David Mertz

15 Authors

November 4, 2010 at 1:02 pm

OK, I hate the chain letter stuff, but this one seems bearable.  And thanks to Dawn Finley for the infection:

 

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what authors my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note).

 

Karl Marx

Franz Kafka

Victor Nabokov

Slavoj Žižek

Kathy Acker

William S. Burroughs

Gilles Deleuze

Friedrich Nietzsche

Hakim Bey

Donna Haraway

Georges Bataille

Willard Van Orman Quine

Theodor Geisel

Kurt Vonnegut

Jacques Lacan

Is Target anti-gay?

July 28, 2010 at 8:50 pm
Th "Target is anti-gay" story amounts to less than the buzz seems to be making it out as. I don't think Target did well in its donation, but here's the actual story, which involves a lot of guilt-by-association rather than direct politics of the corporation.

Target gave a big chunk of money to "Minnesota Forward", which is a bi-partisan "pro-business" group. Not good people particularly, but just sort of run-of-the-mill Chamber-of-Commerce style capitalists.

Minnesota Forward in turn has donated some money (not that whole $150k by any means) to Gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer is a mainstream Republican, with all the bad things that comes with. Anti-choice; anti-gay in a sort of average Catholic way; mostly just capitalist boosterist in the sense of being against taxes and regulation on businesses.

Tom Emmer, in turn, has had a really nasty right-wing Christian Rock band play at some of his rallies, and has said in vague terms that the band are "nice guys." Bradlee Dean, the lead singer of the band has gone on with lots of hateful anti-gay ranting, but his connection with Emmer is passing, they aren't BFFs.

I hardly think Target is a paragon of progressive values, but it's hard to imagine that any of us would come out very well in such a guilt-by-association game. Pick the most right-wing friend or relative you have. Now pick the most right-wing friend or relative *they* have. Is it really fair to hold someone to account for this really horrible friend-of-a-friend they have?!
Bennelong Bicyclist Surely no self-respecting person of a homosexual persuasion would be seen dead wearing anything from Target?
July 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm
Phoebe Churches ahem - their boys wear is very lesbian friendly
July 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist I'm a lumberjack and that's OK? Gotta love their check flannel shirts and desert boots...
July 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm
Meagan Thompson-Mann You're overlooking their Mizrahi diffusion line, a common enough mistake.
July 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

My talk at PyCon 2010

June 1, 2010 at 10:40 am
Just a glorified bookmark here. Videos of PyCon 2010, including my talk on "Maximize your program's laziness", are available online. Mine is: http://pycon.blip.tv/file/3259746/
Bennelong Bicyclist I had a look: I liked all the references to unladen swallows and coconuts.
June 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist By way of explanation: on the iPhone, tapping on what appears to be your talk actually plays some chap from Google talking about Python compilers. Time for an Android phone?
June 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist Based on the observations that most computers spend two-thirds of their day doing not much, that modern key-value stores work very well and are easy to use, and that unbacked-up disc storage is very cheap (even when hosted in a data centre), we have become fans of intelligent industriousness, in which usage patterns of expensive queries and computations are analysed and then similar queries or computations, or partials of them, are pre-computed overnight. An example: in a large complex dataset which resides in an SQL database (PostgreSQL) but is queried and manipulated as Python class instances via an object-relational map (SQLalchemy), it is delightfully easy to create very complex derived attributes on classes as properties, but subsetting the dataset on such a run-time computed property is very slow.
June 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist One solution is to define the computed property in the afternoon, then pass it to a class method that concretises it overnight by writing the computed values to a column in one of the back-end tables, together with metadata to allow the dependencies of that materialised column to be tracked and the column flagged as invalid and needing re-computation as required. But maybe this overnight industriousness can be combined with a lazy promise class?
June 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist Yup, I now have some complex, expensive-to-compute properties on an PostgreSQL-backed dataset class which return either the computed results if available, or a Promise to compute them at the earliest possible convenience of the server on which they are hosted. Just need to work out how to revert concretised values to a Promise when any of the dependencies of the property change. The technique seems to have, err, promise...
June 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm
David Mertz @Bennelong: Btw. I hadn't commented on this series of comments on my link to my PyCon talk. But it really looks like you've done some cool stuff with "laziness" in RDBMS queries that would be very useful. If you happen to have any public code around this sort of thing, I might be able to use it in a future talk, or perhaps even in the forthcoming 3rd Edition of _Python Cookbook_.
June 6, 2010 at 8:55 pm
Bennelong Bicyclist It is all a bit specific to the data with which we are working at the moment, but I dare say we could abstract out something a bit more generic in due course.
June 7, 2010 at 12:25 am

Too Sexy for Beverly Blvd

October 14, 2009 at 5:34 am

I have fond memories of the boxy Volvo’s I used to own. And probably less fond ones of seeing the Playboy sticker outlines on truck mudflaps. Somehow I wouldn’t have thought to combine the two.


I guess it’s the neighborhood. I am not sure whether the driver ahead of me on La Cienega was heading to the vegan Real Food Daily restaurant, or perhaps to the Live Nude Girls Girls Girls strip club, since they are right across the street from each other.

Christina Wilson The rest of the decals, too, on the back of the Volvo, along w/ the sexy silhouette girl, go to provide a kind of Gestalt impression of the driver.
October 14, 2009 at 8:09 am
Susan Jane Urbanski I want mudflaps that have outlines of muscular men with enormous erections.
October 14, 2009 at 8:18 am
Joshua Tuberville Susan see http://www.mudflapboy.com/
October 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm
Sharon Wright After I saw spinners on a Mercedes Benz E class, I know people will do anything.
October 14, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Dressing for the H-Bomb

September 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm

As the Station Fire still lingers over these last weeks, only now finally almost fully contained, I’ve pointed many folks to the dramatic images of the pyrocumulus clouds that have come out of it, especially the time-lapse images of these clouds developing. Like many folks new to having such large fires quite so close, I only learned about the pyrocumulus mechanism with this fire. One thing that is dramatic in this phenomenon (apart from the sufficiently dramatic itching eyes, headaches, and sore throats that all my friends seem to share) is its striking resemblance to an H-Bomb blast.


I am not the first to note this resemblance, of course. Not even the first Metblogs author to do so. Nor the first to think and write about the identity of the thermodynamic mechanism of the formation of an H-Bomb’s mushroom cloud over the course of seconds, and the fire’s formation of one over the course of days or weeks.


<span id="more-34352"></span>One thing I have not seen specifically compared, however, is the scale of the two events. I figured it was time to grab the back of an envelope. Just how much explosive power is a megaton of TNT, as the bombs are measured? Well, it turns out that the National Institute of Standards and Technology has actually defined the canonical yield of a gram of TNT as 4,184 joules. Grams add up to kilograms, kilos to tons, and tons to megatons. Simple enough multiplication. What about fires? Just how much flammable material is there in 160,357 acres? What is the energy content of that material when burned? Lots of web sources helped me find approximate values all around, and multiply lots of numbers together. Sparing readers most of the steps, my not-completely-wild-assed estimate here is that the Station Fire amounted to the same energy yield as 3 megatons of TNT. Not the biggest H-Bomb built, but solidly in H-Bomb territory.


What does it all mean? I dunno.


Somehow the equivalence, however, makes me think of a point made by Thom Andersen, in Los Angeles Plays Itself, which I had the pleasure of seeing a few weeks ago at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, with live questions and answers with the writer/director. Andersen observes, among many things in his essay-as-film, how often Los Angeles plays the scene of post-apocalyptic disaster, and how well suited to this role are the desolate downtown neighborhoods such as Bunker Hill. Part of this type casting is, no doubt, a certain Weltanschauung of audiences and producers about Los Angeles. Andersen notes,


Mike Davis has claimed that Hollywood takes a special pleasure in destroying Los Angeles, a guilty pleasure shared by most of its audience. The entire world seems to be rooting for Los Angeles to slide into the Pacific or be swallowed by the San Andreas fault.


However, beyond the appeal of German words (Schadenfreude comes to mind here as well), there is a whole lot Los Angeles does to choose its roles, and type cast itself. The first times I ever walked around Downtown at night, I was shocked, perhaps mortified, at what appeared to every examination, to be the ruins of a once populated and great city. But a city that had been stripped of its inhabitants, leaving only vacated concrete and steel. I’ve lived in small towns that closed at 9:00 p.m.; somehow I didn’t expect the second largest city in the United States to be one of them. A slow motion Armageddon is just, like, totally L.A. Or in a line from Buffy, “I never thought I’d need to learn the plural of apocalypse.”


Andersen continues:


The end of Bunker Hill is visible in The Omega Man. By 1971 it made a good location for a post-apocalyptic fantasy. Charlton Heston plays an urban survivalist in a cityscape depopulated by biological warfare. He has learned to become totally self-reliant. If he wants to see a movie, he has to project it himself. [...]


Thirteen years later, the same plot and the same location reappear in Night of the Comet. In the wake of a disaster apparently brought on by comet dust, a small band of human survivors again battle zombie-like mutants, but the center of the action, Bunker Hill, has been totally transformed.The new Bunker Hill looks like a simulated city, and it played one in Virtuosity.


Was it Hollywood that started the Station Fire, as a means to insist that life must follow its “art?!”

Fit to be Tied in LA

September 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Note: It looks like Mrs. Lulu has snuck into the blogosphere again.


Once again I find myself in a dispute with LA Fitness’ business office.


[EDIT: I am in such strong agreement with Mrs. Lulu's rant here that I'd love to see all our readers share their "my gym screwed me" stories in the comments. I think this is an industry-wide pattern of lying to-- and screwing-- customers. If you have an experience like Mrs. Lulu's, read on & let us know. --Lucinda.]


The second time in my husband’s and my two year membership. The first time there was a problem was when he tried to quit his personal trainer contract after the so-called trial period was up. They simply ignored our written and phone requests and continued to bill my credit card. Even after speaking to one of their reps (not an easy feat to accomplish), two more months of illegitimate billing went by before I disputed the charges with my credit card company and got (partial) satisfaction.<span id="more-34324"></span>


Now the same thing is happening with our regular membership. First, let me explain why we’re quitting, as it will give an indication of the quality of the company’s customer service. This post is not a criticism of the facility, nor of the helpful, energetic and cheerful fitness professionals who work there. We always had a great time with our actual work-outs and classes. It is the corporate division with whom I have a beef. I called them in March to try to re-negotiate our contract when I noticed that they were advertising a special at a lower rate than we were paying. I was told that the special was for new members only, but that if I wanted to save money I could drop the towel fee of $10/mo I was paying for my husband and myself. Towel fee?! I had no idea I was paying such a thing, having never been offered, nor even seen, a towel at my gym. I wasn’t told of this fee when I signed up, nor was it made explicit anywhere on my contract. So, great, I had been paying $20/mo for 20 months for something I never wanted, didn’t know I had, and had never used. Any chance for a refund of part of this? Ha, ha, ha. At that point, I decided to look for another gym.


Now to quit. Chastened and hyper-careful after the above experience, I called to make sure my reading of the fine print instructions for quitting in the contract was correct before I even began the process. Since I had monthly billing charged to my credit card, and we had paid the last month’s dues upon membership (along with an initiation fee

and first month’s dues), we were not able to quit until two months after I started the ball rolling (to use a fitness metaphor). I called in early April and since I needed to provide them with 30 days written notice, my automatic payment for May would be deducted on April 25th as usual. Then we had another month to go since we had already paid for the last month; our membership wouldn’t end until the end of June. The fact that we were traveling most of May and June and couldn’t used the gym was of course beside the point, but okay, I understood that contractual obligations are contractual obligations, without which society and culture would fall apart as no one could trust another’s word; dark ages would inevitably follow, wherein the life of man in the City of Angels would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Btw, I’ve always found it ironic that Tom Hobbes lived to the age of 91 (he must have had a gym membership), but I digress.


But the infuriating part comes next. I wrote a letter stating that I was resigning my “family membership for my husband and myself” effective ASAP. I included the membership number on my contract, signed, dated, stamped and mailed it. Taken care of, right? Wrong. After traveling most of the summer, I last week finally got around to checking my bills carefully. Lo and behold, I was continuing to be billed, but only for one, rather than two, memberships. So I called and here’s what I was told by Christine, the member service manager. My letter was interpreted as meaning that I wanted to cancel for myself but not for my husband. I pointed out that I clearly stated I was canceling for both and she retorted that I should have written two separate letters and had my husband sign the second one. I again explained that I had one contract and that payment was made for both memberships by me on my credit card and that the letter clearly stated I was canceling both. She said that I should have known they wouldn’t read the text of the letter and that she could not credit the charges (but would be happy to cancel my membership now). I kid you not, she said I had no right to expect that my two sentence letter would be read and that therefore I hadn’t really cancelled my husband’s membership. I sent her a copy of the letter and another demand that she credit the charges, but she has not responded. So I again have disputed the charges with my credit card.


Is there a moral to this story? Maybe it’s that jocks can’t read? Or that once fitness becomes a habit, it’s hard to quit? Or that “throwing in the towel” is sometimes for the best? But for me, it’s that we should fight capitalist greed, even in small ways, stand up for ourselves against big corporations, and go see Michael Moore’s new movie.

The Future of Voting Systems in Los Angeles County

September 19, 2009 at 12:40 am

Apart from my other jobs, I moonlight as a wonk. In particular, for the last 6 years or so, I’ve been involved with a group called the Open Voting Consortium, much of that on its board and as its CTO. With that hat on, I am enormously excited that Los Angeles County is likely to get much better voting systems in the relatively near future.


Let me give the brief plug: we want to make sure that no one has to vote on proprietary DRE voting machines (or ever does voluntarily, for that matter). There are two glaring flaws in these systems: the source code is secret (so-called trade secrets), and both accidental flaws and deliberate vote tampering is both possible and has likely happened; a voter has no means to inspect the recorded vote before casting it (other than a machine telling them, “trust us, we’ll put the right electrons somewhere”).<span id="more-34067"></span>The right system is an Electronic Ballot Printer, which is basically to say just a computer-assistive device to help mark a ballot that a voter can inspect physically before casting. The paper is crucial because voters and poll workers can easily and reliably understand both that and why they are secure and accurate. Using computers is also important though, because it enables independent and anonymous voting by persons with disabilities (especially, but not only, blind and visually impaired voters), enables multi-lingual ballot presentation, and reduces overvoting, undervoting, and other errors in capturing voter intent.


The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Dean Logan, held an all-day symposium yesterday, entitled Technology, Diversity, Democracy: The Future of Voting Systems in Los Angeles County. This was a really wonderful effort that shows the best of our government officials. Registrar Logan has a commitment to getting input from the range of stakeholders in this process, while simultaneously understanding well the technical and political issues involved. The meeting was composed of… well, lots of wonks like me, but ones from the right range of walks of life. The disability rights community was well represented; as were LA-based voter groups (such as advocates for diverse ethnic and linguistic groups that need ballot access); and a good number of the nation’s top cryptography and political science thinkers about voting we in the mix for good measure.


