Dec 23, 2007

Bodies and Corsets

I went to see the Bodies exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh yesterday, even though I had seen it (or something similar) a couple years ago in Los Angeles. It's still creepy, fascinating and depressingly humbling, kind of like strolling through a human meat locker with museum lighting.

But the real treat was at the Andy Warhol Museum. The Warhol keeps getting better and better over the years (as admission keeps rising; when it opened it cost $5 to enter, now it's $15.) I've never seen the place crowded. Sometimes I've had an entire floor to myself.

The Ron Mueck exhibit is THE thing to see now. Monumental and miniature sculptures in lifelike mixed media are the perfect counterpoint to the Bodies exhibit.

Also, Warhol's gold leaf adorned drawings from the 1950s are on view, as well as a Sargent-like portrait of Jean Michel Basquiat that I had not seen before. Several of Warhol's corsets are displayed too, in a couple galleries and in a rainbow of colors.

Dec 19, 2007

NYC>PGH: A trail through two cities

So I'm in Pittsburgh, after two weeks in NYC. The changes to both cities is worth noting. Manhattan is now, at least below, say, 110 St. give or take, an increasingly charmless high-end shopping bazaar. I don't know which I found more disheartening: the Juicy Couture shop on Bleecker St. or the Juicy Couture billboard in Times Square.

Uptown, east or west of Central Park still has areas untouched by elements of the tourist trade contibuting to the mall esthetic. The Metropolitan Museum continues to delight with it's seemingly ever growing galleries and re-appraisal of its collections. The current Rembrandt exhibit and the new Greek and Roman wings are spectacular.

Broadway, for all of it's middle brow offerings for the bumpkins, still packs a wallop. Staight plays are creating the most excitement with August: Osage County and The Homecoming both receiving rapturous reviews. (I saw August, hope to catch the Pinter when I return in January.)

The lovely little Waverly Inn has been turned into a celeb-magnet sty, with limos and paparazzi clogging the narrow west village streets like so much portable shrubbery that trails those types as they waddle to the trough. Plainly horrible.

More on NYC and PGH soon. The hunt for the xmas ham starts today.ø

Dec 8, 2007

Back in NYC

NYC has turned some sort of corner since I left four years ago. Tourist trap T-shirt and trinket shops that years ago replaced neighborhood sustaining businesses like hardware stores and laundries are now giving way to upscale shops and restaurants. One sad change to note is that the space formerly occupied by Strawberry Fields, my local grocery in the West Village, is now a hideous eurotrash men's boutique. Also, a Juicy Couture shop appearing anywhere is a vile notion, let alone on Bleecker St. but then again that western stretch of Bleecker has been going high-end-mall for a number of years now so why be surprised?

But really, two Coach shops, two Ralph Laurens, two Marc Jacobs (down from three since the accessories shop moved to 4th and Perry;) enough already. I see it all heading in the direction of 8th St in a couple decades.

The good news is that the food purveyors block of Bleecker between 6th and 7th Aves. once again has a fresh seafood shop, a welcome return. Also, Murray's Cheese moved across the street to much bigger quarters four years ago and has an expanded selection along with prepared food too. It's odd to note that the old Zito's bakery is still boarded up and empty. What gives?

The meat packing district is almost completely vegan now, if you catch my drift. It has become encrusted with boutiques and restaurants that have it feeling like London a bit, to me anyway. Talk about a complete re-invention of a neighborhood. I haven't been through that area at night yet on this visit but I hope the trannie hookers are still around and able to take advantage of the money flowing into that area now.

On Friday afternoon, a line of people, bundled up and enduring the snowy weather, stretched down 14th St. from 9th Ave. in anticipation of the 6 PM grand opening of a shiny and new Apple Store. Yet another place for me to check my email and update this blog since I decided to travel sans laptop this time. ø

Nov 30, 2007

GOP overrreaches in campaign against Hillary

Some crazy ass Republican has strapped a bomb to his paunch and taken hostages at Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters in Rochester, New Hampshire.

From the Washington Post:
An armed man claiming to have a bomb strapped to his chest took several people hostage Friday afternoon at Sen. Hillary Clinton's Rochester, New Hampshire office and demanded to speak to the presidential candidate, according to witnesses and police.
Is this the best strategy conservatives can come up with? Sounds a bit desperate.

Nov 29, 2007

Republicans Youtube Debate - America, meet your dark side...

If last night's dinosaur display didn't scare most viewers into voting for a Democrat last night, then I don't know what will. The dark beast of the American electorate raised it's many heads in the form of hatred for illegal immigrants, gays and abortion and its throbbing lust for guns, the confederate flag and the Bible.

What struck me most was that Romney's principles are as changeable as necessary to get conservative votes. He never met a lie he couldn't unblinkingly tell about his "changing" views or being "wrong." I used to think his phoniness was just on the surface; after last night I feel he's that way to the core. He's got that perfect game show host persona, brimming with vacuous sincerity.

Romney's futile, squirming attempt at dodging Anderson Cooper's question about whether he still, as he said in the past, "looked forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military" was a cringing, embarrassing moment for everyone-- except him, of course. I'm not sure if the booing was for his lame answer or for the subject entirely. My hunch is it was the latter, given the crowd.

Duncan Hunter was the most unabashed and comfortable with his homophobia. Huckabee and McCain tried to sound reasonable in tone but it came off like they were saying, "Bigots have rights too."

Why didn't Anderson Cooper (a gay man) let Paul and Guiliani weigh in? It's common knowledge that their views differ from the Neanderthals flanking them.

Huckabee let it be known that he welcomed gay votes, just don't expect anything in return from him if it doesn't involve banning abortion, "protecting marriage," defunding social programs, cutting taxes, etc.

WGA's Big Mistake

Most of TV is crap and hack-y.
- Michael Patrick King (audio commentary on DVD release of The Comeback)


First, the writers (and, to be fair, the producers) dumb down the culture, reducing the vast majority of TV and movies to a bunch of crap. And now they show their disregard for the political process in this country (you know, things that actually matter) by playing the pivotal role in the canceling of the CBS Democratic presidential candidates debate scheduled for Dec. 10th in Los Angeles. The WGA wouldn't agree to not picket the event. Candidates said they would not cross the picket lines. And so CBS pulled the plug.

Do the writers really think what they do is that important? And the sick thing is that most of them probably fancy themselves liberal Democrats.

Nov 27, 2007

Psst, producers: Outsourced writing

From a letter in today's Santa Barbara News-Press:

What if all of those Hollywood writers' jobs were outsourced to other English-speaking parts of the world, like so many other kinds of jobs have been? Would the public care if the offering were of higher quality and cost less?
Anything for better programming.

Nov 26, 2007

Anderson, your conscience has a question for you.

Regarding "the CNN selection team," I wonder if Anderson Cooper is a pitcher or a catcher.

The ruse known as the CNN Youtube "debates" happens again on Wednesday for Republican candidates. After browsing through some of the submitted questions and noticing a lot of them dealt with sexual orientiation, HuffPo's Marty Kaplan notes that the deciders at CNN consider any questions about gay rights to be icky.
David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief and executive producer of the debate, told the NY Times' blog The Caucus that posts "asking the candidates to defend their opposition to gay marriage" are "'lobbying grenades' [that] would be disqualified by the CNN selection team... There are quite a few things you might describe as Democratic 'gotchas,' and we are weeding those out'... CNN wants to ensure that next Wednesday's Republican event is 'a debate of their party.'"

