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Note to Readers

This site will soon complete its transition, commenced two years ago, and become my own personal author's site. I will no longer be publishing quotidian pieces here.

I have worked on a site index for this site for a long time, but haven't published it. If you have use for such a thing, let me know. There are still over 2500 posts here, most of which describe my own view on events in the civic life of Los Angeles.

I will still be writing about the political and cultural life of the City of Los Angeles — how can I not? — and will let people know where that work appears on Twitter and Facebook. But this site will as of next Sunday more particularly devote itself to my longer works.

Tragedy and Hope for TNR

Back in the '80's when the ABA still mattered (and I mean the American Booksellers' Association, not the basketball league, long defunct even then), I attended a couple of New Republic parties. At one in '85, at a museum in San Francisco that looks north across the Bay to the Bridge and Sausalito, mimes escorted you to festivities. At another, in Newport Beach in '88, we sailed up and down Newport Harbor in a 40' yacht. I met a girl playing a harmonica above deck.

The new publisher and hostess of the latter event was an ever-friendly sales and marketing specialist. She was only 35 at the time; her name was Stapleton; she replaced a man who was 37 when he departed.

I was only in my 20's then myself. So the money behind the parties and the perky publishers I didn't see for a while. But what I could easily apprehend, even at an age at which people are (and should have been) just as uninterested in me as they are (and should be) to-day, is that the way the parties competed with the parties of much larger institutions seemed out of step with the real scale of the publication.

Red flypaper, gay Tories, plagiarists, Anglican whisperers, tasteless covers, really lost tribesmen, insistent warmongers, creative writers who weren't supposed to be that — no matter how badly political writers can fuck up, in the modern era there has always been TNR, fucking up even more.

I later tripped over a few references to the peculiar history of the publication in a book I was reading in the very late '80's, Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope, and understood things a little more. Then when I found out that one of the early Cold War editors, Michael Whitney Straight, was indeed a spy for the Russkies (something Quigley either didn't know or suppressed), I understood things a little more still. In short, TNR was a completely contaminated brand, so contaminated it became hip to be there, the way it was very punk to go bowling.

There was no Bill Clinton on the national stage yet, but there were a few conspiracy claims involving an American "establishment" and a TNR that was ever in secret service of it, and Professor Quigley's magnum opus fueled the flames. When Clinton professed himself to be an acolyte of Quigley in his own nomination acceptance speech in '92, those flames would spread to a class of folks who probably were better off not reading the book, as I'm sure it kept them up many nights.

Though his book rambles a lot and is poorly edited, it is chock full of factual relationships, and I have never viewed Quigley as a conspiracy theorist so much as a guy whose sole fault may be that he is too overanxious to connect dots between the wealthy, especially wealthy bankers, and a class of people he perceives to be bought off.

We see these kinds of relationships all the time, even in community affairs; it is easy to assign motive when patronage is so readily visible. But it is also too easy to assign motive to patronage. You're only right about 70% of the time. Maybe less.

The best wisdom I've read on the recent debacle that saw the magazine's editorial board departing en masse (including its dance editor) is that parvenu Chris Hughes in trying to assemble a business plan has failed to realize that his money is the business plan. As it has always been, through the wars.

For the record, Quigley has a lot to say about Straight: six pages' worth. Quigley runs through his whole run-up (which includes Straight standing for a seat in British Parliament, of course as a citizen of Old Merry, at the tender age of 22), and reaches a fever pitch when he "abolished the editorial board, and carried on his father's [Wall St.] aims, in close cooperation with labor and Left-wing groups in American politics...Mike Straight was deeply anti-Communist, but he frequently was found associated with them, sometimes as a collaborator, frequently as an opponent."

The idea that this fortune-fueled prince-tank had ever been politically influential at all, of course, comes from the general readers' willful suspension of understanding of the way politics work at the backroom level. Our most ruthless Conklings and accomplished consultants don't want some flush of brilliance that anyone can read; no, of course, they want the flush that nobody else can read. You do not suddenly become a dispenser of such information by writing for a publication; if you are inclined to do this kind of thing, you do it whether you are hitched to this post or that one. You don't need to belong to any publication at all to do it, in fact; you can do it from your garden shed & whiskey bar.

