Robert Hilburn, in quintessence

LA Observed reported  last month that Robert Hilburn, the LA Times’ pop music critic since the 1960s, will finally give up his post, accepting a buyout offered as part of yet another staff reduction.

Though he didn’t join the Times’ staff full-time until 1970, Hilburn concert and album reviews started running in 1966.  In the late 60s and 70s, when I started reading the Times, its most prominent writers were the movie reviewer Charles Champlin, the sports columnist Jim Murray, the uncategorizable columnist Jack Smith (he’d have made a fine blogger), the gossip columnist Joyce Haber, the acerbic classical music critic Martin Bernheimer, various political writers like Jack Nelson, Bill Boyarsky and George Skelton, editorialist Tony Day, the brilliant feature/profile writers Bella Stumbo and John Balzar–and Hilburn. Most of them are gone now.

How did Hilburn survive for so long? He’s by far the worst writer of the above group. His prose style was always clunky. Describing music in words is challenging to be sure, but Hilburn’s vocabulary was exceptionally limited. “Inviting textures” abounded. Just look at what he wrote today, in what is probably one of his final pieces as a staff writer, a review of the best songs of 2005:

 8. Fiona Apple’s “Waltz (Better Than Fine)” (Epic/Clean Slate). There’s an almost irresistible feel-good spirit to this refreshing tale of self-affirmation, served up in a pop-cabaret style reminiscent of the rich sophistication of French chanteuse Edith Piaf (special credit to producer Jon Brion and orchestral arranger Patrick Warren). The reminder that we’re all OK is especially useful if you’re feeling out of step on New Year’s Eve.

4. Bruce Springsteen’s “Devils & Dust” (Columbia). Here is someone who has given us lots of New Year’s Eve music, some of it pure entertainment, some of it as thoughtful as this timely meditation on matters of faith and morals. It’s the story of a soldier in Iraq, but its implications travel much further.

1. Neil Young’s “When God Made Me” (Reprise). The tune, from Young’s recent “Prairie Wind” album, has such a warm, traditional feeling that it seemed like something from a family hymnal when Young introduced it at a Live 8 benefit last summer. Yet it was equally tender and touching when Young repeated it during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims in September. It should be no less haunting tonight.

Arrgh.  He makes you want to take out a red pencil and chop out the windy phrases and unneeded adjectives. An “almost irresistable feel-good spirit.”  A “warm, traditional feeling.”  Has Hilburn ever encountered a meditation that wasn’t “timely,” or sophistication that wasn’t “rich”? Some other words Hilburn couldn’t help but overuse: “vital,” “elements,” “lovely,” “adventurous,” “troubling,” “thoughtful,” “engaging.” 

A few months ago, Patterico vented his rage against Hilburn for a 1973 Jethro Tull review that allegedly steered the band’s career in an unrewarding direction. Helpfully, he links to the review, which Hilburn could’ve written yesterday:  

If there was ever any question about the rambling, disjointed nature of (Ian) Anderson’s longer works, the placement of these punchier, crisper, more concise pieces from Aqualung on the same show answered it. Anderson remains a talented, serious, imaginative artist, but his extended works need more easily identifiable, engaging themes and varied musical elements if they are to be worthy of the attention he wants for them.

Ngh! Why use one adjective when three will do?

So the question hangs still:  What accounts for Hilburn’s survival?  Well: To his credit, his taste–and the disproportionate effect his taste had on the LA-based music industry–was generally reliable. A top-ten list for any year during his career would probably feature music one would still find worthwhile today. He had a few blind spots. He never “got” Steely Dan, for example. His embrace of hip-hop and rap struck me as an unpersuasive political concession. On balance, though, he championed performers and songwriters who deserved the attention.

He was also a good reporter. His interviews were less clumsy than his reviews. His 2004 Bob Dylan interview, in which Dylan revealed his songwriting methods, was quite insightful.  Performers obviously trusted him.

Now, with Hilburn retiring, an era comes to an end.  Before Hilburn, the Times and most other newspapers did not take pop music seriously. Now, it hardly matters what newspapers say or do–the fan reviews on Amazon.com probably drive far more music purchases, and besides, via Rhapsody or iTunes, you can listen to the “inviting textures” for yourself.

Let’s Agree to Agree

Do all cities run this way? 

Eleven years ago, both of Los Angeles’ NFL teams moved away.  The Raiders abandoned the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while the Rams, having ditched the Coliseum some 20 years prior, abandoned their Anaheim home.  Both teams went to places that, on the face of it, shouldn’t be stealing teams from such a big market. St. Louis? A city of little distinction, size or importance.  Oakland?  Interesting city, totally in the shadow of its glamorous neighbor across the Bay. 

Since these historic defections, what’s happened?  LA’s political community has all agreed: The NFL will come back.  It has to.  Without the Los Angeles market, the National Football League is not truly “national.”  A generation of sports fans in this gigantic market will grow up without an interest in pro football. The league will be hurt! And once the pain becomes intolerable, just watch, they’ll come crawling back, on our terms.

And what are our terms?  That the next Los Angeles NFL franchise will play in the Coliseum.

It’s an Orwellian thoughtcrime to think any other site even deserves consideration.  If you don’t think so, ask Michael Ovitz.  Or Peter O’Malley.  Or Tim Leiweke, Philip Anschutz and Casey Wasserman. Or, today, Dodger owner Frank McCourt:

The City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger all have publicly endorsed the Coliseum.

“I’ve got to believe he [McCourt] didn’t understand the depth and the extent of the community consensus behind the Coliseum as the site for an NFL team in Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said.

(Supervisor Zev) Yaroslavsky said the Dodgers had “broken ranks with what has been a united community — the business, sports, political and environmental communities, all of them behind the Coliseum project.”

Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium, said he would not support a football stadium there and noted that McCourt had promised to keep elected officials and community leaders informed of any potential development on the site. Reyes said McCourt had not spoken with him about an NFL stadium.

“If he’s making these overtures, it’s a big blow to the folks who are building a level of trust with him,” Reyes said. “That’s important when you’re dealing with issues of that scale.”

