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Jill Stewart has a great column on Jackie Goldberg, the former LAUSD school principal/board member/LA City Council Member/CA Assembly member who has a unique talent for talking about the downtrodden and helping out the Skybox Crowd.
While on the LAUSD Board, she helped start the avalanche that would become the $200 million Belmont debacle (important mitigating point: her role was in proposing a much smaller middle school on the most contaminated 11 acres of the 25 acre site – but the key staff and players who led the march for the absurd effort of the school bureaucracy to become for-profit developers came on board during her watch).
While in the City Council she carried water for the $600 million Trizec/Haan Hollywood/Highland project:

On another local front, Goldberg’s idiotic deal with the Canadian developers TrizecHahn to create the new Egyptian-themed mall and Academy Awards hall at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue stands as the worst expenditure of city tax dollars in recent years.
Two weeks ago, the L.A. City Council spent an hour commiserating over the money-hemorrhaging project, into which Goldberg, using her strong-arming, backroom style, persuaded the city council to pour $90 million into the parking structure. The money should have gone to more cops for Hollywood, or true redevelopment of its heavily barred storefronts and litter-strewn, filthy sidewalks and streets.

This is exactly the kind of Skybox Crowd project – doing well by purporting to do good – that represents the failure of modern liberalism.
I don’t know if it is just the seductive power of the lobbyists, or the desire of the low-level elected officials and bureaucrats to be “playahs” that leads to the kind of insane belief that the lives of the bulk of the population or the character of their communities will be improved by building these ill-thought-out megaprojects.
And what we see in real estate carries on to social programs as well, as we try and solve problems that are a collection of a number of small factors with one massive, sweeping program or project.
Things are more complex than that, and to effect people’s lives – which is what liberals in government purportedly want to do – we have to come up with solutions that reflect and embrace that complexity.
I’ll suggest that there is a kind of new paradigm emerging – with the open-source “Cathedral and the Bazaar”, with “Emergence : From Chaos to Order”, with Wolfram’s new book, “A New Kind of Science” – that suggests that a collection of smaller decisions, programs, or projects all built around a basic set of rules or goals, may in fact be a more powerful agent of change than a single massive project.
It requires a new kind of humility on the part of the change agents though, and as long as the space is occupied by blowhards like Goldberg, that will be hard to do.

Slate's article on game theory

Slate’s article on game theory in the Middle East is pretty good, but I believe Wright underestimates the power of his option #1 (irrational hatred). War is not an auction, and when it has been run as one — most famously in Vietnam by Johnson, Nixon and their hardy band of “incrementalists” — its managers manage to kill more while accomplishing less.
This is a 19th century, Viennese-opera conception of war. I’d suggest going back to Thucydides to see what tribal warfare is all about.


A lot of news coverage on potential Islamicist threats to US targets on July 4 (see this CNN article); something jogged my memory, and it occurred to me:
July 4 is also the date of the famous Battle of Hattin/Tiberias, at which Saladin defeated Guy, King of Jerusalem and his army of Crusaders and effectively ended the Frankish occupation of Palestine.
Since we know Al Queida knows their history, I’d be definitely be in Condition Yellow that day.


Sunday was a gorgeous day here in Los Angeles, clear, windy, just a hint of smoke from the fire up above Santa Clarita.

The SO – who is the “perfect pillion” as well as a pretty good rider herself – and I took the motorcycle out and spent the day with some friends riding through the canyons up there, and on the way I was strongly reminded of why I am a liberal.

First, the clean air.
The population of Southern California has gone up by about 60% since 1970, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. Auto ownership and use has grown faster, probably about 25% more, I’ll estimate, so we’re looking at a 75% increase in vehicle-miles. We’ve probably lost a bunch of manufacturing and refining, but employment is still a whole bunch higher than it was back then.

And I remember summer days in high school when you couldn’’t see the end of my West LA block for the smog. Two-a-days in the pool at school when you spent the day with “aqualung – ”—a chest so sore you couldn’’t raise your voice.

My sons haven’t had those problems (I am aware of the higher incidence of asthma, but there’s a bunch of interesting epidemiology on that). I don’t think their children will, either.


The damn bureaucrats, and their command-and-control bureaucracy. Personally, I think there are more refined tools available to us in the Information Age … Precision Guided Munitions of regulation, rather than the crude daisy-cutters. But if we don’t regulate, we’ll choke.

Next, the infrastructure.
Our normal ride, up Bouquet Canyon, was closed due to the fire, so we rode up San Francisquito Canyon instead (past “A Place to Shoot”, a pretty decent firing range).

In the canyon you can see the remnants of William Mulholland’’s last great project, the St. Francis Dam, which failed catastrophically in 1928, killing at least 500.

But Southern Californians live on the desert because of the infrastructure that gives us water, protects us from floods, lets us move around, etc. etc. etc.

