31 January 2009


I think he's guilty. You think he's guilty. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't think he's guilty.

But this is the United States. One of the greatest things about its legal system is that people suspected of crimes are innocent until they are proven guilty in a court proceeding. It is one of the things that, despite all its other faults, sets our country above so many others.

So, how can the Illinois governor be thrown out of office for what are still only suspected, not proven, crimes? Doesn't that set an ugly precedent? What's to say that a zealous district attorney can't drum up false charges against a political leader he doesn't like, have him arrested and have that, rather than any actual conviction, lead to the politician's impeachment?

When someone is arrested for murder, they are usually kept locked up until the trial is over, even if they are later found innocent. That's to protect the public from potential harm while the trial is going on. I am not familiar with Illinois law, but perhaps there was a similar option available to the state legislature - a suspension of the governor's powers until the criminal matters were resolved.

As much as I think he probably is guilty, the fact of the matter is that now ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been thrown out of office for merely being suspected of crimes and malfeasance. And I do not like that.

If, however, the Illinois legislature had had the wisdom to toss him out on his ear for his haircut, well, I could have got behind that.

30 January 2009


I've got a friend whose husband recently lost his job in banking. He's pretty much the sole financial supporter of his family: himself, my friend, and their two kids. I hope he got his annual "bonus" at the end of last year before he got laid off.

You might wonder why I put "bonus" in quotes. Well, there are bonuses and then there are bonuses and lately, with the news of Wall Street firms paying out $18.4 billion in bonuses at the end of last year, it's become something of a dirty word. But, consider the fact that about 125 thousand people split all that money, (the average Wall Street bonus last year came to $112,000), and some of them really deserved it, needed it even. Like most things in economics, and especially in politics, it isn't as clear cut as it might seem.

Now don't get me wrong. I think John Thain, former head of Merrill Lynch, and any number of other scumbags who whooped it up with their company's money as the companies faltered and then collapsed, ought to go to jail. And not some white collar jail. I'd like to see how they do on a tier at San Quentin.

But most of the people who received their bonuses at the end of last year were like the husband of my friend. They were people who worked their assess off, at relatively modest - for the financial industry - salaries, who counted on their "bonus" to make their nut at the end of the year.

The thing is, a lot of what are called "bonuses" - and in the financial industry more than most - are really no more than a contracted part of a salary package. They aren't really bonuses at all. It's a way that companies have of rear-loading an employee's pay. There are all kinds of financial advantages to companies that do that.

It works like this: A company hires someone for a hundred thousand dollars a year, but it's broken up in the form of a five thousand bucks a month salary and a forty thousand dollar guaranteed "bonus" at the end of the year.

According to Webster's dictionary, a bonus is "something in addition to that which is expected or strictly due." By definition, I don't think you can guarantee a bonus.

Undoubtedly there were plenty of miscreants who stole real bonuses from their companies at the end of last year. (Although if they stole it, they no doubt knew what to expect, it's the "strictly due" part of the definition that trips them up.) And that's a crime, or ought to be.

But, most of the people who shared in that $18.4 billion were in the boat with my friend's husband. The boat where the "bonus" was just another part of their agreed upon salary and they needed it.

Unfortunately politics doesn't allow for much nuance. With regard to the slimeball crooks who stole real bonuses from their companies, I think President Obama's words weren't even harsh enough. But for the majority of hard working, honest employees who were included in that $18.4 billion, many of whom were also victims of the venality of their bosses, I feel nothing but sympathy.

So, here's a couple of things you can do to stretch those meager "bonuses" a bit further:
Jurassic is a Taiwanese theme restaurant / beerhall. Food's great (especially the basil and the claypot dishes), beer's just fine, waitresses are cute (Winnie, the one on the far right is an economics student at UCLA who's from Shanghai) and the place is wonderfully kitsch. And it's fairly cheap, too. What more could you want?
15301 Gale Ave.
City of Industry, CA

You can find al pastor tacos all over town, but these are some of the best I've found yet. (Some great looking chorizo and chicken, too.) Nights only, in front of El Nuevo Jalisco restaurant at
3017 North Main St.
Los Angeles, CA

19 January 2009


I was, to say the least, skeptical, cynical, horrified even at the opening scenes of yesterday's pre-Inauguration celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Military drummers and trumpeters, in tight formation, played a fanfare worthy of an emperor as Obama the anointed one made an entry that wouldn't have seemed out of place in HBO's previous spectacle - Rome.