This “community consensus” is more accurately described as “the party line.” Deviance from it is not tolerated–despite the fact that the NFL’s made it clear in ways both direct and subtle that it doesn’t want to bring another team to this stadium.

Yes, I’m aware that just last month, local news outlets were able to shout in headlines that the NFL had reached a “preliminary agreement” to install a team in the Coliseum.  These headlines followed a meeting between NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Mayor Villaraigosa. But what did they really agree on?  According to the AP story:

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue emerged from a closed-door meeting with the mayor, stood on the steps of City Hall and announced that a preliminary agreement had been reached to finally return a team to Los Angeles.

After answering reporters’ questions for 15 minutes, even he couldn’t gauge the significance of his announcement Thursday.

“I’d rather not try,” Tagliabue said as he was guided into the back seat of a limousine and whisked away.

Even Mayor Villaraigosa’s own press release is a sticky mess of rhetoric that leads in no particular direction:

“Mr. Tagliabue and I had a very productive meeting and great exchange. There is both tremendous enthusiasm and spirited consensus in our community about the Coliseum as the preeminent venue for professional football. Leaders from the city, county and state have all come together to prepare the groundwork here. It’s time for professional football to come home to the Coliseum after 13 years — to become part of our community, to generate jobs and economic vitality, and to create new moments of football history.”

I think the agreement between the NFL and the city/county/state comes down to this.  From the NFL:  We’ll tell our owners to stop saying that renovating the Coliseum is like “trying to put a new dress on an old hooker.”  From LA: We’ll continue to pretend it matters if the NFL ever comes back.

Meanwhile, McCourt is in the doghouse for pursuing one of the various alternatives that actually makes sense–putting an NFL stadium on the Dodgers’ land.  Because McCourt is widely disliked, his political and PR gaffe is generating much schadenfreude.  (The PR people around McCourt knew full well the impact this would have; it’s surprising they let this happen.) But it reminds me of the sad hash former Mayor Riordan made when he first asked Peter O’Malley to look into the same idea and then–after O’Malley burned through about a million dollars and a year and a half of his life on preliminary studies–Riordan withdrew his support, and demanded O’Malley withdraw.

It’s been reported in many places that this embarassing chain-jerking was the final straw for O’Malley. He would have continued as owner of the Dodgers if he’d had the chance to also own an NFL franchise. The two together would have made a profit for him. But when Riordan pulled the rug out from under him, O’Malley was forced to realize he couldn’t afford to keep the Dodgers.  And so they were sold to Fox, and then by Fox to McCourt. Understandably, Dodger fans continue to wish there was such a thing as time travel so all that could have been averted.

Creative slump

According to Variety’s Peter Bart, the entertainment industry suffered through a disquieting 2005. Among other problems, he says,

    • Box office is down 5%, and a couple of the major studios are wracked by rumors of management change.
    • Album sales have dwindled by 7.8%, and volume at Virgin Megastores alone is down nearly 20%.
    • Videogame sales are sagging badly despite the heralded introduction of the Xbox 360.

The all-fronts decline is leading to what Bart terms “a curious form of creative paralysis.”  Clearly the old ideas aren’t working, but embracing new ideas means taking chances, with no guarantees.

We’re in a time when the owners of the entertainment media cannot seem to produce any cultural artifact that is a “must-see” or “must-hear.”  Everything is so denatured now. Too many films are written to a formula you could set your watch by.  Too many creative bets are hedged.

The corporate massaging of ideas into products creates a culture with few stories to guide us, few characters to identify with.  The romantic movies teach us nothing about romance.  The adventures teach us nothing about being a hero. The comedies teach nothing about the foibles of humanity.

People used to walk out of the movie theater in the style of the lead character, talking like him (or her), even breathing the same way.  Do moviegoers today want to emulate Ben Stiller, or Jennifer Aniston, or Adam Sandler, or Cameron Diaz? They’re like bad guests at a party, memorable mainly for being annoying.

It’s a cycle; sooner or later a “barbaric yawp” will break through, and inspire a new rush of great filmed stories. But the trough we’re in now is going to cost a lot of people their jobs, which is Bart’s main concern.  He’s an insider.  For those of us in the audience, and for creative people on the outside looking in, it might be addition by subtraction.

Dialogue in green paint

The Cezanne & Pissarro show at the LA County Museum of Art is unlike any art exhibit I’ve ever seen.  It points the way to the kind of art show we might see more of in the future–one that explores the process of making art, and the progress of an artist’s eye. 

You enter the exhibit and see two paintings side by side: One by Pissarro and one by Cezanne.  They are both of the same subject: A country road with trees on the left side and, in the distance, a village on the right. Two figures on the road, one of them a child. Some clouds. Both paintings are called Louveciennes. Pissarro painted his in 1871. Cezanne borrowed it, and painted his own version the following year.

It’s a copy–and yet it’s not.

Pissarro’s original, though beautiful, does not prettify the landscape; it analyzes it. His amazing array of techniques are harnessed to serve the creation of a detailed depiction of nature, light and shadows. His brush strokes are thick here, delicate there, and in some places the paint is troweled onto the canvas. All in service of capturing the ineffable play of light at a moment in time.

It’s important to note that, in his time, Pissarro was a revolutionary artist, and is now generally regarded as the father of the impressionist style.  But in his copy of Louveciennes, and throughout the exhibit, you see how Cezanne starts where Pissarro leaves off. He too wants to see nature as it is, but takes it a step further, into pure form.  Not for Cezanne are the delicately rendered details. To him, the trees, the rooftops, the clouds are all shapes, delineated by color, and organized into a geometric pattern. 

It’s the exact same composition as Pissarro used, but Cezanne finds something else in it, and emphasizes what he sees. His colors are not divorced from nature (as Pissarro renders it), but because they serve a different purpose, they are rendered with greater intensity and clarity.  

Cezanne starts where Pissarro leaves off; and then Cezanne takes us all the way to the doorway of abstract painting, where color, form and composition become pure expressions of an artist’s vision.

Throughout the exhibit (which closes January 16), paintings by each artist are paired.  There are no more “copies,” but many paintings of the same vista, or the same still life subject.  The contrast allows you to see not only the uniqueness of both artists’ visions but also the hinge of European art history, where it swung in a just a few short decades from the formal techniques favored by the Paris Salon  against which Pissarro rebelled, to the departure from representation that Cezanne approached.

