Okay. I Believe John Kerry Meant it as a Joke. So Why Didn’t He Apologize? *(updated)

kerry-plays-soccer.jpgI don’t get John Kerry — and even though I voted for the guy, I never really did get him. My theory on Kerry, which always riled my mother to no end, was that he was burdened by the appearance of being a highly intelligent man, when in fact he is just average. If he looked like, say, me, for example, he would have gone into a line of work more commensurate with his abilities. That world-bearing gravitas…isn’t that the kind of wise leader we need for our troubled times? So his face seems to say.

His face lies. With the best chance of beating an incumbent president since 1968 (I think Clinton bucked the odds in ’92 by beating Bush, aided heavily by the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot), Kerry managed to blow the 2004 presidential election. I don’t think it was a sudden outbreak of love for W. I think a lot of fence-sitters at the end were turned off by Kerry, and stuck with the devil they knew. He just didn’t seem very smart, after all.

So last night in Pasadena, Kerry made his famous comment to the students at the City College, saying, We’re here to talk about education, but I want to say something before, you know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Unbelievable. Even if this was how he really felt — and the sentiment did seem to fit what we know about this pompous preppy — it seemed impossible that he would actually say it.

So — it was a gaffe, right? He meant to make a joke about the “dumb” Bush getting us stuck in Iraq, and it came out wrong. To stop the bleeding, here’s the PR 101: Apologize. Right away. Say he realizes what he said might have been taken as an insult by our servicemen and women in Iraq. He didn’t mean to suggest they all got there because they screwed up in school. Mea culpa.

But no. Here‘s what he actually said today about the mess he made:

Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how. I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy. If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the president and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp — rubberstamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families.

My statement yesterday — and the White House knows this full well — was a botched joke about the president and the president’s people, not about the troops. The White House’s attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe. It’s a stunning statement about their willingness to reduce anything America, the raw politics. It’s their willingness to distort, their willingness to mislead Americans, their willingness to exploit the troops as they have so many times at backdrops, at so many speeches in which they have not told the American people the truth.

I’m not going to stand for it. What our troops deserve is a winning strategy, and what they deserve is leadership that is up to the sacrifice that they’re making. Sadly, this is the best that this administration can do in a month when we have lost 100 young men and women who have given their lives for a failed policy. Over half the names on the Vietnam wall were put there after our leaders knew that our policy was wrong, and it was wrong that leaders were quiet then, and I’m not going to be quiet now. This is a textbook Republican campaign strategy: try to change the topic, try to make someone else the issue, try to make something else said the issue, not the policy, not their responsibility.

Well, everybody knows it’s not working this time, and I’m not going to stand around and let it work.

If anyone thinks that a veteran, someone like me, who’s been fighting my entire career to provide for veterans, to fight for their benefits, to help honor what their service is — if anybody thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq, and not the president and his people who put them there, they’re crazy. It’s just wrong.

This is a classic GOP textbook Republican campaign tactic. I’m sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate real policy, who won’t take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes.

I’m sick and tired of a whole bunch of Republican attacks, the most of which come from people who never wore the uniform and never had the courage to stand up and go to war themselves.

Enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for this.

This policy is broken, and this president and his administration didn’t do their homework. They didn’t study what would happen in Iraq. They didn’t study and listen to the people who were the experts and would have told them. And they know that’s what I was talking about yesterday. I’m not going to be lectured by a White House or by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who’s taking a day off from mimicking and attacking Michael J. Fox, who’s now going to try to attack me and lie about me and distort me. No way. It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country, are willing to lie about those who did. It’s over.

This administration has given us a Katrina foreign policy: mistake upon mistake upon mistake, unwilling to give our troops the armor that they need, unwilling to have enough troops in place, unwilling to give them the humvees that they deserve to protect them, unwilling to have a coalition that is adequate to be able to defend our interests.

Our own intelligence agency has told us they’re creating more terrorists, not less; they’re making us less safe, not more. I think Americans are sick and tired of this game.

These Republicans are afraid to stand up and debate a real veteran on this topic, and they’re afraid to debate — you know, they want to debate straw men because they’re afraid to debate real men.

Well, we’re going to have a real debate in this country about this policy. The bottom line is, these Republicans want to distort this policy. And this time it won’t work, because we are going to stay in their face with the truth. And no Democrat is going to be bullied by these people, by these kinds of attacks that have no place in American politics. It’s time to set our policy correct.

