Monday, November 28, 2005

Freeway Painting Quiz

I love this 1960 painting of a freeway interchange in L.A. This was painted by Bruce Bomberger for the Portland Cement Association, and you can get a closer look at it here. Commercial illustration like this is really a lost art form now.

Anyway, the quiz is free-form: What can you spot in this picture that's changed in the past 45 years? The quiz starts, of course, with "which interchange does this depict?"

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Movie Review: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (David Cronenberg, 2005)

I finally caught up to Cronenberg's latest earlier this week. Steve Erickson has the most interesting take I've seen on this film, although I must warn you there are SPOILERS within. If you read this movie as a straight-up thriller, it's merely a solid, tight film informed by some Cronenbergian stiltedness and gore. Which isn't a bad thing at all, but it is limited, especially if one gets the feeling from the film that the source material (which I haven't read) was the sort of heavyhanded musing about violence that characterizes a lot of the more serious yet still basically adolescent comic books.* Cronenberg has such a subtle, sure control over the tone of his film that I constantly felt he was elevating it above the ponderous macho-fest that a less skilled director would have produced. I think the key is that stiltedness I mentioned above--- it is not simply that the actors in this movie are playing roles, but that the characters they are playing are themselves playing roles, whether consciously or not. Which leads, of course, to the question of how much of our own personae are roles we play. Do we really have "true selves?"

*Credit should be given to Noel Murray for making this point first. Also, not that I have anything against adolescence per se, but as a general rule I've always preferred comic books that wear their adolescence on their sleeves to ones that try to hide it behind an air of "grittiness." But that's not to say that people like Frank Miller and Alan Moore don't produce some amazing work, but by and large I'd rather read an old issue of Avengers or Fantastic Four.

P.S. I must also mention that Maria Bello is smokin' hot in this movie, but what else is new?

David Cronenberg (d) 6
Viggo Mortensen 7
Maria Bello 3
Ed Harris 12
William Hurt 7
Howard Shore (m) 25

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Holiday Shopping

So, this year I decided to see what this whole Day-after-Thanksgiving early morning shopping frenzy was all about. Thanksgiving itself I had stayed over at my fiancee's family's house and that night had dutifully gone through the newspaper ads making a list of what to buy where for how much and, key to the shopping frenzy idea, what time the store opens.

My day started inauspiciously when my alarm went off at 3:50 AM and I lay in bed for the next ten minutes listening to a pack of howling coyotes in the distance --- but not too far in the distance. I got out to the Fry's Electronics in Canoga Park at 5:07 (they had opened at 5:00), and the parking lot was already packed; I had to park in the lot for a business park adjacent to the store. The line to get into the store was moving at a brisk walking pace, but its end was still all the way around the back of the building. It was pretty hectic inside but nobody was wrestling with each other or anything like that. They had advertised a selection of DVDs for $2.99, but didn't specify what they were; it turned out they were all movies I had seen or wasn't interested in getting.

So I left and headed over to Circuit City, which had also opened at 5:00, and was offering a whole mess of DVDs for $4.99, as well as some other deals. As I parked I listened on the news to a spot about Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, who was promoting Buy Nothing Day. I was not converted. There were some good deals out there, dammit. I got into the store at about 5:30, and it was packed to the gills. I searched around some in the bins, came across one DVD I thought about getting, saw the checkout line, which looked like it was at least an hour, and figured it wasn't worth it. So far I had been to two stores and had bought nothing.

Next up was Toys 'Ya' Us, which had been advertised as opening at 6:00. As it turns out, when I got there at 5:50, the doors were already open. There were people inside but it was fairly quiet. I immediately found the Legos I was looking for and got out before their announced opening. Kmart was opening at 6:00, so I went over to the one in Northridge in the hopes of finding something good. No such luck, but I hadn't pinned many big hopes on them. I got gas and headed down to Target, which had advertised a 7:00 opening. I got there a few minutes before 7:00 and they had already been open for a while; the sign on their door said they had opened at 6:00! As such they were cleared out of the items on my list, but I did manage to get something for my parents.

