2020: Year of the Ostrich

We don’t know what we don’t want to know.

Half of us want to pretend we can have millions of loose ballots entering the system without a chain of custody, a point of origin, a signature match (in certain states), a valid postmark, or election day arrival (in certain states), and the result will be legitimate. Just like any other election.  Only unpersons who watch OANN would say otherwise.

The other half wants to pretend by pointing to implausible statistical anomalies, 4 am drop-offs of boxes of president-only ballots, fractional vote counting, disabled signature readers, count rooms without poll watchers…if we can just cleanse the outcome of its fraudulent elements, we will turn back time and un-ring the election.

Who or what is going to enforce this? The Pentagon won’t. The Supreme Court will only nibble at the periphery, on behalf of states to decide their own electors.  A state legislature can look at the evidence and decide to invalidate its own voters. Theoretically. Is this likely?  What would Lord Bezos say?

We are all ostriches now.

Fun fact: a hundred years ago, pre-Disneyland, you could rent an ostrich cart and take it for a spin on the streets of Los Angeles.  The collapse of feathered fashion in the Edwardian Era British Empire led to a repurposing of the flightless bird around the world.

Our relationship with animals was altogether different.  We were comfortable with intimate cruelty. Does it have legs? Tie off its beak and take a ride. And why not? Animals were living tools and locomotion.

Does it have feathers? Pluck them, make a scarf. Put them on a hat. Hungry? Put a sock on its head and grab a hatchet. I had an ostrich burger once, at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo and it was delicious.  Ironically, it was a drag queen bingo benefit for a no-kill animal shelter.

Los Angeles once boasted ten ostrich farms, sourced from South Africa.  The largest of them, the Cawston Ostrich Farm, is now live-work lofts, of course. Because every structure formerly industrious shall now be a textured backdrop for an Instagrammable life.

Los Angeles also had an alligator farm.  A hundred years ago, this was us.  We had a different sense of safety. But also no factory farms.  We knew where our food came from.  We plucked our own chickens but we wouldn’t have understood Chicken McNuggets.  Unless one was rather well off, one ate meat once a week and gazed upon animals in the field and thought: protein. We didn’t think about writing a check to PETA.  Our diseases were of malnutrition. Now they are of gluttony.

One last irony. Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand to hide from the facts of the world. The sand is where they keep their eggs.  They are checking up on things. They are engaged in self-preservation.

The British empire is with us no longer, but we can taste the memory of it in cask-conditioned ale at MacLeod.  A century ago when ostriches trod the streets of L.A., communism was ascendant, yet the Soviet empire is no longer.

American collapse is within our grasp.  Telling everyone to stay home while the government prints money is a good start.  Creating parallel voting systems, one for Detroit and Philly, another for the rest of the country, is the next step.

*top photo: climate change protest, Bondi Beach

Tribal Preparations

Twenty-four hours to go and America is flexing and muttering to herself, spraying curses, shuffle stepping, arguing with unseen foes, sweating, farting, contemplating ancient enmities, and making haste to the fight club basement on this Dia de Muertos.

Downtown smelled like Home Depot today. Every contractor the merchants could obtain was humping sheets off trucks, putting them up as fast as they could…lest Hurricane Trump make landfall tomorrow.

Left unmentioned is who exactly all these preparations are for, or why….the people who no one is allowed to criticize or raise a hand against, even in self-defense.   No one is willing to admit publically Trump might actually win, but so many of us behave as though he already has, not fearing the outcome as much as the refusal of others to accept it.

Welcome to Plywood City.

Trumpstock Comes to Woodley Park

Trump tribes gathered on Sunday, in deep-blue Los Angeles, for a road rally down the 405.  Lots of honking, lots of flags, lots of “Y.M.C.A”.  Note to grad students: there is a cultural anthroplogy dissertation waiting to be written about the Trump/Village People convergence.

Good turnout. Perhaps the Valley is more conservative than I think. The parade went on for a good ten minutes. No counter-protest.

A Gloss for the Greater Good

Woke commerce, Abbot Kinney

To escape this heat without end, I took the bike to the beach yesterday.  After my ride, I topped myself off with a $20 kale smoothie on Abbot Kinney.

Twenty dollars! Strip club prices. Decadent. I’m sure I didn’t even spend that much on a premium cocktail at the posh Nomad Hotel last year but tis the season to do all we can to help small business.

