I came upon this article two weeks on the website for KTLA, a local TV station here in Los Angeles. The title caught my eye – “The difference is astonishing’: Graph shows how much better California smog is now.”
And it turns out that this wasn’t hyperbole. The graph was astonishing.
As the article notes, back in the 1950s, pollution in California – particularly Southern California with 12.5 million people in the Los Angeles metro area, a car culture with little public transportation and sitting in a basin where the smog can sink into – pollution became synonymous with the area. It wasn’t uncommon to have the famous Hollywood sign obscured from view, or to drive over the hill as the San Fernando Valley spread out in front of you, only to have the entire view covered by a low-lying cloud of the smog layer.
The article told a story from the Los Angeles Times in the 1950s when conditions were so terrible that motorcyclists who worked for a blueprint company went to buy gas masks from a military surplus store because of “smog that was so thick they couldn’t see.” The Times added that “The masks worked, too, the men said, making seeing possible and breathing more pleasant.”
But conditions have become drastically different today. Pollution is still a problem, but nowhere near that level. “So what changed?” the KTLA article asks.
Well, the federal government passed the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955 – and then the Clean Air Act was passed in 1963.
Starting in the 1970s, air pollution levels started to fall in L.A., the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere around California and throughout the Southwest.
In fact, after three decades, smog levels actually fell below the national standard of 9 parts per million.
And here’s that graph that shows the astonishing difference.
So, anyone who wants to lambaste environmental laws – or overrule them (thanks, Supreme Court!) or ridicule treehuggers or make fun of snail darters – the reality is that science is an actual thing and not a belief system.
There’s still a lot of improvement that needs to be done, but what a massive way they’ve come.
You can read the whole article here.
No, this is not a joke about Marjorie Taylor Greene (and later, Fox “News”) misspelling “martial.” This is about something else entirely – and the spelling here is actually proper.
There is a story here in Los Angeles that you might be aware of, at least in part -- Rachel Maddow has covered it a couple of times the past week. It’s about a reported cover-up in the Sheriff’s office about brutality towards a prisoner and when the Sheriff was aware of the incident and saw the video of it.
At the heart of the story is that the other day, Sheriff Alex Villenueva held a press conference refuting it all, announcing an investigation into the leak and then putting up blown-up photos of three people at the center of the investigation…one of whom was Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmediyan. “The three individuals that we want to know a lot about,” Sheriff Villanueva said. “These three people have some important questions to answer.”
Though Ms. Tchekmediyan herself was at the press conference, the Sheriff refused to call on her. When another reporter asked if all this meant that Ms. Tchekmediyan was under investigation, Sheriff Villanueva replied, “All parties to the act are subjects of the investigation.”
There’s another point about all this other than what has garnered almost all the attention, which I’ll get to in a moment. But it’s important to know how fierce the pushback against the Sheriff has been.
Indeed, the pushback and harsh criticism has been so strong that Villanueva has backed off his threat to investigate reporter Tchekmedyian. He’s even gone so far as to deny that he ever even said she’d be investigated – despite it being on video for all to see that he said what he was reported accurately as saying. With a big photo on poster board of Ms. Tchekmedyian as a visual aid.
The L.A. Times has been particularly pointed, as one would expect, with the executive editors of the paper Kevin Merida releasing a statement, which said in part, “His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law. We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”
It helps knowing, too, that Sheriff Villanueva has had a confrontational relationship with the Los Angeles City Council, almost since he was elected a little over three years ago. So, anyone thinking that his actions are supported by the city official would be mistaken. So, I liked reading that Supervisor Hilda Solis pledged to ask California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to “investigate his pattern of unconscionable and dangerous actions like the one today.” She added, “Sadly, Sheriff Villanueva has a habit of attacking, maligning, and threatening those who oversee or report on his misconduct.”
And that’s the other point that has fallen through some of the cracks.
The attack on a news reporter is deserved headline news. But equally important to the story is who the other two people are that Sheriff Villanueva says he wants to investigate.
That’s because the other two people the Sheriff wants to investigate are Sheriff Department Commander Eli Vera – who is running against Villanueva for Sheriff this coming November -- and Sheriff’s Inspector General Max Huntsman…who is investigating the issue.
So, yes, Sheriff Alex Villanueva wants to investigate the reporter who is writing the story about the claim of abuse and cover-up, the political rival who is running against him, and the sheriff department official who is investigating the charge of abuse and cover-up.
As big as the story is of a sheriff trying to investigate a news reporter for covering a story, and that’s very big, I think the larger story is that the sheriff is trying to investigate the three people at the heart of investigation him.