The Registrar-Recorder staff, many of whom I had the chance to speak with, were well prepared and well-informed in their role of facilitating the symposium. Unfortunately, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, although scheduled to participate, was unable to attend–it’s too bad because she is really one of the good guys in relation to openness and transparency in government. It was also nice to hear Election Assistance Commissioner Donetta Davidson speak though, and I was delighted that I happened to have the chance to talk with her at breakfast, before the formal sessions.


This is all a bit technical, as good news goes. And nothing is announced (or developed) yet, in any case. But I encourage readers to become informed on this, and bring with the process a dose of optimism that hasn’t been possible for a few years. Read OVC’s site for background information, and also take a look at the Registrar-Recorder’s website. Provide feedback to the Registrar-Recorder as this process unfolds (information will be posted over time, and voter feedback is essential to our future democracy).

An odd creature

September 13, 2009 at 8:52 am
Copying from something I put at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Lulu_of_the_Lotus-Eaters/odd_creature long ago. Formatting and links cleaned up slightly, I'd be interested still in insight about this.

-----
Some months ago I created the article List of every Wikipedia list that does not contain itself. This is in the spirit of part of the discussion in this article, the more precise in the self-reference. In any case, it simply redirects to Russell's paradox; it might be something like a slight Easter egg on Wikipedia, but please leave it be (it may not be a brillant joke, but it's worth a couple tens of bytes in the WP database.

Updating my userpage, an odd little self-reference occurred to me: List of every Wikipedia list that contains more items than this list. I know this is a digression from article discussion, but I'm trying to get a handle on exactly what kind of creature this hypothetical article is. It's not quite a Russell paradox, nor quite a Curry paradox.

Here's the issue, in case it's not immediately obvious: whether or not this list is "a problem" depends on the world external to its definition. If the world is certain ways, it's a perfectly ordinary collection. If the world is other ways, it's a paradox. Let's demonstrate:

  • Suppose Wikipedia contains ten lists: five of them list 3 items each; five of them list 20 items each. No problem at all arises here, we just put the five big lists on the new list (bringing Wikipedia to eleven lists total, one of them containing five items).

  • On the other hand, suppose Wikipdedia contains ten list: four of them list 3 items each; six of them list 5 items each. Now we have a problem. If we include the 5-items lists, ''this list'' has 6 items, and all the 5-item lists must be removed. If we leave off the 5-item lists, ''this list'' has zero items, and all the 5-item lists must be added (we might initially add the 3-item lists as well, but taking them off once ''this'' grows creates no special problem).


Is there a well-known name for logical/empirical paradoxes of this sort? I.e. ones that are only contingently paradoxical?

Possible worlds



Hmm... There are plenty of stable states that this list could take. i.e. say there were 4 lists of 3 items, and 10 lists of 15 items, we'd be fine. To me this seems rather ordinary, "paradoxically" speaking... consider the "list of points at which lines ax+b and cx+d intersect?" depending on the state of a b c and d, we could have many solutions, one solution, or no solution... which seems to be exactly the same sort of outcome as this list you've just proposed. A good mathemetician might be able to generalize it with a formula, or failing that there's always computer assisted exhaustion to fall back on. - User:Rainwarrior 13:04, 20 June 2006 (UTC)


Certainly, there are many states of the world, or "possible worlds" where the paradox does not arise. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in a [[Measure (mathematics)|measure theoretic]] sense, the measure of the set of possible worlds where the paradox ''does'' arise is zero. Nonetheless, one can easily find an enumerably infinite set of "problem" possible worlds. Let's call worlds that are paradoxical in the described sense "L-paradoxical". The second part of this is almost immediate, by a trivial variation of the prior example:

  • Suppose Wikipedia contains ten lists: four of them list 3 items; five of them list 5 items; one of them, BIG, lists "many" items. For every value of N > 5, the possible world described is L-paradoxical. That is, BIG must surely be included in "LoeWltcmittl". But if we try to put all the 5-item lists in LoeWltcmittl, we get a problem. So there's a countable infinity of problems. (and infinitely many other families of "problem worlds" are easy to construct).

  • The measurement thing is slightly more involved, but not too much. Basically, a possible world (down to homomorphism) is defined by a set of ordered pairs of natural numbers: <NumMembers, SizeOf>. That is, a (homomorphic equivalence class of) world(s) is described by the number of lists of each size that are in it. For example: "4 3-item; 5 5-item; 1 20-item". So described, some worlds are L-paradoxical, and others are not. Notice that the possible worlds are enumerable.

  • We can consider all the worlds ranked by total size: worlds of 1 list (or whatever size), worlds of 2 lists, etc. If a world of size M has an "instability point"—that is, a number of items in LoeWltcmittl that would create an L-paradox—that point must be some number ≤ M. If every list in the world contains more items than M, no instability is possible. However, since M is some particular finite number, the measure of M-sized worlds in which no list is as short as M is exactly 1 (natural numbers keep going up, after all, any initial segment is measure 0).


In practical terms, one might be surprised to find billion, or trillion, or googleplex length lists on Wikipedia, but formally there is no size bound. Of course, some practical system, like WP that has an extreme bias towards "small" lists (for any value of small; say, N < number of particles in the universe) is likely to be L-paradoxical with measure greater than zero.

But all of that is not really what I was asking. My original point was that it is interesting that a construct is not just empty, or just undefined in a simple way, in some possible worlds; rather the construct is ''paradoxical'' in some possible worlds... but perfectly ordinary in other possible worlds. In ''some'' worlds (infinitely many, in fact), LoeWltcmittl ''cannot'' contain any particular number of items (including zero), and yet it gives a precise inclusion criterion for any particular possible member.

I'm familiar with paradoxes that are paradoxical by their actual form, i.e. in every possible world. But it is somewhat novel to me to have stumbled on a paradox that is, as I say, '''contingently paradoxical'''. Of course, I'm sure someone has thought of this type of thing before... so I was just hoping to learn that this was already known as, e.g. "Jones' Paradox". - User:Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters, 19:14, 20 June 2006 (UTC)

mp3 shuffle thingy

August 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm
Another one of those tagging/list things. I'm not going to do the chain mail part, but for anyone who cares, here's my list.

Once you've been tagged... (1) Turn on your MP3 player. (2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode. (3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up--song title and artist--NO editing/cheating, please. (4) Choose 25 people to be tagged. It is generally considered to be in good taste to tag the person who tagged you.

If I tagged you, it's because I'm betting that your musical selection is entertaining, or at least amusing.

(To do this, go to "NOTES" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, enter your 15 Shuffle Songs, Click 'Preview' below to tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click Publish, the little blue box at the bottom of your screen).
  • Joe Jackson / Fools In Love

  • Evgeni Ulugbashev (vocal, chatkhan), (J. During, Almaty, Kazakhstan, 1994) / Khai (Khakas)

  • Cat Power / Deep Inside

  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Bring It On

  • Arundhati Roy / Contempt Of Court

  • Patti Smith / Birdland

  • The Modern Lovers / Old World

  • Buddy Holly / Peggy Sue

  • Spain / Dreaming Of Love

  • John Prine / Sam Stone

  • The Mighty Mighty Bosstones / Doves And Civilians

  • Hamell On Trial / There Is A God

  • Rev. F. D. Kirkpatrick / Nothing But His Blood

  • Slint / Carol

  • Chet Atkins / There'll Be Some Changes Made

Public fitness

August 16, 2009 at 10:31 am
<div id="attachment_32664" class="wp-caption alignright" style="width: 250px">

Geysol Johana Lopez Vazquez Fitness Zone


In this post, I feel I must partially recant my complaints about lack of public communal spaces in Los Angeles. At least on weekend days (albeit still very little at night, and notably less on week days), my local park is well occupied by families on picnics, and both children and adults engaged in semi-organized sports, especially soccer. Of possible note is that English is not exactly a prominent language in such communal interaction, but there is no reason why it need be. Moreover, sometimes our city government does something that is simply nice. A recent addition to mid-town’s Pan Pacific Park is a collection of outdoor exercise equipment. I am pretty well impressed by the design of the equipment that relies wholly on gravity mechanisms rather than separate weight stacks–that is, the resistance is against the weight of the exerciser herself, appropriately leveraged (more-or-less).


<span id="more-32665"></span>Accompanying the equipment itself is a sign indicating the importance of fitness and use of the machines, with guides to body mass index, calories burnt and consumed, and so on (some details not shown in below image of only one side of the sign). The choice of language for the sign is perhaps not the best one for its target audience, but the intention seems admirable still (perhaps the addition of an adjacent Spanish sign would be helpful though).


<div id="attachment_32669" class="wp-caption alignright" style="width: 310px">

Exercise in the park


<div id="attachment_32670" class="wp-caption alignright" style="width: 222px">

Welcome to The Trust for Public Land Fitness Zone

The Celluloid Closet

August 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm

It is an old documentary (from 1995), but one I only got around to watching last night. The Celluloid Closet is worth watching, if you can put aside just how seriously it takes itself, and just enjoy the delightful old movie clips it incorporates. Oh yeah, it had apparently been a book too, but who reads those (and in this case, film genuinely seems more relevant since it can include illustrative clips). The basic point of the film is more-or-less what you expect, even if you have not seen it: The Hayes Code, along with general homophobia, of course, censored the comparatively explicit representations of homosexuality in early film. Homosexuals became marked only by coded language and innuendo, but in such a way that those “in the know” knew what Hollywood films were really about.


I would have liked some more depth to it. It wasn’t only homosexuality that was censored by Hollywood, and it’s not clear that that particular anxiety was the primary one governing the anti-communist, misogynous, racist, xenophobic, imperialist, and puritanical decades of the 1940s and 50s. A lot of other matters of interest to writers and viewers were equally only mentioned indirectly and in whispers. OK, so it is just a documentary for HBO, and it hardly needs address the entire political landscape of America through several decades. But maybe just a little less of the “woe be upon us queers in Hollywood” in the tone would be desirable. Yes, they are right on the facts, but a bit greater nuance would be nice.<span id="more-32107"></span>


There real flaw of the documentary is precisely that it was made by too damn many Hollywood folks. What kills it (to the extent it is less good than it should be) is that it tugs at all the same formal cliches that American cinema in general so vacuously engages in. Music swells to tell us how we should feel about a clip or interview comment we just saw. Montage skillfully associates the image fragments that we are meant to keep together in our minds. Even in the direct narration, altogether too many different films are lauded as “the first ever to…” in this sensationalistic tone of bad journalism and breathless advocacy.


I might be happy to settle for so little work in documentary if it were not for the fact that I have also recently watched Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. I know this is a high bar to set for documentary, and ways of talking about film with intelligence. Still, it turns out that such is possible. Moreover, it is possible to do it within a documentary that utilizes and comments on clips of familiar historical films. The prerequisite, it appears, is that one must make such intelligent films in Ljubljana, not in Hollywood.


WRSHP the desert

August 4, 2009 at 1:10 am
<div id="attachment_31836" class="wp-caption alignright" style="width: 164px">

Worship/Warship


You gotta grant Los Angeles its geographic or climatic diversity. LA is not unique in this feature–I was surprised and delighted when I first visited Vancouver, for example, to find that one could visit a northern rain forest within a half-hour drive, and the visual contrast of the surrounding mountains and the central sound is appealing. We have an equally broad range of features here in Los Angeles, though warmer and drier versions of those. Still, we manage beaches, flatlands, and reasonable mountains, in a moderate radius, and with lots of differences in vegetation (albeit spread over more square miles than most geographically diverse cities)


One hears an insistence, from time to time, that Los Angeles is no desert. This is true, since that would require less than 10in/year of rainfall, where Los Angeles gets about 15in/year. Something interesting to me, however, as a relative newcomer is that this precipitation is strongly bimodal with low-rainfall years averaging 7-8in/year. So we are only a desert in odd years, it appears.<span id="more-31833"></span>


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No desert here


The parks of LA certainly make for a pleasant arid walk in the summer. Nice parks they are too. I frequently walk the Runyon Canyon loop, which has quite a magnificent vista of the city, from Hollywood and Downtown, over to Beverly Hills and the Westside on a clear day. Last week, however, I took a walk around Will Rogers State Historical Park which is a similar trail, but with a bit more view of the ocean. One delight of the walk was the rattlesnake that greeted us on the trail, but sadly scampered away before I was able to get my cell phone camera out to take it’s portrait. Readers will have to get by with a bit of cactus.



Christina Wilson It's true, the local parks -- like Runyon Cyn and Will Rogers -- are pretty great. And, of course, there's Griffith Park, which is, I believe, the largest urban park in the U.S. in terms of acreage. As for desert, if you're enamored, try heading east on the 10 for about 2 hours until you get into Joshua Tree and then feast your eyes.
August 4, 2009 at 5:23 am

Anger at the graves

July 25, 2009 at 5:23 pm
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Dr. Kenneth Anger


Hollywood’s fabulous Cinespia film series has received notice here at Metblogs a number of times in the past. I finally made it to my first screening there, which happened as well to be my first my first viewing of films of Los Angeles’ own Kenneth Anger. Delightfully for us movie goers, Anger’s short films were introduced by Dr. Anger himself (and his young friend, Lucifer, sung a song as well).


On Cinespia, I regret that I only got around to making it and posting this near the end of this year’s season. If you have not been there, by all means make an effort to see one of the last few screenings. The social atmosphere of the only-slightly macabre cemetery lawn is an absolute delight, especially if you bring a pleasant friend and a picnic basket to the screening. This event feels distinctively Los Angeles, in the best of ways.


Anger is an interesting film maker, from my brief experience. Of course, this fascination might be in my genes, since my non-LA father apparently has a dozen different cuts of the short “Lucifer Rising.” I am just trying to catch up with that generation (anger being closer to the generation past him). Anger eschews such common devices as dialog, plot, narrative, and really even much use of fades, pans, and other cinematic gestures towards the illusion of the camera’s eye. Instead we get plain montage, with lingering repetitions of leather men, motorcycles, Hitler, Lucifer, flowers, bunnies, scenic skies… that sort of thing. All set to either acid rock, bubblegum pop, or some other genre of music. It’s symbolist film, without Warhol’s lingering attachment to hints of storytelling. While it might not sound such from my description, there is something shockingly compelling in these compositions. Find them by all means.

Defending Los Angeles

July 25, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Our glorious blog leader, Lucinda Michelle, recently provided readers here with an amusing tongue-in-cheek List of Things Not To Complain About Ever Again. Apart from the particular items on her list, the aggregation reminded me of the LA-specific novelty of this whole concept of “haters.” I think there is something culturally interesting in the concept.


In my own experience, I had never actually heard of this category of person until shortly before arriving in our fair city, and do not think I have encountered anyone who quite occupies the categories while here. But boy is there ever lots of talk about necessary defenses against such disparagers. Somehow I suspect a connection to the LA Weltanschauung of circularity and self-reference. Y’know, that Baudrillardian moment we all feel on LA streets and in its cafes.<span id="more-31646"></span>


My first notice of these nefarious LA-haters came in 2006, when I was being pitched on a job in Beverly Hills, while at a conference in Portland, Oregon. I had flown in from that Massachusetts realm of East Coast liberal elites (or really, from 100 miles west of the nattering nabobs of negativism, but it all blurs together with distance). Grabbed by the shirt collar by a recruiter from this BH company, with several similarly to-be-pitched colleagues also in tow, I was given an expected spiel on the virtues of the company and of working there. Far less expected, but making up much more of the conversation, was a set of disclaimers about why “LA really isn’t so bad.” It was curious to me, since I lacked any of the numerous negative stereotypes of whose error we were being informed (nor, I will say, did I imagine the symmetrical mythologized glamor sometimes claimed of LA, although I had at least heard of that aspect). But my recruiter quite thoroughly corrected the presumed misapprehensions, largely enumerating the same items brought up by Lucinda Michelle.