The merchants of Venice are doing their utmost to bridge the distance between the necessities of commerce in a time of Wuhan, and paying obeisance to the woke mob, lest it erupt again in greater strength.

It’s a balancing act, meeting your monthly nut with limited customers while conducting socially performative capitalism.

Here’s the Abbot Kinney Straddle: make rich Wypipo as invisible as possible while marketing to said rich Wypipo.

Part of the gloss requires overlooking ironic facts…much of bungalow Venice was a black neighborhood not so long ago.  It was also single story. Here I shall invoke UpintheValley’s Second Law of the City: the further from the actual friction points of urban life, the louder the virtue signaling.

In a synthesis of the cognitive dissonance in summer 2020, someone converted a vintage Porsche into a planter as an artistic statement…of indeterminate meaning.   Guerilla marketing for a local garden store? Maybe.  The backdrop for a fashion shoot? People assumed it was some kind of pop-up Instagram and queued up to pose in front of it.

While not as badly hit as DTLA or Melrose, about a third of the stores have gone dark…

…which might explain this banner.  If the statement were true, though, would the banner be necessary?  I sense a whiff of desperation. I have a feeling things are about to get cheaper.

On other end of the economic spectrum, 72 years after being cut from citrus orchards as a whites-only landing pad for returning GIs, 50 years after man landed on the moon, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, thirteen years after the iPhone, my neighborhood this morning finally enjoys the benefit of street lighting.

We’re 17 miles from Venice. Hard to believe it’s the same city.  There’s an upside to this. In the shakeout to come, we have a much shorter distance to fall.  Our neighborhood doesn’t depend on $20 smoothies and sales of $150 graphic tees.  We aren’t glossy.  We are anti-fragile.

Witness

Standing alone for the blue, Ventura and Sepulveda.

The Sherman Oaks BLM chapter has been busking in front of The Galleria for 113 consecutive afternoons. On Sundays, Benjamin stands on the opposite corner and witnesses for the police.  Sometimes the BLMers cross the intersection and do a walk by.  Compared to scenes from Portland the exchange, or lack thereof, was civilized.  Score one for the Valley.  He gets grief from passing drivers sometimes but doesn’t mind too much. He says he enjoys it.

American Rhymes

Gus Chinn/Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection
Washington Post

“When they crowded around my table and started demanding that I raise my fist, it was their insistence that I participate in something that I did not understand that led me to withhold my hand.”  -Lauren Victor, diner and reluctant fist-raiser.

Top photo:  Sit-in at the lunch counter of the Cherrydale Drugstore, Arlington, Virginia, 1960.

Apart from the historical irony, I can’t help wondering which of these tableaus is worse.   That I should be asking this question in 2020 says a lot about how far we have strayed from e Pluribus Unum and where we are inevitably headed.

If one can only be either fully woke or stand accused of being a white supremacist then our public space has become awfully small in a very short window of time. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, which precludes sitting alone on principle.  The intimidators are banking on this.

So You Want To Cast a Ballot?

It might be a couple of hours…
Sepulveda Rec Center, 4:23 pm

We reported to our normal polling station today,  with the familiar poll workers and trays of supermarket cookies and easy parking and the short lines, to find it…closed.   I was vaguely aware the L.A. county polling system was undergoing a few changes, including early voting, but I didn’t realize this meant the neighborhood polls had been consolidated in favor of regional ones.

So we drove a couple of miles north to the new location only to find a line snaking around the building and no parking.   We walked a few blocks, and settled in at the tail of the snake, fell into civic conversation with the people next to us, (one of them a refugee from the long lines at Sherman Oaks) and after about ten minutes…we noticed something: The line had not moved at all.   I followed the snake around the corner and into the gym to find a dozen unoccupied polling machines and two poll workers doing intake, issuing ballots. Slowly. Only two people were voting.

Someone vaguely authoritative announced it would be a two-hour wait, and we might have better luck at Sepulveda Middle School, up in Mission Hills.

Goodbye Chad. 

Exodus, take three. To Mission Hills we raced, and as promised, greeted by a mercifully short line. We also found ourselves standing next to the guy from Sherman Oaks, to our mutual amusement. At check-in, they issued a blank paper ballot with a QR code that you feed into the machine, then complete by touch screen.