Nov 21, 2007

Pre-turkey Update

Ø Really? Former WH press secretary Scott McClellan says in his forthcoming book that he was fed lies about the Valerie Plame case to convey to the media by the everyone from the president on down? Shocking.

Oh, but now his publisher is backpedaling, saying he "did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him." Problem is, it's exactly what the excerpt from his book says, at least for now.

Ø Since reports from Iraq are emphasizing the downturn in violence compared to a few months ago, coupled with the determination of Democrats in Washington to choke off funding for military operations, one would hope that the stasis of the Iraqi government would end.

But this, from an LAT article about reigning in and prosecuting murderous, rogue private security contractors in Iraq, leaves little hope for that.
Attempts to prosecute could prove problematic because Iraqi law grants immunity to foreign contractors under an order issued by U.S. officials in 2004.
After a September shooting that involved guards from Blackwater USA, the company that provides security to U.S. Embassy officials, and that left at least 17 Iraqis dead, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki last month proposed a law that would repeal contractors' immunity. The Iraqi parliament has not yet acted on the measure.
Ø Low Standards Report: The acoustically challenged, sight line-deficient Kodak Theater is being thrown to the tourists, becoming the home for a "permanent" show by Cirque du Soleil.

According to LAT,
Shaul Kuba, founder and principal of the Kodak's owner, CIM Group, said the Hollywood themed production will be a tourist attraction, like Universal Studios or Disneyland, rather than a Broadway-style experience. "It's one more thing that the tourists can do that will be a little bit different," he said.
Wow, his excitement is contagious, innit? Zzzzzzzz...

Ø Secret shame of closeted scab writers revealed!
Several agents have asserted that their clients will quietly work away on their open projects but wait until a strike's end to turn them in.
One writer pointed out that, hypothetically, anyone could finish a script during the strike, then sit on it for a few weeks after the strike's end and claim it was written then. Even the guild's Script Validation Program couldn't police that maneuver. "I don't know how you get around that," this writer says. "Are you gonna seize the computers?"
A mordant joke at one agency has it that the desperation of a strike will provoke the kind of mind-blowing original scripts that writers only seem to turn out when they are starving.
Ø Don't piss of Liz: Elizabeth Taylor thinks that striking writers
...wouldn't dare hold up her AIDS benefit performance of A.R. Gurney's play Love Letters next month. Taylor insists striking TV and film writers will put down their picket signs on the Paramount Pictures lot as a mark of respect to the aged actress.

But the 75-year-old star says she won't cross picket lines if they are still up around the Paramount lot.

She wants strikers to put down their signs for the night of December 1st, World AIDS Day, so that she and her celebrity friends can raise money for AIDS research "with a clear conscience."

Hmm, self-interested entertainment types vs. a worthy, important charity headed by an internationally loved star-- shouldn't be too hard to figure out who will win this on a PR level.

Nov 20, 2007

Black Maria suggests skipping the mall

Black Maria Gallery in Atwater Village has their second annual holiday exhibit up, called Skip the Mall. Owner Zara Zeitousian sees the show as a reaction to the rampant consumerism typical during the Christmas holidays.
I live across the street from the Glendale Galleria. It's crazy all the time but during the holidays it's depressing-- such madness. To observe it everyday made me realize I could offer an alternative to mass produced products.

Art makes a wonderful gift. We have pieces by several artists from under $100. Some of them are right out of art school and the young energy in their work is great to see.
The group show, featuring 27 artists, is arrayed as a twist on the shopping experience. Art is suspended on clothing hangers, displayed in shoe boxes and presented on display stands. Buyers can leave with the work they purchase.

Zeitousian is poking fun at the shopping experience but she also is serious about the spiritual rewards of appreciating and owning great art.
A painting can be as satisfying as wearing a sexy dress or owning a feature-laden barbecue, except there is an actual, sometimes life-changing meaning waiting to be derived from a work of art.


Skip the Mall is up through January 5th at Black Maria Gallery, 3137 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village.

Nov 19, 2007

Meghan Daum is kidding, right?

I'd love to think Meghan Daum is being sarcastic by non-judgementally writing about what she calls "fauxstessing," the practice of women buying a prepared meal at a restaurant or a gourmet grocer, transferring it to their own serving dishes and then presenting it as their own culinary creation, especially when one example is about a woman trying to win over a male co-worker.

Do women still feel the pressure to make it look like they can perform "women's work" to prove to men that they're, well, women? Or is MD merely chronicling yet another aspect of LA life that is more about artifice than the truth?

The surge is working, except for the deaths.

Ø Lest we swayed by reports from the administration that the surge is working, the news out of Iraq is still bleak. LA Times calls Sunday "Iraq's most violent day in weeks" reporting at least 20 deaths.

A convoy of American soldiers opened fire on unarmed motorists in Samawah in an unprovoked attack that, according to the US military, killed two civilians. The US soldiers also set fire to a truckload of sheep in the incident, killing all of the animals.
After the Samawah shooting, Muthanna Gov. Ahmed Marzouq said he couldn't understand the behavior of the U.S. forces who, he said, acted inhumanely in firing on motorists who posed no threat and setting the truck of sheep ablaze. He said the troops had entered without notifying local officials, violating protocols laid down when the southern province took over responsibility for its own security in July 2006.

In Baqubah... three U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in an assault involving a suicide vest, the military said.
In another incident, a roadside bomb in Baqubah killed three children.

In Baghdad, a car bomb killed 10 bystanders.

Ø Contrast this information with an excerpt from today's delusional resignation letter from White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend to the president:
In 1937, the playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote of President George Washington: There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in their lifetime.

Mr. President, you are such man.

Nov 17, 2007

How would Jesus divvy up New Media revenue?

Confirming clichés about the nuttiness of Tinseltown long suspected valid, the San Jose Mercury News has an AP story about a Christian group in Hollywood praying for divine intervention in the writers strike.
"We pray that both groups would feel your supernatural guidance to stop blaming and posturing and start peacefully listening and negotiating," prayed Geriann McIntosh, senior vice president of administration for Warner Bros. Television. "We pray that you keep everyone that is affected by the strike in your loving care."

The Hollywood Prayer Network is a group of more than 5,000 Christians who pray for celebrities and provides "mentors" for struggling actors. It's an effort to reform what many Christian believers view as an unholy Hollywood culture.
Do they know Highway to Heaven has been canceled?

Nov 16, 2007

Hollywood conservatives are pussies

Truthdig points to an article in the conservative Washington Times about the unwillingness of certain Big Stars to talk about their political leanings.

It seems like Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Terry Hatcher, Adam Sandler, Kelsey Grammar and Bo Derek, among others, will not comment on their support for Republican presidential candidates. Hatcher even went so far as to forward an interview request on the subject to her lawyers.

While Democrats enjoy very public support from Hollywood's top actors and musicians, who often hold lavish events for their favorite candidates, Republican supporters in Hollywood try hard to keep their political views quiet.

"They learn very quickly, if they know what's good for them, to donate to the Democratic Party," said Andrew Breitbart, [conservative] co-author of "Hollywood, Interrupted." "If they were to donate to the Republican Party, they would be exposed to career-ending ridicule, period."

One high-profile celebrity, when asked about her political views, even had her lawyers declare “our client’s rights of privacy and other legally protectable intangible rights” and warn that she should not be labeled a Republican.
Stories like this keep me smiling for days.