I might be a bit out of my depth writing about art, but the show was enlightening and thrilling. More like this, please, curators.  

Sprawling Thru the Wreckage

Instapundit pointed me to a review by the Chicago Sun-Times’ architecture critic Kevin Nance of Sprawl: A Compact History, by Robert Bruegmann.  The point of the book, I gather, is “everything you know is wrong” — a popular theme for non-fiction books. 

For example, we know that sprawl leads to lengthier (and lengthier) commutes.  And that’s wrong. Er, no, actually that’s right. It’s our current transportation system that’s wrong:

 “The problem is that we have an old-fashioned 19th-century technology, the internal combustion engine using fossil fuels. Let’s solve that problem — maybe by creating small, fuel-efficient vehicles — and stop talking about putting the city back into its 19th-century state to make mass transit work. Instead, let’s see what people want to do, then see how the city can be built around them.”

Probably isn’t fair for me to comment without reading the book, but…are we supposed to take this seriously?  Cars today are far more efficient, and less polluting, than they were 40 years ago, but those gains have been largely offset by the vast increase in numbers of vehicles trying to reach regional centers of commerce, and the increasing distance they have to travel to reach them.  

Sprawl is a matter of degree. The more miles between home and work, the worse its effects are.  As each ring of suburbs is added, the challenge to serve those far-flung areas becomes less feasible and more expensive.  The miles of new roadway will never catch up with the increased population of vehicles.  Mass transit systems cannot affordably be designed to serve all those new areas, and voters in the unserved areas become–understandably–unwilling to fund a system that doesn’t directly benefit them.  And what’s true about transportation systems is also true about the other basic services: water, electricity, sewage.

It’s not just the environmental effects that have made sprawl such a nemesis.  So many households in far-flung suburbs are structured like this: Dad works full-time, and is away from home between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.  Mom’s doing the same. Nannies or older relatives have to come in to get the kids to and from school. As the kids get older, they take on this role for themselves. They come home from school to a fridge, a TV, a computer, and a stern note from Mom to stay in the house until a parent arrives home. 

Eventually, a parent shows up–utterly exhausted from a day at the office plus four hours of driving. No time to prepare dinner?  Fast food. No time to help with homework? Oh well.  No way to get them to Little League or soccer practice?  They can play video games. Kids taking drugs, or having sex, in these empty houses?  Gee, I never knew, I didn’t notice anything had changed.  

I wish I could be like Mr. Bruegmann, and snap my fingers to create a solution to all these problems as facile as “creating small, fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Sprawl is so ingrained in our lifestyles in Southern California–and all over the country–that it will take generations to transform it into something more sustainable. And that assumes developers and home buyers are ever convinced to stop fostering it. So, perhaps books like Bruegmann’s are helpful in beginning to conceive how America can cope with the problems of its own device. But the cheerleading seems misplaced.    

I’m Palmdale, Fly Me

Los Angeles is now on its fourth attempt to expand and modernize Los Angeles International Airport to accomodate the surging traffic in air passengers and cargo–especially international–that wants access to one of the world’s largest concentrations of people. Beginning in about 1998, a fantasy element started to creep into how city officials discussed this project. Instead of simply making LAX bigger and more convenient, they said we’re going to upgrade it somewhat but also pursue “a regional approach.” 

What this means is, assume the growth in traffic predicted for LAX is like the contents of a pinata. Break it open, and let all the kids share.  Give some of it to Palmdale, some of it to Ontario, some of it to Long Beach, some of it to John Wayne, and some of it to a new commercial airport at the former El Toro Marine Base.

This strategy defies how the commercial air business works.  You can’t just assign it where you’d like it to go.

Ontario is a successful, growing airport, but it still fails to deliver international service. Long Beach is in a great location, but its neighbors have gotten that city to constrain it.  Ditto John Wayne. The notion of turning El Toro into a commercial airport tore Orange County apart politically, and the idea is now pretty decisively dead.

That leaves Palmdale Regional Airport, a massive, 5800-acre piece of property in the Mojave Desert, purchased by the City of Los Angeles because back in the 1960s, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) predicted (prayed?) northern LA County’s population was where would grow. That population would be serviced by “Palmdale Intercontinental Airport.”

SCAG still thinks Palmdale will handle 12.8 million passengers per year in 25 years.  But today, one airline runs flights out of Palmdale, Scenic Airlines. It has one route, to North Las Vegas. And, according to news reports, Scenic is about to pull the plug:

Scenic was the first company to fly out of Palmdale Regional since April 1998, when United Express ended five years of shuttling people from Palmdale to connecting flights at Los Angeles International Airport.

Aaron A. Goerlich, an attorney representing Scenic Airlines, filed a 90-day notice of the company’s intention to terminate service with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Dec. 13, records show.

Paul Haney, spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which owns Palmdale Regional, said agency officials “are disappointed” with Scenic’s filing.

“We hope (Scenic) will change its plans before service ends. We believe the Antelope Valley is a growing and attractive market for airline service,” Haney said.

Palmdale Regional “will play a crucial role in the regional solution to accommodate the growing demand for air service in Southern California,” he said.

To meet that demand, “We will intensify marketing efforts and explore new ways to make the business case for airlines to schedule flights there, particularly regional jet service that would link Palmdale with major airline hubs,” Haney said. 

Mitzi Daines, Scenic’s director of business development, said the reason for ending service was a shortage of passengers.

Mr. Haney’s talking point about a “regional solution” is really all about LAWA someday getting permission to do what must be done to LAX. The more LAWA acts like they’re serious about developing Palmdale into a big, successful airport that will divert traffic from LAX, the better the politics becomes for the needed LAX expansion. That’s been the theory; I’m skeptical. The airlines don’t believe there’s a market in Palmdale that they can’t more profitably serve at LAX or Ontario. LA County residents outside of the Antelope Valley think Palmdale’s too far away. 

Nonetheless, the city family continues to talk like Palmdale will eventually become a major airport, and plans to spend a lot of money (from where?) on more roads and mass transit to make Palmdale seem closer:

“This is a symptom of the past, not of the future,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX and who is working to find a way to distribute flights around the region.