No more chads. No more ink dot. Lots of gooey fingertips caressing the names, sharing cooties.   Bacteria and democracy together at last. Not a germaphobe, I found it both recklessly intimate and weirdly impersonal.  Our ballot may be secret, but a pandemic we can share.  Here is a dystopian movie plot just waiting to happen.

The machine prints your ballot, offering a moment to double-check your answers, then you “cast” it by reinserting it.  Under the new VSAP system, the ballot is read electronically but retains a paper backup in the event of a recount. Suspenders and a belt, in theory.  There is a bit of wrinkle, though.  Your vote is converted to QR code in order to be counted. See that matrix of pixels on the left side of the page?  Those are your choices, all of them, squeezed into a 1.5 inch grid of dots.  Do the dots and names match up?  Let us hope so.  Does the printer ink ever smear, even slightly, altering your intent?   Could you recognize your own name in QR code?

A few things to consider as you fall asleep while wondering if anyone from your precinct recently visited China.

Deplorable Joe

Ever notice the eerie physical resemblance between 1970’s era Joe Biden and Peter Boyle in the “off-the-hippies” exploitation film Joe?   I was thinking about this last night, watching Iowa .

If you haven’t seen it, Joe was a pop waystation between Easy Rider and Death Wish. Cartoonish and heavy-handed, it flattered the conceit of liberals thus: after a couple of drinks, blue-collar white guys are homicidal bigots.  You know they are.

Fifty years on, this most comforting cultural template has moved from being an art-house movie plot to the factory setting for much of the American media.

Now both of these guys are now running for President, in a manner of speaking.

Joe (the character) is not Trump, but he is a stand-in for Trump supporters, as viewed from the ramparts of power.

Since 1972 Biden has positioned himself, less credibly with the passage of time, as a representative of the white working class.   Amtrak Joe.  Joe from Scranton, Pa, but with a facelift and veneers and family members living large by way of his connection.   Only now, in his emeritus years, there is little room left in his party for Les Deplorables, the very people who once put him in office.

In a last attempt at the presidency,  he seeks the blessing of an electorate that has been counseled to scorn what he represents.  He will be running against his own history.  Which is to say, not well.

Which might explain why the morning after the Iowa caucuses, we have no “results”, even with hard precinct numbers in hand indicating a fourth-place finish.

Bernie, on the other hand, has Jack White.  Whatever your politics are, this will be entertaining.

E Pluribus Valley


2020: Rushing headlong now are we toward a conclusion half of us will dread.  A snap trap four years in the making.   There can be no happy ending, though there may be a divorce.   Too many of us have made friendships contingent upon the outcome.  We tolerate each other just so long as we consider the current ugliness to be transitory.  November will correct/affirm the wisdom/insanity of our neighbors.  I knew it all along! They really are that bad/sensible. That settles it. Let the celebration/vilification begin.

I suspect the underlying facts will prove secondary.  Dow 30,000, full employment, USMCA, handshakes at the DMZ, the Supreme Court, the public option, Iran, a looming recession, all background noise.

This is about who we are.  You can believe in the nation-state or you can believe in a borderless world.   Either the people are sovereign or corporations are.   Either we are sovereign or the media is. Either your vote counts or it is nullified by the administrative state.

America is closely divided, horrifyingly so, on matters only a short time ago not under question.

We’ve reached a point in Los Angeles where we are no longer telling the truth about ourselves to ourselves, so we unfriend our neighbors instead.  We threaten to turn each other into memes.

Politics until recently was played between the 40-yard lines.  Claims of catastrophe if the other side prevailed were generally bullshit.  Beneath the hyperbole on cable news, an undertow of bipartisan consensus held: on Wall Street rescue packages, trade with China, techno-utopianism,  deficit spending, the forever war in Afghanistan.  Not this time.  The competing claims are too irreconcilable.

So how to share space with each other after the shock of discovery?   We can start by practicing good manners now. That begins with listening well.

St. Elizabeth of Fryman Canyon

In Fryman Canyon, they no longer allow you to park on the streets to the public trailhead, but they love their Harvard socialism.

There is a small pay lot on Laurel Canyon that has perhaps 1/3 of the capacity needed for weekend hikers. In the event of overflow, we would use one of the many empty streets nearby and partake of the public good known as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an accommodation the gentry has done away with. First by guile, and now by civic order they’ve persisted.

There are three houses on this street for sale, all over $5 million. Is this in keeping with Elizabeth’s claim to be capitalist to her bones?