18th March  2004

- LOS Angeles - 

Los Anglos (City of the Angels, derogatorily La-La-Land) is, with a population of about eight million, the second largest city in the USA.  The population of California (30 million) is about 50% Afro-American or Spanish-American.   In LA that estimate seems conservative. The Spanish Americans and African Americans together occupy the support positions in LA.  It is they who drive the buses, sweep the streets and work on the checkout lines.  European Americans have the top end positions in the retail and service industries.  This division reflects the levels of education.  In general the Spanish Americans are immigrants, frequently without adequate language skills.

The CBD of LA (what Americans call "downtown") is about 45 km from the coast.  LA is built mostly on flat land, with surrounding hilly or mountainous regions mostly left undeveloped.  From many parts of greater LA it can be seen (smog permitting) that the higher mountain peaks to the east (around 3,500 meters) are snowcapped.  In the 20 days I have been here, there has been an all day fog on at least three days, although the temperature has been only slightly cooler than Sydney in the same season.

I arrived in Los Angeles on 2nd March.  Many things are backwards.  Not just the water swirling backwards down the plughole. Angelenos drive on the wrong side of the road, Their light switches are upside down.  Fortunately they seem to shake right handed, and the hot tap is on the left

Angelenos have a love affair with their cars.   Consequently I was agreeably surprised to find that there is an extensive (and reasonably reliable) public transport system called "The Metro".  The metro is cheap, a US$3.00 ticket allows unrestricted travel all over the network all day by train or bus and for seniors (those older than 62) fares are discounted.  Weekly, fortnightly and monthly tickets can be purchased at a considerable discount. It is not a small network, about 50KM radius from the center to Malibu in the NE, long beach in the south.  It stretches at least as far as far as say around Sydney's CBD to Wyong and Woollongong.  They seem to achieve these low prices by cutting costs.  Many train stations seem to operate most of the time with zero staff. The only staff I have ever seen at Hollywood & Highland was one station cleaner on one occasion. The only other staff seems to be the train drivers.  There are no gates onto the platforms, everything seems to operate on honesty.  The penalties for evasion are published: a fine of $250 and community work.  Bus tickets can be purchased by putting the money into a locked steel box on the bus, the driver issues a ticket.  This simple strategy seems designed to render holdups useless.

Getting back to cars.  There is a shortage of refining capacity in the USA, and since Angelenos have a NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude to things like power stations and refineries, they must import refined fuel from neighboring states.  Unleaded Petrol is currently about US$2.25 per US gallon, (about 3.8 liters.)  That works out to about 67.5 cents Australian per liter.  Normally the price is around US$1.65 per US gallon, which would be about 50 cents Australian a liter.  Traveling Australians beware.  Unlike Australia, third party personal and third party property insurance in the USA does not attach to the car, but to the person.  If you drive a car and hurt someone, you are not covered unless you specifically purchased appropriate insurance.   On the other hand everything not forbidden is permitted.  So right turns at red traffic lights (= a left turn in Australia) are permitted unless a sign says otherwise.

The price structure in LA is mixed.  Food is mostly the same price as in Australia.  Cheeses are about twice as expensive, and not to my taste.  The high cost of dairy products is probably a result of the US farm lobby, which restricts imports of cattle products and sugar.  To my taste the food is bland.  LA citizens would obtain cost and health benefits if competitive food imports were permitted. Cars are expensive to hire (US$50/day including insurance).  Shared accommodation can be had in Hollywood for around US$20/night.  Hollywood occupies a cultural niche similar to Kings Cross, with lots of backpacker hostels, strip clubs and signs warning against "cruising".  Apparently the LA police department is using policewomen to entrap men, and fining them heavily.  On the other hand shared accommodation at the beach side suburbs (Venice, Santa Monica) costs around $30/night, with single rooms being about 2.5 times as expensive.

There is about as much panhandling (begging) as there is in Sydney, and , like Sydney, there are people sleeping on the streets.  They are more open about it in LA, reflecting possibly a more permissive policy by police.  The homeless in LA seem organized, their belongings are stacked in supermarket trolleys, and they are allowed to sleep  in sheltered positions on the well lit roads.

I have mostly talked to the unemployed or marginally employed.  The Californians that I meet seem much more politically aware than their counterpart Australians.  They are more aware of the European political structure, and fairly uniform in their negative opinion of the Muslim religion, which they see as being a sponsor of terrorism.

I met a lifeguard at Malibu.  He was critical of the government's policy of exporting jobs and seemed unimpressed with the government's argument that exporting those jobs made American businesses more competitive.  On the other hand, immigrants/tourists that I spoke to are finding it difficult to obtain employment because of the competition from Spanish Americans.

I have met several would be entrants to the entertainment industry, young people who seem to be living on the streets, hoping to be noticed.  Some want to be actors, some want to be musicians or newsreaders.  I have met a few in the twilight of their careers.  They were not successful enough to put aside sufficient funds to retire, and are now near to destitute.  Hollywood, like King's Cross, is a harsh, sad environment.   There is a savage price for the moments of glamor.

Well what is happening to the US economy?  I have not been here for long enough to have a trustworthy baseline, but I get the impression of an alive economy.  Sure there are black spots, like a huge new shopping mall at Long Beach that is only 30% occupied.  On the other hand, there are not swathes of abandoned businesses.  I know that the investment managers are concerned that employment data is not rising to match the apparently strong economy.  As I have speculated before, there is a paradigm shift away from "capitalism" to "entrepreneurial ism".  Which is big trouble for those investment managers of superannuation and insurance corporations with capital to invest because in whatever industry they invest the loot, sooner or later an entrepreneur will figure out a way to do it cheaper, for next to no capital, out of a garage in Idaho (or wherever).  And their investment will be history.

In LA the talk on the airwaves has concerned gay marriage and IRAQ.  Opinion does seem divided on gay marriages.  My own two cent solution is based in history.  Once ecclesiastical courts managed all marriage, birth, death and inheritance matters. The state has taken charge of the last three, but still does not actually marry people, it approves a contract usually undertaken in a church called a marriage contract.  So my solution is to permit gay people to be married in the eyes of the law, however each church must determine within it's congregation whether gay marriage is sanctified by God.

My recollection of events surrounding the decision to war with Iraq was that initially it was decided to displace an evil and wicked regime just because it was evil and wicked.  Somebody argued that being "evil and wicked" was not a sufficiently concise reason for regime change.  Bush's advisers cogitated, and decided that, since Saddam had defied the terms of peace, (being an agreement that he allow inspections as to whether he had WMD) then that defiance was sufficient reason to go to war.

Apparently Saddam thought it was a bluff.  Somebody ran a disinformation program that conquest of Iraq was logistically impossible without land support.  Apparently Saddam's advisers (and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute) swallowed that disinformation program hook, line and sinker, (although I suppose the ASPI could now reveal that it was an integral part of the disinformation initiative).