26 March 2008


Here's some quotes from a speech that Bill Clinton gave a couple of days ago in West Virginia:

"If a politician doesn't wanna get beat up, he shouldn't run for office...Let's just saddle up and have an argument. What's the matter with that? That's what America's about, right?"

He's right. At least that's what this country's supposed to be about. People have a bunch of different ideas, they get together and argue about them - sometimes the arguments even get a bit heated - and then they vote on it and the argument that has been most persuasive wins.

That's how democracy is supposed to work. Sure, it's not very efficient. Sometimes it's not even very civil. Undoubtedly some good ideas get voted down and some bad ones are enacted. Most of the time we end up voting for someone who's imperfect. (Can you imagine that; an imperfect politician? Gosh.) But so far it does seem to be the only way in which a government can manage to please a whole lot of people, a lot of the time.

Problem is that we've come to believe that this idea or that one is absolutely right or wrong, so argument with it is irrational. That's what the Bush Administration has been trying to do; make us all shut up and not argue because they're right and that's all there is to it.

Well, as a vast majority of people in this country now know, that's not all there is to it.

But the kind of right-wrong, black-white thinking that the administration has crammed down our throats, and in which the media has been complicit, has screwed us up in all sorts of ways.

Increasingly I have been hearing Obama and Hillary supporters say that they won't vote for the other one if their candidate isn't nominated. Are they nuts? They seem to think there's something wrong with the two candidates arguing and duking it out for the nomination.

But that's how it's supposed to work. Even when they insult each other, that's how it's supposed to work. And when your candidate doesn't get the nomination, what you're supposed to do is shrug your shoulders, say "maybe next time," and vote for the better of the choices that you've ended up with.

The thing about all this fighting and up and down and talk of right and wrong is that it's just a natural part of the process of things settling down into somewhere in the comfortable middle. You can talk all you want about change, but the great genius of democracy isn't radical change, it's the leveling affect that it has. When it works, it allows for measured, rational, slow but sure change; the sort that in the long run does the most real good and is the longest lasting. Too many of us, however, have become too impatient for that.

We've also got our heads deeply embedded up our asses over the economy. We catastrophize nearly everything. But a stable economy has its ups and downs. That, as in politics, is how it finds its smooth running middle.

The least stable economy is one that doesn't go through the occasional wild mood swing. Inflation, recession, expanding bubbles, bursting bubbles, are all natural in a growing, healthy economy.

I spent a while on the phone last week trying to convince a friend that they hadn't really "lost" several hundred thousand dollars in the stock and property markets.

"Have you sold any stocks or property at a loss?"


"Are you going to have to? Do you have a subprime loan or any upcoming payments for something that are going to require you to sell something at a loss? Or do you need to borrow some money against your portfolio?"


"So you haven't really lost any money, have you?"

"Well, my portfolio is down 15 percent and I can't sell my house for what I could have last year, and and and..."

All I can say is, you haven't lost any money, you've lost your common sense.

There are plenty of people who do have subprime mortgages and who do have payments they need to cash out some investments to make and other such things. And yes, those people are going to lose money. But most people, aren't. Just like any roller coaster, if you sit there and hang on, the track's going to eventually smooth out. If you try to bail out on a big hill or curve, you're probably going to get hurt.

Americans are so busy thinking that everything is supposed to be perfect - and that they have some sort of inalienable right to a free lunch - that they go into a huge tailspin when things aren't just the way they want them to be.

Well, nothing's ever going to be exactly the way you want it to be. Get over it. You're just making things worse for yourself and everybody else when you overreact.

Meanwhile, here's some pretty pictures from a recent excursion out to the California State Poppy Reserve near Lancaster in the far northeast corner of Los Angeles County:

23 March 2008


It got up into the 90s yesterday, at least in the parts of town where I spent my afternoon. There was a slight breeze though and it felt good.

Now I am fully aware that in these days of global warming and high gas prices, driving around, simply looking at stuff is politically incorrect. But that's one of the things I most like to do. Sure, the world your kids are going to get old in will be worse for it, but, well, so sue me.

