Friday, September 12, 2008

Service, and More...

(Before I begin, as a courtesy to a friend, here's his birthday tribute to Les Paul--a musician and endlessly inventive tinkerer whose work I have always admired...)

Now, did anyone catch the Palin interview last night? I'd be interested to hear. I was out, but I doubt that I could have brought myself to watch it anyway. Was she questioned about the lies she has been repeating about herself with apparent impunity on the campaign trail? Thanks by the way, to Paul Krugman for a powerful column on this subject in today's New York Times. In case you missed it, here's his conclusion:

how a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern.

I’m not talking about the theory, often advanced as a defense of horse-race political reporting, that the skills needed to run a winning campaign are the same as those needed to run the country. The contrast between the Bush political team’s ruthless effectiveness and the heckuva job done by the Bush administration is living, breathing, bumbling, and, in the case of the emerging Interior Department scandal, coke-snorting and bed-hopping proof to the contrary.

I’m talking, instead, about the relationship between the character of a campaign and that of the administration that follows. Thus, the deceptive and dishonest 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign provided an all-too-revealing preview of things to come. In fact, my early suspicion that we were being misled about the threat from Iraq came from the way the political tactics being used to sell the war resembled the tactics that had earlier been used to sell the Bush tax cuts.

And now the team that hopes to form the next administration is running a campaign that makes Bush-Cheney 2000 look like something out of a civics class. What does that say about how that team would run the country?

What it says, I’d argue, is that the Obama campaign is wrong to suggest that a McCain-Palin administration would just be a continuation of Bush-Cheney. If the way John McCain and Sarah Palin are campaigning is any indication, it would be much, much worse.

Well put, indeed. But I still like to hear impressions of that interview.

Much more important, of course, was the Forum on Service following the two candidates' visits to the World Trade Center site--an event that I recorded, to play back on my return home later in the evening. The two men were interviewed separately, but in depth, with serious questions that were for the most part seriously answered. Citizen McCain (he of the seven mansions) went first by toss of the coin, and spoke honorably, with evident sincerity, about the value of service to one's country and those who share both our neighborhoods and our planet. He seemed to me, however, to epitomize precisely what he has used to often to castigate his opponent: rhetorical eloquence with very little in the way of substantial proposals to back it up. Obama, on the other hand, spoke not only with his customary, inspirational eloquence of the big picture, the honor and the rewards of service, but also with the detail of practical--and practicable--programs to encourage Americans to serve. You know, substantial stuff.

Speaking of service, I mentioned earlier that I was out yesterday evening. Ellie and I went downtown with a friend to the opening of an exhibition of art by the homeless on Los Angeles's Skid Row, and the premiere of a related documentary movie. It's the dedication of another friend of ours, the artist Lillian Abel, that brought this about. For years, she has been championing the creative potential of those who have fallen on hard times--some as a result of psychological disorders, some by reason of financial catastrophe--and find themselves "on the streets." She does not "teach," she insists, but she does create space, both physical and mental, where a joyful creativity can blossom in the heart of human misery.

The results are truly remarkable. We're a rather snobby lot, truth be told, in the world of "contemporary art," and we tend to look down our noses at the work of those we consider to be more amateurish than ourselves. But look at these paintings by unschooled artists, and you'll find an outpouring not just of emotional depth but also of real, raw talent. I'd show you pictures, if only I hadn't forgotten (wouldn't you know?) to take the digital camera with me, and there was no brochure I could see to bring away as a reminder of the names of the artists and their work. They'll remain here, reprehensibly, nameless. But each one of them had something remarkable to offer, something of their own vision and humanity. Both the movie and the exhibit were extraordinary reminders of the human treasure that society casually brushes aside in its precipitous rush for wealth and progress. Thanks, Lillian, for this truly remarkable and selfless work. This service.

What a scene in downtown Los Angeles! It was the night of the monthly Thursday art walk, and the streets were literally teeming with mostly young people around the area that has seen new galleries and exhibition spaces popping up on the ground floors--and second floors--of buildings that are still under redevelopment. I have never seen such crowds, such liveliness, such obvious engagement and enthusiasm on streets that have traditionally emptied themselves of all but the destitute after dark. Here were artists, street musicians, performers, a bedlam of creative energy that was quite exhilerating to experience and gave hope that our species might yet devise ways to survive its current phase of insatiable greed and insanity. I just hope that it's powerful enough to resist the encroachment of those developers, with their condos and their luxury office suites, their boutique storefronts and trendy restaurants, their warehouses converted into high-rent lofts...

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