• Kaboom
  • The Big Story
  • Port Town
  • Nothing Is Forever


  • March 8, 2019

    The Long Road to Redemption


    It’s easy to be good if you’ve never been bad.

    If you have never stepped over the line or done anything for which you are ashamed, you might not understand much about people who can’t make the same claim. If you’ve lived a good and honorable life, it’s easy to look down on those who have not done the same. It’s easy to condemn those who have cut corners and compromised their own – and society’s – ideas of right and wrong. The problem is, that once the “good people” make up their minds about the “bad people,” it’s difficult, if not impossible, for the “bad” ones to change.

    The path to redemption is difficult. It’s a big challenge to change one’s own self-image and behavior, but often, the bigger challenge is changing the minds of other people. To begin, the person with a bad rep is faced with a choice – fight the odds to convince everyone that he has changed his ways – or just give in to the common wisdom that “people can’t change” and keep doing what got him into trouble in the first place.

    Unfortunately, the second path is the one most often taken.

    My wife Carmela worked with inmates at a prison near our home. In an age of welfare and health benefits, many openly and vocally planned to subject themselves to lives of poverty, rather than make the effort to find jobs or improve their lots. It’s just easier to give in, and many of the women said they’d prefer to have their time to do as they pleased with someone else paying their way, than to have to go to a job every day. Many thought that going to work every day was just too boring and too hard.

    That’s a sad and frustrating reality for many people in prison. But for people who have done wrong, and who want to repent, what’s their path to respectability? How long should it take them to live down their pasts? Are they doomed forever, or is there a road to redemption that they can take without groveling, which never works. It only demeans the person begging for forgiveness.

    The answer is that former felons should neither have to spend the rest of their lives begging forgiveness nor be forever haunted by their pasts. They have to acknowledge their misdeeds, find new people who have not yet made up their minds about them, and move on. But if their records follow them wherever they go, it becomes almost impossible to change. And, perhaps more importantly, if the friends and family they got into trouble with are still in their lives and still promoting the same harmful and illegal behavior, they need to give up those old friends and family members.

    Real friends will understand that.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.



    China is making a big mistake. The country has begun surveilling its citizenry, keeping tabs on everybody, and figuring out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. China has been doing these kinds of things for years, but it’s now beefed up its effort with a heavy dose of technology and a new Social Credit System. Due to take full effect next year, the System would rank all citizens and businesses on their economic and social reputations.

    In the United States we have credit scores, put together by private companies that calculate credit reliability according to their proprietary algorithms and rank individuals according to what they calculate as credit reliability. If a person has a low score, it will be more difficult for him or her to get a loan.

    China is getting ready take it up a notch. If a citizen scores high on the Social Credit System scale, he or she would be rewarded with more freedom and better jobs. If a person’s score is low, he or she would be punished, as would that person’s close associates, such as friends, co-workers and family members. Knowing that they could be branded with a poor social credit score by association, would be an incentive for those closest to a “bad social actor” to shun his company, isolate him, and pressure him to conform to the government’s dictate of good social behavior.

    Details are still fuzzy, but the system would be backed by drones flying overhead, a network of cameras lining the street with face-recognition software, an army of retirees who spy on their neighbors and make notes of either good or bad behavior, and a computerized score card.

    There apparently already exists a blacklist of people. At the end of last year, 5.4 million rail trips and 17 million flights were cancelled for people on the list. Exactly why those folks are on the list is not public knowledge.

    So much for the trouble-makers. The main problem, of course, is that it’s the trouble-makers that move society forward. They are the men and women who give the finger to the common wisdom, the ones who are obsessed with new ideas and schemes. They are the ones who take off running, who crash and burn, and then get back up and try again.

    Society needs those kind of people. It’s not the compliant folks who make the world better. It’s the uncompliant, stubborn, often nasty people who are willing to take an idea and turn it into something that benefits everyone, including themselves. They’re not always the nicest folks around, but without them, society and civilization stagnate.

    That’s what the bureaucrats in China – and in every other developed country – don’t get and probably never will.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • February 1, 2019

    Remembering Dave Arian

    DAVE ARIAN 1946-2019

    I’ve been thinking lately about Dave Arian, who died on Jan. 2 after a tough battle with cancer.  I was not a close friend of Arian, who was a long-time labor leader and dockworker at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

    I knew him mainly from when I was a port reporter for the Long Beach Press Telegram in the 1990s and later when my wife Carmela and I published The Cunningham Report, a newsletter on West Coast ports.

