Sunday, January 25, 2015


It can be startlingly quiet where I live. As I write this, sitting on what I call my "writing bench," I hear nothing. The 3 o’clock freighter from Atlanta went over a while ago headed for the airport, and even the gardeners are giving their leafblowers a rest.

It’s uncanny; I’m just a few miles from part of Los Angeles and eight miles from an airport, and there’s not a sound. Occasionally a stray airplane flies over high up going somewhere, but otherwise it’s the kind of silence you could call “deafening.” You think your ears have gone plugged and you start looking around for something that should give off a sound. Eventually I tap my pen against the bench and it’s OK -- I can enjoy the quiet again.

 I can remember when I lived in Los Angeles standing on the corner of Alvarado and Sixth, talking to a friend, and we had to shout at each other over the ambient noise. It’s the traffic that does it. The traffic almost never stops in LA. The early morning hours see more traffic, I’d bet, than some towns see at high noon.

My first apartment in LA was literally across the street from the Hollywood Freeway. The street dead-ended at the fence; they’d chopped the street off to build the freeway. After a while, the sound of the traffic worked like the sound of surf in a more exotic place, providing a background hum that encouraged sleep. If it stopped, a  rare gap in traffic, late at night, I’d wake up.

I guess I’ve always had an affinity for silence; probably why I became a writer rather than an orator (or a precinct cept’n, if you remember the Shelley Berman routine). In fact, I wrote a sort of ode to it in highschool, and finding it all these years later I liked it well enough to post it here, even resisting the urge to edit out the highschool-level awkwardness. It’s in the December 28 slot.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Damn! Missed My Own Deadline.

Doesn’t speak well for someone who advertises “writes to size, listens to criticism, and delivers to deadline and budget.”

I’d arbitrarily picked Sundays for posting and was doing pretty well until this week. However, there’s no excuse for missing a deadline, and if I were writing this for some editor I’d be prepared to take a loss of some kind, maybe even of employment.

But it’s not being done for a client, it's just for me, so anyone who keeps reading is going to get an explanation that’s going to sound a lot like an excuse.

My cat has diabetes.

How could that be an excuse for missing a deadline? Watch me.

Squiggles has been put on a restricted (and expensive) diet, under which regimen he can eat only twice a day. This is a dramatic contrast to his previous mealtime accommodations, which ran to all-day availability of dry food supplemented by handouts of treats any time Jean or I had occasion to walk into the kitchen. 

Walk into the kitchen any hour of the day or night, and there he’d be, sitting quietly in his “begging spot,” not saying anything but giving you that look they show you in the children’s charity appeals on TV. The goodies, named “Temptations,” must be 90 proof catnip because he would just vacuum them up.

Well, that’s all over now. He gets prescription dry food once in the morning and once at night, and he gets insulin shots as well. Think about it. Deprived of your favorite food, and some guy sticks a needle in through your fur twice a day.   

Squiggles is feeling bad and has taken to sunbathing under the lamp on my desk. This interferes with my use of the keyboard and my view of the computer screen, and that’s why I couldn’t post anything yesterday.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015


The other “personhood,” courtesy of SCOTUS, Citizens United decision, January 2010.
Now that corporations are effectively “persons” with the rights and appurtenances thereunto appertaining, or the important ones, anyway --  are they also going to be subject to the things that afflict the rest of us?
Citibank, for just one example, presumably a male organization judging from its most visible executives, is a tad over 200 years old.  There’s a TV commercial that says in more than half of all males over age 50 the prostate gland, which starts out the size of a walnut, will have grown to the size of a lemon by age 70 or 80. Citi’s prostate problem should be something fierce. (How big would Mellon Bank’s problem be?) Betty Crocker has to be menopausal by now. No wonder our biggest corporations get cranky sometimes.  Catch Sara Lee on the wrong day and you could get a pie in the face.
Luckily, these persons will now presumably be eligible for Obamacare. Pre-existing conditions (indictments, fines, penalties) can be waived now. They could register in the federal system and all the states they live in; with some dedicated lawyering they could probably qualify for subsidies. Headquartered in another country? Awkward, but what’s Congress for? They’ll make it legal. If the country isn’t too big, the corporation can annex it.   
Some of these outfits are that big and have tons of money, but the Supreme Court says their spending millions to influence elections is just an extension of the long-standing One Man/One Vote principle: One Corporation/One Election. Seems fair.
But if for all practical purposes they’re going to have the vote like us, give `em all the rest of it -- standing on line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, wiping the chins of their elderly retirees, really paying taxes...

You wanna be a person, GM? It all comes with the territory. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Missing Ingredient

There’s a program that shows up on my local TV periodically, “Things That Aren’t Here Any More,” “here“  being Los Angeles. It’s narrated by a reporter popular in the area for many years, Ralph Story (who, sadly, isn’t here any more either). 
His things were really “things” -- old landmark buildings, restaurants, street cars, historic hot dog stands. His era (and mine) came before some other, un-material but maybe more important things faded out. “Shame” comes to mind
My old dictionary calls shame a disturbed or painful feeling of guilt or blameworthiness. It used to have a powerful preventive effect on would-be evildoers, and a corrective effect on wrongdoers, but that doesn’t happen any more. The politician caught taking bribes, the CEO found embezzling money from his hedge fund -- back in the day, the perpetrator would go to ground (and eventually prison) and his family would sneak out of town on the midnight milk train. Not that they were also guilty, but because they were ashamed.  There’s still a society or two here or there where the guy with the big office and the biggest paycheck will step down even if someone else has caused the company to be at fault. If he’s really serious he’ll commit suicide.
But this is an age and a society where you can settle a legal case with every evidence of being guilty but still not admit guilt.  If you’re an officer of a corporation, you’re just about immune. Maybe a fine will be imposed on the corporation (at worst) but the stockholders will pay that. The guy at the top who caused the whole problem may just as easily get a bonus, go on the TV talk shows, and author a book.  The crooked politician may run for office while under indictment, and stage a political comeback when he gets out of the slammer. The missing ingredient is shame.
Earlier generations took a sterner view. Putting the offender on display with his head and hands protruding from the stocks would almost certainly have diverted some observers’ dark impulses into more socially acceptable channels. The guy on display also got to think at leisure about what it was that put him there and decide whether it was a good idea and worth doing again. You’ll still read about someone being pilloried -- but it’s a figure of speech today.  Bring  back the real thing? You could argue it. Is the pillory crafters’ guild still around?
 Keep in mind, it was probably uncomfortable as hell, but the primary objective wasn’t to inflict physical pain; it was shaming. You were set out in the public square for all your neighbors to see and think about what you’d done.

We’d have to re-educate a large segment of the public about what shame is, but I’d be for it. Some time in the stocks could adjust the attitude of even a celebrity CEO or a securely gerrymandered incumbent congressperson. Might even humble an errant Influencer or Thought Leader.The Missing Ingredient