on the hills around my apartment.

No notices about this shoot, and they were taking parking spaces away for a wide cross-section of Griffith Park Boulevard and Rowena Avenue. I didn't realize how much territory they were claiming until I returned from work yesterday evening.

It had been a particularly tough drive home. A deadly day on the freeways, causing backups and clogs that left me poking along the 5 at about as many miles per hour, listening to Robert Siegel forlornly throughout the supper hour. Passing that by only to find the street completely parked up, and so much street parking blocked off by the damn cones of the film crew (reaching far down Rowena), was so disagreeable that a dark revolutionary spirit was tapped in my being.

When I slammed my door shut with my baggage over my shoulder, I had a plan. I crossed Rowena and walked down the street on the side where the cones were. I was determined to fling some of these cones up onto the curb and liberate parking for the rightful residents of the community; and equally determined not to feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

That's when I noticed one of the black t-shirt guys hurriedly picking up the cones and stacking them. Shooting was done for the day, and the crew members were all preparing to go back to their own homes and look for parking spaces.

Little Miss Muffet

Had the strangest dream of Little Miss Muffet.

It start out has a horrific cannibal nightmare. Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating some Kurds!

When she saw how horrified I was, Little Miss Tuffet said, "Don't be silly. I would never eat another human being. These are very clever soy products that look like them. I'm eating Bean Kurd."

* * *
Okay, it's a groaner. But it really is what I woke up with this morning. What kind of day will this be? Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Love of a Dog

It's a neighborhood hangout: a great big sports bar complimenting its beer with baskets of fried starch and battered fish products, near downtown Long Beach. No names, because I don't want them to get any publicity or internet hits from my blog. Big, noisy, slow place that has botched very simple orders every time I have given the place another chance. THAT kind of place. Let's call it "El Dump."

One night, the fiance and I were at El Dump holding a long vigil at a table outside, waiting for my beer and her dinner. (At this point, I was already past the stage of ordering dinner there.) Neither of us knew why we were there - we were just there.

And so was a little dog. A mutt who looked to be part beagle, with some of all the other breeds mixed in. A very loyal little dog on a blue leash knotted around a barstool near the front entrance. As we waited for Sarah's baked gristle, the dog watched the glass door leading into the restaurant and waited. Waited. Waited. Waited for some sign, any sign, of his friend to appear. Tiny beating heart as wide open as his eyes, every part of him waiting.

Time dragged itself along on paralyzed legs. Sarah's food didn't appear. An investigation produced a strange alibi: it had been delivered to somebody else's table. Would she like it to go? Yes, please, we have somewhere to be. Cook the food and put it in a box.

The little dog's composure was melting away like Sarah's blood sugar level. The panting sped up to frenzied hyperventilation. Every muscle in the dog's body was rigid, as if it were physically WILLING his companion to appear. It had been more than half an hour since we had arrived, and the dog had already been waiting there.

We moved over to sit near the dog and keep him company. By then, he was barking and pawing at the glass door. Okay, fella, your buddy's in there watching the soccer game, lost track of time. He'll be out soon. But the dog would not be consoled.

A woman passing by had stopped to give the little guy a stroke on the ears and watch the situation, feeling angry and horrified that the little feller was being left out here for going on more than an hour, obviously frantic and probably needing to pee.

The wait staff, which had by this time told us that our takeout order had, accidentally, been cancelled and would not be coming out, had no idea who belonged with this dog. What to do?

The passer-by had an idea. She said, This is what we're going to do. You're going to untie this boy's leash, I'm going to open this door, and we're going to go in there with the dog and see who he runs to.

And that's just what we did. The blue leash was released from the barstool, passer-by opened the door, and in went the dog, questing for its human, sniffing around desperately and tracking. It's hard to imagine many things that would be considered disruptive in a crowded, noisy sports bar serving up cold brews and hot plates of microwaved cholesterol with parsley, but this was it.


The owner was found by his dog, and the happy reunion was only darkened by the arrival, within seconds, of the woman who had been passing by. She had words for him.

