Monday, March 29, 2010

As economy sours, vendors crowd Venice Beach

LOS ANGELES - Sand and surf are the least of the attractions making Venice Beach one of Los Angeles' top tourist draws.

On summer weekends, some 150,000 exhibitionists and gawkers flock to the neighborhood to see and be seen in a Bohemian rhapsody of bongo-bangers, dreadlocked artists and acrobatic gymnasts.

In recent months, though, that freewheeling hippie circus has gotten edgy thanks to a stubbornly sour economy heightening competition for the 200 peddler spaces along the 1.5-mile long asphalt strip bordering the beach.

That has longtime storeowners and artists steamed, and residents in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood clamoring for a clamp down on the increased noise and transients.

"It's become a real free-for-all, really aggressive," said Therese Dietlin, who has distributed alternative political literature for nine years on the boardwalk, which is lined with cafes, medical marijuana clinics and souvenir shops.

Recently, she said, a woman selling Buddhas and incense kicked her table across the boardwalk claiming that Dietlin had set up her table in her space. "It never used to be like that," she said.

The city has responded with new rules to give more people a chance at a space on the strip, but the peak summer season looms more chaotic than ever.

For the first time, the city has been giving out all the vendor spaces in its weekly lotteries. People from as far away as New York and Florida are participating, said Victor Jauregui, senior director of the Venice Beach Recreation Center, which runs the lottery.

The number of performers wanting a spot has jumped by 80 percent over the past year, while the number of vendors has doubled. That's led to some boisterous raffles.

Man Files $530K Lawsuit Against Neighbor For Using WiFi, iPhone, Dimmer Switches

Beware your home electronics -- your phones, wireless routers, even your dimmer switches -- because they might be making your neighbor ill. Or at least that's what one man in New Mexico is saying in a lawsuit against a technology-loving former friend.

According to the plaintiff, he'd bought his current house in Santa Fe, NM, because it was the least likely one to trigger his "electromagnetic sensitivities." But then when a friend of his purchased the home that backed up to his property, he claims her constant use of electronics was causing him nausea, vertigo, aches, dizziness, arrhythmia and insomnia.

The plaintiff says he asked the defendant to curb her use of the devices he believed were triggering his sensitivity, but "basically, she refused."

So he's suing for $530,000.

For her part, the defendant says she attempted to comply with her friend's requests, but felt harassed.

"I decided to bring it all to an end, stop trying to accommodate a neighbor and attempted to start concentrating on my own life again," she said. "Being the target of this lawsuit has affected me very adversely... I feel as if my life and liberty are under attack for no valid reason, and it has forced me to have to defend my very basic human rights."

The Wisdom of Woz

The Wisdom of Woz
Why Apple's cofounder wants two iPads.

By Daniel Lyons | NEWSWEEK
Published Mar 26, 2010

Steve Wozniak stopped working at Apple in the late 1980s, but he's never stopped being a fan. Daniel Lyons caught up with Woz as he was driving through a snowstorm in Green River, Wyo., on his way to judge a high-school robotics competition.

What do you think of the iPad?
I'm out here on the road with four cell phones and two GPS devices, trying to look at maps, and I wish I had an iPad with me now.

The iPad will change the way you use computers, read books, and watch TV—as long as you're willing to do it the Steve Jobs way.

Do you think it will be a big hit?
The iPad could lower the cost of acquiring computers for students. I think it's going to be huge in the education market. Think about students going off to college. They want an Apple product, but their parents don't want to spend that much. Now they have the ideal thing. They can go to college and someone may have a whacked-out $6,000 laptop, but the guy with the iPad will get all the attention.

Who else is the target audience for this?
My wife's parents—they're not ready for the complicated computer world. They have these old computers. But the iPad simplifies things. It's like a restart. We all say we want things to be simpler. All of a sudden we have this simple thing.

What about you?
At first I thought, this is not for me. I have the iPhone for mobility and a computer for my computer life. With the iPhone there are certain things it just doesn't do well, mostly in browsing. It's horrible to navigate a map on an iPhone because of the screen size.

So have you ordered one?
I've ordered one for a friend. Then I ordered two for myself. One with the Wi-Fi and one with the 3G. And I'll go to the store on Friday night and wait in line, just for fun.

What phones do you have with you now?
I have two iPhones, a [Google] Nexus One, a [Motorola] Droid, plus a Garmin [GPS] and TomTom [GPS]. I turn them all on at the same time, plus the navigation system in my Prius.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The five most promising cost controls in the health-care bill

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:
"It's hard to overstate how important the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- which makes the official judgments on how much bills cost and save -- is in Washington. But the rest of the country doesn't know what the CBO is, and it doesn't care. "Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office," wrote pollsters Doug Schoen and Scott Rasmussen in the Wall Street Journal, "but 81 percent of voters say it's likely [health care reform] will end up costing more than projected."

That's left Democrats in a worst-of-both-worlds situation: They've built a bill that Washington's toughest scorekeeper says will cut the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over 20 years. They're getting attacked for the taxes and Medicare reforms that save all that money. But the country doesn't believe the savings are real.

