26 December 2007


Why should anyone give a damn what I think about the upcoming Presidential Election? Why should anyone give a damn what any one voter thinks? But, I've got this blog, so I'm going to use it to disseminate at least some of my political views.

Here's what I think about the upcoming Presidential Primaries:

First off, no matter who the Democrat Party candidate is in the November election, I'll probably end up voting for her, or him. We've had too much of the Republicans for the past eight years no matter who their nominee is. Things have tilted too far to their side. The country needs some balance and to get it, things are going to have to tilt back to the other side for a little while. Not to mention that the next president will certainly appoint at least one supreme court judge and the country cannot take the risk that the appointee will be heavily influenced by the religious right.

Plus, someone's got to cut back on war spending, and it isn't going to be the Republicans.

The funny thing is that people still labor under the delusion that one party is the party of sound fiscal policy and the other isn't. It's just not true. Both parties are profligate spenders. Both parties figure they can buy our votes through how they spend money.

The difference is that the Republicans overspend on "defense" and the Democrats want to overspend on domestic policies. Traditionally, the Republicans are the ones who actually believe in a free lunch. They want to spend without raising taxes. When they accuse the Democrats of being "tax and spend" - at least that makes sense. Don't tax, but spend anyhow is about as dumb a policy as there is. The Republicans just spend on different things than the Democrats do.

And the Republicans get away with that for eight, sometimes twelve years at a time, then the Democrats get elected and have no choice but to raise taxes to pay for all the massive Republican defense spending and tax cut backs. So then the Democrats get painted as the party that raises taxes and the Republicans get elected again. It's a pretty good political strategy and a really lousy fiscal one.

So, I'm not going to even worry about who the Republican nominee is going to be. Whoever it is, they aren't getting my vote - as amusing as I think Ron Paul is.

As for the Democrats, my top three choices for the nomination come from among the six serious candidates. (I say "serious" because I don't believe Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel ever had a snowball's chance in hell of winning the nomination, and even if they did, neither of them would be my choice anyhow.) But my top three are the least likely to get the nomination: Richardson, Biden and Dodd.

Richardson is my candidate of choice. He's got the widest range of experience, has proved himself an effective governor, and has some very bright ideas. Problem is, he's a lousy candidate. He lacks charisma, is sometimes too honest, and puts his foot in his mouth when he's tired - just like most people do, but presidential candidates need to learn to keep their mouths shut.

So, what of the other three, who seem to have a chance at the nomination?

I don't like John Edwards. I don't trust him, and he scares me. If you can really believe what he says - and I have my doubts about that - he has a near complete lack of understanding of the global economy, or the way that the global economy and trade affect the U.S. If, as President, he could actually do what he says he would like to do - which, luckily, he couldn't - in terms of trade policy, he would severely set back our economy. The U.S. would lose a great many more jobs than it has already. Any possible recession, would threaten to become a full blown depression, and it would take down a lot of other countries with it. I'm sorry about your father's job John, but we are the world's most developed, technologically advanced economy; there is no sane reason that t-shirts or socks should be manufactured in North Carolina. Maybe with all of your trial lawyer fees you can afford to buy undergarments made in America, but most people can't. We need better, new economy jobs, not to protect the old jobs that other countries can now do as well and cheaper.

Luckily, I don't really think he's got a hope in hell, anyhow.

So that leaves us with Hillary and Obama, and I'm okay with either of them.

I also worry, though, that either of them will have a more difficult time getting elected than they ought to.

Despite being one of the more moderate, centrist senators, who has received high marks for her willingness and ability to work with the Republicans, Hillary is still a very divisive figure. The Republicans don't just not agree with her, they hate her. And they're ready for her. I am certain that they have both barrels locked and loaded and ready to hurt her in all sorts of ways the moment she gets the nomination. They've been preparing for her for the past three years. I still think she can win, but it will be a whole lot closer than it ought to be. And, as much as I hate her stance on the Iraq War, I think she'd be a good president and surround herself with good advisors. And, though I would prefer our first woman president to be a completely self-made woman, rather than the wife of a previous president, I would be happy to see the breaking of that glass ceiling in any event.

