Thursday, July 26, 2007

Adios, for now...

The Bear is going to hibernate for a short while to do some summer traveling and tend to some outdoor projects at the cave (small ranch house) while the good weather smiles upon us.

Before The Bear leaves on his summer trek, I'd like to point the way for you to do some exploring on your own.

In today's LA Times, staff writer Richard Marosi writes about officials in Mexico cracking down on police extortion of tourists on the road between TJ and popular Baja beach destinations. Here's a bit of the article:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

First Felix, Now Dutton's

First, Felix the Cat (or a likeness of the famous feline) is officially deemed a landmark by the city. Next, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted to designate Dutton's Brentwood as a landmark.

This, of course, upset Charles T. Munger, the building's owner. From the Los Angeles Times:
"'If the council votes to approve this, Dutton's will die as sure as God made little green apples,' Munger said after the hearing. 'These people are trying to save Dutton's [but are] using techniques that will destroy it.'"
Will Dutton's be given an institutional nine lives, like the giant neon cat downtown? (Photo by Paytonc at Flickr)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Morning Coffee

I had not yet consumed my morning coffee when I read an LA Times piece on Indonesian civet cat scat coffee. Yes, it's coffee cherries consumed by the civet cat in an Indonesian forest, excreted, collected and cleaned (really!, but to what extent?), then roasted. It's called, according to the Times:
"...kopi luwak, from the Indonesian words for coffee and civet, and by the time it reaches the shelves of swish foreign food emporiums, devotees fork out as much as $600 for a pound — if they can even find that much. The British royal family is said to enjoy sipping it. A single cup can sell for $30 at a five-star hotel in Hong Kong."
Now you know why Starbucks shares are falling. Wouldn't you rather have a good cup of (not excreted) Aged Sumatra from Peet's or Sumatra Siborong-Borong from Starbucks? Or skip Starbucks and Peet's (both of which, I frequent often) and head for a truly local latte. Maybe enjoy the caffeine and ocean breeze at Tanner's in Playa Del Rey or the pleasant confines of the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company? (Thanks to Potatomato.blog for the link and image of Tanner's.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Once More, We Visit Dutton's

Writer Callie Miller at the blog LAist offers a nice, brief account of why Dutton's matters. The post includes some quality photos of the Dutton's courtyard.

California Boom!

From the Daily Breeze (So. Cal.):
California, L.A. County populations will go boom: "Los Angeles County's racial makeup is expected to change dramatically by 2050, with Latino and Asian populations doubling to account for more than 80 percent of residents as the number of whites and blacks shrinks in half.

The county's population will grow from its 2000 mark of 9.6 million to 13 million in 2050, with Latinos growing to 8.4 million, or 65 percent of the total, according to state population projections issued Monday."
All of this begs the question: where are we going to park? (Oh, and maybe too, the additional hospitals, freeways, subway terminals, apartments, houses, public service entities, and jobs?) Don't worry, the politicians are all about getting this under control, especially LA's mayor. (Viva Operation Pothole!)

Times Opinion on Dutton's

Culture wins one - Los Angeles Times:
"LOS ANGELES has a way of plowing under its landmarks. It is a corollary of our enthusiasm for the new and a consequence of our free-spirited capitalism that local institutions are sacrificed to progress. The great old steakhouses have largely faded into memory, the streetcars are garaged, the grand movie houses downtown remain mostly as relics. "
Read the rest of the op-ed here.

Soon, I'll write about the loss of the great movie houses, mentioned above.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Brentwood building owner reworks plans to retain Dutton's - Los Angeles Times

A while back, I wrote a post about Dutton's Bookstore in Brentwood (LA) and the billionaire Charles T. Munger who wanted to raze the building that Dutton's occupies to build condos and stores. This wouldn't have eliminated Dutton's, but it would have changed its footprint, which would have drastically altered the nature of Dutton's. (According to the Los Angeles Times, "With its multi-room layout, ripped carpet and overflowing shelves, Dutton's is considered by many to be a city institution and one of the nation's great idiosyncratic bookstores.")

The Times reported on Friday that Mr. Munger has changed his mind. The 60-unit-luxury condo plan is "scrapped...in favor of erecting a two-story retail complex that would retain Dutton's Brentwood Books in a new and improved space."

Mr. Munger to the Times: "Bookstores are fragile,' he said. 'Jostle them slightly and they never reopen. The best thing is to make sure it never closes.'"

Good news indeed. Bibliophiles win, perhaps for the last time.
(Photo: Doug Dutton shelves books, LA Times)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Life is Short. Art is Forever.

My wife is constantly sending me links to a blog at the San Francisco Chronicle called, The Poop. Their mission:
Take it from us. You still rock! Life doesn't have to end when you buy a minivan. So relax, mix yourself some Kahlua and Similac Advance Infant Formula™ and schedule a daily cyber-playdate with The Poop - the blog for parents of infants and toddlers in the Bay Area!
It doesn't exactly fit my demographic, as I have discovered that I definitely no longer rock (and maybe only briefly did in the late '80s). Nevertheless, The Poop's collection of writers are great wits, and I enjoyed their Friday post enough to share it here.

First a brief aside. I'm no snob when it comes to movies. Not every flick coming out of Hollywood needs to be The Godfather or The Graduate, and I find it ridiculous when people suggest otherwise. Popcorn flicks have been shown on screens since the infancy of film, and that simply isn't going to change until people stop paying to see these films. Case in point, Transformers cleaned up at the box office this weekend. I probably won't see it, but the preview looked cool, and I can understand why it might be fun. Movies should be fun, right?

However, there are some in Hollywood who simply can't manage to have common sense. How
can you spend millions on a movie and not have some person with a basic understanding of story and the English language read or write the script? How many times have you left the theater or put the Netflix back into the envelope thinking, I wasted a portion of my life on that nonsense?

Back to The Poop. On Friday, Peter Hartlaub wrote about
the upcoming "Alvin and the Chipmunks" film, which included an image from the film poster (included in full here). Hartlaub's comments are hilarious, and I'll agree that the movie poster poses some questions: Are they now moving into hip hop and away from pop standards? Do Alvin and the Chipmunks go to the Vibe Music Awards? Will their Christmas album include a cover of Run D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis?" What in high-pitched hell were they thinking?

Then again, maybe the Hollywood suits are more clever than we assume. The new look chipmunks have produced at least two blog posts. So it goes.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Summer = Steaming Wieners

Mmmmm. Look at all those steaming wieners. Do you know what they're saying? They're saying, "This is the year that Fink beats 'The Stomach'."
-Meatballs

Summer is the time for grilled and boiled meats. If you're in SoCal, that means you're heading for Pink's or Dodger Stadium for dogs. Find yourself cruising in NoCal for a steak? Chances are that you'd head to Harris or Alfred's steak house in the winter. But it's summer, dude, so you're more likely to fire up the grill and lay down that steak yourself.

I won't wax too long about great summer meats, but I will warn you that you should refrain from "competitive eating." Vallejo, California native Joey Chestnut is now the world-record holder in consuming hot dogs. I watched the YouTube video, and it made me want to gag. I thought about embedding the video here, but I'll spare you the agony.

