Thursday, August 31, 2006

So Much For The Dialectic

I've actually met Hugh Hewitt, the right-wing radio host, after a lecture at my college. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, a bit long-winded and given to a creepy sentimentality in regards to Richard Nixon, but hardly a moron. Like with so many true ideologues, the main thing that struck you about him was the way that, when launching into a spiel, he already seemed to have it in the can; he got that blank look that people sometimes have when they are trying to remember everything on their grocery list, except in his case it wasn't mustard and shampoo but talking points he was dredging up from the shadier recesses of his mind. I think the word for this is didactic.

But like so many other conservative academics who used to pay lip service to ideas and conversation over naked power partisanship, Hewitt seems to have been driven around the bend by his fear after September 11th. Or maybe his ascension to the blunt instrument of the radio forced him to new unpleasant extremes. Whatever the reason, he has, in the ensuing years, devolved into the worst sort of apologist, a stiffnecked and clumsy cheerleader for a political movement that has little to do anymore with the ideas that once supposedly animated it. He is a kitten-strangler, the kind of true believer for whom no act carried out by his liege would be beyond the pale (including the aforementioned cat asphyxiation).

So it's not at all shocking that he was actually asking his listeners to call into his show yesterday to repeat on air and verbatim this trite, boring, worn-out little piece of wet noodle sophistry:

"Any vote for any House or Senate Democrat is a vote against victory and a vote for vulnerability. Vote for Victory. Vote Republican."

This is what it's come to for the bitter enders. We need to remember that when Tricky Dick himself (whom Hewitt once served in his post-Presidential days) left office in disgrace, a full quarter of the electorate still had his back. There are always those who will believe no matter what, like the Jehovah's Witness I once spoke with who, after admitting to me that I had soundly refuted an erroneous biblical claim he had made, repeated the exact same point word for word just ten minutes later. Reason was impervious to his catechism.

The tragedy is that, from what I little I have witnessed of Hewitt, he isn't that stupid.

I guess that's why we have the phrase "willing tool".

Whistlin' Dixie

Gee, it must be an election year, cuz the code words are flying. First, fake GOB George Allen lets loose with an ethnic slur he must have learned on his mother's Pied-noir knee, an incident that reminds people of his good old days hangin' with the back-of-the-bus crowd and remembering Dixie at Palos Verdes High School. Then some cracker in Florida informs us that blacks can't swim. And now we get Conrad Burns, second-most-endangered member of the Senate, doing his best to make sure that we are pissing ourselves whenever the need arises to hail a taxi:

At the campaign event with [First Lady Laura] Bush, Burns talked about the war on terrorism, saying a "faceless enemy" of terrorists "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night."

Mind you, while hailing taxis at 2am, I've frequently been about ready to piss myself, but not because I'm afraid of teh terr'ists!

A Series Of Rubes

Poor Ted Stevens. First, the Ted Stevens Memorial Bridge To Nowhere becomes the shining symbol of pork-driven Washington corruption. Second, well, teh internets turn out to be a series of tubes. And now, he's been revealed to be the lone senator holding up a bill that would actually make the government post a list on said series of tubes explaining where, exactly, all our tax money is spent. Don't want folks knowing that, now do we?

Small. Government. Conservative.
Words Ted Stevens should never be able to say without a laugh track playing in the background.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Whisky, Women, and Song

This year Sunset Junction has been reading my I-pod. Unlike last year's suckiness (was it The Donnas?) this year we got our bad-ass country on, with Hank III, Drive By Truckers, Dave Alvin, Mike Stinson, etc. I'll be there working the Rebellion Rugby booth on Sunday afternoon and taking in the show Sunday evening. I might even wear my boots. Cowboy, not rugby.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Something In Common

Matt Bors nails it. Thanks to Dave Weigel, guest-blogging at Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

American Taliban Redux

Read this. It's the last two sentences that really fill you with horror. The theocon project takes another baby step forward:

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — The reverend of a church that dismissed a female Sunday School teacher this month after adopting what it called a literal interpretation of the Bible said a woman can perform any job — outside of the church.

