Sunday, February 28, 2010

Again and Again

I keep wondering about the stupidity of the average foothill dweller in Los Angeles. Year after year, there are fires, and then if we have a wet winter, the fires are followed by mudslides. In the past couple of weeks, we've seen rain storms, mud, and destroyed homes. And then the people who have lost their homes are interviewed on TV and they assure their fellow Angelenos that, yes, they do intend to rebuild, and that they will not be defeated by this bit of adversity. And then some talking head on the evening news will say, "Aren't they courageous."
Courageous isn't the word I would use. I'd say stupid. Like it or not, there are places where people should not live. If it was just those who loose their homes that insist on building in fire and flood zones, I wouldn't care overly much. But, we spend millions of dollars defending homes from fire and mudslide and then spend even more millions trying to engineer mountain and canyon sides in a futile attempt to prevent the inevitable. It would be far cheaper and far more sensible to just buy these people out and turn the mountain sides into open space. It isn't viable to remove the entire city of Los Angeles as a defense against earth quakes, but it does make sense to buy out a few hundred or even a few thousand homes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the Beach

Well, it's happening again. There is a long tradition in California of developers trying to steal public land by blocking access to the general public. The beach may be free for anyone to use, but if builders block a way to sea, for all intent and purpose, that public land becomes private property.
Today's Los Angeles Times reports a more subtle attempt at a land grab. In order to get building permits and permission from the states coastal commission, developers of a high end, gated community at Orange County's Dana Point, offered up a plan with multiple access points to the beach, as well as an inclined railway to the sea. Seems like the money men were bending over backward to insure that swimmers, and surfers could easily get to the water.
But, things are not always what they seem. The fly in this particular ointment is an attempt to limit the hours that the public can use the beach. "Ah shucks, it's just a matter of privacy. Isn't it unfair that surfer dudes might loose their way on paths after dark and stumble onto people's lawns?" My guess is that if Headlands Reserve, the developer, is allowed to restrict access to certain hours, as time goes by, those hours will become even more restricted, with flimsier and flimsier excuses given until only the residents of the north strand gated community can get to the ocean. I understand that people who are paying millions of dollars for a home in a gated community might not want someone walking by their kitchen window with a surf board tucked under their arm, but the law has always been that public access to beaches is a right in California. It's not like the home owners didn't know, ahead of time, what came with those great ocean views.
California has a conservancy, set up by the state, to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains; a conservancy that has been so successful that it's been able to expand its reach to other local mountain ranges. It's time that California had a similar conservancy to preserve ocean beaches, river fronts, and stream banks. It would have been far better if the Dana Point headland had been preserved as open space by such a conservancy. Too, river and stream banks, when developed, have a tendency to prevent public access and free navigation in favor of a property right that, quite often, is nothing more than a de facto land grab. I know that proposing that all ocean front property and river and stream banks should be owned by the state sounds insanely ambitious, but I would remind readers that a sizable percentage of such lands are already preserved in California's many state and federal parks, and forests.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jackal States

There they were. Roaming the streets of downtown Los Angeles, dressed as Cupids and handing out greetings from the state of Colorado. "Colorado Loves California." Another state trying to make us feel better during our on going budget crisis? Hardly, it was Colorado trying to lure businesses away from California and to Colorado.
Is this what its' come down to, one state acting like a jackal, trying to enrich itself by driving another into a permanent economic crisis? Sure looks that way. Welcome to the new America. We're not trying to grow native economies anymore. In a country that has endured thirty years of Reaganomics, the only way to survive is to screw the other guy as quickly as possible, because if you don't, he'll do it to you. The social/economic Darwinism envisioned by Ronald Reagan and his cartel conservative supporters has reached it's nadir. There's nothing left but to pick over the rotting corpse of Reagan's America.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Dat?

Just thought I'd brag a bit about my correct prediction on the Super Bowl. (See my post of 1/24/10) I didn't get the score right, but I did pick the Saints over the Baltimore Colts.
Oops, I mean the Indianapolis Colts. It looks like, some time in the next couple of years, two NFL teams will be moving to Los Angeles, and since the Colts are playing in an old stadium, in a small market, it's not impossible that this years also ran could be here in L.A. I've got to admit that I have mixed feelings about the possibility of Indianapolis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Minnesota, or St. Louis moving to southern California. As an Angeleno I'd love to have my own team to root for. (I grew up in a small town fifty miles from Pittsburgh, so I bleed Steeler black and gold. The Steelers will ALWAYS be my first love.) But, in the United States, pro sports are heavily subsidized by government. We develop the players in public schools, we build the infrastructure around stadiums, and often we build the stadiums as well. As long as football is subsidized by our tax dollars, I don't think that team owners should be allowed to play musical stadiums. If owners want to argue the free enterprise card, they should go off the public teat.

