A Land of Unconfirmed Claims

The County Election, George Caleb Bingham, 1852

We voted Friday after work, at a polling center a mile from Chez UpintheValley, not far from our normal precinct.  There were eight poll workers waiting for us.  The place was empty.

They scanned my bar code and I signed for a ballot on a mobile device. The officiant checked a box cancelling the vote by mail ballot sent to our house.

The ballot was a long piece of thermal paper I inserted into the machine. I worked my way through a series of touch screens. Upon completion I was prompted to review my choices. The tabulator then printed them on the ballot itself, and I was prompted to confirm the physical document matched what was shown onscreen. All was copacetic. I pushed the VOTE button and the machine sucked the ballot inside.

Let’s review. An idiot-proof process, with two fail safe moments, an electronic signature printed on the ballot, a PDF of which is on file with the County Clerk. An electronic tabulation sent to the Board of Elections, and a hard copy to be held in the event of a manual recount.

The imperatives of convenience and integrity duly satisfied, I left with a bounce in my step and an “I Voted” sticker affixed to my shirt like a Boy Scout badge.

Harlem, 1946

Why would we ever alter this?  Why would we mass mail unsolicited ballots to every address in the county, and allow those ballots to be collected or completed by ballot harvesters, members of paid advocacy groups? Why would we allow for drop boxes when we have the Postal Service? Why would we allow a growing portion of the ballots to enter the system without a chain of custody?

Above all, why do we no longer have an Election Day? What reason, but for fraud, do we allow ballots to be accepted for 7 days after this Tuesday?

You didn’t know that? Neither did I until the primary in June, when Rick Caruso “won” the vote 41-38, only to “lose” in July, 43-36, after all the E+7 ballots trickled in.

That’s what they call it. E+7. If it has a plus sign, it must be harmless, right? Helpful. Progressive and Good. The Times deployed various linguistic constructions to explain the tardy ballots: last minute; late arriving; or just late; while remaining awfully coy as to just what the percentages were, before and after Election Day.

Allowing large tranches of votes to arrive after Tuesday is like allowing extra innings in a game in which one team is leading by a run with three outs in the bottom of the ninth. It’s a form of do-over.

Twitter

Get ready for plenty more of this pre-emptive scolding, pre-bunking, to use NPR terminology, encouraging you to discount the evidence of your own eyes, and the memory sickness you retain of the old, bad, revanchist America of 1776-2016, when votes were tabulated on Election night.

What happens if Rick Caruso is leading by two points on Tuesday? Around the rest of the country -Red States mainly- races will be tabulated and called by midnight, concession speeches made, recriminations begun, but in L.A….the gaslighting descends.

As hours become days of uncertainty, in which no local journalist demands explanation from the Kremlin-like County Clerk in Norwalk, and we are progressively acclimated to the idea Los Angeles as uniquely helpless in tabulating votes in a timely manner..is anyone going to do anything about it?

If the numbers are going against Bass, I can guarantee the Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles chapter will be doing something. They’ve been working for this moment.  They have their shit together. They’re organized. This is their make-or-break year.

You and me?  We’re only homeowners in the Valley. Back in the day, we passed Prop. 13 and stopped busing in its tracks. Now we’re just schmucks with unconfirmed claims™…

Goldwater Girl, Panorama City, 1964

The Tears of Bonin

NY Times

If you want to know who rules you, ask who you are not allowed to criticize.  If the last three weeks in Los Angeles have taught us anything of our meticulously curated hierarchy of intersectional grievance, Mike Bonin, westside councilperson and Injured Gay Parent™ stands at the top. His tears are his megaphone.

Dabbing theatrically, he had a prescription for setting things right. To ameliorate the grievance suffered at the mouth of Queen Nury, the banished witch, the good citizens of L.A. needed to vote in a slate of progressive candidates. Then he named them, one by one. On live local TV.

All DSA or DSA-endorsed people.

We are asked to pretend this is about Doing The Work of this Journey We Are All On, and not, you know, a City Council coup, a brass knuckled back room putsch.

