What’s it all about, Alfie?


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

I intended to write a column about Malibu comings and goings, and other light local trivia, but then I made the mistake of picking up the front page of the Los Angeles Times. These days if you’re in the mood to get seriously depressed, just pick up the local newspaper and peruse the front page.

* “Suicide attack kills head of Iraqi council”

* “Lobotomies now seen as misguided butchery”

* “Enron tapes hint chiefs knew about power ploys”

* “Pervasive abuse alleged by freed detainees…”

* “Jerry Brown files to enter Attorney General’s race”

* “Stradivarius found 3 days after theft”

* 14-year-old cousin held in slaying of 11 year old

Now I’m not advocating that papers should publish happy news, but today’s front page could depress Mary Poppins.

So I searched the stories for some reason to feel optimistic about our world and to give some perspective to it all. In the information age, you can’t just react immediately or you’ll get all burned up about things over which you have no control.

So what positive lessons can be drawn from all this depressing news?

Here are a few:

Lesson No. 1-No matter what the prevailing scientific wisdom is, be skeptical of what the experts tell you because it probably is wrong. After all, they gave a Portuguese neurologist the Nobel Prize in 1932 for devising lobotomies. That’s the top of the heap. He was unquestionably the best, and yet 70 years later it’s considered butchery. How many things are we doing today that people will laugh about in 70 years? What theories about medications, surgeries, psychiatry, climate, nature, sex, child rearing, extinction of species and the environment will turn out to be nothing but knee-jerk nonsense, and which ones will be true? I would submit that we don’t know. So if you spend a lot of time worrying about the sky falling, my advice would be to stop worrying. It’s more probable you’ll get hit by a truck while staring up at the sky.

Lesson No. 2-Society should recycle. No question we are a terribly wasteful society, and recycling paper and cans seems to make sense. But, best of all is recycling old politicians. There is nothing more wasteful then discarding old politicians. After all, if they’re crooked they’ve already stolen all they need. If they’re stupid, we won’t have to spend several years and lots of money finding out about it, because we’ll already know. And if they’re capable, they won’t have to spend a great deal of time learning to operate the system. I would love to see Jerry Brown as attorney general and then cut him loose on the power industries and see if he or his grand juries can figure out why we have these power problems. It wouldn’t hurt to look into gas prices either. The attorney general in New York has justifiably made Wall Street very nervous, and just maybe Brown could do it in California.

Lesson No. 3-Procrastination is not always a bad thing. In fact, it could very well be an unheralded virtue. Now, no man who has been married for more than 15 minutes hasn’t heard his wife complain that he forgot to take out … or fix … or move … or cleanup something. The next time she does that, remind her of the $3.5 million Stradivarius cello, one of only 60 such instruments in existence. The lady who found it wanted her boyfriend to fix it or something. Like most guys he dragged his feet and, lo and behold, a priceless instrument has been returned to Los Angeles Philharmonic cellist Peter Stumpf instead of finishing its life as a planter box in a backyard.

Theory No. 4-I wish I had a theory for Iraq, but I can only think that war is a terrible enterprise, something you only resort to as a last resort. There can be no such thing as a moral war, a fair war, a humane war or even a just war. Sometimes there is a necessary war, but the rest of it is still true. Time and history will tell us if we’ve created a country or destroyed a country, but for now it becomes clearer and clearer to me that the only thing we can do is declare a victory and get out. And the sooner the better.

The last lesson-Every week in Los Angeles, more children will kill each other or bystanders fighting over turf in the city than people might die fighting over turf in Iraq. The turf wars here are not all that different than the ones in Baghdad. Perhaps we ought to take some of those dollars we’re spending in Baghdad and spend them here at home to try and settle our local wars.