One of the problems Democrats have had is that it's very easy to understand the one thing the bill does to spend money -- purchase insurance for people who can't afford it -- and considerably harder to explain the many things it does to save money. Another is that a lot of the savings have to do with changing how medicine is practiced, which people are less familiar with than how insurance is purchased.

But the fact that the cost controls are complicated and numerous doesn't mean they're absent, or that they won't work. So here are five of the bill's best ideas, and how they're meant to work."

Friday, March 19, 2010

In Bid to Sway Sales, Cameras Track Shoppers "The curvy mannequin piqued the interest of a couple of lanky teenage boys. Little did they know that as they groped its tight maroon shirt in the clothing store that day, video cameras were rolling.
At a mall, a father emerged from a store dragging his unruly young son by the scruff of the neck, as if he were the family cat. The man had no idea his parenting skills were being immortalized.
At an office supply store, a mother decided to get an item from a high shelf by balancing her small child on her shoulders, unaware that she, too, was being recorded.
These scenes may seem like random shopping bloopers, but they are meaningful to stores that are striving to engineer a better experience for the consumer, and ultimately, higher sales for themselves. Such clips, retailers say, can help them find solutions to problems in their stores — by installing seating and activity areas to mollify children, for instance, or by lowering shelves so merchandise is within easy reach.
Privacy advocates, though, are troubled by the array of video cameras, motion detectors and other sensors monitoring the nation’s shopping aisles.
Many stores and the consultants they hire are using the gear not to catch shoplifters but to analyze and to manipulate consumer behavior. And while taping shoppers is legal, critics say it is unethical to observe people as if they were lab rats. They are concerned that the practices will lead to an even greater invasion of privacy, particularly facial recognition technology, which is already in the early stages of deployment."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Religious, racial, sexual -- hate is hate

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES : "Opening shot ...
In the spring of 1760, a well-born Scottish lawyer named James Boswell, freshly minted from the University of Glasgow, ran off to London to seek his fortune.
It was a rash act for the heir to a sprawling estate called Auchinleck. But upon arrival in London, the 20-year-old Boswell did something even more reckless -- he secretly became a Catholic.
"Reckless" isn't merely my opinion -- here's how Frederick A. Pottle, Sterling professor of English at Yale University, described the potential repercussions of Boswell's conversion:
"If this submission to the Roman Church had become known, the consequences would have been very serious. As a professed Roman Catholic, Boswell could not have been an officer in the Army or Navy, could not have been a barrister or advocate, could not have been elected to Parliament or even have voted for a member, could not have held any place under Government; finally, could not have inherited the estate of Auchinleck."
Professor Pottle does not speculate as to whether Boswell could have attended a prom, but we can make an educated guess: No.
Arbitrarily deciding what people we dislike are permitted to do is, alas, a practice not confined to Georgian England.
Last week, Constance McMillen, 18, a senior in Mississippi, drew nationwide attention because her school district canceled the prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School rather than allow McMillen, a lesbian, to attend with her date.
This is actually progress, in that five years ago the school would have simply barred McMillen. But with legal rulings emphasizing that discrimination against blameless individuals is bad, even if you're discriminating against them because they're homosexuals, the district figured that scrapping the dance altogether was the safer route. Better to disappoint the entire senior class than allow one gay couple to dance unopposed.
This follows in the fine Southern tradition of clinging so tightly to old hatreds that, when the rule of law tries to pry your grip away, you prefer to lose your fingers before letting go."