In January, before the timely intervention of County Clerk Dean Logan (an act of bureaucratic grace extended seven months later to George Gascon) Bonin was on the verge of being recalled.

Now he’s dictating terms to the rest of us for after he leaves. Starting with demanding the additional defenestration of Kevin De Leon who said nothing which merits resignation. A man whose political crime was one of being changuito adjacent on a surreptitious recording.

The recording, over a year old, was held in reserve until it would trigger two special elections, favorable to the left.  A thunderous silence, a journalistic incuriosity bordering on senility, hangs over its provenance.

Now the BLM/DSA mobs are camped in front of De Leon’s house in Eagle Rock with laser pointers, giving the full Kavanaugh treatment, demanding capitulation. How many times must he be told to resign? wonders the Times. They can’t get their heads around this defiance, this bucking of the pecking order.

For 30 years Harold Meyerson predicted a Los Angeles run by a critical mass of Latino labor. The mass was achieved decades ago yet Latinos remain underrepresented on the Council, four seats out of fifteen, two of which are about to be decapitated to satisfy the demands of a coalition of gentry liberals and Gen Z socialists. Progress! It only seems like an obvious turn of events in retrospect.

Herein the elusive dividing line is laid bare. On one side: essential labor, working class striving. On the other: the laptop class and young people with too little wisdom and too much time on their hands.

Wokeness launders privilege. You end up with the absurdity of people in $1.5 million houses in Glassell Park decorating their yards with signs for Eunessis Hernandez, who supports the abolition of the police department. You end up with anti-gentrifiers picketing Dunsmoor restaurant because it has $23 lentils on the menu, while ignoring the massive tip pool it creates front and back of house down to the busboy who works double shifts on Sunday and banks a $3000 check.

The road to working class uplift is paved with bougie lentils. The road to civic perdition is paved with language police but no law and order.

Can’t believe I’m writing this, but hang in there, Kevin de Leon, you corrupt ambitious political hack. Apres toi, le deluge.

Mike Bonin, good riddance.

A Postcard from Sorosville

So here’s a small data point in our current disintegration.  I ordered an item from Lululemon, a feminine wife-flattering thing.

Given the supply chain constraints, there was suspense as to whether it would arrive in time for Christmas, a tiny leaf floating in the River Ganges of holiday commerce from Groveport, Ohio to Hardin, MO to Mayfield, KS to Canyon, TX to Topock, AZ…dots on the railroad map, clocking in every 12 hours, before disappearing the night of Dec. 23rd at an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The shipping container, or its contents, never made it to the distribution hub. For eleven days, radio silence. Then an alert from FedEx the item was at long last on a delivery truck in Sun Valley.

Eleven days sounds to me like they sent a new package across the country. Theoretically, the shipping container itself could have been misrouted in the intermodal transport system.  I find this explanation on a low order of probability.

A differential diagnosis suggests it was waylaid by package pirates in Lincoln Heights. Or the other banditry choke point, outside Pomona.

Ninety containers are compromised (read: broken into) per day.

Union Pacific has made “over 100 arrests of active criminals vandalizing trains” in L.A. County. Per a special directive from D.A. George Gascon all were released within 24 hours. Of the arrests, none to date have resulted in court proceedings.

Add train robbery to the growing list of unenforced felonies in Sorosville.  A pry bar, bolt cutters and a willingness to climb a slow moving flat car and you too can be Butch Cassidy.

It’s baked into the price of everything we do now.  So let us break out the world’s tiniest violin for Mrs. UpintheValley’s late arriving gift.  As I said, a small thing, a mere data point in a sea of annoyance. There are families with real grief this week.

Sandra Shells, ER nurse, attacked without provocation at a bus stop at Union Station, succumbed to a brain bleed after her head struck the pavement.

Brianna, unrequited martyr?

Brianna Kupfer, an architecture grad student knifed to death in Croft House, an upscale boutique on La Brea Avenue, mid-afternoon.

Money was not a motive in either attack. Straight murder, nasty, brutish and pointless.

The killer, masked, backpack and hoodie, anonymous and indistinguishable from the army of shambling street people is as of this writing still at large. I will go on record now and predict he has been in custody and released without sentencing for other crimes in the past two years, probably more than once.