They have a stand still and lose policy in Iraq, and they have a cut and run policy in Afghanistan. And the fact is our troops, who have served heroically, who deserve better, deserve leadership that is up to their sacrifice, period.

Q Senator, John McCain said that you owe an apology to many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq who answered their country’s call because they are patriots. Should those people who didn’t get your joke, who may have misinterpreted you as saying the undereducated are cannon fodder — what do you say to them?

KERRY: Never said that. And John McCain knows I’ve never said that, and John McCain knows I wouldn’t say that. And John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Donald Rumsfeld for making the mistakes he’s made. John McCain ought to ask for an apology from this administration for not sending in enough troops. He ought to ask for an apology for putting our troops on the line with a policy that doesn’t have an adequate coalition, that doesn’t have adequate diplomacy, where we don’t have a strategy to win.

And what we need is to debate the real issues, not these phony, sideline issues that are part of the politics. Americans are tired — sick and tired of this kind of politics. They know my true feelings. They know I fought to provide additional money for veterans. They know I fought to provide money for combat — for veterans. They know I fought to put money for VA. They know I’ve honored those veterans. They know that this is the finest military — and I’ve said it a hundred thousand times — that we’ve ever had. They know precisely what I was saying, and they’re trying to turn this, because they have a bankrupt policy and they can’t defend it to the nation and they can’t defend it to the world, and I’m not going to stand for this anymore, period. That’s the apology that people ought to get.

Q Do you need to go to joke school?

KERRY: Sure. Q It sounds like you regret saying those remarks. And what were you trying to say?

KERRY: Very simple, that they — that those who didn’t study it properly, those who made the decisions, they got us into Iraq, very simple. And the fact is they know that. The administration knows that. And they’re simply trying to distort this. They’re trying to play a game, and again, I’m not going to stand for it. This is the kind of thing that makes Americans sick. People know.

And there ought to be some level of honor and trust in this process. You know, I have fought a lifetime on behalf of veterans, and we have the finest young men and women serving us in the United States military that we’ve ever had. And I’m proud of that. But this administration has let them down, and that was clearly in a remark directed at this administration. They understand it, they want to distort it. It’s a classic Republican playbook. They want to change the topic. We’re not going to let them change the topic. The topic is their failed policy in Iraq. The topic is that they don’t have a strategy; they don’t have a way to be able to win.

You got Dick Cheney saying everything’s just terrific in Iraq only a week ago. John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America. He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa. He ought to ask for an apology for once again a week ago referring to al Qaeda as being the central problem in Iraq when al Qaeda is not the central problem.

Enough is enough! I’m not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics. America deserves a real discussion about real policy, and that’s what this election is going to be about next Tuesday.

Q Senator —

KERRY: One more question, and then, I got to run.

Q (Off mike) —

KERRY: Let me tell you something, I’m not going to give them one ounce of daylight to spread one of their lies and to play this game ever, ever again. That is a lesson I learned deep and hard, and I’ll tell you, I will stand up anywhere across this country and take these guys on. This is dishonoring not just the troops themselves by pointing the finger at the troops, it’s abusing the troops. They’re using the troops. They’re trying to make the troops into the target here. I didn’t do that, and they know that. And for them to suggest that somebody who served their country as I did and has a record like I have in the United States Congress of standing up and fighting for the troops would ever, every insult the troops is an insult in and of itself. And they owe us an apology for even daring to use the White House to stand up and make this an issue again. Shame on them. Shame on them. And may the American people take that shame to the polls with them next Tuesday.

Thank you, all.

Wow. Just terrible. He thinks it’s 2004, and the Swift Boat guys are after him again. Only this time, he’s going to man up, and confront those bastards. Isn’t that what he’s thinking? Sure seems like it. Except the hard-nose, not-backin’-down rhetoric is all wrong for the event that prompted it. Everyone knows he hates Bush, disagrees with the Republicans — nothing new there. But it’s the soldiers in Iraq who needed to hear from him, not political reporters! Bush wasn’t offended — the troops and their families were (presumably).

