Young Asia.


They were young when we boarded Singapore Airlines at LAX, bound for Tokyo. 22 men and women, flight attendants, smooth skinned, well mannered, and slim, women with hair pulled back wearing Sarong Kebaya. Graceful, smiling, polite, they maneuvered in and out of the aisles, pushing carts, pouring tea.

The flight left on time and touched down in Tokyo as silently and softly as a Kleenex falling on a pillow.

The airports were dazzling, slick, architectural and inviting: Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi, and KLIA.  Customs officials in every nation were polite, well-spoken, welcoming. Everything they are not in Los Angeles.

The skyscrapers were young, newly built, tall, dropped into every corner of Kuala Lumpur: Icon Mount Kiara, Charigali Tower, 60 floors tall, St. Regis Hotel, 80 stories tall, Menara Tradewinds, Warisan Merdeka (118 Floors Tall!), KL Tower (Menara Kuala Lumpur) 1,381 feet tall, Ilham Baru Tower (62 floors).  They were clearing out jungles, paving over valleys, erecting vast suburban housing and vertical towers in Cyberjaya, Shah Alam, Bangsar, Petaling Jaya. Soon, a high-speed train will connect Singapore, KL and Bangkok.

The land was young, landfill on the west side of Melaka, thousands of acres of new commercial buildings lined up like soldiers in a future army of retail, uninhabited infants.  Old classical mansions that once stood on the shore were abandoned and empty, their contents stolen, their memories wiped clean.

The KL malls were new, full of shoppers, hordes of black haired boys and girls in bright scarves and long dresses, eyes glued in their smart phones, moving through vast air-conditioned, bright spaces. The Pavilion! KLCC Suria! Star Hill Gallery!

The Malaysian highways were new, and along the new landscaped lanes, billboards shouted advertising with smiling faces, multi-cultural Malay and Chinese faces beaming in Samsung, Jasmine Rice, Panasonic, Thai Airways, Telekom Malaysia, Air Asia, Hyundai.

The Malaysian born bride was young, effervescent, intelligent, ambitious, and well connected. She owned a condo, a house (under remodel) worked for a bank and travelled to Singapore, Bali, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Melbourne. She had a lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of generosity and much love around her. She was the future, for just this moment, of a region where education and money are exploding exponentially.

And the trains in Tokyo, the intersections of Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, Ginza, Shinjuku, they were young, overwhelmingly so, populated with hundreds of thousands of post 1985 human beings pouring off the modern perfectly run trains, into stores and shops and cafes, hurrying everywhere, acquiring purses, shoes, makeup, perfume, suits, electronics.

Inside the endless shops of Tokyo Station, the bowing and the smiling, the serving and the selling, a furious, unabated, exhausting and exhilarating controlled carnival of commerce, this was Japan.

And everywhere, in every corner, the spirit, the energy, the optimism, the faith in tomorrow and the future, a region poised to take over the world, relentless in its work, socialized to harmonize, grouped en masse into money-making and modernism, this was young Asia.

I went here on holiday, for three weeks, to attend a wedding in Kuala Lumpur, to vacation in Phuket, Thailand and stop off in Tokyo for four days.

I came back to Los Angeles in culture shock. For what I saw back there made the Golden State seem dyspeptic, backward, self-congratulatory– without merit.  Our new international airport had dirty windows; the customs people were fat and shouted angrily at passport holders. The bus was late and the driver made jokes (“This bus isn’t going to Van Nuys. Long Beach! Just kidding!”) that delayed our trip.

And the news was that the government was shut down. I thought of that on the 405 bus ride home, having just seen, 10 hours earlier, postal workers at work at Tokyo Station, on Sunday afternoon.

America is no longer young, in outlook or output, and I wonder if we even have any dreams left in our national imagination.

Cindy vs. Nuri

On Tuesday, July 23rd, two women, Cindy Montanez and Nuri Martinez, will face off in a special election to decide the next leader of LA’s 6th District which includes Van Nuys, Arleta and Sun Valley.

After a dozen non-productive and self-destructive years of Councilman Tony Cardenas, the district is still one of the least appealing areas of the San Fernando Valley. Downtown Van Nuys is dying, its post office closed, its shops vacant. The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council is a long-running joke, producing theatrics and anger instead of cleaning up the streets.

Why Van Nuys should continue to suffer is one of the strange mysteries of our city.

It is centrally located, adjacent to North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, an easy commute to Woodland Hills, Studio City and Hollywood. It is served by buses and three freeways, so it certainly does not lack transportation. On many streets there are stunningly beautiful homes often used for filming movies and commercials.

The downfall of Van Nuys, which was established in 1911, began after WII when regional shopping centers replaced mom and pop stores. The widening of Van Nuys Boulevard and Victory, the elimination of diagonal parking, the ripping down of old houses to make way for large government buildings, the influx of immigrants who were poorer and less educated, the slumlords who bought up apartments and let them decay, the emptying out of legitimate business to make way for pot shops, massage parlors and bail bonds, all of these contributed to the El Crappo aura. And basically El Crappo is all one sees driving along Van Nuys Boulevard.

Whomever wins on Tuesday, Ms. Montanez or Ms. Martinez, both ladies (I like that word) will have to dig in her heels and bring shovel-ready action to Van Nuys, and concentrate with all her might in rebuilding a civilized and thriving district that is no longer the laughing stock of Los Angeles.

Canvassers For Cindy Montañez.

