HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 15, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


L.A. Observation Four
December 8, 2008

As I mentioned earlier in this series, I can't bear to eat in hotel dining rooms. Consequently, we had our evening meals three times in the small restaurant I found on the day I returned our rental car to the Enterprise lot, which, by the way, is named Aliki's Greek Taverna and is advertised as selling the purest olive oil in the country. But, then, Sunday came and Aliki's was closed. So we had to seek sustenance farther afield.

Sepulveda Boulevard is one of Los Angeles's great north-south commercial strips. The Ocean Express Trolley comes back up it a ways returning from Manhattan Beach, and the final stop it makes before returning to the airport hotels is at Plaza El Segundo, a big, stretched out shopping center supplied with all the standard box stores. We decided to take our chances there for food, and discovered the Salt Creek Grille, perched on a small rising just down from the trolley stop.

The Salt Creek Grille is, evidently, popular because when we arrived a little after seven, we were told by a very tall hostess in a very short skirt that it would take ten minutes for us to be seated, and we were given one of the little buzzing, flashing gizmos to summon us when the time came. It did come, and we were escorted through a fairly large room to a table at the rear, near the kitchens. Our waiter showed up promptly, announcing himself to be Michael, and promising to serve our every need, which, in truth, he did

I think of the Salt Creek Grille as being fairly expensive -- the average dinner entree was about $24 -- but I guess, by Los Angeles standards, it would be seen as moderate. They do have sandwiches and salads for less, though, and we decided we could make do with them. As it turned out, if we had eaten all that was served to us, we would have foundered and had to be taken to a medical center.

I needed to use the restroom before the food was brought and found a tiny TV set above each urinal. During my brief interlude there, I saw the Redskins intercept a Baltimore pass, which was one of the brief triumphs Washington had during a dismal night.

The food was tasty and the room, though fairly loud, was comfortable enough. I have to admit, I enjoyed myself. Yet, restaurant life of that stripe needs to be a fairly rare event for me if it's not to turn sour and boring. I would not want to go to the Salt Creek Grille more than once a year, and after a couple years I might get tired even of that. In conversations overheard in the elevators at the Renaissance, I picked up that quite a few people have their meals often in restaurants similar to the Salt Creek Grille, where the bill for two people is generally at least a hundred dollars. When you think about it, that adds up to quite a bit of money over the course of a year.

When I was in college I used to go to a fancy hamburger place in Atlanta called the Seven Steers, which featured witty signs on all the walls. One of the most prominent was "Hep stamp out home cookin!" That sentiment seems to have taken hold in America, and it may be stronger in Los Angeles than in most other places. This appears to be a restaurant city, which is a pleasant thing, after a fashion, but, all in all, not the fashion I want to immerse myself in.

I'll be catching a plane out of here in a few hours, and I guess I'm ready to go.


Dilemma
December 11, 2008

What to do about Bush administration crimes is going to be one of Obama's biggest problems -- and headaches. The misdeeds of the previous administration are so extensive the idea of bringing them all to light is impractical. Yet, it seems unacceptable simply to sweep them all under the rug and forget about them.

Scott Horton, who wrote an informative article about the issue for Harper's Magazine, says it would be a mistake for Obama to put the task in the hands of the Justice Department. That's because, says Horton, "We're going to discover that the Department of Justice itself is a major crime scene." Most of the major figures will, of course, be gone. But hundreds of career officials who gave in to improper political pressure remain. To have them involved in investigating their former bosses, when they, themselves, were part of what was done, would be a big mess.

Clearly, as of yet, Obama has made no decision on what to do. He can't let his affirmative agenda be wrecked by an investigation of the past.

The situation argues for an independent commission of some sort. That's not the best way to prosecute criminals. But individual prosecution is not the main point. What the country needs is not a lot of people thrown in jail. We have enough people in jail already. It needs, rather, a clear, authoritative statement of how the Bush administration behaved itself. You could say we know that already. It's true that people who have paid attention know it. But most people do not pay attention. They need the headlines attached to a major commission report to get straight in their heads that from 2001 until 2009, the United States was in the hands of people who behaved very badly.

After all, the real miscreants in this sad drama are the people of the United States. They elected to office people who should never have been elected and, then, looked the other way as the Constitution was ignored and sullied. We can't put the whole nation in prison. But maybe the whole nation could learn to be ashamed of itself, and that would be a very good thing.


Lurid
December 12, 2008

As the year and the Bush administration grind to an end the feeling in the country gets ever more surreal. It's like we're living in an incomprehensible horror movie.

The headlines this morning say the Senate has refused to do anything to keep the three big car companies in business. Neanderthals like Richard Shelby, who formerly would support any gratuitous violence Bush and his cronies could think up, now thumb their noses at their former leader and say to let the economy go smash. I doubt anyone in Washington has envisioned what will happen if these huge corporations go out of business. It's not going to be pretty.

The only hope now, the bulwark against disaster everyone looks to, is Barack Obama, who as recently as a few months ago was being described as a person most of the country couldn't really get in touch with or understand. Now, he's the savior. I supported Obama and I continue to think he's a skilled political leader. But there are limits to what a single person can do.


The truth is, the United States bought into giganticism, and now it's taking its reward, grinding up millions of little people -- as we say. It was obvious what was happening -- single financial operators raking in more than a billion dollars a year. Did people really think that could continue? Did they think at all? Five years ago you could get scarcely anyone to ask those questions. We were twitter pated with our war on terror, still in the grip of paranoid delusionaries like Dick Cheney. That anyone could ever have given respectful attention to such a man was the most fantastic development of my lifetime. Yet, there he was on the Sunday morning talk shows, being deferred to by the supposedly brightest of our journalists.

The serious question is whether, even now, we can learn anything. Obama's most important task will be teaching. I hope he turns out to be one of history's greatest professors, because if he doesn't a horror movie is likely to turn into something even worse.


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