Eating summer food should be celebrated for it's tranquil pleasure, not it's hedonistic gluttony.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

The Bear salutes all of his alert and patriotic readers on this 4th of July.



Celebrate independence!

-The Bear

Monday, July 2, 2007

Silencing Fans

In Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle there was an interesting story about fans wanting to protest Barry Bonds going to Major League Baseball games with signs, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia and being stopped at gate. According to the teams, who are responsible for items taken into the stadium, these items were in poor taste. However, according to the fans, it seems as though MLB is the one sending out an edict to teams, hoping to silence dissent. Here's MLB's response to the SF Chronicle:
"Major League Baseball has issued no edicts regarding Bonds, and each team has discretion regarding signage and fan behavior, said spokesman Pat Courtney. As Bonds has closed in on the record, security officials for Major League Baseball have held conference calls with teams hosting the Giants to discuss potential problems, Courtney said, but the teams deal with cases on an individual basis."
There seem to be no shortage of signs when the message is pro-baseball. The images here aren't exactly offensive (see photo at right from SF Chronicle), unless you're Barry Bonds. (By the way, if you don't know the story about Bonds, check out this article in Sports Illustrated. It's assumed by many that Bonds cheated or currently cheats by taking some form of steroids. He holds the single-season home run record and is on the verge of breaking the career home run record.)

Fans should speak out against MLB for not doing enough to protect the game from cheaters like Bonds. For teams to join in the effort to silence dissent is inexcusable.

MLB is not the only professional sport getting bad press these days. The NFL is under fire for not supporting retired players who are suffering from career-related injuries. (See this story in the LA Times or visit Jerry Kramer's web site for information about the Gridiron Greats program.)

I'm a fan of professional sports, and I've paid for my enjoyment of those properties. If those organizations (who have a monopoly on the product) can't find ways to provide an uncontaminated or fair product with those vast riches that they receive from fans, then I think it's right for fans and their representatives to hold the organizations accountable.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"A Place to Grow Your Music"

It's been a long time since I bought a CD from a traditional brick and mortar store. And I wasn't one of the millions to download illegally through Napster or the like. My wife is a musician (Josephine Cameron) and I know how much a professional depends on selling discs.

I continue to download from iTunes, and we both use the Rhapsody subscription service. These work fine until you want to listen to the Beatles or one of a few bands who aren't available on those services.

I needed the Traveling Wilburys and Mike +The Mechanics (okay, not to hip, but more on that later), and it's no dice with those artists on iTunes. I didn't want to pay full price, as in both instances, I was only interested in one track. I've been conditioned, like millions of others, by iTunes to demand a way to pay by track.

I read at the NY Times about a web service called LaLa.com. Here's part of what the article described:


La La Media, which operates LaLa.com and is also based in Palo Alto, is another recent darling of the Silicon Valley venture capital community, having raised $9 million since the business formed in June 2005. According to Bill Nguyen, one of the company’s founders, the site has built an inventory of two million titles since its debut in March, and every day members add 30,000 copies to the collection.

“People are starting to realize this is a really great way of finding new music,” Mr. Nguyen said.

La La charges $1 a trade — about 75 cents for postage and handling costs. The company sets aside about 20 cents for musicians who perform on the disc. “We’re a little bit commie, a little bit co-op,” Mr. Nguyen said.

Here's the deal. It's not really a trade. It's more like used music store meets Netflix. (There is such a thing for movies: Peerflix, but that's a topic for another post.) In effect, you decide to put up some, or all of your CDs available for "trade." Then you select as many CDs as you'd like to receive. LaLa finds someone who wants your CD and another person who has the CD you want. They then tell you to send your Postal Service CD (ok, I'm a little hip) to New Orleans in a pre-paid envelope and case they send to you and some hipster in Portland sends you his beloved copy of the Wilburys. You can send out more than you take in (accruing credits) or receive more (and pay LaLa for the "trade"), though they intentionally throttle your account to keep things in some kind of balance they have computed will make the LaLa universe thrive. I like the fact that they contribute a portion of the proceeds to artists (ask your local used CD shop if they do that!), and I really like that I only have to shell out a bit more than a buck for an entire cd. I digitize albums as soon as I get them, so why do I need the physical copy? Though, I do like to have the album art, which now you can specify to include or exclude in the LaLa trade. They've just moved out of beta, and they offer a whole lot more than just virtual trading (like online playlists). I haven't had time to catch on to the details, so I think a visit to the site is in order. Maybe they're ready to send me my Wilburys.

By the way, in case you think this post strays from the California theme, I should mention that LaLa is based in Palo Alto. (But you gathered as much anyway.) Though, if you're really keeping score, one of the venture capital organizations that's footing a big part of their bill is Bain Capital and they're in Boston.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Good News from Watts

My dad worked in Watts back in the day. Things were tough then, but they're tougher now. Here's a post from the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report, written by Jill Leovy, which I've written about before.
"Watts United": "A crowd of at least 100 gathered Thursday for a candlelight vigil to mark the driveby-shooting death of 15-year-old Dovon Harris in the Nickerson Gardens housing project. LAPD Southeast Capt. Rick Jacobs announced a suspect was in custody. The crowd cheered and clapped."
Some folks wrote nice responses to the post. Some others took an opportunity to comment on the reporter's note about lack of cooperation among witnesses in some urban neighborhoods. Here's part of what Leovy wrote:
It works like this: Witness reluctance affords killers impunity, and gives them power to essentially become underworld lords, ruling lawless ethnic enclaves created by the inexorable calculus of housing segregation and poverty. Within such enclaves, violence becomes a kind of currency that people ignore at their peril, and formal legal protection does not exist. Men and boys, in particular, experience extreme pressure to demonstrate they too are capable of violence. If they appear weak, they risk falling on the wrong side of the violent transactions that organize this underworld. They must walk tough, talk tough, and cultivate a reputation for being dangerous if provoked.
One snarky commenter wrote, "It is called an ANONYMOUS POLICE TIP LINE. Perhaps the people of South LA have heard of it! Pick up the phone and help the detectives out."

I'd bet that the commenter has never lived or thought about life in a place like New Orleans, Watts, or Iraq. Of course you can tip police anonymously. But that doesn't hold in court. Police need someone to stand up and point to the perpetrator. It's not the only admissible evidence, but it certainly helps to convict. I've seen it personally, and plenty of other people have seen it on TV or read about it in print. It takes enormous courage to do such a thing. You risk your life if you testify. To be so flippant about life in a war zone is just plain insensitive.

Fires Again at the Top of the Los Angeles Times

Even though we know that fire is a constant of living in California, there's no doubt that this year some of our most precious resources are being threatened. Again, in today's Times:
Tahoe fire claims at least 180 structures - Los Angeles Times
: "'It's like a 100-foot wall of flame that's marching through the forest,' said Leona Allen, communications supervisor of the dispatch center for South Lake Tahoe's fire and police departments. 'It's thick with smoke. You can't see your hand. You can't see anything across the street.