The next store on my list was Tower Records, but they weren't opening until 8:00, so I killed some time by checking out Best Buy, which didn't have anything advertised that I was dying to get. The store was packed, the trash outside looked like the aftermath of the Rose Parade, and people had already received parking tickets for overflowing onto the street. They had plenty of stock, though, and I thought about getting a CD, but the register line snaked all the way through the store, and despite assurances from the staff that there were 13 registers open, they still said it would be at least a 45 minute wait. I figured that wasn't really worth it to save a couple of bucks on a CD I didn't have my heart set on getting.

So over to Tower and a two-minute nap before the doors unlocked right at 8:00. There were only a few people inside and it was actually quiet. I browsed for a while and picked up a few items and then headed over to Tuesday Morning, a closeout store generally full of odd crap. They had opened at 8:00, also. There were a few customers and I took some time browsing before finding a gift for someone. With that, I was finished for the day, having done more shopping before 9:00 than most people do all day. I went back to the house and promptly fell back asleep.

What lessons did I learn? First of all, expect the electronics stores to be madhouses. The other places --- even the toy store--- were all pretty normal, except for the fact that they opened so early. Second of all, prioritize. It's really probably not worth it to stand in line for an hour just to save a few bucks on a DVD, but I could see it if you were saving a big wad of cash on a big-ticket item. So do your homework the night before and figure out exactly what it is that you want, and get to that store before the advertised opening time. You should probably call them up and see when they plan to actually open. For the really enticing deals, that's probably necessary; I remember showing up at Fry's one year in the afternoon and all the big sale stuff was already cleared out that morning.

Or if you don't feel like putting up with any of that, just buy nothing.

For another perspective, Kimmy here seems to have Christmas shopping down to a science. Personally, I have close to no idea what I'm going to get people and generally don't finish until a couple of days before the 25th.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Update on old Route 66 through Cajon Pass

I should probably note a couple of things about this post:
1. Technically, I was a few miles south of the summit of Cajon Pass, so it might be more accurate to say I was in Devore, in Cajon Canyon, but not technically at the pass itself, if you're a stickler for those kinds of things.
2. That same stretch of road was also an alignment with US-395 for many years, co-signed with US-66. From 1947 to 1965, it was also US-91. The extension of US-91 to the south and west is how CA-91 got its odd-numbered designation despite being an east-west route.
3. This guy has some good photos of the stretch of Cajon Blvd. north of Kenwood toward Cleghorn as part of his US-395 page.
4. You can find out a lot more about historic US highway alignments and historic roadways in general on this page.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Your Body is Not a Flotation Device

Some humorous safety billboards posted by the California Department of Boating and Waterways that I saw this past July near Lake Elsinore:

(Yes, I've been managing a bunch of photos that had all been sitting in my camera for a while.)

Upcoming Harpsichord Recital

My future brother-in-law will be performing a solo harpsichord recital at UCLA the evening of Friday, Dec. 2. Click here for info.

Yes, that's the night before the big game at USC.

Watts Towers

Last Sunday I took some out-of-town guests on a tour around L.A. One stop was at Watts Towers. They both thought it was great, and well-worth the trip into South-Central.

Route 66 remnant in Cajon Pass

On the same drive that took me up into Lake Arrowhead, I also found an old section of old US-66 in Cajon Pass and took some photos. If you click here, you can see a USGS topo map of the area, found on Cajon Blvd. is old Route 66 and is the road that parallels the freeway (I-15) to its southwest. Kenwood Ave. is the street crossing the freeway and intersecting with Cajon Blvd. at the red mark. On the map, you can see Cajon Blvd. extending to the southeast for about a mile before dead-ending. Currently, however, Cajon Blvd. is blocked off to the south at the intersection with Kenwood by a big pile of debris and a gate. Here's what that looks like now:

I decided to go for a walk and see how things looked over the hill. Just past the gate, I saw a couple of disinterred "Road Closed" gates.