“We need to do more with Palmdale to make it more attractive.”

When I worked in City Hall, I used to say you had to live the life span of Methuselah to see anything finished. Seeing Palmdale become a major airport will test even those limits.

As a PR consultant, I was part of the LAX Master Plan team from 1994-98. The rationale for the project was one thing: Demand. The community acted as if the people who ran LAX were a bunch of greedy developers, when in fact they were essentially just traffic engineers saying “here’s what’s coming.” Los Angeles was the nation’s international hub. What Dallas-Ft. Worth is to American Airlines, LAX is to many foreign carriers from Asia, the Pacific Islands region, Latin America and Australia/New Zealand.

At some point. the inability to grow LAX to meet demand will cause that demand to shift elsewhere.  I’d love to see an update of the demand forecast we used in the 90s. I suspect it will show traffic already adjusting to the political realities of Los Angeles–not by moving to Palmdale, but by moving to Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Phoenix.

The world of December 21, 1988

Seventeen years ago today, a Pan Am flight traveling from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York crashed in Lockerbie Scotland.  The New York Times’ “On this Day” feature reprints the front page and original article from the following day’s newspaper. 

The story, by Craig Whitney, is 1,400 words long.  The word “terrorism” is not one of them.

Aviation authorities thought that since the jet disappeared from ground controllers’ radar screens when it was at 31,000 feet, without an emergency call from the cockpit, whatever brought it down must have happened instantaneously.

What Happened to Transponder?

If the power to the electrical system operating the plane’s transponder had not been suddenly cut, the transponder would have kept sending signals about the aircraft’s position and altitude to radar screens on the ground, which would have shown it losing altitude as it fell.

Among the kinds of things that might have suddenly cut power would be a bomb, an explosive decompression caused by a structural weakness, or a decompression caused by a midair collision.

Mr. Kriendler said there was no indication of an explosion and that Pan Am had not received any threats.

He said that 30-mile-an-hour winds were reported at about 4,000 feet when the aircraft took off, but there was no information of how strong the winds were at 31,000 feet, the plane’s cruising altitude before it apparently lost power.

As it turned out, there was an explosion–of about 16 ounces of the plastic explosive Semtex-H hidden in a Samsonite suitcase packed in the forward cargo hold. A large consignment of Semtex had been sold to the Libyan government by a company affiliated with the former Czech communist government.  Semtex is manufactured in Semtin, Czechoslovakia. The bomb was hidden inside a cassette radio wrapped in clothing that had been made and sold in Malta. About two weeks before the bombing, the manager of Mary’s House in Sliema, a clothing store, sold some of the clothing to a man of Libyan appearance. The man didn’t seem to care what he was buying: An old tweed jacket, a baby’s jumpsuit, and other items of different sizes.  

Almost three years after the crash, the strangely indifferent clothing-store customer was formally charged with the murders of the Pan Am passengers and crew. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer who was head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta, were indicted for murder by Scottish authorities.  Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi turned the two suspects over to Scottish police in 1999 after a lengthy negotiation and UN sanctions. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 and is now in a Glasgow prison. Fhimah was acquitted. In exchange for a lifting of UN sanctions, the government of Libya accepted responsibility and paid compensation of $8 million to each of the victims’ families. The sanctions were lifted in 2003.

Assuming that the various alternative theories of the bombing are incorrect and at least one of the right men are in prison, the motive appears to have been to retaliate for the 1986 U.S. bombings of Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, which were themselves retaliation for a Gaddafi-ordered bombing of a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. military personnel, in which three died.

I sense a great nostalgia among many Americans for the pre-9/11 world.  And who can blame us?  The 9/11 attacks forced us to pay attention to the fact that we had enemies and they were making war on us.  We didn’t pay so much attention if the American victims died in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. For some, it was better to pretend the problem was small and remote. But the pre-9/11 innocence was, itself, a form of denial, a seemingly endless sleep going back to the 1970s. That the “newspaper of record” would report on a mysterious airline explosion in 1988 without even raising the possibility of terrorism goes beyond prudence and caution. It reflects a willed desire not to connect the dots. 

There’s a line of poetry by Yeats, “In dreams begin responsibilities.”  In our era, wakefulness brings responsibilities. Unwanted responsibilities, but also unavoidable.  Sleep brings freedom from these anxieties, I suppose, but we can’t all sleep at the same time.

Odious comparisons

From LA Observed, we learn that a group of progressive LA leaders went to Spring Street to lobby for the return of Robert Scheer to the LA Times op-ed pages. The group, headed by Marcy Winograd of the Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, objected to the Times’ running columns by conservatives Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg. Boot writes mostly about foreign affairs, and his work appears sometimes in the Weekly Standard. Goldberg is associated with the National Review, and is the son of the infamous Lucianne Goldberg, pal of Linda Tripp.

I liked reading Robert Scheer. The Times was foolish to fire him. It makes perfect sense for progressives, to whom Scheer has been a hero for 35 years, to object.

But it says a lot about the state of political discourse nowadays that Winograd & co. found it reasonable to make this statement in an e-mail after the meeting:

When (Andres) Martinez and (Nick) Goldberg mentioned wanting to be intellectually provocative on their Opinion pages, thereby running people with far-right opinions, Marcy asked, “Would you run Hitler? Would you give a half a page to someone who espoused annihilating a race?” They got defensive, but we pressed on — saying these were extraordinary times in which people were being disappeared, tortured, sent to fight a war based on lies, etc. “You should be writing editorials calling for impeachment.” No traction there.

I’m an a la carte political thinker. I have my favorites on the left as well as the right, and respect above all independent thinkers who look at issues objectively, and don’t worry about where the partisan chips might fall. I’m sure Marcy Winograd and I agree on at least a few things.

But it’s beneath anyone who calls themselves “progressive” to compare writers like Boot and Goldberg to Hitler, or to suggest their viewpoints equate to those of a genocidal maniac. It also points up why the Left has become so marginalized in the past 20 years. The constant evocations of Hitler, Nazis, fascists to describe anyone who disagrees with them signifies nothing other than extreme intolerance.

