Category Archives: politics

Reading the world through sport

The amount you can learn might come as a surprise if you don’t read the sports pages, and possibly even if you do. I (somewhat) recently went to hear David Goldblatt speak, and definitely learned a whole lot about things I didn’t really know before.

Let’s take the African Cup of Nations 2010 for starters, what did it teach us?

Now I did know where Angola was, but I did not know that there is an unconnected piece of Angola called Cabinda, and that it has been fighting for its independence for decades.

Why does Angola care? Cabinda contains a third of Angola’s oil. So to hold soccer games in this rather out-of-the-way place, miles from any other stadium, was entirely a political decision. Cabinda, we own you.

But that’s still up for rather violent debate, as rebels proved by attacking the Togolese tour bus with its Angolan military escort. Three people died in the ensuing thirty minute firefight. So wasn’t there a peace accord signed in 2006? Well, if you could call it an accord when you pull a rebel out of a Dutch prison where he has been languishing for some time and make him sign something on behalf of loads of other people he hasn’t talked to recently, and that contains nothing about disarmament or amnesty. I’d prefer to call it fraud.

And so the rebels attacked a soccer team’s tour bus. The dark side of national politics, you can read more here.

And of course, there are the direct connections between teams and politics, Goldblatt gave another example of a trip to Israel, where soccer teams correspond to different political factions. He looked particularly at Beitar Jerusalem. Over the past 70 years it has become increasingly tied to the extreme right wing, fans planting soccer club flags beside those of settlements. During half-time you will customarily see  some fans gather to pray. When asked why, the leader of “La Familia” faction said “This is my country … When I see one million Muslims praying in my country, it makes me nervous.”

The even darker side of fans, read more here.

And at the other end? The joy of football, and sport furthering positive resistance. The Mathare Youth Sports Association. Started in the slums in Kenya, it essentially began as a one man operation. He acted as a referee and lent soccer balls to youth who organized themselves to clean up a place to play.

Entire leagues run by youth themselves formed this way, so much time spent volunteering in community self-help, and then they could play. This has since spread to work on other issues from Aids to child labor. I don’t know how well it addresses structural issues, but mutual aid is always good in my book. You can read more here.

So! There’s so much more to say, so to hear the entire podcast, click here. It’s highly recommended. Another great sports blog that connects sport, resistance and politics is Dave Zirin, the Edge of Sport. And I didn’t even start on the Premiere League or hooligans or…well. There’s time.

To the claim that team sports are only bread and circuses? If you’re like me you’ll say “oh hell no,” and then think, and say, “well, some of it is.” Not the love of the game, the love of play, that feeling of solidarity with others. But I’d say we should be critical of the politics of it, and it’s probably as good a way to learn about the world around us as many others. 90 days to the World Cup, and all the world will be holding its breath at the politics and wonder.

[also posted at www.drpop.net]

Battle for a Living Wage, UK and US

I saw Jane Wills of Queen Mary University of London speak last night on the battle for a living wage in the UK, a great talk and fascinating in its comparisons to the US…though the comparisons are all my own!

I think graphs always speak so much louder than words, so just a quick snapshot in the most comparable format I could find of growing inequalities in the two countries.

On inequality in the UK from The Guardian:

UKtop1%

On inequality in the US from Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (via The New York Times)

US Inequality

The US retains its role as a world leader… as of 2005, the top 1% in the US held 21.8% of the wealth, and it is perhaps more frightening to look at the other lines. But many of us aren’t so happy about this, as it means we’re generally fighting each other for the little that is left. So what is being done?

In the UK, as in the US, there has been a growing movement for a living wage. It is only a very small step towards the truly just world that I believe possible on alternate Wednesdays, but I will never say that such small steps do not require a most inhuman amount of work by an admirable and massive number of people.