As readers will have figured out, I accepted the offer, and moved to LA for this BH job. That particular gig and I have parted ways, but Los Angeles remains with me, and me in it. While here, I have continued to come across this trope about the unfoundedness of gripes about Los Angeles, from both its natives and those who have “gone native” since arriving. The lengths to which some defenders go in disclaiming perceived criticisms of our city is well nigh absurd. It is not just that they feel it unseemly to criticize our city in too cavalier a fashion, but rather that any comparison with elsewhere violates the deeply held faith that Los Angeles is singular and ne plus ultra in all regards. No! They exclaim: New England has not more seasonal foliage; Philadelphia not more communal public spaces; San Francisco not more techno-hipsters. LA is–and must be–all things more than all other places… to doubt it would be to engage in venal LA-hating.


One must admit that LA is certainly not unique in prompting civic pride, nor even a measure of geographic chauvinism. Every large city has its own sports team and local music scene, which are better than those of other cities–or at least deserving to be so. Almost every large American city has some focal industry, about which locals cloyingly drop the adjective describing just which “Industry” is in question (it is noteworthy, I think, that both food processing and shipping are larger Los Angeles County industries than is its production of culture/media; at least Insurance really is objectively dominant in Hartford). However, there feels like something different in quality about LA’s peculiar egocentrism. It is so much more deeply wrapped in defensiveness than the pride of other American cities (except, perhaps, that of oft berated Cleveland or Newark, maybe Detroit). My cab driver during a recent NYC visit may, indeed, have invoked an insult on his visit to Boston by wearing a Yankees cap, but the Bostonians he spoke with lacked any self-doubt that the Red Socks are morally the better team. Angelenos, the more indignant is their response to a status threat, seem proportionally lacking in confidence in their city.


I think a measure of the defensiveness of Los Angeles comes from the fact that its criticism is largely–primarily even–made by the nativized locals, and in particular by those locals who work in the production of culture. The enumeration of complaints one should not make of Los Angeles is primarily drawn from a set of mostly comedic mass culture references in which such criticisms are mockingly presented. This ties in, I think, to the Los-Angelesization-of-everywhere that I have written of in other posts: while LA landmarks become the faux icons of most everywhere else, when Los Angeles itself is the nominal subject of representation in film, television, etc. the creators of those works feel a particular compulsion to distance themselves from the actuality of location with an ironic tone.

Christina Wilson It's from years of feeling like a satellite outpost of the main office, relegated to the thar-be-dragons liminal cultural space of, say, NYC. Not so long ago, this place was still pretty much the wild west, you know?
July 26, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck got a bum rap

July 18, 2009 at 7:01 pm
I happen to be reading the Wikipedia article on Horizontal Gene Transfer in the bath last night. It is an important matter to my mind: not identical to endosymbiosis, but in that same general area of violations of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology (which is much of the same reason epigenetics is interesting to me, I confess, though that doesn't actually violate the Central Dogma per se... just its spirit in information theory).

In that article, is a really lovely quote from Woese, that I abbreviate a bit:

In questioning the doctrine of common descent, one necessarily questions the universal phylogenetic tree. That compelling tree image resides deep in our representation of biology. But the tree is no more than a graphical device; it is not some a priori form that nature imposes upon the evolutionary process. It is not a matter of whether your data are consistent with a tree, but whether tree topology is a useful way to represent your data. Ordinarily it is, of course, but the universal tree is no ordinary tree, and its root no ordinary root. Under conditions of extreme HGT, there is no (organismal) "tree." Evolution is basically reticulate." (Woese CR (June 2004). "A new biology for a new century". Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 68 (2): 173–86.)


Perhaps it is the Lysenkoist in me that grins so widely in the face of limits in the narrow (albeit) brilliant identification by Darwin of a mechanism of selection. Uncle Charles was never so crude though... that crudity took Daniel Dennet or the early Richard Dawkins.
Christina Wilson Well, that's because CRD left ample room in his writing for the mystery of the unseen. The proponents of "intelligent design" who rail against him should really try reading "On the Origin of Species" first-hand. Of course, the poet in me is drawn to that compelling tree image (Neruda's _Arbol Adentro_ has a similar effect); it is deeply resonant. But of course it's a Platonic fallacy to assign anything but a purely formally useful truth-value to it. Evolution as "basically reticulate" resonates in a different part of my core as viable and correct.
July 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm

All that is solid melts into air

July 17, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Our estimable friend and blog author, Chal Pivik posted a description of the statement “Prepare to Prevail,” written by three LGBT advocacy groups. These groups urged advocates of marriage equality to wait. Or specifically “Going back to the ballot [...] in 2010 would be rushed and risky.“ To me, equality is 2010 is “rushed” in much the same way that it was rushed, by Brown, in 1954. Does it strike anyone else as noteworthy trivia that the Brown decision of May 17, 1954 was 50 years to the day prior to implementation of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (i.e. the first same-sex marriages in the United States)?<span id="more-31195"></span>


I’d put it this way (or quote it, anyway), at least by analogy:


We find the same logic of the error as an internal condition of truth with Rosa Luxemburg, with her description of the dialectics of the revolutionary process. We are alluding here to her argument against Eduard Bernstein, against his revisionist fear of seizing power ‘too soon’, ‘prematurely’, before the so-called ‘objective conditions’ had ripened [...] they are too impatient, they want to hasten, to outrun the objective logic of historical development. Rosa Luxemburg’s answer is that the first seizures of power are necessarily ‘premature’: the only way for the working class to reach its ‘maturity’, to await the arrival of the ‘appropriate moment’ for the seizure of power, is to form itself, to educate itself for this act of seizure, the only possible way of achieving this education is precisely the ‘premature’ attempts. –Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology.


Isn’t it funny how every new idea was old in 1915?


Now is a better time than later for needed change. Until we actually make the political push necessary (even if it really isn’t anything like the revolutionary matters contemplated by those early 20th century Marxists), it will not be possible to create the conditions where a majority of voters and citizens really do understand the needs and logic of equality.

I saw the worst minds of my generation…

July 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm
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Exene Cervenka at CAFAM


At the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) last Sunday, I had the pleasure of hearing a reading by legendary Los Angeles fixture, Exene Cervenka. Apart from her musical, artistic, and literary endeavors–which generally take Los Angeles itself as a special focus–Cervenka’s name is quite literally inscribed in stone, at the wonderful Venice Poetry Wall (a fact I stumbled across quite accidentally a year or two ago, with great delight).[*] As well as reading, and playing a few songs on solo guitar, Cervenka currently has several of her collages hanging on the walls of CAFAM.


<span id="more-31122"></span>The allusion in the title of this post is not my own. One of Cervenka’s poems began with this clever allusion and reversal of the famous first line of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Her reading style is a sort of mumbling understatement (much like that of fellow punk-poet Jim Carroll, for anyone who has had or has the chance to hear him read).


The Craft and Folk Art Museum is a gem that I had not previously visited, despite its walking proximity to where I live, and to the LACMA, Peterson Automotive, and Page Museums that I love. It turned out that my urbanist friend, and companion to the reading, who had worked right next door for many years, had also somehow overlooked CAFAM. And as another footnote: she, like I, had only one pre-residency visit and memory of Los Angeles from childhood visits. The La Brea Tar Pits seems to be a focal drama for many children passing through LA.


CAFAM has a delightful collection, or rather delightful rotating exhibits. Currently they have a number of Los Angeles area artist who focus on almost miniaturist, but somehow nightmarish assemblages of everyday detritus. The stuff of dreams and David Lynch movies, put together with grimy precision. On the floor below is an exhibit called “<span class="head">Ancient Gods and Modern Politics: Mithila Painting.” I had not much known this Northern Indian style of fine-line drawing/painting very well. Much of it was shocking and stunning, especially those pieces making a narrative mural, often with serious and somber political themes: bride burning; gender-selection by abortion; the tsunami in Sri Lanka; etc. By all means get to this small wonder.

</span>


[*] Will some kind reader who lives near Venice Beach jog my memory by checking exactly what her poem says?

Restroom art of Los Angeles: Johnie’s Coffee Shop

July 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm
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Ex nihilo LA fit


Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, and to my dear Fairfax District, I’ve been meaning to eat at the historical Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire and Fairfax. Of course, as with most things LA, the shop is a familiar combination of wide repute and complete unreality. During a week of fiction, simulacrum, and frenzied media creation of a whole lot of expensive something out of almost nothing, it seemed like a fine time for a meal and a photograph: A garish pop star with a history of strange behaviors and legal troubles had died, thereby disrupting all Los Angeles streets, costing the city millions, and turning all national TV news into tawdry melodramatic fiction. Like the city that hosts it, Johnie’s is a movie prop.


<span id="more-31086"></span>To commemorate the event, I flew to New York City the night before the worst of LA’s apoplectic faux sorrow, and found myself at one of the few places in the world rivaling the pure falsity of our local “culture” industry: Times Square. A funny thing had happened to New York: Times Square itself had become a community space. A really intelligent bit of urban architecture had been put in place, turning a stretch of Broadway into a pedestrian zone, or really into a sort of concrete park, with the lane painted in decorative green (with spots), and lawn chairs provided by the city to create a kind of beach or boardwalk right at midtown. Of course, in general, in my few days walking around NYC, I felt this intensifying sorrow at the lack of community space in Los Angeles. People go out to events, to clubs, to private parties, and so on, in Los Angeles, but the sidewalks and thoroughfares are simply and only means of getting to places where things might happen. In contrast, these community cities (like New York) have live music, picnics, aggregation of people who show an almost familial geniality, in their public parks and neighborhoods. The difference is not just, nor even mainly, a distinction of indoors versus outdoors; if anything, on its face, the climate of LA should make it easier to create outdoor public spaces. But even the outdoors of Los Angeles is enclosed, commercialized, part of a private domain of cultural production, fed back into very private homes through television, newspapers, and so on. Of course we have isolated outbreaks of things like street art, in which Angelenos try desperately to break the auto-driven social barriers of Los Angeles urbanism; but they so far have rarely succeeded in more than art-school gestures of angst (as well meaning as such things often are).


Los Angeles, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.


In the absence of any actual Johnie’s, I decided to shoot the restroom art of a lovely Indian restaurant in NYC midtown, called Utsav. I had been there before on a couple occasions. Twice with a colleague who works in that other unreality of derivatives financial trading. Other times with my publisher of books printed on real paper.

Steve Holden How strange, I'm in Fairfax VA
July 15, 2009 at 9:25 pm
David Mertz I guess I might be more explicit about "Fairfax Avenue"... though the source from which this is mirrored is Los Angeles Metblogs (http://la.metblogs.com/author/lotle/), so there might be a certain enthymematic thing going on there.
July 15, 2009 at 9:56 pm
Pete Hurd Do you the difference is due to "density"? I always thought Vancouver & Stockholm were my favorite places to live because they were so dense that walking was the obvious mode of transportation, thst the good things flowed from that. But I've been hearing a lot of griping lately about how this mania for making Vancouver so dense is ruining music venues and art spaces, pushing them out to the suburbs. Plus I see a lot of resistance to density increasing schemes back in Edmonton (notably from non-car owners)

I've been mulling the merits of density.
July 15, 2009 at 11:40 pm
David Mertz Density is important, but I think it is also the way the the auto-industry killed the public transportation system of early 20th century LA (by deceit, bribes, etc; not by superiority of convenience... as everyone knows). Cities structured around trains tend to inevitably have natural points of aggregation. That's probably not enough to *assure* public spaces, but it is close to a precondition.
July 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm
Dawn Finley Two things: "all" of the streets of Los Angeles were NOT shut down by Jacko-related hoo-hah. In fact, the traffic situation was much less congested than everyone anticipated. There ARE public spaces of the kind you desire in the city, but they aren't occupied by people of your race and class. The auto-industry argument obscures other facets of ghettoization and stratification in the city. As you've pointed out at other times, the history of the LAPD has as much to do with how communities are organized and experienced as patterns of immigration, the myths and tricks of the entertainment industry, wars over water rights, pressure from the auto industry, sprawl and freeways.
July 16, 2009 at 12:10 pm
David Mertz C'mon... please put your excellent denunciations over at the Metblogs site, where hopefully thousands will read it, rather than tens. :-)
July 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

States - a US-centric trope

July 1, 2009 at 11:01 am
Put an X by the states you have been to. The average is 8; how do you match up? [what average? -dqm]

Should you chose to play, here's what you do:

Copy my note. Click on “notes” under tabs on your profile page. Select "write a new note" in the top right corner.

Paste the copy in the body of the note. Delete my Xs and add your own. Change the number at the top, and add your title. Once you've saved, don't forget to tag friends (including me) on the right. Tag the same # of people as the # of states you've been to (I think you're limited to 30!).
Just for fun, put an O beside the states where you have lived.

Airports don't count!!!

Alabama -
Alaska -
Arizona - X
Arkansas - X
California - O
Colorado - O
Connecticut - X
Delaware - X
Florida -
Georgia - X
Hawaii -
Idaho -
Illinois - X
Indiana -
Iowa - X
Kansas - O
Kentucky -
Louisiana -
Maine - X
Maryland - X
Massachusetts - O
Michigan - O
Minnesota - X
Mississippi -
Missouri - X
Montana -
Nebraska - X
Nevada - X
New Hampshire - X
New Jersey - X
New Mexico - X
New York - X
North Carolina - X
North Dakota - X
Ohio - X
Oklahoma - X
Oregon - X
Pennsylvania - O
Rhode Island - X
South Carolina - O
South Dakota - X
Tennessee - X
Texas - O
Utah - X
Vermont - X
Virginia - X
West Virginia -
Wisconsin - X
Wyoming - X
Washington - X

No entity without identity

June 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm
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Bumps versus humps


Since I arrived in Los Angeles, and to my lovely Fairfax District, I have noticed a gesture toward block-by-block neighborhood autonomy. It is apparently the perogative of each residential block to decide whether it wishes to be a “bump street” or a “hump stree”. There is nuance to this decision; for although there is no distinction in the physical form of the traffic regulation elements, the semantic distinction is dizzy with moral and aesthetic nuance.


Those of us on hump streets scoff at the crude vulgarity of the bumpsters. Sure they can regulate traffic speeds, but they just lack the refined tastes, the cultural cache of speed humps. One gets a sense of mismatch about them, something like when some Hollywood poseur on Melrose wanders onto West Hollywood’s stylish Melrose Avenue, and looks so garishly out of place.<span id="more-30393"></span>As I’ve told readers, before arriving at this realm of distinction, I was a foolish East Coast intellectual, who frankly knew nothing of humps at all. We lived in a world of bumps in Massachusetts. Fortunately, I found a musical introduction to LA culture before my arrival, although the meaning only unfolded with residency. <object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" style="width:448px;height:386px" data="http://www.youtube.com/v/aD_vJRatx-A&hl=en&fs=1"><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><param name="quality" value="best" /><param name="wmode" value="transparent" /><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/aD_vJRatx-A&hl=en&fs=1" /><param name="pluginspage" value="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" />If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.</object>

<!-- Valid XHTML flash object delivered by XHTML Video Embed. Get it at: http://saltwaterc.net/xhtml-video-embed -->


Thanks go out to Willard Van Orman Quine, and his Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (1969), for assistance with the title of this essay.

