Introducing #ArtShopaholism and #BiblioShopaholism

I feel the need to introduce two new (I think) hashtags with a related vibe to #Procrastibaking–that bad habit where you bake some elaborate cookie/cake/ instead of cooking a healthy dinner or cleaning the house.

#ArtShopaholism: Not actually making art but, instead, shopping and/or obsessing over art supplies. I’ve found drawing useful, but it’s a skill you have to practice in order to get any good at. To counter this I’m only allowing myself to draw with whatever crappy ballpoint pen I have on me. No thinking about, buying or obsessing over having the “right” pen pencil or sketchpad.

#BiblioShopaholism: Shopping for books rather than:

A) Picking them up at the public library.
B) Reading.

Curren Price Trial Update

I attended a hearing today in the case against Los Angeles City Councilperson Curren Price, who is accused of embezzlement, conflict of interest and perjury relating to business associated with his wife, a consultant who relocates tenants.

The hearing, in the court of Superior Court judge Kerry White lasted just minutes. The prosecution was seeking documents in the case which both Price’s attorney and the City Attorney are attempting to block. The judge claimed to have not seen the documents and punted the next hearing to June 5th.

It seems like the city does not want any details coming out about this case. If the case moves forward and Price is convicted he’d be the fourth councilman in recent years to live up to what Foucault once said about those seeking power ending up either in politics or prison, likely both.

Los Angeles: Chicago by the Sea

Ray Chan Photo: LA Department of Building and Safety

The TV in the waiting room in the Kaiser ophthalmology department yesterday blared nonstop coverage of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ legal troubles (in between ads for Kaiser, ironically). You wouldn’t know that a far more important legal situation was taking place in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John F. Walker, where former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan was on trial for a bribery scandal involving former Councilman José Huizar.

I was in Judge Walker’s courtroom on Monday to hear the last of the prosecution’s witnesses, FBI Special Agent Andrew Civetti testify about the financial details of the scandal as well as some 4,500 missing, and presumed deleted, text messages between Chan, Huizar and real estate consultant George Chiang. Both sides rested and closing arguments took place yesterday.

Chan was on trial for aiding Councilman Huizar’s pay-to-play relationship with a number of billionaire developers as well as, allegedly, benefiting financial from these deals. What made Chan’s trial significant is that Judge Walker made public a full range of salacious details about the scandal that, because Huizar pled guilty, we didn’t get to know about until now. Those details included the Councilman’s Vegas trips, dalliances with prostitutes and many envelopes of cash. To be clear Chan was not part of those Vegas trips but he was alleged to have been a part of Huizar’s financial entanglements with developers. Developers bribed their way into favorable zoning and building arrangements as well as having Huizar grease the wheels with trade unions. For more details on this scandal I’d suggest reading Esotouric LA’s substack (2nd article here).

Unfortunately, the LA Times has been gutted and very few people are paying attention to what’s going on at the local and state levels leaving amateurs like me and a few other activists to go to meetings and attend the occasional court proceeding. The spectator gallery on the day I attended Chan’s trial was mostly empty except for a few FBI agents. You can bet that Diddy’s trial will be standing room only.

I’m hoping to do more writing about LA’s rampant corruption in the months ahead including the upcoming trial of yet another Councilman, Curren Price. If you’re wondering why infrastructure projects are so expensive in the country, why we don’t have more affordable housing, why efforts to deal with homelessness seem to stall, one of the first things I’d look at is rampant corruption at the local level in most cities in America. This corruption cuts across both political parties, by the way, and makes what little money we spend on services outside of the military and police so expensive when compared to other industrialized countries. It’s well past time to turn our attention away from has-been rappers.

UPDATE: Chan was found guilty today according to the Los Angeles Times:

Former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan was found guilty Wednesday of racketeering, bribery, fraud and giving false statements to investigators in a sprawling corruption case targeting pay-to-play schemes involving developers with business at City Hall.

The federal jury reached the verdict in a matter of hours, finding Chan guilty on 12 of 12 counts. Lawyers for both sides finished their closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 10.