Brianna calls to mind Polly Klaas, all grown up. If ever there was a designated victim tailor-made to galvanize the public into a ferocious response it is she. If ever there was a face to push Westside liberals off the sidelines, to make them stakeholders in the unfolding tragedy they helped to set in motion, this is it.

I’m not sure it’s going to happen. Los Angeles of the 90s had the moral sense to boo Robert Shapiro at the Laker game during the O.J. trial, to vote for broken windows policing and three strikes laws.  It had a very different media. It didn’t have out of town billionaires writing checks to install our carpetbagging fashionista D.A.

The man in the tailored suit who swore an oath uphold the law had this to say: “The reality is that we go through these cycles, and we go through the cycles for a variety of reasons … In many ways we cannot prosecute our way out of social inequalities, income inequalities, the unhoused, the desperation that we have.” 

Prosecution is exactly how we rid ourselves of this scourge. Inequality, however defined, and housing status will be with us always.

Being right is of no use at the moment.  It has little persuasive value. It has no name in the street. Persuasion is in the hands of an ever smaller coterie of people who own/curate our media feed. They simply cannot afford to let Brianna become Polly.

Counterintuitively, working class strongholds like Van Nuys might be at an advantage right now. We’re not a soft target. We see you coming.

Valley of Ghosts

The writing is on the wall, say the people who have left L.A., people now safely ensconced in the bluest dot available in a red state, the people to whom I listen on podcasts while walking the dogs in the early darkness that comes at 5pm now.

My Valley is haunted by the ghosts of those who have left but also those who have retreated indoors where a certain kind of life can be cultivated through the meticulous curation of deferred dreams and a supporting cast of delivery people.

But outside…the city we know and love is going away, piece by piece. First the reciprocal bonds of citizenship, then guardrails of safety, now tolerance and civility.

I step around people like this man multiple times a day, and no longer marvel at how much money swirls the drain, how many six figure salaries are paid out in Los Angeles to service ghosts.

Instead I wonder what ghosts dream of when they reach for the sidewalk.    What have they discarded in their crawl to perdition?

People used to arrive in the Valley with ambitions as basic as an affordable apartment or as grandiose as YouTube stardom. Now they come to colonize public spaces in a medicated permanent twilight.

This is not the worst urban malady, only the most visible one.  De-policing, vax mandate-related layoffs and the institutionalized hypocrisy of the elites will inflict greater long-term harm.

Who with influence over public policy practices the inclusivity he preaches? I shouldn’t use the categorical, but yeah, basically no one.

The Alexan, NoHo West

And yet…while all this is unfolding, construction continues apace. The pre-2020 fever dreams of an urbanized, vertical Valley remain in a state of forward momentum. For now.   Like a freighter coasting to port on a dead propeller.

As these urban villages go online, what happens if there are few takers for the new units?    I can think of two recently completed buildings in Van Nuys at around 25% capacity, going by all the unlit windows.  With hundreds more units completing in the next six months we’ll learn just how viable Los Angeles remains.

We’re poised between two fates. Boarded up storefronts and lifestyle emporiums on the same block.  We cling to the memory of 2019 in the expectation a course correction is due any day, because…because it has to, right? Things are not as bad as 1992, not yet, and we came back from that, right?

America of 1992 had very different demographics, a shared narrative, and wasn’t living in a state of permanent gaslighting.  It didn’t have depraved billionaires funding political street violence and installing prosecutors who refuse to enforce laws.

The recall of D.A. George Gascon, an easy sell ten years ago, failed twice to gather enough signatures.  Los Angeles 3.0 will have to find a way to transcend our historic political paradigm if its going to work.

For now I am obliged to place my faith (and hard won equity) in working-class Latinos, Armenian and Korean merchants to practice a California version of Irish Democracy.  I hope for a golden mean between the chaos unleashed by the Clerisy and the self-interest of honest people who don’t have Laptop Jobs and the luxury of partaking in the urban exodus, people who will fight, if not for the city as a whole, then at least for the block they live on.

