Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Funky Leader

Monrovia, California

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As we’ve all heard, the Dear Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, has died at the age of 69. The Dear Leader was the son of Kim Il Sung, who was known as the Great Leader. He led the country for several decades until his death in 1994, at which time he became known as The Eternal President of the Republic. Now his grandson, Kim Jong Un, appears to be taking the reins. The youngest Kim seems to be going by the appellation The Great Successor, and is also known as the Young General. And young he is, at about 28 years old, especially for a general. Not the youngest general in history to be sure. There was Alexander the Great, and even George Armstrong Custer, who reached the rank of Major General in the Union army at about 25. But that was only a temporary, brevet rank. After the Civil War he was returned to his permanent rank of Captain, from which he was able to inch, over the next decade, a couple of notches to Lieutenant Colonel, before dying in the disastrous and ignominious Last Stand in 1876. But I digress.

It has been suggested that there’s something of a power vacuum in North Korea with the passing of the Dear Leader. But it seems to me that what’s been missing in the North Korean equation for a long time is the proper name for the leader, commensurate with his high rank. "Dear Leader" didn't ever quite make it and always seemed, against the accolades heaped on his father, to be damning Kim Jong Il with faint praise. Since it appears that the young Kim Jong Un loves basketball and especially the Chicago Bulls, and would like to play the game, an appropriate name for him might be The Dear Point Guard, or perhaps the Great Bench Warmer.

The sad silliness of the country might be allowed to speak for itself, but it really begs to be addressed. Sure they have nuclear weapons, and therefore in the minds of some they must be taken seriously. But, well, really? Look—the U.S. has nuclear weapons, and we’re running the most ridiculous political campaign in my memory even as I write this, unwittingly making ourselves one of the laughingstocks of the world. India has nuclear weapons, and face it, they’re among the silliest people on the face of the earth, with their crazy modulated singsong voices and the way they nod their heads from side to side like bobble head dolls. And let’s not even get into how ineffably ridiculous the Brits and the French are capable of being. So having nuclear weapons is definitely not a reason to take one country any more seriously than another.

Since things could hardly get any worse for the North Koreans, I am volunteering to go over there and run the place. I would call myself The Funky Leader, and would decree that James Brown music be played over loudspeakers in every city and town, from dawn until dusk. Or maybe from dusk until dawn. I'll have to give that some thought. I would immediately invite Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over (a woman who to my way of thinking has been looking far too frazzled and serious herself these days) and ask her to provide North Korea with lots of nourishing food, especially things for which the United States is justifiably famous—foods named after great German cities such as Hamburg and Frankfurt, Italian delicacies like pizza, and of course Mexican food. And French fries, to be sure. The North Koreans need more calories, and that’s no joke.

I think I have the chops to be their leader, or at least as good a one as this youngster who seems to be taking the reins now. Like him, I received all my formal education outside North Korea. I read this morning that he is said to have “privately studied computer science,” by which I take it that someone sat him down and explained to him how to operate a computer and play FreeCell and Minesweeper, which is similar to my own training. I like basketball well enough, too, although in the past I’ve usually only gotten excited about the NCAA tournaments in March, being partial to the UConn men’s and women’s teams and sometimes North Carolina. But I have also followed the Pistons, the Celtics, and the Lakers at various points, and this year I enjoyed the Dallas Mavericks in the finals. So I think I’m okay there. And speaking of sports, I would decree that all North Koreans become New York Yankees fans, as well as supporters of the University of Michigan football team. In fact, I would change the North Korean national anthem from whatever silly thing it is now to The Victors.

Also (and I think this would help convince my new countrymen that a safe reliable and peaceful transition of power has taken place), I would change my name to Kim Kardashian.