'This is the largest fire we have had in the basin since I was born here in 1960, and this is probably the worst tragedy I have ever experienced in my life,' added Allen, whose own home was among those destroyed." (Photo: LA Times)

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Course Called Ireland

Yes, this is a blog about California, but today we're taking a short diversion. Since it's Friday (when I ordinarily write about travel and getting out the door) my mind drifted to California golf courses, and when I think about golf, I often think of Tom Coyne.

Tom is a writer from Philadelphia and friend from graduate school. He's the author of two outstanding books (A Gentleman's Game: A Novel and Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play with the Pros) both related to the game of golf. Tom is as skilled in writing beautiful sentences as he is in striking the perfect drive. It's rare to read a book about sports that is as well crafted as these two.

He is currently at work on his third book, A Course Called Ireland. Tom is walking (no bus, car, trolley, horse, plane, or train) around Ireland on a quest to play and write about every links course in the country. It's a spectacular adventure, both comic and poignant. Along the way, we learn with Tom about the quality of the courses and the fine people of Ireland.

You can read about Tom's adventure before he publishes the book in Fall of 2008. He's posting stories on Golf.com and you can also watch his progress on a Google Maps mashup.

(Photo: Coyne at Mulranny Golf Links. From Golf.com)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Midwesterner Visits the West and Finds It Good

My family is mostly from the Midwest, generally from Chicago and parts of Michigan. When I was young and raised in California, I knew that I was only partially a Westerner. Our values, the food we ate, our manner and way of speaking were grafted from a different tree, despite the soil beneath us changing the way we grew.

When I met the woman I would eventually marry, I was not surprised that she was from the Midwest—northernmost Wisconsin, in particular. (A film professor explained to me that all romantic comedies are about recognition.) Soon, I would realize how different I am from a true Midwesterner. For instance, I didn't know what a pasty is. I thought tree stands were tree houses for kids. (They're actually places where drunk people sit to shoot deer). I thought the mini roads and mini traffic signs (snowmobile trails) were for short people. These were a people I had a distant connection to, but I couldn't speak their language.

That's when I truly began to appreciate A Prairie Home Companion, in particular The News from Lake Wobegon. I listened to hours of tapes and learned from the wise Garrison Keillor the ways and meanings of a somewhat foreign people. To him, and his cast and writers, I owe a great debt.

Earlier this month the PHC show was broadcast from the Greek Theater in Los Angeles (an extraordinary place to see any show). It was a special occasion because of the recent fires. It was also an opportunity for a Midwesterner, Mr. Keillor, to describe his his thoughts on the place I know so well. In addition to the show, he also wrote an op-ed piece for the LA Times. Here is a portion of his essay:
Everybody knows the comedy version of L.A. — the city of skinny tanned women, cellphones in hand, driving Suburbans the size of personnel carriers at 80 mph, taking a tiny child to the therapist to address self-esteem issues.

Those jokes play well in the flat parts of the country. A Midwesterner goes to L.A. and feels a certain sense of moral disapproval. The squalor, the opulence, the expense of natural resources to support middle-class life in an arid place, the fascination with the misshapen lives of young celebs. It isn't the Canaan it was for our grandparents. We look at it and see a rundown bungalow selling for half a million and cars inching along the 405 and say, "No thanks."

But it's good to know there's another point of view. The sun does shine there, and people enjoy their lives — the spirit of la pura vida, or the love of life for its own sake, the opposite of Calvinist America.
It is true. Midwesterners come to California and are amazed at how their bodies glow in the sunlight, the wonderful diversity of the population, and the bountiful cornucopia of art and food that the place produces. But most of them are glad to leave it. It's nice to visit, but one look at the murders on the local news, the smog obscuring our view, and the cigarette butts in the sand at the beach, and each of them smiles, and politely says, indeed, "No thanks."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fog or Shotgun: What Is an Effective Deterrent?

Lately there has been an increase in crime in my old neighborhood. Murder, house burglaries, assaults, etc. It's been bothering me to the point that last night I thought someone had broken into our house. (Note: when your hearing is as bad as mine, you'll think any creak is something much louder that you're missing.) This morning I read a post at The Hardware Aisle (one of the This Old House blogs) that may prove to be a good way to deter thieves. Or, it could be a good way to surprise your wife when she returns from the grocery store or for the kids on Halloween.

The Hardware Aisle: Let's smoke 'em out: "hit 'em with the FogSHIELD—an add-on to your home security system that releases a blinding blanket of fog to stop thieves in their tracks. When an intruder triggers the alarm, water mixes in the FogSHIELD's glycol canister to generate enough dry, non-toxic fog to cover 2,000 square feet in less than 15 seconds. It dissipates 45 minutes later, leaving your furniture unsullied and your electronics intact.
But since the $4,200 system includes a cartridge that can fire off 15 times, you may want to break into your own house once in a while—to distinguish it against real smoke, this fog has what its makers call a 'pleasant, minty aroma.'"
Then again, maybe a picture on the front door of you holding your sawed-off shotgun might be a more effective deterrent. Writer Mark Steyn believes that the low rate of burglaries in his home state of New Hampshire is inversely proportional to the high rate of gun ownership. Don't think that works in LA, though. Might just mean more guns being stolen from houses. I think I'll opt for the fog.

The Bear Returns from Hibernation


The Bear took a few days off to rest from the many house projects that have been keeping us busy.
Thanks to the Cult of Mac blog at Wired.com for the photo.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ozomatli: The Future of Rock and Roll (or Hip Hop or Funk or Salsa...)

It's been a while since The Bear wrote about Californian music. I thought about going old school with The Beach Boys, The Turtles, or some local jazz. Then I thought about going modern pop or rock, but nothing came immediately to mind. What's California sound in 2007? Then, the band that (to my ears) fits the definition of modern California sound came to mind, "Welcome to Ozomatli. Version 12.0." (From their website:)
Rested, revived, and ready for the next level.
On the surface, nothing’s changed. There’s the same core line-up, the same oppositional politics, the same live shows that erupt into drum-line blessed community parties, and the same devotion to polyglot urban sound clashing. But here’s what’s new: after 12 years of collaborative song-writing, 12 years of constant touring everywhere from Denver to Tokyo to Sydney, 12 years of supporting anti-war mobilizations and global human rights movements, 12 years of pioneering Spanish-English mash-ups of hip hop, salsa, cumbia, dub, and Middle Eastern funk, and most importantly, 12 years of facing up to internal battles and personal struggles, they’ve emerged anew with their fourth full-length studio album, Don't Mess With The Dragon, the band’s most cohesive, polished, and joyous record to date."
Some people say, "Give me just salsa or just hip hop. I don't want a blender band." I might have agreed until I heard Ozomatli perform live. First, they do each style very well. Second, their "polyglot urban sound clashing" really works. They've been doing it for over a decade, and their beat and sound is tight. No doubt, there are imitators. But if you're looking for a good band that combines many strands of contemporary Californian music, you can't go wrong with Ozomatli.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Bear Reads a Great Chicago Blog

There are many great things The Bear enjoys and loves outside of California. The Chicago Bears, of course. Chicago pizza and dogs have a special place in our arteries.

