Thursday, April 30, 2009

A beautiful day in the neighborhood...

I've been busy with various projects, including an attempt to translate a Chinese-language Hollywood Reporter that was way above my skill set (but definitely a great learning experience). Mostly I'm waiting for a few things to sort themselves out so I have a slightly better indication of what I will do in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy my neighborhood and surroundings. Who knows how much more time I'll have to spend here?

Yesterday I took quite a long walk, up through the Santa Monica Airport, stopped at the Whole Foods up on National & Barrington, then walked down Barrington to Palms, up to the Trader Joe's just on the other side of the 405 Freeway, then back down Palms and home. About a seven mile circuit. I needed Trader Joe's Almond Butter and hummus, and I like to have a destination when I walk. An excuse, really.

It's a great walk. I particularly enjoy the stretch through the Santa Monica Airport. Something about seeing all those little planes parked neatly alongside Quonset hangers, the DC3 monument (an actual DC3 mounted up on a stand), all this fills me with an odd sort of nostalgia. I've always loved airplanes. Not that I'd actually want to fly in the little ones, mind you, but they remind me of when I was a kid, and my dad had the aeronautical models from his work at Ryan Aviation, and the little Matchbox airplanes I had myself. You pass through the airport, and at the end there's a dog park and a people park where little kids learn soccer.

Then, down Barrington and over to Palms. This is a residential neighborhood, mostly, nice, mostly modest houses (pricey due to the location), mature trees, pretty yards. Up Palms past a municipal park, kids playing softball. It's a diverse neighborhood, different ethnicities, nationalities, ages. One thing I've noticed, on this walk, in my own neighborhood in Venice, is how friendly most people out on the sidewalks are. You'd think in this age of economic downturn and desperation that you'd feel more of that, more fear, but instead, I get the odd feeling that people are warmer than they used to be. It doesn't matter who they are, where they're from - if I smile, 99% of the time I get a smile back, a "Hi there!" a "How are you?"

Of course, I live in an affluent area, overall, solidly middle-class to wealthy with not many poor people, but still, I wonder if something has shifted, just a little. For a city where supposedly nobody walks, a lot of people are out walking in my part of L.A. Walking their dogs, talking their kids to the parks, jogging down the leafy streets. And smiling at each other.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bonus Sunday Cat-Blogging!

Taken with my cellphone camera so maybe not the best quality, but how cute is this?!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging!

Because we could all use some cute after the last couple of days...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rage on, Shep!

I tweeted this but it really deserves its own post: Shepherd Smith unloads on two torture apologists...

H/T to digby.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I've frequently wondered why the Bush Administration was so into torture. It's pretty clear that you don't get reliable information from a person you torture, and I have to think that the officials who pushed for it knew this, on some level. I concluded that they wanted to use torture the way that repressive regimes throughout history have used it: as a means of control, an awful example of the power of the state and how it can be turned against enemies of the regime - be they terrorists or dissidents.

I also thought that at least some of these people, and I'm not sure which ones, but some of them among this group of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Bybee, Yoo - some of them got off on it. Sadists who enjoyed the exercise of power over others. That it was done in the name of protecting the state gave them the necessary cover to justify what they did.

Then just now, I read this report from McClatchy:
The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime...

..."There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubeida at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
If the evidence didn't exist, manufacture it. Torture prisoners until they told you it was true.

Nothing was going to stop the Bush Administration from having their war. Not the truth and certainly not justice.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Champagne tastes...

...on a beer budget...sigh...that's me. Of course I'm not actually that fond of champagne, and I really love microbrew beer, point being, I like nice stuff. Not in all areas; there are many many things I just don't care about, but functional things, I'm a sucker for good design, and have I mentioned my strange bag fixation?

And audio-visual equipment. I've just had to stay away from this kind of thing because I know how I am. No plasma TVs for me, and I've had basically the same sound system for...well, parts of it are 30 years old (but lemme tell you, I really did my research on that 40 watts per channel Kenwood amp!).

Not surprisingly, the audio has been slowly dying for years. Rather than replace it, I just largely stopped listening to music in my house. Which is strange, given how much I love music, my many years of playing in bands, etc. I did buy an iPod but rarely used it. I don't like walking around with earbuds, screening out the rest of the world. Besides, it never sounded good to me.

But as I contemplated packing up and moving around (at least for a while), I kept staring at all the CDs racked around Shack by the Sea (we're not even going to discuss the vinyl), thinking, well, it would be nice to have music with me, wherever I am. Plus, loading all the CDs into my computer is something I can do that doesn't finally, irrevocably say, "Yes, I am moving." I'm leaving that decision till May 1st. May Day, you, if I do move, I'll need something to help other than baseball games and America's Next Top Model marathons.

So, I went down to the Apple Store to check out iPod speakers. "So are you pretty familiar with these systems?" I asked the closest clerk.

"Not really," he said, a little sheepishly. "I bought the Bose and didn't really listen to anything else."

The Bose, of course, was the most expensive dock they offered.

The two of us had a listen to the various systems. You know, not bad. The new version of the JBL donut (the Onstage III) sounded decent; the Logitec Portable okay, if a little tinny, and the Altec Lansing was pretty nice too. Then I listened to the Bose Sound Deck II.

"Oh," I said to the clerk. "Okay. I get it. Thanks a lot." He smiled.

After a few days of contemplation, I went back and bought the Bose. I'm listening to it now, and what can I say? It's great having music in the house again.