I know that each of these is the heavy boot of man’s dominion over nature… – but unless we are all willing to live like Gabrielinos, we need it.

And the infrastructure isn’t just physical, but social as well. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s from the University of California, and it is a truism the public university has changed people’s lives.

Finally, charity and hope.
We spent Saturday night at the annual fundraiser for the St. Joseph’s Center in Venice. This hasn’’t been a brilliant year for us financially, but we managed to give some away anyway, and enjoyed the company of a bunch of people who were doing pretty much the same thing.

I’’ve always felt that I was an economic liberal because I enjoyed my nice things less when I had to either worry about someone trying to hit me on the head and take them away, or eat my meal in the window of a restaurant while a starving family stood outside.

Look, I know that the biggest beneficiaries of the welfare programs in the last fifty years have been the people who work for the welfare departments.

I know that we’’ve grown dysfunctional cultures like mold on bad French cheese.

But does it tell you we’’ve accomplished something when the biggest nutritional problem among the very poor is obesity?


Does anybody actually place related items alongside each other and just relish the irony? May 14

There was always, in the past, a limit to this hatred. Letters would be signed with the writer’s address. Or if not, they would be so-ill-written as to be illegible. Not any more. In 26 years in the Middle East, I have never read so many vile and intimidating messages addressed to me. Many now demand my death. And last week, the Hollywood actor John Malkovich did just that, telling the Cambridge Union that he would like to shoot me
Thus a disgusting remark by an actor in the Cambridge Union led to a website suggesting that others were even more eager to kill me. Malkovich was not questioned by the police. He might, I suppose, be refused any further visas to Britain until he explains or apologises for his vile remarks. But the damage has been done. As journalists, our lives are now forfeit to the internet haters. If we want a quiet life, we will just have to toe the line, stop criticising Israel or America. Or just stop writing altogether.
–Robert Fisk, in the Telegraph today April 13

THE Board of Deputies of British Jews is considering making a complaint to the police over a newspaper interview with the poet Tom Paulin in which he is reported as saying that American-born settlers in Israel should be shot dead.
Paulin, who appears regularly on the panel of the BBC2 arts programme Newsnight Review (formerly Late Review), allegedly made the comment in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram.
The interviewer wrote that Paulin, a consistent critic of Israeli conduct towards the Palestinians, clearly abhorred “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers. Paulin, a lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford, was then quoted as saying: “They should be shot dead.
“I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them.” Earlier in the interview, he was quoted as saying: “I never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all.”

Context is everything. If Fisk was willing to put his turmoil into context—to acknowledge that there were other, competing points of view, and that people on both sides were acting badly—it might be possible for him to put his arguments into a form where they were arguments, not dogma. And we need arguments and dialog right now.
I’ll never excuse terrorism, not against Israelis, New Yorkers, Sri Lankans, anyone. But the fact remains that it’s not enough to kill terrorists (although I’m all for that); we have to stop growing terrorists. And while I don’t begin to agree with the Fisks of the world, I wish like hell that there was a constructive dialog to be had about how to stop growing terrorists, if such a thing is possible. I am sure that, like Japan and Germany, it will be a combination of destruction and rebuilding. Some people are good at one, some at the other.
But Fisk shares the romantic (note Berlin, below) intellectual’s fascination with nihilistic violence aimed at the oppressive forces of order and conformity; and he wants both to be defended by those forces of order and conformity (how dare that Hollwood star threaten him!!) and to be free to stand in opposition to them.
Dylan said “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” If Fisk had an honest bone in his body, he’d condemn Tom Paulin the same breath with which he condemns Malcovitch.
But he doesn’t, and really, did anyone expect him to?


In today’s LA Times:

Boroughs Pitched as Middle Ground

Searching for a middle ground that acknowledges separatist sentiments but that would keep Los Angeles whole, City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said Sunday that her proposal for a borough system would likely give local areas meaningful control over zoning, development and delivery of services.

Such a structure would go far beyond the city’s existing neighborhood council system in spinning power away from City Hall and to communities across Los Angeles.
The cure-all for bad governance is seen as smaller government…smaller in span, smaller in footprint, smaller in authority.
You gotta wonder, though. Yes, Los Angeles is in the grip of an essentially corrupt “iron triangle” on development…there the rules are murky, the process uncertain, and the homeowners and developers are locked in a battle to see who can seduce the local council member, who essentially has absolute control over what will and will not be built.
But as I look around at the smaller cities in the area, they break generally into three categories:
Uber-prosperous enclaves: Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, San Marino, etc.
Relatively well-run middle-class communities: Glendale, Torrance, etc.
Problem children: Carson, Hawaiian Gardens, etc.
Obviously, the immediate reaction is that these are stratified by class, race and income (and they are). But each has it’s own unique problems, and if the city is going to become a collection of local fiefdoms…the region will have problems as well. I’m not just talking about corruption.
The problem, of course is that by giving the immediate neighbors total control over zoning and land use, for starters, little things like airports, transit hubs, jails, sewer plants, trash staging or disposal, low-income housing, and services for the homeless are Right Out.
Everyone wants a world-class medical center in the region. But no one wants to live with the traffic, noise, congestion, etc. that one brings. And to the extent that local voters will control what is built, they won’t have to.
The problem, of course, is that for the region to function, we have to have regional services; some are optional – music centers, universities, etc.; some are nice to have – world class hospitals, international airports, etc.; some are important but arguable and often argued about: affordable housing, services for the homeless, mentally ill, or addicted; and, finally, some are necessary: trash, sewers, generating plants.
Someone please explain to me how we allocate these in a region where every neighborhood gets to say “no”??