And as Sarah and I walked away from El Dump, without her dinner, I could still feel the verbal lashing he was getting back there.

May every dog in this world find a companion who truly loves them, for few human beings really deserve the love of a dog.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lie Down, Rudy, Let Me Demonstrate

"I don't know what is involved in the technique."

That was Judge Michael Mukasey, the man likely to be confirmed as the United States Attorney General once his confirmation hearings are concluded. He said this yesterday when a senator from my home state of Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, asked him about the interrogation technique known as "waterboarding."

He doesn't know? How is it possible an Attorney General nominee is ignorant about waterboarding, yet I am not? Is this just an especially pointless lie?

Judge, you lie someone down on a flat surface and restrain them. You drape a cloth over their face. You then pour water over their face. This simulates the experience of drowning. It leads to panic and loss of consciousness in the short term; with repeated use, the technique is known to lead to psychological disorder and permanent physical harm including death.

There. I have just explained the technique to the next Attorney General of the United States.

He could also read Joe Conason's excellent commentary on Salon today about Rudy Giuliani, who also says he is not very familiar with the technique or whether it should be considered "torture." He does, however, claim to know enough about it that he knows "liberal newspapers" are exaggerating about it.

Moreover, he says that we should never torture. And he can say that because, according to his moral calculus, when we do it it isn't torture. It's "aggressive questioning" when we do it, and only torture when our enemies (e.g., I suppose, the Japanese military during World War II) do it.

Please read Joe's commentary for more, including some historical perspective.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Fiance's Toast

LAPD Rampart station.

Yes, officer, I need to report stolen toast.

Stolen toast?

Yes. My fiance asked me to make her peanut butter toast.

Peanut butter toast??

Yes, she has that every morning. It's very important.

Sir--

And it's gone. I went to check on it, and the toaster is empty. No obvious signs of forced entry.

Sir--

If you can just send someone quick. My fiance is in the bathroom getting ready for work. If she comes out and there's no toast, I'm going to get clobbered; but if I can at least tell her that police are on the job--

Sir. Your fiance took the toast and did it herself.

She did?

You were reading the news and didn't even notice her walk into the kitchen and spread peanut butter on her own toast.

Oh. Is that right?

You'd better believe it.

You're really good at what you do, aren't you?

Quick, buddy, go and ask her if she needs anything else. Call me back if there's trouble.

Thanks, I'm new at this.

I know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You Have Reached The National Guard. We Aren't Home Right Now.

Heard about our fires?

22 wildfires, some of which have joined together, have burnt up 434,543 acres of Southern California, with San Diego County taking the worst of it. 950,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and it is thanks to some really heroic emergency response teams that a lot of them are returning to their homes. Nearly 1,500 homes have been lost, however, and 25,000 structures remain under threat. (These numbers were all quoted by the Governor of California earlier today.) It is being referred to without controversy as the worst national disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

Your friendly correspondent is in no danger, and suffering nothing more than stinging eyes and a foul disposition from the lousy, smokey air that has filled the Los Angeles basin.
That does not mean, however, that I feel particularly safe.

According to Senator Boxer, 50% of the California National Guard's equipment is in Iraq. According to Senator Kitt Bond, a Republican, the National Guard was underfunded even before they got sent to fight a foreign war; with half of that underfunded National Guard occuping a foreign country, these United States have been left with severe challenges responding to disasters at home.
Furthermore, Senator Boxer has produced a letter from the Pentagon confirming that we've got a problem. She wrote to the Secretary of Defense on May 24, expressing concern about National Guard equipment shortages and its ability to respond to domestic emergencies.

Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren wrote back to her on July 13 confirming the fears. The National Guard, in his judgment could respond to "small and medium domestic missions" but "equipment shortages could potentially limit their capability to respond to large-scale emergencies such as a catastrophic earthquake or major flood."


Even more unconscionably, because this issue HAS to be brought up as a matter of sound public policy and public safety, it has immediately been made into partisan meat by the unscrupulous or the just-plain-stupid, who throw up their hands and write headlines like, "Media Blame Another Natural Disaster On Bush."

