AT LENGTH--Recently, I attended the 24th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit at USC sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas of the Second District.

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PERSPECTIVE--The Ratepayer Advocate is supposed to be in the vanguard of DWP reform efforts. Fred Pickel (photo) can’t even find the rear. To make matters worse, a proposal for substantial reforms is coming from an unlikely source – Felipe Fuentes, a councilmember whose motive to eschew reelection is the subject of speculation. 

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TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--While any reasonable person will acknowledge the need for transportation/infrastructure (T/I) funding, too many of us are acting blind, deaf and dumb (especially the "dumb" part) about our hideous state/federal funding reality: by treating T/I funding as an afterthought, we've forced and ignored the reality of high gas prices as a necessary means of funding something that should be part of the general fund. 

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PUBLISHING POLITICS--The infamous Playboy Mansion came up for sale earlier this month asking $200 million, and with the provision that Hugh Hefner be allowed to continue living there until his death.  

It's one of the craziest real estate stories of all time in a city known for its crazy real estate stories, and thank god and Larry Flynt, it just got a million times crazier: Flynt, the founder of Hustler and the Rabelaisian pornographer of the people to Hef's aspirational smut peddler, supposedly wants to buy the Playboy Mansion, kick Hef out, and turn the place into the Hustler Mansion. STONE COLD.

Is it a stunt? Who cares? It's a GREAT stunt. Of course, Flynt told TMZ last week that he wasn't interested: "I like my own toys and I don't want his dirty sheets," but Harry Mohney, the head of the company that runs the Hustler Stores, claims that was before the two talked and decided that the Mansion "is an excellent place for The Hustler Club and Hustler Mansion," reports the New York Daily News.

Mohney claims that Hustler wants to "move their own staff into the 29-room estate and host 'at least' three parties per week for VIP guests. He also says those gatherings would out-Hef the parties Hefner has been throwing there for 45 years."

And, to add insult to injury, Mohney says "We are not going to offer half" of the $200-million asking price. That might be a problem, since one of the real estate agents involved says the land alone (five acres on one of Los Angeles's most coveted blocks, plus a rare private zoo permit) is worth $100 million.

But the biggest problem is that Mohney says "Hefner could not live in the mansion" (and, incidentally that "Hef's old pal - accused serial rapist Bill Cosby - will never step foot on the estate again if Hustler moves in," as the NYDN puts it). Playboy is firm on that matter, though: "a condition of any potential sale is that Mr. Hefner have the right to continue living at the Playboy Mansion." Maybe he'll really enjoy those Hustler parties.

(Adrian Glick Kudler is the Editor of Curbed LA … where this piece was first posted.) Photo by Jim Bartsch

-cw

GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE--Those of us who happened to have been scouring the cluttered bulletin board in the corridor near the John Ferraro Chambers at City Hall this week, may have been surprised to come across, wedged behind a FilmLA permit, a document entitled, “Notice Of Intention To Amend The Conflict of Interests Code of The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.”  

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LATINO PERSPECTIVE--According to a new report by Pew Research Center, the Latino electorate is bigger and better educated than ever before. Many of these voters are here in the Los Angeles. 

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DEEGAN ON LA--Tearing up your tickets may be a pipe dream for some, but it became reality for over 200 people with homelessness and other issues a few days ago when the City Attorney hosted another in a series of Homeless Citation Clinics, administered through their innovative program called HEART (Homeless Engagement and Response Team). 

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LAPD INSIDER--On January 20 the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) held a news conference where the Unions president Craig Lally and members of the Board of Directors denounced Chief's Beck current deployment of police officers within all of the police divisions throughout the city of Los Angeles. 

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ANIMAL WATCH-Although dog poop was not mentioned as a possible offender in his post, “A Disgusting Day to Breathe-in-L.A.,” in February 2015, EarthJustice Attorney Adrian Martinez warned that large areas of central Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and southern LA communities are breathing levels of particulate pollution that the SCAQMD classifies as “unhealthy,” after years of fighting for clean air. 

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OSCAR POLITICS--While I understand the concern about the lack of diversity in nominations for excellence in the acting craft, as a black man I believe that, by trying to focus on the Oscars themselves, that concern is misplaced.