David Mertz For this FB mirror of my LA Metblogs post: The video embedding seems messed up. The relevant video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD_vJRatx-A
June 29, 2009 at 2:11 am

Destiny Disrupted (even more ALOUD)

June 25, 2009 at 7:08 pm

It feels like I’m spending my life at the library nowadays. There are surely many far worse fates. The LA Central Library’s ALOUD series of free lectures continues to attract me back, with an ever fascinating array of guests. Last week, I had seen Walter Kirn<span class="text4"> speak on his book Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever. That was an enjoyable program, and Kirn is extremely personable; but for this post, I will comment on last night’s talk with Tamim Ansary, who waspresented and interviewed by </span><span class="text5">Amir Hussain (a co-presentation of ALOUD and The Center for Global Understanding). The title of Ansary’s book matches his talk: Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.</span>


<span class="text5">Of all the talks I have heard at ALOUD, I found Ansary to be the most engaged and fascinating speaker to date.<span id="more-30214"></span>Much of this appeal is personal demeanor, of course. It was really nice to hear someone speak who spoke so authentically and directly to his audience, above and beyond Ansary’s intelligence and knowledge. I felt compelled to buy his book after the talk, and it was nice to have the opportunity to get a copy autographed. On intial skimming, the book also apears to have both depth and accessibility, and I recommend it as well (but you won’t get an inscription… or at least you’ll have to locate Ansary some other time).</span>


<span class="text5">Ansary’s book is about what its title says, but he relayed an amusing anecdote of how that title might be misunderstood. Through most of its history, the Islamic world thought of itself as simply “the world.” Although the interactions with European civilization (or European barbarity) were ongoing, those contacts were peripheral to the politics and world view of Islamic empires and states. Ansary related how many Western readers approach him with the assumption that his book might be a history of how the Islamic world has seen the West; the answer there has mostly been that it never really noticed the West. our Western assumption is something like, according to Ansary, a narcissist who speaks of himself for an hour, only to break by saying, “Enough about me: what do you think of me?”</span>


<span class="text5">As you might expect, most of the audience questions that ALOUD devotes a large part of its talks to were about current affairs: what is likely to unfold in Iran, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan. I should note that these audiences are really smart as a rule. Ansary and Hussain both had interesting comments on those matters, often informed by their personal childhoods in Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively (if I heard correctly, Ansary indicated that he was among the Farsi speakers of Afghanistan, which may or may not indicate a deeper understanding or knowledge of Iran; he is extremely knowledgeable in general, regardless of that background). One question that one would expect to hear, and that deserves an answer, is about the prospect for women’s rights in the Muslim world. Ansary’s comment was interesting in two elements. On the one hand, Ansary repeated the familiar observation that in historical context of Mohammed, Islam was progressive on women’s rights; being granted testimony in court of 50% value is a move in the right direction from women being barred from testifying at all (to pick a well known example). But Ansary discussed that what is required for equality is much more than that fixed moment got to, and that literalism about sharia is a barrier to many rights and democratic institutions. </span>


<span class="text5">In this question he also opened a certain doubt that this type of literalism is a deep feature of the Islamic world. Earlier in the lecture, Ansary had mentioned his own brother, who is a religious scholar (Ansary himself is entirely secular in his beliefs), but whose research urged for what sounds like consequentialist ethics.</span>. His hope is that a look at the spirit of intent in sharia might open way for a more liberal understanding of religion in the Islamic world. The second element was a good history lesson for us mostly non-Muslim Angelenos. In Afghanistan, between 1959 and about 1976, the royal family greatly liberalized the rights and restrictions on women. They did not do this by edict, but by going to the Imam’s and asking for religious evidence for the dress restrictions imposed on women: when this evidence was lacking, the royal family themselves adopted liberal dress habits of women wearing non-restrictive clothing, and this influenced the country (or at least the big cities) to follow. It’s funny to think of Afghanistan as a liberal society, but comparatively it was in the 1960s and 1970s… those darn invasions!


If you are unfamiliar with this excellent series, I urge you to check it out by listening to a podcast or attending one yourself.

Shouting ALOUD through a rhetorical frame

June 24, 2009 at 3:48 pm
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The central library of John Carter's Mars?


Update: It appears that Mrs. Lulu has snuck into the blog again. The following contains her observations of a delightful lecture at L.A.’s magnificent Central Library.


Last night, Lulu and I attended one of the LA Central Library’s free lectures in their wonderful ALOUD series: George Lakoff, “The Public Mind: A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics, In Conversation with Ian Masters”


We were both particularly excited about this talk since we had studied Lakoff in graduate school. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s a cognitive scientist and linguist at UC Berkely, whose interdisciplinary work focuses on investigating the ways in which linguistic and cognitive structures (e.g., metaphors, prototypes, frames) shape perception and social life.


A central theme of last night’s discussion was the way in which the framing mechanisms of public discourse have been controlled by the Republicans [...]<span id="more-30138"></span>to the disadvantage of the Democrats. This situation becomes especially remarkable in light of the fact that the latest cognitive science research, according to Lakoff, demonstrates a neuro-physiological basis for empathy. Our brains are hard wired to feel the pain and pleasure of others, so it turns out that democracy has a material ground in our natural care for each other. So why aren’t we more progressive and democratic as a society?


Here Lakoff turns to our political language. For example, the term “pro-choice” sounds frivolous next to the deeply compassionate and moral “pro-life.” And who among us can be against “tax relief”? Wouldn’t a “public option,” in health care strip us of our right to make private decisions in consultation with our trusted and chosen doctors? These examples point out how language subtly directs us to the right wing position. One of Lakoff’s own entries into the political fray, of particular interest to our state’s current budget standoff, came up against the resistance of such framing. He had tried to get a referendum balloted stating nine simple words: “All legislative matters shall be decided by majority vote.” No top Democrats would back the measure because they feared the increase in taxes that would result from the repeal of Prop 13. Thus, the simple democracy of majority rule becomes too subversive a step for the Democrats of our “golden state.” Again, as Lakoff pointed out, this fear of taxes has been inculcated by a republican framing mechanism according to which we automatically associate taxes with hardship and unfair burden, rather than with paying for social goods and services that we need and want.


One reason liberals do not do as well in framing issues, according to Lakoff, is their belief in the Enlightenment view of reason as pure of emotions or politics; thus, liberals need only to lay out the facts without attempting to persuade or influence and the rational person will come to the proper conclusion on his/her own. Lakoff’s suggestion is that we frame the language ourselves–e.g., the use of guns could be seen as an act of cowardice rather than macho bravery (this, in response to an excellent question by interviewer, Ian Masters, based on his own Australian upbringing that taught him that it was manly to settle differences by fisticuffs, but never with a weapon).


The news was not all bad, however; in fact there was an upbeat mood to last night’s talk. For example, Lakoff frequently praised Obama as succeeding in articulating some of the truth in contradiction to the overarching right wing frame. Even Obama’s personal style and image as a calm, intelligent, nurturing man is helping to dispel the dominant view of masculinity as violent, authoritarian and controlling. This view and its correlative view of the patriarchal family has served in turn as a model for our vision of politics and government, again as part of the conservative frame that hinders social progress.


Although many of Lakoff’s ideas did not come across as entirely new and original (after all, many currents of 20th C thought and philosophy, from phenomenology, to structural linguistics, psychoanalytic Marxism and feminism have argued the connection between the so-called purity of reason, logic and empiricist perception and the linguistic and social constructs that unconsciously determine our views), his presentation was provocative, timely and very well received. I have attended several of these lectures now, and have always been impressed by the quality of the audience’s questions and comments. If you are unfamiliar with this excellent series, I urge you to check it out by listening to a podcast or attending one yourself.

Mindshare: Enlightened debauchery

June 21, 2009 at 11:47 pm
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More restaurants need sawdust floors


Being only a first-time attendee, I cannot quite say exactly what Mindshare LA is, but I’m sure it is something I want to go back to for future monthly events. Mindshare advertises itself–beyond with the “enlightened debauchery” slogan–as “an evening of inspiration and interaction in Downtown LA.” (on the third Thursday of each month). It’s a mixture of a trance club, a museum, and a lecture series. Perhaps its program of past events gives my dear readers a sense. Think of it as “TED light”, or maybe Wired Magazine with dancing. A short talk I enjoyed, for example, was A Short History of Hollywood’s Genitalia Coverups.


I was taken to this event by my lovely Virgil, with whom I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time the nearby Philippe’s Restaurant. Philippe’s is one of two Los Angeles restaurants claiming to have originated the french dip sandwich. Whatever exegetic judgment one might make of the competing claims of Philippe’s and Cole’s, we figured the visit was of fair historical value. A diner simply has to love any restaurant with the good graces of sprinkling sawdust on its floor. Who ever claimed Los Angeles wasn’t the deep south?


Mindshare itself is currently held at The Firehouse at Santa Fe and E 7th, one of those hipster industrial zones that proudly proclaim their artistic credentials once properly reutilized. This space, I understand from speaking with organizers and attendees at the event, is the expanded space after attendance grew past 300 and outgrew previous spaces. Future events may or may not be here, but by all means sign up for their mailing list to find out future schedules.

Speaking of death and traffic…

June 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm
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Memento mori


In keeping with the fact that this bumper sticker was found on a Prius, we might expect the moral being conveyed is that one brings about death by unsafely talking on a cell phone while driving. Of course, with Obama’s admirable push for increased fuel efficiency in automobiles, hybrid cars will probably no longer carry quite the ethical cache they have for the last few years (heck, some American car maker might actually, finally, start making the damn things).


I prefer just to read the sticker as indicating that the driver on board is in a conversation with death (aren’t we all). Sort of Max von Sydow leaving the set of The Seventh Seal and heading on up to a goth party in Hollywood.

Pictures of things (L8s Ang3les)

June 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I am not sure why The Annenberg Space for Photography, in Century City, has adopted 133tspeak to title their inaugural exhibition, but whatever their choice of typography, they have currently on exhibition a nice retrospective of Los Angeles photographers.


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What in LA would you photograph?


The exhibit, through the end of June, features works by eight photographers, from several styles. Julius Shulman and Tim Street-Porter capture architectural elements of LA, often homes designed by well-known architects. Douglas Kirkland and Greg Gorman do the artsy pictures of famous people that act as marketing staples of our local culture industry. More interesting to me were the images of Lauren Greenfield and Catherine Opie (and, of course, John Baldessari) who try to perform some cultural analyses with portraits of the ordinary people of Los Angeles, considered from the perspective of how they are shaped by socio-culture forces. Also in the mix is international reporting by LA Times photojournalists Carolyn Cole, Lawrence Ho, Kirk McKoy, and Genaro Molina–not pictures of LA, but perhaps ones inspired in style by the LA base of these reporters.

Dawn Finley That last sentence has a problem: Cole, Ho, McKoy and Molina are all photojournalists, but Cole is the only one whose photographs are not of Los Angeles subjects. Photographs by the other three are all of people and places in LA. It's true Kirkland and Gorman do artsy photos of famous people, but some of them are very well-structured and formally interesting *as* photographs. The show has a thoughtful range of aesthetic style and subject matter; in other venues I think the Hollywood glitz would be much more dominant than it is here.
June 19, 2009 at 5:58 am
David Mertz You should go over to LA Metblogs, where there is a wider readership for the source post, and point out these errors there.
June 19, 2009 at 11:02 am

Cola Dysphoria Disorder

June 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm
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"The first diet cola for men" (3rd St, Near Fairfax)I


Your author, Lulu, is a manly man. Brimming with machismo and testosterone. And yet I never knew until just recently how badly I was threatening this masculinity by consumption of those girlish, effeminate colas I drank until I learned of the virtues of “Pepsi Max”!


It is true that I had already learned, though the joys of commercial advertising, to conform with my gender identity by choosing shampoos, perfumes (sorry, colognes), razors, vitamin, cocktails (though I drink rarely), yogurt (I know to drink mannish kefir), and media, that flatter my swagger. I am happy my local corner alerted me to this additional constraint. Oh, the pitfalls of gender!

Our ideas are in everyone’s cell phone

June 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm
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Long live the wildcat strike


Sorry for the absence, readers. Whimsy brings me back though. Somewhere in LA, perhaps everywhere in LA, chaos reigns this week. Or at least such is the hope of some artists from UCLA’s REMAP (Research in Engineering, Media and Performance). This community art project–inspired, so we are told, by situationism–brings ludic activity to geographic loci of LA. Hmmm… putting that is smaller words, they want us to play this week, and report the results. In the words of enGage ludiCity:


enGage ludiCity is a process-driven cultural performance composed of three distinct stages:

1) ludus constituo ~ personal disruptive ludic actions (June 13-19)

2) ludus locus ~ collective situationist ludic engagement (June 20)

3) ludus meditor ~ dialogic ludic reflection (After June 20)


It’s simple really… or at least my first impression seems to be. Register for the Situationist Messaging System (SMS), and do things. After all, Los Angeles will not be sunny until the day when the last bureaucrat has been hung with the guts of the last capitalist!

Scott Singer Wasn't Malcolm MacLaren a Situationist in the 60's? I think he claimed responsibility for the 68 riots in Paris
June 16, 2009 at 6:47 am

15 books

June 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm
Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose.

Karl Marx, Capital
Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School
Hakim Bey, Temporary Autonomous Zones
Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology
Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
William S Burroughs, Naked Lunch
David Mertz, Text Processing in Python
Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye
Theodor Seuss Geisel, Green Eggs and Ham
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals
Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge
Willard Van Orman Quine, Word and Object
Benoît Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature
Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

More parking palimpsests

May 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

My dearest native informant has insisted since I arrived in the City of Angels that the parking notices are self-evident. I think it is a point of pride for the natives that they know the secret to these matters… I joke that my informant “knows a guy who knows a guy in the parking department.”


I am a bit alarmed, actually, that I no longer have too much difficulty deciphering signs like the ones shown (though this is not the worst of them). Or at least I can understand them to a first brush, enough to park or not with a moderate degree of confidence. Of course, it is all relative, since I have found that being in clear conformance with signage does not necessarily prevent tickets, in any case. You have the right to contest a $40 ticket, of course… as long as you are willing to spend a full day, at an unspecified future date, waiting in lines at court (and probably being ticketed outside the course building).


There are corner cases still, naturally. Were I to have that district no. 13 permit, would I be ticketed on Tuesday mornings? Do readers have any more convoluted examples to add to my bag of arcana; I am sure I’ve seen five adjoined signs at times, but cannot remember exactly where now that I’ve thought of posting these mysteries.