Again, as with Hurricane Katrina, my feelings about my country are tested. One of the basic functions of our union, one of the basic reasons to maintain such a beast in the first place, is to muster resources to help one another in the event of a major disaster.
We praise the first-responders for doing what they can with inadequate resources. We refuse to invest what we need to invest to give fire departments and medical agencies what they need to respond to large disasters. We have plenty of money to invade and occupy foreign countries that have not attacked us. When some officials attempt to tell the truth about the status of the state National Guard, which has been commandeered by the fed for inappropriate missions, they are lambasted for it by people who should know better. And our other Senator, a supporter of the war (in action if not always in words), said nothing about the National Guard equipment when she assessed California's response to the fires.

Voters, too, are to blame in this - go to the polls and read those ballot measures, folks, because a lot of them have to do with issuing bonds to upgrade and expand emergency assets.


Tomorrow, the King will visit California along with our Governor. Arnold, please, bring yourself up to your full height, look Caesar in the eye, and say in your coldest Terminator voice:

"George. You borrowed our equipment. We need it back."
UPDATE ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON: It should be pointed out, however, that Senator Boxer also praised the Governator's response to the fire, noting especially his rapid deployment of NG resources away from a border mission and back to coping with the fire storms and evacuations.
It remains, however, unnecessary and sad that we must praise our Governors and emergency agencies for heroically making do with insufficient resources. Clearly, we have plenty of money to spend on the things that are most important to us. Now let us have some frank conversations about what is important to us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Praise of Video Journeys

Took a walk down the hill yesterday (heading towards the farmer's market) and noticed that the Blockbuster store is gone, the storefront empty: sayonara, big chain video store.

Across Hyperion, the independent store Video Journeys is going strong. They have no corporate logo, just a modest printed sign draped over the railing as you walk upstairs to the shop. The guys working there don't have matching smocks or "team member" badges. The place isn't "branded." It's just full of DVD's (and, on the eastern wall, some VHS tapes if you are so inclined).

Blockbuster had more copies of fewer titles, less variety, and to check out you had to dodge a slalom course of buckets full of microwave popcorn, magazine racks, and assorted crap Blockbuster tried to sell along with movies. Then, when you got to the register, you could try asking a question about your movie on the off-chance the young person in the corporate-branded smock knew something about that movie, or its genre, or other movies. Usually, you met someone who was there because they needed a job.

The folks at Video Journeys like movies. They recommend movies you never heard of, but will likely enjoy. It's a laid-back place, well suited for browsing, populated with staff who know the neighbors almost as well as the movies. (I'm greeted by name every time I walk in.)

It's a great place and and I feel a warm satisfaction that Blockbuster came in, set up a store across the street, and lost the competition. Something in Blockbuster's DNA - its impersonal, corporate approach - completely misses the quality of a place like VJ. Blockbusters may as well be a drive-through store selling Big Macs: they pick the hot titles, fill up the shelves with those few, eliminating the odd and novel, then bundle products by putting the diacetyl-buttered popcorn and the fridge full of cokes near the end of the line, trying to keep as many people moving quickly in and out of the door as possible.

Things move more slowly at Video Journeys, but every time I rent a DVD, the disc is carefully taken out of the box and gently given a wipe with some cleaner. And they always put an extra stamp or two on my card, moving me a little closer to the free rentals at the bottom.

Bless those folks. I hope they are still around when the Blockbusters kraken finally dies.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dear Greens: We Don't HAVE To Run For President

The two-party duopoly is as powerful as ever, keeping America safe from meaningful change in its politics and assuring us we need not choose anything different than the familiar brand of politician, since they have done so well for us.

The Green Party is not polluting the news with a contentious primary race of its own; but we are having a nominating convention in July, and I suppose a Green candidate for president will be named. Ralph Nader has dropped word of his interest in running yet again.