As for Obama, as much as I would love to believe that race wouldn't be an issue in a presidential election, I don't believe that. It won't be a huge issue - most of the people who won't vote for a black man, wouldn't vote for a Democrat either - but I think it would still be a big enough issue as to also make an Obama election a whole lot tighter than it should be. And, with his short track record in national politics, a very close election will make it harder for him to govern effectively. I don't worry too much about the experience factor. I think an awful lot of what goes into making a good president is the people he or she is surrounded by. And I think he'd appoint good people. Also, being black, and having lived in Indonesia as a child, I think he'd be well-situated for beginning the vital process of improving relations with the Islamic world.

So, who am I going to vote for in the California Primary? I don't know. I'll probably vote for Richardson anyhow in the hope that he gets enough votes that whoever's the nominee has to pick him for vice-president or Secretary of State.

Now I'll try to get back to some more amusing topic in my next blog post.

12 December 2007

IKE TURNER, 1931-2007

So what if I was 16 and horny. So what if I was in the front row at the Shrine and looking up the very short skirts of the Ikettes, two of whom were not wearing underwear. Sure, Tina had that voice. And those legs. But for me, it was all about Ike.

There he was, in a white suit with a black t-shirt. He spent a lot of his time with his back turned to the crowd, hardly moving. But oh-my-fucking-god; the sounds that came out of that man's guitar. (Only Hendrix did more. He'd played in Ike's band once. But there were times when I liked Ike better.) And the control he had over the band. (As far as controlling a band went, the only one I ever saw who came close to Ike was Frank Zappa. He was in fair second place.)

Now he's dead at 76, and too many people don't know who he was, don't know what they missed, what they'll be missing. Ike Turner was, at the very least, the missing link between blues and rock and roll. In any sensible, realistic list of the creators of modern American music, he'd be a shoo-in for the pantheon.

Too many people know him from the movies. Sure What's Love Got To Do With It was a good bio-pic. But it didn't tell his story, certainly not the whole story, or even the important parts. There's even some controversy over how accurate it was. Some of that controversy has even been fed by Tina herself in interviews in the years since.

In the years after he broke up with Tina, Ike's life spun largely out of control. But he always kept working. Last year he won a Grammy for his album Risin' With the Blues. It's a very good record, one that will give you a taste of what he was capable of. But only a small taste.

Seeing him live was always the best. There are no albums that capture that. Certainly none of the ones with Tina.

The last time I saw Ike was at a small club in Los Feliz, here in Los Angeles. He mostly played keyboard. He was also an accomplished pianist. The band was totally in his control. The first half was magical. Then there was a break.

After the break it got sort of pathetic. He brought a Tina clone on stage. She had great cleavage. A very short skirt. An okay voice. But she wasn't Tina. And even worse, working with her to try and recapture some past glory days, Ike wasn't Ike.

And Ike, all by himself with his guitar and his band, man, that was always way more than enough. I'm gonna miss him.

Here's some assorted pictures that I like. I found them online.

04 December 2007


Far too many girls in poor countries are sold into sexual and other forms of slavery by their families. Cambodia, being one of the poorest countries in the world, is no exception.

My latest book, GRAVE IMPORTS, is set in Cambodia. Though it deals with the theft of the country's antiquities, a vital part of the story is the social and economic context in which it takes place.

I hope you enjoy the book. Above all, I want it to be entertaining. But if you get anything more than simple amusement out of reading GRAVE IMPORTS, I hope it's an awareness of the terrible problems facing the people of Cambodia.

And of course, I'm hoping to make some money from having written the book. I am trying to earn a living here. But I also want to give something back. Besides making you aware of the problems in Cambodia, I want to do something a bit more concrete.

I've donated money from my advance, and will continue to do so from royalties, for GRAVE IMPORTS to a group called American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), that I think is doing very important, and good, work in the country.

You can click on the banner above or below and learn more about AAfC and how you can help its efforts to keep Cambodian girls in school and out of the brothels and sweatshops. And besides the satisfaction of knowing you've helped an important effort, you'll get something extra as a thank you in return.

03 December 2007


To those of you who haven't ever been serious about photography, or had a favorite pair of old shoes, this is going to probably seem silly. Tomorrow morning at 11 am, I am getting rid of my Leica equipment.