ALOUD from LA

April 30, 2009 at 4:45 pm


<span style="font-size: 10pt;font-family: Arial"><span style="font-style: italic;color: #01a0c6">It is not advisable, nor was it ever, to lead a Dada life. </span></span>


<span style="font-size: 10pt;font-family: Arial"><span style="color: #01a0c6">– Andrei Codrescu</span></span>


The Los Angeles Public Library runs a wonderful speaker series called ALOUD (really it is “lectures, readings, performances & discussions” according to its billing) at the Central Library). These sessions are free of charge, but it is a good idea to reserve tickets in advance, since they sometimes “sell out.” Better still, readers should definitely subscribe to the mailing list to get helpful reminders of what is coming up.


This Tuesday I had the great pleasure of seeing a relic of DADA, in from LA,New Orleans’ and Louisiana State University’s Andrei Codrescu. Somewhere before his LA to LA trip, our poet had some vampiric Transylvanian origin, much as did his favorite subject of the evening Samy Rosenstock (sometimes known by the more Romanian sounding “Tristan Tzara”), and also did Codrescu’s charming young interlocutor Oana Sanziana Marian (Transylvanian Yankee poet).


<span id="more-26914"></span>


For this evening, we had a discourse on the post-human, roughly in relation to our accumulation of machines that now make up more than half of our bodies (by weight, volume, importance, whatever). In Codrescu’s newest book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess, Codrescu sees machines in that old Dada tradition (later picked up by, say, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and the Situationists): not just of metal parts, but of social institutions.


In the game between Lenin and Tzara, the workers revolution had the upper hand for 70 years, but ultimately it is the Romanians who come out ahead. Dada, of course, but also that other national custom: vampires. In other words, all things LA (two of my favorite television series have been Angel and True Blood, so I think the vampires are equally split on just what those letters “L” and “A” stand for also, much as I am and Codrescu is.

Restroom art of Los Angeles: Gates of India

April 25, 2009 at 2:05 am
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Please pass the saccharine


For the third installment of this occasional series, I again fail to stay within the actual borders of Los Angeles proper, straying again into one of those Island municipalities that dot our landscape within LA county. Tonight found a strange lesson in the kitsch back rooms of the ever hip city of Santa Monica.


My journey for the evening took me first to Santa Monica’s Laemmle theater to see the documentary Enlighten Up!, which carries the tagline “A skeptics journey into the world of yoga.” I will return to this after the fold, but let me foreshadow the after-movie dinner at Gates of India, around the corner from the theater. Such is the source of this installment’s artistic sampler. In defense of the restaurant, it has a distinct disconnect between its serving area and its restroom, a pattern I somehow expect to find throughout this series. The front room is quite replete with fairly interesting Indian artifacts, with nary a whiff of Hallmark Americana schlock.


<span id="more-26545"></span>To enter the front of Gates of India, one passes through a carved hard wood arch (freestanding, past the actual architectural entrance). I cannot speak to its “authenticity,” but the style is plausibly similar to Indian classicism. The ceiling is covered with tapestries. The walls have a number of interesting metal-inlay and other attractively detailed door fronts, I suppose suggestive of eating in an Indian palace, perhaps in which one might imagine each door leading to some other interesting room or realm. True enough that the decor does start to border on garish with an excess of detail, and perhaps an excess of literalism in its illustration of the name of the restaurant. Nonetheless, it convincingly carries the feel of a pleasant indian restaurant, even with bits of too plain drywall showing through the decoration in places. The food is good and well presented, even if nothing terribly special among the large number of wonderful Indian restaurants in LA.


The shock, of course, comes in this other world of the restrooms at back. Sterile unadorned walls would speak to the plain functionality of the location. Here the men’s room is shown above the fold, the women’s below it. Somehow I think the men’s room version is even more laden with vacuous sentimentality in its painting, but both have plenty of this to go around. What exactly motivates the desire of so many restaurants to put such utterly incongruous pieces above their sinks? Do the owners feel that the “restaurant experience” mandates some display of decorative flourish here, and think this need served by even the most pro-forma gestures toward artisticaccouterment?


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Watteau visits Branson


My rhetorical questions probably already reach the limit of what I can say about this contrast, at this point. Perhaps sociologically astute readers have some greater insight that I can ruthlessly crib for later installments. So I reckon I’ll return to the promise of the pre-meal movie.


There was something–well, a number of things–interesting about Enlighten Up!. A Western interest in yoga, conceived sometimes in various faddish or new-age ways, is certainly not a special characteristic of Los Angeles, but surely we have earned a place in this pantheon. The documentary, while not a particularly brilliant one, did an interesting job of showing and interviewing a good number of the best known yogis, both in India and in the United States. The premise of trying to bring main subject, skeptical journalistNick Rosen, towards yogic enlightenment works plausibly well, even if the premise is slightly forced. The framing device, at the least, got the interviews and taped teaching/practice sessions that make the bulk of the film.


A curious feature of the documentary, however, was how its directory/writer achieved–either on purpose orinadvertently–a dual presence in the film. On the one hand Kate Churchill decided and created the framing and points of identification in the film. In essence, we remain sympathetic with Rosen’s skepticism, while still listening respectfully to the explanations of the various yogis. However, Churchill also appears occasionally on camera, herself interviewed, or off camera asking the questions of Rosen or other subjects. In these cases we find her moderately unsympathetic, since she seems only to be pushing Rosen towards her predetermined goal of transformative enlightenment through the means of yoga practice. She is certainly novillainhere, but nonetheless it feels like the takeaway is that her simplified goal is somewhat misguided (or at least overzealous). The narrative voice of reason is our very fulcrum by which we critique the non-detachment of its narrator.

Restroom art of Los Angeles: At the Beverly Hills border

April 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm
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Lesbian tires grip well


Already two posts into the series, I am compelled to confess I am breaking genre slightly. Not too badly, I believe still within the conceit of the title. My dearest native informant had me over recently for a very lovely dinner, with cold trays of priscutto, smoked salmon, radishes, and freshguacamole, to match the hot weather in which baking and frying would be altogether too much.


My informant lives in one of the apartment buildings to the south of Burton, and east of Robertson, in Beverly Hills. That is, this was in that 90211 zip code area that was built for working class residents in the post-war (WWII, that is) era. It’s not a cheap place to live, but it is an area of apartments and moderate sized single-family houses (with just a few ugly McMansions scattered among its fifth-of-an-acre lots). My informant’s apartment, or anyway the bathroom art (by conceit, a “restroom”) fittingly matches its neighborhood.<span id="more-26320"></span>


Even now, 60 years out, and in stark contrast to the 28% renters over across the tracks to 90210, 90211 is a renters’ community. City-Data.com’s 90211 Zip Code Detailed Profile gives a basic breakdown:


Houses and condos: 3,980;

Renter-occupied apartments: 2,388



<table border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0">
<tbody>
<tr>
<td>% of renters here:</td>
<td> 64%</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>State:</td>
<td> 43%</td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>


Of course, the cheap post-WWII houses mentioned nonetheless carry million-dollar sales prices now. Location, location, location (and incorporated municipality).


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Joan Crawford forever


The restroom art of my fine meal matches the architectural decor of the building it took place in. Thoroughlypost-War aesthetic, or perhaps a carryover from just a few years before the building itself was constructed to house such posters. The tire advertisement is a striking bit of subliminal subversion. Just why is our sitting damsel leaning against the advertised product, looking so raptly at the Amazonian shorts of a massively oversized, and nicely trim “companion?” Los Angeles’ passionate love of automobiles just might be one that dare not speak its name.


Another mid-century icon was naturally present while I freshened up after my meal. How did Joan Crawford ever get edged out as high-camp icon by Betty Davis or Judy Garland? An undeserved decline surely, as this other poster works to show.

Songs about Los Angeles: "Rooming House on Venice Beach" by Johnathan Richman

April 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I have always loved Johnathan Richman. Apart from, y’know setting the stage for punk music to exist (along with, admittedly, Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, and Television), Johnathan has the special virtue of having never sung a lyric that was negative or really critical of any topic he addresses, after 35 years of performing. No cynicism, no biting wit, no sour recollections. Sure, Johnathan has presumably been in, and definitely sung about relationships, cities around the world, social situations, and whatnot, but he always find joy and humor in everything. He also seems to have a special attachment to singing about places, though most especially of his hometown, Boston.


Johnathan sings of “Nature’s Mosquito” that “You see, God put me here just the same as he put you, soI’m nature’s mosquito.And that means I’m gonna go bite-bite-bitie-witie-wite-sir.” Or of a discarded “Chewing Gum Wrapper,” “These colors move me more than most of what I see today. I love the faded colors like would end up at the dump, My heart goes bumpety, bumpety, bumpety bump.” Or yet again, of his “Dodge VegOMatic” that although it sits in the parking lot, with brakes of glass and tires of vinyl, he “likes this car a lot.”


Not all of his songs are quite as silly, but they all have a joie de vivre to them. Singing about Los Angeles is not different. [...]<span id="more-25935"></span>His iconizing Los Angeles song has a somewhat peculiar temporal frame for me. Johnathan apparently lived in LA during the 1970s, for a bit of his early career. However, it took until 1992’s I, Johnathan for him to set the experience to lyrics in “Rooming House on Venice Beach.” 1992 was already a time for a very different LA than was 1976; however, I never actually knew the song until I moved to LA in 2006, and quite by chance bought that album. By the time I heard it, I already knew Los Angeles well enough to nod in agreement with Johnathan rather than merely listen with wide-eyed novelty about this strange place I might someday go.


So a bit of feel of the 1970s in Venice, which somehow feels a lot like Venice of the 2000s.


It was rough rough rough

With ancient rustic hippie stuff

It was cheap cheap cheap

Nowadays I hear that rents are steep

It was eerie, eerie, eerie

Followers of Watts and Leary

You could walk walk walk

To Marina del Rey by the dock

Oh the ancient world was in my reach

From my rooming house on Venice Beach.


Sure seems to copy the eternal Venice feel, in just a few lines, no? Let’s try a little bit more of the lyrics:


It was a rooming house on venice beach

About half a block

To the ancient sea which i could reach

With half a walk

The ancient weird guy in his toga

Staff in hand

The ancient bearded guy doing yoga

On the sand

Oh the ancient world was in my reach

From my rooming house on venice beach


It makes me so terribly sad I had to be out of town when Johnathan played the El Ray a few months back. I sure hope he’ll make it back this way. Check him out if you ever have a chance, it’s an amazing live show. Not really chiefly for the musicality–though Johnathan and the musicians he works with are indeed startlingly talented–but mostly for the overwhelming charm and authenticity he exudes. Y’know, those very Los Angeles qualities.


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Unfortunately, I was not able to find a video or linkable sound file for the title song of this post. As a compromise, I’ll leave you with a different old place song from Johnathan, “New England”.


Also readmore posts in this series.

Restroom art of Los Angeles: Pho 999

April 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I am often intrigued by the art that proprietors decide to hang in their restrooms, particularly in restaurants, though other establishments have their quirks too. I suppose there is an inherent sample bias here, since I am more likely to stay long enough, and drink enough beverage, in a restaurant to want to see the restroom than I am in a grocery, clothing store, or other types of establishments. In fact, I think these quirky choices are worthy of their ownnew, occasional, series of posts.


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A taste of Egypt?!


There is a Vietnamese restaurant I sometimes go to in the Valley, called Pho 999. Apparently the one at12905 Sherman Way,<span>North Hollywood, is one of three Valley restaurants under the same name and ownership (the other two are in Van Nuys and Reseda). I have not been to the others, so have no idea about their choice of artwork. Pho 999 is the sort of place one expects to find situated in a small strip mall, with formica diner tables, and condiments and utensils in a rack on each table. The food is inexpensive and quite excellent; there are quite a dizzying array of items on the menu, though that basically amounts to every permutation ofPho andBún, so it is really just a matter of deciding which proteins you want and whether you want broth or dry noodles.</span>


<span><span id="more-25793"></span></span>


<span>Pho 999 has just one single-occupancy restroom, so either men or women eating at this place can enjoy the same artistic post-culinary selections. </span>


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Expose yourself to art


Over the door, we have the wonderfully camp faux-Egyptian painting shown first. I guess this picture was pulled off the cover of some romance novel set in an exotic ancient locale. I am not sure exactly what cultural connection we are meant to appreciate between the Pharaohs and Vietnam, but I am happy as a cat lover to be refreshed by this illustration as I wash my hands. I apologize for the trapezoidal distortion of the image from looking upward to the painting.


On the opposite wall, the proprietors have selected a delightfully familiar art print, that I remember well from childhood in the 1970s. It is an excellent plea for the virtues of high culture that the youth of today should take heed of, as much as did I and my friends of the punk generation.

A Lost Weekend: Tuesday in LA

April 15, 2009 at 2:00 am

I was animpostorat the Silent Movie Theater this Tuesday evening. This was the second screening in Writers in Treatment’s Reel Recovery Film Series, Billy Wilder’s amazing 1945 film The Lost Weekend. Our Metblogs colleague has already written about this series in her postsMore on the Reel Recovery Film Fest andThe All-Addiction Film Fest, so we might consider mine an extension of this mini-blog series.


My first impersonation was of our colleage, who was unable to attend, but had already purchased will-call tickets, and suggested I go instead. I would note that I never claimed to be anyone else than your own Lulu, but simply stated I was picking up the tickets under the name Travis Koplow. Substitution in name was a minor prologue to wrapped layers of simulacra (however, dissimulation is anathema to your author). Accompanying me was my dearest native informant, who happens to be something of a SMTaficionadoand member.


The night was interesting, largely because the anonymous crowd was interesting in unexpected ways. The attendance overall was pretty sparse, maybe fillinghalfthe theater, which is often brimming during other film series. This sparsity had little to do with the general appeal of the film, but rather with WIT’s publicity strategy which lists the series on its own page but not in the SMT’s general schedule. It is hard for me to guess exactly what motivations underlay this; I think WIT wants to reach out to a specific audience who “needs” this film series; but at the same time, organizer Leonard Buschel made a point of noting that the series was a fundraising effort by WIT. The latter goal seems harmed by less broadly targeted audience outreach. [...]


<span id="more-25531"></span>In general, the SMT comes up with interesting, quirky, and off-beat film series and events, and the audiences are diverse, fascinating, and generally hip without too muchpretension. This night came with free cupcakes and coffee, different from Monday’s hot cocoa night, or (as one would certainly hope) the Tecates handed out for the Punk Rock series. All this a block from Melrose, right near Cantor’s Deli, in the Fairfax District. This screening was a different world again.


As a start, while I pretty much match the SMT standard demographic as a middle-class white guy with too much education (I skew old on most things nowadays), I was interestingly atypical for the screening. The audience seemed to be about 3:1 female/male, for reasons unclear to me (it may have evened out slightly among thestragglers). The age distribution was broader than you’d find in any given “regular” movie theater, but much like other SMT films. The audience was also far less lily-white than an artsy theater in my neighborhood tends to be, probably majority latino at this particular show. None of that would be unexpected if I had driven a couple miles to the south or east to see other sorts of films, but it was quirky in a different way than an average SMT showing of a 1945 film classic.