Why discuss anything with someone who will hurl the harshest conceivable epithet if you vary from their doctrine? What thinking person would submit themselves to that? And, more to the point, who would give political power to such people? If Winograd thinks Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg are indistinguishable from Hitler, then it is reasonable to conclude that, if Winograd were in charge, Boot and Goldberg would not only be censored; they would go to prison.

“…but not that much…”

parker.jpgOne of my favorite rockers is Graham Parker, but I began to lose touch with his creative output in about 1981.  With the help of Rhapsody, I’ve been trying to catch up and am delighted to report–he’s put out a lot of great music since then.  One of the best albums is out of print, but Amazon sells used copies:  The Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Tour, a 1997 disc he made with the Figgs. It’s a good catch-up of the best of his 80s and 90s songs, with some of the older stuff mixed in and performed with the kind of manic energy and verve we associated with Parker’s former backup band, the Rumor. 

Parker’s a Last Angry Man. When I picked up on him, he was a young Last Angry Man.  Now he’s an old Last Angry Man.  There isn’t really much difference–as I’m finding myself.  If anything, the added years give you more things to be angry about.

I love “Obsessed With Aretha”:

You get a lot of girl singers obsessed with Aretha
You get a lot of little swingers wishin’ they could be her
Some of those sisters can rock and roll
All God’s children gotta little bit of soul
But not that much no no no not that much

….

You get a lot of little monkeys swingin’ from the treetops
You get a lot of little flunkeys singin’ on Top of the Pops
Some of them appear in the gutter press Tellin’ you their lives are a mess
But not that much no no no not that much

You get a lot of little stringers pullin’ out their penknives
Cuttin’ up history Jugglin’ with lives
Bein’ a reporter is a glamorous trade
You don’t even have to tell the truth to get paid
Well not that much no no no not that much

Yeah but when you hear Aretha singing on some advertisement
Or with a big fussy band on some hall of fame concert
She’s still got the lungs and the dress and the mink stole
You might even say the girl’s still got soul
But not that much no no no not that much

The roots of torture…

…run deeper than anyone could have imagined.  According to research published yesterday by the University of Bath, most young girls who get a Barbie doll this Christmas will probably end up torturing them.  An article on Forbes.com includes this Associated Press quote from Bath researcher Agnes Nairn:Barbie.jpg

“The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a ‘cool’ activity…. The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving.”

The researcher added that many toys get the Torquemada treatment, but Barbie above all inspires “actual physical violence.”

(Do you suppose this means the Abu Graibh prisoners have a case against Mattel?)

Fire Howard Dean

I am a Democrat!

But that has been a damn hard thing to be during the past few years.

When I became a Democrat (around age 12), I was attracted because this seemed like the party where people who thought deeply resided. I was attracted to the Democratic party whose values were embodied in JFK’s Inaugural address in 1961, the one where he promised that America would:

…bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge–and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom–and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

That speech promises a muscular pursuit of liberty the world over. That’s every bit as inspiring to me as the idea of using government aggressively to secure civil rights and liberty at home. Never mind whether Bush, Jr. or before him Reagan have pursued these policies, too. They remain a core principle of the Democratic party. Except, the party seems to have forgotten it in its mindless opposition to the incumbent president.

Just five years ago, when Bill Clinton was president, the views of Joe Lieberman reflected mainstream thinking within the party. Now the leftists that have taken over the Democratic party, who dominate its discourse, and who have a tendency to punish heretics, have declared that Lieberman should be cast out. His crime? Saying things like this:

“The difference in this town — here in Washington — on the war is not between Democrats and Republicans; it’s between people who believe essentially we’ve already lost in Iraq and it’s time to get out — and most of the rest of us who believe not only have we not lost, but we’re winning.”

Another comment of Lieberman’s — “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he’ll be commander-in-chief for three more years. We undermine the president’s credibility at our nation’s peril.” — has been twisted by a group called Democracy For America into an attempt by Lieberman to “stifle debate.” The DFA, which is headed by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s brother Jim, is circulating a letter demanding that Lieberman “(join) the majority of Americans in questioning President Bush’s foreign policy.”

(You find the Democracy for America website, by the way, by clicking onto Dean’s old presidential campaign site, where it says “Our work to take back the country continues with Governor Dean’s new organization: Democracy for America.”)

Democrats of this ilk must be very impressed by this notion of their adversaries wanting to stifle them; it is their catch-all response to any critic who catches them saying something inaccurate. “How dare you impugn my patriotism? How dare you question my right to free speech?”

All Lieberman seems to be saying is that the tedious, unending Democratic campaign to accuse Bush of “lying” about Iraq’s WMDs needs to be seen from an outside-the-U.S. perspective. Accusing Bush of lying about his Medicare prescription plan–which he did–is perfectly acceptable domestic political discourse. But accusing Bush of lying about one of his rationales for the invasion of Iraq–which he didn’t–carries with it dangers to the U.S. as a whole that must be weighed by responsible political leaders. To ask the leaders of the Democratic party to do that weighing is not the same as trying to stifle, censor, repress or opress anyone. It’s a call to conscience.

On foreign policy, the Democratic party is utterly lost if it thinks shushing Joe Lieberman would be an important accomplishment. Lost philosophically, and lost politically. What a shame. Republicans are gleeful at the sight of the Democratic Party’s self-destruction, but what about Democrats like me? The party’s positions on the environment, civil rights, and the overall role of government in a civil society are, mostly, still mine. But so long as the Democrats insist on being so childishly reckless on foreign policy, they are conceding the leadership of this nation to George W. Bush and his allies in the religious right and Corporate America.

We need to fix this, Democrats, right away. The 2006 election season has begun, and predictably, President Bush has begun one of his political rebounds at the precise right time. His party will go into 2006 with a good economy and an improving situation in Iraq to talk about. That’s tough enough. But they will win in a cakewalk if the Democrats seem to have set themselves up as a party that simply won’t tolerate the views of someone like Joe Lieberman.

I hope our 2006 slate is full of Joe Liebermans, and devoid of Howard Deans. That kind of slate could win a lot of seats in Congress, and shift the direction of the country. The fact that the Democratic Party’s leader and chief spokesman is lending his website to an attack on one of the party’s most popular and respected leaders should be a firing offense.