The Bear also enjoys reading Chicago blogs. My favorite is Confessions of a Trophy Husband (mydaddoesnotwork.com). There you'll read about the adventures of a typical Midwestern family, with one atypical detail: the dad stays at home (and blogs while completing domestic duties) and mom goes to work. This is increasingly more common, but it is still a strange concept to many in our culture. In fact, today, the Chicago Tribune's business section had a story about this blog, and the writer pointed out some interesting details about how our society is strangely unprepared for this idea:
[Quoting the dad,] "A dad with a child doing whatever it is, people come up and say what a great job I'm doing. Men are held to a lower standard. The expectations are low."

Still, it takes self-assurance to be the only man at a swim class where the instructor tells the children to paddle to their mommies. He often finds himself the only dad in a room full of moms who assume he is out of work.

"Women have a puzzled look even when I explain what I do, that I'm a stay-at-home dad. There are just questions. 'Did he lose his job? Is he sick?'"
I highly recommend the blog. It's funny, well-written, and it reminds you that family life has a unique beauty that should be cherished. (There's also some cool posts about music that I really dig.)

Disney Keeps the Past Alive

I think this is good news. The Disney folks would be wrong to pave over all of the old rides. Improvements are fine, but you can't underestimate the power of nostalgia.

Back from the depths - Los Angeles Times:
"It was an underwater battle of epic proportions, pitting the creative types against the cost-cutting suits. But after nearly 10 years, Disneyland's classic Submarine Voyage has been resurrected from the deep.

Reinvented as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the long-dormant and eagerly anticipated attraction immerses riders in a 12-minute journey through a coral reef, exploding volcano and shark-infested wreck as they search for the orange-and-white clown fish of movie fame. With its impressive animation and spotlessly reconditioned bright-yellow submersibles, park-goers might just forget that the area of the theme park containing the ride — which Walt Disney himself helped conceive — was nearly paved over. "

Airport in Middle Age Asks for Larger Pants

For most people, as you age, your metabolism slows, and one day you realize that none of your pants fit at the waist. What happened? Why didn't I work out more? Why did I eat all of those cheeseburgers at In-N-Out? You knew this day would come, and yet you didn't plan for it.

That's what Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is feeling now. From its humble beginnings as Mines Field to its current status as the fifth-busiest airport in the world, the airport has struggled with growth and purpose.

I mentioned in a previous post that I grew up very near the airport, and I've seen its strange progress and unbecoming aging. I've seen wide portions of neighborhoods and three holes of a golf course swallowed by airport expansion. (Westchester Dad at the Westchesterparents.org blog has some photos of the "ghost neighborhoods" at the time of their forced desertion.)

Now the airport wants to expand again. In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Jennifer Oldham wrote an article that provides a fair overview of the situation: political pressure, changes in leadership, conflicts of interest, neighborhood tensions, passenger traffic demands, questionable safety concerns, the necessity to modernize.

There is no doubt that the airport has been poorly planned, and its runways are prone (by design or user error) to accidents. It's also quite clear that it is considerably more run down than some of its nearby cousins (Phoenix, John Wayne in Orange County, San Francisco, and San Jose). Though, the next time you fly in to Dallas, Minneapolis, or Denver, consider how long it takes to get to the airport from urban areas. These places were designed with room to grow. Airports like LAX and Boston can only grow with major pains, hemmed in by poor thinking and unfortunate placement.

Friday, June 8, 2007

California Driving

An Alert reader posted a comment to Wednesday's musings on AB 493. (The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that the bill failed on the Assembly floor.) The comment suggested that the Bear take a look at the website: www.wedrivecalifornia.com.

It is a cool website; though, we should disclose that it's sponsored by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. (They didn't support AB 493, and they had a handy link to send an email to state legislators that would voice one's discontent.) Apart from lobbying (which is cool with the Bear, since they're upfront about it), the site offers some nice features. In particular, we liked the page that lists great California drives.

We also like their writing on the site's mission, titled, "California Dreaming:"
The top down on a warm summer night and nothing between you and the stars high above. The road from San Francisco to Stinson Beach. Skiing in the Sierra in the morning, replacing the skis with a surf board and heading for the evening surf in the Pacific. California dreams that can be a reality.

Welcome to WeDrive California. Here you will find information about what’s happening in California’s automotive scene. From fun events like car shows and cruises, information on taking great drives in our scenic state, to the latest news on new products, safety and technology, WeDrive California is the place you can visit to find out what’s really happening in California’s car culture.

Kudos to their copywriter.

Now, get in your car and head for the hills.

Is the "Latte Factor" Grande Logic?

The bear's sister-in-law, a recent college graduate living in one of the nation's priciest cities, forwarded to us an article in the New York Times: More Advice Graduates Don't Want to Hear by Damon Darlin (the follow-up to last year's Advice to All You Graduates: Let's Start with that Daily Latte).

I read the articles, and it's all sound advice. We recently met with the Fidelity Investments dude who handles our 401K at work, and being shown simple graphs is enough to make you want to save every penny. (Do you want to buy the used and rusty wheelchair in your retirement years, or do you want to pay for the hip replacement surgery?)

But the article was good to point out the simple fallacy of one of the writer's own arguments, described in various publications (ad nauseam) as the "latte factor":
"Other people, my wife among them, pointed out that I may have been too draconian on that [skipping the latte] point. Consistent savings is a lot easier if there are small rewards along the way; otherwise, life seems as if it is just one bowl of cold grass porridge after another."
Simply, I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from a well prepared latte. 3 dollars (not every day) is money well spent if I derive considerable pleasure from it. If you choose your indulgent choices carefully, it can be part of a well conceived budget.

I have read a handful of books and magazine articles on budgeting, investing, and creating wealth. The biggest financial mistakes you make are not going to come down to a latte unless you are making a choice between Starbucks and eating ramen. The math doesn't work. I don't care how many times I hear it, but unless you're pulling into the cafe for 7 bucks a day, you're not going to save much over a year or a lifetime. It's the large expenses in life that will drag you down if you make choices above your means.

Invest consistently, take a care of your body and mind, give to charities with your money and time, don't borrow what you can't pay back, and buy things that last. Clothing, electronics, utilities, automobiles, education, health, home or apartment: think very carefully about purchasing those things, and you'll be fine.

And if you want a cheap way to drown your sorrows over your maxed-out credit card or looming student loan payment, consider the 3 dollar latte.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

AB 493

I just received an email about a bill before the California assembly. AB 493 may go to a vote today. The bill, sponsored by Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City) would impose a fee or a rebate on new vehicles sold in California. A fee would apply to a vehicle that produces a lot of polluting emissions, and you would receive a rebate (based on a sliding scale) for cars that produce less. For instance, a Prius would get you a maximum rebate, while a Hummer would be slapped with a big fee.

The idea is right—having the market play a factor in cleaning the environment. However, in principle, I don't think that taxation (and yes, it's a tax when you impose a mandatory fee) is a good means to change behavior. Though, there should be some kind of penalty for excessive pollution. It's a tough issue.

This bill does not take into account that many who use trucks or large vehicles for work (e.g. yard crews, builders, etc.) would have to pay the penalty, nor does it address the fact that car companies are dragging their feet on lower emission vehicles (and probably, as a result, artificially inflating the cost of cars like the Prius). If a Prius cost as much as a two door coupe, then we'd see thousands of them on the road.