It seemed kind of odd to be walking along what used to be an important highway, carrying thousands upon thousands of people and goods into Southern California. You get a good view of the railroad tracks in the arroyo below. I saw three or for freight trains go by; this would be a great spot for trainspotters.

It was a nice, calm walk. Here's how things looked in the area up at the top of the hill (looking northwest). Lots of eucalyptus trees and birds and lizards and such.

And here's how things looked at the end of the road segment, with just a couple of Jersey barriers and maybe 100 feet of pavement separating the old roadway from Interstate 15.

North of Kenwood Ave., Cajon Blvd. used to be a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. Now, they've closed the northbound lanes to traffic and are using the former southbound lanes as a two-lane highway with traffic in both directions. Here's a view looking south toward Kenwood.

And here's the view looking north from the same spot.

A closeup of the Historic Route 66 sign painted onto the pavement is shown up at the top of this post. This section of 66 is driveable only as far as the next exit from the freeway, Cleghorn Rd., which is a few miles up near the Mormon Rocks. The current road rides alongside the unused former northbound lanes almost the entire way, separated by a median. It doesn't go through to the junction with CA-138, so it doesn't provide an alternate route through the entire pass, only between the Kenwood and Cleghorn exits.

Update: a few more notes on this here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Pretense Sells

Andrew Sullivan has gone off his rocker. No, no for his politics, but because he writes, in defense of Madonna, that "The great virtue of Madonna, apart from her Catholic roots, is her lack of musical pretension. " That's just about as false a statement as "We don't torture." or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky." With the exception of maybe her first album, her entire career has been built on pretense. Her M.O. for the last twenty years has lain in trying to convince the world that her catchy yet not exactly groundbreaking pop music has had Something Very Important To Say. Sometimes it's been explicit--- "Papa Don't Preach," "American Life," the Sex book, moving to England, "Justify My Love," the Kabbalah stuff, etc. Other times it's just been implicit in her work, whether it's reclaiming aggressive sexuality for feminism or just this idea that she's so "daring" in how she brings What's Going On In The Underground Scene into the mainstream.

That's not to say she's completely full of B.S. In many ways she's like a female counterpart to Prince, with the push and pull between sexuality, spirituality, and politics, although she doesn't have a tenth of The Purple One's musical talent. (On the other hand, she's not as bonkers and her career's in better shape.) She is important, just not as important as she thinks she is.

Have you seen the video for her latest, "Hung Up?" This is the one where she's working out in a dance leotard, there's a disco beat, then there are a bunch of other people dancing, and she humps a boombox. I find this video uncomfortable to watch, not merely because of the boombox-humping, but also because of the body language of the dancers.
One person will dance, and the next will see them and dance, usually while staring the other down. These people aren't dancing out of joy, they're dancing as some odd way of challenging each other. It's like they're dancing at each other. Or they might be going about their daily business and then "spontaneously" start dancing, but their "spontaneity" looks more like they're Manchurian Candidates who've received post-hypnotic suggestions to begin dancing when they hear a certain trigger.

What's going on here? Is this intentional? Why? I don't get it. And if I do get it, whatever it is, Sullivan's reading of its virtues as "
shameless superficiality, ...joyous rhythms, ...'80s disco uplift" and not for those who take themselves too seriously seems completely wrong. It all seems to be about the transformation of the "shameless superficiality" of dancing into aggression, into one-upmanship.

P.S. Props to Mike Benedetti for the title.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Driving around the Lake Arrowhead area

Today I had a day to myself and drove up around the Lake Arrowhead area. It's a very pleasant place, with little villages here and there and a whole bunch of nice mountain houses. A couple items of particular note:

1. The Forest Service maintains a few old fire lookouts as historical structures (I guess they have other ways of looking for fires now). Two in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area are easily accessed from paved roads. One is Strawberry Peak. This is between Twin Peaks and Rim of the World Hwy. off of Bear Springs Rd. It's pretty neat. It's an old steel tower and you climb up about three stories. Up at the top are a few exhibits and a couple of volunteers to tell you about stuff, and fantastic views of places for miles around. There's another one at Keller Peak that you get to by going to the east end of Running Springs and heading south, but I didn't go to that one. They're open from May till about Mid-November, whenever they get their first significant snow.