Dean will be fired–about a year from now, after the Democratic party gets clobbered in the midterms and staggers toward 2008 with its base shrunk to levels not seen since the 1920s. But that future can be averted–by firing Dean now.

Who was the first valet parking attendant?

Sometimes, not even Wikipedia can help. 

I’m writing a screenplay.  It’s set in 1973.  There’s a scene in front of a hotel, in which the characters wait in a valet parking line.  I stop for a moment.

Was there valet parking in 1973?  Did they call it “valet parking”?

Wikipedia, source of so much information, only has this to say: 

Valet parking is a parking service offered by some restaurants, stores, and other businesses. In contrast to “self-parking,” where customers find parking on their own, customers’ vehicles are parked for them by a person called a valet. This service either requires a fee to be paid by the customer or is offered free of charge by the establishment.

A valet is usually an employee of the establishment, or an employee of a third party valet service. When there is a fee it is usually either a flat amount or a fee based on how long the car is parked. It is customary to tip the valet who actually parks the car. In some restaurants the fee for parking is usually part of the tip that is given to the valet.Some cars come with an additional key known as a valet key that starts the ignition and opens the drivers side door but prevents the valet from gaining access to valuables that are located in the trunk or the glove box.

Valet parking is most often offered (and is most useful) in urban areas, where parking is scarce, though some upscale businesses offer valet parking as an optional service even though self-parking may be readily available. For example, in wealthy suburban areas like California‘s Silicon Valley, some hospitals (like Stanford University Medical Center) offer valet parking for the convenience of patients and their visitors.

But who thought of it? Wikipedia is silent.

 

“…self-interest run riot”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s exploitation of his family name to attack the Cape Wind project should make anyone concerned about the environment gloomy. His book attacking the Bush Administration’s global warming inaction is still on the shelves, but he’s decided to lend his legacy as well as his environmentalist credentials to those attacking a wind energy project in the ocean off Cape Cod because…because…well, they own property in the area and they just don’t want to look at wind turbines.

Kennedy’s op-ed on the topic in Friday’s NY Times was a combination of kitchen sink arguments (everything from the long-discredited bird-kill myths to his alleged concerns that the turbines will cause shipwrecks on foggy days) and implicit threats:

Many environmental groups support the Cape Wind project, and that’s unfortunate because making enemies of fishermen and marina owners is bad environmental strategy in the long run. Cape Cod’s traditional-gear commercial fishing families and its recreational anglers and marina owners have all been important allies for environmentalists in our battles for clean water.

Talk about bad environmental strategy: RFK Jr. actually argues the Cape Wind project would not be economically feasible were it not for federal and state subsidies. He should know this statement could be made about virtually every wind energy project in the nation! Subsidies, tax credits and the like are vital to allowing sustainable energy projects to gain a toehold until such time as they can be cost-competitive.

I’m sure Kennedy favors public support for every other wind energy project–just not the one that happens to be in his family’s backyard. But his words will be used against all of them.

Here’s the real problem, though. Kennedy’s NIMBYism feeds a myth that there “are many alternatives that would achieve the same benefits” as the project to which he objects. Well, that’s not really true.

Wind usable for energy is not just anywhere and everywhere. Wind energy is a renewable resource–in fact an inexhaustable resource. But it is not unlimited, because wind doesn’t blow everywhere at sufficient speeds and frequencies to make siting facilities cost-effective.

A large number of the best candidate sites for wind energy are currently undeveloped and could be classified as wilderness. Optimally, you wouldn’t build anything on wilderness locations, but if you start eliminating those sites, it won’t take long for wind energy to fall off the table as a viable alternative energy strategy. Nantucket Sound is a beautiful place, but is it more beautiful than the California Poppy Reserve, near Tehachapi? Near there is another good site for wind energy–and a controversial one. If the Kennedy family owned a ranch out there, his op-ed would’ve had a different title, but it would have made the same case.

In his recent book, Kennedy complained about the corporate influence on government decisions affecting the environment as “self-interest run riot.” His op-ed was a good example of what he was talking about.

P.S. Kennedy joining the NIMBYs has had another effect: He’s given aid and comfort to the very people he called out in his book and through his activism. The conservative websites are all over this story. Please–if you fly around in a private jet, you’re not the person to be attacking SUVs. And if you fight a wind energy project because your wealthy neighbors don’t like it, then you’re not the person to be fighting Bush/Cheney on global warming.

Hello My Name is Steve, er, Bob

Remember the grocery lock-out a couple years ago?  It’ll be a long time before Ralph’s Grocery Co. forgets it.  According to the Los Angeles Business Journal today:

According to (U.S.) prosecutors, Ralphs created fake Social Security Numbers and new names for employees who were rehired after being locked out on Oct. 12, 2003. The company also falsified employment eligibility forms, employee withholding allowance certificates, income tax statements and reports to trust funds that provided employee pension and health benefits. The company also issued thousands of payroll checks under false names and allowed workers to cash their paychecks at Ralphs in order to hide their identities.

Ralphs allegedly forced employees to wear name tags with their new identities and to work far from their normal workplaces, often moving from store to store.

Yikes.

Why “From the Desert to the Sea…”

“From the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California, here’s the news.” Jerry Dunphy.jpg

That’s how TV news anchor Jerry Dunphy opened every one of his news broadcasts.  He was on KNXT’s “The Big News” when I moved to California in 1968.  Dunphy shared the anchor desk on KABC with Christine Lund during the period when I worked as a press liaison for County Supervisor Ed Edelman and then Mayor Tom Bradley. At the turn of the century, Dunphy was still on the air, at KCAL, working nightly until his death in 2002.

For serious-minded print reporters back in those days, Jerry Dunphy was the embodiment of everything disturbing about the news business.  He was overpaid. He wasn’t a real journalist–he just read off a teleprompter. News was supposed to be serious, but Jerry and his deskmates were engaged in happy talk. He got ratings, but no respect. He got parodied: He was one model for the Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore show.

