Friday, March 31, 2006

Happy Friday

I've been having a really hard time getting anything done at work. I've been like this for days. Today I've imposed a deadline on myself in order to stimulate productivity. It isn't working very well. I'm having one of those days where it's as if I don't read English. I look at the same page for five minutes, my eyes scanning the lines, but I don't understand anything. I think part of it is because I'm reading "Resales of Restricted Securities."

I took an extended lunch yesterday "off campus" (i.e., I drove to get there) to the Pho Cafe. Recall that last time I was there I overheard a couple Democrats discussing why they didn't like Hillary. This time the table next to me had three people-- a Tibetan Buddhist monk and the two people taking him out to lunch. The monk was saying how he does 500 prostrations every morning. The monk didn't speak English well, so the Americans spoke slowly, loudly and used small words. But the funny part was when it came time to pay the bill. The Americans laid down their credit card only to be told that Pho Cafe only takes cash. They looked into their wallets, then at each other, and then asked the monk for some money. HA HA. I couldn't help but laugh inside. The monk didn't mind at all, of course.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What Happened on Lost?

We were watching films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival last night at CalTech so we missed last night's episode. What happened?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New Lost Tomorrow

I forgot to ask what you thought about last week's Lost. I couldn't care less about Sun's storyline, but I liked what they did with Henry. Is he or isn't he an Other? I still think he is. We may know after the end of tomorrow night's episode.

Has anyone heard the rumor (fact?) that the producers of Lost have already mapped out six seasons?

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Feature: Polls

Polls have arrived at the chanchow. I'll change them periodically to keep things fresh and new.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Affirmative Action for the 21st Century? Say It Ain't So

I keep hearing that it's harder to get into college now than it was, say, 10 or 15 years ago. I'm not sure exactly why that is. Perhaps there are just more applicants? Perhaps the baby boomers' kids are going to school now, so demand exceeds supply? Something else?

In addition to college being harder to get into generally, apparently it's extra hard to get in if you're female. A recent NYT op-ed piece by the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College candidly lays it out for us:
Rest assured that admissions officers are not cavalier in making their decisions. Last week, the 10 officers at my college sat around a table, 12 hours every day, deliberating the applications of hundreds of talented young men and women. While gulping down coffee and poring over statistics, we heard about a young woman from Kentucky we were not yet ready to admit outright. She was the leader/president/editor/captain/lead actress in every activity in her school. She had taken six advanced placement courses and had been selected for a prestigious state leadership program. In her free time, this whirlwind of achievement had accumulated more than 300 hours of community service in four different organizations.

Few of us sitting around the table were as talented and as directed at age 17 as this young woman. Unfortunately, her test scores and grade point average placed her in the middle of our pool. We had to have a debate before we decided to swallow the middling scores and write "admit" next to her name.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women's liberation movement?
I'm surprised that gender balance has become an issue. I never thought young men would be "underrepresented" in college. In fact, I'm not convinced that a 42/58 male/female ratio is so skewed that we need to fix it by admitting "less qualified" young men.

I haven't thought about it enough, but my first reaction is that young men shouldn't benefit from affirmative action. Affirmative action is intended to rectify past discrimation (e.g., against women and minorities) and young men haven't suffered that sort of traditional discrimination. Then again, all sorts of favorable treatment are afforded to different groups and they aren't called affirmative action (i.e., you're much more likely to get in if your dad went to a certain school or if you're one of the few applicants from Wyoming or Alaska). Do we need to add men to the list of legacies and people from the boonies?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Birdsong and More

For the last week, I've been waking up early to the annoying sounds to birds chirping. All sorts of different birds and different chirps. It's very loud. Is this a springtime phenomenon? I wouldn't mind it so much if it didn't start around 6:30am. I have a hard time picturing birds in LA finding worms and bringing them back to the nest, but maybe that's what's happening.