For Cindy Montanez in Van Nuys.
For Cindy Montanez in Van Nuys.

Two canvassers were walking down Orion Avenue north of Victory last night, passing out literature for Cindy Montañez, who is perhaps the best known and best financed person running for the vacant City Council District #6.

According to her campaign literature “she is the only candidate endorsed by the LA County Democratic Party”.

Montañez (b. 1974) was raised in the city of San Fernando, CA along with her five siblings by parents who were immigrants from Mexico. She attended UCLA.

She is an accomplished public servant and explorer who has navigated many hidden corridors of the political landscape. Not yet forty, she stands poised and positioned for state or national fame.

Like Mulholland before her, the path to power flows down pipes from the Owens and Colorado River, baptized and blessed by DWP, the largest municipal utility in the United States.

Her brief resume:

*Democratic Assemblywoman from California’s 39th Assembly District from 2002 until 2006.
*Montañez stepped down in 2006 to run for the California’s 20th State Senate district. However, she lost that primary to Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla.
*After leaving the Assembly, Montañez was appointed to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
*Cindy now works as a government affairs consultant for various clients, as well as the Assistant General Manager for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

She seems the most likely to get elected.

Her name and gender are backed up by solid government work.

Who Has the Most Land in the Middle East?


President Obama is visiting Israel this week.

As we have been hearing (ad nauseum) for many years, “Israeli Settlements” or suburban housing erected for families is the main obstacle to peace. Put Israel back inside Israel proper, make it conform to borders settled by the United Nations, and peace will follow. Many US Presidents have talked of the “two-state solution”, the idea that a democratic Palestine and a democratic Israel might live side-by-side in peace.

But the truth is that any Israeli state is anathema to the Arabs. They simply do not accept that Israel has a right to exist. Israel in Tel Aviv is wrong. Israel anything must go.

From 9/11 to the 1970s hijacking of planes, to the killing of innocents at the Munich Olympics, the big bloody event has always captivated and controlled the Palestinians and their allies. They have pursued their own cause by sacrificing women, children and non-combatants.

While Israel is now being asked to unsettle its settlers, what guarantee is there that putting Israelis into exile (in their own nation) would buy peace? None at all. After leaving the Gaza Strip, Israel was bombarded by rockets, aimlessly aimed to kill innocents.

Why not ask the Arabs, who allegedly are tearfully and remorsefully concerned with the Palestinian plight, to give over their land to make a new nation? Why not? Land is land. If a people want to make a democratic and prosperous nation, they can do it anywhere on Earth!

Here are the statistics (taken from Google) on land areas in the Middle East:

Israel: 8,019 sq miles (20,770 km²)

Some Arab Nations:

Egypt: 387,000 sq miles (1.002 million km²)
Jordan: 34,495 sq miles (89,342 km²)
Syria: 71,498 sq miles (185,180 km²)
Saudi Arabia: 830,000 sq miles (2.15 million km²)
Libya: 679,400 sq miles (1.76 million km²)
Algeria: 919,600 sq miles (2.382 million km²)

Other Nations:

Iraq: 169,235 sq miles (438,317 km²)
Iran: 636,400 sq miles (1.648 million km²)
Pakistan: 307,374 sq miles (796,095 km²)

Public to Vote in Secret City Election, Today.

The Voyager Motel
The Voyager Motel
The Voyager Motel, view North
The Voyager Motel, view North

I voted in an election today to choose a new mayor, members for the Board of Education, a Community College District person, and a City Attorney.

I don’t know any of the people, save for Eric Garcetti, who my friend likes and taught tennis to when he was a young man.

“He always was polite. He is a Rhodes scholar.”

Poor Wendy Gruel did not get my vote because her last name recalls bad prison food like watery porridge.

Armed with my LA Times print-out and reading glasses, I walked from my house over to the Voyager (Adult) Motel and entered a room where one table was full of elderly attentive volunteers.

I forgot my wallet and asked an older woman if I needed ID. “Not in America!” was her feisty reply. She directed me over to the other side of the room, to a table staffed by young, multi-cultural texters who barely looked up when I walked over to them.

“Thanks for the ballot.”

“Huh? Oh, no problem.”

I took the strange and clunky, elongated ballot, put it into the plastic holder and used the short pen pointer to make holes next to the names I didn’t know.

After voting, I got a small sticker.

And then I remembered another upcoming election….

For the past few weeks, I have had door knocks and emails from two men running for the City Council District #6 seat, unknown Derek Waleko and unpronounceable Dan Stroncak. The seat was formerly held by fat huckster and do-nothing, now Congressman, Tony Cardenas.

City Council District#6 election will be on May 21, 2013.

Not today but on May 21, 2013.

Got that straight?

An election was held today in which less than 20% of voters will participate. Another election will be held on May 21, 2013 in which very few will vote, for City Council District #6, a desperately dirty, tired, poorly run area, populated by some beautiful but neglected homes, overrun by crime and illegalities, both small and domestic, large and international.

In our pocket, couches and condoms are street décor, and the local bird is a helicopter.

Who will come and focus their energy, attention and resources on Van Nuys?

If not me, who then?

State of the Union

Chicago, IL
South Side

“Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.” -Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2/13/13


Let us celebrate both the re-inauguration of President Barack Obama and the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us raise the flag, sing songs, salute our democracy. And let us talk, as we do every four years, about the greatness of our land, our democracy, our uniqueness.

Photograph of the Englewood district of Chicago, 2013 by Curtis Locke.