I'm not much of a gearhead when it comes to taking pictures, which is why, oddly, since I became serious about it in college I have mostly used one of the most expensive, finely-crafted cameras in the world - a rangefinder Leica M.

For me, a Leica has become the highest quality point and shoot. It is an extension of my eye. It is the means by which my brain freezes visual frames. When I'm using it, I don't think about it. My brain sees something, the Leica captures it. The camera allows for the minimum of interference between what my brain sees and the picture I get.

And when I'm carrying it around, it's like I'm not carrying anything around. It's just another part of my body; part of the brain-eye structure that just happens to hang on a strap around my neck or fit snugly into my hand. It's like that great old pair of shoes that you aren't even aware are on your feet.

For the first 20 or so years that I had Leicas, I didn't even have a light meter. In the way that your eye adjusts to the light, well somehow my camera and I adjusted along with it. For that matter, in spite of the fact that Leicas are probably the most concise focusing cameras ever invented, I rarely bothered focusing, either. I just knew what lens did what and positioned myself accordingly. I never had any problems with exposure or focus.

But film cameras are becoming more of a pain in the ass to use. I no longer have a darkroom, and even if I did, I just don't have the need, time or inclination to spend hours on end working in one. Having used a couple of lower end digital cameras for a while, I can hardly get around to taking film I shoot to the lab, then picking it up, then sorting it, then scanning the slides I want to do something with. I've been using my Leica less and less, and my digital point and shoots more and more.

When I went to Alaska I took both a digital camera and my Leica. It was the first time I'd taken the Leica out for several months. I loaded it with good, slow slide film behind a very wide angle (12mm) lens to capture the immense scenery. I loved using it, as always. Every time I'd hear the snick of the shutter it was like an old dear lover, whispering in my ear.

It took me nearly a month to get around to taking the film to the lab, and another three days to bother picking it back up again. (It had been ready in two hours.) I sorted it on a light table, tossed out about eighty percent of the slides - because of difficult light, I'd bracketed a lot, and have still not got around to running the slides I saved through my film scanner.

I've long since downloaded, edited, filed, posted and made use of the many more photos I took with the digital camera I brought to Alaska.

Since it was announced, last year, I've toyed with the idea of buying the new Leica M8 - the first digital rangefinder Leica. It looks very much like all the other Leicas made since the M3 came out in 1954. It feels almost the same in the hand; a little fatter, a touch taller, no film advance or rewind lever, solidly built - though not quite so much as the film Leicas I've used.

But the M8, well, it just seems like it asserts itself, as if it wants to make sure that you know damn well it's a technical marvel. It requires messing with menus, marking special codes on the lenses, putting special filters on wide angle lenses because of bad digital color shifts; and to get the picture you took in your head seems to require mucking around an awful lot with Photoshop afterwards.

And on top of all that, the M8 costs about five thousand dollars, plus another thousand or more by the time I get all my lenses coded, buy the filters and get ready to use it.

I can buy a new Nikon D300 digital SLR with all the lenses and filters and geegaws and doodads that I could possibly want to use with it, for less than it would cost me to buy an M8 to use with my existing lenses. I like Leica lenses a lot better than Nikon lenses. But Nikon lenses are still excellent. I can sell my current Leica and lenses and related geegaws and doodads for more than enough money to cover the Nikon and everything, as well as a second Nikon body if I want one, and still have money left over - a lot of money left over if I don't spring for the second Nikon body.

So that's what I'm going to do. Tomorrow at 11 am. At a place called PopFlash Photo in Thousand Oaks. They're going to take my Leica equipment on consignment and sell it for me. Even with their twenty percent cut, it's going to work out for the best.

But I'll be losing out on an old and dear friend. I might take some of the money though, and buy an old, used Leica with one lens; an M3 or an M2, like the first Leicas I ever used. Hopefully someone will still make film for at least another dozen years or so.

I do not have photos of all the Leicas that I've personally owned over the years. The photo at the top of this blog is of my current Leica, the M7 that I'm taking to PopFlash tomorrow.

But here, in order, are pictures of the various models of Leica M that I've owned over the years - since 1973 when I bought my first, used M3 for $250 with a 50mm Summicron lens. I think it is a thing of truly great, simple beauty.