Friday, June 26, 2009

The Big Cult

Perhaps it's my age, but I'm not all that bothered by the death of Michael Jackson. Sure, it's sad that he died at 50, a fairly young age, but then again most of the population of the planet is going to die prematurely. For me to mourn the death of a stranger, I would have had to be touched by that person's life in some way, and Jackson's music wasn't really to my taste.

I've always felt that political revolutions are usually accompanied by cultural revolutions, and the rise of Ronald Reagan was most definitely a political revolution. The accompanying cultural revolution ushered in a respect for great wealth, and a willingness to accept any sort of strange behavior from the famous. In short, a good, old fashioned era of personality cults.

I'm sure the Christianists, and moral crusaders will be shocked at my writing this, but no one, other than Reagan himself, embodied the whole personality cult era more than Michael Jackson. The man had an undeniable talent for manufacturing a certain type of facile entertainment, but the real fascination that people had with him was about his bizarre life style. From the endless plastic surgeries, the perpetual child like behavior, and the charges of pedophilia, Jackson's life, not his music was the driving force of our obsession with his every move. I always thought it was like looking at a freeway accident. We all knew it wasn't a good thing for us to be interested in a man who wanted to recreate himself as a asexual, aracial, perpetual child, but we were anyway. I'm not glad he's dead, but I do hope he's forgotten soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Dead Elephants...

...Well, not yet, but we can all hope.

We're back to the on going debate about how much of a politicians personal life should matter, thanks to the latest indiscretions of Repugs John Ensign, and Mark Sanford. I'm on the older side of the cultural divide on this one. There was a time when the press looked the other way when it came to the extra curricular activities of our elected officials. I've always kind of suspected, that back in the sixties, most Washington journos would have loved an invitation to one of JFK's pool parties, and not for the inside scoop of seeing the president of the United States skinny dipping with a Hollywood starlet.

There are some exceptions, however, to my wish for discretion from the press when it comes to the sexual activities of those in elected office. There are a couple of obvious ones. If a pol's affair compromises national security then it should be reported. In my life time, I can think of only one example, and that's John F. Kennedy's dalliance with mafia moll, Judith Campbell Exner. The other obvious one is if a politicians actions are illegal. One can argue,whether or not, patronizing high priced call girls should be against the law, but it was illegal when Elliot Spitzer was paying for sex, so that should be fair game as well.

What's less clear is the whole issue of hypocrisy. With John Ensign, I'd say it's a no brainer that his sex life should be reported. Ensign, when he ran for the senate, and lost, against Harry Reid, made the sex life of president Clinton an issue. Ensign has also positioned himself as a family values guy, and to be fair, he called for fellow Repug Larry Craig to resign after that whole cruising airport rest rooms deal. (Ensign is also an opponent of gay rights, so maybe that was a homophobe thing.) And what about Mark Sanford's just revealed affair with an Internet friend from Argentina? Sanford, while in the house, called for Clinton to resign from the presidency, and also voted for his impeachment. Sanford was always careful to frame the issue as a legal rather than a moral one, and what Sanford has done is certainly not against the law. Still, to be a Repug is to bed down with the moral extremists in our society. Live by the penis, die by the penis.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why We Should Ignore Iran

I've always felt, that during the cold war, the biggest mistake the United States made was assuming that everything was about us. After decades of colonial rule, many third world nations, newly independent, were struggling to find a political, economic, and national identity of their own. When countries embraced a leftist governmental model, we worried that they were part of a Soviet plot to encircle the United States. When third world countries went to the right, we assumed that they were supporting us.

Vietnam, our quagmire, was a wonderful example. When Vietnam was ruled by France, Ho Chi Minh fought the French. When Vietnam was ruled by the Japanese, Ho Chi Minh fought the Japanese. When the French returned, he, once again, fought the French. When far off Europeans, and the United States, with no thought to what the Vietnamese wanted, split the nation into spheres of influence, Ho Chi Minh fought to unite the country. And when the United States sent troops to support the south, he fought us. No where in that narrative, can any evidence be found that Ho Chi Minh was a dupe of the Soviet Union. Yes, he was a communist, but in the long run, Vietnam became communist in name only.