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ART POLITICS-While South LA does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.

This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price hosted a meeting recently as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area. 

Sadly, South LA’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.

I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.

I didn’t make it very far into the yard. Since 1981, the pair had been scavenging enormous chunks of carved glass, transforming metal tubes and fans into tall turrets and telescopes, and planting propellers like flowers all over the yard. There was no room to move. And there was more scrap metal and glass behind the house, they told me. They were just trying to figure out what to turn it into and where to put it.

Tenth Wonder of the World or not, it was the kind of thing I imagined neighbors in a better-off community would condemn for bringing down their property values. But the Harrises’ neighbors seemed quite happy to have them there. The Harrises regularly sat outside and talked with their neighbors. Kids on the street saw their yard as a sort of Disneyland and liked to stop by and gawk at the ever-changing inventory of crazy objects. Hoping to inspire kids to see beauty and opportunity in the ordinary, the Harrises often had candy pieces to hand out to those that visited and were always kind, friendly, and welcoming.

But last year, Lew fell ill and was in and out of the hospital, according to a neighbor. Given the pair’s limited income, they quickly fell behind on bills and found themselves having to move out in the fall. A relative who agreed to take them in came down from Bakersfield to help them close up the place. The neighbor, who also helped them move, was a little shocked at the condition of the interior — it was like something out of an episode of Hoarders, he said, with stacks of magazines and newspapers blocking all but a few paths through the home.

Given the unhealthy condition the Harris’ home appeared to be in, the move may — in the long run — be a good thing for 76-year-old Lew.

Still, it was sad to see that the owner of the property wasted no time in gutting the place, removing any last remnants of the “art” collection that had been so carefully curated over the years, and building a generic dwelling in its place. The only thing that remained of the Harrises was a set of hand-painted signs tacked high onto a telephone pole reading, “What’s up, discipline? Try patience.”

 

(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Long Beach Opera is opening its new season with a hit -- Leonard Bernstein's Candide. It's kind of a Broadway musical and an operetta all wrapped up into one. It has a series of hummable Broadway-type melodies alongside music that is reminiscent of earlier European opera and light operetta. As stage director David Schweizer explained, Bernstein was doing homage to numerous styles and traditions. This approach is risky, because it can fail or succeed spectacularly. Candide is still perfo rmed because it manages to walk the line artfully, through everything from south American dance music to a Mozartean-sounding soprano aria. 

What LBO does with the written text and the score is what makes it different as a company. In short, LBO is the opera company that dares to be and do differently. 

Robin Buck and Suzan Hanson continue their careers as company stalwarts. Todd Strange plays the title character Candide, bringing a most engaging voice. His love interest Cunegonde is played by Jamie Chamberlin, who manages her role ably. Additional cast members include Roberto Perlas Gomez, Danielle Marcelle Bond, Arnold Livingston Geis, and Zeffin Quin Hollis. They get to play numerous roles and perform in ensemble numbers. Bond is fetching as she plays the character Paquette, the whore with a heart of bronze, if not quite of gold. 

LBO stages the first half of Candide as if it were a rehearsal. Robin Buck is both the director and one of the main characters. As the show begins, he chooses who will play what (to the obvious distress of the losers) and then appoints the remainder to other roles. Bringing the stage director into a show as a role is nothing new of course, as Our Town and later plays demonstrate. And interpreting an opera a little off kilter from the text is nothing new to the modern audience. There is a whole tradition of this in modern European productions. 

But you've got to get it right. There are lots of ways to get it wrong, and some of those other productions have shown this to their own embarrassment. So it's always a joy to see an artistic group twist things just enough to make them different, to do a little mind bending, and in so doing to bring out new elements of the script. 

This approach works well most of the time for Candide. For instance, in an early routine, the crew and idle cast members, in keeping with the presentation as a working rehearsal, watch from the back as two performers do a love song. This creates a certain emotional distance, since we are reminded that at some level, this is not quite reality. But it is at least an honest attempt to create one. 

This distancing is gradually removed. It is replaced by full company numbers, and this allows the powerful emotions of the later numbers to come out more strongly. 

The final number, Make Our Garden Grow, is lyrical and triumphant. An immediately preceding number, What's The Use, is strongly rhythmic and comedic, while remaining, to use the modern term, an intentional downer. 

