A Letter From Los Angeles
March, 2008
© 2008 Joel

What Do You Think?

Whether you agree, disagree, or anything in between with what I write, I would love to know what you think and feel.. If you put it in writing I may include your words in a subsequent Letter From. Unless you request anonymity, I will identify you by first name, e.g. Zza Zza, or by something about you, e.g." an aging beauty from Palm Springs." If I don't hear from you I will assume you’ve read and heartily agree with everything I have to say.

Pick of the Letter

The Murder of a Larry King
Adversity: Had Any Lately?
Humor from Calvin and Hobbes, and Alice ( Mrs. Longworth to Us)
Obama's Feared Middle Name
Campaign '08: "Him!"
How's Your Constitution?
R.I.P., Larry King, not of TV.

On February 13 , at a high school in in Oxnard, California, Lawrence King, age fifteen, who had recently began to wear jewelry and makeup to school and had come out as being gay, was murdered when his fourteen year old classmate Brandon Mclnerney fired two shots into his head. For being openly gay, Larry, a foster child, was taunted and harassed by his classmates and defended by but one valiant girl.

Mclnerney is being charged with premeditated murder and committing a hate crime. One police source had told CNN that the dead boy had come on to Mclnerney so strongly that he drove his classmate to the brink. That smacks of the same brand of crap we have heard time and time again in defense of perpetrators of hate crimes against gays.

Fifteen years old! That was my age when I realized that I was "one of them" back in 1958. Was no one at Larry's school was aware of his special circumstances and the bullying? A fourteen year old brought a gun to school undetected ? Where did the gun come from? Where did the hate come from?

Homework: As the parent of a school age kid, would you prefer metal detectors and regular security checks to the risk of his or her becoming the victim of a violent attack?

In New York City, a special school named the Harvey Milk Academy was created a couple of years ago, where lesbian and gay high school pupils who have been harassed in their local schools can learn in safety and peace. The New York Times and my friend the late Sylvia Mininberg, once a distinguished school principal, argued that the emphasis needs to be on improving conditions for gay students in their home schools and not on segregating them. In a more enlightened world, perhaps.

To borrow from Tom Hanks, another angel has been added to the crowded streets of heaven. Bless Lawrence King's brave young soul.


Never have as many people I love come down with so much illness. Within the past four weeks or so friends have been under the knife for a hernia, a shoulder replacement, a lumpectomy, and a brain tumor, thank goodness benign. Another requires a cornea transplant and still others were robbed blind.. This brings to mind a tale.

A prosperous man in olden Europe was experiencing business setbacks and problems with his wife at home. "How do I cope in the face of all this adversity?" he asked his rabbi, who knew exactly what needed to be done.

"Go to such and such a town," the rabbi recommended, "and when you get to the synagogue seek out a man (we'll call him Sam) and ask him about adversity. Then you will know exactly what to do."

The businessman did as he as told. He journeyed to the town, found the shul and looked for Sam. The first man he asked pointed, “There he is, coming down the steps now."

The businessman was aghast. His anticipated wisdom figure, Sam, painstakingly hobbled down the steps on a crutch. In place of one of his legs was an empty pant leg folded up and pinned. As he came closer it became evident that he had only one eye, and worse, he was wracked and emaciated with disease. “This is my savior?" the traveler with the adversity thought. What could the rabbi mean?

He approached the poor man and explained that the rabbi from his village sent him to learn about adversity. "Adversity?" Sam asked, genuinely puzzled. "I don't have adversity. Why did he send you to me?"

I thank my Berkshire neighbor Harold Gans for this story, and Norman for reading it once more.

Grand Old Ivy

I have borrowed a song title from How to Succeed to praise Harvard and Stanford Universities for drastically reducing and even eliminating tuition costs for the vast majority of their students. I have been urging such a move for years. The stupendous endowment funds are being put to good use at last.

Humor from Calvin and Hobbes

In 1993, my late friend Joe Haskew sent me a comic strip entitled “Calvin and Hobbes,” drawn and written by Bill Watterson.

The little boy explains, "I know more about the private lives of celebrities than I do about any governmental policy that will actually affect me. I'm interested in things that are none of my business and I'm bored by things that are important to know. The media aim to please," he goes on. "Maybe the economy ought to be discussed in cheap motel rooms."

Rather relevant given the recent Academy Awards and the upcoming presidential elections, don’t you think?

Another Kind of Roosevelt, Bless Her Heart

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, President Teddy's daughter, responded to the late Senator Joseph McCarthy's calling her by her first name in this way.

'The man who picks up the garbage may call me Alice. The truck man may call me Alice. You, Senator, may call me Mrs. Longworth."

From now you all may call ME Mrs. Longworth!

What's in a Name, for March 17th, and Obama in the Middle

If Obama wins the Fall election he will become our second Irish president.(Get it, O'Bama?) Michele Obama worries about the mileage Republicans will get out of her husband's middle name. Wouldn't it be awful if it were Ethel or Sue?


As of this writing, Barack Obama appears poised to secure the Democratic nomination and is, in my opinion, likely to become the next president of the United States. For me this ought to be a dream come true.

Senator Obama appears to be the kind of cautious, consensus building moderate liberal I am. Despite the idealistic haze, he is a canny, practical politician who recognizes a need for compromise that may give some of his dreamier supporters a sad surprise.

