Friday, March 28, 2014

Silver Lake Neighborhood Issues

So It Begins

One of the things I’m going to have to do as a candidate for the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) is to speak at several candidate forums.  To do that effectively I need to know what concerns and issues that I am likely to be asked to give an opinion upon.   Listening to public comments at the meetings I’ve attended gave me some idea as to what those might be.  Living in the neighborhood made me aware of others.  I made a list of them and then started gathering information on those I didn’t know very much about.  The issues as I perceived them are as follows:
Crime Prevention
Disaster Preparedness
Open Space
Community Gardens
Reservoir Plans and Usage
Commercial Development
Small Lot Development
Air B’n’Bs
Gang Activity
The SLNC Budget
Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
Infrastructure – streets and sidewalks
Water use
Noise and activity from the local bars 

There are certainly other issues and concerns, but my list seems to cover those which the Neighborhood Council could do something about.  Because of the large number of candidates, fifty nine at last count, the time each person will be able to speak on any given issue at the upcoming forums will be severely limited, so I need to get my thoughts on each of the issues distilled down to the essentials so that I can address them clearly and concisely.  To do that I looked at each one, decided what I considered were the important factors and then made notes addressing those factors. More on the details of my thoughts in the next post or two.

There was a special meeting of the Governing Board posted on the SLNC website.  There were items on the agenda that I think fall outside the scope of what the Neighborhood Council should be addressing.  There was a motion in support of the veto of a Senate Bill in Arizona, and a motion in support of some sort of climate change march and rally.  It is this sort of activity that incited me to want to get involved with the Neighborhood Council. 

If the SLNC is going to make motions in support of things, those things should have something to do with the neighborhood.  I instantly thought of several people in the area who should have motions made supporting the work they are doing, work that betters the community in a tangible way, like cleaning up litter, working with local business and the city to mitigate parking issues, heading up a neighborhood watch, making a neighborhood safer for children, working with LAPD and the city on public safety issues, and bringing C.E.R.T. training to the area.  We need to acknowledge and support the people who are doing things to help their neighborhood and make it a better place in which to live, and leave the out-of-state and global issues for someone else to deal with.  If you’re going to make a feel good gesture, make one that benefits someone who is working for the community and sets them apart as an example of what we all should be doing.  If I am elected, I hope I will be able help the council do more than just make empty gestures.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Basic Political Beliefs

Independence Day

I have a basic political philosophy.  It has been acquired over a lifetime of observation and study.  Most recently, it has been augmented by taking the Hillsdale College online Constitution, economics, and American heritage courses.  I know that the United States of American is a unique and precious ideal, created by men who had studied and knew world history.  The men who wrote the founding documents of this nation knew what sort of governments and political systems had existed before they began their task and in what ways those governments had failed to serve the people that they were intended to govern.  They understood that man is not just another animal.  They recognized the spiritual nature of their fellow men and knew that there is more to life than the satisfaction of bodily needs.  They knew that with freedom comes responsibility and that responsibility is an act of will and one of man’s primary virtues.  They believed that each man has a right to life, to liberty, to property, to the pursuit of happiness.  But they also believed that no one has a right to life as a parasite upon others.  They knew that liberty is only possible when it is paired with morality.  The right to liberty presumes that you do no harm to others by your actions.  Your right property does not include a right to take it from another by force or threat of force.  You are not guaranteed happiness, but only the pursuit thereof.  You have no right to succeed, only a right to strive, to struggle, to work.  Success depends upon your will, your spirit, your intelligence, your knowledge and your strength of character.  There are no guarantees. 

I agree with the principles set out in the founding documents of these United States of America.  I agree with the founders that the ideas and principles contained within those documents are only possible to achieve in a nation that is moral and honest.  The founders knew that there would be, and I know that since that time there have been, those involved in the governing of this nation that were neither moral nor honest, and that they and their ilk have been working diligently to undermine the founding principles of this nation.  The immoral and dishonest have to a large degree succeeded in their aims.  Only knowledge can turn back the tide of immorality and dishonesty that threatens to overwhelm this once great nation. 