That's my report, and you can stop here if you like. But if you are interested in the 18th century philosophical struggle that led to the book Candide upon which the opera is based, stay with me. 

First, I'd like to introduce you to an author who writes a fascinating blog about medieval and Renaissance thought.  Ada Palmer is now at the University of Chicago, and the blog post I'm linking here is about the development of skepticism as an intellectual movement. That's where Candide comes in, because Palmer writes about the philosopher and author Voltaire, and how his response to great suffering such as the Seven Years War and the Lisbon Earthquake brought him to write a poem in protest, and that poem was read all over Europe. 

You have to go quite a ways down that blog post to get to Voltaire, but allow me to summarize the argument made by Leibniz that caused skeptics such as Montaigne and Voltaire to rebel. Borrowing from Palmer's blog, the Leibniz argument: 

  • God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnbenevolent.  (Given.)  “Grrrr,” quoth Socrates.
  • Given that God is Omniscient, He knows what the best of all possible worlds is.
  • Given that God is Omnipotent, He can create the best of all possible worlds.
  • Given that God is Omnibenevolent, He wants to create the best of all possible worlds.
  • Any world such a God would make must logically be the best of all possible worlds

This is the best of all possible worlds. 

The experiences of life, including catastrophes such as the war and the earthquake, would naturally lead to skepticism (at least of some sort) in moderns, but it took a long journey through medieval theocracy to get there. Voltaire seems to have been the one who made the Leibniz formulation into more of a joke than a believable doctrine. 

Voltaire wrote Candide and published it under a pseudonym in the mid-1700s. It is variously described as a semi-pornographic, satirical adventure story, or as a deep satire intended to demolish a once-popular theological argument set forth by the philosopher Leibniz. 

A Broadway musical linked to a 1759 novella, itself based around a medieval philosophical argument? It seems strange, but Voltaire's story involves deeply human questions, the most central being, why is there such misery and suffering in what is supposed to be God's creation? 

Leibniz's argument is sometimes described as optimism. The philosophical idea is only a little oversimplified by the phrase "All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Everything has a purpose, and even suffering and evil are really part of a perfect creation. 

One precipitating factor for Voltaire's intense reaction to optimism was the event we refer to as the Lisbon earthquake. It was actually an offshore quake that killed tens of thousands and created a massive fire. In addition, the resulting tsunami did its own damage. It was The Big One we anticipate, but more so, and without modern technology to prevent massive loss of life. 

In short, the Lisbon quake was the sort of event that provoked theological doubt in an era that was ready for it. 

Candide, both as eighteenth century novella and as modern musical theater, begins with a naive young man named Candide who is raised and educated in the philosophy of optimism described above. Voltaire creates a character named Dr Pangloss who teaches this philosophy to Candide and his fellow students. This is the best of all possible worlds, and anything you can think of that seems bad or wrong is actually to the good. The characters in Bernstein's Candide sing the line that all's for the best in the best of possible worlds, and Dr Pangloss illustrates the argument with examples both illogical and comedic. 

At the beginning of the story, Candide, Pangloss, and various love interests live together in a castle in an edenic lifestyle of wealth and power. Maybe there's something to this philosophy after all. But things rapidly turn sour for the young Candide, as he is banished from the castle to live a life of wandering, privation, and sorrow. Over the years, he finds his lost love Cunegonde, loses her again, finds her again, and so on. He gains wealth, only to lose most of it. His childish belief that all's for the best is continually being challenged, but he lacks the intellectual tools, and even the words, to find an alternative line of thought. 

Eventually Candide and his friends reject both optimism and its mirror opposite (you might call it pessimism) and agree to settle down to a simple life and "make our garden grow." 

The LBO season starts with Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide, and goes on to Fallujah, a story of an American Marine recovering in a veterans' hospital. LBO then goes on to Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, the story of a woman trying to converse over the telephone with the lover who is marrying someone else the very next day. The company finishes the first half of 2016 with something called The News, which is described as a Video-Opera that parodies a society addicted to the 24 hour news cycle. 

Candide will play again next weekend, Jan 30 at the Long Beach Opera

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

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