That’s the ghost I cling to.  Sometimes I am, to paraphrase a dear friend, my own worst enemy.

Fiefdoms

Midnight Mission, 1964
Charles and Brenda Van Enger, living out of van, 1984
Rally in support of AB 2579, a $10 million homeless initiative. First of many. 1984
Los Angeles in flames, 2021. Five years after Prop. HHH

If we build it, they will come. If we fund it, they will stay. If we tell them there shall be no rules about flammables, there will be five encampment fires a day.

We are four decades into abatement schemes and the more money we throw at the favela, the greater the number of tents we have, the larger the encampments.  We have multi-story structures now, cobbled out of scrap wood and plastic, kitted out with big screen TVs and slash pools, generators and barbecue grills. We spend a billion dollars a year now in LA County, not including police and fire, to service the unhoused.  Let’s call it what it is: a business, an industry, farming people like a crop.

Ugly metaphor? Perhaps. Inaccurate?  You tell me.

Here is the Raymer Street pedestrian bridge, an ADA compliant right-0f-way for students atttending Fulton Middle School.  This is what 11-year-olds have to walk through twice a day. At either end people smoke crack openly, within grabbing distance of passerby.  This state of nature has been in place, uninterrupted, for over a year.

Would you let you kid walk here? Probably not. This is known as adverse possession. A public conveyance now belongs to the favela,  managed by Homeless, Inc., the key participants whom feed off the giant tit known as the City of Los Angeles, then go home to sleep in the neat orderly satellite cities like Glendale, where no one is allowed to camp or park overnight.

Don’t look now, but change might be brewing in Los Angeles. In July the City Council quietly altered Municipal Code 41.18 as follows:

“The ordinance prohibits sitting, sleeping, and keeping belongings within ten feet of a driveway or loading dock, within two feet of a fire hydrant, or in a way that obstruct sidewalks or right-of-ways. It also gives council members the ability to flag encampments near sensitive sites in their districts—daycares, schools, parks, libraries, freeway underpasses and on ramps—without establishing a blanket ban on camping in those places. Enforcement in those locations can’t take place until the City Council has reviewed the location and voted to approve action being taken.”

A concern among homeless advocates is that the ordinance will be utilized differently by council members in various districts, creating “mini fiefdoms,” as Elizabeth Mitchell of the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights put it.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the ordinance, says it gives he and his counterparts the freedom to “take action as deemed appropriate” when a problematic encampment has been identified in a sensitive area.

Yay, fiefdoms!  Mr. UpintheValley approves.

There are two interpretations of 41.18:  it’s either A) Kabuki theater, unenforceable by design.  What is the criteria for “obstruction”?  If its statutory, why should each eviction require a vote?  I see opportunity for the Council to masquerade as responding to public outrage while pretending their hands are tied by others.

Or B)  Leverage. 41.18 has usable teeth and each council member will now have the ability to establish how much chaos will be tolerated in his/her district, and act accordingly.   Nury Martinez, in theory, could turn Van Nuys into the Glendale of LA by enforcing anti-camping laws within her district. Mike Bonin can continue to hand over the beaches and parks to temporary™ housing solutions and answer to his voters.  Performance discrepancies between districts will no longer be off-loaded to “systemic complexities” of the issue.

Self-responsibility is not a burden I see the council taking on willingly.   So I suspect the answer was going to be A. Or would have until recently.

https://twitter.com/recallbonin2021/

Now there is a wrinkle.  A big one. The recall elections in District 4 and 11.  Don’t know about Nithya Raman, but Bonin might be toast. I work his district every weekend and hear the loud talk of people determined to speak freely  and to cast ballots in anger.

There are lots of angry homeowners in the Valley as well, but we are too busy subdividing amongst ourselves over Trump or BLM or personal grievances to organize. Besides, who would listen to us?  Venice eats up all the good press.

Tellingly, the last non-machine candidate elected to the City Council was also from Venice, Ruth Galanter in 1987.  Since then, the uniparty has gone approximately 120-0 in local races. With dominance comes disregard. The recalls might alter that calculus.

