Yes on 15! Vote for Nithya Raman for CD 4!

For our own mental health Kelly and I went on a bit of a news fast for the past week only to have that break rudely interrupted by a text late last night alerting us to a certain ‘rona infection going around a big white house on the east coast.

While Kelly was on a hard absolutely-no-news-in-the-interest-of-recovering-from-open-heart-surgery fast, I was on a lighter avoidance of the day to day news while (pretentiously, I admit) allowing myself to read the hard copies of the Jacobin and the Baffller that I subscribe to. I’ve found both of these sources to be thoughtful, nuanced and interesting.

But while the drama goes on with Dear Leader in that far distant city, I want to alert a few of our California readers to some important issues right here at home.

Prop 15
This week I phone banked in support of Proposition 15, which would close a loophole that allows large companies and land owners to avoid their fare share of property taxes. This loophole is a kind of the Trojan horse hidden in Prop 13, passed in the 1970s, that left us with a situation in which wealthy land owners are paying taxes based on outdated values. For instance, Walt Disney Studios in Burbank pays taxes on an assessed value from 1975 allowing them to dodge around $3.5 million in taxes every year.

Prop 13 was sold as a way to keep older people on fixed income from being taxed out of their houses. This is partly true, but the real impulse behind Prop 13 was to shift the tax burden away from the wealthy. I was in junior high in a public school when Prop 13 passed and watched my education get flushed down the toilet along with a lot of other public services.

Prop 15 would raise upwards of 12 billion dollars a year to pay for schools, parks and make a dent in the terrible mental health and homeless crisis we have here in this state. It would be a game changer.

The deep pocketed real estate interests opposing 15 have spread a lot of outright lies. Prop 15 does not apply to any residential property either the house you live in or any rental property. It does not apply to farms. It only taxes commercial real estate over $3 million in value.

Don’t believe the lies. Vote yes on 15 for better schools, parks and public services. The commons has been stolen away from us by large corporations. Let’s get it back.

Nithya Raman for Council District 4
The Los Angeles City Council is a cesspool of corruption and incompetence. We have a historic opportunity to elect someone who will make a difference. I’ve met Nithya Raman and she’s the perfect person to begin the long work of making our city more functional and bring real democracy to our city. For the love of God vote for her! If you know anyone who lives in sprawling District 4, which encompasses Koreatown, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Hills, Sherman Oaks and parts of North Hollywood, cajole them into voting for Nithya. David Ryu, the incumbent she’s running against ran as an outsider four years ago and has since decided to take campaign contributions from just about any large corporation that will dole them out. Ryu has also shamelessly stolen most of Nithya’s platform. Don’t fall for it. If he’s reelected he will fall back into his previous pattern of incompetence and corruption. He also was accused though not convicted of attempted rape of an unconscious person back in 2002. We need to show Ryu, and the rest of his colleagues, the way to the opulent exit door at city hall.

Those confusing initiatives:
Here’s my recommendations based on the suggestions of the local chapter of the DSA that I belong to:

Prop 14 NO
Prop 15 YES
Prop 16 YES
Prop 17 YES
Prop 18 YES
Prop 19 NO
Prop 20 NO
Prop 21 YES
Prop 22 NO
Prop 23 YES
Prop 24 No recommendation
Prop 25 NO

Staying sane under lockdown in the midst of the most unstable period of US history during my lifetime has been difficult. Phone and text banking for causes that I believe in, from the comfort of our home, has given me some sense that I’m helping, at least a little bit. So if you get a text for some cause that might just be me behind it. And, yes you can reply to those texts and have a conversation.

For other offices and local initiatives see DSA-LA’s handy voter’s guide. And join me in the DSA and let’s make this world a better place for future generations!

In Praise of Beaters

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: all cars are the same. The same handful of people design them. They’re made in the same factory. They have the same engines. All that’s different is the ads and, maybe, the plastic on the glove compartment.