It Never Fails

It never fails. Every year the fires come to the mountains of Los Angeles, and when the winter rains come, the denuded hillsides become rivers of mud, sliding down to the houses that we have foolishly allowed to be built in areas prone to fire and mudslide. What is new this year, is that some of the people who have lost homes are demanding to be reimbursed by the federal government because it's federal mud.
Wow. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a young, twenty something, lady who cursed the greed and short sightedness of the baby boom generation. It was her theory that boomers were so incapable of denying themselves anything they wanted, that they had pretty much destroyed the world around them. As a boomer myself, my first inclination was to defend myself, or at the very least point to that most self mythologizing generation in American history, the sixties generation. But, I gave her complaints some thought, and then reluctantly agreed with her. For all our yammering about how much the boomer generation changed the world, we are, as a group, unable to accept that we might have been more destructive than not.
So what does this have to do with the natural cycle of fire and avalanche in southern California? It's pretty simple really. The development of the mountains and canyons ramped up to unprecedented levels in the past 40 years so that boomers could live in pretty places with nice views. No thought was given to the environmental damage so long as some artificial sense of living with nature could be indulged. No, the federal government doesn't have a responsibility to recompense people because they made very bad decisions on where they wanted to live. We already spend disproportionate sums of the public treasury to defend homes from the inevitable wild fires and to put up barriers in a futile attempt to save home owners from mud slides. And we should. Once the zoning boards give permission to build in dangerous, though beautiful places, those homes become a joint responsibility for us all. My point is that our own stupidity is at the heart of these problems. An unwillingness to think beyond our own immediate desires.
Santa Monica Mountains National Park. See my post of 12/23/09. Tejon Ranch National Park, an idea whose time has come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar Nomination Predictions (Revised)

The Oscar nominations come out tomorrow and I figured, what the hell, let's beat the news to the punch. So here are my predictions on who gets the nod, with the eventual winner first on the list.


1. The Hurt Locker
2. Avatar
3. Up In The Air
4. Precious
5. Inglorious Basterds
6. An Education
7. Invictus
8. A Serious Man
9. 500 Days of Summer
10. Up


1. The Blind Side
2. District 9


1. Invictus
2. 500 Days of Summer

(Almost. I was only off by two on this one. I was very surprised that Invictus didn't get a nod. Far from being Clint Eastwood's best, it was however, the type of biopic that usually makes these lists. 500 Days of Summer, not making it, wasn't too surprising, as if fell into that how to fill out the last couple of spots list. To all the far right critics (Not film critics.) who like to moan about liberal Hollywood, well Blind Side, a movie that was poorly reviewed, except for Sandra Bullock's performance, got a nomination. Oh those old fashioned, far right, Christian values. On District 9. These predictions were based on what critics have written, and other awards that have been given out, not strictly limited to films I've seen, but I did see District 9 and hated it. Very much of a video game film, with the constant pop pop pop of action.)


1. Kathryn Bigelow: The Hurt Locker
2. James Cameron: Avatar
3. Lee Daniels: Precious
4. Jason Reitman: Up In The Air
5. Quentin Tarantino: Inglorious Basterds

(Right across the board.)


1. Jeff Bridges: Crazy Heart
2. George Clooney: Up In The Air
3. Colin Firth: A Single Man
4. Morgan Freeman: Invictus
5. Jeremy Renner: The Hurt Locker

(Right across the board.)


1. Sandra Bullock: The Blind Side
2. Meryl Streep: Julie & Julia
3. Helen Mirren: The Last Station
4. Gabourey Sidibe: Precious
5. Zoe Saldana: Avatar

(I went against conventional wisdom in picking Zoe Saldana against Carey Mulligan for An education. I overestimated Avatar's coat tail affect.)