The moths attracted to the flame of TNR are not this stripe of whisperer; they have never been that; in their attraction to the luster of light in the darkness, they are too typically indignant, whiny, volatile New York mucks who are just as content with maintaining the illusion of influence as working to try to actually garner some. Even some of its editors...Christ, at the editorial level TNR has been the head cheerleader of such accomplished American figures as Henry Wallace and John Anderson; how's that for influence?

The New Republic has always been, in short, a place for those who like to toss and turn, for people who like to sell out in public and for people who like the idea of being proximate to the auctioneers. It's our designated political agitprop freak show. As our American political carnival requires a freak show, I expect it to continue to remain so through this choppy patch.

Fire in the Hutch



We certainly have some healthy portions of irony unfolding this morning. Fires broke out in three rabbit-hutch styled developments around Downtown Los Angeles, two of them unfinished, one of them producing the kind of spectacular pre-morning bonfire that in the words of one Tweeter was LA's most real life Blade Runner image yet. And of course, the Mayor of Los Angeles has a presser scheduled this morning...on earthquake safety.

This is especially ironic because not only does fire remain a far greater risk to rabbit-hutched LA than earthquakes do under even our present seismic codes, but also because, as I noted in a column a year ago, the purpose of making earthquake codes even more strident is to knock down old buildings to build precisely the kind of rabbit-hutches that fared so poorly to-day.

If I recall correctly, you can build up to seven stories with an all-wood frame, and certainly the Da Vinci has suffered the consequence of a mostly wood-framed multiple-story building to-day; only the bottom two floors were steel-framed, according to a reader. Let's all remain aware: these are the kind of developments the City's top developers are pushing our political class for, and our political class is only too glad to permit, often overriding our own Planning Department on many code matters to do so. They appear to be at least as unsafe as any such structure is in an earthquake.

It's worth noting that Los Angeles Magazine and Curbed LA went hatchet on precisely these kinds of developments only recently. However, they vilified the developers, and said very little about the politicians who pave the way for them.

The Times of Dudamel

Hugo and Gustavo

A year ago, when I finished LA at Intermission: A City Mingling Towards Identity, a book on the LA of the slinking out of the spotlight of Villaraigosa and the emergence of the Photoshopped mayoralty that is Eric Garcetti's, I was obliged to write an introduction to it. And I thought above all other news events that typify this recent epoch, that the way local media turned a blind eye when Gustavo Dudamel went to Venezuela was exemplary of the way LA lacks local informed dissent.

Now a noted academic has written a scathing critique on Venezuela that does not spare Dudamel. He's not criticizing LA media, but he is criticizing the falsely-collectivist music farm that produced Dudamel, El Sistema, and on occasion also our Maestro directly. His book is El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela's Youth.

And of course LA media, who are ever so afraid to note the embarrassed state of any local naked emperor, are still going to defend their boy while he's still standing. Here's Mark Swed to-day, in fact, outraged at the pasting Dudamel is taking in serious critical quarters:

"Where to begin with this dangerously flawed study?"

Read the rest if you dare, but..."dangerously flawed"?

After you ditch the dangerously flawed, Pravda-like re-assemblages of emergency email dispatches from the LA Phil, why not begin with my own introduction to LA at Intermission?

Swed might have never read it; I'm sure few ostriches in local media have. But here I am, a year ago:
Though I had supposed it for a long time, I knew something was really wrong with the way people think in LA—that not only were our media not paying adequate attention, but our top political minds had checked out too—when Maestro Dudamel went to Venezuela to be feted by Hugo Chávez, and the meeting of a top LA celebrity and a strongman dictator gave nobody in town any pause, nor even struck anyone as unusual.