I was thinking, much as I like Obama, as much as I agree with him on a lot of things, maybe it is getting to be time to flee the country.

Then Bruce Springsteen opened the show with one of his insipid, faux anthems and I almost changed the channel. Which, thankfully, we still have the right and ability to do. Unlike in, say, North Korea.

In the end, I watched the whole thing. Well, I fast forwarded through a few parts; the rest of Bruce, the Navy Glee Club (they brought no glee to me), that man and woman who I think were from American Idol, things like that. And hey, didn't Stevie Wonder just mop the floor with that weak-voiced Usher guy?

Biden's speech, well, it was a Biden speech only mercifully a whole lot shorter. And Obama's speech was stirring, inspiring, the sort of thing he does so well.

And then they brought Pete Seeger on stage for the rousing finale of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land (which I have long thought ought to be the national anthem) and I just lost it. Tears began to stream down my face. I shook and gulped and just plain fell apart.

It's not that I have some great love for Pete Seeger. I've always thought he was sort of corny and annoying. And I'm not at all big on banjos. But there he was, in some deep, unconscious way representing much of what made me. Representing the radicalism and ideals of the '30s, '40s, '50s and the '60s when I was young and idealistic and obnoxious and a radical and believed in right and wrong and a world revolution that fell down on the right side of things.

Of course there was a lot wrong with that. In 1966 I thrilled that young Chinese people were following Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution into a state of "permanent revolution." I had my own copy of The Red Book that I'd wave around at demonstrations. In retrospect I know that millions of people were cynically slaughtered in what was really no more idealistic than any other naked power play. I idealized, and romanticized, Che Guevera and his attempts to export Cuba's revolution around the world. I know now what a murderous, duplicitous ineffectual killer he was.

And yet there was Pete Seeger, long time radical, a man who had been jailed and censured and beaten for his beliefs and his activities. And in spite of his reminding me of the folly of my youth, he also reminded me of the excitement and the optimism and the clarity (even if it was only an illusion) and the depth of feeling for issues and the lack of cynicism that all played a huge role in making me who I am.

He reminded me of Gil Turner, an old, now long dead, friend, a lapsed Baptist preacher and folk singer and activist. Gil organized the troupe of folk singers to accompany the Civil Rights marches through the south. He wrote the song "Carry It On" which was probably the second best known civil rights anthem after "We Shall Overcome." He was the first person, ever, to publically sing, then record his friend Bob Dylan's song, "Blowin' In the Wind." He was a huge man in every sense of the word. I drank with him. I dropped acid with him. I listened to him talk and sing and play guitar. I was a teenager and he was in his thirties and I never knew him as well as I'd have liked to. And to this day he's one of the two or three most remarkable, powerful people I've ever met.

And Pete Seeger (who was one of the people Gil used to hang out with) on stage reminded me of Gil and all the awe and respect in which I held him and the things he stood for and worked for.

And it reminded me of my mom and her incredible enthusiasm for life and people and the arts and people who she felt were working to do the right thing. And it made me very sad all over again that she died four years ago and wasn't around for me to hear her going on at near obnoxious lengths about how great it is to see Pete Seeger still alive and singing and just there, just plain there on stage in front of all those people in D.C. at an event like this.

And there was something about it all that seemed like the last shovel of dirt being tossed over the grave of the world that made me who I am. So I guess I was crying some for myself as well.

I know well enough that Barack Obama becoming President is not the end of racism. It is not the end of any of the terrible things that make up so much of our world. But there is something magical about it. Something hopeful. Something new. Something that I very much want to believe will lead to a better world.

The realistic side of me, some might say the cynical side, knows that the world hasn't, and isn't going to change all that much for the better in my, or anyone else's lifetime. It's a continuum. The old world never really dies, it just shifts and the forms of misery and suffering and stupidity and corruption just shift with it.

And yet there are things that do improve. For all of its dire faults, the world today is actually better than it was when I was born, at least for everyone reading this and even for most people - though not all by a long shot.