One of the running themes of the book I'm currently working on - tentatively titled "Shanghaied," is the age old excuse of: "If I wasn't doing it, someone else would." I would like to go on record as saying that I think that excuse is a crock of shit. The book makes fun of people who use it. But, well, any claim I may have ever made on perfection is increasingly laughable as I get older. And wiser, of course.

So I cruised around yesterday. My first destination was my favorite freeway interchange in the city. The elegant, soaring curves of the 110 and 105 mashup. Luckily, there's a MetroLink rail station smack in the middle of it, so I was able to wander around and shoot pictures. I need to go back when the light's better though, around sunrise or sunset.

Then it was time for lunch. I started driving east on Imperial Highway toward Plaza Mexico on the western edge of Norwalk. There's a big goat taco place there, right in between The Gap and a Ritmo Latino CD store. But along the way I passed The Slater Market and Hawkins House of Burgers. It looked too good to pass up. Turned out that it was. It's been there since 1952, which is how long I've been here, too. It was cheap, the burger was fantastic, my conversation with a couple of regulars who've been hanging out at the place for many years was interesting. I'm going to have to go back for soul food one of these weekends. (It's at the corner of Slater and Imperial Highway, south side of the street, just a few blocks east of Central Ave.)

Then I cruised up Main Street back into downtown, past the several blocks of furiously competitive goat taco stands - but I was full at that point, so I didn't stop. I went all the way past Chinatown to the LAX-C Market at 1100 N. Main. It's an old wholesale market, decorated with murals of Native Americans shooting arrows from horseback. Imagine, if you will, a Thai Costco. That's what it is. It is as big, if not bigger than any Costco I've ever been to, and it is entirely Thai (and some other Southeast Asian) food, cookware and household products. It is open for retail. Someone was grilling satay in the parking lot. Kids were tormenting the giant fish in the moat that runs along the front of the place. No one was speaking English. I felt right at home. It's Los Angeles.

Then I went home, where the garden has gone apeshit.

There aren't a whole lot of other places in the world where you can do all this in the course of a few hours.

14 March 2008


Hillary. I even voted for her in the California primary. I figure that barring reactions to unforeseen circumstances, even the greatest, most effective presidents have a small window of opportunity to get the best of their politicking done, especially when it comes to dealing with domestic issues. In his first year in office, before Vietnam wrecked everything, LBJ pushed through Congress the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the War on Poverty and numerous other significant legislation from which we have benefited since. A lot of FDR's New Deal was put into place in his first year. I don't like a lot of what Reagan accomplished, but much of it happened in his first year.

After the first year, politics sets in and everyone in government spends more time looking to their own reelection - the most important part of which is money raising - than they do to the common good. It's one of the reasons why every single presidential election really ends up being about domestic issues; the economy, taxes, health and education, the bread and butter of daily life. Those are the things the president is best equipped to deal with as soon as they get over their hangover from the inaugural balls.

And there's a whole lot of domestic business that needs attending to in this country, having been sorely neglected over the last seven years.

Which is why I voted for Hillary. I don't particularly like her style. I hate her war mongering on Iraq. I think she rubs too many people the wrong way. (A lot of which I think is unfair. If she was a man doing and saying the same things, I think it wouldn't be a problem for her.) But, I do, or did, buy the argument that she could hit the ground running as president. She hasn't been in the Senate all that much longer than Obama, but enough. And for even longer than that she's been well positioned to get a feel for how things work between the Executive and Legislative branches. She has been a highly effective senator because of her ability to navigate the maze of stupidity and venality that makes up the Congress. And she even seems able and willing to work with Republicans to get things done.

I figured that Hillary could get more done in her first year in office than Obama could, and that first year is going to be vital in getting the country back on the right track.

Now, I'm not so sure. The manner in which she has handled, or rather mishandled, her campaign makes me worry about her abilities to orchestrate the more crucial political tasks she'd face as president. She's not particularly inspiring, and I can live with that. A great leader is both inspiring and effective, but that's a very rare combination. I'll settle for effective if I have to choose between the two. (Hell, I was a Richardson supporter when this whole thing started.) I'm beginning to think Hillary might not be as effective on a national level, as she has been in representing her state.