About thirty years ago a revolution took place in urban policing, beginning in New York.  Precinct captains were required to stand in full dress before their peers and answer for the crime stats in the neighborhoods under their watch.  No longer could one shrug: don’t blame me. It’s Snake Plissken country out there. 

It’s time for each Councilmember to be made the sheriff of his district.

The ADU Revolution in action

The most impactful structural changes come in under the radar.   Has anything done more to increase housing supply within the zoning footprint of LA without distorting residential neighborhoods than the ADU law? It has added to the tax base, put additional equity onto homeowners balance sheets and didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.

If successful, the Recalls + 41.18 might, might, set in motion an era of accountability. What a delicious irony it would be if the first blow against the machine occurred as an expression of tribal solidarity by upscale white liberals.

*Historical photos courtesy of LA Herald-Examiner Collection

The Pushcart Permanent Assurance

So I arrived for my appointment at Firestone in downtown Van Nuys yesterday for a pair of replacement tires, and was told:  “We’re running a little behind. We can get to it in two hours.”  Of nine service bays, only two were operational.  They were short on manpower, a downstream consequence of America paying people to stay home and not work on the 493rd day of 15 Days to Slow The Spread.

I adjourned to MacLeod to enjoy a pint while I waited. On Erwin St. I encountered this remarkable example of bespoke mobile architecture.  Clean, uncluttered, and minimalist. A privacy compartment of salvaged doors rolling on a stolen Home Depot cart, topped by a bunkbed. If Marie Kondo took to the streets she might come up with something like this.

A sheet flapped in the breeze like a sail, sheltering the shirtless, tattooed man sleeping inside.  It made me think of sailors stacked in bunks and the domestic rituals of prison space.  A glorious workaround to the territorial disputes among People of the Favela.  In the event of flammables, one merely needs to roll around the corner.

Across the street a new five-story, 45 unit building is about to open its apartments to the rental market.  After the five low-income units are filled, the number of people sleeping on the sidewalk of Erwin St. will not change. Behold the Vertical Valley, in a single frame.

For we are living in an era of lawless improvisation.

Chava Sanchez/LAist

After 17 months of paying the poor and the working class to remain idle, the occupant of the White House has decreed through the office of the CDC paying rent is now optional.  Biden has about as much Constitutional predicate for this as I do to shit on the sidewalk, but who in my beloved Los Angeles is gonna stop me?

In case there was confusion the Supreme Court issued a friendly reminder, called a ruling, stating he has no authority to do this. Biden is doing it anyway. Who’s gonna stop him, the NY Times? The Republicans? Heh.

Rent will not be “cancelled”. It will be paid by the federal government printing money like a khat gobbling Zimbabwean warlord and giving it to those landlords willing to accept 80 cents on the dollar after extensive paperwork.  We are doing this while jobs go unfilled everywhere.  Like at Firestone, where after two hours no one could be found to crank a wrench for $60 labor cost per tire.

This morning I went to trusty Ivan, Peruvian immigrant, who got it done in an hour for a little over half the price. He has a lease on a stall and he’s got rent to pay.

Speaking of lawless improvisation:

People By the Freeway Cook With Gas

Thin orange line behind Orion Street

Biking home from the gym yesterday, great plumes of black smoke near the 405 announced another homeless fire, or the launch of encampment fire season, as we now know it in the Valley.

Technically this isn’t true, the season got off to a running start on Friday with a one acre burn in the Sepulveda Basin that was doused by helicopter.

But the Basin is always burning. At any hour of the day, butane is igniting. Meth pipes are roasting like s’mores. Cigarettes and blunts are sucked down to the nubby entrails and tossed to the winds. Ramen noodles boil over campstoves.  Disputes and debts are settled flammably.  It’s only a question of how much brush gets involved.

In this case the unhoused have squeezed into the narrow no mans land between the sound abatement wall of the 405 and the back fences of the people who live on Orion Street.   They don’t get away with that in Midvale Estates, but in the sweaty flatlands of working class Latino North Hills with its own portion of unpermitted backyard structures people are less inclined to go to the authorities.

