Monday, July 31, 2006

A Sad Day

Saturday I drove out to Santa Monica to check out the California Map and Travel Center, only to discover that the place had closed permanently. This was one of my favorite stores in L.A.; they carried a fantastic selection of maps, from specialized rock-hounding maps of the desert to imported local maps from around the world, this place had it all. I loved coming here and browsing, and I always ended up buying something even if I didn't need it. Internet maps are getting better each year (my current favorites are Windows Live Local for the detail and ease of use and Yahoo! Maps Beta for the ability to link multiple destinations), but nothing compares to a well-made printed map for really understanding the lay of the land.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


The Exploratorium in San Francisco (home of the way-cool Tactile Dome) has an interesting website called Cabspotting that uses the traces of GPS-enabled taxicabs to create images and animations of activity in and around the city.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Democrats in November '06

So, I guess the political buzz is all about how Bush and the Republicans have gotten themselves into such a mess that the upcoming Congressional election in November is a prime opportunity for the Democrats to take back Congress, like the Republicans did in 1994. I wish them luck and hate to rain on their parade, but if they can't come up with any more compelling reasons for people to vote for them than this, they aren't gonna win control of squat.

In the article, Harry Reid belittles the "Contract with America" by saying that it "didn't change the election at all" and then presents his own "Six for '06" plan. Here it is:
National security
Jobs and wages
Energy independence
health care
Retirement security
College access for all

Wow, that's sure to influence the election more than the Contract with America. Thanks for taking that bold step to show America that there's a good reason to vote for the Democrats besides "we're not George Bush."

Man, that's sad. Can't the Democrats find somebody with a modicum of charisma or strong ideas? My prediction: the Dems pick up a few seats here and there, but nowhere near enough to control either the House or the Senate. Zzzzzz.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More geography trivia

Try to see if you can guess the right answer on these; if not, then you're welcome to research the questions online. But try posting answers first before looking them up.

1. New York City has been the most populous city in the U.S. since the first official census of 1790. Los Angeles took over the #2 spot that Chicago had held for many decades with the 1990 census. Here are the questions:

1a: What city held the #2 spot last before Chicago?
1b: What year was that?
1c: What's the only other city (besides L.A., Chicago, and the answer to #1a) to hold the #2 spot in the U.S. Census's list of the most populous cities in America?

2. Name the two U.S. states that share a border but have almost no roads directly connecting them. I say "almost" because the only road that crosses these states' shared border is a small country road that barely goes a few miles into one of the two states and then doesn't connect to the rest of that state's network of roads. Note: New York and Rhode Island share a water border, as do Illinois and Michigan, but the answer to this question is not either one of those pairs.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Haley Joel Osment

Remember Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense? Well, he's 18 now and he got into a late-night car accident over in La CaƱada Flintridge yesterday. Here's the puzzling part of the report:
Osment, nominated for an Academy Award for "The Sixth Sense," was driving a 1995 Saturn about 1 a.m. when he crashed into a mailbox on a brick base and flipped over,

Haley Joel Osment drives a 1995 Saturn? This guy's worked consistently in Hollywood since 1994 and he can't afford a better car? What gives?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Odd Athletic Competitions

If you thought Cup-Stacking (sorry- "Sport Stacking"), Underwater Rugby, or Tug-of-War were marginal sports, get a load of the National Association of Staredown Professionals.

Update: For the record, you'll notice that Andrew Sullivan's posting of the trailer for a staredown documentary came two days after this post.

Update #2: Then today (Monday), the August issue of Esquire arrives in my mail, and there's an article on eye contact with a sidebar on how to win a staring contest. You heard it here first: Staring is in.

Update #3: Last night (Thursday) I was at a movie theatre waiting for the show to start, and a mentally retarded guy two rows in front of me turned around and stared at me for ten minutes. Staring - everybody's doing it!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Five Overrated Things

1. Atlanta

"Hotlanta," the so-called "capital of the New South," has got to be the least interesting city ever to host the Summer Olympics. Oh sure, the World of Coca-Cola is fun, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that Beijing, Athens, and even Sydney have at least 100 times as much to offer the world. It's not a bad place, but there are easily 40 other cities in America that are just as cool.