Rev. Timothy LaBouf and the board of the First Baptist Church issued statements Saturday.

The church dismissed Mary Lambert, who had taught at the church for 54 years, on Aug. 9 with a letter explaining the church had adopted an interpretation that prohibits women from teaching men.

The letter quoted the first epistle to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

Lambert has publicly criticized the decision, but the church did not publicly address the matter until Saturday, a day after the church board met.

The board's statement said other issues were behind Lambert's dismissal, but it did not say what they were.

LaBouf's statement said his stance against women teaching men in Sunday school would not affect his decisions as a member of the Watertown City Council.

"I believe that a woman can perform any job and fulfill any responsibility that she desires to" outside of the church, he wrote.

Thanks to Americablog for the heads-up.

Urban Pioneer?

I laughed when I read this, then I realized, heh, that's kinda me there. Damn.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Still Blue

Andy Towle reminds us over at Towleroad that one year on, New Orleans still sits in ruins.

Today I was discussing with a friend who lives here in downtown L.A. my recent contretemps with Professor Tom Slater over what to do about Los Angeles's homeless problem, the nation's largest (though that may change when the government cuts off the housing vouchers for Katrina refugees). We were discussing ways that government resources could be used more effectively to help the sick and addicted on the streets of my city, when a weariness overtook me. I said to my friend, look, we watched a major American city destroyed last year, and the government is leaving it to rot. How can we expect them to do anything right, when it comes to the poor?

In the long gaze of history, New Orleans will be seen as one of those natural disasters that reveals great weaknesses of man-made origin. It will be a flash-frame moment of truth about America today.

Misplaced Priorities

Thanks to John de Rosier for a timely reminder of how the press, and we its consumers, get it wrong. Or, as this poster on Dailykos put it:

Allow me to introduce to you to Staff Sgt. Michael "Chad" Lloyd. His name is not John Mark Karr. He died recently while on foot patrol in Baghdad. His flight to the United States won't be in business class, and reporters won't scramble to sit next to him. His body's journey across the Atlantic won't be traced with flashy graphics or estimated time of arrivals. Flag-drapped coffins, you see, aren't as sexy as murder suspects...

Meet Sgt. Steven P. Mennemeyer. His name is not John Mark Karr. He joined the armed forces after 9/11, and was killed in Iraq in August. He was 26 years old and is survived by his young son. He earned 13 military honors, including a bronze star that was given to his girlfriend at his funeral. There's 19,100 Google hits for this fallen soldier. There's 9,530,000 for John Mark Karr.

Meet Pfc. Javier Chavez Junior. His name is not John Mark Karr. At just 19 years old, he married days before shipping off to Iraq, where he was killed. Seven others from his division were also killed, including Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar, who "left behind a poem for his family in the event of his death: 'I have given up many things for you to be free/Do not feel pity for me, for this is my choice.' I guess only ransom notes, not death notes, are worthy of wall-to-wall coverage.

Texas River Song

So I spent three days in one of my favorite parts or America, central Texas. Austin is a great town, the hill country is beautiful, and other then being way too hot in August, it's about as comfortable a place as you are likely to find. But the best part of Texas is the people I know down there. Especially the gay men.

Straight folks have a lot of silly notions about gay guys. Some of them are based in fact, for sure, but many of them, as I show in my movie, are wide off the mark for most of us. Maybe the strangest notion is that gay men are inherently different from straight men in ways other then their sex lives, that they are more like women in their behaviors and preoccupations. Certainly there are gay men who are like that, and it is these men who are often put up in the media as avatars of homosexuality, gay men who are not threatening to straight guys because they are seen as essentially female.

