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 Here's part of what the article described:

La La Media, which operates 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 and you can also watch his progress on a Google Maps mashup.

(Photo: Coyne at Mulranny Golf Links. From

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 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 ( 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 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:

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 (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,, 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." 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. 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, 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 breakdown.) The bill passed with 356 Ayes, 71 Nays, and 8 no votes.

The 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."
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 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 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.