Don't mess with Thanksgiving

Ø Turducken? Thunderbolt Fan is anything but a shopping guide... usually. But sometimes I just have to mention an aspect of consumer culture lest I be branded a communist, not that it's such a bad thing. But then again , an item like Turducken strikes at the heart of an iconic staple that will grace the majority of dinner tables next Thursday, so maybe I do harbor latent radical tendencies for overthrowing the government, at least until Hillary and Bill are running things again.

According to Uncrate,
For those not in the know when it comes to edible fowl, the Turducken is a holiday masterpiece that includes a semi-boneless turkey stuffed with a deboned chicken that's stuffed with a deboned duck breast. Triple-bird-alicious.
Ø One note of interest regarding the Los Angeles Times: Having lost their recent War on Halloween and just beginning to pick up the cudgel and go after Christmas, they are allowing time for a love-fest for Thanksgiving. Yeah, it's a little bit like being in high school again with the singling out of what's-cool-what's-not-cool aspect of those thankfully distant years; but at least their taking a break from the holiday whining.

Ø Intelligentsia cafe in Silver Lake had a party last night for their Esmerelda coffee, an artisanal coffee from Panama that they recently bought at auction for something like $130 per pound. (Yeah, I know, a party for expensive coffee; but it was fun.) They were passing out tastes (it tasted like coffee!) but also had wine and hors d'oeuvres on hand for the crowd that turned out. Doug Zell, Mr. Intelligentsia, was on hand and talked about the eco-fair trade practices of his company and the coffee they sell.

Ø Was it just me or did last night's Democratic presidential candidates debate from Las Vegas seem like a love-fest (that hyphenate again) compared to the last one in Philadelphia? For all of the attempts at jabbing at one another, candidates were quick to emphasize a sense of unity among them.

Hillary's responses started out like regular answers but often finished as mini-campaign speeches in stentorian tones to cheers from the audience. The other candidates did their best to measure up to her, but it was a lost cause. She's unstoppable and Republicans must be quaking in their jackboots.

And is Joe Biden even really running? He came off like a guy just along for the ride and the media exposure. He could bring the teeth-bleaching down a notch.

The recent caving by Clinton on allowing undocumented workers to get driver licenses was a disappointment. The issue is still being driven by bigotry and fear-mongering over terrorism; rather than trying to find real answers to the problem of illegal immigration.

Conservatives' have manufactured near-hysteria over the issue; it speaks to their talent for finding resonant cultural bogeymen. They understand the ignorance of Americans and don't hesitate to exploit it, rather than dispel it. (You could argue that liberalism is about dispelling ignorance, and conservatism is about emboldening and institutionalizing it.) It worked for same-sex marriage and falsely justifying the oil war, so why not apply it to a defenseless portion of the population with different skin coloring? One would hope the public would start seeing through the tactic.

Nov 15, 2007

To the OMB: A theological position against homosexuality is institutionalized bigotry.

The lead editorial in today’s LA Times rightly champions the recent US House bill outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation for employment while noting the uncertainty it faces. Not surpassing the veto-proof threshold in the House and with an uncertain future in the Senate where a threatened filibuster looms, the bill was also criticized on several points by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in what the Times called a “spurious” manner, in one case raising religious objections as an excuse to oppose the legislation.

What’s odd is that the bill even included a bill exempting religious schools, obviously a politically pragmatic concession to anti-gay religious conservatives.
The agency also nitpicked the language of an exemption for religious schools with a theological position against homosexuality.
With long-mounting evidence of the politicizing by conservatives of areas of government once deemed non-partisan, such as the Departments of Justice and Education, just to name two, as well as yesterday’s revelation of the State Dept. inspector general’s ties to the Blackwater security contractors firm accused for the wrongful deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians and his alleged attempts to politically shield the administration from the fall out, the argument that behind-the-scenes political machinations of those opposed to gay rights extends to the OMB seems sadly plausible.

Even though a Times front page article today declares that religious conservatives’ influence is shrinking in the GOP, at least on the level of party-affiliated preachers, their presence at top levels in government is undeniable. Their power to improperly steer policy befitting their cultural-political views is a reality evident in such instances as Dept. of Education chief Margaret Spelling’s order that a PBS children’s program positively depicting a gay character not be broadcast; and of course the Dept. of Justice’s politically motivated actions targeting district attorneys who weren’t doing the administration’s bidding under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which forced him to resign.

That the OMB has become infected with a similar strain of influence is all too familiarly disheartening.

Nov 14, 2007

How will returning vets scenario play in California?

I recently wrote about the Marlboro Marine two-parter that ran in the LA Times on Sunday and Monday. It told the story of James Blake Miller, a 22-year-old Marine suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing combat in Iraq.

Some experts predict 30% of returning soldiers who have seen combat will suffer from PTSD.

Now, AP (via Santa Barbara News-Press) is running a story about a soldier arrested today in Watertown, NY, for going AWOL because the military's mental health facility at Fort Drum couldn't provide proper care for him in his condition.
At a news conference hours before his arrest, Sgt. Brad Gaskins said he left the base in August 2006 because the Army wasn't providing effective treatment after he was diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression.

''They just don't have the resources to handle it, but that's not my fault,'' Gaskins said.

At the time, the Fort Drum mental health facility had a staff of a dozen caring for approximately 17,000 troops, Ensign [his attorney] said.

Gaskins said he hasn't been able to get a job because of his PTSD, and that he and his wife have separated. He said he has only supervised visitation rights with his two children.

With the majority of military personnel deaths in the Iraq war coming from California, and most of them from the Los Angeles area, it's a safe guess that there are more soldiers serving in Iraq from this state and metropolitan area than from any other area in the country.

Will California and the federal government rise to the Herculean task of providing for our returning soldiers? It looks like a disaster in the making.

In a separate article, AP reported on homeless veterans.
Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released [last] Thursday.

Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.

Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.

"We're going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous," said Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, PA.

Cloning the Abbey; Intelligentsia, the Un-Starbucks; More on rising gas prices

Ø Out magazine's December issue has an article about Abbey-owner David Cooley's efforts to find locations around the US to build a "chain" of Abbeys, a term that riles him. Technically, the string of gay bars won't be franchises but wholly owned by his partnership with Sam Nazarian's SBE Entertainment Group, which is speculated to have paid $20 million to Cooley for a 75% stake in the business. But semantics are important to him.
"This is not T.G.I. Friday's," he sniffs... Cooley prefers to describe his current project as "taking the Abbey national" or "replicating the soul of the Abbey."
Right. He's had mixed results so far in cities like New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami and Atlanta. The first of the cloned souls is planned to open in Chicago sometime next year.

According to the article, the "newly ambiguous" Abbey (in their minds anyway) seems to be dancing around the option of partially shedding its "gay" image.
Cooley believes the Abbey, as a national brand, could reinvigorate gay nightlife-- and his strategy for doing so appears to involve toning down the avowedly gay part of that experience. But how straight-acting does gay nightlife need to be in order to survive?
Sam Nazarian says,
I think the Abbey is very,very important to the gay community in our city. But I think the Abbey is not just a gay bar. Twenty to 30% of the clientele is non-gay, and we try to offer the best service to everyone who walks in our door.
To me, that sort of posturing is past its shelf-life. It's not a stretch to imagine a national chain of gay bars as the right wing continues to loses its battle against gay rights due to the growing numbers in the current and future generations having grown up in a culture that accepts sexual orientation as just another facet of identity.