    But I always liked and admired him, even when I disagreed with him, which was often. Arian was not a bullshitter. He always said exactly what was on his mind. If you agreed with what he had to say, that was fine. If you didn’t, that was your choice.

    Arian was a short little guy, but he didn’t seem that way when you met him. He not only wore his convictions openly, he was ready to back them up.

    I remember one public hearing in which some San Pedro newcomers were complaining about the port, the pollution, and that all the container cranes were ruining their views. Dave got up and said the ILWU was also concerned with pollution because it affected members of the union more than almost anybody. But he also pointed out that the port represented jobs, and reminded everybody that it was a working port and people needed to keep that in mind.

    After he finished his statement and was leaving the room, one of the gentrification newcomers to the community made a snide remark, under his breath, but just loud enough for Dave to get the gist of it. Dave came back like a shot and told the guy that if he had something to say about him to say it to his face of shut the fuck up.

    The guy shut the fuck up.

    I liked Dave Arian before that, but my respect for him leaped after I saw him in action. In an era where authentic males are in short supply, the loss of Dave Arian is a loss for us all.

    The general public sometimes has the wrong idea about the unions that load and unload ships. The East and Gulf coasts dockworkers are represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association, the ILA. The West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaiian dockers belong to the ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

    Folks who have seen the Marlon Brando movie On the Waterfront, sometimes believe that dockworkers’ unions are controlled by organized crime. There’s some truth to that. Early on when I was first writing about ports, I was shopping at a Lowe’s, when I ran into an ILWU guy I knew who explained the difference.

    The East Coast union is run by the mob, he explained with a straight face.

    And the ILWU?

    “Us,” he said. “We’re just a bunch of Communists.”

    It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but there was a bit of truth there as well.

    The government attempted several times in the 30s, 40s, and 50s to deport ILWU founder and International President Harry Bridges, who was born in Australia. The government claimed he was a Communist. Bridges denied the charges. He had some friends, who were Communist, he explained, but he was not a member of the party.

    The ILWU is unique in its militant philosophy – a philosophy espoused by Bridges – who would become both a supporter and mentor to Arian.  Over the years Arian served as an official in the local union, including serving several times as president. He also served one term as president of the International Union.

    In 2010, Arian was appointed as a Los Angeles Harbor Commission by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He served in that position until his death last month.

    Arian’s ancestral roots were Russian and Jewish, he said in a short two-minute video. He credited his mother with a sense of social consciousness and his father for his work ethic and union loyalty.

    Retired ILWU member Lewis Wright remembers working with Arian when they were both young longshoremen. When I asked Wright for permission to quote his thoughts on Arian, I mentioned that I didn’t always agree with Arian, but I always respected him.

    “I also often disagreed with Dave and will sadly miss doing so in the future,” he responded.

    Arian had a “San Pedroista” way of pointing out the obvious, Wright recalls.

    “As much as he was short of sympathy and etiquette he was all about seeing clearly the lay of the land and where justice stood. He learned that at home.

    Years ago “I was visiting Arthur, Dave’s older brother and Dave was complaining to his dad – known as ‘Honest Lu’ on the docks – that someone was sleeping on the couch, which was were Dave slept. So Honest Lu says to Dave ‘the guy on the couch is drunk and needs the couch more than you do’ and that’s where Dave learned about justice.”

    “Dave was a scientist in that he collected the facts analyzed them and proposed a theory,” Wright said. “But it wasn’t all theory. He practiced what he preached. Dave was a worrier, he chose his path and he kept to it come hell or high water or jail.”

    Wright recalls that Arian’s nickname back in the day was “Mouse.” In the 60s, he and Arian were involved in the civil rights movement. When violence broke out in the Southern states, the two of them joined a group of about 100 people at the Los Angeles federal building to engage in civil disobedience.

    “Back then justice was not only learned at home, sometimes the law had its way of making the point and maybe we owe something to the LAPD for the lessons they taught the Mouse,” Wright said. “Dave did five days in L A’s finest jail and when he came out of that jail I swear the Mouse roared like a lion and he has never stopped roaring…. until just the other day. I can’t believe he is gone …”

    When Carmela and I shut down the TCR in 2010, we collected a number of kudos from the port community for a job well done.  But none touched me more than a personal tribute from Arian – by then a Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner – who said we were always fair to the union and that he appreciated that.

    When you get a compliment, where it comes from makes all the difference. A compliment such as that from Dave Arian, was something I valued then and remember now.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.