Essentially the minimum wage (only introduced in the UK in 1999, upon which 2.1 million people received a raise averaging 10%!) is the maximum salary that the market says it can afford to pay people. The living wage is the minimum salary that people actually need to live. A bit simplified I know, but they reduce nicely to moral foundations.

The UK living wage campaign (inspired by the US living wage campaign, begun in Baltimore in 1994) is spearheaded by a non-profit called London Citizens, a group closely based on the organizing model of the Industrial Areas Foundation, working to create a broad and powerful coalition of those already involved in churches, mosques, schools, unions and community groups.

The victories have primarily been won in London. One of the main problems has been identified as the widespread, almost ubiquitous, practice of employers outsourcing every job possible (see the brilliant new book co-authored by Jane, Global Cities at Work). This forces contractors to compete amongst themselves and underbid each other in a mad rush to the bottom. So a huge push of the campaign has been to negotiate with large employers (hospitals, office buildings, the Olympic contractors) to only outsource to businesses providing a living wage.

This reminded me a great deal of SEIU 1877’s strategy in the Justice for Janitors campaign. So I asked, and indeed! They were here at the beginning, working with one of the unions involved in the struggle. Governmental authority works a bit differently here in London and so there hasn’t been a push for anything like a city-wide ordinance, but there are talks of a campaign to get any organization receiving Government funding to ensure the living wage.

It’s a small world, and hopeful to know that some of the lessons of struggle are crossing the Atlantic (and Pacific). May that continue and grow.

So to end not on a cliche, but on John Cleese (because I’m smitten with him), here is a final graphic from The Guardian. Of course, it’s a load of doom in pretty colors really. The only bright light is the success of civil partnerships. I haven’t anything as pretty from the US, I just know (in my gut) everything is worse…

GuardianBig

[Also posted on www.drpop.net]

Eating bitterness…

There is a word in Chinese that translates, very uneasily, as eating bitterness. I heard it in a talk I went to today, on rural people who have migrated to the city. One of the fruit sellers said of the city people, “they are all turnips!”

“Turnips?”

“They do not know how to eat bitterness.”

It means to suffer towards something, to scrimp and to save, to be frugal, to sacrifice. I was thinking about it on the train ride home, I think it is a very good description of something that rich people can never quite understand about what it means to be poor.

As for being turnips, I’m not so sure about that.

Marcuse & Davies: 2 views on roots of crisis

Thought I’d start out with a funny quote I’d forgotten about, courtesy of Howard Davies. It’s all downhill from here though…

“Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.”
–Dan Quayle

Peter Marcuse spoke on Tuesday night at University College of London, and Howard Davies spoke in the heart of LSE on Wednesday at noon, so technically I suppose they weren’t speaking to each other. But they should have been. So they shall through me. This is my interpretation and expansion on events of course, not a faithful recording of exactly what I heard…just to be clear.

Who are these guys exactly?

Peter Marcuse is the son of Herbert Marcuse, and a lawyer and planner. He has been a professor of Urban Planning since 1972, for three years at UCLA, and at Columbia since 1975. He has also been president of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, and has written extensively on housing and planning issues.

Howard Davies is the director of the London School of Economics, and the former head of the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s single financial regulator since 1998. He also served for two years as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England after three years as Director General of the Confederation of British Industry.

Two basic summaries of root causes:

Marcuse started with what are commonly seen as the underlying roots of the current economic crisis (then he tears those apart, but I’m saving the best bit for last!). In his view (his headings with with my own filler) these are:

  • The housing bubble – you know, that whole mortgage crisis thing. The inflated price of land, the mad speculation in it, the crazy loans to people with no equity. Those damn NINJA loans (I’ve always been with the pirates myself).
  • Unscrupulous people – the greedy bankers, the banks, those bastards who were out there sweet-talking your grandma into a loan worth more than her house, one that she would never be able to pay back. So she now lives with you instead.
  • Securitization – this is a big word, and of course it’s complicated. It’s deliberately complicated to get around annoying regulations and the agencies that tried to enforce them. Thousands of mortgages all packaged up together and insured and sold and then maybe reinsured and sold again and then maybe one more time…the important thing to know is that it made a lot of people rich as long as the housing market kept going up.
  • Deregulation – Not only were those “unscrupulous” people getting around existing regs and preventing the implementation of new ones, but they succeeded in getting rid of the Glass-Steagall Act which was made law in the 30’s to ensure that the Great Depression never happened again. Nice work.
  • Too much money floating around looking for something to invest in. You have to laugh at that really (and then cry), I’m sure none of us have known the feeling of too much money, too few options of what to do with it. But apparently there were trillions of dollars floating around the world economy that needed a home. I wished they’d asked me, but if equality and a just distribution of wealth around the world aren’t issues, than I suppose perhaps that could be seen as a problem.

This isn’t actually all that different from the analysis of the problem given by Mr. Davies, though he got much more technical around issues 3, 4 and 5, and sliced them up rather differently. I didn’t catch his final “summing up slide as he was talking fast and out of time, but the earlier top 4 underlying causes were:

  • Global imbalances – There was a huge increase in global imbalances, I know this is bad. I can’t remember exactly why, I do apologize! You can see the chart of global imbalances here, along with many other charts full of much technical financial information. I will, of course, be correcting my ignorance.
  • Loose monetary policy leading to a mispricing of risk and a credit bubble. What was Greenspan thinking keeping interest rates so low? There was just way too much money out there, anyone could borrow anything, and god help us all, they did. Luckily China was able to come in and sell the West lots of cheap goods (since they don’t really pay their employees) and then buy US treasury bonds. A third of them. That kept the wolf of inflation from the door, but confused everyone as to what kind of market they were operating in. Especially Greenspan.
  • Excess leverage facilitated by procyclical regulation and regulatory arbitrage. Yikes, no? It just means that banks were doing the same thing that all of those “gullible” homeowners (the same ones who are now getting evicted) were doing, taking out massive loans with no down-payment and not enough savings in the…er…bank. They had nowhere near enough money to cover their asses. And why did they think this was ok? Because their advanced historical and cyclical analyses of the housing market told them it was one market that would always go up. So everything would be fine. The equations promised.
  • ‘excess’ unmanaged growth of the financial sector – it exploded into one area really, securitizing mortgages and playing with derivatives, and by moving into this area the financial sector thought it was diversifying risk (you know, putting down bets on lots of horses, not just one. And placing bets as part of a pool so to speak, by insuring your bets and…it’s complicated). But turns out so much money was being put into trading these property related bonds and CDO’s and etc, they were actually creating risk rather than managing it. A failure of betting strategy if you like. The fall of dominoes was insanely impressive however.

As a combination of factors it all makes some kind of sense, it certainly hangs together. And if you’re a bit rusty on your economic jargon, it makes your eyes glaze over but it sure sounds damn impressive. I think I’ve got a handle on most of it, but who really knows? Understanding the ins and outs of what actually happened takes a massive amount of energy, involving remote corporate skyscrapers, hundreds of acronyms, and unfathomable sums of debt being sliced up, repackaged, insured, reinsured, moved constantly from one major player to another. And it’s all happening on a global scale. And let’s not forget the distracting million dollar bonuses and offshore accounts…

And so these kind of explanations lead to even more complicated solutions, we are witnessing a grand escape into the technical. For Howard Davies? We need more and better regulation, better internal management of banks, better global coordination and so on into excruciating detail and even bigger words.

But instead of delving into all of that, let’s return to Peter Marcuse’s lecture: everything I have written above is interesting, but really it is missing the point entirely. You got it. Missing the point entirely. How is it that so many incredibly smart people are missing the point?

Focusing on technicalities of regulation and management hide the reality that the economic system itself is fundamentally flawed.

Some of us take that for granted, others will never believe it is true. Capitalism? Well, you know what they (or some of us) say. Crisis happens. We’ve been in crisis quite regularly for several hundred years, and that will continue as long as the system continues. Because crisis is inherent to the capitalist system.