2. Remember the fires that swept through the area two years ago? If you really want to see some destruction on a grand scale, head into Cedar Glen, on the east side of Lake Arrowhead, on Hook Creek Rd. I went out there this afternoon. All seemed normal, with houses, trees, and stores, until I passed Deep Creek Camp Rd. turned left, and found myself in a clearing... only it was really only a clearing because the fire had burned out the whole place. All of the trees were like burnt twigs, and I saw literally dozens of houses burned down to the ground. It was rather surreal, seeing how all that remained of so many houses was the foundation and a naked chiney and fireplace. The battery on my camera had run down, but this guy took some pictures of the area earlier this year. He's only got closeups of single houses, but if you saw a wide shot, you'd see that the entire neighborhood was obliterated, save for maybe 2 or 3 houses in the middle of things and a few on the periphery.

The first photo above is the view looking east from the Strawberry Peak lookout, and the other is the view looking south.

1st Annual Los Angeles International Tamale Festival

All weekend long, they're having a tamale festival over on Spring Street north of Downtown L.A. and Chinatown. I went there for dinner tonight and had a great time. It's tucked over in front of some warehouses and it was far from the biggest local festival I've been to, but the food at this one is the real deal. Lots of different tamal vendors, most with the classics--- chicken, pork, elote, etc. but some with a bit of a twist. I had a mahi-mahi tamal, for example. Admission and parking is free, tamales are between $1.25 and $2.00 each, and there's even a petting zoo. Much better than the overrated, crowded, and unappetizing Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo, and cheaper, too. Open from noon 'til 10 PM on Saturday and 10 AM 'til 6 PM on Sunday.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Future of the Dodgers

Kevin Modesti at the Pasadena Star-News suggests that perhaps the string of personnel moves since Frank McCourt took over ownership of the team is part of an effort to begin marketing the team as "lovable losers" like the Cubs or Red Sox.

Meanwhile, T.J. Simers over at the Times wonders if maybe the reason why Kim Ng has emerged as the frontrunner for the vacant GM position is simply because she's the only person who wants the job.

In addition to former Rangers GM John Hart, it looks like the Dodgers have been talking with Ned Colletti, the Assistant GM for the Giants for the job.

Of course, I have no idea how their interviews went, or much about what their approach to the job would be. But it's worth noting that if the Dodgers do go with Ng, making her the first woman and the first Asian-American to be the General Manager of a ballclub, this would not be a mere affirmative action hiring. In fact, it would be seen as a snub if she weren't the one hired. She's the in-house promotion, she's got a qualified resume, and from what I've heard, she's got very good business and personal qualities. Plus, of course, the Dodgers would get the good P.R. from hiring a woman.

Unless one of the other candidates utterly wows them, about the only reason I could see for them not hiring her would be if the ownership feels she's somehow tainted by her association with the two previous GMs. If that were the case, though, she'd probably be canned by now, too.

I would really like to see the Dodgers become winners again, and some stability in the management would be a good way to start.

More thoughts:
Why is Hershiser being bandied about as a front-office guy instead of as a pitching coach?
What are the chances of bringing in Kirk Gibson as, say, the hitting instructor?
Please don't tell me that that clown Bobby Valentine is going to be the new field manager.

Handgun Ban in San Francisco

One ballot measure I missed in proclaiming a clean sweep for the status quo yesterday was the handgun ban in San Francisco. Aside from the fact that it's likely to be struck down in the courts anyway, this strikes me as bad public policy. Now, please note that I'm by no means a gun rights absolutist--- the phrase "well-regulated" is right there in the Constitution--- and I think a lot of reasonable controls (waiting periods, licensing, storage requirements, ammunition tracing, etc.) can be placed on gun ownership without infringing on our rights. But an outright ban on a broad class of common firearms crosses a dangerous line. Essentially, it says that citizens aren't trusted to protect themselves, and only the police and military are. That disturbs me.