Burger Madness

There are burgers. And then there is the "Cadillac of fast food burgers." (Quote: Mike Cahill of Michigan) There has been much talk lately among So Cal bloggers about the best burgers to be found, since Chowhound published the Burger Hunt Map (Google map). Chowhound's focus is on non-chain burgers. Still, if I had the choice, I'd go to In-N-Out for a double-double. The fast food chain has been praised by many (including Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation). The only thing that's secret about it now (and even that's out of the bag) is the secret menu or the double-secret menu. If only they delivered!

I'd also add that I was once a big fan of the Big Wave with Cheese and the natural fries at Islands.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Blotter Buzz


I work on a small college campus in a small college town. The school newspaper and the local fish wrap each publish a police blotter—a collection of police activity for a given time period. Nothing much happens in town. Maybe a DUI or domestic disturbance. Anything more would be highly unusual and make headlines. At the college, the typical blotter item is, "3:35 AM. Campus security responds to fire alarm. Toaster is found smoking with forgotten toast. Intoxicated female student is taken to emergency room." All in all, there is not much ado.

In yesterday's Native Intelligence blog (one of the fine LA Observed contributor blogs), TJ Sullivan wrote about the lack of a comprehensive police blotter of LAPD operations. This idea was inspired by reading a column by Mariel Garza in the LA Daily News about Cal State Northridge journalism students meeting information gathering obstacles while trying to report on the LAPD. Garza's column prompted a terse response from LAPD Chief William Bratton on the LAPD blog. (Yes, they're bloggers too.)

All in all, there are interesting questions on both sides of the plate. Would the LAPD benefit by publishing more information about its proceedings? (Garza and Sullivan think so.) Does the LAPD offer some kind of comprehensive information about its operations and statistics? (Bratton thinks so.) The information sources Bratton points to are the blog, the media relations department, and LAPDonline.org (which is worth looking at from time to time, if only for the crime map).

It would be interesting to shed more light on the LAPD, but is that a practical objective?

Would such a blotter be citywide? I doubt that residents of Playa Vista are much interested in reading that officers responded to a car accident on Laurel Canyon.

Then, would it be by neighborhood? Would that local information source be redundant? (Many neighborhoods have Yahoo or other online groups where they disperse this kind of blotter-relevant information.)

I'd read such a thing, but I have an addiction to news that is bordering on unhealthy.

"Illuminating the Connection"

Politics equals money. That's what the general public, for the most part, believes. It's certainly the story line coming from most news sources, and during debate, it's what a politician will tell you guides his or her opponent's interests.

David Pogue, the eminent technology writer at the New York Times writes on his blog about a new website, Maplight.org, which claims to illuminate the connection between money and politics. The site describes itself as:
"...a groundbreaking public database, [that] illuminates the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes in unprecedented ways. Elected officials collect large sums of money to run their campaigns, and they often pay back campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws."
Maplight.org is brilliant in its simplicity (even if the website isn't—as Pogue points out—entirely intuitive or analytically complete). At present, the site includes the ability to search for information about both the U.S. Congress and the California legislature, and it aims to exhibit basically three sets of data: bills, interest groups, and legislators.

Maplight.org offers a search by bill. It shows the legislators that did want this bill to pass, the legislators that did not, and the related special interests that paid to influence each legislator. For example, I selected to review the U.S. Congress >Bills>Education>College>H.R.5 - College Student Relief Act of 2007. (N.B. I am very much interested in the issue of student loans, as Sallie Mae and her gangster thugs visit my bank account once a month to extract a large portion of my paycheck. This bill, according to GovTrack.us, has passed the house, but has not passed the senate or been signed into law. It would reduce interest rates on subsidzed student loans, which would be good. However, a vast majority of student loans are not subsidized; thus, it's only a small step in the right direction.) The bill was sponsored by George Miller, Democrat from California, who represents the 7th district—a weird blob that includes Bay Area cities from Richmond to Vacaville. (View his Maplight.org breakdown.) The bill passed with 356 Ayes, 71 Nays, and 8 no votes.

The maplight.org analysis of this bill shows that voting in Congress is more complicated than the money for votes idea that the site and writers like Mr. Pogue suggest. In this example, more money was implicitly spent opposing the issue than for it, yet the bill overwhelmingly passed. Was it conscience? Politics? (Most likely, as who could return to a home district to say they oppose helping out needy high schoolers wanting to go to college.) Nevertheless, it doesn't appear to be money, despite the paradigm that they're suggesting exits. Mr. Pogue does allude to this paradox, but hardly backs away from the correlation:
"Now, not all bills exhibit the same money-to-outcome relationships. And it’s not news that our lawmakers’ campaigns accept money from special interests. What this site does, however, is to expose, often embarrassingly, how that money buys votes."
I was going to wax about this, but I read two comments posted on Mr. Pogue's blog that address my problems with this concept perfectly:
"Almost every legitimate political scientist agrees that money does not buy votes. Think of it this way: why would an interest group donate money to a politician who doesn’t support their interests? And why shouldn’t they donate to politicians who agree with their goals? Correlation does not mean causality."
And
I believe you have drawn a false conclusion of the type 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc,' Latin for 'after this, therefore because of this.' [snip] Just because a candidate voted in favor of his or her contributor does not PROVE the money bought their vote; it merely supports the assertion.
Mr. Pogue is right about most things. In this case, he joins many others in illogically oversimplifying complex issues.

As for the remaining two data sets Maplight.org provides, you can search by legislator (e.g. search for Nancy Pelosi and see that she gets most of her special interest money from attorneys and law firms). And you can search by interest group category (e.g. Eduction).

I don't deny that money can buy votes, and there is certainly enough pork in every bill to spread the bacon wide and high. We do need to be better at holding legislators accountable, and Maplight.org is a useful tool in this pursuit. We also need to address issues with nuanced and cogent argument.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Theme Building and Encounter Restaurant

Last Friday, the always interesting blog CurbedLA offered a post (via retro_futurism) about the strange and captivating architectural delight at the center of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) known as the Theme Building (photo at left from the UCLA photo archive—see recent post). I grew up so close to LAX that I could hear the aircraft take off and land and sometimes smell the rubber from the tires hitting the landing strip. The ambient light emanating from the airfield is so bright that an eerie glow was constant at night in our neighborhood. I didn't see many stars in the heavens during my childhood. What I did see were aircraft lined in the sky to the east, approaching to land.

Living that close to the airport, we were always asked to shuttle friends and family to and from LAX. Thus, I was quite familiar with questions and comments about the Theme Building.
Does it rotate? No. Is it supposed to resemble a spider? Maybe, but probably not. Is it a movie set? No, but its exterior has been seen in probably dozens of movies and is rumored to have inspired the buildings on the TV show "The Jetsons." What's in there? A restaurant and maybe some offices and catering operations.

Most people assume it's an air traffic control tower, but never served that purpose. LAX recently built a new tower that's more obvious, so this mischaracterization will be less common. The Theme Building is tall, but it doesn't provide a view high enough for air traffic control, especially at an airport prone to runway mishaps. The view it does provide is quite compelling.