This notion is insulting to both women and gay men, of course, but there are reasons why straight people think this. A straight friend I grew up with recently asked me, with honest curiosity, what was up with the lisp? I knew what he meant. There is a gay way of speaking, a kind of linguistic radar ping that gay guys send out in the tone and tenor of their voices. For many men, this is probably the way they were born speaking (and I've known some straight guys who had very effeminate voices as well), but we've also all known guys who were in the closet, and as soon as they came out, the squeal-notch suddenly went up to eleven. The lisp is both a natural speech pattern, but also an affectation, a way of signaling who you are, a mating call of sorts. It is a form of artifice.

One of the great things about my friends in Texas though, is that they are pretty much over the artifice of being gay. Oh, they have their own symbolic shorthand (military haircuts, facial hair) but mostly, they are guys who have accepted their guyness, their essential masculinity, which in Texas means toobing down the river, drinking too much, being a bit too loud and obnoxious, sitting up until 5am bullshitting about guns and boats and hot ass and run-ins with the law, and generally acting like the piggies that men are. Oh, and not giving a flying fuck about fulfilling straight folk's desire to have, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, their beer cold and their homosexuals flaming. These boys don't need to squeal. They do, however, drawl like you wouldn't believe.

So here's to my Texas bubbas. Every time I go down there, it's a little harder to leave. I could see myself getting a little piece of land in Austin with a creek in the back, where I could build an off-the-grid straw bale house and take up the steel guitar. That would be livin' indeed.

And yeah, I'd vote for Kinky.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Yellow Rose

I'm off to Austin to float down the Guadalupe River in an inner tube to celebrate my friend Cody's birthday. It'll be me and a bunch of big, gay Texas bubbas. Beer, Barbeque, and beefy boys. Cheers.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lawyers In Love

Here's some new pics, courtesy of my friend Dave, of my beloved Goldie. She's a barely-legal eighteen year old Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6, who just saw her odometer hit thirty thousand original miles. Yes, the perfect condition granny car is not just a myth, I actually found one. I don't know who that goofy guy is pawing my totally stock baby...

Patriotism At Wholesale Prices

When discussing the controversy that frequently swirls around my employer American Apparel, I like to say that I think I work for one of the most ethical companies in America, it's just that our ethics aren't necessarily America's. What I mean is that in this country, a world of selfish behavior will be excused in the name of making a buck, while people waste their moral approbation over the far less important matter of sex. Money is far more powerful in people's lives then sex. Just think, how much of your time this week will go towards earning, spending, or managing money, and how much will go towards trying to or actually having sex?

I love working for a company that treats its blue-collar workers better then anyone in the garment industry. On the other hand, I don't mind at all working for a company that makes hot shorts.

One of the most disturbing aspects of our poor economic ethics is the cheap way that we will sell out even our national heritage, and turn a collective blind eye towards the monetary exploitation of what in other nations would be considered sacred events. It's not just that the Administration has abused 9/11 as a brass ring to unprecedented political power, or that a crass man like Oliver Stone is trying to revive his career using that day of all days. If you have walked along the streets surrounding the WTC site in New York, you have seen the tchotchke vendors, a sight that always reminds me of Jesus wielding the lash in the temple. Yet what could top actually transforming a symbol of our shared tribal grief into real, cold, hard, cash? Gold and silver, recovered from the ruins, and now turned into the perfect token of a nation willing to put its soul on the block for a quick buck. Tell, me, which of these images offends you more?

Bang The Drum Loudly

I've been reading Andrew Sullivan since the first week he started a blog, back in, I think, 2000. Despite his embrace of conservative conventional wisdom and his reflexive contrarianism, he's always been an interesting and occasionally novel thinker, and it's through him that I keep track of what the neo-cons are saying. He had enough integrity to admit the failure of the war and regret his support for it, or at least his support of this Administration, but his humility was short-lived. He's been attacking the "liberal blogosphere", specifically DailyKos, for not sufficiently addressing the Israeli-Lebanese war, while being just as bellicose about that current situation as he was in the Iraq run-up. He refuses to contemplate that Israel's actions, just like America's since 9/11, are both short-sided and conterproductive to their own safety. I support the right of Israel to exist in peace, but practicing retaliatory collective punishment works about as well in Lebanon as it does in Baghdad. I wrote to Andrew about how this current issue brings up for me all my doubts about American empire. He didn't respond, as he has in the past, so I'm going to go ahead and make it an open letter. Andrew likes to think of himself as a "conservative of doubt". I just think that when it comes to wars of convenience, his doubt doesn't extend nearly far enough:


I had hoped, reading your blog over the last few months, that you had learned the lesson from the Iraq debacle that we’ve all surely had to take to heart, the lesson that Thucydides wrote about in regards to the Athenians, the lesson we should have learned thirty years ago, which is that there are few greater dangers to democracy than the chest-thumping foolishness of unjust warfare.

But reading you the last few days, I really feel like its Déjà vu all over again. You accuse the liberal blogs of ignoring the war on terror (I’ll refrain for your sake from employing quotes) yet you have yet to show the desire to grapple yourself with the complexities of the nasty and short-sided little war that Israel is currently waging. Instead, you make an argument that Israel is justified in whatever they are doing because their morals are more like ours. Tell that to the hundreds of civilian dead in Lebanon. All the torture practiced under the Rumsfeld doctrine doesn’t even begin to weigh on the scales of evil with the collective punishment being dished out in that sad country. But for you, arsenal delivered on the tip of a missile is vastly morally superior then that delivered in the trunk of a Mercedes. I don’t speak for any particular group or mindset, but I do know that I just don’t buy it anymore. Asymmetrical warfare, conventional warfare, civil war, terrorism, they all seem to have the same consequences these days, where increasingly the dead are counted in noncombatants. I have a hard time grappling with what my country is doing in the Middle East because I’m overwhelmed with the shame I feel when I consider it. I had hoped that seeing the debacle in Iraq might have made you question more then just the abysmal leadership of this particular administration, but to ask a far more difficult question. How is it that we can say that we lead the world when we practice atrocity daily?

I’m not speaking for the “liberal blogosphere” or for anyone else, just for myself, so I will say this. I love my country. I never, ever want to see Americans harmed. But when George Bush says, like he did this morning, that our enemies want to attack us because we love freedom, I feel a knot in the pit of my stomach. Our enemies want to attack us, Andrew, because for years we have attacked and humiliated them. We have manipulated their affairs and supported their oppressors. We have, in the name of fighting communism, or protecting American interests, or oil, or fighting terror, or whatever excuse we found convenient, become the bully boy of the world. Yes, it is blowback, the endless circle of violence in which Israel also sadly finds itself. Maybe there are people who agree with me, and maybe there are not, but I know that primarily I’m ashamed of my government, I don’t trust my government to do the right thing, and so yes, I want us to pull out, to pull back, to retreat behind our oceans, and try and salvage what tattered remnants of our ideals are left here at home. We just can’t do what we’re doing anymore without utterly abandoning what we were supposed to be, a nation governed by an informed and democratic populace. The permanent national security state is a cancer upon us, Andrew, and I just don’t see any other way to save anything of our original principles but to shut it down, which may be the most conservative action of all. There are fights worth fighting, but for too long, we have fought fights not worth fighting. We have squandered our moral capital, and now we frequently don’t even know what we are fighting for.

