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.

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.

Islamic Republic of Van Nuys

I went to MacLeod for a beer run and encountered this woman shuffling across Victory…hunched…clutching her mask to her ears as though warding off demons…fearfully navigating the sunshine.   This is what we’ve allowed the media to do to us. We veil ourselves as though we were living in Tehran, 1982.   What are we really afraid of?  I don’t think it’s the Wuhan virus. Being Karen-ed by a neighbor, on the other hand, seeking to collect her snitch reward…being ratioed by the Virtue Police on social media…these are our modern terrors.

Trader Joes is one of the few permissible places we are allowed out of doors.  How quickly we have acclimated to lining up like this.   Let’s roll back to February for a moment.  If you could be put in a time machine how confused would you be by our present submission?

It’s nearly May. The dreaded curve is in the rearview mirror. Our zealotry has exceeded any data-driven health concerns.  All is now a public demonstration of obedience to rules handed down by the Clerisy.

I feel I’m being a bit of a bore writing this for the third time. But neither the Mayor nor the Governor have the statutory power to suspend civil liberties. To hear them speak of the conditions which need be met before the economy can resume one is given the impression of a royal personage considering the granting of a favor.

Sweetheart, if you want to wear a mask and confine yourself to your rooms, no one is stopping you.  Which of course you are not doing. Nor are you going without a paycheck while you outline your terms of Our New Normal.  The rest of us, on the other hand, could do with some herd immunity.  You know what else?  We have centuries of good public health policy on our side.

We will regret letting the government bribe us with our own money to not work. Trixie likes a good belly rub, but she’d rather be climbing Runyon.  So would I.   So would you. Even if hiking isn’t your thing, liberty is.

Chaos, coming

DSCN1091

You can feel it out there on the street now. Twenty years of sound public policy going up in smoke.

Along the Metrolink tracks, where I once saw two or three parolees and drug addicts during a single walk, I now see twenty.

At the North Hollywood Metro station, I step out of the car and a grown man on a child’s bike starts circling me as I cross the parking lot, making a whoop-whoop sound, circling tighter and tighter, till he’s almost clipping my knees, muttering incomprehensibly. A radio hangs from his neck on a string, blasting pointless static.   The Sheriff’s deputies who monitor the plaza entrance don’t lift a finger as he moves on to the next unsuspecting commuter.

On the train I meet two men with prison-issue telephone scars.  Two, in five minutes.

At home I turn on the TV and the mayor of Baltimore is granting “those who wished to destroy, the space to do that as well,”  to a backdrop of burning liquor stores and pharmacies.  The district attorney follows up by indicting six police officers for murder for failing to secure a prisoner with a seat belt.  In the ensuing month Baltimore records it highest murder rate in 40 years. Seemingly sober people appear on cable panel shows scratching their chins, wondering if cause and effect could be related.

The distance between those who effect policy and shape our discussion of it (The Clerisy, to use a term of art), and the rest of us has become unsustainably wide. There is a particular species of American who waxes sanctimonious about Social Justice but would never tolerate Section 8 tenants on his block for five minutes. They love chewing on phrases like mass incarceration, comfortable in the knowledge the parolees are headed for Van Nuys.   Such people are ascendant now.

The chaos is coming west.

I’m old enough to have seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.