Friday, February 27, 2009

Voting for Mayor in a One-Horse Town

In Los Angeles, we have one newspaper, reliably liberal and fawningly craven to the pivotal power bloc that dominates this Democratic, gerrymandered, polyglot, and ever-expanding city of over four million. A dozen or so years ago, we stood around 2.7 million. The number never diminishes. L.A. County holds over ten million. It grows by a hundred thousand each year, in a region of twenty-two million now.

These fertile leaps prove how congested, ambitious, alluring, and annoying the City of Angels has become. A study in the 1960s around the time I was born here warned that the maximum population should be no more than four million. I predict the next census will far surpass that number, and that's not counting the many who do not reside here legally or have a fixed domicile.

For example, we have one new neighbor two lots down. He's not in a house, however. His trailer stands on a vacant lot. Another's now parked on the street, and a third was for a short time perched precariously next door in that lot. The conjunction of lots and construction which in length approaches that of the Winchester Mystery House (look it up; I'm too lazy to give the inevitable Wikipedia URL) across our street makes it, and the porta-potty downslope and down wind from us, a convenient and cheap place to live.

Our more irritable of our two neighbors living in houses complained to the police. They were told by our local cops that there was nothing they could do; the owner had given permission and the fellow in the trailer "had fallen on hard times." He's also running a business fixing car parts out of his shanty, complete with a thoughtfully laid strip of astroturf from the curb across the dirt and weeds to his door.

This enables such customers as a very well-dressed Latina in heels who I saw hanging out more than once, along with lots of shaven-headed fellows briefly pulling up and revving away in low-slung muscle cars. Both coiffured and skanky women trundled by, as louche men hung out. This aroused my curiosity. We don't get a lot of action on our street, unless wussy hipsters walking small dogs count. There's a lot of both lately, and I long for a spate of coyote attacks, as the mountain lions live too far away. I wondered if heroin and hookers, not hipsters, might land us on "Cops."

Our neighbors told me, via our own cops, that the well-attired lady was none other than Ed Reyes' daughter. That is, our very own councilman running for re-election, although I imagine unopposed given we live in Eastside L.A. districts that will be Latino good-old-barrio-boyz Democratic now until doomsday. He has been sending out lots of flyers nonetheless with his previously unrevealed ínitial "P." I suppose he fears another "Ed Reyes" from nowhere running against him. I'd love such a contest.

Unfortunately, we also have his boss running for a second term after doing nothing really-- except stock up on fancy wine, wander on trade junkets, mess around with the fairer sex, and groom himself for higher office as he always has-- Antonio Villaraigosa, stuck with former Miss Raigosa's surname dangling from Villar despite his renewed philandering that led to the Wronged Wife and the kids living still in Hancock Park at the Mayoral Mansion. Antonio's a homewrecker, but she kept one fine home. Leo saw one Ivy League-bound daughter-- who attends the city's priciest prep school-- at a party last weekend in that formerly WASP enclave. My son let me know how smugly she vamped herself and how eagerly she was dissed after she swanned away.

Our same neighbors mused last week that given the economy they may go to law school and become environmental advocates for animals. I laughed and guessed-- correctly-- that for this mid-life career U-turn they'd swerve to the Marxist-hippie People's College of Law nearby. I wondered if it was still accredited. Hizzoner graduated from PCL, but after three tries still could not pass the bar. He never did.

You'd probably not know that from the local coverage. The LAT worships Obama and Villaraigosa. It exemplifies our ideological imbalance; our free press rarely criticizes our politicians. The paper recently celebrated Hector Tobar's return to America; his first column chortled over how much more Hispanized L.A. had become in his eight years or so away south of the border. He cheered up when his daughter at a party in my neighborhood asked him why nobody spoke English.

This sort of myopic cheerleading for "sin fronteras" discourages me. Unlike faraway nations from which past waves of immigrants departed, our neighbor looms as a presence whose people, if they wish, need never to be assimilated. They are too close and so many. While many Democrats praise this, I wonder how long our nation can assert itself against an increasingly anarchic Mexico, connected in turn with the drug trade, so large now that Bolivia to Colómbia to Nigeria to Libya to Naples to Ukraine to Ireland may be a not atypical route today. As blogger "Liberal Rapture" in "Mexico falling" remarked yesterday: Phoenix is now #2 in kidnapping as border cartels creep north. Reading most of the press, you'd never know this danger. We lack balance in viewpoints, opinions, and ideas. Am I a xenophobe when I raise this topic? Dr. Bob may differ with me, but a few may agree.

One quixotic candidate was quoted in the Los Angeles Times today, Walter Moore. A sign of the distortion may be this is practically the first coverage given his campaign, a few days before the election. He's about my age, a black lawyer who took on corrupt financial finaglers. Recently on talk radio, he observes of my hometown:

"Ask yourself, how would the city be different if it were expressly run by developers, gangs and the nation of Mexico? You'd be hard pressed to come up with any policy changes." Joe Willon's "L.A. Mayoral Hopeful Poised to Make a Splash" sums up Moore's involvement in a failed attempt to get the LAPD to actually enforce the law and prosecute illegal status in their efforts to clear the barrios and ghettoes of criminal gang members. The attempt to pass "Jamiel's Law" failed as the ACLU raised fears of "racial profiling"-- this grassroots effort in the black community was derailed by politicians and police along safe P.C. lines.

The tellingly named Ace Smith, Villaraigosa's campaign manager, then sniffs:

"voters' greatest concern, however, should be Moore's mantra that Los Angeles has turned into a Third World "dump."

"To call it a dumping ground is insulting. You're essentially calling the people who live in L.A. trash. That's extremist, and that's trouble," Smith said.