Ø
Speaking of chains, Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based coffee company, opened their first cafe outside of the windy city at Sunset Junction in August.

Waiting in line one of the first times I went and unaware of their Chicago roots, I remarked to a friend, as I was noting the expensive-looking, high-design aesthetic of the place, that I smelled corporate money mixed in with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee. I postulated that maybe it was owned by Starbucks with the intent of marketing premium-priced coffee to those who consider themselves too cool for the Seattle stalwart.

Grasping for a reason to chat up the cute barista, I told him my theory. His sexy smile faded to a look of concern that I would think such erroneous thoughts about the place. He told me about Doug Zell, the owner, and his straight-up eco-politics, adding that he was the nicest guy he ever worked for.

A quick perusal of their web site confirmed his story. But the REALLY important thing is how good the coffee is. Even if you're ordering regular coffee, it's ground and brewed to order, and strong enough even for me. They also sell Chemex coffee makers.

Ø The LA Times had a front page article about soon-skyrocketing gas prices and an opinion piece about the merger of Zipcar and Flexcar.

The first points out that gas prices still aren't reflecting the 40+% price-rise for crude oil since August. And they soon will.
Analysts warn that gasoline prices soon will rise by as much as 20 cents a gallon -- which would put California's average at nearly $3.50. And it's not just gasoline. High oil costs are trickling through the economy, pushing up the price of food, airline flights and cruises as well as retail prices for a host of products derived from crude oil and its byproducts.
The opinion article is about the car-sharing revolution gathering steam in other more walkable cities. Fellow car-prisoners of Los Angeles, wrap your brains around this:
Car-sharing, however, offers a new and seductive form of freedom, one based on the refusal of direct ownership and the liability that entails. The key to the Zip-Flex business model is that the actual car is not all that important. It is really just a means to an end. It's a transportation appliance, a node in a system made possible by the Internet.

Understandably, Zipcar and Flexcar have found the most success in places where walking is still an important feature of the transportation grid -- Washington, Boston, San Francisco and university towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich.
All of those years I lived in NYC without a car have taken on a new luster.

Nov 13, 2007

Rising gas price, jailed bloggers, etc.

Ø KPCC's Larry Mantle did a segment this morning on Air Talk about dropping the names of southern California freeways and exclusively using numbers in their place. The sentiments were most impassioned on the side of keeping the names, even in light of the initially confusing nature of their application. Callers seemed to like the idea of going with numbers if they were relative newcomers to the area.

Ø If you think gas is expensive now, just wait. The LA Times opinion page has a piece about Venezuala President Hugo Chavez's imminent ability to "tip the world into a recession" on Dec. 2nd, the date of that country's next election.
On that day, if Venezuelan citizens pass the dozens of constitutional amendments on the ballot, Chavez will essentially be granted dictatorial powers -- an elected strongman reminiscent of Spain's Franco, Italy's Mussolini and Orwell's Big Brother. The day could easily deteriorate into one of violence, martial law and suspension of oil production, the latter calculated to inflict maximum damage on the U.S. economy.
Ø Is the media tiring of the presidential campaign already? Either that or Huffington Post is spreading it a little too thinly for my tastes with their obsession over whether the Clinton campaign forgot to tip an Iowa waitress recently. Sam Stein writes about it to the exclusion of mentioning any real issues in her campaign. He interviews the waitress and she tells him much the same thing but it doesn't stop him from pushing her for details about the meaningless episode. Priorities, people...

Don't get me wrong, I read their political coverage everyday; I just miss when it was only about politics and didn't even mention celeb gossip crap (Olbermann, this applies to you too.) Now I feel a bit assaulted by how the mindless glitz is moving more to the top center, crowding out the real news.

Do people who read HuffPo really care that an actor paid a lot of money for a painting? Does that "story" really deserve to be tucked between one about the Guiliani-Kerik story and it's developing News Corp angle and another about Blackwater?

Oh well, at least they took the TMZ link off the front page. Still, almost the entire right column is flooded with mindless drivel.

A feed from Al Jazeera would be a worthy addition to the HuffPo home page, putting a different POV of the world in front of their readers instead of distracting them with the latest celeb antics.

Ø Speaking of Al Jazeera, it's got a story about Yahoo's undisclosed settlement with the families of jailed dissidents in China. The California-based internet company has agreed to pay their legal fees.

A statement released by the World Organisation for Human Rights (WOHR) USA said Yahoo had decided to settle the case following fierce criticism at a US congressional hearing last week.


Shi Tao, a business journalist, and Wang Xiaoning, a pro-democracy blogger, are serving jail sentences of 10 year each.


According to their families' lawsuit, which was backed by WOHR, their imprisonment was a direct result of information provided by Yahoo to Chinese authorities.


Yahoo has previously defended its actions, saying it had to comply with Chinese laws in order to operate in the country.


Shi was jailed in 2004 for divulging state secrets after he forwarded a Chinese government order forbidding journalists from marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.


Police identified him using information provided by Yahoo.


Wang was jailed two years earlier after he was linked to emails and political essays posted online via information provided by Yahoo.

Think about that the next time you check your email on Yahoo or look at photos on Flickr.


Ø
The Jim Lehrer News Hour is doing a series of reports this week on Las Vegas' rising profile in national politics and it's still-booming growth (5,000 new residents every month.) It's a big union town due to the casinos and hotel workers presence, along with a large and growing Latino population, and both major parties are competing for their votes.

Nov 12, 2007

Veterans Day redux

Ø Yesterday was Veterans Day. It's a personally important holiday for me because I have a lot of family members who have served or are currently serving in the military. I have two great uncles who were in combat in Europe during WWII, a cousin who fought in Korea and two cousins in Iraq now.

My father wasn't drafted but enlisted in the Army Air Corps. and trained as a nose-gunner, the soldier who sits in the front tip of a plane and fires the massive gun at targets. He narrowly missed being sent to combat because WWII ended just as he was being given orders to ship out.

My family, while being staunchly Democratic politically, has always been supportive of the military. Back when there was draft, the general population had empathy for those who were called to or chose to serve.

Today, the public numbs itself out with celebrity gossip and the like. The local Los Angeles blogs, a group that could stand to be more politically-minded, have mostly paid lip service to the holiday if they mention it at all.* It seems like they mean well, but plainly their hearts aren't in it; a reflection of their readers, I suppose. A couple of posts have mentioned the Veterans Day Monday federal holiday as a reason to celebrate the light traffic, bringing life to the Lala Land clichés many blanch at hearing from former New Yorkers like me.

It would be nice, noble even, if the local bloggers, since they have the platform, took the lead in raising awareness about the war. I'll even give them an angle: There have been more military personnel deaths in the war in Iraq from California than any other state in the union.

Ø The Los Angeles Times has a powerfully moving two-part series that ran yesterday and today about the "Marlboro Marine." It tells the story of Blake Miller, a 20-year-old Marine who fought in the bloody battle of Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004. After being photographed by Luis Sinco, an embedded Times staff photographer, the picture was picked up by 150 newspapers the next day, inspiring news stories that turned the young soldier into a celebrity.

People who saw the photograph sent him care packages; the president sent cigars and candy.