On the practical side, I'm inclined to agree with those studies that say that a gun in the home tends to make one less safe, not more. Just as a thought experiment, under normal conditions, what is the relative likelihood of being able to properly access and use a weapon against an intruder in a truly necessary situation vs. the likelihood of children being hurt in a gun accident, of a gun being used by a family member in a fit of rage, of your gun being stolen by a criminal, or of the presence of a gun unnecessarily escalating a confrontation to a lethal situation? That's why I don't own a gun myself, nor do I plan to.

But now imagine that you're a liquor store owner. Or a woman with a violent ex-husband. Or a prosecutor who sent gang members to prison. (We can all agree that it will only be law-abiding citizens who will turn their guns in, right?) Or for that matter, somebody who feels that in the event of a temporary breakdown in the social order, like in a natural disaster *cough* earthquakes *cough* or rioting, the police might not be able to protect you.

It's not up to the government to decide who needs a gun and who doesn't. I certainly wish there were fewer handguns out there, but that's a choice people need to make for themselves. There's certainly a public interest in ensuring safety and accountability in handgun ownership, but the basic principle of the right to bear arms was important enough to be put into the Bill of Rights, and I happen to think that all ten of those rights are worth keeping.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nice one

Banner headline in the L.A. Daily News today:

No Props for Arnold

Movie Review: PRINCESS RACCOON (2005, Seijun Suzuki)

Last night I headed over to the Arclight where the AFI fest was showing Seijun Suzuki's latest, PRINCESS RACCOON. This movie was an absolute delight. For those of you who might have seen some of Suzuki's wildly expressionistic gangster films of the '60s, rest assured that in doing a period piece fantasy, in no way has he lost his touch. In fact, he's gotten even more bizarre in his old age, mixing musical styles (oh yeah, it's a musical), tone, visuals, and even language (it's in Japanese, Mandarin, and Portuguese) left and right. But they're not just jumbled up willy-nilly for the sake of wackiness, which is what you'd see on Japanese TV, although this is a very funny movie. No, this movie shows the steady hand of an artist who looks at every scene and thinks, "How can I film this scene to best express what I want to show here?" What he comes up with to answer that question is stuff you've never before seen. It's marvelous.

This is showing again Thursday, November 10, at 12:15 P.M.

Seijun Suzuki (d) 6
Zhang Ziyi 6

November 2005 Election Wrap-Up

Even though I voted for three propositions, I'm pretty happy that it was a clean sweep of 8 noes. I think the initiative process is pretty stupid for the most part; I'd rather have laws written, studied, debated, amended, and voted on by legislators who get paid to write, study, debate, amend, and vote on laws.

Most of the news outlets are painting yesterday's voting nationwide as a victory for Democrats, seeing as how the Dems won two governor's races and beat Arnold. But really, those were statehouses the Democrats already had, and all those noes just mean the status quo remains. Status quo also wins with Ohio's defeat of its anti-gerrymandering proposition and Republicans holding on the the mayorships in New York and San Diego.

Still, it's significant to note that Arnold is officially in trouble in California, and the Virginia result means that (a) George Bush's support doesn't help and (b) Mark Warner has got to be a top consideration as a presidential nominee.

For some non-status-quo results, there's that anti-gay-marriage proposition in Texas, which shouldn't really surprise anyone. Also, a big shakeup in Cincinnati. And a sweeping defeat of a school board in Pennsylvania that supported intelligent design.

Bruce Reed has an excellent wrap-up over on Slate:
"...given the choice, Americans will choose the get-the-job-done-party over the pick-a-fight party every time."

"Most Democrats learned the wrong lesson from elections in 2000 (hate Bush), 2002 (hate Bush), and 2004 (hate Bush). If we learn the right lessons this time, we might get used to enjoying Election Night again."