Our fathers saw a nation of limited government, a nation governed differently then the petty monarchies of Europe. A nation where a man was to turn his energies towards building his own future, and the state was to serve him, not the other way around. That has been lost, and we have become the empire we were warned against. You rail against what “conservatives” have become, but the essence of what they have become is cheerleaders for empire. When I read some of your recent posts, ranting about Islamic fascists, cheaply invoking of the 9/11 dead, refusing to see the complexity in the recent Israeli war, excoriating those who refuse to puff up their chests alongside you in the endless and secretive war on a state of mind that is the GWOT, I fear that I see what I saw in the run-up to the Iraq war, just another cheerleader. I don’t want to be a part of an empire, Andrew. It’s not a righteous cause. I love my country, but I can’t support any more foreign adventures. I love my country these days like I love someone with an addiction that is eating them up. Our addiction is our sense of moral self-righteousness and our casual use of violence, and our addiction had distorted our judgment something fierce. The terrorist sees a marketplace and straps a bomb to his chest. We see the terrorist in the marketplace and drop a bomb on his head. The results are pretty much the same, either way. You consider the difference to be crucial, but every time we do this, a thousand new enemies are born out of the violence. I fear that you are grasping at distinctions that long ago ceased to exist. It’s terrifying to me, but I really believe that the only way to salvage our Republic is to turn off our war machine and hope for a bit of peace to put ourselves back together. We might not get it, but we have to try. Technology eventually destroys empires, so in the long run, only republics will have a chance. We must indeed cut and run, not from our enemies, but from our own hysterical overreactions and the temptations of easy power that we face. It’s our only real future. Otherwise, our enemies do win in the end, no matter how many bombs we drop on them. You better believe that they know that.


Speaking Of Monkeys Again...

This DailyKos contributor has nailed how I feel about the Conservative Whiners Of Doom that dominate right-wing media. They seem to forget that in the little 24/7 drama that they are creating in their own heads, their own starring character is really just that of a coward:

I know there are millions of brave, decent conservatives. My apologies to those folks for the following. But good grief, when did the Republican Party become infested with what sound like so many loud, whining cowardly pundits? One second Reagan is up there standing toe-to-toe with the Rooskis, negotiating cool as a cucumber with 20,000 nukes pointed at him, and the next thing I know, the likes of Limbaugh or the crew at Powerwhine and Freeperland, are all shrieking like a class full of tweaked-out, neurotic fifth-graders having a panic attack every time OBL pops up in a grainy video with a rusty AK in the background. What the hell happened to the GOP I once knew?...

The Cold-war is just one of many threats we've faced that exceed the danger posed to America from Osama bin Laden by orders of magnitude. We also survived Hitler, Imperial Japan, the Kaiser, a Civil War, and the British Empire--the latter one twice by the way--just to name a few.

In that historical context, reading or hearing a bunch of yelping GOP crybabies incessantly screeching in craven horror that Al Qaeda is the worst, gosh-darn biggest bad-ass threat we've ever faced is, frankly, an act that has grown tired and embarrassing. And when they yammer, time and time again, that it's not enough for them to be quivering under their beds, they insist the entire country crawl under there and obsess along with them, while they lay in fetal position swaddled in their faded George Bush security blanket squawking in fear, it's enough to make Burt the Turtle duck and cover in disgust.

I'm vaguely recalling some Jefferson quote about those who desire both liberty and security deserving neither...

Speaking Of Monkeys...

No photo recently has quite captured my loathing of the media as well as this picture of Boy George, being followed around by 25 photographers while fulfilling his community service sentence for cocaine possession.

So, what's really going on in the world today? Who knows?

Dance! Monkey! Dance!

Damned if we aren't just a bunch of Monkeys. Tip and image thanks to Towleroad.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

An Actual Dialogue!

OK, I owe Tom Slater an apology. I sent him the letter in the post below without telling him that I was also publishing it to my blog. This was a violation of basic netiquette. I should have waited to see if he responded and asked him before I put my critique up. This is especially true in light of the fact that he responded thoughtfully to my criticisms. So, with his permission, I will publish his response to me, and our subsequent back and forth. It's important to remember that, even on the internet, we shouldn't always talk past each other and drop bombs, but try and engage in an actual dialogue. That's how we move the ball forward, folks.

Here's Tom's response to my first letter:

Dear Spencer (if I may),

Thank you for your message, and interesting comments on the op-ed. I have been receiving all kinds of messages from people in downtown, from people in and around Skid Row, and far beyond LA - some supporting the general argument, others like yours criticising it, which is typical of the divisive nature of gentrification. It is good to learn that many people are talking about the broader issues contained in my piece - clearly this is an important debate, but one which I do feel should be constructive rather than dismissive.