By the way, it’s even worse. That’s because the reason Eli Vera is a Commander – is because he had been a Chief, but Alex Villanueva demoted him last September. And was transferred to a lower assignment. Further, he no longer can attend weekly executive meetings with Villanueva and other senior staff. Villanueva has said that because regulations are clear that “those who serve as confidential advisors to an elected leader, cannot oppose him/her politically and keep their post.” Though it seems pretty clear that there are other ways to have dealt with the situation. Not shockingly, Vera agrees, saying “What the sheriff did today is not only wrong, but it goes against every procedure and rule laid out in our department and across the county,” adding that “Alex decided to do something unprecedented for what are clear political reasons. This is unfortunate.”
There’s a good update on the story – which is ongoing. And that’s that not only is the Los Angeles Times still pursuing it…Alene Tchekmedyian is still assigned to report on it. And she had a major update just yesterday. That’s when she wrote that there is a first-hand witness who filed a legal claim that she herself brought a video of the physical abuse to Sheriff Villanueva and they watched it together – only five days after it occurred, not many months as Villuenueva has insisted. Further, this eyewitness was one of the Sheriff’s top advisers.
As Ms. Tchekmedyian reports –
A former top-ranking Los Angeles County sheriff’s official filed a legal claim Thursday that offered the first eyewitness account of Sheriff Alex Villanueva allegedly lying about his involvement in a cover-up and also made allegations about retaliation and other improprieties in the Sheriff’s Department.
And yes, you read that right. When the cover-up was reported, Sheriff Villanueva demanded that the witness to his cover-up – an assistant sheriff – either retire or be demoted four ranks.
It’s not just that Sheriff Alex Villanueva wanted to investigate a news reporter (and then denied that he said what he said on camera), which is horrible enough, but also wants to investigate the man running against him – who he demoted – and wants to investigate the official in charge of investigating him. And…and forced the eyewitness to his alleged cover-up to resign or be demoted four ranks.
I understand why the news is mainly covering this story over an attack on the press and the First Amendment. I hope they expand it bigger than even that, though, because…well, it’s bigger than even that.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a story here in Los Angeles about an increase of COVID cases in the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, near where I live on the Westside.
And now there’s an additional story, somewhat related, of COVID cases continuing to rise in Los Angeles County on Thursday – although, happily, the article adds, “albeit more slowly.” And it says that what has been driving the rise have been the more affluent communities including Beverly Hills, Bel-Air on the Westside, as well as, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino in the Valley (though the last three aren’t anywhere near the “affluent” level of the first two.
It’s important to note that the rise is in “cases” and not hospitalizations or deaths. That fits into my theory about the rise in cases in a lot of areas, including locales that previously hadn't been associated with an COVID increase, like white affluent areas.
I suspect that when people get double-vaxxed, many of them feel like they’re totally protected and almost have a defensive bubble shield around them, so they lower their guard and let down many of the protections they were doing before. And so they stop wearing a mask, almost everywhere. They stop washing their hands as often. The get together with groups more often. And they go into more indoor areas with a lot of people – like movies. And so, though they’re safe from serious illness and hospitalization, they’re leaving themselves much more open to getting infected than before. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’m SURE that that’s at least a part of the reason. And even a sizable part.
It’s sort of like why we read for years stats that say many people in Los Angeles get hit when in a crosswalk because, by law, pedestrians have the right-of-way the moment they put their foot in a crosswalk, and so they think it means they’re fully protected, almost like having a force field shield around them, and so they aren’t as careful and don’t look for oncoming traffic. But since the law says cars have to stop and give way, they believe “By law, cars must stop, so cars will stop, and so I’m safe.” And, of course, cars don't always stop, and it's worse for the pedestrian in the sidewalk.
In affluent neighborhoods, where there’s likely a far-greater sense of entitlement, that probably plays a part in the COVID increase, as well. “We’re double-vaxxed. We’re affluent. We’re protected.” And so, the guards come down.
Again, at least it’s “cases” and not hospitalizations and deaths. But I sure wish it was lowering.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about the Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva who is very right-wring and up for re-election in 2022. It seems he's decided to quadruple down and go full-on Trump and be as completely right-wing as possible since, I guess, he sees it working so well for Trump, who lost the election and has had his popularity drop after the election, as he's promoted insurrection and pushed the Big Lie.
There are two especially weird things about Mr. Villanueva .
The first is that he has seemed to have forgotten that he's running for reelection in Los Angeles. Which really isn't Trump country. How "not Trump country" is it? My congresswoman Karen Bass won her election with about 89 percent of the vote. Now, of course, all of Los Angeles is not that much "not Trump country." But in the district north of mine is Ted Lieu, and he won his election with 67 percent of the vote. To the east, that district is represented by Adam Schiff -- he won his last race with 73 percent. And south of that, the district is represented by Maxine Waters, who won in 2020 with 72 percent of the vote
Now again, Los Angeles County is bigger than just that. But those four districts cover a great deal of the area. And most other districts in the county are heavily Democratic, as well. Further, I'm not aware of any that have a GOP representative. So, I think it's all Democratic, and almost all highly Democratic.