Now he’s guaranteed a fire-storm. Democratic candidates will get drawn into it, their GOP opponents “demanding” they renounce the party’s 2004 standard-bearer. Commercials are being cut now. The Democrats don’t get it, the Democrats disrespect the troops, the Vietnam syndrome lives. Blah blah blah. Count on it.

I was thinking this weekend that the Democrats had finally gotten it together, and were about to win this mid-term election with a margin to spare in the House, and perhaps squeak by in the Senate, developments I welcomed as exceedingly healthy for both the nation and the party. But now, this colossal narcissist John Kerry, who shouldn’t even be out in public… Well, we’ll see how it turns out.

My stomach’s in knots. We did not need this.

*Update, 11/1/06:  As expected, Kerry has retracted his pledge to “apologize to no one.”  He has apologized to anyone who “misinterpreted” his remarks:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. John Kerry apologized Wednesday for a “poorly stated joke,” which the Massachusetts senator says was aimed at the president but was widely perceived as a slam on U.S. troops.

“I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended,” he said in a written statement.

“As a combat veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to their loved ones: My poorly stated joke at a rally was not about, and [was] never intended to refer to any troop,” he said.

Not to be a grammar Bushitler, but:

Coming from such a highly educated man, I’m surprised this statement’s double-negative got through.  If Kerry’s words were “misinterpreted to wrongly imply” something, doesn’t that mean the opposite of “interpreted to wrongly imply,” and also the opposite of “misinterpreted to imply?”  If you misintepret something to wrongly imply something else, the two negatives cancel each other out, so you’re left with a statement correctly “interpreted to imply….” Which is what we were saying all along — he insulted the troops.

Maybe Kerry didn’t study hard enough.


Le Halloween, c’est mort.

pumpkins-galore.jpgIn the past few years, some red-state communities have all but banned Halloween celebrations because of the pagan roots of the holiday. Now, the holiday is under attack — from the left! Or, I should say, a gauche.  It’s a victim of French anti-Americanism.

From Forbes.com:

The major dailies Le Monde and Le Parisien reported on Tuesday that following some short-lived popularity, the Halloween holiday has been “pretty much buried.” The reasons seem to be a mixture of falling sales and anti-Americanism. Perchance a smattering of protectionism too. “Our Halloween sales have been falling by half every year since 2002,” Le Monde quoted toy retailer La Grande Recre as saying.

The costume company Cesar, which should otherwise be having a blowout month, proffered the “buried” quote, adding that the death of the holiday was linked to a rise in anti-Americanism.

That likely follows the use of pumpkins, skulls and other typical Halloween imagery in the publicity campaigns of McDonald’s, Walt Disney Company, and Coca-Cola.


The French didn’t hear much about Halloween till the latter part of the 20th century, thanks to the initiative of foreign residents, tourists, and torrential marketing from American companies.

French adults and children alike went on to celebrate Halloween with costume parties and trick-or-treating, while retail businesses cottoned on to the idea that utilizing holiday paraphernalia could get their ads or products noticed.

But the holiday has always been controversial in France. It’s not an archetypal French holiday, and these days it is not even clear what is being celebrated.”Non a Halloween,” a French group set up to stop to trend, has even disbanded, its mission deemed complete. It seems the boycott of this thoroughly commercialized, Americanized event, and entreaty for people to refuse to enjoy it, has worked.

I guess it’s true that Halloween as it is now celebrated is American as apple pie and movies about self-amputation. But of course, the roots of the holiday are a meshing of Anglo-Saxon and Christian traditions, and folklore about witches, ghosts and the idea that, at certain times of year, the spirit world intersects with the physical.

This poem, “Halloween” by Robert Burns can bring you back to a sense of what the celebration felt like in Scotland in 1785. Here’s how it ends:

Wi’ merry sangs , an’ friendly cracks ,
I wat they did na weary;
And unco tales, an’ funnie jokes —
Their sports were cheap an’ cheery:
Till butter’d sowens ,16wi’ fragrant lunt ,
Seta’ their gabs a-steerin;
Syne , wi’ a social glass o’strunt ,
They parted aff careerin
Fu’ blythe that night.

I swear, it all makes sense…after a few ales. The links are all to The Robert Burns Club of Milwaukee’s Glossary of the Scots Dialect.