How do I get inside? Oddly, it isn't convenient from any part of the airport. A visitor has to leave a terminal, walk across many lanes of dangerous traffic, then find the elevator entrance. I've read that the original intent was to provide walkways to the structure from each terminal, and the building would have served as a hub. I'm sure that expense prevented that idea to take hold.

At present, the building is closed for renovation. According to a LAWA press release, "a 1,000-pound, 5-foot-by-10-foot piece of the stucco 'skin' was discovered to have fallen off the underside of the east upper arch," and repairs are expected to keep the restaurant closed for a while. The press release also notes some design information and history. The tops of the arches aren't structural (which is also why the damage mentioned above isn't too serious).

The release also notes that the "Theme Building was completed in August 1961 at a cost of $2.2 million. Architects Pereira & Luckman Associates, Welton Becket & Associates, and Paul R. Williams designed the building's 135-foot-high parabolic arches to symbolize the optimism of a futuristic Los Angeles in the space age. In 1992, the Los Angeles City Council designated the Theme Building a cultural and historical monument."

Have you been in there? Yes, but
not until I was in high school on a date. What's it like in there? Well, when I went there the first time, it looked different than it does now. Some entity that operates the restaurant hired Disney Imagineering designers to create a futuristic decor. The photo at right (from the retro_futurism blog) shows the results. It is a little too much to stomach, and I wouldn't suggest subjecting your rods and cones to this scene before a long flight to Hawaii or Beijing. I do wish that when I was there that I had taken the elevator to the top observation deck.

In the UCLA archive photo above, you can see the fenced observation area near the roof perimeter. It's now off limits due to post-September 11 security concerns. Bummer.

What kind of food do they serve? It's California cuisine, for the most part. What's that? Some kind of Pan Asian inspired vegetarian health food? Not exactly, but that's a good question for another post perhaps.

Can you drive me to LAX for a 5:35 AM flight to Amsterdam and then pick me up at midnight next week? No. Call Super Shuttle.

For more information about the building and its history, visit the Encounter Restaurant website or read a bit more about the development of the design and some of the architects at Wikipedia. Also, more links to photos here and here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Jazz Bakery

Are you a "Big Butter and Egg Man?" (N.B. That's a reference to a Louis Armstrong tune.) Then you need to head out on your next date to the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. The place is no longer a bakery (it's in part of the old industrial Helms Bakery). From the Jazz Bakery web site:
"...a serious, no-frills, seven-nights-a-week nonprofit listening room of international renown, where everybody who’s anybody has played; where iconic musicians turn up as regularly in the audience as on the bandstand; where just ascending the stage is a sure sign that you’ve made it into the music’s highest ranks." (from Brandt Reiter, LA Weekly, "The House that Ruth Built")

Friday, May 25, 2007

UCLA Digital Photo Archive - Waste Hours at Work

Every LA blogger and their mother has contributed a post about the UCLA photo archive: Changing Times: Los Angeles in Photographs, 1920-1990. Here's my obligatory contribution.

I read about the archive first at LA Observed: New toy for L.A. buffs, and I have admit that I've spent many hours searching for interesting photos. Every query has provided something interesting, and each query seems to lead down another fascinating path. The photos are licensed under the Creative Commons, so we're free to post images.

Here's one of Bing and his wife Kathy relaxing at Pebble (oddly, came up from a search for LAX).

Aerospace Dollars at Work

I've always been a fan of NASA the aerospace industry, and today I read post on Metroblog Los Angeles that shows an image of the Catalina fire from space (provided by Bigelow Aerospace). Cool stuff. Visit the blog below for the image:
Metroblogging Los Angeles: Catalina Fire from Space: "Chris Reed from Bigelow Aerospace sends in this pic (click the above for much larger full version) of the fire on Catalina island, taken from space. He writes:

'We've put on our Web site a new image beamed down from Genesis I that shows a smoke plume emanating from the island of Santa Catalina off of the Southern California coast on May 11. More than 4,000 acres burned in the fire that forced the island's evacuation and threatened the famed tourist town of Avalon.'"

Shipwreck and Spanish Gold!

Friday's posts have recently turned to stories about pirating. Well, I'm always in the search for booty! (Image below: AP)


NPR and Associated Press report this week described one gigantic haul:
Deep-sea explorers who found what could be the richest-ever shipwreck treasure said Monday that the reaction to their discovery has overwhelmed them. Meanwhile, claims on the loot started coming in even as they were exploring new waters — television and movie deals.

Odyssey Marine Exploration on Friday announced the recovery of more than 500,000 Colonial-era silver and gold coins possibly worth $500 million. The exploration company from Tampa has withheld details about the shipwreck, where it was found or even what kind of coins they had hauled back.

The piece reports that the Odyssey's co-founder was in Los Angeles meeting with Disney execs to sell the movie rights. I thought that was odd, since if you suddenly found yourself 500 mil richer, would you bother with the movie rights?

It turns out, the Odyssey and her crew might not be able to keep the riches. National Geographic reports that Spain is suing for ownership of the shipwreck's contents based on the Law of the Sea Convention, "enacted by the United Nations in 1982 and applies to shipwrecks found on the high seas, which are outside the jurisdiction of any government. The Convention, supported by 150 nations, recognize countries ownership of their sunken vessels."

If I were the Odyssey and her crew, I'd find an island somewhere to get lost, and then I'd send Spain a letter saying, "Come and find us with your navy, if you still have one. Best regards, Blackbeard"

Lest you think I forgot to mention a travel item (that being the thing I do on Fridays), SFist, one of the fine blogs from the Gothamist city blog collection, recently posted a story about a shipwreck that's so near the coast, that once in a while, tide and surf expose the remains of the ship.
Shipwreck'd At Ocean Beach: "The King Philip is usually underneath the sand, but was revealed once before in the 1980 El Nino. It's still visible as of the running of the story, but may get buried under the tide any moment now. So go check it out!
There are over 100 shipwrecks in the waters off the San Francisco Bay Area coast, including the Tennessee, a Gold Rush steamboat that sank in 1853 near Marin City, the Reporter, a schooner that sank in 1876 and whose remains are intermingled under 5 feet of sand with the King Philip on Ocean Beach, and the City of Rio de Janiero, which sank in 1901 off Point Diablo."
Happy Memorial Day and Happy Treasure Hunting!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

KXLU 88.9

Everybody knows about KCRW, and if you're in Southern California, you also know about KPCC and KKJZ (which I have written about here). All are exemplary models of public radio.

But have you listened to KXLU? Their website isn't as glamorous, and I bet their broadcast reach isn't as broad as the stations mentioned above. What KXLU can offer is good music (much of it local in origin) from knowledgeable staff. In fact, they sometimes air my wife's music (Josephine Cameron), which by that fact alone pushes KXLU ahead of the competition. (One of these days the other stations will come to their senses and regularly spin her tunes.)

Listen now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Book Heritage and Preservation in Los Angeles

In a state and country that is so young, we are often troubled to see places and buildings that are relatively young razed and demolished for something new and ordinary. We're surprised by a longing for the look of something built in 1950, maybe even 1970.