Today, Iran is at war with itself. The clerics seek to live in the 12th century, it's president lives in a fantasy world, and it's people struggle to define modernity in a way that works for them. Our George, when he was president, defined Iran as a member of the axis of evil, and as a civilization at war with ours. He was wrong. Like in Vietnam, what's happening in Iran has nothing to do with us. I hope that the clerics are overthrown, and are relegated to the status of spiritual leaders, rather than political leaders. I hope that Ahmadinejad ends up in the lunatic asylum, because if there was ever a man that was crazy, it's the president of Iran. I hope Iran ends up as a secular democracy. But, in the end, what happens in Iran, is up to the Iranians, not the United States. President Obama has it just about right. Express concern, and keep hands off.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama's History Lesson

As majority leader in the United States Senate, Lyndon Johnson was very successful in passing civil rights legislation. This was during the fifties, when Jim Crow laws still dominated the south, and restrictive real estate covenants were the norm in most American cities. Pressured from the left for more action, and obstructed by the racist right, Johnson concentrated on moving the middle. He would go to southern senators and tell them that sooner or latter civil rights laws would pass, and if they wanted to slow things down, they should agree to something. He would then go to liberals on race and tell them that he couldn't get the south to agree to massive reforms, so they should settle for what was possible. And then, after the center had been moved to the left, he would go back and start all over again. In time, little by little he changed things, radically.

I thought of this today, while watching Rachel Maddow on the Charlie Rose Show. They were talking about how disappointed the left was with the Presidency of Barack Obama. Like it or not, President Obama probably can't get most of what the left wants through congress. He can't get single payer, the repeal of the defense of marriage act, the closing of many over-seas American military bases, and far reaching restrictions of green house gases. What he can do is move the center to the left. I may be wrong, but I think that's what he is doing.

It has been my fear that Obama's greatest hurdle is not the right, but liberals who want everything right now, and if they don't get it, they'll stage some sort of revolt. My advice is patience. If Obama is indeed trying to move the center far enough to the left that major change doesn't seem so scary to congress, he needs the support of the liberal left, rather than criticism. And if it's not Obama's strategy, we'll know within a year or two, and then criticism can begin.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Zone 4, Santa Monica

I've had a lousy day. I had to get a new tire for one of my bikes, so I could cut down on my driving even more than I already have. The REI in Northridge, and the one in Arcadia were both out of the one I wanted, so I drove to Santa Monica. I found a place to park, got my tire and when I got back to my car, I had a $52 parking ticket. What really angers me is what it was for. I had the gall to park in Zone 4!

Santa Monica is one of those towns that restricts parking, in some areas, to residents. OK, I know that in comparison to war, famine, and the other fun things of our modern world, restricted parking is a minor issue, but I'm still angry. If Santa Monica decided that in some neighborhoods, they didn't want non residents on the sidewalks, and started ticketing strangers seen on the streets, there would be a law suit. If Santa Monica decided that it didn't want people from El Monte to use the beach and posted restrictions, it would make the news, not to mention Letterman. So why is it that they can tell someone like me, from Atwater Village, sorry, no parking on our streets!

I know that the official reason is that locals shouldn't have to cruise around looking for a parking place in their own neighborhoods, but I have to wonder if that's the only reason. There are lots of neighborhoods around the Los Angeles metro area with residents only parking restrictions. All the ones that I've seen are in upper middle class and above neighborhoods. I mean, aren't the people in Zone 4 just a wee bit concerned that some of us low class folks are polluting their streets?

Homelessness is increasing in America. I know of at least four people who I've worked with on movie sets who have moved into their cars. And with those increases, there has also been an increase in over night parking restrictions, and non resident parking restrictions. The people in Zone 4 have done well in life, and I don't begrudge them their success. But, let's be honest, we live in a country that feels comfortable with keeping taxes low, even if it means that some of our citizens have to live on the streets. (And I may be one of them within the next two or three months.) It's easier not to feel guilt, if the riff-raff are kept at arm's length.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gay Marriage, The Issue That Won't Go Away

Well, you'll have to take may word for it, since the original New Common Sense has been deleted....

Way back in 2005, one of my very first posts was about gay marriage. In that article I pointed out that what we call marriage has two parts. The first is the contractual part. The second is the ceremonial, spiritual, whatever part. I then went on to point out that the state had an interest in regulating the contractual, but had no business in interfering in the ceremonial, spiritual half of things.

Well, it's happened. After all this time, someone, a lawyer by the name of Douglas W. Kmiec, has suggested in an Op Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, that the best way to deal with the whole gay marriage issue is to strip the word marriage from law, which is exactly what I urged four years ago.

Talk about validation. I chose the title, The New Common Sense for reasons other than an admiration for Thomas Paine. I've long felt that the application of a little reason can go a long way towards resolving problems. The whole gay marriage battle is, at least in California, a war over a single word. California law basically gives gay couples every right and responsibility of marriage. Gays just aren't allowed to use the word. If the religious right is so concerned about gays having a legal document with the word marriage on it, then they can end the debate by severing the word marriage from law.