(Photo, “Sea of Pumpkins” by innusa)

Don’t NOT Vote…

I’m back in Orange County today while my son attends another play at Cal State Fullerton, which, from hearing him talk, might be what you’d get if Stratford-on-Avon mated with Broadway. Uh, okay. Sitting and waiting in Starbucks, I pick up a discarded OC Register Sunday Commentary Section, and see a friendly face on the front page, Jill Stewart, who I just mentioned the other day. She has a great column today that begins this way:

Have you noticed how, the more money the union and corporate special interests spend to promote their particular candidate, bond measure, or tax, the less interested and less aware of these issues we voters seem to be?

Although record amounts are being spent in California to drag us out away from our plasma TVs and our favorite blogs, we, the electorate, are deeply uninvolved. We are stuck in our comfy chairs.

How true. I’m going to vote Tuesday, but I expect to have to spend a lot of time in the voting booth reading over some of the propositions, because with one or two exceptions (the oil tax and the cigarette tax), I don’t understand what most of them are. Which are the ones that were Gov. Schwarzenegger’s grand deal with the legislature, the infrastructure bonds that are supposed to prepare California for the wave of population that, er, actually started arriving 20 years ago? I have no idea.

The advertising has been more unhelpful than usual. There’s one proposition that has been called a “taxpayer trap.” That’s all they say: Vote no on the “taxpayer trap.” To make sure I get the point, there’s a huge graphic of an old-fashioned mousetrap with what looks like a house from Monopoly being used as bait. So, does that mean if I give into temptation and try to take that nice little house, I’ll be caught in the taxpayer trap? The ad gives no further information. Then there’s another one that, if I recall correctly, implores me not to be fooled: Such-and-such proposition is bad for the environment. Since I had not heard of this proposition, listed only by number, I figure it’s unlikely that I’ve been fooled — but maybe, subliminally, I have.

I vote in every election, so in fact I will do my homework. But, as Jill Stewart suggests, most voters see these ads and figure the safest place to weather the election is from that comfy chair. So many traps out there, so many people trying to fool you! And if you’re just going to vote no, why bother showing up at all?

And that’s the special-interest strategy, Stewart suggests: To keep turnout “horrifically low.”

Little wonder why voters will stay away Nov. 7, and why record monies spent will be inversely related to votes cast. I figure a cost of $52 per vote.

The sharp pollster Mark Baldassare, director of research at Public Policy Institute of California, tells me, “What is going on is that a lot of money is spent on directing relatively few people to vote, and telling the rest of them to stay home. Campaign consultants … buy a list telling them who the voters are, they winnow it down to the 50 percent they need, and they try to get as many of the other people not to vote. And it works. This is no accident, that we are spending more money and getting less voters.”

The special interests get a bonus from this system, too, Stewart says. For an initiative to qualify in the next election, it must collect signatures equaling 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor. With the 2006 gubernatorial race pretty much a wipeout, and an initiative ballot full of obscure traps and tricks, turnout will be low, and so the 5 percent threshold in 2007-10 will be easier to meet, leading to “an onslaught of ballot measures.”

Who benefits from these ballot measures? They aren’t serious attempts to change the law, for the most part, are they? Given the overwhelmingly persuasive influence of the “vote no, it’s a trap!” advertising, I figure that the odds are against almost any ballot measure now–the good, the bad or the ugly. So who benefits? The election industry, that’s who — TV and radio stations who get to sell lots of advertising, the media buyers and other consultants. A full slate of initiatives, no matter how doomed, means full employment in the campaign and elections industry.

Back in my Berkeley days, I used to stop many late nights at Top Dog, which was run by some hard-core libertarians. The inside of Top Dog was decorated with libertarian bumper stickers. One of them was, “Don’t Vote. It Only Encourages Them.” But after reading Jill’s column, I think that slogan is due for an update. Voting is the last thing “they” want you to do. Don’t NOT vote. It Only Empowers Them.

Big Weekend for Yosemite Search-and-Rescue*

halfdome.jpgBlogged in the desert deals in extremes — earthquakes, severe weather, remote landscapes prone to stark conditions. In this post, he transcribes what the Yosemite Search and Rescue team had to deal with last weekend, as reported by the National Park Service. I hope this weekend goes more smoothly for them!