The world that I grew up in, the people and places and events that cut me into the person I am today, does in many ways feel like it's died and been buried. And that makes me sad, even though I also know that's a good thing. And unfortunately, I don't know that anyone's youth ever rests in peace. I'm pretty sure mine isn't going to.

(Okay, so I know that was all sort of rambling and nonsensical. Really, I do. I haven't lost my mind. At least not completely. But I'm still not totally sure of all the reasons why I started blubbering watching Pete Seeger last night and I'm trying to work it out. So I figured I'd take it out on all of you. Thanks for listening / reading.)

13 January 2009


I've been suffering inertia, not having anything all that significant to say lately. The end of one year, the beginning of the next, are not supposed to be like that. It's supposed to be a time to reflect on the past and ponder the future and those ought to be natural topics for a writer. Or a blogger. Or a pontificator. Like me.

But my thinking's been more scattershot lately. Not that there hasn't been any. Here's some of it.

Google Books Settlement: Looks like I'm going to get sixty bucks per book of mine that Google has scanned and made available for free online. (Minus my agent's 15 percent, of course.) Big whoop.

This settlement sucks.

It's not likely to happen, but what if a million people read my books for free online. I still get paid sixty bucks for that. That's all. The way Google charges for ads is that you pay for the ad, and then you pay a commission per click after that. A fair settlement for us writers would have looked something like that. Perhaps an initial payment of sixty bucks and then a little something per click after that. If they had wanted to use the old-fashioned publishing model, they could pay per click only after the clicks had added up to the initial (advance) payment.

Sixty bucks is better than nothing. But it's further evidence that the whole model of creating something, then selling copies of it, is a dying form of commerce. What, if anything, will replace it so that us writers and photographers and musicians can earn a living? I have no idea and I am not optimistic about the prospects.

But I am thinking about switching my allegiance to another search engine.

Israel and Gaza: Sure, if a pack of vicious assholes are lobbing rockets into your country you have every right to try and stop them doing so. Some sort of military response is necessary. But a measured military response.

Isn't one of the definitions of insanity supposedly that someone keeps doing the same thing over and over again in the same circumstances, expecting different results? Isn't that what Israel is doing?

Israel needs to battle Hamas on at least two fronts, and by that I mean both militarily and diplomatically. It should do its best to pinpoint the rocket launching sites and the people responsible for launching rockets and take those out as surgically and cleanly as possible.

But when it launches a full scale offensive against a heavily populated area, and the casualty figures on the Palestinian side quickly grow to a hundred times what they are on the Israeli side, what do they expect? That's what they've done over and over again and all it has accomplished is to create more militants, to strengthen its enemies' resolve, to create less sympathy for the country around the world, to provoke further and even less containable violence.

So along with a more measured military response, Israel needs to provide proof that it really is willing to live in peace with its neighbors. It needs to get serious about stopping the creation of new settlements on disputed land. It needs to dismantle the illegal settlements that already exist. It needs to stop its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It needs to make it clear that it is willing to sit down at the negotiating table with whoever is necessary to make peace, no matter how distasteful that might be and no matter what the ugly history it has with those people. It needs to show that it can take the high road, and not simply respond to terror with even greater terror.

The Latest Cosmo: There I was at the supermarket checkout line and there it was and what caught my eye, besides the cleavage which I guess is intended to catch the eyes of female readers - since that's the magazine's target audience - was "What Sex Feels Like for Guys."

I have a pretty good idea of what sex feels like for me. And in spite of being a writer who has written more than his fair share of sex scenes, I'd have a hard time adequately describing it. So I was curious as to what Cosmo had to say about it.

Not much, as it turns out. Certainly not much of interest. It all fell into the category of everything in the whole magazine: how to snare and hang on to a man. And of course it offered generalizations about specifics that are almost entirely individual. One man's welcome finger up his butt during a blow job, is another's "what the hell are you doing, get that away from me."

The whole magazine was pretty much like that. And I'm wondering, for any of you women readers out there, do any of you take Cosmo seriously? Do you know anyone who does? Do you think anyone does?

Or is it a comedy publication? I got a lot of good laughs out of it. Hell, I'm considering a subscription.