What is the motor of the current system? Adam Smith called it self-interest, but it seems rather silly to expect people to hold the contested and rather imaginary line between self-interest and greed. Greed ultimately is the motivating force, it is the entrepreneurial way and a constant pressure. When you see regulation as the answer, you really aren’t giving people enough credit. They are hell of smart. And there are thousands if not millions of them trying to get around any rule keeping them from their self-interest. And they will. The mass securitization of incredibly risky mortgages as sound investments was just one clever proof of the power of invention to get around regulation. We can fix that loophole, but there will surely be others as it is symptomatic of the fundamental basis of the current economy.

Why is this particular crisis concentrated in real estate, as so many of them are? When buying real estate, you aren’t just investing in land, you are investing in a commodity that has only a fixed supply. There’s only so much of it, and it’s all spoken for. Because of this, you can sit on it, do absolutely nothing at all to improve it, and it will continue to grow in value. This value is due entirely to population and urban growth, it is socially created, it is ‘easy’ money. It invites speculation, always has and always will until we change how the housing market and property ownership work, and we change it completely. As long as housing is seen as a means of profit and vehicle for investment, this kind of crisis will be a recurring one. There’s nothing new about housing bubbles!

Too much money? No, there isn’t too much money, there is too much capital. Capital is what is produced by the exploitation of workers, it is profit extracted from production and at great cost to those who actually produce, and it is money whose sole purpose is to be reinvested to make more money. For me, this distinction goes some way to explaining a world where we can have simultaneously the problem of ‘too much money’, and millions earning less than one or two dollars a day. Clearly there needs to be change there, as the fundamental dark absurdity of such a world is obvious. Isn’t it?

So if Marcuse is right, and I rather think he is, it renders much of current policy and debate a bit meaningless really. All of these solutions are looking at the “fundamental” roots of an issue that really has foundations much deeper still. And if we dig those up, what will we build instead? That is the perennial question.

So the next blog will be about Marcuse’s vision of the Right to the City and the role of critical theory in building a new world…very exciting, even my cynical self can get somewhat excited about that. And I will.

The other very exciting note is that Howard Davies admitted that we’ve seen the failure of the efficient market hypothesis, a mainstay of economics for years. The idea that investors will act rationally? Well, obviously, that’s been proved laughable, so we really need to start all over again there. They’re creating something to take a look. I’m going to have to watch the aftermath of such an admission, I mean, where can they go after that while keeping within their framework? I have no idea, but do hope it will be interesting. It should be, I have immense respect for their intelligence. So we’re all rebuilding, though not quite together, and not quite for the same people. But it’s an interesting time to be alive.

A glorious week in and around LA

There are two parties on the block tonight, so I’m hunkering down with some wine and my headphones…it’s been an amazing week really, I should blog more maybe…

Tuesday I went down to San Diego, and headed over to Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore with China Mieville. I hadn’t seen him do a book reading…I think I’ve said everyone should read The City and The City before, it is spectacular. He was funny and humble, incredibly intelligent and articulate and everyone there loved him. And you could see how much he respected and liked them right back (that’s character for you) and everyone lined up so he could sign the 3 or more books they were buying and I was amazed (that doesn’t happen at our book signings I’m afraid…), and he chatted with all of them and enjoyed it and they left beaming. And I loved him for that. I have been to many book readings in my time, and this was among the best. But who else can combine my love of monsters and politics and sense of fun? Not many.

