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the skunks of los feliz

City officials have announced an expansion of L.A.'s video surveillance program to the streets of Hollywood, beginning with a camera at the intersection of Cahuenga and Hollywood. Mayor Hahn, who crowed about the success of the pilot surveillance program in MacArthur Park, was on hand at the unveiling, joining Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (who has made spying on citizens of the Windy City a central pillar of his law enforcement policy, and who flew in for the occasion) in cheering for the intrusive technology.

The cameras were donated by the Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District, a quasi-governmental agency funded by a tax on district businesses, with an assist from Councilmembers Garcetti and LaBonge.

The Hollywood BID has done an excellent job making Hollywood safe for the Gap and the Walt Disney Company, and Garcetti and LaBonge are steadfast advocates for the area, but do we really need to resort to Big Brother tactics to reduce crime? Is giving up personal privacy a reasonable trade-off for what city leaders say would be safer streets?

Next time you're surreptitiously picking your nose, or adjusting your pantyhose (or both), do you really want some faceless bureaucrat watching you?

Photo liberated from Oil Empire. I'm sure they won't mind, since I'm sticking it to the man.

Had my first bit of work yesterday, then went to the Method Fest party last night in this ridiculously posh mansion out in Deer Valley. Jacuzzi with waterfall, indoor combo racquetball / half court basketball set up, right on the ski trail: lifestyles of the rich and Mormon.

We didn’t know a soul there except Don Franken of Method Fest (a super nice guy, who went all-out on the party, and then some), but my boss scored air time on some independent film show. That, and seeing how the other other half lives made it worth the drive.

Worked again this morning at our brunch, then caught the premiere of Kung Fu Hustle at the Eccles. What can I say about this movie? It’s a comedic kung fu period piece. It’s a special effects movie. It’s a buddy movie. It’s full of top hats. It’s anarchic, nearly plotless, and just plain fun.

My friend Dayan summed it up best: “It’s a live action Warner Brothers cartoon”, only it’s way more inventive than any of the recent shite that WB has tried to pass off as the Looney Tunes.

I’m not a huge fan of Stephen Chow (who introduced the movie), but the man displays here a bottomless imagination, as well as a palpable love of movies and movie-making.

Busy day today.

After coming to terms with the fact that cell service is spotty due to the fact that half of L.A. is here on their cell phones, and mastering (kinda) the vagaries of the Sundance shuttle bus sytem, I saw two good movies: Brick, and Layer Cake.

Layer Cake, another entry in the British criminal lowlife subgenre, is, as you would expect from director Matthew Vaughn (who produced Guy Ritchie's limey gangster epics), Snatch-esque: slick, stylized, full of predictably unpredictable double-crosses, and pretty damn entertaining. Daniel Craig, who did a great job as the film's unnamed protagonist, nervously introduced the film on behalf of Vaughn, who was stuck in traffic. I didn't stay for the Q&A with Craig and the late-arriving Vaughn, as I had to catch the shuttle to the Racquet Club (a new venue this year, I am told) for Brick.

In the audience: Roger Ebert and Cassian Elwes (not the star wattage of last night, but hey).

Brick is one of those movies you can sum up in a nutshell: film noir in a high school setting. Featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the Third Rock kid) and Lukas Haas, and full of rapid-fire, Chandleresque dialogue, this was the first movie I've seen at the festival that really connected with the crowd.

Gordon-Levitt does a fine job, but for me the revelation was Lukas Haas as a sinister drug-dealer. He plays it as an homage to Peter Lorre's portrayal of Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, complete with a bird-headed cane. My only beef with the movie was some underlit (even for noir) scenes.

Most of the cast was there for the screening, as well as the director, Rian Johnson. Hopefully this one will get picked up.

Sidebar: Many thanks to Southwest Airlines for finding and returning my iPod, which I stupidly left on the plane yesterday. Martha, you rock.

After the trip from hell (30 minute delay at the gate, turned back from Salt Lake due to weather, diverted to Vegas for refueling, then back to Salt Lake for a dicey landing in what the pilot referred to as an "icy fog"), we made it to Park City for Sundance 2005.

Went to the opening night premiere of Don Roos' new film, Happy Endings. Beforehand, Robert Redford gave a short speech extolling independent film, then took a few jabs at President Bush. Roos drew appreciative laughter as he introduced the film, especially with a not-so-sly insinuation about a certain A-list star's alleged sexual preferences. He then brought out the cast members who were present, including (but not limited to): Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow, and Tom Arnold.