We as a people have failed to teach our children the basic principles of a civil society.  Instead, we turned over our precious children to public schools which only give lip service to education and instead indoctrinate young minds with progressive political doctrines which justify failure, promote mediocrity, instill obedience, stifle creativity, smother curiosity, suppress activity, tolerate illiteracy and reward ignorance.  And if the classwork fails to get the desired results, we allow our children to be chemically lobotomized so that at least they will sit still. 

We have allowed our government to become a tyranny of bureaucracy where all complaints are handled by the same bureaucrats who created the problems to begin with.  We have given up our liberty for the illusion of security, and an illusion it is. 

I believe that every citizen of this nation needs to know and fully understand its founding documents, those being The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I believe that we need to stop using the power of the tax code to penalize success and reward failure.  I believe that the Constitution was designed and implemented to prevent the government from doing most of what it is doing today.  I believe in individual responsibility and in the basic goodness of man.  I believe that men and women should look to each other for solutions to their mutual problems and not to government.  I believe in the right to self-defense of one’s person, one’s family and one’s property.  I believe that polite communication is a universal solvent in human relations. 

I believe that unless and until we can all agree upon those few basic principles which are expressed in our founding documents, that there can be no forward progress for us as a people nationally, locally or individually.  If there is no common goal, there can be no fruitful debate.  If we can all agree upon where we want to go, then we can discuss the best ways in which to get there.  Otherwise, we are stopped and when you stop, you begin to die.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Neighborhood Council

Reflecting on the Reservoir

Through the Neighborhood Watch, I learned about Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training.  The Los Angeles Fire Department offers a series of seven evening classes that attempt to teach people what to do in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, or a manmade disaster such as an act of terrorism or civil unrest.  Over the seven weeks (there is one class a week), you learn a bit of first aid, a few search and rescue techniques, some organizing skills, and you get some advice on what you might need in the way of tools and supplies for your own personal safety and survival.  I found the information quite useful, if somewhat limited in scope.  The limited scope encouraged me to do some supplemental studies where I got some in-depth information on the same subjects the C.E.R.T. classes covered.  I am continuing with that study since there doesn’t seem to be any limit to the scope of being prepared.  Even the years of my Boy Scout training and my attaining the rank of Eagle Scout were only the beginning of learning what it means to Be Prepared, but that subject will be several blog entries of its own.  You may have noticed that the title of this entry is “The Neighborhood Council.”  That’s what I want to tell you about today. 

I have known of the Neighborhood Council for a number of years, but, until recently, I hadn’t paid much attention to what it did or who was involved.  At one of the CERT classes, some flyers were handed out which gave information about and sought candidates for the upcoming Neighborhood Council elections.  I took one of the flyers with me when we went home after the class.  It sat on my desk for a day or so and then I looked at it more carefully.  There was a website address given and, out of curiosity, I had a look at it.  There were some candidates already listed, so I looked at those.  I noticed that they were running in regions.  I figured out which region I was living in and looked to see what candidates were running there.  There was only one and I didn’t at all agree with what he saw as the immediately and long-term needs of the community.  There were two open seats for my region.  I just couldn’t let it go.  If this person was the only one running, a dissenting voice would be needed just to keep things in perspective.  I submitted myself as a candidate.  That one innocent act of seeing a need and deciding to fill it was the tiny pebble that started an avalanche in my life. 

The day I submitted my name was just five days before the deadline.  I thought that at that late date it was unlikely that very many other people would be entering the race, and it is a “race,” as I have come to find out.  By the time the deadline arrived there were sixty-two candidates running.  Between the time I entered my name as a candidate for my region and the arrival of deadline, I decided that I might have a better chance of getting elected if I ran “at-large,” in other words for the whole area of Silver Lake, rather than only for my region.  I withdrew as a regional candidate and put my name in as an “at-large” candidate. 