  • January 16, 2019


    TRUE LOVE: William and Zina Skinner were married in 1911. He was 36 years old. She was 19. He died 31 years later, just shy of his 68th birthday. She died 43 years after that at age 95. But they remain “SWEETHEARTS FOREVER,” both in life and in death. Ely Cemetery, 2018.

    Do the dead hold grudges?

    I hope not. I hope that after folks have passed on, all the grievances and the differences that separated them in life are buried along with the physical bodies they no longer need.

    But it’s hard to say, especially in a small town like Ely, Nevada, where friends and enemies in life end up just a few feet from one another, buried beneath the gravely surface, in coffins separated only by dirt and the roots of tall trees. Some of the dead have fancy stones above their graves, others have more simple plaques, but financial or social status doesn’t mean that much when you’re dead.

    The Ely City Cemetery is small – unlike the Forest Lawn or Rose Hills or Arlington mega-cemeteries of Southern California. The graves come down almost to the sidewalk along busy E. Aultman Street, separated only by a 30-inch rock wall. Across the street is the Big 8 Tire Store and the Cruise-In Car Wash and Mini Lube.

    Most of the graves at the Ely cemetery are actual upright stones – not the little flat plaques in the ground that make it easier to mow the grass and keep down maintenance costs, as is common in newer big-city plots. The upright stones makes it quicker to locate the graves of loved ones and gives each grave a little personal style of the person or persons buried beneath.

    LIFE GOES ON – People getting new tires put on and old ones repaired across the street at Big 8 Tires.

    Except for the sound of nearby traffic, the Ely cemetery is blissfully calm on a weekday morning. Aultman is a busy street in Ely with a fair amount of traffic. People driving home from work or going out to eat drive right past the final resting place of family and friends. You wonder how many driving past at 40 mph give a sad nod to loved ones who are departed. And how many folks getting a new set of tires at the Big 8 ever wander across the road for a quick visit with the memories of those long gone. You see fresh flowers on some of the graves, sometimes of people who have been dead for 10, 20 years and more – colorful remembrances of lost relationships.

    Ely was a mining town, populated with people from all over the world – Asians, Italians, Slavs, French Basques, English, Greeks, and Native Americans. It was a small town reflection of American society at large, a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and religions. It is a mix well-represented at the cemetery.

    FALLEN WARRIOR – Gone but not forgotten.

    In a shady grove, set off to one side, is the section for Ely veterans, who served their country. You find the graves of veterans lined up in rank and file from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the newer ones from the current era. Ely’s recognition of those who served.

    Some of them have their wives buried next to them, joined in death as they were in life. There is even a father and a daughter – him a private from World War II, she a sergeant first class from the Vietnam War.

    ALL IN THE FAMILY – Veterans united by blood.

    The Ely graveyard, like all graveyards, contains both mysteries and secrets. Who were the people interred beneath the sod. How did they die, and are their graves near their friends or beside their bitter enemies? And perhaps most of all, do the bones and withered flesh encased beneath the sod have any relation at all to the person who once was, or is it merely a remembrance for the ones left behind?

    You may think such thoughts, but not for too long. The living need to live. The dead are just one more reminder that we are all headed for the same place. Life is short, joy is fleeting, and time is not to be wasted.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.


    A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and life. The lyrics this week are all about loss and death. Two of our three selections are country music, because nobody sings about loss and death better than country folks. The first one is about a feeling we have all had when we think of loved ones we have lost. What we wouldn’t give for one more day with that person, just to tell them how much we love and miss them. The second has a gospel sound that recalls a troubled life and the pain felt by those left behind. The third selection is an import from across the ocean, which is so hauntingly beautiful that that it could make a stone weep. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information.

    One more day, one more time
    One more sunset, maybe I’d be satisfied
    But then again, I know what it would do
    Leave me wishing still for one more day with you

    – One More Day Group: Diamond Rio; Writers: Bobby Tomberlin & Steven Dale Jones

    I know your life
    On earth was troubled
    And only you could know the pain.
    You weren’t afraid to face the devil,
    You were no stranger to the rain.

    – Go Rest High on That Mountain Singer and Songwriter: Vince Gill

    But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
    If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
    You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,
    And kneel and say an Ave there for me.
    And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,
    And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be,
    For you will bend and tell me that you love me,
    And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me

    – Danny Boy Singers: Celtic Women; Songwriter: Frederick E. Weatherly