For a long time I bought into this snarky viewpoint. Until I noticed something. Every time there was an earthquake or a wildfire, Jerry and his kind were there, on the air, handling the disconnected flow of information with smooth aplomb. And this was news that mattered to people.  Sure, the Times and the other newspapers did a good job, too. They were just a day late with it.  I never got to meet Jerry, but in my career I worked with many other TV news “talking heads,” among  them some brilliant and passionate journalists.

I see an analogy between the days when Jerry Dunphy was mocked as an interloper into the journalistic profession, and the mindshare battles of today. Now, TV news has crawled through the fence to respectability; and critics of the news media have lumped newspapers and TV together as the Mainstream Media, or MSM. They have defined themselves as “responsible” as opposed to the alternative media that’s surged forth from the Internet and talk radio, which gets characterized as unreliable, reckless, tub-thumping, rumor-mongering, partisan.  Blogs are blamed for dragging the Democratic party to the left, for slandering poor John Kerry, and for sinking the Harriet Miers nomination, to name just three of their many supposed crimes.

I’m a neutral observer in that battle.  This is not a generic MSM-bashing site. I’m too fascinated with the battle to take sides. My goal is to understand it, and perhaps help others understand how to thrive in this new journalistic world.

What I do like is that things are changing. It’s a jungle out there, or at least a vibrant forest. Old orders falling, clever species adapting, new ideas emerging.  The news business is unsettled.  Good.  The public relations business is unsettled. Good.  People are getting information from unreliable sources. Yes, but in the blog-world does good information chase out the bad?  It certainly seems to be so, however disputatious the process.  Big Bang.jpg

Let’s be clear: Most new ideas are bad ideas. But not all of them.  The gates are open now. The barriers to entry have disappeared.  People who never would’ve been hired in a newspaper or gotten their mugs on TV are now content providers.  Not just individuals like me.  As (dating myself) KSAN’s Scoop Nisker used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”  This is possible now.  It’s been happening for nearly a decade, but it seems like it just exploded. We’re watching the Big Bang in progress.

Universe oldest light.jpg

One more thing about Jerry Dunphy:  I loved that “from the desert to the sea” business. It’s what makes Southern California so alluring and special.  Embrace it all: the ocean and the desert. The cool breezes, the broiling sun.  Sunrise’s shadows against the mountains, sunset’s colors splashed against the sky.  There is such peace in this beauty.

It’s everything in between the desert and the sea that we have to worry about…..wake up shadows.jpg 

 

Son of “Jobs-Housing Balance”

Jobs-housing balance was an obsession.  The typical Southern Californian of working age lived over here and drove to work over there.  They made that round trip every day in their car, and the nation’s worst air pollution was the result.

Officials at organizations like the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) , the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the City of LA’s planning department, staff to pro-environmental legislators, activists–and me, in my role as Mayor Tom Bradley‘s environmental affairs aide–spent untold hours in the 1980s and 90s talking about how we could fix this, how we could bring jobs and housing together in a more compact urban form.

Regulators had clamped down almost as far as they could on direct sources of smog-producing chemicals and waste. And while old cars were still filthy, the newer autos produced minimal exhaust if properly maintained. But the growth in the numbers of vehicles on the roads outpaced these improvements.

The primary strategy left was to look at “indirect sources,” the aspects of daily life that caused people to start their cars not only to go to work, but to buy a loaf of bread. We envisioned “mixed-use” projects where people could get up in the morning, go downstairs to catch a bus or a trolley to a workplace just a few minutes away.

The ultimate goal was to make the car dispensible.  Need to go to work?  Take a trolley.  Need a loaf of bread?  Walk down the street, or take a bike. The “cold start” of an auto’s engine is disproportionately polluting, so try to build your city to make less of them. And, you had to cut the vehicle miles travelled (VMT).   

Kind of challenging. A challenge that went unmet, as is evident from the growth in housing in the Inland Empire, the excruciatingly long commutes from there to points west… I got to know someone who runs the It’s a Grind coffee shop in Temecula, a fast-growing town in Riverside County, 87 miles from downtown Los Angeles. His barista-ing starts at 5 a.m. When he unlocks his door, a line has already formed outside. That’s a lot of cupholders filled with lattes, and a lot of VMTs.    

Plus, Temecula and all the cities like it are built like suburbs of the 1950s.  The main drag is a long strip mall.  The houses are way up in the hills. It’s how people want to live.  Developers are like any other businesspeople. They respond to demand.  Then mix in the crisis of housing affordability in LA and Orange Counties, the NIMBY policies that ensure even reasonable projects get built slowly if at all…and job-housing balance turned into a bunch of fat three-ring binders sitting on shelves for the mice to eat.

I thought they’d given up.

But now…it’s back. This story in the LA Times describes how another highly polluted region of California, the San Joaquin Valley plans to fight smog by forcing developers to pay air pollution fees for new developments. That’s the stick. The carrot is they could avoid the fees “if their new homes, shopping centers and office complexes were designed in ways that limited automobile use — by locating banks and dry cleaners closer to houses, for example, or linking bicycle trails and walking paths to schools and work centers.”

The San Joaquin Valley is another place like Temecula: The Bay Area’s bedroom.

The California Business Properties Association, among other groups, has joined to fight it under the slogan “Stop the San Joaquin Valley Air Board Tax.”  But they are up against not just the Sierra Club, but also (according to the Times), the region’s farmers. In the zero-sum game of meeting federal air quality regulations, the farmers know that if new housing developments add more smog to the atmosphere, the regulators will crack down harder on the farmers, whose pollution sources are more susceptible to regulation.

In LA, by the way, some of these goals are being achieved, especially in downtown Los Angeles.  And, even more logically, leaders of the Inland Empire are trying to attract more jobs, so that the folks outside It’s A Grind can sleep in, and go to work a few minutes rather than hours from home.  But change on the scale needed to make a real difference in air quality will take decades.

Better to do what San Joaquin Valley is considering, and incorporate a balance of land-uses from the beginning.  The impact on housing affordability can’t be dismissed. But the program as described appears to be based on incentives, not mandates, ensuring that developers–and ultimately homeowners and business owners–will have choices.