Now I needed to know more about what I had gotten myself into.  I attended the next meeting of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) Governing Board.  It was better and worse than I expected.  I know what politics is like in Los Angeles and this was just a local version of the same old story.  There are people who expect government to do things for them and there are people who want to be left alone to do things for themselves.  In Los Angeles, there seems to be a great many more of the former than the latter involved in any given political discussion.  The lack of civility in the comments and questions from the community to the council members was not completely unexpected, but I was unpleasantly surprised by the amount of name-calling and childish tantrum throwing that occurred when some people didn’t get the results they were demanding.  There was also a fair amount of squabbling over technicalities and procedural issues which took time away from their actually getting through the items on their agenda.  In other words, not a lot got done.  The most contentious issue that came up, was discussed and decided upon, but was later ruled invalid by the bureaucracy at the city level that oversees these Neighborhood Councils.
I subsequently attended a couple of committee meetings, one dealing with Public Safety and another with Planning and Urban Design.  The public who attended those meetings had a very similar attitude to those I had seen and heard at the Governing Board meeting.  I was getting a very good idea what I was getting into. 

After discussing my candidacy with a few other like-minded people, I decided to go forward.  If I am elected, which seems rather unlikely, I hope to be able to add a sane and rational voice to the council.  I have acquired a working knowledge of the fundamentals of good government by studying U.S. and world history.  Perhaps, I will be able to share some of those fundamentals with the group.  If nothing else, I have a foundation of knowledge to stand upon and no real axe to grind in being on the council.  My purpose in running is simply to contribute some civility, rationality, frugality and common sense to this Neighborhood Council.  From what I’ve seen so far, those things would be valuable to that organization and of benefit to this community.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Neighborhood Watch

High Over Head

Over the last couple of years or so, I’ve gotten quite involved with our Neighborhood Watch group.  The neighborhood in which I live has a very low crime rate.  Mostly what happens is that someone leaves something valuable in plain sight in their vehicle and the opportunistic criminal walking by sees it, breaks the window and steals it.  We see a very small amount of tagging here, but it doesn’t seem that there are any gangs fighting over the territory our neighborhood encompasses.  At the first of the year, there was one armed robbery that was attributed to gang activity.   Most of the time, this is a very quiet and safe neighborhood.  The same cannot be said for some other areas which are quite near us, but for some reason the immediate area in which we live is a little island of safety. 

Of course there are people who live in this neighborhood who see danger lurking everywhere.  When I hear a report of graffiti, gang activity, suspicious character loitering the dark places, my first inclination is to go and see what is going on.  In recent years, in every case, I have found nothing to be very alarmed about and no reason to be afraid that we are being taken over by the forces of evil.  That wasn’t the case when we first moved to this neighborhood some twenty-four years ago. 

When we first moved here from Hollywood, there was already an active Neighborhood Watch group headed up by the wife of the neighbor across the street.  At that time there was a rash of burglaries going on.  The house next door to us was broken into twice.  Eventually, the criminal was caught and the burglaries stopped.  It turned out that it was just one guy who was responsible for all the burglaries and with him off the street the problem was solved; a triumph for the Neighborhood Watch.  Carol and I were assaulted out in front of our house one night by a couple of kids who has walked up the hill from the boulevard below us.  They demanded my wallet.  The young gentleman who was confronting me claimed to have a gun.  I asked to see it.  He waffled.  I told him that he had better leave the neighborhood and never come back.  Meanwhile, Carol was telling the other gentleman that she was going to tell his mother what he was doing.  I don’t think our reaction was what they expected.  They left and we finished putting out our trash cans so that they could be picked up in the morning.  We also had a car stolen from in front of the house, a 1967 VW Beetle which Carol had been driving back and forth to work.  We went out one morning and it was gone.  The police took a report, but we never saw it again.  I never expected them to find it.  The 1967 Beetle is a “one-year” car, which means that many of the parts are unique to that year.  That makes the parts worth more than the car and that, or course, is why it was stolen.  If you want to learn more about my Volkswagen adventures, which are ongoing, you can find those stores on my “If All Else Fails” blog.  We replaced the stolen car and no one suffered very much over the crime.

The woman who was heading up that first Neighborhood Watch group eventually divorced her husband and moved away.  Without her that first group faded away. 

This second Neighborhood Watch group, I believe, will last a while.  Its membership spans a wider area and there are more active members.  I am one of those.  Having been involved with the new group since its initial formation, I have watched it grow and, perhaps, even helped it grow in some small way.  I was giving the whole concept of Neighborhood Watch some thought a couple of weeks ago and in light of some of the other subjects that I’ve been studying, I wrote a few paragraphs on what my ideal Neighborhood Watch would be.  That is what follows.  I hope you find it enlightening. 