Talk about stupid. The religious right has spent millions of dollars, and expended thousands of man hours, over a word. It's time to give them their way. Make everything a civil union, and let each couple work out for themselves how they want to present themselves to the world. If two men, or two women, want to walk down the aisle, and say I do in front of their friends, more power to them. No Catholic, no Mormon, no Southern Baptist has to attend a gay wedding.

If it were only that easy. It's not my business if the religious right thinks gays are going to hell. As an atheist, I think it's all primitive superstition anyway. Here's the thing. Had I been asked my opinion of gay rights ten years ago, as a liberal, I would have voiced support. But the fact is, as an issue, gay rights, would have been pretty far down on my list of concerns. But, in the last decade I've seen one attempt after another to make the hatred of homosexuals the law of the land. The whole gay marriage issue is no longer about equality. It's about an attempt by the religious right to make their prejudices the law of the land, and because of that I now think of gay rights as one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. I have to wonder how many people like me are out there.

Prop. 8 is moving from the California State Supreme Court to the federal Court system. California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who normally would be expected to defend the state's constitution, has instead decided that his oath to defend the federal constitution over-rides his responsibility to defend California's constitution. And Governor Action Hero has let it be known that he thinks Prop. 8 may violate the 14th amendment. Will conservative judicial activists rule that states have the right to pass laws that have no other purpose than to impose the religious beliefs and hatreds of one group of voters on the rest of us? I would love it if the passage of Prop. 8 lead to the legalization of gay marriage everywhere. The only way to stop gay marriage may be in stripping the word marriage from law. No legal marriage for anyone, civil unions for all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New Common Sense Returns

In August of 2005, a pop-up ad appeared on my computer screen offering me a free, three month trial period for Typepad, a blog hosting service. I signed up with the intention of having a little fun, venting my anger at the way my life was going at the time, as well as my anger at what I considered the destructive, conservative philosophy that was then dominating the American government. Well, a funny thing happened. It had been my intention to have my cathartic fun for those three months, and then quit. Instead, I ended up composing over 350 posts, the last written just last week. But things do change, and my on going financial problems have forced me to cut as much from my budget as possible. This afternoon, I logged on to Typepad, and cancelled my account.

I won't lie. It hurt. I was surprised that I could care so much about my writings. I was also surprised at the pleasure I took in knowing that other people actually read what I wrote, and on occasion, took the time to leave comments. Those comments weren't always complimentary, and at least one was basically a threat on my life, but I enjoyed them all, anyway.

When I realized that I was so broke that saving the $8.95 a month Typepad hosting fee would actually make a difference in my life, I began looking for an alternative. And so, here I am, on my new blogging home. Blogger is free, there aren't any limits on the number of blogs I can run; and there is the potential to actually make some money through ads placed by Google. That's something I have very mixed feeling about, by the way. On one hand I detest the smothering nature of our advertising dominated culture. On the other hand, I'm desperate for cash. I just hope that if I borrow from Mary McCarthy and write of Ann Coulter that "every word out of her mouth including a, and , and the is a lie," I won't find an ad for her latest hate screed next to my thoughts on national health care. I'm in favor of single payer, for the record.

While the original New Common Sense started out as a purely political blog, in time I began to write of other things. Baseball may have been the first departure. I have a vague memory of making wrong predictions on the play-offs. Reviews of out of print books, found in thrift shops, soon followed. Then I indulged my obsession with silent movies, old technology, and 78 RPM records. When I wrote a series of articles about Floyd Landis, I had a huge up turn in visitation after being linked to Trust But Verify, a web site set up to follow Landis' fight to clear his name. When I read Landis' book, and found a sentence or two that referenced a point I had made, I couldn't help but wonder if it was a coincidence, or if he had read my words. Not bad for a college drop out and life long blue collar guy.

Typepad allowed me three blogs for my $8.95. When I cancelled The New Common Sense, I also cancelled Found Photography, a blog dedicated to old photographs, and Self Propelled, about hiking and cycling. As I've revived The New Common Sense, I've also started rebuilding the other two. They can be found at and The New Found Photography is already up and running, while Self Propelled sits, nothing but a mast head, until I can find the time to get out and put in some miles. In addition I've started a satirical site about Hollywood, (Did I mention that I'm working as a background actor right now?)

What can I say. I had readers at Typepad, and I hope they'll find me at Blogger. If not, I'll just have to start anew.