Last but not least, I would assure the North Korean people that I’m not just the President of the Hair Club for Old-Style Stalinist Dictators, I’m also a member.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It Happens

Monrovia, California

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Interesting meteorological phenomenon here last week, or as Popeye would say, “Large weather we’re having.” Santa Ana winds were predicted for Wednesday night, with gusts up to 75 mph. Big deal, I thought, remembering how many times the weather folks out here have predicted dire things along the lines of Actual Rain, Temperatures Below 40 Degrees, Less Than Perfect Sunshine, and the like.

However, due to some weird combination of factors—dueling weather fronts, one going clockwise and the other counterclockwise, or something like that—the winds on Wednesday night/Thursday morning played hell with the cities and towns along the San Gabriel Valley, stretching out from the northeast part of LA along old Route 66 through Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, and Duarte, and including a few smaller places north and south of that line. Somehow the winds from out of the northwest combined with winds from the desert southeast of here. The result was massive tree damage and power outages. Made me nostalgic for those Michigan and New England snow and ice storm conditions. I'm not just talking broken branches here, but trees uprooted entirely. Power was out at our house from early Thursday morning until Sunday morning, and in some places it still wasn’t on as of the next Wednesday. On the way into my volunteer job at the Pasadena courthouse on Thursday, going through Arcadia in particular, I saw more trees simply pulled out of the ground and stretched out over the road (always having fallen from north to south) than I’ve ever seen before, period. Mostly they were shallow-rooted trees, like evergreens and eucalyptuses, but some others as well. Just knocked over by the winds, which somehow conspired to roar down the south side of the San Gabriel Mountain range at speeds of up to 100 mph.

But here was the odd part, the part I’m not used to. There was no precipitation or other bad weather accompanying the winds. In fact, the skies were, if anything, clearer and brighter the next day because the wind had blown the pollution away. Sunny warm breezy days in paradise, only with electrical outages and trees and branches blocking virtually every street. Interesting. Still, Californians take this sort of thing more or less in stride. I’ve mentioned before that in spite of being rather spoiled, weatherwise, they’re not big on complaining, at not least volubly. The reliable surliness of the Midwest and kvetching of the Northeast are all but absent here. All that extra vitamin D from the sun, I guess. And it’s not like people had to shovel snow or dry out the basement on top of having lost power, after all. Crews of municipal and free-lance landscapers and tree cutters just got busy. Tons of cash passed into the underground economy, as people hired members of the legion of immigrant yard workers to do extra things, like raking and cutting and trimming and repairing. And meanwhile the sun just kept on shining.

After several days things were reasonably cleared up and it was business as usual, except in places like the LA Botanical Gardens over in Lucky Baldwin territory, where at least half of all the exhibits were damaged in some way. Apparently the news people weren't able to connect even one death to the storm, which was a good thing, though rather surprising, since the media like to attribute virtually all deaths from all causes that take place during any spate of inclement weather to such event. A ninety-five-year-old man dies of a heart attack while it’s raining heavily and he goes down as a casualty of the storm.

The other thing I noticed over the next few days was how little, not how much, I noticed the missing trees. To be sure, in some parks there were dozens of hundred-year-old trees destroyed, their massive stumps and roots lined up to be carried away like rows of fat dead bodies. But what the hell, they all have to die some day in some way. I was left marveling a few days later, rolling down lush tree-lined Colorado Boulevard in west Arcadia, at just how few trees appeared to be missing. There are more than enough to go around.

Don’t get me wrong—I love trees as much as the next guy. From our perspective they’re mighty and noble and all those things we like to ascribe to them when indulging in what John Ruskin termed the “pathetic fallacy” (which isn’t as bad a thing as it sounds—look it up). People worship them, hug them, rely on them for shade and shelter and food. But in the end they’re just bigger versions of grass and weeds. It's all a matter of perspective. If we were bigger, we’d think of them that way, too. And they have life spans like everything else. The ones that fell were weaker or older than the ones that didn’t fall, or more unlucky perhaps, or too big for their britches, so to speak. It happens.

Meanwhile, it’s mid-December and the roses keep on blooming and the sun shines damned near every day.