I also learned something that has been puzzling me for some time, and that is that while I have incredibly geeky tendencies, I am not in fact a geek. Though I sometimes aspire. And I realized that is because I am not OCD, and therefore not worthy. Or perhaps I’m just geeky in an extraordinarily broad sort of way that would elevate me to a true geek after about 200 years (If I planned to be cryogenically frozen, would that qualify me? But then I couldn’t keep reading). Because I am fascinated by everything, and therefore cannot concentrate or be overly obsessive about any one thing. I almost never read anything twice for example, from my Tuesday conversations it appears that this does not at all conform to the sense of what is normal. Of course, I have been keeping a list of books I want to read since I was 20. It has now reached epic proportions, and I never delete anything off this list but steadily mark things off as I read them. How on earth could I find time to read anything twice? Nor does the fact that I like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mean that I have read everything the man has ever written…and so, I feel I must bow from my pretensions and remain unaffiliated to any tribe. Except in solidarity.

Anyway, that was a night of pure unadulterated magic, and I shall never more be tempted to say it doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, my friend woke me up from my nap and I headed out for drinks and dinner with three of my favourite girls in the world. We’re all ex-organizers, and life is so good when ex-warriors get together. Not that we talk about the glory days, what a waste of time that would be. Instead I got all of the juiciest gossip on the latest union drama, HERE and SEIU and UNITE and it was actually incredibly horrible and infuriating and I would like to give Andy Stern a bloody nose. At the least. It’s too juicy to repeat in a blog for damn sure, but apalling. Still, I feel I’ve been through worse and what can you do? And the drinks were good and strong. And then we talked about life and love and laughed and laughed some more and I went to bed happy to have such friends.

Thursday now…went to the Getty to see Alain de Botton talk about his new book. And I felt bad for both Alain and Beverley. It was a place and a crowd expressly designed to bring out the hater in me, and oh, but it did. To be in a place like that where everyone is white and wealthy in this city makes my skin crawl. I always wonder where that immense reservoir of rage comes from…I am not as a rule an angry person, being too caught up in enjoying the world. But it makes me physically uncomfortable, and it is only slightly better for me than others of my friends, if only because I look like I might belong there. And the talk was on the joys and sorrows of work, and I did appreciate the intellectual curiosity and questions. But I must confess that given I believe labour is the crux of the world’s problems, to talk about the curious aspects of how people end up being accountants is vaguely interesting. Yet infuriating if it does not do so within a context of structural inequality. Or mention the fact that only a tiny percentage of the world’s population has the luxury of choosing their occupation…or worrying about that choice and thinking about what they’d rather do instead. So I was steaming at the end.

And tonight? Bev and I went to see Food, Inc. And I cannot recommend it highly enough, it was fantastic. And I’m winding down…but it looks at how food is produced and how it comes to us. And it has the shots of cows with holes in their sides from eating only corn, the chickens who can’t walk, the screaming pigs headed to slaughter. And I am a vegetarian because of those things…and the hormones, the antibiotics, the disease (e-coli will break your heart in this movie). Not because I think killing animals is intrinsically wrong, but because how we do it is so unutterably horrible. And there are so few alternative sources of meat, and at a cost most of the population cannot afford. And, well, I do like animals. Let those who want to eat meat eat meat, but I don’t want to anymore. Though bacon remains a severe temptation.

Of course it also looks at corn. And a little at soy. Given corporate practice and cash crops and the evils of monoculture, being a vegetarian really isn’t that much better for the planet of course, I wish most vegetarians would click on that. But what I LOVED about this movie was that it actually looked at structure, corporate power and government, and labor…it actually talked about the exploitation of the workers, and how companies work hand in hand with ICE. It talked about how many of the immigrants working in meat packing plants were actually displaced corn farmers from mexico, put out of business by NAFTA.

And the farmers who spoke were incredibly courageous and smart. And they had all been sued and been forced to settle and that hit me hardest of all, next to the workers being chained up by Ice. It’s how my family lost our home after all, and I cried. I don’t know how this illusion that courts disperse anything resembling justice can hold up. Courts are about protecting private property of course, and whoever has the most money and can afford the experts, the lawyers, the interminable process before a case even gets to court…well, they always win. Oprah made a comment about how she’d never eat another hamburger after mad cow, and spent 6 years and $1 million in litigation, it took that much to defend herself. Regular folks can’t do that. Mo settled with Monsanto and lost his business, just getting sued lost him that, and the tears were pouring down my cheeks. They are winning and I am so angry and I feel like breaking things again. I guess I know where the rage comes from.