Interestingly, Ralph has never consented to be a member of the Green Party, despite looking to us to support his campaigns over and over. Ralph may view us, like much of America, as a catch-all liberal-left party, an alternative to the Democrats, without a distinct platform and identity of its own. If Ralph wants to be the Green candidate, can we put him up on a stage and ask him some questions about the Green Party? Simple challenge: can he name the Ten Key values?

My wish is that the Green Party preserve its identity and stick to its values and mission, and work on expanding the number of local offices it has while running, perhaps, a candidate or two for the Congress. Establishing a Green in the United States Congress would be a much better beachhead for us than running a presidential candidate and having the quadrennial fight about spoilers and access to debates. Whether we succeed in that or not, the campaign allows us to talk to people about the Green Party and register new members without getting people all in a pother about the presidential contest. We could even bring up the "spoiler" issue ourselves in these conversations and educate people about the necessity of Instant Runoff Voting.

By and large, the Greens don't want to hear that.

Here is my plea, then, since the Green Party is moving forward with plans to vet presidential candidates in Chicago next summer:

If we are going to expend resources and energy putting up a presidential campaign - and there are good reasons not to do that - we don't need Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney (yes, her name came up in 2003). We don't need a celebrity candidate and won't necessarily be served well by them.

Let us promote a candidate who is a mature person, who has learned a trade and does it well, who values the land and small places; who trusts democracy, who isn't afraid to use the language of patriotism in promoting the ten key values of the Green Party; someone the press will have a difficult time portraying as a nutball; someone sensible, likeable, and brave.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let Us Sip Some Water Together...

Today is the day I was supposed to have posted a thoughtful blog on an environmental topic, in observance of Blog Action Day. Illness prevented me from posting that promptly this morning, but I will offer a casual account of what I planned to write about.

We got a little bit of rain this past week, which is always a treat for us Saturnine children who thrive on wet, cloudy days. Friday night, I took the lady out to the pictures so she could watch Brad Pitt play Jesse James (sigh), and by the time we came out of the theatre the rain was in full progress. It's that kind of rain that drenches the freeways and spreads the oil out, sending all of the jackasses spinning. A 15-truck pileup went up in flames and closed the Golden State Freeway later that night. My kind of weather.

The garden on the steps leading up to our apartments may be happy, but overall southern California is suffering one of the driest years of a long, long drought. Reservoirs fed from the Colorado River are sitting half-full. Avocado farmers are actually cutting down some of their trees. In a few weeks, the supply of water diverted here from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta is going to be cut by as much as a third. The forecast is for a dry winter, too. which means more problems next year for sure.

One community here in the western states - Cloudcroft, New Mexico - is about to go online with a water reuse system that will have villagers drinking water that has, um, been around. The wastewater will go into one end of a system of filters and scrubbers, and come out as fresh, potable water ready for drinking and washing. Despite the "ick" factor, there comes a point where reality intrudes just enough to overcome: the community is at a high elevation, and cannot afford to buy more and more water rights indefinitely - especially with a 20-year drought predicted.

San Diego keeps voting similar technology down, opting instead to shop around for more water rights and to divert more water away from other people. Soon, however, these options will dry up, too, and San Diego will make the tiny leap over its "ick" and drink reused water. As will Los Angeles and the valleys. Cloudcroft, New Mexico should be praised for blazing the trail to an innovative solution.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Reception Dinner

A black wing bristling with tiny hairs reached out across the crisply-ironed linen cloth and with a prong-like claw at the end of the wing's span speared a cube of cheese.

"I love weddings," said Sakrular, the demon of spite. "Never thought he would get married."

The face of Grintyr, the wraith of disappointment, barely moved. Gazing at the remnants of food across the table and the empty bottles of wine with a hollow, dun-colored face, she merely nodded and said, "I am a little bit surprised. He seems happy."

Bodhidharma ignored the conversation and kept eating his meal, unaware of the crumbs that had affixed themselves to his beard. His robes were in tatters, but the ring through his ear twinkled in the ballroom's lights. He had not said a word the entire reception. He had been listening to demons for a very long time, and had nothing left to say to them except, "I know, I know." Silence suited him just fine in any case. Yet even Bodhidharma was growing tired of the human sitting across from him.