Outside of LA, there was considerable alarm, and alarms were rung, from the New York Times to Commentary. But locally, there were no denunciations, no calls for inquiry, not even disappointments expressed. Indeed, my own essay from the time, “Radical Chic at the LA Philharmonic,” made as little local noise politically as the junket itself.
And in Swed's snaky defense, now not just tagging along to Caracas for the junket of it all but playing at a level where the stakes are a little higher, the Times has begun to show its real journalistic and critical colors. Elsewhere, Swed's boy is hurt by this book, no doubt; but not locally of course, where media ostriches reign supreme.

Nationally, Dudamel should be swimming on the mat soon. But only read Swed between the lines and you see what kind of McCovey-like stretches a defense of the bizarre cult of Dudamel is obliged to make.

If only the Times hadn't let Nina Kotick remain a contributing editor there while also servicing the LA Phil, the paper might have half a leg to stand on in this. But it did, so it presently does not. Let the broader inquiries—especially regarding the obsequious and wholly promotional, even protective relationship to the LA Philharmonic—commence.




Problems at the LA Daily News




While the LA Daily News has deteriorated ever since a minor central coast figure named Carolina Garcia (who previously had to deal with about one murder story a year, and soft zoning squabbles in Clint Eastwood's Carmel) took editorial helm in 2008, flackage on behalf of LA's skanky political structure has been especially egregiously awful since Ron Hasse took control earlier last year, and the news department has turned into an annex of our various local political machines.

I've noted earlier how the paper seems only too glad to promote the Northeast Valley as a homeless magnet, and also how Dakota Smith, perched in City Hall, suddenly became so glad to promote the Mayor's staffing ambitions to hire more civil service exempt staffers, especially after I wrote a piece about why this might not be in the interest of LA nor of any hired workers but of Garcetti's and various Councilmembers' own ambitions.

But also, a local blogger named Near Chaos (he's anonymous, libertarian, and I don't know him, but he's really grown a larger readership in the past year) recently caught a new round of the paper's relentless, City Hall-styled sugar-coating in its coverage of a protest at African-American churches. The Daily News ran a newstand banner head "A prayer for unity amid the protests" and mentioned some tepid protesting chants, suggesting all was peace and order, but to do so had to ignore many Twitter reports that protests at churches were much less controlled, with protesters actually shouting "F*ck the Police" in some instances.

Because we all see the same same stuff on Twitter, when I heard about the tenor and vehemence of the protests at the New Hope Missionary Baptist church and other churches last Sunday, I thought the headline unusual enough that when I saw it, I took a photo of it. (It not only does a disservice to the the tenor of the events, but of representing the tenor of the protests themselves). But you might also be amazed at the video of another church event that has surfaced — a video that appears to confirm the kind of things that dozens of people were reporting on Twitter — that demonstrates that this is the way the Daily News is covering things now: exactly as City Hall might like it to.

The Daily News suggests that the protesters were easily contained by the church, but throughout the community the reports were that it was simply not so.

I don't know that I blame the journalists, but I see this as rewriting news to suit its publisher's hope for maintaining good vibes from the Mayor's office. (To its credit, the DN does cite one protester's horrifying quote: " “I think police should be obliterated, the whole system,” an eighteen year old fumes after being kicked out of the church at last.)

But more broadly, if you wonder why the long-suffering Daily News is now openly printing flack for the Mayor's office, and writing things exactly as City Hall would have them written, here's my guess: its publisher is unrepentantly from what we think of as the other side of the firewall. Ron Hasse's whole career has been devoted to selling newspapers through marketing, not through scooping out actual news. A circulation, business operations, and marketing expert, Hasse simply has no historic nose for news at all. We see the results nearly daily now: a newspaper whose hard news side has lost all its teeth, all of them.

Gaps to Fill

I don't follow LA politics and civic culture because I really want to; no, I feel I have to. As I have said before, once I was interviewing Russ Feingold — he is a generous interview, and I've interviewed him twice — and he told me that sometimes he said things in the Senate during the Iraq war not to win the dispute but just because he thought it was important for someone in America to be saying these things in its government.

People, in short, deserve the real facts to be laid before them. That's the way I feel about LA: it's important that certain things be said, especially now when media largely ignore them or even write the precise opposite of what's going on, as they have most recently done with Mayor Eric Garcetti's sneaky wish to hire City employees who are exempt from civil service vetting and protections, and weird hope to make street vending in LA even more common, accessible, and legal than it is.