Zodiac Route, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley – Park dispatch received a 911 transfer call from CHP on Saturday afternoon, reporting a request for the rescue of a climbing team on the Zodiac Route on El Capitan. The Korean climbers on the wall spoke no English, and a Korean climber/interpreter who was assisting SAR personnel spoke only limited English. Clarifying the situation was accordingly difficult, but it was eventually determined that the climbers wanted to be rescued simply because their haul bag rope was tangled and they couldn’t figure out a means to correct the problem. Following a careful evaluation of the situation, SAR staff declined to launch a rescue at that time. Cold, rainy weather engulfed El Capitan the next morning, though, raising the concerns of SAR personnel. Due to the team’s obvious inexperience and the ongoing poor weather, SAR staff continued to monitor the progress of this team until they completed the route three days later.

Cables Route, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley – On Sunday, the park received several 911 cell phone transfers regarding a person who’d slipped outside the cables on Half Dome and slid 100 to 150 feet down onto the blank face. He was lying precariously on the face, using only the friction of his body against the rock to stop him from falling more than 800 feet to the ground. A ranger and a SAR climbing team were immediately dispatched to the incident location. The Yosemite rescue/fire helicopter was unavailable, so a primary rescue team was put on standby to await the arrival of another helicopter to fly them to the shoulder of Half Dome. A helicopter from Sequoia/Kings Canyon responded to the request for mutual aid assistance and was the first available for the mission. Unfortunately, due to the time it took to free up a helicopter, more than two hours passed before technical rescuers were on scene. SAR technicians then repelled down to the man and rescued him. Although uninjured, he was treated for hypothermia at Yosemite Medical Center and later released.

There’s more, so if you’re looking for adventure, go visit both the post and his site.

*UPDATE — Somehow I overlooked this huge Yosemite story on “blogged in the desert,” about the accidental death near Bridalveil Falls of pioneering free climber Todd Skinner.  Here is the excellent New York Times obituary for him, and here’s an excerpt from it:

skinner.jpgIn 1988, using only their hands and feet to move upward, Mr. Skinner and his longtime climbing partner, Paul Piana, completed the first free ascent of the 3,600-foot Salathé Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite, a seminal achievement in American climbing.

“He proved that it was possible to free climb El Capitan,” Mr. Model said. “Now it’s common.”

Perhaps Mr. Skinner’s most renowned feat was his team’s free ascent, in 1995, of the East face of Trango Tower, also known as Nameless Tower, a 4,700-foot rock face in the Karakoram Range of the Himalayas in Pakistan. No one had tried to free climb it before.

Mr. Skinner and three climbing partners from Wyoming — Mr. Model, Jeff Bechtel and Mike Lilygren — spent 60 days at more than 18,000 feet and reached the peak of about 20,500 feet. Mr. Skinner described the expedition in a cover story for National Geographic in 1996.

“We faced serious objective dangers — avalanches, rock falls, we were trapped in hanging tents for days at a time,” Mr. Model said.

On the LA Weekly, David Zahniser and the Progressive Movement

Over on LA Observed, you have probably been following a dramatic series of developments involving the LA Weekly: Harold Myerson’s departure as political columnist and cheerleader for the local labor organizations, David Zahniser’s cover story this week about the circumstances surrounding the untimely 2005 death of LA labor chief Miguel Contreras, and the way in which LA’s progressive community, including Myerson himself, views both events through the lens of how the Weekly’s new ownership has betrayed the paper’s past role in progressive movements.

Well, in all your clicking, don’t miss the series of posts in the LA Observed “We Get Email” section concerning this matter. The last note, from Larry Kaplan, makes the most crucial point about Zahniser’s scoop that all the “whither the Weekly” eulogies ignore:

…I think the crux of the story is the way Contreras’ death was handled by the coroner, the cops and the bigwigs who showed up at the hospital that day.

The story should NOT be where Contreras was and what he was doing when he died, and perhaps the critique of the Weekly story is that it did not make that clear enough.


David Zahniser is what this city hasn’t had for a long time: A government watchdog. His City Hall coverage at the Daily Breeze always had two things most of his competitors’ coverage did not — depth and style. In the face of generations of local news editors who alternately viewed LA’s municipal government as a morality play or a boring backwater, Zahniser actually found things out, and could turn them into interesting stories.  He writes stories that serve nobody’s interests but the readers’.