* * *
Don't think that people who drive hybrids aren't assholes. I experienced road rage not long ago, mano a mano with a Toyota Prius. I was driving on the 134 east to Pasadena. It was nighttime. There were four lanes in my direction and I was in the second from the right, going about 65 mph. The car behind me started flicking his high beams. He did it about 8 times and it pissed me off. The freeway was relatively empty and there was plenty of room to pass on my left. So I told him to get lost by flashing my brake lights. He got all up in a tissy and passed me super fast on the left. It turned out that it was a Prius. I don't know why this surprised me. What a loser, I thought. So the Prius got in front of me and, still pissed, I high beamed him. Prius did not like this and slammed on his breaks and slowed to like 40 mph. Anyways, he soon got off the freeway.... I usually don't get road rage (probably cuz I hardly drive on the freeway), but it happens and I don't recommend it. Dangerous games people play. The point: people who drive hybrids can be total dickheads.

* * *
My car gets about 275 miles to the tank, which means I get about 21-22 mpg. No surprise since it's almost all city mileage. I fill up about once a week. Gas is getting expensive again. Last time it cost me $35.

* * *
One of my favorite things about Saturday morning is waking up and opening all the curtains in the house. (This is something that I only do on the weekends because during the week I just wake up and go.) The sun comes in, I settle onto the couch and drink a cup of coffee. This is living!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

LA Radio

One of the best things about LA, other than the weather and the food, is the radio stations. To begin with, there are tons of them. I'd say there's one station for every 0.4 frequency on the FM dial. I'd also say that at least a quarter of them are Spanish. But aside from sheer quantity of radio stations, a lot of them are really good. I probably listen to KPCC (out of Pasadena) the most since it has NPR news and Cartalk. For music, I sometimes listen to KCRW (out of Santa Monica), although Nic Harcourt and his Becomes Eclectic programs can get boring after a while.

What really blew me away the other day was a long mix of Prince classics on KBIG. I couldn't believe my ears. It was all Prince for at least a half hour. Everything from Controversy to Raspberry Beret to 7. A Prince compilation on the radio! Who does that? Which reminds me, his Purple Highness released an album recently. I don't know if it's any good, but I assume he'll be going on tour soon. If he plays his old stuff, then I'm definitely there.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Still Swimming

This, I love. An LA Times reporter is doing an experiment to see what can live in the LA River. He's taken two goldfish, named Little Antonio (after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) and Little Ed (after Councilman Ed Reyes), and put them in an bowl filled with LA River water. The objective: to see how long they will live. It's been 14 days and they're still chuggin.

To see Little Antonio and Little Ed with your own eyes, visit them at the GoldfishCam, and refresh periodically.

Trader Joe's NYC

For those of you in NYC, how's the new Trader Joe's?

Unrelated: New episode of Lost this Wednesday. Previews indicate that we may find out more about the prisoner in the Hatch (what's his face?). The trade off, unfortunately, will be that we must endure more Ana Lucia.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

E for East Side

There's nothing better than having a full weekend. Seems like the more we do, the longer the weekend feels. As usual, food was a huge part of our weekend (in my opinion, LA is the best city for ethnic food), but in addition to great food, we went to the movies and spotted an A-List celeb (read on for details).

On Friday night we headed to Pasadena for Chinese food at Fu Shing and used book store browsing at Cliff's Books. The food at Fu Shing was mediocre to good, depending on the dish. I suspect that Mr. Octopus wanted to eat there so that he could stop at Cliff's on the way back. Cliff's is one of the better used book shops that we've been to in LA. The other is Iliad Book Shop in North Hollywood.

Saturday was great. We started the day with a visit to the surprisingly good India Spices and Sweets in Atwater Village (below). We ate lunch at the restaurant (and watched Bollywood movies at the same time) and then loaded up on the spices and veggies at the store. Mr. Octopus felt like he was in Jackson Heights. We haven't found a good Indian restaurant in LA yet (the best one we've found is about as good as an average Indian on Sixth Street in NYC), so this store is our consolation. I suppose we'd have to drive down to Artesia to get authentic Indian here in the Southland.

Nighttime held even more in store for us. Friends introduced us to pupusas at Atlacatl on Beverly (below). A Savadoran specialty, pupusas are thick, round, tortilla-like things filled with cheese, beans or meat. They're topped off with a lightly spiced cabbage concoction called curtido. There are pupserias all over town. I'm glad I can now say that I've been to one.