Which doesn't seem the great place to decide to go all right-wing Trump fascist.
To be fair, Mr. Villanueva obviously did win his last race in 2018, which is what made him Los Angeles County Sheriff. But there wasn't any controversy about him. He didn't push a fascist agenda, let alone even a far-right one. He was just a law-and-order candidate for sheriff who had a reasonable background, and beat a first-time sheriff who had some problems.
That brings up the second weird thing about Sheriff Villanueva.
He's a Democrat. That's how he won in 2018. It was a big surprise win which make him the first Democrat to be elected sheriff in Los Angeles County in over 138 years!
But for some reason unknown to mankind it's been a U-turn downhill for him since his election. As Los Angeles magazine describes things, "it is the supposed rightward shift that presents the most interesting election-related twist, in part because Villanueva heavily courted progressive voters three years ago.:
And they go into more detail about that shift, starting with -- "Inauguration day may have been Villanueva’s high point, and calling his tenure rocky almost does a disservice to all the rocks out there."
The magazine notes that he clashed with the city supervisors repeatedly over his attempts to rehire a deputy, who his predecessor had fired because of allegations and an investigation of domestic abuse.
Los Angeles County tends to re-elect its sheriff. As in, when Mr. Villanueva won his election, it was the first time in 104 years that an incumbent sheriff had been defeated. But then, despite those 104 years, the most recent "precedent" -- which is his own election -- is that the voters are willing to go against the incumbent sheriff.
Who knows what will happens. He's a Democrat is a highly Democratic county -- who has now seemingly gone all-in right wing Trump fascist. He seems to have been doing himself his own truckload of damage that will be hard to dig out of -- but we'll see.
And as for seeing, here is an interview he did the other day on CNN. I'm not sure the point he's trying to make, though I'm not sure if he is either. He seems to think he's showing how the host Pamela Brown is contradicting herself, except that he is actually supporting her argument which is a pretty easy concept to understand. As in, the meaning of "unvaccinated."
I've mentioned a few times in the past about my cousin Jim Kaplan who is originally from Indiana, but lives out here in Los Angeles now with his family and has a life-long love of boats. Growing up on the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan, he worked in the family department store in Gary, a wonderful place called H. Gordon & Sons. (Harry Gordon was my mother's grandfather.) But it was always boats that were his joy, And since moving to L.A., he's worked in the marine industry for decades.
I've told of my first adventure with Jim on a boat in Los Angeles many years ago, a small craft that was affectionately dubbed "Kaplan's Folly," when he agreed to take the tub down to San Diego for a client, and I signed on as one of the four-person crew, leaving port before dawn broke. We only made it about halfway, because the old piece of junk started leaking worse than all the Trump whistleblowers put together, and we happily were able to make it to shore safely.
We ditched the thing, told the owner he was on his own for what to do with it, and called Jim's dear wife Olga to pleased drive down several hours to pick us up. The one good thing is that we did see a school of dolphins when we were at sea.
Since then, Jim has bought a few small sailboat/motorboats of his own, and they've clearly fared much better, which is obvious since he hasn't been drowned. They've each done their duty until the sea and time took its toll on them, and it was time to let them be. And a few years ago, he decided to dive in once more, and got the now-christened Flying Fish III.
Those are mostly the tales I've told over the past 2-3 years, how he's invited to head out to sea with him, and I've joined him on new tales of the high seas maybe once a month -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- and we even made it through inopportune squall back in 2019.
Trust me, this below of the Commodore doesn't do the squall justice, since pouring rain and high winds don't come through photos very well. Though, interestingly they do come through most everything else impeccably, including clothes and one's bones.
Alas, one of the things that had to be cut out during the pandemic were our boat jaunts -- though "Kappy" (about as good a nickname as their is for someone who worked in the marine industry, given to him by his fellow workers) was able to start going out a month or so ago.
Which brings us to the point of this all. Since Jim and Olga have now had their two vaccinations, and I have, as well, yesterday I went on my first sea journey with Captain Ahab in over a year. Not only did we both feel safe to do so on a vaccination level, but we figured that if there was anyplace on earth that would be additionally safe during a pandemic, it would be in the middle of the ocean.
And so, it was a joy to finally do something as active and ethereally wonderful as this. And it was with great pleasure that I, at last, again got to make my traditional request when reaching the dock -- "Permission to come aboard, sir?"
And an equal pleasure to finally hear, "Permission granted."
And to Jim's everlasting credit, he continued not to get annoyed when (as is my own tradition for the heck of it) I asked the same permission each time I got off the boat at the dock when helping set up the sails and then had to get back on board.
And all the better, for this Maiden Voyage of a sort we didn't sink or get hit by a squall.