A major general made a special trip to see him, shook his hand and told him "We can have you home tomorrow" because "nobody wanted to see him wounded or dead." He balked at leaving his buddies behind in combat and stayed. Fourteen months later he was kicked out of the Marines for having post-traumatic stress disorder.

He moved back to his native Kentucky and married his girlfriend, only to separate from her ten days later and file for divorce as symptoms of PTSD escalated.

Sinco, feeling responsible for catapulting Miller into becoming a temporarily mythic figure and all that it led to, spent the following two years flying back and forth between LA and Kentucky to help Miller get treatment, even driving him to Connecticut to enroll in a Veterans Administration program for PTSD sufferers.

It's been a rough road for Blake Miller, and he's not out of the woods yet. He is not alone in his harrowing condition. As Sinco notes in the article,
Some experts estimate that 30% of the troops who have seen combat in Iraq will suffer from PTSD.
*LA blogs that mentioned Veterans Day: LAist and Metroblogging LA; those that didn't: LA Observed and Losanjealous.

Nov 9, 2007

A tip for striking writers

All signs indicate this is going to be a long strike for the WGA, so at some point lower-echelon writers may be forced to look for alternate sources of income if they haven't been socking enough money away into savings.

I realize a meager $2500 per week (starting pay for an entry-level TV writer) is not very much money-- okay, I don't realize that. But I'm trying to be helpful.

If financially vulnerable writers are loathe to flipping burgers or waiting on network executives at the Ivy to sustain themselves during the strike, I've got a suggestion: Porn.

Think about it; what's your biggest complaint about porn? Some of you probably said, "Not enough money shots, " or "Better camera angles on the money shots," or even "Better camera angles on money shots and more of them,"-- well, fine, I'll pass those suggestions along.

I'm talking about better scripts. Strike-idled writers could work under the table (figuratively) using assumed names to punch up, or maybe a better term is fluff, the scripts, applying their talent to an area of porn much in need of their expertise. There's only one place in porn that I want wood and it's not in the dialogue.

Imagine the possibilities if a Jon Robin Baitz, say, or an Alan Ball were to write porn. Dysfunctional families populated with self-absorbed, hot, well-lit characters navigate choppy emotional waters trying to find ways to connect with each other. Just like regular TV, except now they have a new way to connect and the climax could even include, well, a climax.

I realize writing for porn may not give the same satisfaction as learning to appreciate the little things, like the difference between
medium-rare and medium-well; and it may not have the dignity of making an honest dollar by refilling Jeff Zucker's coffee; but at some point your hands are going to start cramping up from waving that picket sign.

An article on CNN.com in February talked about how hedge fund managers are rushing to the brave new frontier of adult entertainment, mentioning one respected investor "who's been going after companies he sees as ripe for turbocharged growth." It sounds like they're thinking about it in the appropriate terms, and I may have enjoyed reading that a bit too much.

Also, let me point out, the AVN Awards (dubbed the Oscars of porn) held annually in Las Vegas have become more star-studded with each passing year. They've even been called by one news outlet "the only exciting awards show," although that could have more than one meaning.

Hollywood movies took in almost $9.5 billion in theaters in 2006 while the adult entertainment industry made $12 billion. Considering those numbers, along with HBO's new, not-so-soft core trial balloon, Tell Me You Love Me, finishing up it's first season tonight, who knows where audiences' tastes and television is headed? If possibly big, carnal changes are coming to TV programming in the near future, surreptitiously boning up on a new genre during the strike might be worth considering.

And have you ever heard about a strike in the adult entertainment industry?


Nov 8, 2007

LA Times highlights...

My biased report on stand-outs from today's LA Times. Odd that the war in Iraq doesn't merit mentioning until page five...

Ø Sticky fingers at the Reagan Library - More than 80,000 items have likely either been lost or pilfered by employees due to a "near universal" security breakdown at the Simi Valley institution. The problem stems from understaffing due to insufficient funding and isn't confined to just the Reagan facility but to many, if not most, presidential libraries.
But, investigators said, they encountered the most serious problems at the Reagan library, a finding that may mortify fans of the late president, who often inveighed against government inefficiency.

National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said the agency welcomed the audit and was taking its findings very seriously. Part of the problem, she said, is that presidential libraries originally did not have the same strict preservation guidelines used by most museums. That has been corrected, she said, but funding for the libraries is still an issue.
Ø Patt Morrison has a dream - She looks back to TV programming in the wake of the 153-day strike by the WGA in 1960.
...Old movies... "Wrecks Galore on Destruction Derby," and on one desperate evening, two channels ran simultaneous previews of the Ice Capades.

And yet strike-time prime time was also chockablock with travelogues, like a journey to Shakespeare's London, and an adventure documentary by Charles Darwin's great-grandson. Channel 4 aired "Startime," a remarkable hourlong "anthology" series that mixed documentaries, dramas and comedy. It aired an episode during the strike with Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson telling Americans why they should vote.
And then she offers suggestions for the current strike like Paddy Chayevsky's Marty, Jack Parr, Steve Allen...
Even the comparatively lowbrow comic black-and-white offerings like "Your Show of Shows" and "Burns and Allen" come off like Aristophanes against contemporary claptrap like "Viva Laughlin" and "America's Next Top Model."

Viewers in the ideal TV demographic delight in the cool, retro, smart TV fare... They blog about it, Facebook about it, reddit and Digg it.

TV studios... pander to this audience's wishes. Writers who had powered down their gifts to produce brainless fare for TV's recent race to the bottom suddenly find themselves begged to write smart.
Alas, dream on, Patt.

Ø Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco help China jail dissidents - Talk about disgusting, outrageous and deplorable actions, Peter Navarro writes a column about companies assisting China's totalitarian regime in squelching pro-democracy content on the internet.
Yahoo Inc. helped send a reporter to prison by revealing his identity to the Chinese government. Cisco Systems Inc. helps send thousands of Chinese dissidents to prison by selling sophisticated Internet surveillance technology to China.

Skype, an EBay Inc. subsidiary, helps the Chinese government monitor and censor text messaging. Microsoft Corp. likewise is a willing conscript in China's Internet policing army, as Bill Gates' minions regularly cleanse the Chinese blogosphere. Google Inc.'s brainiacs, meanwhile, have built a special Chinese version of their powerful search engine to filter out things as diverse as the BBC, freeing Tibet and that four-letter word in China -- democracy.
Ø Jennifer Delson writes about Santa Ana teenagers rediscovering son jarocho, a 400-year-old Mexican music genre that "blends indigenous, African and Spanish styles into foot-stomping, hand-clapping songs often with ad-libbed lyrics." Why isn't this in the Calendar section? Answer: Because they don't have a publicist.
Five years ago, several Santa Ana High School students formed the band Son del Centro after becoming intrigued by a genre that even their immigrant parents knew little about.

Since then, Son del Centro has become one of a handful of bands in Southern California to specialize in the son jarocho style, giving the musicians a part in preserving a Mexican tradition that has struggled to survive outside the rural sections of Veracruz.

"We really like playing the music, but for us, it's also about activism, educating people about our culture. It really is a bond between us," said Jesus Gutierrez, an engineer who began performing with the band because he wanted to be part of community activism.

Juan Ruiz, 21, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, recently learned to play the jarana at the suggestion of a friend.