I'm just glad they didn't have the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin at the store. Not only does this get rave reviews for sound quality, it's called "the Zeppelin"! I'm not sure I could have resisted...

(the Apple Online store has a good selection of speakers, including all those mentioned above. Another nice-sounding speaker I might recommend is a JBL not included on the Apple site, the Radial Micro. I'm not sure which model I heard, and I haven't listened to it side-by-side with anything else, but it seemed to handle tricky classical stuff pretty well).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bad Blogger, no donut...April 2009 edition!

Okay, I've been negligent. Busy with a variety of things. Right now I'm pushing to get to 40K on the WIP by the end of the weekend. We'll see how that goes. And I'll try to post something interesting as well...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The human impact

Watch this clip by my extremely talented friend, Nikki Corda, from an upcoming documentary about the effects of the economic crisis in Las Vegas. I love this woman's attitude.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

This must be shared...

SNORK! Shanghai Slim linked to this in the comments on the post below. I didn't want anyone to miss it. Do you think they chose the soundtrack to entice potential "Top Gun" types to become blimp pilots?!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Finishing what I started, or unhealthy obsession?

I can't help it. I'm fiddling with the airship script'll only take a couple of days. I swear. I figured out how to solve something...a bunch of somethings...well, we'll see.

Did you know that airships could form the basis of a "greener" system of travel and transport?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Other Cassandra

I spent a big chunk of the day sorting through boxes of paper and and photographs - I had never quite gotten around to organizing all of the stuff I'd brought home from 15 years work at the studio - and once started, I sort of got on a roll. I'd been storing the work material in a little bonus room where I'd stashed a few other boxes of...well, I wasn't sure. They'd been out there for a while. One turned out to be writing and memorabilia from high school up to the point I lit out for China, back when. The other was primarily clippings, as was a good portion of the stuff from work.

I've long been a clipper and a saver, less so an organized filer, unfortunately. The older box of clippings had articles dating from the late eighties up till a few years ago (nowadays I clip less paper and archive a lot of data bits instead). A lot of the material was China-related, but there were a ton of articles about the environment, things like the Pacific Garbage Patch, tree-sitters, estrogenic substances causing gender confusion in frogs; the drug trade (weird, because my new book has that angle, and I hadn't even remembered that I'd been collecting the material), character studies (the world's greatest female sommelier, a man who can speak just about any language), places I might want to travel, strange science, stories about Los Angeles and San Diego, my favorite teams the Padres and the Chargers, and of course, airships. A lot of the articles are related to things I was writing or thought that I might want to write (like, you know, the airship thing). Other subjects were maybe tangentially related to writing but were more reflective of my lifelong interest in politics and how "the system" works.

I had a college-level political science class when I was a senior in high school, and when I reflect on it, I realize that this class influenced me on a profound level, forming the basic frame through which I view politics and institutional organization.

I can't even remember the name of the instructor. She taught at one of San Diego's better community colleges and came to my high school to teach this one "advanced class" for interested students. I remember that she was middle-aged, really ordinary-looking, not particularly distinctive in how she taught - I mean, she didn't jump around or dress up in costumes or use a lot of fancy audio-visual materials. She wore heavy-framed glasses and navy suits. But she must have been a subversive at heart. She chose wonderful textbooks that were well-written and persuasive, and I still remember some of their fundamental arguments. One was that institutions, be they government bureaucracies or corporations, tend to develop institutional imperatives that transcend and frequently conflict with their stated purpose, the most basic of which is that organizations, like any organism, want to survive and perpetuate themselves. Another was that America is run by a collection of "interlocking oligarchies," in which elites shuttle between business and government, and that it is primarily the interests of these elites that the government serves.

So, going through my boxes of clippings, I found articles I'd saved from the late eighties on to Bush II about income inequity in America, the rise in the gap between the rich and the poor, the fall of real wages, corporate malfeasance, financial manipulation, the privatization of risk, the perils of potential global financial crisis, currency meltdown, etc., etc., etc.

I didn't save most of them. I can find plenty of material today that says the same things.

Yeah, "no one could have predicted" our current crisis. Come on. People have been laying out the fundamentals of it for years.

(p.s. Here are some of the textbooks we used in that class....
Karl Deutsch, "Politics and Government: How people decide their fate," Thomas Dye, "Who's running America: institutional leadership in the United States," - the version I used is currently unavailable, but Dye apparently has published updates from Reagan through Bush II).

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Who knew?

A little murder really tightens up that sagging middle. I mean, the book's. My sagging middle requires abdominal crunches and more cardio.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Feel-good item for the day....

From the San Diego Union:
As a wayward young whale nicknamed Diego was swimming around in San Diego's harbor, a group of 24 San Diegans were on a whale-watching trip on San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California.

They ventured out in groups of eight in small boats for a tour led by the S.D. Natural History Museum. The gregarious gray whales gave them a warm welcome. They rubbed up against the hulls of the boats. Mothers pushed their babies toward the visitors, and the babies opened their mouths to have their tongues and baleens stroked.

What amazed museum executive Jim Stone, though, was one baby whale who dived and came up with a mouthful of red seaweed. The youngster brought it to the people in the boat, like a bouquet of flowers.

Stone, a longtime aquarium worker knowledgeable about marine mammals, said the baby clearly was bringing a gift. The passengers graciously accepted it.

(H/T sdlorac)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Well, this is kinda cool!

Red Oxx plugged my blog for plugging their stuff. Cool!

If I do move to China, I am so getting another one of their bags...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mission Accomplished!

I killed someone. I mean, in the book. It felt goooood!