You see, years ago, I discovered the secret car companies don’t want you to know. 2020 BMW 8 series? No better than a 2002 Pontiac Aztek. 2020 Land Rover? No different than any Kia. They’re all just a hunk of plastic and metal with an inside full of rubber tubes, greasy metal parts and other thingies that I don’t know what they do. Zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds? Who cares. There’s so many other idiots driving around in hunks of metal and plastic that you can’t go fast anyways, especially in trashy old Los Angeles.

The difference is just in the surface details. How do I know this? I’ve been lucky enough to be a passenger in a few fancy pants cars over the years. I’ve mooched rides in Teslas, BMWs, and even a few Mercedes. I discovered that these “luxury” cars are to real luxury what the flooring and wall treatments of the breakfast bar at the Marriott Suites are to the Palace of Versailles. It’s all just plastic.

Here’s the other big secret: since all cars are the same so you might as well own a crappy beater. Allow me to break down the economics of this. Buy and drive a beater until its last gasp and you can take the savings, walk it to the bank and by the time you’re 60 the interest alone will be about a bazillion dollars. Take just the issue of unnecessary body work. With a beater you want dents. You should, in fact, drive your beater in circles at a Whole Foods to purposefully acquire dents. The more dents you have the less you care. This is what’s called “beater detailing.” With a lifetime of money not spent on auto body work you’ll be soon be kicking back on a beater yacht in the Cayman Islands.

There’s another benefit to driving a beater especially in this town. LA’s the kind of place where a lot of people measure status with the brand and upkeep of your car. These are exactly the sort of people you don’t want to hang out with. Your beater will act as a kind of filter for vain idiots.

I gained all this secret knowledge during my years as the proud owner of a 1994 Nissan Senta E. How I obtained this car is worth reviewing. A coworker told me about a little secret in the new car business. I don’t know if this loophole still exists, but car dealerships used to advertise a low price for a specific car in newspaper ads. When you went in to the dealership you’d have to ask for the car mentioned in the ad (there was a reference number in the fine print). What you’d find out when you asked for this car is that it had no features at all and I mean so few features that it didn’t seem street legal. My Sentra had no radio, no air conditioning, not even a right side view mirror. One of Kelly’s relatives, a former used car salesman, told me that in the biz they refer to such cars as a “heater and keys.”

What you’ll also discover is that the dealership really does not want you to buy this car. You will spend hours while they attempt to up-sell you on features and/or switch you over to a different car. I even had to fend off multiple sales people who came to outright resent my cheap-ass presence in the dealership as the afternoon dragged on. When I insisted on paying cash they really poured on the hate. But I outlasted them and walked out of the dealership with my brand new $4,000 Nissan Sentra E. There was one problem. It had a manual transmission and I didn’t really know how to drive stick. Somehow I got the car to an empty parking lot and practiced shifting in the dark until I lurched it into 5th and hobbled on to the freeway for the long drive home.

I drove this car for years and the Sentra earned the ultimate beater status when the ceiling upholstery came lose from the roof and developed what Kelly calls an “upholstery udder.” That and years worth of fart smells in the seats meant that a ride in this car was a trip to cherish. I even had an unlicensed mechanic who rode around on a bicycle with a sticker that said, “question internal combustion,” a clever pun if you think about the context.

I still remember the sad day she just stopped working and I had to coast off the freeway into the lot of a storage facility on San Fernando Road. I fantasize about finding another 1994 Nissan Sentra as a sort of 1990s time travel machine to recall the days before pandemics and Instagram influencers. I imagine getting behind the wheel, spraying myself down with CK1, downing a Zima and shoving a Pearl Jam cassette in the car stereo. Except, of course, there’s no car stereo. Just your cheap, existential little self and the sound of the not at all empty road.

But why buy just one 1994 Nissan Sentra E retro time machine? They’re so cheap you might as well get ten, park them around town and have your own personal car share service. Why get on the bus when there’s a 1994 Nissan Sentra E waiting for you a few blocks over?