All of which may seem arcane to you. You may not care who cleans your street or runs your neighborhood council election or if your city is secretly planning to grade more hillsides on its fringes, even while moving homeless and indigents outside of tonier places like Downtown and Hollywood, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't care. But you also deserve to know that there is a whole long and established tradition of wisdom that encourages a different kind of civic practice in all these things. And also that there is someone out there who thinks these things are improper conduct in an urban environment.

Your present media are not, well, mature enough anymore to present these kinds of issues to a general public. They simply don't know these things anymore. They are actually told from the time they are in college that they are a brand. They often are practicing their trade in a place in which they have not even lived before recently. That's some of why I do what I do, even if it looks silly or arcane to do so: there are tremendous gaps to fill.

Hypocrititoxical



Here's another faux-progressive line from the Daily City Hall News: Street vending can work! Actually, street vending and food trucks are also tremendously unhealthy (where do the workers wash their hands, dispose of their garbage, what's the daily calorie intake of people who eat off these things, &c.), in most cases even proving to be as toxic to a human as any frack or smokestack. But urban core progressives and their friends at the local fishwraps are generally for street vending (and side hustles of every stripe), using the same kind of "economic opportunity" arguments in their hipster zones that Republicans use to legitimize polluting rural routes. We're right to stand up to polluting the environment; do we do it across the board, or bend for what suits the neo-bolshevik party divide?

Toothless in the Valley


Perhaps to follow in the footsteps of the late LA Register, the newsish side of Ron Hasse's Daily News is persistently promoting flack from the Mayor's office these days. Before noting Sue Abram's four flack pieces on behalf of LA Family Housing, I hadn't noticed how bad this has gotten, but now that I'm looking I see it constantly. Here's a story on Garcetti's ploy to hire more exempt employees; an idea I demonstrated last week is pure political chicanery. Oddly, the word "exempt" doesn't appear in this story, written entirely the Mayor's way, about adding more exempt employees who can skirt ordinary civil service vetting.

And here's another, by the same scribe, sourcing the fledgling local chapter of a legal lefty agitprop organization with a conspiracy conviction against a notable member, featuring the Mayor's eagerness to plump feather pillows for local Ferguson protesters, as he did a few years ago for City Hall Occupiers.

So it's not a wonder why so many smaller community newspapers, newsletters and online sites like The Foothill Record, Pacoima Today, and the Post-Periodical are springing up in the Valley, especially along the Northeast rim, and even as the Santa Clarita Valley Signal finds itself experiencing a mini-resurgence; the present City Hall team at the Daily News couldn't investigate a broken garbage disposal. I can only guess the thinking is that as long as you keep Woodland Hills relatively clean, City Hall can do with the rest of the Valley what it will.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For years on Thanksgiving I have been checking out early and will be checking in late. But this year I am checking out a little late and will probably check in early, at least by the time of the rain.

So often for longtime residents, the city, any city, is a stultifying place. I like to say about this one that I never needed to move somewhere because the world has moved to me. The ones who have indeed come have made it less stultifying; the ones whom we know we may know too well, but they are an insistent part of it all as well. Arriviste or age-old original, Happy Thanksgiving to all!


#DTLA and the Missing Mayor

Last night between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. a large group of protesters, especially using social media to flaunt their stuff, shut down two freeways in Downtown Los Angeles, causing chaos throughout LA's east side. One hundred thirty protesters were later arrested — almost triple the number of those arrested in riot-beleaguered Ferguson itself. Many of the Downtown LA arrests occurred within a block of City Hall.

The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, finishing up a sightseeing work-cation in Asia, has not used either media or social media to quell protests; in fact, he hasn't said a word about protests in the City of Los Angeles since the protests began two nights ago.

Garcetti won election twenty months ago by incorporating a social media strategy handed to him by Obama operatives.

That strategy has been proven to be all fluff and no fulfillment, as the Mayor continues to pretend that all is well.