"Well, I don't want to say bad things about him, but the things I could tell you! They run the gamut. Since it's his wedding day and all and he found someone to put up with him, god bless, I'm not going to say whether the charges pending against him in several states are valid or not, I'll just ask you to look in his eyes and ask your heart whether you think he could be a mass murderer and leave it at that. I don't believe in spreading rumors because that brings negativity to me and I don't want that, no sir...."

It went on like that, but it kept her busy enough that the demons and ghosts at the table got extra servings of food, helping themselves to her plate as she talked on.

"Sometimes you have to think about the day and what's in the best interest of other people. For instance, god bless, he bears some culpability for the genocide that took place against the Armenians in 1915, indeed he was the chief architect, but I'm not going to sit here and talk about that because it brings negativity to me and it upsets our relations with the nation of Turkey and I am all about PEACE!...."

You get the idea.

"And never mind the genocide, did I tell you about the time he was late meeting me? Then he had the nerve to apologize for being five minutes late when he was really SIX minutes late. Just like him, to use an apology to cover up the true nature of his crime. It took a lot for me to even come here..."

Okay, okay! So. The reception had been going on for quite some time, people were dancing and laughing, the wine was fueling all manner of discussions between families newly united, and this one table in the back went about its merry business. Demons, wraiths, Bodhidharma, the Angry Woman, and a commanding presence indeed in a cloaked, hooded figure who sat quite still except for a habit of twirling his scythe in a bored manner. At one point, he had actually dipped the blade of the scythe carefully downward to spear an apple, and he ate it whole, core and all, but otherwise he simply sat there, twirling.

The Angry Woman asked him earlier in the evening, "So, you with the machete. How do you know the creep?"

The hooded figure inclined towards her slowly. Sakrular batted the air gently with his wings and said, "Oh - he goes back a long way with the groom." The hooded figure nodded and turned away from her, whereupon the Angry Woman shrugged and said, "Figures he had all these friends he never told me about. Do you know he waterboarded me once? Well, it wasn't technically waterboarding....he drank my water by mistake...."

At some point during the evening, a woman dressed with immaculate style approached the table. It was, as they all knew, the mother of the groom, and all activity settled and focused at her approach.

"We have never been introduced," she addressed the table with a smile, "But I know you are all longtime friends of the groom, my baby boy, and I wanted to be sure to welcome you all. The event would not be complete or real without all of you. Please eat, drink - ah! I see you have, that's good! - and know that you are loved and appreciated as is everyone else."

Soon after that, she left them to greet other guests. The beasts all looked furtively at one another, unsure what to say. The silence was finally broken by Death Himself, who uttered His first words all night in a voice that sounded like soil pouring from one pot into another. He said: "Nice wine."

And another man at the table who had not said a word all night smiled the most loving, baby-like smile, a smile that lit up his face like a thousand tiny suns, a bearded face that shone with love that was soft and relentless through his dark brown skin.

He said, "Thank you. I made it myself. Would you like more?"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Clinton and Mistakes

When George McGovern ran for President against Richard Nixon in 1972, two youngsters worked on his campaign: Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham. We all know what became of those two. Now, Hillary is running for the democratic nomination herself, working hard to persuade us the nomination is already hers.

Five years after Senator Clinton voted with the Senate to legitimize Caesar's plans to attack Iraq, almost to the day, George McGovern endorsed her for president. As democrats who understand this war in Iraq for what it truly is reconcile themselves that a nominee is developing months before a single vote will be cast, McGovern was asked about Hillary's vote to authorize war in 2002 against a country that had not attacked us, had no weapons of mass destruction, and was a contained menace to us at worst.

McGovern said, "I don't expect to find a mistake-free candidate; we all have made mistakes."