1. Carey Mulligan: An Education


1. Zoe Saldana: Avatar


1. Cristoph Waltz: Inglorious Basterds
2. Stanley Tucci: Julie & Julia
3. Christopher Plummer: The Last Station
4. Anthony Mackie: The Hurt Locker
5. Woody Harrelson: The Messenger

(I was sort of wrong on two of these. I'm a big Stanley Tucci fan, but found his work in Julie & Julia far more impressive than his creepy turn in The Lovely Bones. If I was rooting for any actor in these catagories it was Anthony Mackie for The Hurt Locker. His performance was the perfect counterpoint to Renner, and Renner's performance works far less well without Mackie. Matt Damon was good in Invictus, but if that part had been played by a lesser known actor, I doubt it would have got a nod, even if it had been better executed.)


1. Matt Damon: Invictus
2. Stanley Tucci: The Lovely Bones


1. Anthony Mackie: The Hurt Locker
2. Stanley Tucci: Julie & Julia


1. Mo'Nique: Precious
2. Maggie Gyllenhaal: Crazy Heart
3. Diane Kruger: Ingloriuos Basterds
4. Melanie Laurent: Inglorious Basterds
5. Vera Farmiga: Up In The Air

(Of all the categories, to me, this one had the biggest surprise. Diane Kruger for Ingloriuos Basterds got across the board nominations in virtually every other competition. I'll bet the lady went to bed last night assuming her name would be listed. A big disappointment for her and all the fans of the film, and I'm one of them. I know, the same can be said for Penelope Cruz in Nine, but in all honesty, I thought it was over rated, and thought for sure it was the most disposable of the lot. I guess we can never underestimate the star power of a sex pot role. I've kind of overlooked Anna Kendrick as the far more conventional character in Up In The Air. Farmiga was memorable, but Kendrick has always been just "sort of there" for me. Not bad, but her work wasn't the role I thought about after the movie was over. If she wins, does she say goodbye to the Twilight franchise? It would probably be a good move.)


1. Anna Kendrick: Up In The Air
2. Penlope Cruz: Nine


1. Diane Kruger: Ingloriuos Basterds
2. Melanie Laurent: Inglorious Basterds

The increase in best picture nominations makes it both easier and harder to make predictions. The number of sure bets goes up, but the border line pictures add to those last three or four nominations. If the major nominees divide the vote enough, it's possible that a film like Inivctus or 500 Days of Summer could win, though that is very unlikely. With 10 noms, it's unlikely that a director without a picture in the running can get nominated. I just picked those I thought most likely. I thought the five actors listed are so far above and beyond the other contenders that this is the one category I feel really sure about, though Daniel Day Lewis for Nine wouldn't surprise me. I felt sure about the first four actresses listed, but with all the money made by Avatar and curiosity about new technical advances, I snuck Zoe Saldana in for Avatar. It's also the nomination I feel least sure of. Supporting nominations are always the ones with the most chance to have unexpected nominees and winners. I picked Tucci for Julie & Julia rather than The Lovely Bones because it was a far more popular movie, and let's be honest, he was more creepy than effective in Bones. A Christopher Plummer could end up winning the Oscar just like Alan Arkin did; a career award, edging out Cristoph Waltz. Anthony Mackie sneaks in because The Hurt Locker is winning so many other awards. Supporting actress is the real guess work category. Mo'Nique and Diane Kruger are, to me, the only sure bets in this category. Melanie Laurent may be a stretch, but I thought she was better than Kruger for the same movie. Gyllenhaal gets swept along with Jeff Bridges.

Man on the Moon

I grew up on Walter Cronkite and the race to the moon. Actually, I can remember John Glenn, project Mercury, Gemini and the tragic deaths of Gus Grissom and the Apollo One crew.
Yes, I can see the fiscal sense of President Obama cutting funds for our return to the Moon. But, I do think there is a better way than privatizing the space program. When the United States went to the Moon, we didn't try and claim it as U.S. territory. It's time to internationalize the exploration of space. No, I don't want to partner with China or any other dictatorship. After all, there are plenty of democracies that have shown an interest in having a space program. Just NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese could easily mount a joint effort to put a scientific base on the Moon and then push on to Mars. I don't care if the first manned mission to Mars has a crew made up of people from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Paris, France, Mumbai, India, and Cape Town, South Africa. And if the first person to stand on the surface of Mars makes remarks in Japanese, well, I don't care.