As for Obama, he's certainly inspiring, I'll grant him that. But I still harbor worries about his effectiveness. I've had several interesting conversations with his supporters who seemed to see in him exactly, and just, what they wanted to see. According to one he's a staunch advocate of free trade. According to another he'll protect American jobs by putting up barriers to some imports and outsourcing. He doesn't have enough of an actual track record for me to get a strong sense of him.

Obama reminds me of JFK and that worries me. Kennedy was inspiring all right. He was also a lousy president. People tend to forget that because he was handsome and assassinated young. Some people say he didn't have time to accomplish much. Hey, what about that first year in office thing? He didn't have the political courage, or clout, to push for civil rights legislation when it might have been even easier for him than for Johnson. He didn't have the courage or foresight or maybe clout to begin pulling us out of the increasingly nasty foreign entanglements in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and even a couple in Africa, that Eisenhower had begun to ease us into. He elevated tensions with the first moderate government to show up in the Soviet Union since its creation, helping put the whole world at risk. But hey, he gave some great speeches.

Hopefully there's more to Obama than there was to JFK, hopefully a lot more. It's looking increasingly like we'll get a chance to find out. (That is, if a black man really can get elected president. I still think we're a lot more racist of a country than we like to think we are.) I will vote for him enthusiastically. I like what he represents. I love it that at long last we have a choice between a woman and a non-white candidate for president. And he's right, it is time for a change. I just wish I had a bit better feel for what that change might really be or how it's going to happen.

And the alternative? Well, there is no alternative. John McCain has a mostly terrible track record. I disagree with about 85 percent of his votes as a senator. I don't trust him as far as I could throw him when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices. And most recently, despite having suffered terribly as a prisoner of war himself, he voted against the bill that would ban waterboarding - among other forms of torture - by all representatives of the U.S. (Something he seemed to be in favor of when he didn't need to court the conservative vote.)


I just returned from my latest book oriented road trip. L.A. to Tucson to Santa Fe to Denver (for Left Coast Crime) to Las Vegas to home. Here's some photographic evidence:
They weren't in bloom yet, but I've always loved saguaro cacti, ever since seeing them in cartoons as a kid.
I've also always loved baseball, especially during spring training when it's more casual than usual. (And I'm impressed with my new camera and lens, too. Note the ball.)
Bald men seem to be in great demand at Crime writing conferences. I'd consider shaving my head if I wasn't convinced it has an odd shape. (The highly paid escort? Nobel Peace Prize laureate? Astronaut? Webmistress? in the middle is disguised at her request.)
Three guys vying for the attention of the same girl - our agent, Janet Reid, who wasn't there. (Me, Bill Cameron and Colin Campbell at the bar. Where else would we be? It was a writer's conference.)
The view from my hotel room in Las Vegas. The highlight of my brief stay in the city - besides dinner with friends - was a conversation at a bar at Planet Hollywood Casino (the current "casino girl" hangout of choice) with a young, blond hooker. She was demurely dressed in jeans and a simple blouse with only a top button undone. I knew she was a hooker only from her slow cruise around the bar before settling into a chair, her body language, the way she smiled at me several times and, well, there were the shoes, too, of course. Any number of the other women in the place looked a whole lot more like the hookers you see on TV and in the movies. Only they weren't. And she complained about it when I bought her a drink. "With all these straight girls dressing like whores, it makes it hard for me," she said. The thing is, despite the legal brothels in the state, despite the whole "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" thing, it's still illegal for prostitutes to ply their trade in the casinos. Sometimes it's enforced more seriously than others. Marie, who I was talking with, had recently spent 11 days in the slammer for having picked a guy up at Caesar's Palace. So she tried to dress down, not be too obvious. But when all these straight girls were distracting the potential customers with their sleazy dress, she had to try harder to make her business known in other ways. And that puts her at greater risk of being busted. And she doesn't make nearly the kind of money that Governor Spitzer's squeeze does. I felt for her. She wouldn't let me take her picture.