Zahniser’s accomplishments merited attention because, unlike the Times and to a lesser extent the Daily News, nobody in their right mind would strategically leak a story to any reporter for the almost unread Breeze. When I read an exclusive story in the LA Times, I can almost always guess who served it up it to them. That’s the advantage of being a reporter for the biggest daily in town. You don’t have to dig for stories, the stories dig for you. A Times reporter can be very lazy, and still look good to their editors.

Zahniser’s brought his talent to the Weekly, and now has a bigger stage on which to perform. The stakes are higher. As Kaplan points out, he or his editors might have erred in emphasizing the first half of the story, the tawdry death scene, rather than the second half of the story, the fervent efforts by high officials allegedly to cover it up by blocking an autopsy.

Normally, if a 52-year-old man dies in a store like the botanica where Contreras died, that would be considered an unusual death. Leaving aside the fact that the locale was later determined by police to house prostitutes, even the ostensible product, herbal remedies, would raise red flags. Whatever you think of the benefits of herbal medicine, some of the remedies in that category are, in fact, powerful chemical agents that are not regulated as drugs. If for no other reason than to protect public health, an autopsy should have been done. Public officials allegedly put pressure on hospital officials to ensure an autopsy was not done, for the sake of Contreras’ reputation and legacy. Folks, that’s a story.  There is a long history in Los Angeles of political interference in the County Coroner’s performance of his duties; of autopsy findings being buried, changed, leaked or otherwise abused by people in power to guard the private interests of the living and the dead.

The progressive community sees Zahniser’s article as a watershed. The old, progressive LA Weekly would not have published Zahniser’s story, Myerson basically asserts. Occidental College professor Peter Drier articulates the left’s rage in an email sent around the progressive community and published by LA Observed:

The article is irresponsible, gutter, tabloid journalism, with no redeeming value. It is difficult to understand why the paper published this crude story — and put in on the cover, no less — except to sell newspapers and/or to lend support to those who wish to harm LA’s progressive labor movement. Miguel and his family, who are still mourning his death, deserve better than this cheap hit. They will survive this crude piece of gutter journalism. They, and his many friends and allies, know that Miguel’s life as a warrior for justice, was his real legacy and his gift to us.


The loss of the LA Weekly as a progressive voice is a tragedy. When we organized the Progressive LA conference at Occidental College in October 1998, the Weekly was one of its cosponsors, featured it on its cover, and published several stories in the September 30, 1998 issue about the past, current, and future of progressive politics in LA: link and link. This reflected the Weekly’s view of itself at the time as a watchdog and as an instrument for change. On politics, culture, and other matters, the LA Weekly has helped give voice to those forces who might otherwise be shut out of the public debate. It has reported on the people and organizations — unions, community groups, environmentalists, women’s rights and gay rights groups, immigrant rights activists, school reformers, fair trade advocates, living wage crusaders, and ordinary folks trying to cope with life in this diverse and sprawling city — who’ve been on the front lines of the struggles for social and economic justice.


But how do we hold the new LA Weekly accountable? Outraged by this week’s cover story, some folks floated the idea of organizing a boycott against the Weekly. But how can you organize a boycott against a newspaper that is distributed for free? And how can you put pressure on its advertisers when its ad pages are dominated by penis enlargement ads, breast augmentation ads, and dating services?

The fear, which Myerson articulates too, is that the Weekly will become a muckraking journal that splatters muck on progressives, not just their enemies. Myerson cites Jill Stewart, the iconoclastic writer for the defunct New Times LA (whose owners now control the Weekly) as the kind of journalistic example he fears will take over the Weekly. Stewart enraged many at City Hall because her investigations and commentary evinced deep disillusionment with the left’s hypocrisy. She was tough on leaders like Jackie Goldberg, to whom LA’s left is devoted. And her writing was juicy and irresistable, so her scoops got attention. Back then and today, I’ll admit it — I’m a fan of Jill Stewart. And I’m a fan of David Zahniser (which is not to say he’s similar to Stewart — it was Myerson who made that leap).

Far be it from me to challenge Myerson and Drier on what’s good for the progressive movement — they work in it every day, and I don’t. But my opinion is, they’re wrong about the kind of journalism that helps those “who’ve been on the front lines of social and economic justice.” The news should not be ideological. It should not be afraid to hit hard at hypocrisy and double-dealing on the part of progressive icons.