When the only thing separating the feral from the domesticated is a kindling line of sun-scorched lacquered wood the tragedy of the commons is waiting. The flames licked their way across the fictional divide of public and private space to what LAFD delicately referred to in the incident report as “outbuildings”, destroying several before being extinguished. All credit to the Fire Dept. for saving the houses proper.

Not half a mile from here sits the former Panorama Motel, recently purchased by the City for conversion to interim housing for people sleeping within 500 feet of a freeway.  It is one of ten motel purchases under Project Homekey.  Cost: $105 million. Total served: 536. At $195,895 per head, it is more expensive than the $130K/unit Tiny Home Villages, but a bargain next to the perpetually-in-the-near-future $700K homeless condos downtown.

My question is this: in the fall, after the Panorama Motel is retrofitted transitional housing, will there be more people living by the 405, or less? Will I no longer see people clustered on the off-ramp?  If the number remains unchanged or worse, wouldn’t that be a refutation of the “housing first” policy?  This will be our acid test.

Maybe it will work. I hope it does.

Four years after passing Props. H and HHH, the homeless population has increased by a third.  The fires however, are daily. That’s a new wrinkle.

For dollar value may I suggest the very un-flammable quonset hut? It was good enough for Gomer Pyle…

I, For One, Welcome Our Corporate-Sponsored Overlords

Rich wypipo say, look at me

Would you be a cop today?  If you were a strapping young man or woman with a strong sense of civic duty, would you sign up for a career?  Would you encourage your child? If you were  already a cop, in say, Los Angeles, would you put in for a transfer to a rural jurisdiction or take early retirement? If you are mid-career and the rural departments are full up, and you’re stuck in LA waiting out your 20, how proactive are you going to be?  If theft under $1000, mugging and assault are now misdemeanors (provided no gun is used), how much effort are you going to exert chasing violators?

Police encounter uncooperative suspects in a state of acute drug intoxication every day.  There are protocols for this. Those protocols were followed in the case of George Floyd. Up until the last three minutes of the encounter, that is. The prosecution conceded as much at trial.  Now Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder. Not negligence. Not a failure to exercise caution. Murder, of a man with advanced arterio-sclerosis and a lethal level of fentanyl in his system. A man who had overdosed on fentanyl several months prior and for which he was hospitalized for five days. A man who left two chewed fentanyl tablets in the back seat of the police car with his DNA on them.  Nine minutes with a knee across the shoulder blades is not going to induce cardiac arrest in a healthy person. Don’t believe me? Try it at home.

Chauvin inspires little empathy from me. He was negligent. I worry about the badge, not the man. I worry about the thin blue line, forgive the cliche, separating civilization from barbarism.

What happens to police work now? For starters, physical contact with violent subjects will drop away to nothing.  Unless you’re charging at someone with a knife. Oh, wait…

Columbus, Ohio, the day the Chauvin verdict was read

After Chauvin, cops will no longer be proactive. They will drive by and wave. They will show up to take statements and file incident reports. Protection? Not so much. The broken-windows model, the one that transformed every shitty realm in LA, the policy which allowed the historical neighborhoods to rediscover their former glory, the policy that put equity into the hands of so many working class people, is now inoperative. We are entering the realm of No Handcuffs for Violent People.  How does this effect Van Nuys? Too early to tell.  How about the mortgage-holders in the neighborhoods in proximity to DTLA? Not good. Not good at all.

Mark Zuckerberg underwrites a private army worthy of Pablo Escobar. There are 6,000 security people on the Facebook payroll, $18 million per year dedicated to his detail alone. There is an escape chute in his office that goes to an underground garage and a waiting vehicle, staffed by ex-Secret Service and military people.  He maintains this posture of maximum deterrence while living in Palo Alto, the least diverse and safest city in California.  All while donating millions to the Racial Justice Accelerator Fund, which backs BLM, George Gascon, and various pro-crime initiatives, including the effort to de-felonize mugging and assault down here in L.A.  He’s not alone in this. Jack Dorsey, Laurene Powell Jobs, Mackenzie Scott, Dustin Moskowitz, Patty Quillan, all heavy donors to The Cause. (That’s Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, if you were wondering)