Of course there’s the car free option. I’ve spent exactly two years of my life since coming of driving age (which, in Southern California, is 9 years old–they start you out young here). During those two years I had no desire to own a car again. It was like being deprogrammed from a religious cult. I’d laugh at traffic reports, insurance bills, and repair problems. But, at the end of these two years someone would offer me another beater (sometimes they come for free) and I’d be back slouching towards Bethlehem in a dented sedan.

To contradict myself a bit there really is one car that is different: the Morgan 3 Wheeler. But that car has a bit too much of a cosplay vibe to me. No, the next car might just be a Camry. I’ll leave you with the best used car ad ever written:

Image: Wikimedia.

I Just Got a Covid Vaccine

Felted Coronovirus by Brooke Schmeds in Instructables.

Well, maybe. This morning I began my participation, along with 30,000 other people in the world, in the third stage trial of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. A doctor at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center gave me an exam, then a nurse took my temperature, checked my blood pressure and administered a nasal Covid test and drew blood for an antibody test. After a short wait, another nurse gave me an injection that has a 50/50 chance of being the vaccine or a placebo. Then they made me sit around for a half hour to make sure that I didn’t have any adverse side effects (I didn’t).

Here’s how Pfizer describes the vaccine I may have received:

The investigational vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. It is a kind of vaccine that gives a body’s cells instructions to make viral proteins that can be recognized by the immune system. It contains a small part of the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. By delivering the mRNA to the body’s cells, the viral protein is expressed and an immune system response is generated against it, with the goal of preventing COVID-19 disease. The vaccine does not contain any live virus or the parts of the virus that can make a person sick.

In a month I’ll return to Kaiser for a booster shot as well as more visits for blood tests to see if my immune system made antibodies. They also gave me an app to report symptoms as well as my very own personal Covid test kit in case I have Covid symptoms (that, to be clear, won’t be caused by the vaccine but could happen if I, say, start attending TikTok influencer parties in the Hollywood hills). Don’t worry, I’m too old for TikTok influencer parties.

I won’t ever know the results of the antibody tests. If my covid test came up positive they will let me know. Once an approved vaccine is released I’ll find out if I got the vaccine or the placebo. For my troubles they gave me a $200 payment.

I heard about the vaccine trial in a local paper and registered on the Pfizer website immediately. I really want to help people in this crisis but since Kelly is at risk for Covid I can’t do things like volunteer at my local food bank. I thought this study would be a good way to help stop this horrible pandemic while not putting Kelly at risk. Plus I thought it would be interesting to see what a vaccine trial is like from the inside.

If you’d like to sign up for the trial head over to www.covidvaccinestudy.com. Sign up soon because I think slots are filling up.

Good News

Kelly made it through an eight hour open heart surgery yesterday. Her surgeon reported that the operation was, in his words, “successful if tedious.” She has a new valve and a repaired aorta. This was a difficult and scary surgery and Kelly has a long recovery ahead of her.

I want to thank all of you Root Simple readers for your kind words and prayers. It means a lot to Kelly and I to be surrounded by so many loving people. I want to also thank our friend Caroline who came over yesterday to sit outside with me and calm me down during an excruciating wait. And many thanks to the clergy and parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral for helping us prepare for the surgery and for sending me words of encouragement over the past few days.

Because of Covid I can’t visit the hospital which adds another layer of stress to this ordeal. But we are thankful to have good insurance and access to the kind of surgeon who can tackle such a complicated operation. Looking forward to bringing Kelly home in a few days.

A Note

Dear Root Simple readers,
Kelly has to go in for another open heart surgery later this month to fix some issues related to her aortic dissection that happened four years ago. It’s not an emergency surgery this time so we’re optimistic for a good outcome. We are thankful to have insurance and a good surgeon.

I need to take some time off blog posting until after the surgery. I promise to post updates and be back to this blog soon. In the meantime your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.
Best,
Erik