Artists and Accountants

Since I mentioned running for office, some folks have asked “What the heck do you know about politics?”

Good question.

My answer, “Not much.”

Long ago, after reading The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell who spent some years in the British foreign service, I thought such a career might be fun and enlightening, so I took the foreign service exam and to my surprise, passed. The surprise was on account of all the questions about international politics. I paid little attention to that, as my mind was cluttered with other concerns, like what was good, what was real, and how should I live my life.

I was called for an interview and probably failed. Anyway, I never got a job offer.

Since those days, I have noticed that the folks who for the most part run the world are, like the interviewers, far different from me.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist wrote about the distinction between paragraph people and spread-sheet people, which I will call artists and accountants

Accountants (not necessarily in practice but by nature) run the world. This is true because the world values more than anything the acquisition of money, which is understandable since we all need money to survive. Still, that doesn’t mean the accountants should be in charge. I have known lots of them, and though I’m impressed by their grasp of the practical, I notice that they are often restricted by their reliance on the practical, and largely incapable of thinking not of what is, but of what could be.

Artists (not necessarily practicing but by nature) on the other hand, are likely to be possessed by and devoted to what could be. Generally they are far less spooked by the prospect of change.

So it follows that we need artists to find the way out of dark forests and lead folks to a yellow brick road.

With the above in mind, I am considering politics as a way to promote ideas and principles. Deciphering how to make the ideas work in the visible world will no doubt require help from accountants.

I would love to see a world run by artists, by dreamers who are humble enough to hire accountants to assist with the practical side of things.

I heard that President Harry Truman favored a certain plan and an associate asked “What if it doesn’t work?”

Truman said, “Well for Christ’s sake, then we try something else.”

Apparently Truman thought like an artist.

Big Oil

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s choice for Chief of the EPA and Secretary of State, here’s a plea from a Cal-utopian.

But first, a slice of history.

During the 1920’s, when the Los Angeles area featured almost as many oil derricks as trees, the city held a vote to decide upon the location of a new railroad depot; either keep it in the same location on Central Avenue and Fifth Street or move to the site where Union Station now stands, near the historic town center. The location issue became hot ballot measure in the 1926 election. On one side, in favor of staying at Central and Fifth, was the Southern Pacific Railroad, which owned rights-of-way intended to allow new lines for commuter trains that would serve much of Southern California. On the other side and dedicated to moving, was Harry Chandler, owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, who owned much of the property surrounding the proposed new site.

More was at stake than just the fortunes of a few capitalists. The inability of the railroad to build its new lines would necessitate new roads and highways as the people became ever more dependent upon cars.

In those days, the public got its opinions from the newspapers, which in L.A. meant Harry Chandler’s Times and the Herald-Examiner, part of William Randolph Hearst’s media empire. Though Hearst and Chandler were often at odds, on the depot issue, the Herald Examiner kept strangely silent.

So of course Chandler got his way, the depot moved, Chandler made millions on the deal, viable public transportation was lost to history, and Southern California’s dependence on cars and gasoline was secured.

The 1920s in LA were fascinating years. You can visit them by reading Oil, by Upton Sinclair, The Boosters, by Mark Lee Luther, and/or The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, by Ken Kuhlken (which I most highly recommend).

As is often the case, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. Since our state continually exports its culture through our near monopoly of internationally popular films, much of the world has come to believe that cars are not only cool but essential. And so, what California wrought in the early 20th century is a primary cause of the wars of our times.

We Californians need to repent and try to repair some of the damage. If we put our minds and wills to the task, we might prove to ourselves and the world that though many of us (I for one) may love cars, they don’t own us, we own them. If we choose, some of us could live without them. Others of us could at least drive them fewer miles.

If we need to be reminded, we can add Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” to our music collection and pay attention to the warning about what happens when we pave paradise and put in parking lots.


Cal-exit vs. Cal-utopia

When I began to read of a movement to secede California from the United States, I considered the idea somewhat worthy, being rather concerned about mental health of our nation.

But then, I am such an American at heart, if we seceded I might move to Arizona. So my counterproposal is that we should remain with these United States and should use the prosperity of our state to create a California utopia. If other states follow our lead, all the better.

Most admittedly, I am a dreamer. I have no claim to being practical or deeply analytical. What I have to offer are ideas, in this case principles based upon observations.

So I am considering a run for a seat in the California State Assembly, with a platform based upon the following principles:

1. Everyone in our state should have access to education through at least a four-year college degree or vocational program without going into debt.

2, Everyone in California must be equipped with free or affordable health insurance.

3. Our state should no longer suffer from outrageous vehicle traffic. Nor should anyone be absolutely dependent upon driving. (Read about the tragic election of 1926

4. No one in California should, except for egregious criminal or anti-social activity, be removed from his or her family through deportation.

5. Every worker in the state should receive a living wage.

6. No Californian should be without shelter or sustenance. Though we may not be able to afford mansions or feast for everyone, we can provide at minimum a roof to sleep under, walls to keep out the wind, and a nourishing meal at least twice a day.

By now you may ask, who is this strange fellow with the big dreams.

Well, my background includes the following.

• California native, second generation.

• Father of three, two grown and working in education, one attending Helix High School.

• Over fifty years living in Assembly District 79.

• As a writer, I have published over a dozen novels set in California and based on research into our state’s history, as well as dozens of feature articles in the San Diego Reader.

• As an educator I am associate professor emeritus in the California State University system and a founder of Perelandra College.

Should you care to learn more about me, click some of the links above. And please subscribe to this blog, on which I will explain the why and how of each of my utopian principles.

Before you vote for a business person, read this book

I write novels set in California, some of them during the early years of the 20th century. So I read lots of books about that period. One of the best is Richard Rayner’s A Bright and Guilty Place.

Rayner tells the life stories of an investigator and a lawyer, both employed by the District Attorney’s office. One of them is heroic, one deeply flawed. Through their exploits and antics, Mr. Rayner exposes L.A.’s rampant and systemic corruption, the endemic collusion between government, law enforcement, and capitalists of all sorts including crime bosses.

What’s more, if we stop to think, we may realize how universal is this social structure, which is rigged so that a select and avaricious few wallow in privilege and abundance while the rest serve as pawns and star-struck voyeurs.

At that point, some of us might pause and go for a drink, or mumble, “Damn, I don’t think anything’s changed.”

A Bright and Guilty Place should be required reading for all who vote. It’s that enlightening, as well as being a compelling story.