Moore's response: The Villaraigosa campaign is trying to marginalize him as a racist because the mayor "cannot defend his record."

"This city is run-down," Moore said. "The gangs control the streets. The streets are busted up. The sidewalks are busted up. You got people butchering goats in their frontyard. You've got barnyard animals running around. . . . You have the city government giving out hundreds of millions of dollars to political cronies. That's what Third World is."

We hear roosters nearby, and although my students have told me of digging pits for birria in South Gate or cockfighting arenas where they live in South Central (recently tagged "Historic South-Central Core" on a map of officially titled municipal neighborhoods, not to be confused with the part next to it now "South LA" after the LAT lobbied its journalists not to call it by the name that made it [in]famous), I have yet to find a fleeing goat down by our new local trailer park. This may change when our neighbors start their urban garden.

A colleague of mine, with whom I never exchanged more than helloes before, asked me yesterday about being a native of L.A. He said nobody he had met was one. I told him in a Technology and Culture class I teach of two dozen or so, I ask how many students have a parent born here. Usually one may have one parent, at best. I shared my love-hate relationship with the city, and noted how my own dreams and loves and memories are tied here inextricably. He told me he rarely dreams of here, but of his native Libya, and only after two decades away has he started to even have sporadic dreams not about his homeland. But, as he still thinks only in Arabic, so he dreams.

His conversation reminded me of how so many of my neighbors still attach themselves, deeply rooted beyond conscious control, to faraway lands and foreign tongues. Layne noted how the coupon come-on for McDonalds in the mail had the Spanish larger than the English. Increasingly, my native language regresses visibly from its dominance.

This, of course, delights the Times. Even if it erodes their historical subscriber base, they still own the Spanish-language throwaway "Hoy" for its ads generated. I see "Hoy" much more than the Times read on the train these days. The city's shift to a Third World power base also strengthens the One Party. Probably and literally 99:100 of the folks we know voted straight-Democratic.

While one may be sympathetic towards the trillions of "investments" that we will be taxed for to bail out those less fortunate or more cunning than ourselves, I do fear -- perhaps given my teaching style that always sees multiple perspectives and which shrinks from dogma or diktat -- that we are entering a period akin to that of Joe Stalin and the poster I place today above. "Democratic centralism" when feeble opposition lacks the heft to sway any legislative branch?

Niall early on, in typical fashion, asked me about Communism. I told him when he was perhaps eight that it began with noble ambitions to share wealth, ease poverty, reduce oppression, and attain equality. I also told him in simple terms that, like Christianity, it never had been able to realize its lofty ambitions. The leaders took advantage of their power once they seized it, and they never gave up control.

I feel I live in a city and a country run in dictatorial manner, much as I also despise much that the GOP opposition has perpetrated and which led to their deserved defeat. I long for a government decentralized, locally-based, ecologically sustainable, and demographically planned. I also figure my Ecotopia is about as likely as Ernest Callenbach's to become more than a granola cruncher's dorm-room bong-hit spiel. Navigating a gritty megapolis belying its Westside Lotus Land studio stereotype forces us to face the traffic as we drown out Sirens with music. As Arianna Huffington marvelled to the New Yorker while her chaffeured Prius was stuck in the Angeleno maelstrom: "Imagine having to drive in this city everyday!"

Perhaps, and my wife will shrug and say "Irish Catholic," we are too flawed and too selfish to make our communal dreams realities for long, if ever. My Libyan co-worker and I discussed the cult of personality around Qadafi, and how his sons and family have consolidated power more securely to control the resources sold to the West than any king of that realm ever had. He also reflected how in Arabic, one always acknowledges the unsaid or whispered opposite of whatever one asserts. That is, until recently, even scholars would conclude a paper with "Whatever in this essay has been good, credit to Allah; whatever bad, blame on me." Subservience solidifies.

He noted how the god-like aura once attained by Mohammed and consolidated by his own appointed successors continues to make the Arab peoples subservient to a strong leader, a second-class mentality, and an inbred submission to a moon-god, a tin-pot general, The Green Book, or a tribal chieftain. He also mused how this fear of transgressing a giant's command may have kept the Islamic realm from falling into utter anarchy-- the fear of angering the Nobodaddy permeates the culture, or its lack, and keeps it functioning if at a lower level of civilization than that attained by a cockier imperial West. I wonder if "Ozymandias" could have been even conceived in Arabic.

He mentioned how in Arabic one cannot say two sentences without "inshallah." There's a linguistic fatalism and personal caution ingrained not to put one's own efforts above the Creator's plans. He agreed that English places the first-person much more aggressively; Arabic holds it rude to put too much emphasis on "I" as the agent, preferring passive constructions that diminish our power over the situation. In Irish, I informed him, "tá bron orm" or "tá tart orm" form shares this lack of agency. You can't assert: "I'm sad" or "I'm thirsty" but "there is sadness upon me," as if you're overwhelmed by it. "There's thirst on me"-- how can you resist it?

Out of such inculcated habits we learn how to react to our realpolitik. They remind me of Richard Dawkins' memes, these cultural viruses that infect us. We spread their concepts through our social interactions. We may think, like a Libyan, secretly of revolt against the Wazir. A restive Angeleno may fulminate against Hizzoner. But, like an Irish speaker, we quail against such hubris. Our future rests with those whose inspiring icons grace our election posters, that now even pass as our newest president's official portrait.

We retreat to safe sleep and silent reveries where no overseer can overhear, nor any satrap suppress. I agree as a Westerner when "Harry" cites Paul Valery: the best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. But, when I do, my vision vanishes.

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