I was not invited to write the piece because of any in-depth knowledge of LA. I was invited by the LA Times to place recent downtown events they wrote to me about in the broader context of gentrification, a topic I have researched and written about in North America. You are entirely correct in pointing out the one factual error in the piece. The information re:
street cleaning given to me by the newspaper turned out to be incorrect.
The mistake was due to a miscommunication and an editing error: it has since been duly noted and corrected, and apologies have been made by both the LA Times and myself to CCEA for misrepresenting their actions, which CCEA have accepted.

I stand by the arguments made in the piece except for that error. I absolutely agree with you that change must happen. I never said it shouldn't. The question is what kind of change, and in whose interests is change happening, and that is what I was *warning* about. If you read the piece carefully, there are no factual errors about LA bar the one mentioned above, but instead a message about gentrification which is something I know is surrounding Skid Row. For instance, I talked about deinstitutionalization in the broader US (not LA) context, and the loft conversion cap thing was again a general message, which your local SRO ban is following - but for how long? There are huge pressures on this moratorium. Plus, the responses I have been receiving confirm that my worries are somewhere near the mark.

My point for years now is that either the unliveable disinvestment and neglect that you mention or gentrification and displacement is a *false
choice* for low-income/homeless areas, and once this is recognised (it so often isn't), then desititute people are not just shifted elsewhere.

This is an important debate (your e-mail is indicative of that), but one I do feel is more productive with less adversarial patrolling of one's own territory.

With very best wishes,


Here's how I responded:

Dear Tom,

Thanks for responding. I agree that the choice between “neglect and disinvestment” and “gentrification and displacement” is a false one; however, it is a false choice that is a first postulate of your op-ed argument, not one generated by the reality on the ground. I know that there are places where the kind of gentrification you speak of is happening. I briefly lived in one, in Camberwell in South London, where an ethnically mixed and income mixed neighborhood was being made over by the arrival of upper-middle class folks buying up and restoring row houses. This is not however what is happening in Los Angeles. Anyone unfamiliar with L.A. would think upon reading your piece that low income housing was being turned into lofts, but this isn’t supported by the facts. Over 98% of loft conversions in downtown Los Angeles have been to industrial and office buildings. I know of only one hotel that has succumbed to loft conversion, and even this singular building is not now condos, but market-rate apartments occupied mostly by middle class residents, such as a grad-student friend of mine. In fact, the newest hotel in downtown Los Angeles used to be the headquarters of an oil company, and another prominent conversion is now going into a former vegetable warehouse. My former loft was in a building that was once a garment sweatshop. As light manufacturing, especially garment manufacturing, has moved overseas, these empty spaces have become housing, and for the first time that I can remember, there is actually signs of life on the streets of downtown after 6pm. This growth will cause more people to care what happens downtown, and I have seen first hand the positive benefits to this newfound interest in what was otherwise a public policy cipher.

I apologize if I came across as trying to kick you out of my sandbox, but we’ve had our fair share of armchair quarterbacking out here. The problem with large themes is that they are so often unequally applied. Your argument might do well in San Francisco or Brooklyn, but in a city with a downtown as blighted and ignored as that of L.A., it can only hurt. It was misguided activists who petitioned and sued Governor Reagan and Governor Rockefeller in New York to release the mentally ill from institutions without adequately considering the unintended consequences, and I fear that the same may again happen here, that activists will sweep all the complex change now happening downtown under the rubric of “gentrification”, and that to be opposed. Our downtown revival is still a weak patient, Tom, and I fear anything, however well-intentioned, that will smother it. If it were up to me, every elected official, wealthy civic booster, and city planning academic in L.A. would be required to live in the twenty blocks of Skid Row. Only then can we really address the massive problem of homelessness, only when the powerful people of this famously disconnected city really see it every day. The new residents are raising their voices in a way no one else ever has here. It’s not just about real estate, it’s about seeing before our eyes the toll of poor mental health and addiction in a country that pays too little attention to either. If it takes the lure of exposed brick and nightclubs to make people care, well, I’m willing to pay that price. Your objections may one day actually be a problem here. Would that we someday have only such more esoteric issues to confront.