After the dog and pony show, we actually watched a real, live movie, finally putting the "film" in film festival. The pic was respectfully, though not enthusiastically, received by the audience. The buzz in the lobby was that the cut could have been tightened up a bit, and that the plot suffered from an over-reliance on happenstance and coincidence.

It will be interesting to see how it does theatrically. One thing's for sure: it's a far superior film than Bounce.

I was bummed to hear the news that Lamont Bentley died last night in a car accident.

We weren't friends or anything, but I worked as the boom-op on Shards, an AFI short in which he starred. He was a professional, and a good actor. He gave me a helluva workout with a long monologue in which he never stopped moving (a scene we shot in the old Red Car electrical sub-station), going for it full bore, take after take in that sweltering, piss-smelling dungeon. I respected that.

Ironically, he was returning from a screening of the movie when he died.

He was 31, and he leaves behind two daughters.
I walked down to grab some takeout from El Greco tonight, and noticed that the marquee at the Los Feliz 3 now reads:


I've got two thoughts on the matter.

1) It's about time.

2) I hope and pray that they will put a cooler in, so that they can finally serve cold bottled water.

The toads in Griffith Park have put the new, rain-deposited pools of standing water in the flood control channel below the Observatory to good use, turning them into the scene of an amphibian orgy.

As Cami and I hiked along the lower trails in the park today (the upper road having been closed to traffic), we spotted a crowd of people gathered along the edge of one of the runoff enclosures. As we came nearer, we realized that the waters were alive with the writhing forms of toads in the throes of lovemaking, and a good number of our fellow citizens had stopped to watch.

Of course, we did too. Hell, this was nature.

The toads (and I am no expert) seemed to be California Toads, as pictured above, and they were engaging in all manner of highly energetic sexual activity, their passion punctuated by an urgent, incessant croaking.

There were threesomes, twosomes, and some onanism amongst a few disconsolate singles who floated alone on the scummy waters of love. A female drifted by, absolutely covered in males (click here for an explicit pic of toad love). Watching her contentedly drift by, the English gentleman next to me remarked: "They're really pounding her."

Just so.

We ogled the spectacle for awhile then wandered back down the hill, leaving the toads to that quintessential Hollywood Hills activity: group sex.
Transit policy has taken a front seat in the mayoral race, as Bob Hertzberg and Mayor Hahn traded blows last week over who has the most pathetic record on transportation issues.

Mayor Hahn says Hertzberg is responsible for the "Financial Emergency" loophole in Prop. 42 that Der Governator has exploited in his failing effort to balance the State's budget, while Hertzberg accuses the Mayor of missing MTA meetings, and trumpets his own support of the Orange Line.


- The Daily News takes this opening to land a jab on Hahn's record, using the old "They're all bums, but Hahn's the biggest bum of all" trope.

- Hertzberg's peeps fire back at Hahn here, pointing to the former Assembly Speaker's "Commuter's Bill of Rights" as proof that he's tuned in to the issue. Lot's of good debate in the comments of this post.

- Mayor Hahn finally has his website up and running, and here's the official campaign line on the transportation issue. No debate on Hahn's website, as comment posting is not allowed.

Adding to the animosity between the two camps is the row over PR firm Fleishman-Hillard's alleged overbilling of the DWP, and other city departments. Hertzberg's attempt to make political hay of the Mayor's apparent lack of oversight might have backfired, as the Hahn campaign was quick to point out that Hertzberg had worked as a consultant for Fleishman-Hillard during the period that the alleged billing irregularities occurred.

All of this is pretty much politics as usual here in LA.

The only surprising thing in the mayoral race thus far is that the fireworks are not being generated by the Hahn vs. Parks bloodmatch I has anticipated, but by Hertzberg and Hahn.

Success: here is the first pic from the surface of Titan.
Attention insomniac space geeks: The Huygens probe will plunge into the atmosphere of the Saturnian moon Titan tomorrow morning, sometime around 2:16 a.m. P.S.T.

Click here for an overview of the mission from the good folks at JPL. Click here, or here, to watch NASA TV's coverage online.

If I can fight off this cold, I'll be up early this morning, eyes glued to my monitor. Otherwise, I guess I'll have to wait until I crawl out of bed to find out what Huygens will see as it plummets to the surface of that faraway world, over 800 million miles from Earth.

And yes, I am a geek.

I'm probably coming late to the game on this one, but if you're sick and tired of losing KXLU's signal as soon as you hit the intersection of Los Feliz and the 5, click here to fight back.