The Middle East, what else?
Like so many others, I had been a dove in Middle Eastern (read: Arab/Israel) affairs for a long time. My belief was that the Palestinian people had been displaced, in a modern example of the zero-sum nature of history, and that they deserved a state and the assistance and respect of their neighbors, the Jews of Israel. Part of this was tactical; you can’t win every time, and the reality is that Israel only gets to lose once. Better to work for a stable peace, I felt.
Like so many others, I’ve changed my mind. Not about Israel getting to lose once – that’s still the sad and frightening truth – but about the ability of the Palestinian population, as presently organized, to support a state. And, bluntly, about the question of whether they have earned one.
On the second question, the harsh reality is that had Arafat led 100,000 Arab people on a peaceful march to the sea…imagine a modern version of the “Salt March” of Gandhi…he’d have won already. Picketing, boycotts, and marches…the vocabulary of the American Civil Rights movement…would have granted him an unassailable moral high ground, and Israel would within months have been negotiating on his terms.
But for a variety of historical, social, and I would imagine psychological reasons, Arafat is incapable of that kind of moral leadership. Actually, that’s unfair. He’s not alone. Where in the modern Arab are the contemporary Ataturks?
On the first question, I am still confused as to why it is that people widely believe that social and political institutions which took close to two hundred years to mature and grow in Western societies can simply be transplanted like rose cuttings into societies, cultures, and political environments that simply cannot support them.
We assume that we can create Western democracies by fiat, and I just don’t understand why the absurdity of that position isn’t more apparent. The only case I am aware of in which anything close to this has been accomplished was in post WWII Japan, where the incredibly strong sense of nation, and the clear support of those who held whatever legitimacy remained made a form of democratic government possible.
So the Palestinians don’t deserve a state, and probably couldn’t maintain one. So just what the hell is to be done?? Personally, I’m not sure, but I think it highly likely that a number of people will have to die before any positive result becomes possible. The political task, as I see it, is to keep them from being my sons.


OK, I give up.
I’ve been a media consumer all my life, and now have the opportunity to add something to what I call the “mediaverse” that we are all living within. So here it goes:
Just a guy. I live in Southern California, although I’ve lived on the East Coast and in Europe. Middle-aged, straight, mostly white. Divorced dad with a crop of awesome sons. I can be emailed at, although I’m not the Eric Blair who is trolling the blogoverse so thoroughly.
I’m choosing not to identify myself – right now – for a variety of reasons. I’ll start by standing on the time-honored tradition of anonymous pamphleteering, which I believe blogging fits neatly into. My significant other has a fairly political job (although she doesn’t believe so). And finally, I’m trying to disassociate the value of what is set out here from any judgment you might make about me.
Because that’s what I am. I’m a Liberal – one who believes in the potential value of government action. And I’m armed – I own guns, and believe that the American political landscape is profoundly different because of the kinds of individual rights (I’ve never bought the collectivist 2nd amendment arguments) represented by gun ownership.
That tension – between a belief that government can, through its authority and power, move societies in good directions, and the need for strong individual rights – defines my politics pretty well, actually. And by extension, I believe it defines American politics in the 20th and 21st century awfully damn well.
Think about it. In the course of your daily life, how much of what you know and believe you know comes from your direct experience or the direct experience of anyone you know?
We’re blessed to live in a “global village” (thanks, Marshall). But the price we pay is that increasingly, our experiences are mediated – they are not experiences we directly sense or participate in, or even that we know people who sense or participate in. Instead, we have created professional classes who sense, review, and act on our behalf. We watch the results on paper or on computer, television, or movie screens. And we try and build out internal lives around what we are shown and told.
There are good things that come from this, without question. But there are problems as well. We’ll talk about this later on.
I tend to do things vertically – I buy all the recordings of musicians I like, read all the books by authors, etc. I also have not much time in my life, so here’s what I’m planning.
I’ll spend 30 minutes a day, and try and do two things: respond to the meme of the moment, and also try and extend a few arguments in some depth over several posts.
Let’s see how it goes.