Spencer Windes
Downtown Los Angeles

You might also be interested in today's piece on Skid Row in the Times.

This is something we see regularly down here, the revolving door from treatment center to open-air drug market. These are the kinds of challenges we face. I've lived in some pretty gentrified places (Williamsburg, Dupont Circle, The Mission) but I've never had to literally turn down half a dozen dealers in one block. It's just overwhelming. We've got a ways to go before gentrification really sets in, I'm afraid.

Spencer Windes

And finally, Tom's response back to me.

Thanks for the reply. I wish I had the time to respond in depth to your
fascinating observations, which I really do appreciate you sharing with me.
One immediate response is that the conversion of empty industrial and office buildings into lofts that house middle class residents is in fact a form of gentrification (among others, Sharon Zukin's classic book 'Loft Living' deals with this very well - and a colleague of mine recently researched this in your old neighbourhood of Williamsburg). Gentrification is much much more than the middle classes buying up and restoring houses.

Displacement does not necessarily define gentrification: the erosion or prevention of affordable housing in favour of middle class interests does.
Decades of research illustrate that if the mentally ill/drug addicted are adequately housed, their symptoms will be at the very least more manageable. I can't help but imagine the progress for the homeless if garment sweatshops and vegetable warehouses were not appropriated by profit-seeking real estate interests. This is not to reduce everything to real estate capital, but rather to point out that it is a significant piece of the puzzle. I have researched and written about these issues in Toronto, and similar things are happening in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, a neighbourhood with more than its fair share of drug addicted, mentally ill people (being pressed on all sides by gentrification, and now resisting it vigorously). I have also written about the need for a 'geography of gentrification', to understand how different places experience the process in different ways - if downtown LA is as unique as you explain, then it is a primary research site.

I wish I shared your optimism over the potential for change if every elected official, wealthy civic booster, and city planning academic in L.A.
would be required to live in the twenty blocks of Skid Row. For me, the problem is that the enormous profits and taxes that can be extracted from the built environment are too often irresistible, and I would be amazed if such people in tandem with large developement corporations are not licking their chops at the Skid Row street cleaning as a sign of a future clean-up in the form of gentrification. Plus the fact that Bill Bratton is the LAPD police chief - a man with a track record of expelling homeless people from Manhattan in order to pave the way for massive profit-seeking capital investment, without considering the consequences for the homeless - does suggest that it would not be sensible to assume that change is going to happen with any compassion.

I thank you again for contacting me directly, and I very much hope you will prove me wrong and gentrification will not affect Skid Row any time soon!



Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Academic Postering

Professor Slater,
I’m writing you in response to your ill-informed op-ed on gentrification in downtown Los Angeles. I’m sure by now that you’ve heard from others about the factual errors in your article, such as the wrong assumption that loft conversions are happening to SRO hotels (almost every loft conversion downtown has been of underutilized office space, and there is currently a ban on SRO conversions) and even more egregiously, your description of the homeless being “literally swept and hosed out” of their encampments. I witnessed the cleaning of the skid row sidewalks first hand, and in no way was it as you described. It was instead the kind of orderly street maintenance that one usually sees in cities, and that one rarely sees on Skid Row. No homeless were hosed out, as you so vividly wrote. That you would use such a simple act as hosing down sidewalks as the entrée into your argument tells me that your argument was decided upon long before you happened upon this particular “fact”. If you had gone looking for evidence about the sidewalk cleaning, you would have learned a different story that did not fit your pre-conceived thesis. Since I both work in Skid Row and until recently lived in the neighborhood, I can tell you that regular cleaning the streets would be just a basic start to reversing the historic neglect of this neighborhood. Professor, I’ve lived in the “third world”, in some real poverty-struck places, but I’ve never seen the kind of physical filth one sees on the streets of Los Angeles. To leave people lying amongst human waste, used syringes, used condoms and discarded colostomy bags is doing no one a service. Sweeping and cleaning the streets is the minimum of what this city should be doing.