Our Butlerian Jihad

If you haven’t seen Dune parts one or two yet, I can summarize it for you: it’s about a family that moves from Portland to Los Angeles and gets involved in our local politics. The visuals are stunning as one would expect from any movie by David Lynch.

Just kidding. You should go see the new Dune movies if just because they break with the tired tropes of so many other science fiction films. Fans of brutalist architecture will especially dig the sets and spaceships.

One of the plot points of the books, de-emphasized in the movies, is Frank Herbert’s notion of a “Butlerian Jihad” a war against “thinking machines”. The lack of blinking and chirping computers differentiates the Dune universe from most other science fiction and I think it resonates with our current struggle against the siren lure of our “smart” phones. The movies tend to overplay what I think is Herbert’s less interesting and overly reductive view of religion.

For a further exploration of the present day implications of a Butlerian Jihad and neo-Luddism the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast had a freewheeling discussion about the recent Dune movies.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s an ongoing Butlerian Jihad happening in my woodshop. I’ve been thinking of expanding the jihad to other areas of my life and will blog if and when these efforts prove successful.

We Went to Japan

We spent the past two weeks visiting a college friend of Kelly’s who moved to Japan thirty years ago and raised a family there.

What follows is a touristy slide show because I don’t want to be one of those people that drops into a place and has opinions after just a short stay. Most of our time we were in Tokyo but took a day trip to Kamakura and a three night trip to Kanazawa.

We met a few Buddhist temple cats.

Our hosts took us to the Jindaiji Temple’s Yakuyoke (Ward Off Misfortune) Ganzan Daishi Festival during which you can have a priest write a character on one eye of a Daruma doll to bring good fortune.

Daruma dolls for sale at the festival.

Our time in Japan was just before Sakura (cherry blossom season). A few trees were blooming early and the stores were full of Sakura themed goods and foods.

There’s even a Sakura themed Domino’s pizza meal.

Tokyo was immensely fun to wander at night and I kept thinking of the class I took on Frederic Jameson’s book Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In that book Jameson links the particular stage of global capitalism we live in with the confusing “hyperspacial” non-hierarchical architectural spaces we navigate. Tokyo’s huge, meandering shopping malls, train stations and packed boulevards overwhelm, disorient and perfectly exemplify what Jameson describes in that book.

We took a day trip to Kamakura to see the many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as our hosts warned us that Kyoto has become, sadly, over-visited with crowds of misbehaving Westerners.

The bamboo forest of the Houkokuji Temple in Kamakura.

Buddhas at the Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura. This temple also has a stunning 30 foot wooden Buddha.

We took the sleek Shinkansen bullet train to Kanazawa. The train covers roughly the same distance I regularly travel on Amtrak to get to San Francisco. Of course the Shinkansen does so in a fraction of the time, with no waiting for passing freight trains and with clean bathrooms. Unfortunately, we can’t even aspire to this kind of basic social democracy in the U.S., i.e. things like healthcare for all and decent public transportation.

In Kanazawa we had a guide to show us around and one of the stops was at a gold leaf workshop. Gold leaf is one of the crafts Kanazawa is known for.

We stayed at an inn and enjoyed a fancy Japanese breakfast.

We visited the reconstructed Kanazawa castle to nerd out on the joinery.

During our brief two weeks in Japan we visited three architectural museums and the Reversible Destiny Lofts (more on that visit in another post).

At one of the museums they still burn fires in the old buildings to keep the termites at bay and demonstrate the old ways.

There was more nerding out over woodworking to be done at one of the architectural museums. You pull rather than push Japanese saws and planes and they were traditionally used from a seated position.

There were a lot of warnings while we were there predicting a possible large earthquake in the Tokyo area and our visit coincided with the March 11 anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.

Near our hotel was the headquarters of the Japanese Communist Party which is more of a progressive party not a Stalinist type org. These two posters say Yes to higher wages and No to military expansion.

On the other end of the political spectrum we also got to watch a bizarre and loud caravan of Japanese Qanon enthusiasts, their loudspeakers echoing through a fashionable neighborhood of ceramics shops, popup doughnut purveyors and soba restaurants.

Once the jet lag subsides I’ll attempt a blog post about the Reversible Destiny Lofts. In the meantime many thanks to our hosts for their hospitality.