After pupusas, we headed straight to the Arclight in Hollywood, which is a huge movie experience (movie "theater" doesn't do it justice). The Arclight has about 15 screens, stadium seating and, most notably, assigned seating. It's like going to the opera. It's also a good place to see celebrities because as we were standing in line to retrieve our tickets for V for Vendetta, we saw Charlize Theron. A movie star going to the movies. How trippy is that! She was in jeans and boots and had her hair tucked under a paperboy hat. She must've been about six feet tall. But wait, I'm not done. We took our seats for V and who do you think plopped down one row in front of us? No joke! For those more interested in the movie than the movie star, I liked V for Vendetta. It's a highly entertaining movie that, when you peel away the bizarre costumes and special effects, has some very radical and inflammatory ideas.

Finally, Sunday was spent much like last Sunday-- looking at open houses around Eagle Rock, Pasadena and South Pasadena. We grabbed a late lunch at Pie 'n Burger, a Pasadena institution. I was so hungry I ordered a bunch of stuff and managed to eat it all. Hours later, I could still smell the cheeseburger on my fingers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

LA's Homeless

There are a lot of homeless people in LA. According to recent LAPD statistics, on the night of February 21st, there were 1,354 homeless people around the Skid Row area, as well as 303 boxes, 216 tarps and 187 camping tents. On a given night, the LA Homeless Services Authority says the county's homeless population is around 82,000. See Downtown News.

Apparently, this makes LA the city with the biggest homeless problem in the country. Mayor Villaraigosa recently met with the White House homeless czar, Phil Mangano, to find some solution. See Daily News. No detailed plan has come of it, but at least they're trying to figure it out.

I think the homeless in LA are different. They push shopping carts overflowing with their belongings and are more aggressive. In NYC, the homeless ask for money, but here they do that and sometimes follow you. At red lights, they will walk between the lanes and come up to your car window. Granted, only a few of them are actually menacing and dangerous, but they seem far more active and aggressive than in other cities. Perhaps LA's car culture is part of the reason. It can be very isolating here. Everyone drives a car and you can easily go for days, if you want, without talking to anyone. That can make anyone crazy...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

About Hillary

As Hillary Clinton keeps amassing heaps of money for her political campaign, the concern (as we all know) is whether she can be President. Not whether she'd be a good President, but whether she can get there at all. If there are so many doubts and fears, then who's giving her all this money? The Republicans?

I have a few burning questions, so I'll just come out and ask. Do you know anyone who likes Hillary? I know a lot people who agree with her and like the "idea" of a woman President, but don't like Hillary. Next question: Do you really need to be liked to be elected President?

I was at the Pho Cafe in Silverlake recently, eavesdropping on the table next to me. They were two people talking politics-- both liberals, both disliked Hillary. Why don't you like her, the woman asked? "Well, she's always wanted to be President," the man answered. Yes, she probably has. And?

I suspect that a lot of people don't like Hillary for reasons they can't quite articulate (or perhaps would rather not articulate). Hillary's much less popular than any other woman who's previously run for President, but that might be because she's the first woman to actually have a chance of winning.

As for me, I'll admit that whenever I think of Hillary, it's inevitably of her circa 1992, with the shoulder-length hair and the headband, talking about how she isn't Tammy Wynette. That was 14 years ago and still one of the first images I think about. Why is that?

So tell me, what's your theory on why people don't like Hillary? Even if you like her and/or her politics, tell me why other people don't like her.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Annie Proulx, Very Sore Loser

I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain, so I can't say how robbed it was when the Best Picture Oscar went to Crash. Still, I can't help being tickled by Annie Proulx's indignation about "losing" the award. She evens calls Crash "Trash" in her recent rant published in the Guardian:
The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that, having been nominated for eight Academy awards, it would get Best Picture as it had at the funny, lively Independent Spirit awards the day before. (If you are looking for smart judging based on merit, skip the Academy Awards next year and pay attention to the Independent Spirit choices.) We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver.
HA HA. For those of you who have seen Brokeback, how great was it really?

Cornfield Revisited

Long time readers of the chanchow may remember some previous posts about Not a Cornfield. If you're not familiar, long story short: last year the Annenberg Foundation provided funds to turn a 32-acre brownfield site (just north of Chinatown in downtown LA) known as "the cornfield" into an actual cornfield. It was rad. The corn grew real high and was eventually harvested to make recyclable materials and ethanol. In addition to being an real cornfield, the site served as a public art space where music was played and movies were shown, all for free.