"I just never stopped coming," he said. "I fell in love with the whole package. It was the music, a lost art form and a community."
Ø The Guide thinks there's something "highbrow" about Las Vegas. No, really. They actually think there are things like highbrow and lowbrow versions of Elvis impersonators, casinos, ad hoc wedding chapels and soft-core bump-and-grind shows, along with regular shows, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping, etc.
About the only thing Vegas has failed at is making the city a family destination... "People want an adult town." Well, they've got it, in both its traditional permutations: high (expensive, often tasteful) and low (relatively cheap, often entertainingly tasteless). Whether you're on the glitzy Strip or Fremont Street, with its old-school patina of seediness, you will find something to engage your imagination.
Agreed (except for the "often tasteful" part,) but high-cost is not the same as highbrow. They need to spend a week in New York and then revisit this subject, maybe celebrate LV for the enjoyably lowbrow spectacle that it is, no matter how much you're spending.

Nov 7, 2007

Radiohead download figures begin to emerge

Sixty-two percent of the people who downloaded the new pay-what-you-like album from Radiohead, In Rainbows, in October paid nothing at all, including one Ann Powers, chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times, who said in an article in the paper that she didn’t have the credit card needed for the transaction.

I read her account about downloading
it for free in the print edition but it seems to have disappeared from the LA Times site. Did someone at LAT, the Recording Industry Assn. of America or Radiohead's management have a problem with Powers making this information public?

An admirer of Powers’ writing since her days at the
Village Voice and later the New York Times, I was a little surprised to read the story, thinking that it seemed like a questionable (although plainly legal) action for her to publicly disclose, given her stature and also in light of the story running the same week about Minneapolis single mom Jammie Thomas being sued $222,000 for "illegal file-sharing" by the RIAA.

It didn't help that Powers also wrote a story ridiculing Thomas' music tastes.

In all fairness, in the account I read, Powers said she had fully intended to pay for the download until she discovered she didn't have the appropriate card.


Anyway, paidcontent.co.uk had the figures on Monday and also the cryptic statement about “an unattributed source… saying 1.2 million albums had been shifted.”

The first concrete analysis of Radiohead’s innovative pay-what-you-like plan for latest album In Rainbows shows thirty-eight percent of those who downloaded the title indeed chose to pay something, while 62 percent kept their change in their pocket.

The average price paid was $6 (£2.88) on a globalised basis but Americans were more generous, coughing up $8.05 (£3.87) - factor in the freeloaders, however, and it’s more like an average $2.26 (£1.08) on a worldwide basis and $3.23 (£1.55) from Americans. The most common amount offered was below $4 (£1.92), but 12 percent were willing to pay between $8 (£3.84) and $12 (£5.77), around the typical cost of an album from iTunes.

Nov 6, 2007

Late Morning Glow

ø Plume-Noire, the LA-based English/French web magazine, is blogging the AFI Film Festival, employing their decidedly non-Hollywood take on the usual shenanigans.
If [it] was up to me I would classify Southland Tales as Torture Porn, for how painful this 140mn film was to me – fortunately I was able to sleep through parts of that mess, courtesy of the Absolut bar on the rooftop.
ø Hollywood Joe has a post about bold-face names spotted on the WGA picket lines.
The writers strike already has some big-name support with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, America Ferrera, Marg Helgenberg and Tina Fey (also a writer on "30 Rock") joining writers on the picket lines Monday in a show of solidarity. Jay Leno brought Krispy Kreme donuts to the writers outside NBC while William Baldwin served coffee outside Paramount studios.
ø Patrick Goldstein bemoans the art-house slump in today's LA Times. Of course, this being LA, he's not talking about the artistic qualities of recent releases, but (you guessed it) the box office numbers. He claims there are just too many good shows on TV now anyway, so why not skip the cinema and stay in to catch, say, Pushing Daisies or The Closer. And whatever you do, don't watch anything icky like the news or PBS.
These new series not only have the kind of alternative vibe you get from indie movies, but they also seem more in sync with the mood of the country than the bleak dramas tanking in the theaters. At a time when many Americans are depressed about the horror of Iraq, brooding over the economy and worried about America's place in the world, they seem less eager to embrace movies that offer more grim tidings.
ø Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was asked blunt questions by LA Times editorial pages editor Jim Newsome on LA36's Zócalo recently. (I caught it last night but it can be streamed on their site.) It was a one-hour interview (and Q & A with audience members) with the salacious questions first before moving onto the struggling LAUSD, traffic congestion and other quality-of-life issues. Newsome didn't hold back or play nice and Villaraigosa, ever the smooth politician, was confident and held his ground when giving what could have been uncomfortable answers for others. The mayor even managed to take a few swipes at the troubled LA Times, saying it was "a paper that's losing its soul and doesn't know that it's in LA."

ø
Gridskipper has begrudgingly supplied a limited and poorly researched map of Pasadena bars, all along or just off a three-block stretch of Colorado Blvd. Then they go on to confuse it with the east side of LA.


Cine Sin Fin: 13th Annual East LA Chicano Film Festival

Various venues on the east side of LA, including Echo Park Film Center and Pico House at Placita Olvera, will be presenting over 40 films for Cine Sin Fin, the 13th Annual East Los Angeles Chicano Film Festival, running November 5 - 13.

A La Brava, a non-profit organization, started the film festival in 1995 as a way of fostering artistic achievement and cross-cultural understanding:
At the time, there were few, if any, venues available for Chicanas/os to showcase their film making talent. The film industry was not receptive to Chicano filmmakers and the few films which were being produced for the mainstream market usually depicted our community life as broken and undesirable. Chicano characters rarely amounted to more than thieves or gangsters. There were many other stories about the Chicano community which needed to be told.
A complete list of films, including workshops and award ceremonies, is available on their website.

fauxreel's $300 Lobotomy

Nov 5, 2007

Writers sounded the alarm about the radical right in the '30s and '40s

As the WGA digs in for who knows how long, a recent article by Ed Rampell at Truthdig.com brings to light that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist and the House Unamerican Activities Committee's efforts to intimidate "left leaning La-La Land."

In the 1930s and'40s, it was the guild unions in Hollywood that initiated efforts to gain rights and protections for their members. In addition, writers, directors and actors were attempting through their work to sound the alarm about the growing fascist tendencies of the Republican Party and its politically motivated efforts to scare the American public into thinking a "red menace" actually existed and that the Communist Party was plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. Sound familiar?

Talking pictures also spurred the creation of Hollywood’s Left. Unlike silent films, the talkies needed dialogue writers, so studios recruited playwrights from Broadway, including radicals such as John Howard Lawson and Clifford Odets. They “brought to Hollywood the dissatisfaction of Dramatists Guild enlightenment and union tradition,” Nancy Lynn Schwartz wrote in “The Hollywood Writers Wars.” As a playwright, it troubled Lawson that screenwriters had fewer rights and didn’t receive appropriate credits.

(snip)

The Hollywood Left brought the war for social and economic justice home to the movie colony. Lester Cole called writers “the niggers of the studio system,” grousing that “1 percent of what American movie-goers pay for their entertainment is allocated to ... screenplays.”

(snip)

“We organized the guilds and unions—they have all these benefits we fought for—and went out on strike for the medical, pensions and what young people today take for granted,” noted Norma Barzman, who wrote “The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate.” The ex-Communist added, “During the Roosevelt years, the CP was responsible for Social Security, unemployment insurance legislation. ... We got the teenage Latinos off for the Sleepy Lagoon murder [in L.A.]. ... We fought racism against the Japanese [and other minorities]. ... "
Photo: Dalton Trumbo leaves the HUAC witness stand after refusing to answer questions, saying, "This is the beginning of an American concentration camp."