But then again, your whole article was a lovely bit of theory at odds with the facts on the ground. Skid Row in Los Angeles comprises the epicenter for the largest homeless population in North America, a statement that has been true since the 1970’s, long before the very recent and still rather tenuous renewed interest in downtown living. Los Angeles County has a homeless population of over 90,000 that dwarfs the small population of loft-dwelling downtown residents. Most of these homeless folks are there for two reasons, drug addiction and mental illness. We’re not talking about the kind of transitional homeless that one sees often in other parts of the country, people who have lost their housing through economic circumstance and who are struggling to find a new home. These are the long term, people incapable of fulfilling even the base requirements of caring for themselves. Cut the rents by 75% in Los Angeles, and you would still have this population on the streets. Gentrification is affecting a small corner of downtown Los Angeles, and has done little to change the larger dynamic of downtown as both a warm weather beacon for transients and a regional dumping ground for the homeless from throughout the area. If you wanted to actually address the real issues that create the homeless problem in L.A. maybe you could have talked about the severe under-policing of downtown, the dumping of medical patients, the blind eye turned to an open-air drug market, and the long-term unofficial policy of shipping the addicted and mentally ill to this neighborhood; instead you use your precious bullhorn on the Times editorial page to bring up the factually erroneous idea that a few loft conversions have forced people out of their homes, people that I would remind you are simply incapable of living on their own without real help.

Your one stab at an actual explanation even missed its mark, professor. It wasn’t the Reagan Presidential Administration that adopted the disastrous policy of “deinstitutionalization”. It was the Reagan governorship of California in the late 60’s-early 70’s that started this trend, abetted by advocates of the mentally ill who didn’t bother to plan out what would happen to the deinstitutionalized. The mentally ill are almost totally a state responsibility in the U.S., and it was Ronald Reagan’s actions as governor, which were widely followed across the country, that precipitated the wholesale release of the mentally ill onto the streets. By the time Reagan became President, Skid Row in L.A. was already in its deplorable state. I know because I’m a lifelong resident of the city, which you seem to have visited a few times.

But then again, what are facts and experience when held up against a good gestalt theory? Unfortunately professor, your theory is one that will do damage. Downtown Los Angeles is just starting to revive; it’s still largely a ghost town on evenings and weekends, populated only by the sad figures of the wandering neglected. As more attention comes to downtown, as more people connect with it, move here, come here for entertainment, participate in the neighborhood, increasing awareness of the problems of Skid Row is happening. This is what downtown really needs, more people who feel an actual stake in the neighborhood and what happens here. I’ve witnessed in the last five years the death of the old neglectful business establishment in downtown and the birth of a resident-driven neighborhood council that is worried about far more then real estate values. Yes, our neighborhood is changing, but this is still the most disgracefully neglected neighborhood in America. Change must happen. It cannot continue as it was. Downtown’s problem is not I-Pod’s and latte’s. Downtown’s problem is hardcore drug addiction and mental illness. We’re fighting that fight as best we can. The last thing we need is an academic with a grand theory stepping in and lecturing us. As my nation has learned most recently in its foreign adventuring, big theories are no replacement of actual facts, knowledge, and experience on the ground. As a downtown L.A. resident with just such experience, all I can say about your article is that you are not.

Then again, what do I know about Bristol? Nothing, really. So I’ll refrain from writing op-ed’s in the Bristol Evening Post.

Spencer Windes
Downtown Los Angeles

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Bird

FUH2 comes to video!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Last Night's Wankers

About a week ago American Apparel came out with new Gold Lame hot pants. I knew it was a bad idea. Here's the proof, NSFW.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Series Of Tubes

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

For You Jalopnik Readers

In case you were wondering, I think this picture pretty well explains why I was included in Davey's "bear" posting. I do not, however, own a Masarati.