Now the corn is gone and last week State officials announced a design competition to turn the area into a public park. The competition is in its infancy, but already there is concern over funding and the use and focus of the park.
While [City Councilman Ed Reyes] noted that it's ultimately up to the designers and state officials to determine what the park will feature, he said he would like to see a mix of athletic fields and green spaces for people to gather. The goal should be to engage the surrounding neighborhoods, Reyes said.

"It has to be a dynamic place that reflects the energy of the city," he said.

That mix is important to the community as well, said Kim Benjamin, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, which has been an active voice in the Cornfield debate.

"I don't think that having it simply football, soccer and baseball fields is appropriate and I don't think that having it completely passive is a good utilization of the site," Benjamin said. "There needs to be something in the middle."

State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg said that the new park should acknowledge the site's historical significance. She noted that the zanja madre, the dirt ditch that once delivered water from the Los Angeles River to the city's first pueblo, runs through the site.

"I'd like to see it do some things that help people understand the history of that area," she said. "That piece of property played an important role in Los Angeles."
From the Downtown News. Sounds like this could be a long, drawn out process. I'm glad to hear that they're trying to make it nice though. There's a great view of downtown LA from the cornfield and, as we all know, LA needs more green spaces.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Video Games

I dig video games. I don't play very many, but I manage to get pretty obsessive about the few I come across. I loved Atari when I was in elementary school. I never had it, but I would play whenever I was around one. I liked Ms. Pac Man best. Then there was Rogue in middle school and Tetris in high school. Then there was Mario Kart 64 (above) and Tekken 3 (below). I even put Tekken on one of my resumes as an "Interest." Last year there was Bejeweled on my Treo and now there's the Brick Game on my blackberry. You know you're a (borderline) loser when you start playing games on the devices you get from work.

Mr. Octopus thinks we should get the new Nintendo for me (for him?). Not sure this is a good idea given my obsessive tendencies. I've never had a game system and I'm afraid of what kind of person I'll become if have one. If I can get addicted to stupid crap like the Brick Game at my age, who's to say I'll ever go outside if I have the new Nintendo?

p.s. This is chanchow's 100th post. Hard to believe that I could log 100 posts in four months and hold down a "job."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A TV-Less Weekend

I stuck to my guns and didn't watch any TV this weekend. It was hard, I have to admit. Twice, I had the remote in hand and finger on the power before remembering my resolution. Normally, a TV-less weekend wouldn't be a big deal, but Mr. Octopus had to go into the office this weekend and I was tempted to turn on the TV for some background noise. But I didn't. Here's what happened instead.

Friday night was spent having dinner with some new and old friends at Guelaguetza, a great Oaxacan restaurant near Olympic and Normandie (right). The restaurant stands out like a sore thumb because it's a big, bold, non-Korean establishment smack in the middle of Koreatown. It has a Asian look about it, so maybe it used to be a Korean restaurant. Who knows. Afterwards, we headed to Club Tee-Gee, a favorite bar of ours in Atwater.

Saturday was a wasted day. Waking up at noon will do that to you. Basically I drove aimlessly around Eagle Rock, which is not to far from our house. East of Glendale and west of Pasadena, Eagle Rock is an area named after a big rock (left) that sorta looks like an eagle. We've heard from many people that it's an up and coming neighborhood, so we've begun scoping out the area and the real estate.

Later in the afternoon I popped in the DVD of The Getaway (1972), but I had to turn it off after 20 minutes because Ali MacGraw was so unbearably bad. Beautiful people who can't act should not have speaking roles. Then at night, we watched Walk the Line, which was also quite bad (but bearable). The story was bare and formulaic (guy with tough childhood saved by good woman) and the performances good but not great. I don't see what the big deal was about Reese Witherspoon. If I were Felicity Huffman, I'd be pissed.

Sunday was spent following open house signs in Eagle Rock and environs. We saw some good stuff. We're buoyed by the fact that some of these houses are staying on the market a relatively longish time. Bodes well for us.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How Can This Be?