Things started to get strange–at least strange to me as an impostor (or observer-anthropologist)–when the background piano music which is a mainstay of SMT showings, played on this occasion by James Fuchs, morphed into a sing-along of 1970s sentimental rock standards (Elton John, The Beatles, Billy Joel, shading into more recent Tori Amos). The audience/singers were enthusiastic, albeit mostly not quite knowledgeable of the lyrics, and the whole thing seemingly became some sort of secular church hymnal. That’s an unfamiliar world to me, at least since I last attended my Methodist minister grandfather’s sermons when I was a tween (i.e. not for 30 years). As the hymnal died down, the audience buzz turned to recovery chatter, with the audience perhaps situating themselves relative to the event.


… Oh, and did I mention that the event and audience were being filmed by a video crew? Are we famous yet?


Prior to the screening itself, Leonard Bushel gave an introduction to the series, and especially to WIT’s work, with just that bit of Catskill’sdog-and-pony schtick thrown in for good measure. Vernon Scott introduced the film itself, and the relevance and greatness of Billy Wilder. Such introductions are another mainstay of SMT, which always makes attendance there so much more of a cultural experience than is just seeing a movie at a theater chain.


So now we get to the genuinely strange part. The basic story of the film is of an alcoholic writer who is wrecking his life and causing pain in his all-too-caring and persevering brother and girlfriend. That summary might make it sound like some sort of Lifetime TV special, but Wilder’s film is nothing like thatsaccharinesentimentality. The film is both brutal and thoughtful, but not merely caustically despairing in the style of many more recent addiction films (it ain’tRequiemfor a Dream, as much as I also admire Aronofsky). Throughout the film, the audience reacted very vocally, and basically in a manner that most audiences would find wildly inappropriate. This is where I knew I was animpostorin the audience, or again, at least an outside observer. The hidden bottles were subject of hoots and cheers, an episode of alcohol O.D. hallucination (with admittedly dated special effects) was incidence for loud laughing (I believe not for its lack of realism, but for its ready identification by audience members). There was an (apparently) glaring contrast between the solemnity of the portrayed subject and the levity of the audience reaction.


It seems like there is an analogy here with a similar reaction that some audiences have with horror films and action films. Cheers for bottles of liquor in this audience felt similar to the cheers one hears at times for the killer in a horror film, or for the vigilante cop in an action film. In both cases, there is obviously somecatharticpoint of identification involved; I do not imagine that an audience, many or most of whom had experiences of addiction and recovery much like those in Wilder’s film, feel genuine levity about the topic. But they do come to the act of viewership in a manner different than I can.

Songs about Los Angeles: Fuck Tha Police by NWA

April 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm

OK, so Compton isn’t actually Los Angeles, but then neither is Beverly Hills which is widely featured in other songs of this series. Perhaps the series title refers to the county rather than the city. In any case, there is a striking lacuna of songs south of I-10, let alone south of I-105. And South Central is even in the city proper.


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Police brutality and police corruption is certainly not a distinguishing feature of Los Angeles, per se. Other American, and worldwide, cities have more than their share of it. But few other places can match the breadth, scope, or duration of persistent abuse, and its incendiary results, that our city has managed, from the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, to the 1965 Watts Riots, to the 1992 Rodney King uprising, to the long-standing, systematically brutal Rampart Division, to the 2007 Police riot in McArthur park. Sure, Hollywood’s culture industry is venal, and the plastic people of Melrose and Ventura Avenues are trite and foolish; but it is the century long culture of official violence that has shaped the city more fundamentally.

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NWA’s album Straight Outta Compton is pivotal in several ways, and especially so the song “Fuck Tha Police.” You can more or less read the simmering history of the next four years after its 1988 release through the 1992 riots right out of the tone and sentiment of the song. The hyper-violence of NWA’s lyrics, for all its bluster and possible retrograde attitude, reflects an actual politically dissident reality from LA’s underclasses. Take this:


Fuck tha police

Comin straight from the underground

Young nigga got it bad cuz I’m brown

And not the other color so police think

They have the authority to kill a minority


At the same time, this song represents a musical shift. It brings a DIY attitude of punk and lo-fi into rap music, while shifting the cultural center of rap from New York and Boston to Los Angeles. Or at least it made LA enough of a presence in the genre’s axis to represent another stylistic pole. Even wrapped in the new hyperbolic toughness of gangster rap, there is a levity and humor to NWA. Can anyone quite avoid reminiscence on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” in:


Fuckin with me cuz I’m a teenager

With a little bit of gold and a pager

Searchin my car, lookin for the product

Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics


The song as a whole, of course, is a framed narrative of a mock trial of the brutal LA police, concluding with:


The jury has found you guilty of bein a redneck,

whitebread, chickenshit muthafucka.

Wait, that’s a lie. That’s a goddamn lie.

I want justice! I want justice!

Fuck you, you black muthafucka!


In a broader context, “Fuck Tha Police” also became a touchstone to national and international debate over censorship and free speech, being banned and blocked in many places, and hence seeing increased sales and protest radio play in those places escaping direct censorship (or covertly under censorship regimes). A whole lot of Los Angeles is condensed into a few minutes of song.


Epilogue: Into the 1990s and 2000s, of course, gangsta rap became just another deadeningly successful cultural motif, with far less clever lyrical hyper-violence (and misogyny and homophobia) becoming keys to wide record sales. The genre, done with far less musical or lyrical skill than NWA, became the mainstay of MTV, Hollywood movies, and the general culture of America. It would be foolish to read into these few young rappers much of a political program and sophisticated radicalism. On the other hand, I do not think NWA (the young versions of themselves, until they became the various things the members became), should be held to account for the later co-optation of the genre they mostly launched.


Also read more posts in this series.

Counting homelessness

April 12, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Back on March 10, the National Center on Family Homelessness released a report with the widely reported headline 1in 50 children in America are homeless each year. Its summary continues, “Without a voice, more than 1.5 million of our nation’s children go to sleep without a home each year. ” This is certainly a provocative number, and one that was presented in most places with either a hint of skepticism or, over at the Murdoch and Moonie press, with outright ridicule.


Looking at the report, I tend to think the mainstream press, for once, got their tone more or less right. The NCFH seems to have overreached, which is probably a shame given the reality of our growing poverty and foreclosure crisis…<span id="more-24439"></span>The executive summary to this report exclaims, “It is unacceptable for one child in the United States to be homeless for even one day.” It is hard to disagree with the pious sentiment, though almost equally hard not to note that it suffers argumentum ad misericordiam.


The numbers struck me, in part, because during my relatively comfortable, lower-middle class childhood, I was (apparently) homeless during at least two year-long intervals. The definition of homelessness used by NCFH for this report includes:



  • Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as doubled-up);

  • Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations;

  • Living in emergency or transitional shelters;

  • Abandoned in hospitals;

  • Awaiting foster care placement;

  • Using a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;

  • Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings;

  • Migratory children who qualify as homeless because they are living in circumstances described above.


It is clearly the case that all of these life situations reflect social and economic issues for which government action is desperately needed. But most also fall outside of what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calls literal homelessness. By narrower criteria, 330,000 children were homeless in 2007, a number which surely must be considerably higher in 2009 (though certainly still short of NCFH’s 1.5 million).


I suppose it is not much more than my own somewhat vacuous piety to reiterate that political ends are best served by accuracy and honesty in social analysis, rather than by hyperbole. In this vein, I think reporting divided numbers on a variety of problem situations facing children would ultimately serve goals of improving social welfare better than lumping them together into a single over-broad category of homelessness. Leo Strauss, to my mind, has no place in our discourse on the left.


I am actually most curious for this post to try to solicit the childhood experiences of readers here. Many of you, like myself, must have lived parts of your childhoods in situations itemized by the NCFH’s homelessness definition; some, unlike myself, were also “literally homeless” in the HUD sense. What were the concrete realities of these situations, and more specifically, how did you and the adults around you perceive these situations? What actions and programs by government would have alleviated the ills of these situations most directly?

Bonhams & Butterfields

April 7, 2009 at 12:35 am
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Provident Children disposing of their deceased Mother's Effects for the Benefit of the Creditors!


I couple weeks ago, the lovely Mrs. Lulu had the chance to find her own little niche in our charming global depression. Below is a guest commentary:


Wednesday March 25th, 11 am in LA. The line of people hoping to sell their family treasures stretches around the corner onto Sunset Blvd. I am at Bonhams & Butterfields‘ monthly free appraisal event in West Hollywood. I am here to get an appraisal for three Salvador Dali lithographs that my father gave me for my seventeenth birthday. I’ve loved them, displayed them, kept them through decades, carried them through several moves, but now, as one of the 10.5% LA unemployed, I’m ready to sacrifice them for the sake of more basic needs. [...]<span id="more-24694"></span>Others in line have paintings, prints, furniture, ceramics, jewelry, photographs, rare books, silver, sculptures, and objets d’art ranging to the truly weird. They carry their items in bags, wheel them on carts, drag them along the sidewalk, as we lurch forward every few minutes or so. One man, with a very large canvass taped up in bubble wrap, pushes it way ahead of himself along the building wall, then leaves it there to wait for the line to catch him up. Some people appear shy and protective of their precious loot; others proud, turning their goods to catch the sun or face the street. I chat with the two women behind me in line. One is bringing an oil painting that she had purchased years ago at a garage sale. Another has an old glass vase, a family heirloom that had been handed down from her grandmother. I speculate that the economic downturn seems to have sent many people to their attics, but the woman, who has been before, tells me that this monthly event is always packed.


I have to admit the staff seems to have this potential madness well under control. The line moves quickly and within 20 minutes I am at the large open door being greeted by a pleasant woman asking me what manner of items I’ve brought. She hands me a colored slip of paper with the words prints and photos and the number 65 written on it and directs me to the appropriate station. Inside is a well-oiled operation. The large, open space is filled with tables behind which experts with computers and books examine the offerings brought to them. The air is filled with the sounds of information being exchanged in earnest tones. I take a seat in my section and wait for my number to be called.


While waiting, I muse on the other-worldliness of all this—the collector mentality, the expert knowledge of things, the secondary art market as a system of valuation based on pure exchangeability—for these objects possess little-to-no functionality. The only question is whether someone else wants them, and, if so, how badly. Aaah, capitalism. Seems a fair enough method for assigning social or public value. How badly someone wants your good is the determining factor in whether it sells. So the story goes; it sounds so democratic. “Don’t worry, it’s fair, the market is free.” But here’s the rub and the lie of it. It all boils down to how fairly the economic voting rights are distributed. It’s hardly the one person/one vote political freedom of a democracy. And yet we are brainwashed to believe that these systems entail one another.


A half an hour wait, my reverie disturbed, my number called. I make my way to the table and show my goods. So what are they worth? The expert, quite professionally, whispers against the schadenfreude of others, “very little.”

Parking in LA: A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

April 6, 2009 at 12:07 am
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I am considering a left turn...


For naught did I study hermeneutics. Traffic signs are shrouded. On the other hand, the parking signs are still far more opaque to me overall. The omission of a district, however, at least lets me roll my eyes immediately; unlike those collections of 4 or more rules about just when I might park, none of which seem quite possible to reconcile with each other.


Note to readers: The form of the quotation “An enigma wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery” seems more mellifluous to me, as well as more familiar. However, the attribution to Winston Churchill of the title form seems convincing, and surprisingly modern.

The awnings of a new era

April 4, 2009 at 10:24 am
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The Flapper


I was walking at night, near my home, in what the LA Times apparently calls “Mid-City,” and found myself strangely transported by the spirits of the stucco and Spanish-style 1920s houses on these nice blocks. It is this architecture that feels most “Los Angeles” to me, though admittedly perhaps largely simply as an artifact of where I have lived during my fairly brief sojourn here. Accompanied by my dearest native informant, thoughts started to swirl in my mind, about the people whom these houses first saw, and what in turn these people saw, and how they would see this neighborhood now.


My quandry, in this case, was mostly technological, if you can perhaps extend “technology” to encompass that part of it that concerns the social and political organization and regimentation of people themselves. Michel Foucault is always relatively dear in my thoughts. Grabbing an average American, but not necessarily an Angeleno per se, from 1925, what would he or she think of 2009 Los Angeles? …<span id="more-24558"></span>Obviously, my question is a fairly familiar one in fiction, largely but not only “science fiction,” modulo the dates forward or backward that a time traveler or long-sleeping subject might travel.


It seemed to me that there are a couple sorts of surprises. On the one hand, there are those striking changes in degree or form that might be immediately visible but that pose no huge conceptual barrier. The houses certainly had more lights on in them than they would have in the 1920s, but electric or gas lighting would be a familiar experience for our transport. The parked cars would appear surprisingly numerous and oddly shaped. Helvetica has assumed a surprising dominance in signage since its 1957 creation. Still, none of that would seem terribly difficult for our prohibition-era friend to reason about. Nor, I suppose, would the prevalence of liquor stores. My informant suggested the changes in landscaping have been dramatic since the 1920s, which seems true but also not “hard to digest” in a fundamental way. I think the neighborhood is a bit more integrated racially/culturally than it would have been during the heyday of Jim Crow, but only by a bit (perhaps far less than our Progressive 1920s friend might have guessed).


The thing that struck me most in this imaginative fancy, on nighttime streets, was the glow of television sets showing through many front windows. At a first glance, this is just another bluish light, but often one can also see the full screens of moving images and the residents glued to or half-ignoring the narratives thereon. Film also captured motion (though not yet sound) in a generally similar fashion back in 1925, but there seems something fundamental about its transposition to every ordinary household. Had I gone inside these houses, I might have seen more of computer and telecommunications technologies, but little was apparent (outside the remarkably powerful computer that I carry in my own front pocket) through curtained windows.


I wonder though if there is something else fundamental that my 21st century eyes just don’t see through the glaring familiarity of some technological presence. Do readers note such items?

If only California were Iowa

April 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm
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Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain


No more discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Tall Corn State. A unanimous Supreme Court, and no possibility for overly hasty amendment of a protection of rights (not until 2012, at the earliest, and unlikely by then).

I was lucky enough to live in Massachusetts in 2004. Like Iowa, we had some checks-and-balances against an overly quick constitutional revision process. Mob rule ain’t always all it’s cracked up to be; good courts have a place.

Is this a DUI offense?

April 2, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Bumper sticker seen on Crescent Heights, Hollywood.



Sorry for the technical limits. I was driving, and not able to get an actual picture of the sticker. I think my reproduction captures the essence of it though. For what it’s worth, car looked to be about a 1990’s Toyota, not obviously falling apart, but also not so pricey as the German cars that inhabit my neighborhood.


(for blind readers and robots: the image reads “I’d rather be reading Bukowski”)

Form follows floatsam

April 2, 2009 at 12:17 am
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A simulacrum of nothing much


One of the many horrors of L.A. architecture is certainly its over-presentation in movies and television. It is comicallyclichédto see stories set in other cities, whose framing shots are the same Los Angeles “skyline” that even non-Angelenos have come to recognize as framing shots of every non-L.A. city that makes it onto filmic representation. What makes this SoCal-centrism so much the worse is the underlying vacuity of buildings in Los Angeles. Fredric Jameson, following Jean-François Lyotard, famously advanced the notion of postmodernism as pastiche, and Angelena intellectuals often paint the unthinking, seedy eclecticism of Los Angeles as advancing such post-modern ideals (or its anti-idealism, perhaps).

