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Wish upon a Starbucks

I never did trust that those lawn chairs in Times Sq. were up to any good.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, and yesterday a piece I did on how NYC's IT infrastructure survived the storm appeared at Forbes/Sungard. It's here: "Marking The Hurricane Sandy Anniversary: Workplace Disaster Recovery Goes Beyond 'Making a Wish Upon a Starbucks.'" When it came to IT anyways, NYC was well prepared.

In other areas, of course, NYC fared not so well. The piece follows a long civic concern of mine: infrastructure money that chases realtor fluff instead of real hardware. A few days after Sandy hit NYC, I admonished the City of LA that it would be better to spend money on real infrastructure than "speculator-related fluff" like bike lanes and megastructure condos — and now, I guess, fluffy fun #droughthacks.

A Sense of Placelessness

I have to laugh when I read about people in the North Valley (Chatswizzle, Porter Ranch, Granada Hills) wanting commercial squares and triangles to be more like Silver Lake. Why are you aiming so low? If you're really interested in simulating another place for the sake of establishing your own, why not knock off Italy?

Of course, what you should be doing to establish a sense of place is to attune design to who you are: neither Silver Lake nor Italy, but the North Valley...whatever that may mean. And reminding you that just five years ago, you were food trucks.

Vandals, Reformed and Otherwise

I have reason to believe that the choice for LA's recently tapped Poet Laureate came down to Luis Rodriguez and Suzanne Lummis, and that Garcetti's wife Amy Wakeland urged the Mayor to select Rodriguez, apparently on the strength of the fact that Rodriguez is no longer in jail, though his son is, for shooting at cops.

To-day Lummis hits The New Yorker with a nice poem showing her stuff, which most of us in LA's poetry community have been watching with appreciation for 30 years.

Last line: "By land or water, girl, get outta town." That's the way a lot of us who have lived in LA for the long haul feel these days, with Garcetti-Guerrero-Jacobs handing the city's "economy" over to Berkeley labor economists and Federal custodians, and its culture to hoodlums and vandals, reformed and otherwise.

I was worried when we picked our first poet laureate that because of LA's insecure, coalition-seeking political culture, we would only pick poets for this office that were mostly affronts to other poets. And I stated that worry pretty clearly. So far, my prediction is two for two. We shouldn't have gone down this nonsensical road at all; we're actually hurting poetry in this city by investing so much in such a meretricious political process.


Far from Laudable
LA's Second Poet Laureate
Non Disputandum
Nine Hundred and 99 Problems
E Pluribus
Poet Envy: Los Angeles Picks a Poet Laureate

Some Pumpkins

San Marcos Pass, somewhere near Santa Ynez, October 2012.

Fiddling with Decline

A couple of years ago, I assembled a collection of essays, some of them personal, entitled Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. The first piece, from May 2003, is situated at the Cat & Fiddle.

The collection, which evolves from personal to political and cultural notes across a decade, is a howl in the wilderness that is Angeleno political and cultural criticism against this absentee landlord, renter-dominated LA we now live in. It aspires to tell truths about Los Angeles that don't get told in other media.

The Cat & Fiddle has now announced that it is closing its doors December 15. Meanwhile, in New York City, where similar economic forces and even many of the same developers are plying their trade, there are now double the amount of restaurant closings annually that there were a very short time ago, and soon there will be no bookstores at all left in the Bronx.

Many of my pieces take on why this sort of things happens. But none take it on more specifically than another essay in my subsequent book LA at Intermission: A City Mingling Towards Identity entitled "What Is Killing the Great Restaurants of LA?"

Super, Again

Ramon Cortines is the new head of the LAUSD. Here's my LA Weekly story from 2010, the last time he found himself in that slot.

Other profiles of LA luminaries here.

Non Disputandum

"It's transparently obvious they will have alienated a significant portion of the Los Angeles poetry world," a prominent LA poet tells me, on seeing the recommending committee Mayor Garcetti formed to select our next poet laureate — which was only made available to the public after the new laureate was named.

The poet also assures me that many poets won't participate again.

That is a sad commentary on where this city has taken the office of poet laureate in its short history.

Indeed, the selection committee included people who have almost no connection to LA's poetry scene, like Shepard Fairey's wife, a teen literacy advocate, the Deputy Counsel to the Mayor himself, and a woman described as an "aspiring poet" who lost her web domain just a few days ago. That in itself was a committee rigged for error, even as the selection process of LA's first poet laureate only produced fiasco.