What is a Neighborhood Watch?
Most of the descriptions of a Neighborhood Watch group tell the story of a group of neighbors who get together to keep an eye on what is going on in their immediate area.  When they see anything unusual and/or possibly criminal, members are advised to notify their local law enforcement organization with as much information as they can provide about the nature of the unusual or suspicious activity.  Often a description of a Neighborhood Watch also includes the fact that it enables the members to get to know each other better so that they can be aware of when someone is going to be absent (away on a vacation or business trip), when someone is having work done on their house, or any other unusual activity that might be scheduled so that they can keep a more watchful eye on each other’s property while that activity is occurring.  These are good things, but I don’t think this description goes far enough in describing my ideal of a Neighborhood Watch.
The value of a Neighborhood Watch
In the city, people tend to keep to themselves.  We don’t want to bother anyone else or be bothered ourselves.  Our lives revolve around working, commuting, TV and our social media.  We don’t get out as much as we did in our distant past.  Entertainment comes to us inside our houses and apartments, not from getting together with friends and neighbors as it did some time ago.

Participation in the Neighborhood Watch group gets us back in touch with our neighbors and our neighborhood.  It gets us looking out instead of looking in.  That, in and of itself, would be a good enough reason to have a Neighborhood Watch group, but there is more to it than that.
When disaster strikes, be it earthquake, wildfire, civil insurrection, or something else, who will help you survive?  The first responders readily admit that they will be overwhelmed and unavailable shortly after any disaster begins.  Who will you turn to for help when you need it most?  If you’ve gotten to know your neighbors, worked with them while building a safer community, talked with them about what to do in a disaster, then you will know who to turn to and so will they.  Together you can enhance your chances for survival, not guarantee it, of course, but significantly improve your odds of surviving a disaster.
As my C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) instructor explained to me in the very first class, disasters come in all sizes.  Some, like a car accident or a house fire or the death of a loved one, are very, very personal.  Train wrecks, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, freeway pile-ups, and riots are disasters that have broader effect and involve whole neighborhoods, communities or cities.  If you know that you and your neighbors can call on each other for help, potential disasters become a little less frightening.  If you and your neighbors have talked through possible disaster scenarios; if each of you has put aside a few essential first-aid, food and shelter supplies “just in case;” then you may find that your neighborhood is a sanctuary in a disaster, a place where you can go to find help, a shelter from the storm.
At this point, instead of creating a Neighborhood Watch, you will have created a community.  You’ll have people around you whose combined skills and resources can see you through the disaster, whatever it might be.  But you have to create it.  Look around you.  Do you know what your neighbors have planned in case of a disaster?  Do you know what skills and resources you will need to live “off of the grid” for a week, two weeks, a month, six months?  What will you eat?  How will you cook?  Where will you dispose of your wastes?  Where do you find water?  What native plants can you safely eat?  You probably couldn't survive for very long on your own.  Survival is a big job and you won’t have time to do everything yourself.   But with the variety of resources and skills that you can find in a community of people, you might find that, together, you and your neighbors could do okay for a while.
What can you do?
You’ve already taken the first step.  You have attended a Neighborhood Watch meeting, or several.  You are interested in creating a safe neighborhood.  The next step is to talk to your neighbors.  If you don’t know them yet, wait until they’re outside and go introduce yourself.  Or be bold and knock on their door and introduce yourself.  Bake a cake and share it with someone nearby.  Talk to them.
Ask them what they plan to do if there is a major earthquake?  That question will either be a conversation starter or the end of the conversation depending on the answer you get.  If you live near someone who plans to let the police department, fire department, utility workers, rescue organizations – everyone else, in other words – take care of them, then when the disaster does happen that neighbor will be part of the problem, unless you can find a way to enlighten them.  Find the people around you who are interested in being prepared for whatever the environment might throw at them.  Those are the people to cultivate.  Get them to Neighborhood Watch meetings.  Have get-togethers with them, cook-outs, block parties.  Get to know each other and together you’ll begin to form a group that can work together if and when something bad happens.  Keep talking.  Keep planning.  Keep preparing.
Only the unknown is frightening.  The known you can plan for and do something about.  Take a look around you and think about what will happen if the power goes off, or the water stops flowing, or the grocery stores are empty.  Figure out what you and your neighbors can do to survive under those conditions.  Learning and knowing what you can do will help assure your survival.
Plan for the worst and work for the best.
Build a first-aid kit and learn how to use its contents.  Build a survival kit.  Include in it those things which you think you might need when you only have your own resources to call upon.  Stock up on food and water.  How much you set aside will depend upon how long you think you might have to live on it.  Study, learn, and practice those skills you might need if the power and water stop and if the first responders are overwhelmed and unavailable to you.  It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and your loved ones, including your pets, in a disaster and every day.  When you know that you can do that, and know that you’re surrounded by others who can help, you’ll be ready for whatever might happen.  And if that disaster never happens, well, you got to make some new friends, learn some new skills, and, perhaps, you gained a little more confidence in your ability to take care of yourself in any situation you might encounter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reading and Writing