Going back to the 1920s, there is an unfortunate history of socialist journalism, or journalism by socialists, that turned out to be propaganda, concocted to mask failure, corruption, even atrocities. Today’s progressives should want to take pains to disassociate their movement from such unethical and ultimately self-defeating reportage; to demonstrate that unlike the left-wing of the past, they are not afraid of the truth because their ideas have value quite apart from the flawed mortals who advocate them.

And let’s face it: the good-ol’ LA Weekly that Myerson and Drier could depend on as an ally and publicist was also funded by ads for plastic surgery, tanning salons, massage parlors and escort services. What does that suggest? That most Weekly readers, then as now, skipped over the political content to read the movie and nightclub listings, and were more interested in dancing than demonstrations. The Weekly could be edited by William F. Buckley and probably make the same profit if Buckley were willing to accept such advertising.

The left is not entitled to the news columns of the LA Weekly by divine right. But if the left can help scrupulous reporters like Zahniser find powerful stories to illustrate the need for their brand of politics, their presentation in a more balanced setting will give them greater credibility. In this era of nakedly partisan journalism and blogs, it is too often forgotten that most of us read journalism for stories, not political instruction. We can come to political conclusions on our own.

Seasons in the Sun

In an altogether gimmicky and boring piece about director Tim Burton (a Halloween-themed piece on “frightening spots” in LA) in today’s Calendar, I came across the following passage that encapsulated for me so much of what is wrong with the LA Times:

So most of the stuff Burton loved in Los Angeles is gone, he says. (Not the first time we’ve heard that one.) Traffic has gotten a lot worse. (Check.) The lack of seasons seems kind of eerie. (Ditto.)

santa-in-california.jpgThe “lack of seasons.” Oh, please. How long has the writer of this tripe lived in Southern California? Of course we have seasons. Southern California has more seasons than most places I’ve been. Each month has a particular quality to it. We don’t just have four seasons — there are at least eight. And that’s assuming you stay in one part of Southern California all the time. If you travel from the desert to the sea, going through the mountains and the valleys, you’ve got four distinct weather-regions, each one of them with huge seasonal variations.

The oceans bring fog to the coast in Spring and Summer, fog that sometimes rolls deep into the interior. The deserts bring Santa Ana winds that clear every particle of dust and moisture from the air. Rain and, at higher elevations, snow can be heavy at times, or just a light mist. Tropical storms bring warm breezes. Arctic storms bring fierce blasts of cold air. Some summer days are languid, humid, the sky painted with boiling clouds. Others are hot, dry, the sun penetrating and hazardous. I was sitting on the beach one evening last July. The wind was blowing onshore in a bizarre rhythm: Ten minutes of warm air, ten minutes of chilled air, like the thermostat was broken.

You live here long enough, you can tell what month it is just by looking at the sky. From where I’m writing right now, there is no doubt it’s October — even though October is probably the most unpredictable month of the year. Today is a hot, dry October day — as the horrific fires near Palm Springs attest. But some of the biggest storms I’ve ever seen came through in October. Yesterday, it looked like it was about to rain.

The LA Times apparently thinks we’re all from somewhere back east. Or that we take our weather cues from drugstore calendars or advertising that depicts the four dictionary-defined seasons: snowy winter, budding spring, hot summer, colorful autumn. These are not the seasons most people in the world experience. They are the seasons of Northern Europe and the Northern half of North America. The cradles of early civilization were all, like Southern California, closer to the equator, and that’s still where most of the world’s people live.

Look at this map:


Los Angeles’ position on the globe is roughly the same latitude as Beijing and Tokyo, just a little south of Teheran, a little north of Casablanca, a little north of Islamabad, the northernmost city in India. Sleigh-bells do not ring and the maple leaves don’t take on a golden glow, for most of the world’s population, Angelenos among them.

To be sure, humans have taken advantage of the receding glaciers to colonize regions closer to the poles, at least for now; but to assert that the weather patterns of, say, Denmark are the norm and what we experience here in LA is anomalous, even creepy, is a kind of bizarre Northeastern U.S.-centrism that the Southwest’s biggest newspaper should be able to avoid. We really aren’t all involuntary refugees from our old stomping grounds in New York or Boston; not anymore.