Backstory

It was just about a year ago that I rode on a ferry like this one across Lake Champlain, on a public relations mission for the Department of Homeland Security, a client of the PR agency that employed me. Unbeknownst to me, my old PR career had only about three weeks left to run.  

Ferry Across Lake Champlain, one year ago

I finished a trip that started in Syracuse, where I rented an Olds, drove north until I hit the border shared by New York and Canada, put on a couple of community meetings where my client would explain the baffling new US-VISIT program, then drove through the Mohawk reservation and some of the bleakest farm country I’ve ever seen, then down into Plattsburg. After another meeting the next morning, my clients and I drove our cars to catch the ferry. Snow was starting to flurry. 

My problems in Los Angeles were thousands of miles away. The last stop was Burlington, Vermont, near the university campus, where we heard about the hardship US-VISIT might impose on foreign students who wanted to weekend it in Montreal. During lunch before the meeting, the GM of the LA office of my PR firm checked in with me with more questions about a controversy in which the office and I were embroiled. The conversation was more than cordial, because we trusted each other. I returned to finish lunch with my clients, raced back for the meeting, and then followed them through Burlington’s downtown area as the snow began to fall heavily. Some wanted to drink beer, others visit old friends, others shopped, and as their PR person, my job was to accomodate all of it. These were federal government employees. Fun is parceled out to them in small morsels. Let them enjoy themselves.  

But it was a Friday night. The airport was only six miles away, but six gridlocked miles, six miles that started uphill, six miles of icy, slippery roads… My clients made their planes, just barely, but I did not. The drop-off site for my rental car was, strangely, not at the airport. It was two miles away and everyone who worked there had gone home.  Every car had at least six inches of snow on it. No shuttle back to the airport, no hope of getting back to LA that night.  

I’m taking the car, I told them, this drafty gray Oldsmobile, I’m taking it and driving it to Boston. I’m flying to LA from there–get me on a 6 a.m flight. And off I went, into the night, outrunning the snowblast, barrelling through the Vermont darkness headed for Boston, listening to a homemade CD mix with Leon Russell’s “Out in the Woods,” James Taylor’s “Mexico,” and the ancient Electric Flag FM staple, “Groovin’ is Easy” among the obscure hits I’d collected. I called me wife now and again and she kept me good company. I switched off the music and searched for those 50,000-watt stations that fill America’s air on nights like this, picking up talk shows from New York City, basketball games from New Hampshire, francophone sports-talk hosts from Canada complaining about the hockey strike, NPR-type programming from the university towns hidden in the unlit woods around me. 

Boston 

Boston on a Friday night around midnight is a trap for drivers. It’s a city that never sleeps because no one can get home. Because of the Big Dig and its aftermath, the interstate ran aground somewhere in the middle of the city. You had to whip-turn to follow the detour: Left! Right! Get in the left lane! Merge here! Quick, follow that little sign! Wait, that’s One Way!  All in a slow traffic sludge that took an hour and a half to navigate until I finally found my hotel near the airport. Where I slept. For about four hours. And then flew, nonstop, back to Los Angeles. 

A few days later, I staffed another US-VISIT trip to Vancouver. My part of the trip was delayed by one day so I could talk to an internal investigator, a law firm the company had hired.  A friendly interview, my third or fourth. I always told them everything they wanted to know and was brutally honest.  That was my job, in this crisis. To help my company get through it, by providing exhaustive detailed factual information whenever and wherever they needed it.  For once, clients didn’t come first–the crisis came first. The reputation of the firm was on the line. It was my job to help them deal with it. 

Three weeks later, I was fired.  I was given no reason.  The only warnings I had were of a psychic nature. I sensed something was up at the Christmas party, and the disquiet lingered through the holidays. 

A week after that, in January 2005, I was indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud. Eventually, two other people associated with this company would also be indicted, and one of them would plead guilty. The other one, and me, will go on trial in March 2006. That’s the plan anyway. 

I will say nothing here about the case, except to state my innocence and affirm my strong belief that I will be exonerated. I’m not trying to draw attention to my old firm or anyone who worked there. That’s not what this blog is about.

Instead, it will be the story of, and reflections from, a man in exile from the life he knew–a life that now seems farther away in time than just a year. For 25 years, from the time I left Berkeley in 1979 until the day I was fired in 2005, I have been on someone’s payroll, nonstop. I took one vacation that lasted three weeks, one that lasted two weeks, and otherwise contented myself with one-week vacations, maybe one every six months.  When I was working, it was not unusual to work until 10 every night. When it became possible to work on a computer at home, I started coming home earlier–and working there. I was late for everything that involved my family. My inner dreams and burning desires were subordinated to my jobs. 

I gave extreme loyalty and, for the most part, was given loyalty in return. I was blessed with the confidence of my bosses, who gave me much responsibility and senior job titles. Many of my closest friendships arose from work.  Work was my world for 25 years. First journalism, then working as a press and policy aide to a Los Angeles County Supervisor and then the Mayor of Los Angeles, then life as a PR executive, first for a small firm, then seven years for one of the largest firms in the world, and finally two years for another large firm.  

Now that life is over. For a year now, almost. 

The FugitiveBack in the 1960s, many of my favorite TV shows had a backstory. That story was usually told in the pilot episode, but it was so important to understanding each episode that the backstory was also incorporated into the opening credits. Sometimes in a song. You couldn’t look this information up on the Internet back then. You needed to be reminded. Of the seven stranded castaways. Of Dr. Richard Kimble, unjustly accused of his wife’s murder. Of Captain Parmenter, the clumsy goofball whose sneeze led his battalion into victory, and him to the command of F Troop. Of Ben Gazzara’s character Paul Bryan, told he has only two years to live. “You are my wife. Goodbye, city life! Green Acres, we are there!” 

My life has a backstory now. “For 25 years, he worked in Los Angeles, telling its stories and making news. He spearheaded the City of LA’s recycling program, and worked to create LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services. He was a PR machine, a writer of press releases, speeches, crisis plans, even Internet sites.  He knew all the top reporters in town, and had powerful clients. And then one day, in a miscarriage of justice that is yet to be redeemed, all of that was taken away from him. His reputation was trashed. He had to start all over again. He had to rediscover his life.”