The Hard Working Author

I didn’t start out as a reader. As a kid, I was more interested in being outdoors riding my bike, walking in the woods, playing with friends, those sorts of things. Now that I think about it, I believe there was a time when I was something of an extrovert. I believe what changed me, introverted me, was all the moving we did as a family. If you go back and read the first entry in this blog, you’ll learn about my life in Chicago, where I was born. I wasn’t there long before we moved to a suburb outside of Chicago and from there to Peoria and then to East Peoria and then back to Peoria where we stayed until I graduated from high school. At that point the whole family moved to the Colorado mountains. I soon moved out of my parent’s home and headed down the mountain to Denver where I stayed for a few years. I then moved back up into the mountains where I met the woman who has been my wife for the last 37 years. Her and I lived in the mountains for several years and then we moved to Hollywood, California, stayed there a few years and then we moved a few miles east to where we live now. With all the moving around, I was never in one place long enough to develop any of those life-long friendships that I envy in people like my wife. I was always the new kid in town. I guess that took its toll on my willingness to get out and meet new people and make new friends. I didn’t figure it was worth the effort since I wouldn’t be around long enough to get to know them very well or establish much of a relationship. By the time I got to Peoria for the second time, I discovered the companionship and comfort that can sometimes be found in a good book. Like Matilda, in the Roald Dahl book by that name, I learned that I wasn’t alone. There were others like me in the world. And so I read. I read a lot. I read through a number of Charles Dickens books; I read Steinbeck; I read lots and lots of classics. I still own some of those books, and though the pages are yellowed and brittle, I still occasionally re-read them. My sophomore year in high school was the year I took up playing guitar. I didn’t do nearly as much reading after that because I also had a girlfriend. She and I dated off and on until I left Peoria. I probably would have married her if I had stayed there; and we probably would have made each other miserable and led lives of quiet despair or something of the sort. As it is, we both have been happily married to other people for many, many years and I’m sure we are much better off because of it. I’ve lost track of her now, but I recall fondly the times when we were good with each other. She’s the one who got me started on writing. I wrote pages and pages of really bad blank verse poems to and about her. I wrote songs for her and sang them to her. When I left Peoria and moved to Colorado, I started reading again. I had to. It was the only thing that kept me sane. I missed her. I would call her and talk to her for hours. The family was on a party line at that time, so I had to call her from a pay phone in town. We lived up the canyon a couple of miles, so I had to drive into town. I would buy a roll of quarters and call her from a pay phone in the parking lot of a gas station. It was often very cold in that phone both and we would run out of things to say, but I hung on that phone as long as she would let me. The operator would interrupt us for time to time and ask for more money which I gladly fed into the coin slots. It was better than nothing, but not very much better. I felt very sorry for myself and very alone. Reading helped with that. And music. I would stack up a whole pile of vinyl records, plug in my headphones, open a book and drown my sorrows in the music and the stories. It helped. Absence only “makes the heart grow fonder” for a short time and then you grow apart. Your lives diverge. You are forced by the time stream to move on along with your life. The pain of the separation slowly fades, not away, but fades enough to be bearable. It’s never completely gone, though, that pain, not even most of a lifetime later. There is that tiny little lingering regret of something lost that could have been. The stories and the music helped make that more bearable. The reading and the music stayed with me after that, no matter what else I did. With a book and my guitar, I could survive. I stopped writing bad poetry and started writing bad songs. Not really bad ones, but very mediocre ones. The people I played them for were too polite to tell me how bad they were, but I knew. I played them anyway. I spend a lot of time alone and sometimes the books weren’t enough. I craved