Political Football Fumbled

I love it. For more than a decade, the members of the LA Memorial Coliseum Commission have deployed their combined political muscle to kill off proposals to build a new stadium for a National Football League team to replace the Rams and Raiders. In the face of league resistance, the local leadership has insisted that when the NFL returns to Los Angeles, it will be at a refurbished Coliseum. Now that the NFL has finally given the signal that its final answer is “no,” the Coliseum’s leadership is acting like they’re the ones rejecting the league, not the other way around.

Coliseum Commissioner David Israel told Times’ columnist T.J. Simers:

“L.A. is surviving quite nicely without the NFL and the NFL is surviving quite nicely without L.A.,” Israel said. “I guess the divorce is final.”

Well, uh, yeah, except it’s the Coliseum’s dog-in-the-manger political strategy that has kept the league out since the league let two teams leave after the the ’94 season. The NFL would have been thrilled to occupy a football stadium in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, with the participation of then-Dodger owner Peter O’Malley. Mayor Riordan asked O’Malley to draw up a plan (which cost him a million dollars), then a year later, at the behest of the Coliseum Commission, instructed O’Malley to bury that plan.
To break the logjam, Anschutz Entertainment Group’s Tim Liewecke and LA Avengers’ owner Casey Wasserman developed a privately-financed downtown stadium proposal, introducing it complete with renderings, at a civic breakfast, introduced by Mayor Hahn — and within 48 hours (or was it 24?), they meekly dropped the idea, with Liewecke saying they “didn’t want to go through an ugly political process.” Translation: They didn’t want to take on the Coliseum’s die-hard backers.

For most of the past 12 years, NFL officials expressed a complete lack of interest in returning to the Coliseum in any form. “Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing,” was how then-Baltimore Ravens owner described the city’s ideas for renovating the Coliseum. Less colorfully, NFL spokesman Joe Browne said, “We have yet to see a viable stadium plan for an NFL team at the Coliseum.” The local leadership’s insistence on the Coliseum or bust is generally cited as one major reason the last NFL expansion team went to Houston in 1999 instead of Los Angeles.

It looks like the dance is over; the Coliseum and the city are standing near the punchbowl, acting as if all along, it was the NFL wooing them, and now, the Belle of the Ball has decided to go home alone. From today’s LA Times story on the Coliseum’s talks with USC on a new lease:

Word of the (USC) negotiations came a day after the NFL said the cost of a new or renovated stadium in the Los Angeles area could top $1 billion, more than double the estimate of a few years ago. At their annual fall meeting Tuesday, several team owners said a return to the region was not a top priority.
That prompted frustration and exasperation from some influential members of the Coliseum Commission, who earlier this month said they might investigate non-NFL alternatives if no significant progress was made at the league meetings.

They “might investigate non-NFL alternatives?” I think the NFL has been telling them to investigate non-NFL alternatives for 12 years!

“I think they regressed,” said David Israel, a state appointee to the commission. “I basically think the deal is done. It isn’t going to be made.”

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who also serves on the commission, said it became apparent over time that if the NFL really wanted to make a deal with the Coliseum, the league would have made one already. He, too, said it’s time for stadium officials to move on.”When you ask a girl out 25 times and she says no 25 times, maybe the 26th time you just don’t call,” he said.

As a football fan, I guess I really don’t mind. I look at it this way: Los Angeles has now become the biggest college football market in the country. Interest in USC has never been higher, and UCLA has a huge, loyal fan base. Neither of these teams are about to move to St. Louis because their owner can cash in. Both teams are part of the exciting Pac-10, which brings teams like Cal, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, etc. into the city each year — not to mention the frequent appearances of other top college teams. If you really want to see a Trojan or a Bruin game, it’s not outasite expensive like an NFL ticket would be. After 12 years without the NFL, some expansion franchise or a lame NFL team that really belongs to another city would have a hard time winning any fan’s hearts.

Sure, this city is full of NFL fans. They follow the Rams, the Raiders, the Chargers, or whatever team a former USC star is playing with now.  Lately, I’m seeing New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinal hats and jerseys popping up–in honor of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.

But the political side of this fiasco has been cost-free for too long. This region’s leadership failed to accomplish what should have been easy — to bring a team from the most TV-dependent sports league into the nation’s #2 TV market. They let politics gum it up. If this were any other kind of business but politics, heads would be rolling.