The salient thing about the City's second poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, is that he already has his own arts organization, (and has, most recently, in a rare burst of megalomania even for a poet, run for both Governor of California and Vice President of the United States on oddball revolutionary platforms), and can thus already, even without the largesse of the City, presumably promote poetry as much as he wants to.

A former gangbanger whose once-neglected son was sentenced to 28 years in the big house for shooting at a cop (reduced to 13.5 years), Rodriguez blames his own early absentee parenting and various other vida loca days, alcoholism, and other previous abuses on...undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I don't begrudge Rodriguez his $10,000 stipend, anymore than I begrudge him any of his other government grants and junkets. I don't like his poetry, which is not memorable to me, and excuses himself a bit too much in accounting his own life — it is as though he has commoditized the very things he repents for most, without much observable contrition — but matters of taste are famously non disputandum.

His is the precise narrative voice that the bulk of Chicano literature has been, to me, so devastatingly over-reliant, to the constant consequence of ironic cultural subordination: the voice that tallies every personal wrong as a chit that comes due to the self, laying self-infliction against social infliction, hoping for a forged balance, and ultimately becoming more about the incidental line-items on the balance sheet than the full operation of a forward-moving business. It is, in short, to me, more personal ledger than it is poetry; and how do you talk to yourself, ever?

But for another view — for some more typical fawning, opinionless, criticism-free publicity regarding this — see the LA Times resident lit publicist Carolyn Kellogg's piece.

Garcetti, a self-declared Latino of a rather more privileged background, is said to have picked the poet himself. He obviously has no idea what a poet laureate is; not that Villaraigosa's first pick could have helped guide him.

Far from Laudable
LA's Second Poet Laureate
Poet Envy: LA Picks a Poet Laureate

Where Did the LA Times Go Wrong?

Where did the Times go wrong? That's not a question Olney's going to be asking, but I'll answer it anyway: it went wrong around the time of Coffee and Greenwood, from whom Jim Newton and later, inheriting the recessive gene, some Weekly arrivals drew too much. I've written of this epoch, of which I had a different kind of view,  for odd reasons, previously, so I'll not review that scorched earth now. Nor will I overanalyze yesterday's dismissal of Newton, which I have for a long time seen as essential to restoring informed dissent regarding what goes on in Los Angeles. For a long time, the Times editorial pages have only worked to diminish the City's local political life, which ironically diminished the whole newspaper itself in the process. What's now left to do is to fix what can be fixed: to re-engineer the paper in a way that challenges City Hall, rather than protects it.

Jim Newton Doubling Down on Incompetence
Why Jim Newton Must Go
Jim Newton as Moderator
Austin Beutner Toughs Up

Money, Power, and Character in the Foothills

The Foothill Record is emerging as a voice of journalistic sense and stability in communities that have not had a reliable journalistic voice for a long time. I have been very pleased to contribute to two of the first three issues of the paper.

In my latest column, "Money, Power, and Character all Count in Foothills Development," I discuss how the communities face yet another large suburban-tract styled development, trace some of the recent history of such developments on both the northwest and northeast sides of the Valley, and conclude that while money and power are important development forces, it is honesty and character that will win the day in not only this matter but in other similar development proposals.

Appreciably grizzly

Noted: one of the band-fragments I wrote a suite of short stories for a couple of years ago, Jail Weddings, was named by the LA Weekly as Best LA Band of 2014 in their annual "Best of LA" issue. For all involved I'm sure the designation represents a personal artistic apocalypse with a wink.

I do indeed think Jail Weddings, on whose whirling periphery I have quietly stood for some time now, is indeed a band with a literary edge, which deserves a special category of distinction. I've also read lead singer Gabriel Hart's novel (would be a good match for Akashic Press in my opinion) and it is consistent with the ironic mayhem one hears in so many Jail Weddings songs. I have long wondered how LA would ever evolve out of the lit noir trap NYC commercial mills have imposed on it for nearly 80 years now, and Hart's solution has been to dangle over the circus as though from a trapeze. The result is output spotted from fifty feet above the crashing herd and dangling in perpetual peril of dropping into it.

The band heads to Europe later this month, for some club dates in cities known to Kafka and Kierkegaard, after coming off an appreciably grizzly date in Mexicali. All of it affords a lot more trapeze time to Hart and the other aerialists. New audiences will be grateful.