some human companionship, but I really had no idea how to go about finding someone to talk to or play with or whatever people do with each other. I could play the guitar and sing, though, so I did that. If I had a guitar in front of me, it wasn’t so scary to be around people. We could talk about music. I could play them a song. Sometimes they even liked the song. I played other peoples songs, too, Dylan, folk singers, pop music that I liked. I could do that. I can still do that. I kept reading. I discovered science fiction. I’ve read quite a lot of that over the years. I have five or six hundred sci-fi books in my library right now. It’s good. I read so much of it that I decided to try my had at writing some. I wrote a few short stories that I thought were fairly good. They weren’t, but I was learning how to tell a story. If you read enough stories, you can, perhaps, learn the technique of telling one yourself. That’s what I’ve been told. About that same time, I discovered country music. It wasn’t very different from the folk music of my teen years and I liked the stories it told. I leaned to play and sing it. And so I was reading and collecting science fiction books and playing country music. An unlikely combination you might think, but somehow it fit together for me. It was all about stories and the telling of them in ways that people could understand. Other things in life got in the way. There were things that needed to be done, earning a living, that sort of stuff, and I stopped writing. I never stopped reading though. And I never stopped creating. And then, a couple of years ago, I got really fed up with working for other people, being badly managed, being uncreatively employed. I decided I would work for myself, or at least do work that I enjoyed. I would go back to writing. I took to heart the advice that many writers give to people like me. Write about what you know they told me. Okay, I thought, I can do that. “What do I know about?” I asked myself. “Well, cats,” I replied. And so I wrote a short story about a cat. I uploaded it to Amazon Kindle. A few people bought it. That was encouraging, so I wrote a few more and uploaded those to Kindle, too. I began to sell a few here and there rather regularly. This was good. I could write stories, publish them myself and sell them online. Perfect. Maybe I can make a living as a writer and never have to learn sales and marketing. One of my internet friends and I collaborated on a book, “The Tenth Life.” And then we collaborated with another artist to create a cover for the book. We had it printed in paperback. It was beautiful. Not very many people bought it. That’s because not very many people even knew it existed. And that led me back to what I am the worst at – sales and marketing. We gave away lots of copies and got some excellent reviews, but we still didn’t sell very many books. We converted it to an e-book and uploaded it to Kindle. Like my short stories, a few people, now and then, buy copies, but not very many. Certainly not enough for me to make a living at it. Still, I had written and published a book. I decided that if I could write one book then I could write another one. I wrote the next one by myself. It took a while, but when I finished it, I was quite pleased with the result. I created my own cover art for it from photos that I had taken. I self-published it through an Amazon company called Create Space. It is called “Zombies, Cats and Heroes.” It turned out very well, I think. Of course, now I am back to the problem of sales and marketing, and I am still not at all good at either, so making money from the book is going to be difficult. Again, I gave away lots of copes and got some very nice reviews, but not very many people know about this one either. There are a lot of books out there and mine are like drops of water in the ocean, they add something to the total volume but are essentially invisible in the sea of other books. I haven’t given up, though. I have written two books. How many people have done that? Several people have, of course, but not a great many. I have that much going for me, now. I know I can write a good book. I’m working on third one, and there is a sequel scheduled for the first one. Michael and I will write that one in April. He and I have never met in person, only over the internet, but we’ve already written one good book. There is no reason why we can’t write another one. So, if you were wondering what I’ve been up to for the last couple of years since I last posted on this blog. Now you know. I’m doing some other interesting things as well, but those I’ll tell you about in the next post.