Happily, that's almost always the case -- but you never know.
I know a lot of friends have been periodically ordering takeout from restaurants during the pandemic. And I understand why, and that they've been safe. And I understand the interest in supporting restaurants. I haven't done so, though. It just wasn't worth the health risk to me. I knew it was likely safe, but I also knew I was fine cooking at home.
I did order takeout once at the very beginning of the shutdown. There's a good pizza place a couple blocks from me, and I wanted to give them my business. So, I ordered a pizza and walked over to pick it up. But I think that was last February, and I haven't eaten restaurant food since, for over a year.
As I've written here, I've had my two vaccinations, and the two week waiting period has ended. And my friend, the inveterate Chris Dunn has had this two shots, as well, and passed the waiting period. And that set up the idea of getting together to order takeout at some place, and bringing it back to one of our homes and eating it there, perhaps outside. Therein lies the tales.
Not long before the pandemic, Chris introduced me to a new restaurant, Hotville Chicken that was one of the leaders of a new style of food being introduced into the Los Angeles area. It's called "Nashville hot chicken," and basically is fried chicken served very moist and with a particular hot and spicy bread coating. Hotville has its direct history in Nashville, coming from the family that invented the style, rather than being just a local restaurant participating in the trend.
And its reputation was high. Los Angeles magazine rated them as the best in the area. And the New York Times even wrote about the place -- very well, noting that "the result is juicy, seasoned to the bone, crisp and crimson.". And yes, it's hot. Hotville has four levels of heat, and double-check that you've been there before if you ask for just the second hottest level. (I think they may have a fifth level that's off the menu.) The New York Times article begins this way --
At the bar, a man insisted on Hotville’s hottest level of hot chicken (“Nashville hot”), though he hadn’t tasted medium or even mild before. The cooks had seen this a hundred times, and when the chicken came out — a large, gleaming quarter of a bird — a teasing call came from the kitchen: “Hot enough for you?”
It was very good. Very friendly, as well. I got The Shaw sandwich, which is a chicken breast in a substantial bun, some pickles, a side of kale slaw -- and a mound of seasoned fries, for $12. I think I ordered it at the second level of heat -- fairly mild but with a good kick. But I also love chicken wings, so I ordered their small portion to take home. And tried the level three head. The "small" is four massive wings, and was absolutely wonderful. And definitely hot, but no uncomfortably so. But good to have water at hand.
The place is a bit of a drive in the Crenshaw district of Baldwin Hills, located in a large shopping mall. But I was looking forward to going back. And then the pandemic hit. Fortunately, Hotville Chicken was able to survive because they have a small outdoor patio, and there's a big park nearby with tables. Plus, it's a food that travels well.
By the way, this is The Shaw. To be clear, the photo makes it look like a small slider, so you get two. In fact, it's a big chicken breast, a bit larger than your fist, and you just get one.
Anyway, after my second vaccination, and as I neared the two-week mark, I wrote to Chris about going back after he had his own second shot and two-week waiting period. His response was, "How about going next Thursday." Hey, good enough for me!
The restaurant inside was blocked off, but they seemed to be doing respectable business. It was slow when we got there early -- which was the point of going early -- but by the time we finished eating on the patio, there were half a dozen people waiting for their orders.
I ordered the same this time -- The Shaw sandwich and chicken wings to go -- although Chris and I both had now graduated to that third heat level (what they call Music City Medium). The heat level was great, it was definitely necessary to have water at hand, but not "burning." That said, Chris discovered one issue worth noting -- while dining on Music City Medium was fine, when you put your face mask back on (which also makes it really hard to drink water...), the lingering heat really kicks in. Fortunately, he finished first, so I learned my lesson from him, took my time, and drank a lot of water after the meal. All was well. For me, at least.
And I look forward to the chicken wings for my next meal at home. (Again, I'm not sure if the photo does them justice, but each wing is about six inches across.)
Anyway, going there -- or anywhere, for my first trip to a restaurant in a year -- was a total joy. On the one hand, it was a weird experience, actually ordering from a restaurant. On the other hand, I just fell right into it, and it seemed totally normal. Even Chris's legendary "four stories" (which he explains are the only four he knows, and so "Stop me if I've told you this one...") were a treat to hear again. And contrary to his insistence, he's added new stories, as well. What helped, too, was that it was delicious – and getting extra to take home.
(Total digression. One new Dunn story came after our conversation moved to Billy Wilder. I mentioned having seen Wilder at a Writers Guild event for a Q&A after one of his movies screened, and I repeated a story he told about Sabrina that William Holden had co-starred in. Chris mentioned tracking down this video from the 1978 Academy Awards.)
I have a few other friends who are also past the two-week waiting period after their second vaccinations, so more takeout is in the future. I know for many people who have been ordering takeout from restaurants the past year, this is no big deal. It was for me.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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