Regarding the writers strike...


At Antebellum Gallery's opening for Dia de los Muertos ¡Erotica¡ on Friday, I had an interesting chat with a friend who has been writing sitcoms for the past fifteen years. He was bemoaning the bad faith on the part of the producers, of course, and their insistence that making shows viewable on the internet constituted "promotion" and therefore should not pay any royalties to writers, even though money is being made from advertising inserted into that format.

I was hoping to move him onto a happier topic, or at least some of the free mezcal that was flowing in the garden behind the gallery, so when he mentioned working on the show Two of a Kind with the Olsen twins when they were in their early teens I asked him about working with them.

He said, "You know, one of them was really nice and she was actually very funny."

"Which one?" I asked.

He paused, and then said, "I don't remember."

Help drive a stake through the heart of a record label

With Radiohead the highest profile band lately to wreak havoc with the major labels by not relying on them for distribution, it could be turning into a feeding frenzy.

Uncrate.com tipped me off to a free download of a new album called The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust from hip-hop artist Saul Williams, courtesy of Nine Inch Nails überlord Trent Reznor. It's kinda great.
Described by Williams as "ghetto gothic... hard-core dance," the album is available for free in 192kbps MP3 format or for $5 in 320kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC format.

Ann Coulter, the board game


Joel Stein had a funny column in Friday's LA Times wherein he got every lefty's favorite harpy to supply a list of "adjectives, verbs and European cities" for an Ann Coulter Mad Libs™ that he came up with.

To his imperfect delight,
She also gave the essay... that little something extra that only she can provide. (For "male Democrat" she filled in "Hillary Clinton," for instance.)
I guess all of those "Man Coulter" cracks drove her to that one.

Halloween, we hardly knew ye


A holiday rises from the dead for me...

Halloween was a holiday I had become weary of from my many years of living in the thick of it in NYC's West Village. Hell, everyday was Halloween on Christopher St. It's not so much that I didn't appreciate the effort and ingenuity of the drag in which people garbed themselves as a way of life, and I don't mean "drag" in the usual sense.

I'm talking about it in the way that k.d. lang alluded to when, years ago, she solemnly (and pretentiously, I first thought, but no longer) pronounced, "Clothing is just something we drape on our souls." Our costumes of who or what we see ourselves as- you know: fashion, or style- have always been a source of fascination for me, and I know I'm not alone in that respect. There's a type of person who enjoys endulging in layman's cultural anthropology. That would be me.

The LA costume is very different from the NYC costume, as is so much of the peculiarities of place that distinguish the two cultural behemoths separated by almost three thousand miles and, sometimes it seems, a universe of sensibilities. One person's Juicy is another's Jil Sanders.

LA Halloween benefits from it's proximity to Dia de los Muertos. The two holidays bleed into each other and create several days of observation.

For me, it kicked off the preceding weekend with Hollywood Forever Cemetery's Dia de los Muertos event; gained momentum with Festival de la Gente (and the Dia de los Muertos car show) in Boyle Heights; and then sprinted through Halloween as a night of pure lunacy at the Mayan Theater in downtown LA for Lucha VaVoom; followed with a relaxed jog through Dia de los Muertos as the victory lap.

So when I signed on with David Markland (of blogging.la) to blog for CreepyLA.com, I saw it as an opportunity to dig under LA's surface, which is thicker than the earth's crust in some spots and as thin a cellophane in others. But it's always there...

Oct 5, 2007

It's all Creepy all the time...

Things are going well at Creepy LA, the new site about Halloween in Los Angeles. Our traffic is up more everyday as other bigger sites discover what we're doing and link to us.

I'll be going to Shriekfest, a festival devoted to indie horror films, at Raleigh Studios this weekend, so look for a post on Creepy about that early next week. Plus some fairly under-reported news about a certain highly anticipated new series coming to premium cable.

And still more, all in the name of Halloween...

As a reminder, I'm posting at Creepy LA under the name It Came from New York.

Sep 19, 2007

Creepy LA


I've spent the last week posting to a new LA-focused Halloween blog called Creepy. David Markland at Metroblogging LA is captain of the ship, which set sail this past Monday.

We'll be covering all manner of Halloween hi-jinks in the Los Angeles area: events, movie screenings, must-have items for the season, yard haunts, interviews with notable Angelenos about their traditions, habits and fetishes as they pertain to the matter at hand... and more. We're adding to the site throughout the day, so check it often to see what we've found.

I'll be posting under the name, "It Came from New York." Boo.

Sep 12, 2007

Effete Campaign Chronicals 2



I can't improve on Chris Matthews on Hardball yesterday:

It’s unimaginable that Petraeus came before the Senate and spoke. Imagine what this is going to sound like on Armed Services Radio tonight and television when they watch the commander say they don’t know whether they’re making America safer or not.

And he’s asking them to go into battle every day. It’s maddeningly stupid. And this president seems to be hiding behind a guy he gave the orders to and then is expecting him to defend the policy, and he admits it’s beyond his pay level to defend the policy.

We're Going Mars!

The recent joint study by UCLA and NYU suggesting that liberals are more adaptable thinkers than conservatives only illustrates what is apparent.

To explain, a test was performed on subjects who identified themselves as either liberal or conservative. They were then given a test wherein they were instructed to tap on a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer screen but to refrain from tapping when a W appeared. Test subjects were also monitored during the test by an electroencephalograph which showed liberals had higher levels of brain activity than conservatives. Not a big surprise.

Conservatives mistakenly tapped more often than liberals when the W appeared, leading researches to a conclusion that "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity." It also leaves one to ponder if, in 2003, conservatives thought the president was pushing the US into going to Mars, rather than going to war.

Sep 8, 2007

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

Schwarzenegger thinks the whole time he's been governor he's really only been playing one in a movie .

Pope visits Holocaust memorial in Austria, heads straight to gift shop. Oh, and then he mentions that Europe without Christianity would be, like, a total drag.

Morrissey starts Christmas at the Palladium run early this year.

New LA Times column to explain on a regular basis why Angelenos are gluttons for punishment. No mention of low standards and cold, dark hearts.

Marriage is for Fags! GLAAD communications director "carefully" outs himself as straight; family shamed.

Surprise! Lucinda Williams is neurotic, refuses to leave El Rey Theater until she plays every song from every album in exact order. (Not a telethon.)

Right before a massage and a nap, Fred Thompson says he hates gay marriage and is "100 percent" against abortion, now that he's not being paid to lobby in favor of it.

Phil Spector stubbornly refuses to change wigs for deliberations.

2,200-year-old Roman play sexed up and musicalized, opens at Getty Villa. No word on Broadway transfer yet.

50 Cent to star in hip-hop remake of This Is Spinal Tap.

Sep 6, 2007

Sep 4, 2007

I Feel Fine

It’s too little too late. The October issue of Vanity Fair has an article by Evgenia Peretz about Al Gore being skewered, ridiculed, mocked and dismissed by the supposedly left-wing media during the 2000 presidential campaign. It dissects the coverage and also examines how some of the pundits and reporters are now “coming to terms” with their actions. Well, boo-hoo. Their disregard for objective reporting was an insult to their readers who had entrusted them with providing relevant information about a serious matter, electing a president. Redolent of the same sloth and hubris they illuminated in other politicians, it was sophomoric pack-mentality behavior from those who should have known better. (And it’s still happening.)