But it was brilliant, go see it…

And maybe in your movie theatre, if you’re lucky enough to live in a big city where it is playing, you’ll also be lucky enough to have a woman wearing a purple turban…

Homicide in LA update

Turns out it was a shooting just down the street from me…Jose Soto, 49, shot on May 19th, 2009. More information next week, maybe. Maybe not, it’s a bit hit or miss. 16 people dead last week, all of them shot.

You can see the statistical breakdowns of homicide here.

And you can see how many violent deaths have happened near you. Turns out it’s a lot near me, but I knew that. And you can think about life and death. White women don’t really seem to get shot very often, it’s certainly a luxury to be one statistically speaking.

G-20: Deescalating tension and getting the police to laugh

This video was shot by my friend Leonardo Vilchis currently in Londres, uploaded by someone I do not know to youtube, and a beautiful thing…

Leonardo is one of the folks I most love and admire, and here is what he said when he put it up on facebook…”Era increible el control que tuvo este hombre del espacio y como deescalo la tencion.” And you can tell. He has not just the protesters, but the police laughing. And a hug. The tensions have been so high, this must have a been a small moment where everyone became human again.

And there’s a school occupation on in Glasgow! Wyndham school to be exact! Glasgow City Council has been threatening the closure of a number of schools…some of my friends have been working on getting the news out about the council, check out the latest news on their blog.

And all the Iowans I know (and somehow I know a lot) are celebrating the fact that one of their courts says the ban on Gay Marriage is unconstitutional.

It’s been a good week for those fighting for a better world…just not in my neighborhood.

Du Bois, the Black Panthers, and the lumpen

Came over to Norwalk today to hang out with Meo…the parents of small children really do fall asleep early! To get here of course, it takes two trains, I almost miss taking the train. The blue line was actually full of camaraderie today, and the blind guy who always comes on the train to ask for change actually took out one of his fake eyes. He did quite well. And I got some reading in.

I was reading Cornell West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – The Future of the Race. I picked it up in the library on a whim. It is Gates and West essentially reacting to W.E.B. Du Bois’ essay “The Talented Tenth.” And I believe I read this in college, when I was just angry and not politicized. It shocked me reading it again, Du Bois says:

“Can the masses of the Negro people be in any possible way more quickly raised than by the effort and example of this aristocracy of talant and character? Was there ever a nation on God’s fair earth civilized from the bottom upward? Never; it is, ever was and always will be from the top downward that culture filters. The Talented Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth the saving up to their vantage ground.”

Which is, of course, pretty much the absolute antithesis of everything I believe. They idea of anyone deciding who is worth saving actually makes me want to throw something. I do not believe that “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its great men.” Or even women for that matter. Of course, I suppose Du Bois makes sense if you conserve the framework of capitalism.

Funny that for Du Bois, change comes from the top tenth. For Marx, the middle-lower bit, the industrial workers…was it ever as high as 60%? In a world with ever more lumpens the workers are shrinking I believe. And for the Black Panthers it was the bottom…how many are at the bottom now? 20%, 40%, 50%? It all depends on your definition I suppose. I wonder about Mao’s peasants, and who comprises the anarchist’s masses. I’m reading Elaine Brown’s autobiography now as well…it’s big and hardcover and not at all portable. And it is astonishing.

I don’t really have anything thought out today, these are just things I was thinking on the train.

Obama’s Inauguration

I cried.