The LMU-based alternative to the "alternative" of KCRW is in a scrap to wrestle their end of the FM bandwidth from a Christian broadcaster (slogan: Touching Heaven, Changing Earth) who is allegedly squatting on their signal. To give 'em a hand, simply print out this short form, fill it out, mail it in, and then sit back and wait as the case takes years to wend it's way through the courts.

Fight the higher power, KXLU! No longer should I have to be interrupted by Jesus talk* while I'm trying to enjoy the mellifluous sounds of the Weakerthans!

*Disclaimer: Jesus talk is not a bad thing in and of itself, unless it interferes with my God-given right to be a Godless heathen, is used to promote certain political causes, or interferes with an airing of "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue".
Cami and I swam down Vermont today, to catch The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at the Los Feliz 3. The movie was great, but then, I enjoy Wes Anderson movies (some do not, and more power to them).

The 3 itself, is, well, the 3. Don't get me wrong, it's great to have a theater within walking distance, especially when a drenching rain is relentlessly falling and you're sharing one extremely unreliable umbrella with your significant other.

It has other highpoints, as well. The matinee prices can't be beat. The programming is usually very good. Concessions are cheap. And (not to belabor the point), it's very close.

But the 3 does have very real shortcomings, and I'm in the mood to pick some nits. So, in no particular order, here are my top peeves with the LF3:

- An overly clock-bound staff. Got to the theater 20 minutes before the show and think you're going to be getting in out of the pouring rain? Wrong. The box office opens 10 minutes before the show, and not a moment before. The staff seems to take perverse pleasure in standing around the concession stand and watching would-be patrons watch them do nothing.

- Warm bottled water (I know, I know, but i did say these were nits). Throw those things in the fridge, people. Tepid water is just not refreshing, especially at $2.50 a pop.

- That funky smell in the back theater. What the hell is that stench? And can nothing truly be done about this everpresent olfactory offense?

- The leaky roof. Not a problem, unless you find yourself in a seat directly below one of the roof's numerous holes, and it's raining. Which it was today.

- That broken chair in the theater just to the right of the concession stand. That thing has been unceremoniously collapsing under the weight of theater-goers since (at least) The Mummy Returns.

And there they are, my LF3 Peeves. Regardless of whether they are ever rectified, we'll be back. It's just too close, too convenient, and too Los Feliz to abandon.

But seriously: chill the bottled water.


LAPD Chief William Bratton wants you... to vote to raise the sales tax in Los Angeles, an increase that would be used to fund public safety improvements. In order to drum up support for a tax hike, Chief Bratton will be sending his emissaries, hats in hand, to public meetings across the city.

According to the GGPNC:

"The meeting for our Central area will begin at 6:30pm on Wednesday, January 12th, at 543 N. Fairfax Ave. (just south of Melrose at the National Council of Jewish Women). The meetings are being coordinated by the LAPD, the Mayor's office and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE)."

Since a similar countywide measure was narrowly defeated by opposition from voters in the city's Southside neighborhoods, it could be a tough row for the Chief to hoe, especially since our sales tax is already fairly high. At some point city leaders have got to figure out how to pay for something as integral to a city's well-being as public safety without raising taxes.

We should be cutting things we don't need to bolster the public safety budget, not just heaping tax increases on top of one another. What happens when the sales tax reaches 10%? Do we just keep hiking it? If we exhaust that revenue source, then where will we turn for money?

The answer to this whole mess is to scrap Prop. 13 so local governments can benefit from the high value of local property. Cities could balance their budgets without a string of highly regressive tax increases. California schools could again become the nation's envy. Highways, transit systems, hospitals, all could be so much better than they are.

It will, alas, never happen. Prop. 13 has become California's political Third Rail: touch it, and die. Meanwhile, California's cities crumble, and politicians come back to voters with their hands out, over and over again.
The weather today has gone far beyond being a simple rain "event". It's pouring out there.

Black sheets of rain, falling sideways.

A monsoon. A frog throttler. A Noachian deluge.

An inundation. A torrent. A gully washer.

The river's rising. The winds are whipping.

The roads are slowly submerging.

It's definitely come on to blow.
Despite a $300 million dollar seismic retrofit and a recently installed $900,000 roof, City Hall has succumbed to the seemingly endless onslaught of wet weather and sprung a leak.

The offending moisture has worked it's way down unsealed pipes in the shaft of the Art Deco landmark, caused water-damage on the 24th floor, and soaked unamused 4th floor staffers. Since the roof is under warranty no taxpayer money will be spent to plug the leaks, which is good news for our cash-strapped burg. Still, one would hope that a $900,000 roof would be as watertight as a frog's ass, rather than the near million-dollar sieve it has turned out to be.