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On my recent flight to Chicago, I had the opportunity to read our own Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. Hickey rails charmingly against an excess of formalism having overtaken art and architecture from the latter half of the 20th century. He defends an underlying aesthetic of inherent beauty as the mode of effectivity in the political arguments made by important artworks. I do not wholly buy Hickey’s argument—if nothing else I am something of a formalist. Or more defensibly, I think that works have multiple modes of effectivity, though I do not deny that beauty is one. Certainly not one of which anyone can accuse downtown Los Angeles, of course.


Some formalism, however, reaches complete parody of itself. Notably, most of Frank Gehry’s workembarrassinglyeschews either beauty or any other formal or functional aspect other than a garish proclamation of “look at me, I am a great architect.” I was struck by this after watchingSketches of Frank Gehry (on video, accompanied by our own Dr. Koplow and other friends enamored of or just rationalizing the kitsch that is LA). While the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao has an undeniable elegance, The Disney Hall just crosses that line into empty self-declaration of a parodic post-modernism.


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Organic pastiche


Of course, the reversal in all this is that fact that everywhere else has become, at least a bit, like the reflection of a geographically bounded Hollywood location scout’s narrow imagination. Seeing the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, pictured at top, gave me an eery feeling I had never left home. Well, I had that feeling until I turned around to see the elegant heterogeneity of Chicago’s skyline, just 180 degrees away from Chicago’s monument to Los Angeles simulacra.

An amphiboly about amphibians

March 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm


I have only been to CalTech once, and Pasadena is admittedly not quite Los Angeles… although they were pretty close from the perspective of my still-East-Coast eyes at the time of that visit. I’m sure no one is really waiting with bated breath, but I warn you now of a future rant on the meaning of “place.” I digress.


While wandering the campus, I sat for a while near a small pond filled with frogs. Actually, the frogs were a nice addition to the campus, with maintenance people returning them to the pond from various nearby buildings. Aside from the pleasant scene, what caught my eye was a sign at the edge of the pond:


“Please do not feed or remove animals from pond”


In some sense, a reasonable and commonplace enough request. On closer mental inspection it struck me how odd it was. In particular, it is a lovely case of a turn of classical rhetoric: amphiboly. About… well, amphibians.


There’s little in life I like more than alliteration.

Thermal Corruption

March 9, 2009 at 4:00 pm

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Places with actual weather

Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles–two “winters”, so called, so far–I’ve been overwhelmed by the creeping inability to withstand any actual weather that afflicts Angelenos. The “storms” this December drove in this observation. Partially via the rather breathless newscasters excitedly proclaiming the few inches of snow in some nearby mountains and slightly coolish temperature in Los Angeles and environs themselves, coming during some pleasantly mild rains. But really the observation strikes me hardest among my own friends and acquaintances.


I can understand well enough how natives to the area would be inexperienced with things like water coming from the sky, or temperatures falling to actual button-your-jacket levels. For that matter, the immigrants from similar or warmer climes, are equally excused of the corruption of this rant…<span id="more-22172"></span> What is so odd is that all my once-northern friends seem to reach this same Hollywood-set experience of temperatures after approximately a year here, the sturdiest lasting two, maybe. Is some toxin afflicting them (or, heaven forbid, ‘us’)? My friends from Moscow and Warsaw, from Montreal, from Wisconsin, from Massachusetts, quickly come to believe that 55 deg F is unpleasantly cold, and are filled with apoplectic terror at the thought of the snows they once rolled in and drove though.


This phenomenon does not seem generic to all warm geographies. Or at least it seems much slower to take in its victims. I know people who have lived in Georgia, or Texas, or even the Caribbean, who while not necessarily remaining arctic aficionados, at least retain awareness of what cold is (and is not).


Me, I’m resisting corruption, as best I can. I fancy myself one of those few survivors in those equally-LA zombie movies, beating back the infection of those easily-chilled post-life locals. I haven’t avoided the water, but perhaps I’ve missed whichever chic coffee shop serves the pro-freeze elixer. I was so delighted by my far-too-short exposure to signficantly sub-freezing temperatures on a recent trip. And I revel in my memories of snow shoveling. Maybe it’s all enough to keep me pure… as the driven snow.

The micro-geography of fashion

March 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Los Angeles is marked more than most cities, maybe more than any other city, by a locality of style. I’m not sure what happens if these locals drive (or walk!) between neighborhoods, but it seems that one can nearly pinpoint the block you are at just by looking at the outfits of pedestrians and passers-by. But then, it goes beyond garments, actually, pose and posture–most certainly facial expression–likewise modulates by quarter mile, fashinistas wired like pigeons with an internal magnetic GPS organ.


It would be interesting, I think, to try photographing people on blocks, and testing readers’ recognition of areas this way. The photos should not give away much of architecture, but I think we’d get surprisingly good success. For some future post, I hope.

Propriety among the lumpenproletariat

March 6, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Until a few months ago, I rented some office space outside my home, in a building with a half dozen small suites in the Fairfax District.  One evening, going into work (for I am a night owl, and my brain starts doing its best around midnight), I found an unfolded pocket knife laying unsafely on the exterior metal back-stairs to the building…


<span id="more-22382"></span>My first thought was simply that someone might be injured stepping on it, especially when it was dark.  I picked it up, folded it, and put it in my office.  It also occurred to me to wonder who had left it on the stairs.


A bit more background.  There had been a particular homeless man who often slept underneath these back stairs (or sometimes sat there during the day).  Really quite an elaborate production; he would often surround the lower landing with sheets for some privacy, making something of a not-quite-as-desperate “urban camping” environment.  Moreover, the fellow seemed to play against type in several ways.  He showed no evidence to a casual eye of mental illness or substance abuse, was relatively young and healthy looking, and cross-dressed to varying degrees.  Moreover, his economic specifics seemed to be a slight mystery, since although homeless, I sometimes saw him or a friend of his who sometimes slept there with him, with a cell phone and a laptop.  Perhaps those are the trappings of today’s homeless folks, or maybe those who make their way to LA with hopes of fame (perhaps he was writing his screenplay under those stairs?).


Beyond feeling bad in a general way that this man (and so many other people) had no home, I felt bad in the specific fact that to go in and out the back stairs at night, I would need to walk, in effect, on his roof, and start my car next to his “tent.”  I tried to walk quietly, and make as little disturbance with the car as possible (e.g. back up a bit before turning on my headlights that would otherwise shine on him/them).


Occasionally we spoke briefly.  During those times, he was quite polite, even apologetic for his effects being in the way or a visual disturbance.  I always said that he need not be so, though I think some other folks in the building had complained to him at other times.


It occurred to me, perhaps not immediately when I gathered the knife mentioned, but a few days later when I passed him going into work, that the pocket knife was likely his.  I felt an annoyance at the thought he might have left it opened in an unsafe location.  And, of course, I had a brief thought that “the homeless” are, we are told, supposed to be perceived as dangerous and unstable… not the sort who one wants to carry knives.  That was a momentary flit though, and it seems more realistically that a pocket knife is exactly the sort of small tool one needs to improvise a tent of sheets, cut food without a proper kitchen, and so on.


On the way out from work, a few hours after passing him entering, I approached him with the knife and asked if he had lost one.  Again apologetic, he said that he had been scared some days ago by a group of guys whom he felt meant him harm, and had left his things ungathered.  I actually hadn’t seen other items, but someone else presumably gathered them between the time of his intimidation (or at least his perception of such) and when I picked up the pocket knife.  In any case, I returned the knife and he thanked me.

David Mertz It wasn't similar to the one pictured. It was a regular folding knife, maybe 3-4" blade. I actually made a bit of an effort to make sure it was his: i.e. I mentioned finding one, and he said something about its color before I took it out of my pocket. So it seems pretty certain it was his.

I knife isn't really a weapon though. Not firstly so. As I mention in my post, it's a tool with many practical purposes (as you know). I've been doing a whole lot of cutting cardboard boxes these days with my own pocket knife...
March 6, 2009 at 11:31 pm
David Mertz What, you think I'm going to masturbate onto a pocket knife?! :-)

...not to say I might not drool a little over a high-carbon Damascus steel kitchen knife. I *do* admire fine cutlery (e.g. http://premiumknives.com/ShopSite/Kasumi_Sumikama_84017_7_inch_Damascus_Vegetable_Knife.html
March 6, 2009 at 11:41 pm

DC Secularism Examiner: Oklahoma legislator to Richard Dawkins: We don’t like your kind ’round these parts

March 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm

The opiate of the masses

March 5, 2009 at 3:41 pm
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Christianity: Now for English Speakers


This sign struck me on an evening walk on Olympic, near Fairfax. Not quite Korea Town, but heading in that direction, linguistically and geographically. The sign, which read “An English Speaking Christian Congregation,” had a reminiscence of bad old discrimination/ exclusion signs, but I think its intention is almost exactly the opposite.  Next door to these Lutherans is a Korean Episcopalean church.  That one was written mostly in Korean (which I don’t read, nor speak, unfortunately), but with a small caption saying “English services in basement”.


While I certainly cannot see any good in anyone in whatever linguistic community receiving religious indoctrination, I like the addition of factual consumer warnings to their signage, roughly:  “If you want the benefit (or harm) of religion, here’s an ingredients label to evaluate.”

The essence of sex and rights

March 4, 2009 at 4:00 pm

There is something that has gone wrong in the last 40 years of the gay-rights movement, albeit for generally well-meaning reasons.  The justifiable outrage over the passage of Proposition 8 has accentuated this fact in my mind, as did seeing Milk a couple months ago (not because of anything in particular about the quite good movie itself, but just because of the times it chronicles).


By way of background, I have something a familial boast: my mother wrote the first gay rights ordinance in the USA, when I was in my first years of elementary school. This ordinance, like most of those that followed in the few years after it, led to a recall of much of the city council, …<span id="more-22152"></span> and thereby repeal of the housing-discrimination ordinance before it ever went into effect. The resonances of 1970s discourses still echo in my thoughts about human and civil rights.


Back in the old days, the term “sexual preference” was in use, a better alternative to the “sexual orientation” that has pretty much superseded it. Here’s where the good intentions have led to bad results. In order to combat a silly volunteerist myth promoted by homophobic “post-gay cures” (psychiatry often complicit here), most of the gay-rights movement has embraced some species of essentialism: sex isn’t what we do, it’s what we are Sometimes that comes with biological reductionisms and determinisms, sometimes not, but in all cases it is a foolishly mechanical antithesis to the equally foolish notion that we simply choose desire as we might an outfit or entree.


The protections advocated by and for gay-essentialists are thereby modeled after the legal protections we should grant on the basis of disability, or even more-so after race (nevermind the false essentialism equally present in that discourse). A class of citizens, being essentially and innately who they are, should have the same marriage rights (and other rights) as those “born differently.” It boils down to a fantasy of genetically distinguished individuals rather than coming back to the far more sensible libertarian principle that the government should get the hell out of the business of regulating behaviors that don’t concern it! Being a libertarian with a small ‘l’, not a large one, it’s not that I think government should be out of all private business: Following a perfectly wonderful history of civil rights jurisprudence and legislation, government should prohibit discrimination on the basis of considerations that are also none of the damn business of companies, organizations, etc.


What about marriage then? Marriage is one of the broadest government mandates for enhanced privileges, financial subsidies, procedural preferences, etc. Discrimination in granting these preferences is deeply offensive for all the many obvious reasons. Step back, however. Why is government going so far out of its way to designate a specific religious practice as especially worthy of these enhanced benefits?! Marriage is simply a religious convention, and making it heterosexual, monogamous, largely still patriarchal, is just endorsing one particular religious doctrine over any others citizens might follow. Separation of church and state ought to weigh against this strongly.


There are a set of rights and privileges that now come in an automatic bundle with marriage, but sensibly these should be divorced from religious convention. Just let individuals designate who they want to have enhanced visitation rights when they are hospitalized.  This need not be the one individual they happen to have sex with (but it could be if someone wants that). And who should get inheritance by default. Or who should benefit from tax subsidies of marriage (questionable to start with, but fine, just let taxpayers designate a “tax partner” for their household). And so on. Moreover, there is no reason at all why each of these persons need be the same individual, a “Chinese menu” of names of those who hold each role would be no huge legal burden if sensible laws allowed it. If your God says that your tax partnerships must follow your genitalia, government should not interfere with your faith, but neither should it mandate that belief for everyone.

Night and Day on Beverly Blvd

March 4, 2009 at 12:10 am
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Come In, We're Closed



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Sorry, We're Open


Los Angeles isn’t really the sort of place that has stuffed jackalope in windows, redneck bumperstickers about guns, or behind-the-register signs reading “”In God we trust the rest pay cash.” It’s nice to see a bit of the sort of deadpan humor around town that was old when the hills were young.

That old mole

March 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm
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I'll be your author this evening


I moved to Los Angeles in October 2006, for a strange contract, in this strange specular land. Then, as now, I was reminded of our friends at the Bureau of Public Secrets who so presciently remarked of 21st century LA:


As the world of the spectacle extends its reign it approaches the climax of its offensive, provoking new resistances everywhere. These resistances are very little known precisely because the reigning spectacle is designed to present an omnipresent hypnotic image of unanimous submission.


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Year by year, things get queerer here, in this pastiche of post-modern archaity I now call home.


As readers can now see, I have joined Metblogs, at the invitation of our dear editor, Lucinda Michele. I hope to add to this site some socio-political musings on the psycho-geography of LA. Perhaps even fulfill some lofty ambitions of making y’all folks think just a little bit harder about this city around you. We’ll see.


As to me, you’re welcome to sleuth around more. I am not hard to find on Google, and my bio gives some (oblique) pointers. Perhaps it’s enough to say that I’m old enough, and over-educated enough, to have thought about a thing or two; but neither old nor wise enough to hold my tongue when I should.


Welcome!

The silver lining in the housing crisis

March 3, 2009 at 2:40 am

As surely as many bad things pertain to our current global depression, it has had a twofold benefit for me personally. Mind you, I am little fond of the decimation of my retirement accounts or the continuing unemployment of my significant other. Still, I am a renter in L.A., and one has to see some redemption in the free-fall of rental prices (even if they are not, perhaps, quite so rapid as those of underlying property values).


I just moved to a new apartment a few days ago. As with most moves, it was accompanied by endless fretting over finding just the right place, with advantages and drawbacks of each one. Quite a few candidates went through the mill, in various neighborhoods (but generally roughly West Side). The ultimate result was renting a Fairfax District place, 400 feet away from our prior apartment…<span id="more-21955"></span>with similar size and architecture, but at $2650 for a 3BR rather than $3500.


The obvious advantage here is, well, it cost a lot less money. We got a perfectly good deal when we started renting the other place 2 years ago; but in today’s market, the prior place was simply overpriced.


Which arrives at the second advantage, also not to be neglected: schadenfreude over the “plight” of the owning classes. Prior to moving, we suggested to our landowner that we would be happy to continue renting at a reduced rate of $3000/mo. With a sense of arrogant entitlement, she insisted that she “could not afford” to collect less rent than our prior amount, it apparently being the moral duty of tenants to buy a house for her.


Especially living so close by, there is a joy in seeing the continuing “For rent” sign on the lawn of the old place, with a slowly dropping purported rental amount listed on it. My guess is that after a month vacant, she’ll arrive at the fair-market amount of $3000, and rent the place. As with most situations, I do not see schadenfreude in this matter as the venal sin or guilty pleasure that so many misguided moralists might. As long as one does not cause, nor even desire to cause, equitable suffering, pleasure in its observation seems a noble endeavor.