To this day, Senator Clinton has refused, even when invited to do so, to say that her vote in 2002 was a mistake. Here is an example, from a New Hampshire town hall, in which a citizen asked the Senator to admit the vote was a mistake:

Roger Tilton: I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all and without nuance, you can say that war authorization was a mistake. I, and I think a lot of other primary voters — until we hear you say it, we're not going to hear all the other great things you are saying.

Sen. Hillary Clinton: Well I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I never would have voted for it. But I also (applause), I mean obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

Senator Clinton ducks and weaves to avoid saying she, Hillary Clinton, was mistaken. Note the bright line made between being fooled and her judgment being wrong. Note the shift of blame away from herself and her vote, back on to the hateful president. At first, I suspected this might be because the Senator feels - as George W. Bush does - that it is unpresidential to admit error or uncertainty. But no, silly, it's more obvious than that. She shouldn't say her vote was a mistake because it was not a mistake.

In 2002, Senator Clinton knew everything I knew - and probably more. She knew damned well that Iraq could not possibly have a nuclear weapons program in operation that had escaped detection. She knew damned well that Iraq had not attacked the United States of America on 11 September 2001, had no means to do so, and had no reason to collaborate with Osama bin Laden (an ideological enemy, and a threat to his regime). She would have had better access than I did to the information that our own intelligence agencies were in dispute over any link between Iraq and the events on September 11, that already there were whispers about crooked intelligence and a premeditated agenda on Iraq. This was all in circulation in October of 2002.

For her to call her vote a mistake would be every bit as preposterous as Senator Larry Craig trying to withdraw his guilty plea months after the fact. To paraphrase Judge Charles Porter, Hillary cast her vote "accurately, voluntarily, and intelligently."

Her vote was not a mistake. She did her moral calculus and, no doubt, her domestic political calculus. Given the uncertainty about the administration's intentions and its judgment, she voted her conscience and if she refuses to say it's a mistake, I suppose that means it wasn't.

Which brings me back to McGovern's endorsement, and his indulgence of Clinton's war vote. If she won't call it a mistake, he doesn't get to call it a mistake either. Mistakes can and should be forgiven; mistakes bring about improvement when something is learned from them.

If Hillary did not make a mistake five years ago when she cast her vote for this disastrous invasion, we have to assume her acquiescence was voluntary and deliberate.

Engaged!

Date: TBA in 2008

Location: Sky above, earth below

Directions to location? : *Smack!*

Aren't you a lucky fellow? : I am.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

California Thanksgiving Every Day

Linda Blackford and her mom out in Kentucky are going to try a "100-mile Thanksgiving," a meal consisting entirely of produce harvested within 100 miles of her home. They will have turkeys and blackberries from Bourbon County, various local vegetables, a butternut squash pie, apple chutney in place of cranberries, local flours and milk. This is partly an economic statement, and partly a mother-daughter creative challenge. What a great thing.

Not sure how much of a Thanksgiving feast could be assembled from foods harvested within 100 miles of Los Feliz village. Surely a California Thanksgiving would be possible. There are farmers markets throughout the week in Los Angeles, including a community of farmers right in South Central Los Angeles growing and selling their produce here in the city.

There are numerous services that round up local organic produce and leave a box at your door (or your office). This seemed kind of funny to me until I thought about gas consumption. If one truck drops off veggies for everyone in my ZIP code, wouldn't that use less gas than all of us driving separately to a farmers market to get those things?

And there are actually competing services, like these folks and these good people and these folks over here and more.

A box I ordered from Organic Express burst with fruits and vegetables from the San Joaquin valley, San Bernardino County, the Central Coast, the Delta, Fresno and Sacramento. The box included some of the most buttery-delicious golden potatoes I've ever tasted (thank you Bakersfield).

I liked the element of surprise as I opened the box and found red-leafed kale, green beans, broccoli, kidney and pinto beans, those delightful potatoes, leeks, and a week's worth of apples, pears, oranges, and bananas. Bananas! Those thoughtful folks even include a recipe in each week's box to get you going.

Eating local foods and seeing what you can assemble from them is a creative challenge, yet California is one state where this does not limit your options by much.