I just noticed that my last seven entries have had something to do with TV. And this doesn't include the multiple Olympics entries over the last few weeks. How the hell did that happen? TV is supposed to be a marginal part of my life, not the source of all my blog entries. That's messed up. I'm sorry about that. I resolve not to watch any TV over the weekend. Hopefully I'll still be able to find something to blog about.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

I Ain't Paying for What I Didn't Want

I'm sitting here at home watching the 10 o'clock news on KTLA. It's the usual fare-- Dubai ports deal tanked, local kidnappings, police officer charged with shooting some dude-- except for one little nugget of info. Some jackass named Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Michigan has brought a lawsuit contending that he has the right not to pay child support. Apparently, an ex-girlfriend of Dubay's had his baby and Dubay has been ordered by a court to pay $500 a month in child support. He says that his ex knew he didn't want to have a baby with her and she said, repeatedly, that she was physically unable to get pregnant. Lo and behold, he's now a father and he doesn't think he should have to pay child support.
"The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose.

"There's such a spectrum of choice that women have — it's her body, her pregnancy and she has the ultimate right to make decisions," said Mel Feit, director of [The National Center for Men]. "I'm trying to find a way for a man also to have some say over decisions that affect his life profoundly."

Feit's organization has been trying since the early 1990s to pursue such a lawsuit, and finally found a suitable plaintiff in Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Mich...

The president of the National Organization for Women, Kim Gandy, acknowledged that disputes over unintended pregnancies can be complex and bitter.

"None of these are easy questions," said Gandy, a former prosecutor. "But most courts say it's not about what he did or didn't do or what she did or didn't do. It's about the rights of the child.""
More here and here.

Man, this guy pisses me off. On the one hand, I guess I can understand not wanting to pay for something you didn't want (as a general matter), but it's different when the thing is a kid (even if you were duped). The kid's there and you gotta deal. Kid's gotta eat and have clothes and diapers and toys and go to school. Tough cookies for you, absent dad. The least you can do is send some money.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Things Prom

Before I left for work this morning, I watched a segment on the Today show about prom dresses. There were about six girls modeling Oscar-like knockoffs in front of a grocery store backdrop. The dresses were very glam and almost wedding-worthy. A far cry from the Gunne Sax dresses that were standard at my prom.

A couple years ago, I was taking the M14 bus to the East Village. It was late on a school night and I was sitting behind a high school girl who was talking on her cell phone to her mom. She needed at least $550 for prom, she said. Why, mom asked? Because the dress is $300, the hair is $100, the nails $50, the shoes $50 and the ticket to get in is $50. Mom then turned the conversation to college applications. No, she had not applied for college (this was in February). She only wanted to go to one college and they have rolling admissions. This is the only college in NYC with her major, Mortuary Science. So don't worry, mom. Fork over that $550.

I know, I know, I shouldn't mock people that I don't know. You had to be there. Anyhoo, for the high school outcasts or consciously alternative, there is for some the Anti-Prom, where "attendees protest what they regard as the kitsch vanity, the orgiastic excess, and the suffocating conformity that the prom culture demands from students." Wiki.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Weekend

On Friday night, Mr. Octopus and I walked to our neighborhood movie theater, the small but great Los Feliz 3 on Vermont, to catch the last showing of Capote (excellent movie). The fact that we can walk to this theater, and that it is never crowded, might be the best thing about our neightborhood. We walked there again tonight, right after the Oscars. We'd just seen that Amex commercial with Robert DeNiro and got nostalgic for New York. To make us feel better we put on our jackets and walked over to Vermont. It's not New York, but it's a satisfactory substitute as far as LA goes. In a very unwalkable city, this little stretch of Vermont is a real comfort. Tonight we walked past the movie theater (Transamerica and Brokeback Mountain were the other movies showing) and into Skylight Books, which is right next door. I went straight to the LA section and picked up books on LA hikes and then mosied over to the travel section where I flipped through pages of Lonely Planet Baja and Frommers Argentina. After about a half hour at the bookstore, we made the walk back home, thinking less about New York and more about tomorrow being Monday.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Last Night on Lost

What did we think of last night's episode? Satisfying? Did we like the explanation of what happened to Claire? Do we think that guy is an other? Is Locke going to play into his hands? For me: Yes, Yes, Yes, I really hope not.