The silver lining in the housing crisis

March 1, 2009 at 3:15 am
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As surely as many bad things pertain to our current global depression, it has had a twofold benefit for me personally. Mind you, I am little fond of the decimation of my retirement accounts or the continuing unemployment of my significant other. Still, I am a renter in L.A., and one has to see some redemption in the free-fall of rental prices (even if they are not, perhaps, quite so rapid as those of underlying property values).

<span id="more-39"></span>


I just moved to a new apartment a few days ago. As with most moves, it was accompanied by endless fretting over finding just the right place, with advantages and drawbacks of each one. Quite a few candidates went through the mill, in various neighborhoods (but generally roughly West Side). The ultimate result was renting a Fairfax District place, 400 feet away from our prior apartment, with similar size and architecture, but at $2650 for a 3BR rather than $3500.


The obvious advantage here is, well, it cost a lot less money. We got a perfectly good deal when we started renting the other place 2 years ago; but in today’s market, the prior place was simply overpriced.


Which arrives at the second advantage, also not to be neglected: schadenfreude over the “plight” of the owning classes. Prior to moving, we suggested to our landowner that we would be happy to continue renting at a reduced rate of $3000/mo. With a sense of arrogant entitlement, she insisted that she “could not afford” to collect less rent than our prior amount, it apparently being the moral duty of tenants to buy a house for her.


Especially living so close by, there is a joy in seeing the continuing “For rent” sign on the lawn of the old place, with a slowly dropping purported rental amount listed on it. My guess is that after a month vacant, she’ll arrive at the fair-market amount of $3000, and rent the place. As with most situations, I do not see schadenfreude in this matter as the venal sin or guilty pleasure that so many misguided moralists might. As long as one does not cause, nor even desire to cause, equitable suffering, pleasure in its observation seems a noble endeavor.


25 Actually Random Things

February 11, 2009 at 1:33 am
OK... the tagging and rules are painfully annoying. And I confess that as much as I love my friends, I cannot really manage to read past about 5 of anyone's 25 things without suffering brain-splitting ennui. So mind you, I certainly don't imagine mine will be interesting.

However, the formal demand that is never met in any of these somehow drives me. That is, I'd like to select 25 things that are actually random. We need a methodology then. Being who I am, I have every email I've written back to 1994 archived. I figure that every email must have some fact about me; and pretty much every fact that is true of me must have been mentioned in some email. I'm sure the distribution of facts is highly skewed, but so be it.

Out of the 57,071 email messages I have archived on a particular machine, enumerated with find ./Mail, I'll select those with offsets selected by 25 repetitions of Python's random.randint(1,57071) (actual offsets omitted).

In each message, I'll (somewhat subjectively) identify the first "fact about me" I can see. Many of these messages weren't necessarily written by me, but only received, so I'll just select some fact that closely related to the message content that is still "about me."

(1) I am, also, a "ruthless critic of all that exists"

(2) I stay up late, and such is noted by an equally sleepless lover.

(3) I have subscribed to too many mailing lists over time.

(4) I am archivist for the Open Voting Consortium mailing list

(5) I am, to a first pass, a Chavezista, as much as such makes sense for a lefty American.

(6) I had a dentist appointment on June 16, 2006, and missed an OVC board meeting.

(7) I can endorse this comment by someone else: "I don't think any capitalist bloodsucker is going to kill himself and/or his fellow leeches or not depending on whether I say its OK." :-).

(8) I didn't have to compromise by voting for Obama, since I lived in California where the electoral votes were not in doubt (don't blame me, I voted Green Party/Cynthia McKinney).

(9) I was matched by an internet dating site.

(10) I get way too much spam.

(11) I sent my nephew something to represent Los Angeles for his school project.

(12) I have a drawing of Rosa Luxemburg hanging on my wall, drawn by Ward Churchill.

(13) I think Francis Fukuyama was much more interesting when he wrote under the name David Ricardo.

(14) I am on the Python Software Foundation Trademark Committee.

(15) I think "globalization" is a myth, or at least forgetfulness of the 19th century when things were much more globalized.

(16) I find most of my jobs by being solicited by people I did not previously know (my writing career creates nice publicity in programming communities).

(17) I still feel a great deal of fondness for the friends and lovers whom I am in only occasional contact with anymore.

(18) I created a Paypal account on Dec 05, 2003.

(19) I am fascinated by much that an Australian epidemiologist friend tells me about, including his mention of 'a whole area of endeavour known as "statistical disclosure control" or "computational disclosure control" which worries about (re-)identification of individuals from ostensibly de-identified data'.

(20) Many of my friends have joined Facebook.

(21) I know more than most non-lawyers about the disturbing and expanding domain of copyright since Berne.

(22) I find it interesting that political lesbianism came decades before metrosexuals.

(23) I volunteered for several years with Habitat for Humanity, and was site supervisor for renovation and construction of several houses.

(24) I believe that cryptoanalysis can become obsessed with mathematical threats where social engineering dangers are vastly greater.

(25) I really enjoyed my 2007 trip to Portland, Vancouver and Seattle with my cartwheeling friend.
Andrea Lapin So, a mined data hoard is more random than a mined mind? I'm not sure I quite buy that. But I love the list, nonetheless.
And I'm curious about the Fukuyama-Ricardo analogy: are we talking David, or Ricky?
February 11, 2009 at 9:34 pm
Martin Blais Your random generator is biased: short emails will count as much as long emails, which likely contain more Davidmertzness than the short ones. Therefore these are not truly random things, then, n'est-ce pas? Also, and more importantly, I fear a certain amount of data mining bias, such as a highly subjective for of rejection sampling...
February 11, 2009 at 9:38 pm
David Mertz There were no rejections of emails. The 25 numbers I choose were the only ones used, and I extracted a "fact" from every email randomly selected. I recognize the length issue though; but that's acknowledged in the possible sample bias mentioned.
February 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm
David Mertz ...moreover, while the "facts" are paraphrases, I took each fact from as close to the top of each email as I could manage, almost always from the first paragraph. I'd be open to a different methodology, however, were one suggested and practical.
February 12, 2009 at 2:36 am
Martin Blais I think I'll try this at some point, now you've got me curious about what comes out of it :-)
February 12, 2009 at 8:36 am
Leah Rogers Great list, Dave! And some of them felt very random indeed. We both struggled with the "random" thing - I ended up just canning the whole idea and made my list 25 things that I love. It was fun to compile - like your list probably was, too! :0)
February 12, 2009 at 10:03 am
Vasudev Ram 1. Trust a programmer to come up with an algorithm even for something like this :-) I might have done the same myself, if I'd thought if it.

2. I like that "word" - Davidmertzness :-)
Good way of indicating that some statements are about a person ...
June 13, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Another war over fossil fuel?

January 22, 2009 at 1:14 am
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Since the start of the newest pogrom against Gaza, I’ve wondered what motivates it. I have to take all the “official rhetoric” about rocket strikes and the like as irrelevant, since the claims are more-or-less absurd on their face (beyond the generalized appeal of a generic anti-Muslim racism). It also doesn’t look like a straightforward land-grab though. One idea that quickly circulated on the left was that Israel’s aggression was an attempt to seize the natural gas reserves off the Gaza coast that had been discovered in the late 1990s. The first couple stories I read along these lines I read with skepticism. There’s an overly simplistic reductionist explanation that often comes up from the left about wars. However, there are some notable facts in here:



  • The prior Fatah PA government had negotiated a lease agreement for the gas extraction with BP in 1999.

  • Over the last several years, Israeli war ships have accelerated harrasment of Gazan fishing boats to push back fishing operations from the legal 20 mile range, down to 5 miles, thereby also removing Palestinian presence from the natural gas reserve area.

  • Obviously, in a general way, the starvation and blocking of basic medical supplies to Gaza over many years has been intended to “soften the target”, but that’s orthogonal to motivations for the aggression.


I saw an article a couple days ago in Jerusalem Post that really tipped my understanding into endorsing the fossil fuel explanation as being pretty central. Obviously, I don’t endorse conspiratorial thinking that looks for the “single, hidden, explanation” that makes sense of geopolitical events. Events are multi-causal and all. Still, I think the natural gas angle should be treated as pretty central, I believe, to the real motivations of the Olmert regime. The JP article was no leftist outcry. Just the opposite, it was an absolutely unreflective pro-Israeli line (invasion good, Palestinians bad, etc). However, it also observed the very same natural gas motivation of the action, just with a spin on how very good that was. The fact that the right “gives away” the same motivation, even if with a wink and nudge, seems to firm up the importance of this motivation. I think the other revelation that will come out soon is that we’ll soon see a significant upward revision in the estimated size of the natural gas reserve offshore of Gaza. A few other articles hint at this. My guess here is that Israel has conducted covert geological exploration in the areas cordoned off by its warships, and that upped the reserve estimates. The invasion is most likely planned to set the stage before the natural gas reserve size becomes general knowledge. Presumably, the “concessions” that Israel will demand in negotiations will be about control of this (now larger amount of) natural gas…with some cover language added about cease fires, Hamas owned rockets, and whatnot, to make it look like something other than a resources grab. How many cubic meters of gas are worth murdering a Palestinian child, exactly, for the Olmert regime? It looks like we can measure this pretty precisely now, or in the near future. I wonder how this compares to the value of the life of an Iraqi child in barrels-of-oil for the Bush regime. Or Chechens-per-gallon for Putin?


      

The micro-geography of fashion

December 22, 2008 at 7:07 pm
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Los Angeles is marked more than most cities, maybe more than any other city, by a locality of style.  I’m not sure what happens if these locals drive (or walk!) between neighborhoods, but it seems that one can nearly pinpoint the block you are at just by looking at the outfits of pedestrians and passers-by.  But then, it goes beyond garments, actually, pose and posture–most certainly facial expression–likewise modulates by quarter mile, fashinistas wired like pigeons with an internal magnetic GPS organ.


It would be interesting, I think, to try photographing people on blocks, and testing readers’ recognition of areas this way.  The photos should not give away much of architecture, but I think we’d get surprisingly good success.  For some future post, I hope.


      

The essence of sex and rights

December 22, 2008 at 5:54 pm
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There is something that has gone wrong in the last 40 years of the gay-rights movement, albeit for generally well-meaning reasons.  The justifiable outrage over the passage of Proposition 8 has accentuated this fact in my mind, as did seeing Milk yesterday (not because of anything really about the quite good movie itself, but just because of the times it chronicles).


By way of background, I have something a familial boast: my mother wrote the first gay rights ordinance in the USA, when I was in my first years of elementary school.  This ordinance, like most of those that followed in the few years after it, led to a recall of much of the city council, and thereby repeal of the housing-discrimination ordinance before it ever went into effect.  The resonances of 1970s discourses still echo in my thoughts about human and civil rights.


Back in the old days, the term “sexual preference” was in use, a better alternative to the “sexual orientation” that has pretty much superseded it.  Here’s where the good intentions have led to bad results.  In order to combat a silly volunteerist myth promoted by homophobic “post-gay cures” (psychiatry often complicit here), most of the gay-rights movement has embraced some species of essentialism: sex isn’t what we do, it’s what we are.  Sometimes that comes with biological reductionisms and determinisms, sometimes not, but in all cases it is a foolishly mechanical antithesis to the equally foolish notion that we simply choose desire as we might an outfit or entree.


The protections advocated by and for gay-essentialists are thereby modeled after the legal protections we should grant on the basis of disability, or even more-so after race (nevermind the false essentialism equally present in that discourse).  A class of citizens, being essentially and innately who they are, should have the same marriage rights (and other rights) as those “born differently.” It boils down to a fantasy of genetically distinguished individuals rather than coming back to the far more sensible libertarian principle that the government should get the hell out of the business of regulating behaviors that don’t concern it! Being a libertarian with a small ‘l’, not a large one, it’s not that I think government should be out of all private business: Following a perfectly wonderful history of civil rights jurisprudence and legislation, government should prohibit discrimination on the basis of considerations that are also none of the damn business of companies, organizations, etc.


What about marriage then? Marriage is one of the broadest government mandates for enhanced privileges, financial subsidies, procedural preferences, etc. Discrimination in granting these preferences is deeply offensive for all the many obvious reasons.  Step back, however.  Why is government going so far out of its way to designate a specific religious practice as especially worthy of these enhanced benefits?! Marriage is simply a religious convention, and making it heterosexual, monogamous, largely still patriarchal, is just endorsing one particular religious doctrine over any others citizens might follow.  Separation of church and state ought to weigh against this strongly.


There are a set of rights and privileges that now come in an automatic bundle with marriage, but sensibly these should be divorced from religious convention.  Just let individuals designate who they want to have enhanced visitation rights when they are hospitalized.  This need not be the one individual they happen to have sex with (but it could be if someone wants that).  And who should get inheritance by default.  Or who should benefit from tax subsidies of marriage (questionable to start with, but fine, just let taxpayers designate a “tax partner” for their household).  And so on. Moreover, there is no reason at all why each of these persons need be the same individual, a “Chinese menu” of names of those who hold each role would be no huge legal burden if sensible laws allowed it.  If your God says that your tax partnerships must follow your genitalia, government should not interfere with your faith, but neither should it mandate that belief for everyone.


      

Thermal Corruption

December 22, 2008 at 12:02 am
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Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles–two “winters”, so called, so far–I’ve been overwhelmed by the creeping inability to withstand any actual weather that afflicts Angelenos.  The recent “storms” this December drove in this observation.  Partially via the rather breathless newscasters excitedly proclaiming the few inches of snow in some nearby mountains and slightly coolish temperature in Los Angeles and environs themselves, coming during some pleasantly mild rains.  But really the observation strikes me hardest among my own friends and acquaintances.


I can understand well enough how natives to the area would be inexperienced with things like water coming from the sky, or temperatures falling to actual button-your-jacket levels.  For that matter, the immigrants from similar or warmer climes, are equally excused of the corruption of this rant.  What is so odd is that all my once-northern friends seem to reach this same Hollywood-set experience of temperatures after approximately a year here, the sturdiest lasting two, maybe.  Is some toxin afflicting them (or, heaven forbid, ‘us’)? My friends from Moscow and Warsaw, from Montreal, from Wisconsin, from Massachusetts, quickly come to believe that 55 deg F is unpleasantly cold, and are filled with apoplectic terror at the thought of the snows they once rolled in and drove though.


This phenomenon does not seem generic to all warm geographies.  Or at least it seems much slower to take in its victims.  I know people who have lived in Georgia, or Texas, or even the Caribbean, who while not necessarily remaining arctic aficionados, at least retain awareness of what cold is (and is not).


Me, I’m resisting corruption, as best I can.  I fancy myself one of those few survivors in those equally-LA zombie movies, beating back the infection of those easily-chilled post-life locals.  I haven’t avoided the water, but perhaps I’ve missed whichever chic coffee shop serves the pro-freeze elixer.  I was so delighted by my far-too-short exposure to signficantly sub-freezing temperatures on a recent trip.  And I revel in my memories of snow shoveling.  Maybe it’s all enough to keep me pure… as the driven snow.


      
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