I know, it really surprised me too. Cynical and jaded and self-deprecatingly furious, I have little to no faith in this country’s electoral process or government. I have no hope, instead of hoping I work hard to try and make this world a little better, a little more just. I don’t know that I can hope in a man who raised more money from corporations than Bush did, who played the political game so well, who managed to rise to the top of this great corrupt and broken system of ours. I listened to his speech and we’re still at war with terror. And it’s definitely true that there will be no structural change without immense pressure in the streets and in congress, if there’s even a chance of structural change…And I don’t know why Rick Warren was up there at all.

Even so. Aretha Franklin got up and sang and she was radiant and for the first time she wasn’t the token loved pop star up there for diversity…for the first time the mall was full of black people who were happy…for the first time. Ever. March after march, protest after protest, centuries of change grinding along from slavery with racism never really yielding…and I don’t think it has yielded but yesterday meant something. And I cried. Last year in Dublin a reporter asked me if I thought America could ever elect a black president and my answer was no. No way. And America proved me wrong and it was beautiful yesterday when Aretha was singing the way only she can to our black President and his family, and millions of people watching and all of them crying from pure…I don’t even know what the emotion is. Happiness, disbelief that this could even be happening but this amazing knowledge in your stomach that it really is, something deep that comes from years of struggle and pain and injustice and the brilliant unexpected rightness of this family standing there. Taking the place of the Bush family who represent everything that is white dynastic power and corruption in this country. I don’t have words for it, but it was something profound. And I appreciated that Obama mentioned that 60 years ago his family wouldn’t have been served in DC’s restaurants, and most of all I loved Reverend Lowery’s speech, acknowledging that yesterday represented only a beautiful new beginning to the work for the world we are all trying to create:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen!

REV. LOWERY: Say amen —

AUDIENCE: Amen!”

I’m glad I got to spend the morning with Gilda and Gary, and end the day with drinks and music at Tafarai’s party with so many folks I haven’t seen for a long time…what a day. And of course, now is when the real work begins again…I don’t disagree with any of my friends in their cynacism or fears for the future. But something did change yesterday.

LA’s floating islands

Wealth in LA floats. We are not just segregated from north to south and east to west, but above and below. And I suppose I knew about the aerial isle that was once Bunker Hill, but I’d never really walked it, and until you walk you don’t really know a place. At 4th and Hope you are high up above LA, and all traces of the old Victorian neighborhood once there were completely bulldozed and destroyed several decades ago. And there followed some truly grim decades in terms of block architecture, and a planning model designed to keep public space as the exclusive right of the right people. So it is a modern wonderland of concrete and plazas leading to car garages and sleek, expensive men and women. There are a couple of skyscrapers built on it, their lights serve as the stars and I’ll not deny a strange beauty to them…there are some expensive shops and restaurants, but they all look like upscale chains. It’s that particularly L.A. thing I think, where everything is relatively new, sanitized, familiar, safe. People here trade what is real and true for a secure and enhanced façade every time, just look at sunset strip with its fake western bar, it’s fake Irish pub. Look at people themselves. And this place is made for cars, you have to climb a very steep hill to get here, and it isn’t the easiest thing on foot. I’m sure that’s quite deliberate. The right sort of person doesn’t walk in this city. I passed Gehry’s Disney hall, it’s on the edge of this as is MOCA. Wealth’s claim on high culture.

Usually I go beneath this place, through the terminator tunnel with its shiny white tiles reflecting the light when they are not falling off the walls, and the homeless sleeping along the sidewalk. I like it better underneath.  The higher you go in LA, the richer it invariably gets. From crack in Hollywood to cocaine in the Hollywood Hills and so it goes everywhere…even Echo Park has had its bastions of wealth up on top of everything, and now of course it is gentrifying at the speed of light, and from top down.

These things make me angry, so I’m glad the YMCA is still there, giving people one last reason to democratize space. I was walking because I forgot a clean shirt to change into after workout, sauna and steam, and couldn’t face jumping on a standing room only bus full of people going home from work. Especially since I was going home TO work. Happy Friday to me. But I haven’t really been home for so long, so I’m still enjoying it.