The widow Jobs, and one of her many homes

Lets unpack this.  The wealthiest cohort in California is funding political street violence and altering laws that allow a very diverse population -lesbian Wiccan schoolteachers to chain-smoking Armenian bodyshop owners- to amicably share space.  Truly remarkable, when you think about it, 17 million people speaking 43 different languages can share L.A. roads every morning, conduct commerce, work amongst one other despite incompatible and mutually exclusive understandings of the cosmos, socialize and dine, with a minimum of friction. This is possible due to agreed upon societal guardrails, developed over centuries.  Los Angeles is the anti-Lebanon, the living rebuke to the idea Diversity+Proximity=War.

What if Palo Alto decides: let’s burn it all down in the name of perfection. That couldn’t really happen, right? Only in dystopian fiction…

Well….a small sliver of the population provides most of the funding for left wing causes. A handful of editors and producers at the Times and the networks set the narrative of our news feed. A microscopic percentage of the people who work in the entertainment industry decide what programs and films are greenlit. A tiny subset of administrators and admissions officers can impose Critical Race Theory on the education system by fiat, determining who is allowed to ascend into the professional classes. Five people and their advisors control the platforms on which freedom of speech is exercised in America and practically speaking, speech itself.

What if the Wuhan virus was the second most impactful event of 2020? What if the big reveal is just how small The Clerisy is and how ruthlessly it intends to impose its will?

Hello, 2021. Ready for more?

The Chauvin verdict was made with a rioters standing ready outside the courthouse, and racially motivated looting and arson taking place in Minneapolis.  With our very own Maxine Waters on the ground (behind police protection) calling for “confrontation” should the jury return a verdict for less than murder.  One is obliged to forget a whole lot of American history to believe this ends well.

Apple has an ongoing crowdsourced billboard campaign promoting the capabilities of the iPhone. This year, in keeping with the moment, they chose black photographers utilizing black subjects. Fair enough.  Take a look at the photo at the top of the page. This is what greets you as you enter West Hollywood, our most heavily looted neighborhood of 2020. This is not happenstance. TBWA/MediaArtsLab chose this photo out of countless others, and chose to place it at Doheny and Santa Monica, on behalf of the world’s third largest corporation and its major shareholder, Laurene Powell Jobs. This man, it says, has license to punch you.  Little people, take it and like it.

Breaking Apples


Two years ago, UTLA went out on strike for a 6% pay increase and Vista Middle School was selected as one of the sites for a picket line. As a neighbor and husband of a teacher, I walked up there in an act of skeptical solidarity, to see how the shakedown of Los Angeles taxpayers was progressing.

What struck me at the time was the amount of honking support they received from passing cars in working-class Latino Van Nuys.

The outcome was preordained. The union banged the spoon and L.A. surrendered everything it wanted.   Plus seconds. And dessert. What followed was Soviet-era astroturfed propaganda from UTLA bathing in the adulation of a grateful public, paid for by…the same public, who had no say in the matter.

Fast forward to 2020, and to the Wuhan virus.  In a time of shared sacrifice and difficulty, guess who didn’t want to report to work and had the power not to do so and to be paid anyway?

Only 36% of students in L.A. Unified regularly engaged in distance learning, i.e. turned in homework and completed tests, i.e., received an education.  This is desertion in the face of the enemy.  It would be bad to do this to kids for a semester. For three semesters in a row, across two academic years?

Suffice to say, this is not what schools are doing in China. Or Korea. Or Europe. Or Texas.  This is not what is happening at the prep school where Mrs. UpintheValley teaches.

Getty Images

What if Wuhan isn’t killing people so much as breaking America as we once understood it? What if the pandemic is a political toxin in medical drag?