On a walk through the heart of Dublin, Ireland, I saw a memorial to the city's celebration of its millennium as a city. It's easier to define something as historic if it's been around since Ptolemy was writing history.

Thus, many in Los Angeles are perplexed when it comes to preserving places and things in our midst. We sound foolish demanding to preserve drive-in movie theaters, mom and pop restaurants, Griffith Park, or countless other mid-twentieth century places, but I absolutely sympathize.

Cut to present-day, Brentwood, a neighborhood of west Los Angeles, California.

Dutton's Bookstore (map), on San Vicente, between Bundy and Montana, is found in a rather ordinary building (despite comments below)—a flat stucco facade on a basic rectangular structure. There is a pleasant courtyard that sits in the middle of three sections of the store. Still, it is a rare gem in the decimated landscape of literary emporiums.

Dutton's is rare because it is a bookstore interested in books and authors. The staff is interested in books, the management is interested in getting you books that are not just best sellers (but are maybe classics, or of local interest, or just good reading). They host author readings and literary book groups.

They aren't interested in providing couches for you to lounge upon (did I mention that they're actually interested in selling real books?!) because they want to use their precious space for books. Though, they do have a cafe.

I know all of this to be true because my brother worked at Dutton's, and we're still patrons when we're in LA. My brother is a writer who was completing his Master's degree (with a Bachelor's in English) when he worked there (i.e. he was an intelligent resource), and yet there were co-workers who would regularly astonish him with their book knowledge. (I once went into a Border's looking for Joan Didion, and the clerk couldn't spell her last name.) Dutton's isn't a gem merely because it's independent. I worked as a clerk at an independent bookstore, and while the staff was better than average, the store was not interested in selling books. They had far more interest in getting customers to buy food in the cafe and buying trinkets and greeting cards. What resembled a bookstore was a collection intended to match the bestseller list rather than inspire or establish sufficiency. They didn't even stock The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now, whenever I want to judge a bookstore, I make sure to see if Tom and Huck are on the shelf.


Why does Dutton's matter? Why bring it up in a post about preservation? Well, it turns out that the bookstore leases its space from Charles T. Munger, present owner of the building. According to an article on January 17 in the LA Times, Mr. Munger is...
...a founder of the Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson who partnered in 1978 with Warren E. Buffett to run Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a holding company; Munger's shares are worth $1.7 billion. He had been a partner with his brother-in-law, David Barry, in the San Vicente property but recently bought him out.

Munger, 83, has big plans for the property, which runs from the former Bonner School to Longs drugstore and includes del Mano Gallery and several small businesses and offices.

"It's the ultimate redevelopment site," Munger said, adding, "We've always been straight with Doug [Dutton, owner of the bookstore] and told him the property would be developed in due course. The more time goes by, the closer we are to due course."
This news came shortly after Dutton's Books and Art on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Dutton's Beverly Hills closed. Los Angeles bibliophiles came out and voiced their concern and pledged to preserve the last Dutton's. Because of the posh locale, many of these patrons are Hollywood and LA elite. Thus, their protest attracts attention. Furthermore, there is recent news that the building may be classified as a historic site. Historic review for Dutton's site - Los Angeles Times:
Four commissioners voted to follow a staff recommendation that the building warranted further investigation as a well-preserved example of mid-20th century California modern architecture. A fifth commissioner, Carlos Singer, recused himself because of his friendship with David Barry, the man who commissioned the building in 1950 and recently sold it.

Dutton's 'represents a wonderful, cherished community center,' said [architectural photographer Julius] Shulman, 96. 'There should not be a debate.'

The home to Dutton's since 1984, the building is organized around a central courtyard that has long been a neighborhood gathering spot and the setting for hundreds of book signings by the likes of Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe and the late Kurt Vonnegut.

The applicant in the case is Diane M. Caughey, a daughter of Milton H. Caughey, the modernist architect who designed the building on San Vicente Boulevard.
I do cherish Dutton's, and I do want to preserve California architecture. I'm not sure if this building is the best case for preservation (i.e. the building itself), but I do hope that the literary establishment based there is preserved. Whether the building as it stands is necessary for that to endure, is part of the question. Nevertheless, we do tear down far too much history in California, and it is up to us (as patrons and citizens) to hold the line.

I am surprised that this gentleman, Mr. Munger, is at all interested in real estate development at this stage in his life. He's wealthy and has established his legacy. Why the battle to put up condos? If I had his fortune, I'd leave Dutton's as is. Only I'd build a massive river ride that docked at Dutton's cherished courtyard. It would be a literary journey upon a waterway that resembled the mighty Mississipp. Patrons would ride for free on river rafts, guided by actors portraying Tom, Huck, Jim, maybe even Aunt Sally, who would regale us with tales and suggestions for great reading.

An LA Times reader, M.T. Gyepes, from Pacific Palisades wrote to the Op Ed page this note, which I think says it all quite well: "Ah, the sadness and the sorrow of it all; poor L.A. -- so much money, so little refuge."

Ahoy! We Return to Santa Catalina

Many years ago, at home from college one summer, I was invited with friends to boat from Marina Del Rey to Catalina Island. I knew nothing of the boat, nor the particulars of the voyage, but I sort of trusted our captain, Wayne, and the conveyance looked seaworthy. This craft was a speed boat Wayne had purchased with his dad at a police auction. (It was not hard to imagine that it was used in the Mexican drug trade, as secret compartments were aplenty.) Our voyage was delayed by the Coast Guard pointing out that we lacked some paperwork or license (though we did have the proper number of life preservers). We set out from MDR after dark. Wayne said all we needed to get to Catalina was to stay on a particular compass reading and we'd reach the island (some 30 miles away in the dark). We were near full throttle, about a mile out, when Wayne noticed that we were not planing, as a speedboat should. I took the helm (gulp!), and Wayne opened the engine compartment. Wayne shouted to us something, but I could not hear what he said. I could see my brother's reaction and soon realized we were in trouble. In fact, we were fast taking on water. This was not good. Wayne signaled for me to cut the engine, and he ran to activate the bilge pump. In that brief moment of quiet, before we started cursing out Wayne, I looked back to the distant lights on shore. If we had to ditch the boat, I knew I could swim that distance. But it would not be easy. I had done it once before, to achieve the mile swim badge as a Boy Scout at Camp Emerald Bay in Catalina (during and following which I experienced mild hypothermia due to the cold water currents around the island). Lucky for us, we chugged back into harbor, safe but somewhat timid of sea voyages.

The good news is that one does not have to endure such travails to get there and back again.