Councilmember Dennis Zine apparently feels the same way, especially since one of his staffers was nearly brained by falling ceiling tiles, and has promised to launch an investigation (and you know what sticklers those Valley pols are when it comes to taxpayer money).

Of course, if the rain would just stop endlessly, mercilessly, relentlessly falling, this wouldn't be an issue.

I mean, c'mon Ma Nature, save some of this cooling, cleansing moisture for July.

Rob at 6-4-2 passed along info on The Orange Empire Railway Museum, a repository of historic railway equipment located in Perris, of all places.

Now, at some point I'll definitely have to make the trek out there to see their collection of Pacific Electric trolley cars, but in the meantime their website has plenty of pics and historical information on the late, much lamented Red Cars, as well as storied train lines such as the Sante Fe and Union Pacific railways.

The site also has a link to the Port of L.A.'s limited Red Car service, which looks to be oriented more towards cruise line patrons rather than workaday commuters.

It's definitely worth a visit for train or Red Car geeks (and you know who you are).
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?

Say, huh?

What marketing (sub)genius thought that up? Who do they think they're fooling? Angels fans certainly know that the team plays their games in Anaheim. Dodgers fans certainly know that their boys in blue are the only MLB team in L.A.

Arte Moreno and his braintrust must be thinking that they can cash in on L.A.'s good name by duping those rubes in flyover country into buying "Los Angeles" Angels gear. Hell, as far as those people know, L.A. is everything south of San Francisco and north of Mexico, right? Might as well leverage their ignorance into the sweet sound of chiming cash registers, goes the thinking down in O.C.

Man, I thought Disney was greedy.

And now that this particular Pandora's Box has been opened, how long can it be before a certain NFL greedhead renames his team the Los Angeles Raiders of Oakland?

Councilmember Tom LaBonge has sent out the latest permutation of his photo calendar / valentine to the City of Angels. This year's version is titled (and I'm paraphrasing), "If You Could See L.A. Through My Eyes". Ansel Adams he ain't, but the good councilmember's love of L.A. comes through loud and clear.

Also in Council District 4 news, Councilmember LaBonge's website has updated with a CD4 state of the district report (in a PDF file, natch).

Bonus!: click here for December's CD4 newsletter, which includes details of a new plan to fully staff the city's regional parks with park rangers.

The Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council has announced it's meeting schedule for this first month of 2005:

Wednesday, January 5th: The Executive Committee meets at 7 p.m., in a session that will mark the first time the newly elected officers will be in attendance.

Wednesday, January 12th: The Transportation Committee meets at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, January 18th: The GGPNC Board meets at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, January 19th: The Planning, Zoning, and Historic Preservation Committee will gather at (you guessed it), 7 p.m.

All meetings are held at the Los Feliz Community Police Center, 1965 Hillhurst, on the 2nd floor of the Citibank building.

Meeting agendas are posted here three days before each meeting.
California's new Megan's Law website is up and running. It contains a searchable database of registered sex offenders, including mugshots, addresses, and offenses.

Whatever you think about the question of whether those who have done their time for their offense should be publicly outed in this manner, performing a search of your zip code can be an eye opening experience.

In my zip code, for instance, there were 39 registrants (with more than a handful within a few blocks of my apartment). Talk about your rogue's gallery: child molesters, rapists, and all manner of sexual predators.

Privacy concerns kind of go by the wayside for me when I think about all the children in my neighborhood. The rate of recidivism amongst pedophiles is so high that they should be monitored, as well as treated for their compulsions. Hopefully this website will be used to inform ( rather than persecute), but parents deserve to know if their smiling, mild-mannered neighbor is a predator.

I had abstracted last week's horror to the point that I was able to relegate the ever-growing death toll to the rational part of my mind, to reduce it to the geophysical mechanics of tsunami creation, and the politics of international foreign aid.

I donated to a charity online. I told myself that this was just the earth being the earth. Hell, this kind of thing has been happening since the beginning of time: Pompeii, etc. , right? I put the whole thing in context, rationalized it to death, and stripped it of emotion. It was just too big to grasp, too horrifying to contemplate in full.

Then I stumbled upon this little tale of horror, this gem of sickening callousness, this scintillating example of how unfeeling the universe truly is.

When you read things like this, about paralyzed children swept away in a tempest of water and debris, unable to run, unable to swim, words begin to fail you. It's so excessively terrible, so needlessly cruel, so over the top, it almost becomes absurd.



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