The article quotes Time magazine's Margaret Carlson saying, during an Imus interview, “…It's fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us.” That's right up there with former FEMA director Michael Brown wondering in an email to a colleague during the Katrina aftermath about which tie to match with which shirt. Maggie, you're doing a heck of a job.

Ceci Connolly, a Washington Post reporter covering the Gore campaign, is portrayed as a vindictive, threatening nut job with an awareness of her inordinate power who makes good on her threats by writing articles explicitly slanted against him after she isn’t given a suitably juicy quote. Now, she denies anything of the sort but, curiously, she goes on to say she remembers the “mediocre quote.” She sounds like so many politicians who are loathe to admitting they might have made a mistake; it was everyone else who was in the wrong, shades of Larry Craig.

Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, both of the New York Times, are also damningly quoted from pieces they wrote during the 2000 campaign, showing they bought into the distortions, this from two opinion scribes about whom you could say I am generally aligned with politically. It pains me to say that at times I find them to be tiresome writers who care more about overreaching effect than anything else.

Dowd is an op-ed version of a chick flick, by turns amusing and annoying. Rich is, well, rich. At times brilliant, the sweat in his prose is often visible as he labors to make his sometimes contorted points. (A recent pleasant surprise was catching the former NY Times’ chief theater critic on LA 36, a local public affairs channel in Los Angeles, in a conversation with playwright Tony Kushner at UCSD, entitled The Theater of Politics, The Politics of Theater. A return by Rich to writing about theater would be welcomed by many.)

Katharine Seelye, of the NY Times, on the other hand, and in hindsight, says she should have “left out... or debunked” the distortions written about Gore’s campaign. Also, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter are both capable of stepping back and seeing the anti-Gore bias for what it was: irresponsible journalism.

Thankfully, most if not all of the above mentioned names are regarded as old-style mainstream media now that the bloggers are running the show. In light of the Vanity Fair article, it could be argued the bad behavior of the political press during the 2000 campaign was instrumental to the Internet coming to the fore in political coverage in the years since. After enduring six and a half years of the man the MSM helped elect, it’s stone cold comfort but I’ll cuddle up to it.

Sep 2, 2007

You Say Public Sex Like It’s A Bad Thing



With the current sex panic blowing lusty hot breezes through the late summer heat wave you would think the atrocities of the Iraq War were not occurring on a daily basis or even at all. They seem to be regarded by cable news (always a sad and telling snapshot of the American psyche) as almost an irritant mucking up their coverage of the 10th Anniversary Jubilee Celebration of the Death of Princess Diana, the brutal dog torturing of Michael Vick and most especially the ongoing, as it turns out, sexcapades of Senator Larry Craig. Senator Craig, with the gentle prodding of the news media, has managed to reintroduce public sex back into the American mainstream, forcing them down on it, insisting they swallow or at the very least imagine having a little taste for themselves. George Michael, we hardly knew ye; let’s hear it for Idaho values.

On CNN, Larry King, bless his heart, talked about it with an expression on his face that looked like he had a mouthful of sour milk. Over at Fox News, Sean Hannity, on the other hand, displayed body language that seemed to suggest he was a bit aroused and kept shifting in his chair, as if a loop of stall sex possibilities was playing over and over in his mind, betraying his curiosity. Coupled with his condemning words on the subject it was the embodiment of being fair and balanced.

I say reintroduce because it’s a practice as old as humanity, and public sex (be it in a restroom or park or locker room or beach or car or anywhere for that matter) is, as an urbane English friend said to me recently, “a tradition.” I mumbled something about Joe Orton and he responded, “Exactly. We invented it, mate,” beaming with pride.

He and I, along with his lovely wife and two sons (ages 10 and 13,) had just finished watching an episode of Extras, the brilliant BBC/HBO series from Ricky Gervais, wherein, in a matter of half a minute one of the characters had given a brief yet thorough explanation of hetero-vs.-homo copulation with extremely helpful hand gestures. My friend turned to his sons and said, “Well, there you go, boys. Any questions?”

There was no shielding of the boys’ eyes and ears as this smart little scene played out. We all laughed as I realized this young generation in decades to come just may save us all from the cudgel of sex shame utilized by religious zealots; or if not, bring us a little closer to that goal so dreaded by our Puritan ancestors, and the sooner the better.

Aug 27, 2007

Death Has a Gift Shop

Long before Six Feet Under was even a glimmer in HBO’s eye, Forest Lawn was turning death into a theme park, where, if so desired, you don’t even need to view actual graves to have a splendid time. It’s a place where you can be surrounded by a sea of the departed and simultaneously maintain a healthy denial of mortality. No showy markers here, just small uniform stone plaques lying flush to the ground are all that is permitted. The real attractions are the “recreations” that were commissioned by FL over the years, everything from iconic pieces by Renaissance masters to duplicates of churches, as well as original works.

A recent Sunday afternoon spent with friends impulsively exploring the grounds of the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, the first in the chain established in 1906, turned into a quintessential Los Angeles experience, at least for one whom at times might be considered a condescending former New Yorker with an appetite for irony.


I had heard about the exact replica of Michelangelo’s David, carved from Carrara marble from the same quarry in Italy as the original. FL-Glendale is on its third copy, the previous two having been destroyed in earthquakes in 1971 and 1994. (The bronze copy at FL-Cypress has endured.) Having seen the original in Florence, I can indeed vouch for the Glendale David as an impressive accomplishment if you can get past the fact that it’s a copy and so has never been touched by the young master’s hands. (Michelangelo was 26 when he created it during the first few years of the 16th century. Take that, Hollywood celebrity youth of today with your towering oeuvre of reality shows, burger commercials and Youtube sex videos.)

I had also heard about The World’s Largest Painting, a.k.a. The Crucifixion, that measures 195 by 45 feet. What I didn’t know was that it can be viewed along with The World’s Second Largest Painting (The Resurrection) in a colossal building with a church façade that was built for displaying them named The Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection. There are hourly presentations in an enormous darkened theater with burgundy velvet seats that involve lights, curtains, video monitors, (though large still dwarfed by the size of the paintings,) and mewling narration that isn’t exactly anodyne, let alone nondenominational. It’s a hoot.

At another building called The Memorial Court of Honor, there is a stained-glass recreation of Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper, “in vibrant, glowing and indestructible colors,” on view every half hour from 9 AM to 4:30 PM because, like the aforementioned paintings, why not turn looking at a static object into an event?

The grounds also have a museum that is currently displaying an exhibit entitled Fantasy Art, with sketches, cels and other artwork from mostly Disney animated features. It seemed a bit whimsical for a cemetery, but then again I had just seen a sculpture next to the Glendale David called The Mystery of Life, “expressly created for Forest Lawn." It was comprised of eighteen human figures that, according to the large carved stone plaque next to it, “depict the meaning of life.”

As I smirked to myself, it started raining, odd for August, and I suddenly noticed a giant column of smoke from a forest fire in the direction of the San Gabriel Mountains. I looked at the stone figures, their wet faces frozen in a panorama of emotions. The wind snapped, knocking over a plastic pot of dried out chrysanthemums that someone had set on one of the grave markers as my friends dashed to the car. I stayed behind a minute and watched the water streaming down the stone faces, before turning to run after them, away from The Mystery of Life.