How can I get to Santa Catalina Island?
  • Let's begin with the fastest way: helicopter. I've heard that Hollywood executives sometimes chopper to the airport for an afternoon lunch of buffalo burgers at the Buffalo Springs Station restaurant. Round trip chopper fare to the Airport in the Sky is only $156+tax on Island Express Helicopters. The "Big Buffalo" ("a third pound, all natural buffalo burger served on grilled sourdough") is only $8.75.
  • There are passenger ferries that operate out of San Pedro (I think this is the most common port of call), Long Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, and Marina Del Rey (Catalina Express, Catalina Explorer, Catalina Flyer, or Marina Flyer), but be sure to make a reservation well ahead of time for a specific departure time and site. We tried planning a trip out of another location once on a new ferry service, and they canceled just before the trip due to "mechanical problems." I gathered that it was more due to not enough passengers booking on the new ferry, so they decided that it wasn't worth buying the fuel to take us over. I'm reluctant to name the company, just to give them a small benefit of the doubt. But I bet there are others who have had a similar experience.
  • Of course you can get to the island via your own private boat or aircraft. (Check each link for details.) Be sure to trust your captain or pilot. According to the Chamber of Commerce there are "approximately 400 moorings at Avalon, [and] approximately 720 moorings elsewhere in Catalina, including 249 at Isthmus Cove."
When to go?
  • As soon as possible.
  • I've heard that the one of the best things Western Civilization has to offer is Buccaneer Days at Catalina. This year, on October 6th, they're planning the 18th annual event. I've never been, but common lore is that everyone on land or sea dresses up as pirate, and there is much gallivanting going on.
  • According to the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau the weather is mostly sunny:
    Temperature and rainfall vary in different parts of Catalina but U.S. Weather Bureau records have general application to the entire island. Based on these records: Sunny or partly sunny days average of 267 per year. June through October, average Avalon high temperature is 76.1 degrees; average low is 58.4 degrees. November through May, average high is 63.2 degrees; average low is 49.4 degrees. Rainfall averages approximately 14 inches per year, nearly all of it occurring between mid-October and mid-April. Generally speaking, the daytime temperature rarely goes above 80 degrees in the summer, below 50 degrees in the winter. Water temperature ranges from 64 to 73 degrees in the summer and 54 to 59 degrees in winter.
What to do?
  • Most everyone starts in Avalon, but to be honest, I've never been. I've always avoided that side of the island. I've arrived at Two Harbors or the Boy Scout camp and explored from there.
  • Catalina is a very popular hiking and camping spot.
  • Avalon offers most amenities you can find at any tourist destination.
Why isn't this the most popular destination in Southern California?
  • My guess is that it's difficult to get to, there are no theme park rides (which I have nothing against theme parks—to each his own), and it's a little pricey to get yourself onto the island and full of food and drink once you're there. We always carry in what we need, for the most part, but that's difficult too.
Aren't the locals and other travelers going to be upset that you're reporting on their well kept secret?
  • Maybe. But to keep the numbers down, I must disclose that there are rattlesnakes on the island. I've never seen one there (though, I have seen one in the hills around San Diego, and we cooked that sucker on the barbecue. It tastes like shrimp, but maybe that's because we sautéed it in butter and garlic).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh Bother!


The Bear at Alert the Bear is good friends with Winnie the Pooh (old school Pooh, not the cheap imitation you see claiming to be PB today). First, Pooh is disenfranchised from the right to define his legacy by the good folks at Disney, and now he has to deal with missing honeybees due to Colony Collapse Disorder. The Bear is definitely on alert!

CCD has been covered by all of the major news organizations, but we, as consumers, don't seem to be alarmed. Supermarkets are still stocked with reasonably priced fruits. Bees are essential to the pollination of flowering vegetation. Nature supplies sufficient bee populations for this to occur without much trouble. Commercial agriculture, on the other hand, has been using commercial bee populations (that travel coast to coast, depending on the growing season) to pollinate. In fact, there are some producers that use pesticide to keep away native bees (e.g. seedless fruit products). I met a beekeeper, Erin Forbes of Overland Honey, this weekend, and she explained that among small beekeepers, they believe the problem to be, quite simply, tired and overworked bees. A story in today's LA Times somewhat agrees:
The only thing that all of the problem hives seem to have in common is that they were experiencing periods of "extraordinary stress" due to poor nutrition or drought.

If the hives are already weakened, factors that otherwise might not be fatal could have disastrous effects.
The good news in the article is that scientists and beekeepers don't seem to be as alarmed now as they have been in recent weeks. In fact, many commercial producers are reporting potentially record crops.

The apiaries are telling us to ask some questions. We need to think more about how we get food to our table. How is commercial growing affecting the environment? How are pesticides and stressed animal and insect populations going to change the way we grow and raise food? How different will the food on the table be in ten or twenty years?

If all of this is too much to handle, I suggest spending some time with our friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Governor and Pols Survey Griffith Park Damage and Tourists Return to Catalina

This morning I came across the Los Angeles Times: Political Muscle Blog written by Robert Salladay. In the blog, he quotes a report by Dana Bartholomew of the LA Daily News:
"'Schwarzenegger, accompanied by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Tom LaBonge, emerged from his van on the south slope of Griffith Park, directly above a historic nursery saved by firefighters.

'He trudged slowly, thoughtfully, silently, inhaling the pungent remains of what had once been lush ceonothus, toyon and sage.

'For nearly 100 feet, he walked, looking at scorched earth and listening to LaBonge's much-repeated description of how 'the fire danced like Mick Jagger on stage - boom, boom, boom!' How fire roared Tuesday toward Loz Feliz, threatening such mansions as the Lautner home once featured in 'L.A. Confidential.' How the fire had turned around and raced up Mt. Hollywood, torching Dante's View and its tree-lined garden. And how water-dropping helicopters had worked through the night to save the day.

'The governor then praised the work of firefighters who had coordinated their efforts to save some of the city's most famous landmarks, including the Griffith Observatory and the L.A. Zoo.

' 'This is amazing,' Schwarzenneger said, looking toward downtown L.A. in the distance. 'It (the fire) actually stopped there. This is the work of the firefighters. If you think about it, we had this really incredible fire ... and it didn't take everything out. Then he pointed to a partially burned oak and added: 'This is "
Schwarzenneger is right to praise the firefighters. Catalina is dangerous terrain for fighting fires. Though, it seems as though the locals treated the crews well.

But those fighting the Catalina fire may long remember this blaze — and not just because it was a life-or-death struggle against the elements.

Tired they may be, after three days of battling the inferno that at one point loomed ominously over the resort town of Avalon and its picturesque harbor. But with the blaze now well in hand, some firefighters christened it with a new name — the Ten-Pound fire.

That's how much weight the firefighters jokingly said they've gained, thanks to the generosity of island merchants. Instead of their usual spartan fare while manning the fire lines, they feasted on tri-tip steak Saturday night.

Still, even as the firefighters got a little relaxation, the narrowness of the resort island's escape from catastrophe was written into the hills framing the town as the sun rose Sunday morning. They were an ashy, dusky gray. Burned evergreens drooped lifelessly, and the thick carpet of cactus and scrub that once covered the hillsides was charred to blackened stalks.

One home was lost in the fire, along with six out-buildings back in the brush.
And finally:
Elsewhere on Catalina on Monday, life was continuing to return to normal. Tourists were trickling back to the island, and firefighters were leaving. Many left with leis made of sea shells or bright ribbons around their necks.

Debbie Avellana, owner of Debbie's Island Deli, stood by the dock to give the leis to the firefighters "as a token of my gratitude and the overall feelings of the people on this island."
I bet the next time things turn dangerous on Catalina, the firefighters will not forget how well they were treated.