And, I get the eerie feeling that he has lifted some of his more sophisticated than appreciated views directly from the inside of my own head! After eight years of one of the worst administrations in our nation's history he is a breath of fresh air. Unlike Senator Clinton, his wide and not polarizing appeal could sweep more Democratic candidates into office should he win.

There's something else. From the bottom of my heart I would like to give African Americans a present so extraordinary that it would forever change their lives and those of their future generations. Imagine how black Americans would feel if he won..

So, what's not to like? Commentator David Brooks, dubbing Obama "Him," posits that it's all emotional, and either you get the emotion or you don't. I don't. John McWhorter, a linguist and Obama supporter, has noted that his candidate's short sentences and cadences hit listeners in the stomach and reach young people because of the resemblance to the music they love to hear Like Him or not, I think that's brilliant politics. You know how I feel about doing what one must in order to win.

Inspiration certainly counts. We are eternally moved and forever changed by the words of Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Gandhi, for some Ronald Reagan, and FDR. Had Hillary Clinton not missed this point she would more than likely be on her way to D.C.

One has to earn his or her heroic status, though. The charisma and "charm" of a media dubbed "rock star" moves me not at all, I must be spoken and not intoned to, and "movements" and self-righteousness send me running the other way. One Jimmy Carter was enough.

Some of my most thoughtful friends support Obama, and my inner fat lady has not yet sung. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the Republican nominee stands any chance of carrying the state in which I'm registered to vote, New York, a traditionally "safe" Democratic state (see Bill Moyers below), the Democratic nominate will surely get my vote. And I may surprise myself and favor Obama, though he is far from closing the sale.

Would Obama be a good president? Quite possibly. By rejecting Hillary Clinton will we have missed the opportunity for an excellent presidency? Definitely, and of this I am sad.

How Is Your Constitution? Bill Moyers Asked Sanford Levinson Just That......

on Bill Moyers Journal last December 21. Levinson, who teaches law at the University of Texas at Austin, is author of Our Undemocratic Constitution, published in 2006. Although his prescription is bold, Levinson's observations are intriguing and sound. Among them:

1. We cannot fire a president we no longer have confidence in.

2. Equal representation in the Senate violates the ideal of one person, one vote. The Senate is inordinately powerful because the states have equal power regardless of their population and can block anything the House does, and vice-versa. For example, a cluster of states in the upper mid-west dictates the national agenda on farms bills and ethanol subsidies.

3. The veto gives the president excessive power.

4. In 1787, the Founders could not imagine how powerful the national government would become

5. Congress is ignoring the potential for a presidential dictatorship following a catastrophic attack on the Senate, as dead Senators are replaced by appointment, not election.

6. In "safe states" like Massachusetts and Texas, votes don’t count. In a general election, therefore, no presidential candidate visits these states or addresses issues such as those of large cities, the bulk of which are in "safe" California, New York and Illinois. Presidential contests are fought in battleground states.

7. Presidents as significant as Truman, JFK, Nixon, Ford, George H.W. Bush and Clinton never won the majority of votes. Each on his own could and often did send people to war.

8. Problems arise from the life tenure of Supreme Court Justices. Presidents appoint younger individuals for the prospective longevity of their terms. Most Justices resign when their political party wins.

And, the Rx:

1. Limit Supreme Court Justice's tenure to eight years.

2. Every twenty years convene a new Constitutional convention comprised of seven hundred citizens selected at random, as in ancient Greece. The 700 would serve for two years and be paid a Senator's salary.

Levinson acknowledges our worst nightmare, dishing the Bill of Rights. Such a reform, he predicts, would fail much as reform efforts on State Constitutions fail. To effect such a radical change you would have to convince people across the political spectrum. Any attempt by zealots to take over would lead to all parties yelling at each other and a breakdown of the convention.

Amending the Constitution is acceptable to Levnson, but the convention route would be better. Congress is simply too busy, he also maintains, to deal with the range of today's issues. Since 1959, the number of members of Congress has remained constant while the American population has increased by 2/3 and the issues have become much more complicated. The time for serious discussion is unavailable .

In the end Levinson affirms his faith in our form of government and the Constitution. Each day he thrills at We the People and self-determination. Many Americans deeply fear popular government and harbor an incredible distrust of those who don't share their views and are thought to be out to ruin the country. Haven’t we all experienced that among people we know, even those with whom we heartily agree, and even within ourselves?


1. Would you be willing to risk regularly scheduled Constitutional conventions? If so, which changes in our basic document would you like made?

2. In your heart of hearts have you ever despaired of popular government and longed for a better way? Or do you believe that when we go to an extreme the pendulum is bound to swing back?

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recounted a growing up in San Francisco tale. Breyer's dad pointed to the Market Street trolley and marveled how all those people shared in democratic decisions.

I had a somewhat similar experience. Discussing popular democracy one election time at the World Affairs Council in S.F., I asked those present to look to their right and their left the next time they were on a MUNI bus and reflect upon their fellow riders having the vote without becoming too depressed.

Though Breyer's dad and I may disagree, I cannot think of a satisfactory alternative to the way things are, though I surely favor reform.

Next Month

Perfect School? Bad School! Your Beautiful Brain and Its Care Abraham Lincoln and Email, The Campaign (of course), and the last word on life after death, including Mary Martin's take on her impending death.

Archive 2008