To judge it by its works, if you were told a year ago that one-third of small businesses would be put to death by government policy, would you have believed me?  What if I said the richest men in America would see their fortunes expand by 50%, also due to government policy? That the educational divide between public and private schools would become unbridgeable? That the tectonic plates between those who could telecommute and the service class who delivered their comforts would shift to the point they no longer touched? That the chief beneficiary of these changes would be China itself, which would exercise a veto over the discussion of pandemic origins by dangling the carrot of access to its markets? That the infrastructure of think tanks and academic departments which might serve as a bulwark of market critique would be revealed to be funded by China? That Zoom would become indispensable to our work life and TikTok embedded in our play and both would be Chinese owned? That teenagers in Wuhan would be throwing Lollapalooza-sized pool parties while Americans cowered in masks in the outdoors, fearing a scold of Karens. That bureaucrats would presume extra-constitutional powers. That the first amendment would become fully fungible to corporate diktats. That every cable network would maintain a death clock that magically disappeared with the departure of Trump, the first president to renegotiate trade agreements with China in terms more favorable to American workers, if only slightly.

A more fearless America, during the 1969 Swine flu

That’s a lot of damage for 12 months. We can’t do much about geopolitical arrangements, but we can do something about Vista Middle School.  We know a few things we didn’t know a year ago. Children are not at risk and are low vectors of transmission. Teachers are not retail workers.  They can temp check every child who enters the building. They can demand plexiglass barriers and daily disinfection of classrooms. They can also accept the reciprocal obligations of public service to the working-class Van Nuysians who supported them when they were banging the spoon for more money.

Bloodlands and Memory

Readers were wondering who the people were in this mural in an alley off Van Nuys Blvd.

Well…I have met the muralist, Arutyun Gozukuchikyan. The woman to the right is Kim Kardashian. The man to the left is Monte Melkonian, born in Fresno, martyr of the first war of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993.  The work was commissioned by the owner of the No Limit Auto Body shop.  Their clasping of hands is intended to illustrate the unity of the Armenian people across time and space.

Melkonian traveled far from the raisin fields.  First to Berkeley, then Beirut via Oxford and Tehran, where he spent the 1980’s in Armenian liberation politics.  He was imprisoned in France for the attempted assassination of a Turkish diplomat, a biographical detail the muralist omitted. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, he made his way to the Shahumyan province of Azerbaijan to join the battle to liberate Artsakh, a tribal feud that re-erupted this summer and is unlikely to resolve in our lifetimes.

There’s a whole lot of Los Angeles in that story.  Here’s two more:

The North Koreans put you in an execution line, the bullet passes through you, missing your heart. You wake up in the snow, stagger back to your village and find your mother praying in a church. You come to L.A, open a deli. By the time you’re finished, you have three. You bequeath them to your Americanized daughters who have no interest in the family business and spend your emeritus years doing missionary work.

You get in a fender-bender in El Salvador and the other driver executes you on the spot because he’s a member of MS-13 and you’re nobody…so why not?  Your siblings flee to Van Nuys and start cleaning floors, marry, have kids, then discover their brother’s killer is here, in town, less than ten miles away, also living a new life in America, schlepping to work with a name tag. The extended family huddles. What to do? Hire a hitman?  They vote to leave it behind them, in the old country.

I know both of these families. The receding tide of the bloody conflict of the world lurks in nail salon windows, washes up in corner markets and repair shops all over the Valley.

But what happens when America stops being America? Not a refuge of the dispossessed, but a bloodland unto itself, with its own irreconcilable claims on memory?

One week ago Parler was the #1 most downloaded app in the world.  It was intended to be a safe space for dissident thinking. Apple and Google (through its PlayStore) suspended all downloads and any developer access to the site on Saturday.  On Sunday, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, terminated Parler’s access to Amazon’s Web Services.

By Monday morning, Parler was gone.  Three days.

Let’s go back to say, 1969. Suppose J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes conspired to cut the NY Times off from all access to newsprint and ink in retaliation for its coverage of the Vietnam War.

Would you feel the fundamental premises of the nation had been called into question? What would you do about it? What sacrifice would you be willing to make to set that right?

Getty and Hughes were pipsqueaks compared to the monopolists we are dealing with now.

The cake is pretty well baked here.  A handful of billionaires control the information flow in the United States and they have revealed a shared agenda, leftist and monopolist at the same time. Effectively we now have a social credit system in place.  Instant China, if you will.

Americans are not Chinese.   They keep and bear arms.