2. Lettuce

I don't think anybody really rates lettuce all that high to begin with, but why is it so ubiquitous in sandwiches and burgers? A burger is savory, full of salt, fat, and hearty meatybreadiness. What's that leaf of crunchy water doing there? Stay in a salad where you belong, lettuce.

3. Jenna Jameson

Is she the sexiest porn star? No. The most beautiful? No. So why does she get crowned the "Queen of Porn" and get mentioned every time anybody talks about porn becoming "mainstream?" She's just the best self-promoter in the industry, that's all. I think the point is supposed to be to watch somebody who looks like they want to have sex rather than somebody who looks like they want to be sure they're in the next clip about the Viper Room on Entertainment Tonight.

4. Slot Machines

I was in Las Vegas in Monday and had a card for a free $10.00 of slot play. Seriously, it would have been more intellectually challenging to spend that time watching the Home Shopping Network. How did these things get to be so popular that they're the backbone of the gambling industry? It takes all of five minutes to at least learn how to play Video Poker or Blackjack. Speaking of which, why is Video Blackjack so hard to find? And real Video Blackjack machines that allow you to split, double down, etc. even harder to find?

5. The Today Show

You get a little bit of news followed by pasta recipes, interviews with reality show contestants, and morons holding signs in Times Square. Why is this granted any more respect than the idiotic car chase-obsessed local TV news here in L.A.? At least the teenagers waving at the cameras and screaming on TRL have the excuse of being teenagers; what's the excuse of the grown adults on this show? And Katie Couric is going from this to filling the seat once held by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gay Rights vs. Gay Marriage Rights

Slate has an interesting article on the dichotomy between the opposition to gay marriage and the steady progress gays have made toward other civil rights, suggesting that opposition to gay marriage may be based less on hatred of gays and more on a desire to promote traditional gender roles. In a certain sense, what the article is saying is that opposition to gay marriage is based more on chauvinism than bigotry.

I'm not quite sure if I buy it, but it's an interesting argument that I think is probably true to a certain extent. I doubt it would satisfy Andrew Sullivan, but it would at least provide an alternate explanation than his standard position that any opposition to gay marriage is simply based on hate.

I also wonder if some of the issue is that a gay marriage takes what many people see as an abnormality and gives it official recognition, a semi-permanent stamp of approval. This is probably a bigger mental leap for a lot of people to take than most other civil rights for gays, which are based more on the idea that you shouldn't discriminate against people based on what they do (consensually) in their private lives. Marriage, by its very nature, takes our private lives and makes them public. This makes people uncomfortable even when they realize that nobody chooses their sexual orientation.

Personally, I think the arguments for allowing gay marriage, at least by the civil authorities, are strong. Nobody bats an eye when non-fertile straight couples are married, so the whole "marriage is for procreation" canard doesn't hold water. Marriage lends legal recognition to the special bond that stable relationships have, and the consequences of gays not being able to marry become acute when, for example, the law doesn't recognize one of the gay de facto parents of a child as anything more than a roommate.

I think that homosexuality still sets off an "ick factor" for a lot of straight people, self included, even when we know loving, stable gay couples. But an ick factor isn't a very strong basis for public policy when it runs up against the notion of equal protection under the law or just the basic American ideal of letting people live their lives however they see fit as long as it isn't hurting somebody. And for the record, I can't possibly see how anybody's gay marriage is going to harm my own straight marriage.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

R.I.P., Syd Barrett

One of the sadder lives in rock 'n' roll has come to an end, as original Pink Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett has died at the age of 60. His whimsy and musical genius produced a mere handful of recordings before drugs and mental illness forced him to retreat from public life and live in seclusion for most of the past 38 years. Pink Floyd, one of the greatest bands in rock history, has evolved through many different sounds over the years, but Barrett's psychedelia was the original. Let's hope he can finally rest in peace.

Here are the BBC's official obituary and a tribute.

Update: In 2002 The Observer had a good, long article about a brief encounter with Syd and some stories about his life.