Meet the people who are percolating in the Coffee Party

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- In one chair sits a rural retiree, his financial security shot in the slump, a humble Southerner who's never thought much about politics. In another seat is a born Northerner, an inner-city native, a relative of a civil rights giant. And nearby, circling a table, are an economist, an artist, a onetime John McCain supporter and a long-haired guy who's rich in Woodstock memories.
Meet these members of the Coffee Party Movement, an organically grown, freshly brewed push that's marking its official kickoff Saturday. Across the country, even around the globe, they and other Americans in at least several hundred communities are expected to gather in coffeehouses to raise their mugs of java to something new.
They're professionals, musicians and housewives. They're frustrated liberal activists, disheartened conservatives and political newborns. They're young and old, rich and poor, black, white and all shades of other.
Born on Facebook just six weeks ago, the group boasts more than 110,000 fans, as of Friday morning. The Coffee Party is billed by many as an answer to the Tea Party (more than 1,000 fewer fans), a year-old protest movement that's steeped in fiscal conservatism and boiling-hot, anti-tax rhetoric.
This new group calls for civility, objects to obstructionism and demands that politicians be held accountable to the people who put them in office.
Are you at a Coffee Party gathering? Share your images, story
"The government has become so broken that the will of the people has been lost in the political game," said Stacey Hopkins, 46, coordinator of the Atlanta, Georgia, chapter. "And the only voices you're hearing are the ones of those who are screaming the loudest. They have a right to their views, but they don't have the right to speak for all Americans."
At a recent Coffee Party planning meeting at Manuel's Tavern, an Atlanta political institution, about 40 people gathered to speak for themselves. They brought their own stories of why they were there.
The one who was "never active in this stuff"
Politics? It never spoke to John Purser, who's preferred the simple life. At 69, he lives in a two-room house on a rural dirt road in Carroll County, drives a 26-year-old Ford pickup and takes odd jobs to get by. He cuts grass, chops wood and does handyman work. Earlier this week, he freed a bird from someone's house and "got paid with a bottle of whiskey," he said with a laugh.
He doesn't need much. Never has. But Purser, who worked in maintenance for Delta Airlines for 30 years, has seen the little security he might have had -- his retirement money, for example, and his home's value -- fall apart in recent years. And he just doesn't understand why some fancy executive should earn millions. His own daddy made $12 a week building roads for the Work Projects Administration during the Great Depression.
"Our country was a hell of a lot worse off then, and we came together, and we did something," he said. "I'm not that smart. I don't know the dollars and cents. But I'm just looking for something different."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Take your royalty checks, SoundExchange begs "When John Boydston got an e-mail from SoundExchange saying he had several thousand dollars in unclaimed royalties, he did what most sensible people would do. He ignored it.
To the rock musician from Atlanta, "money for nothing" meant a song by Dire Straits, not a stranger contacting him out of the blue promising to cut him big checks.
But then he got the message again six months later. Curious, he called SoundExchange.
"Sure enough, they had a sizable amount of money for me," said Boydston, 51, whose band Daddy a Go Go includes his two teenage sons. "It was several thousand dollars. That's not a ton of money. But for a guy who makes CDs in his basement, it was enough to finance my next album."
Boydston's money came from royalties that SoundExchange has squirreled away on his behalf since 2001, when Congress created the nonprofit to collect royalties from digital music streams on Internet, satellite radio and cable television. So far, the group has distributed about $360 million to more than 45,000 artists and copyright holders.
But at any given time, about 25% of the money SoundExchange gets from online music services such as Pandora, XM Radio and can't be distributed because the artists can't be tracked down. Currently, that amounts to about $50 million. And with the rising popularity of Internet radio, the cash pile has been growing, said John Simson, SoundExchange's executive director.
The problem stems from what Simson calls "bad data." Music services have been required by law since 2001 to send royalty payments to SoundExchange for the songs they stream online. But they often provide scant details. Stations routinely get promotional discs in the mail that aren't properly labeled, so the performers often go uncredited. Other times, music services keep sloppy records of the songs they play. Some tunes, for example, are titled "Unknown" and performed by "Various Artists.""

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

When is a tea party not a tea party?

On a trip to China in 2006, Tony Gebely fell in love with tea, both the drink and the ceremony of enjoying a calm cup. Embracing his passion, the Chicagoan recently launched an online tea business but has already run into unexpected problems making sure his site gets noticed on the Web.

"When I look at search engine results for ‘Chicago tea,' I find a whole bunch of Chicago tea party movement sites," Gebely said. "There are a few tea places and then all this political stuff. It's pretty annoying."

Purveyors of fine tea and tea enthusiasts in general find themselves steeped in a linguistic shift, their beloved beverage now associated with a conservative political movement routinely praised or pilloried on talk radio and cable news shows. The tea party movement's name, a reference to the tax protests that led to the Revolutionary War, has nothing, really, to do with tea. But that doesn't seem to matter.

"I certainly can see and have seen some confusion with regard to the name they've chosen for their movement," said Dan Robertson, owner of The Tea House in Naperville, a major tea distributor. "When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can sell them some tea.' Then I realized that probably wasn't going to happen."

He said he recently sent tea samples to a prospective client in Memphis, who is starting a business called The Memphis Tea Party. He searched that on Google and came up with nothing but news of political rallies and links to the actual Memphis tea party organization.

"Clearly that name is going to cause some confusion," Robertson said.

Gregory Ward, a professor of linguistics at Northwestern University, said that if the tea party movement continues to be a presence in the media it could permanently change what we associate with the term "tea party."

"A social movement can certainly trump the original use of a term," Ward said. "If the movement has any lasting power, then it will become the primary use. That was the case with the word ‘gay.' When ‘gay' first came on the horizon as a sort of nonclinical term for homosexual, the response among many non-gay people was, ‘Now there goes a perfectly innocent word being co-opted by militant homosexuals for their own use.' But clearly the gay rights movement won out."

And Ward predicts that businesses as innocent as the American Girl Place doll store — which hosts afternoon tea parties for children and their dolls — might end up renaming their events.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see a place like American Girl start avoiding the term ‘tea party,' even though we know the tea party from England, the afternoon tea have nothing to do with the political movement. My prediction would be we're going to find a replacement for that social event, if the political movement continues."

That certainly wouldn't bother Steve Stevlic, coordinator of Tea Party Patriots Chicago. He sees confusion over "tea party," the event, and "tea party," the movement, as evidence of the movement's success.

"I think what we're doing is resonating," Stevlic said. "I think it also signifies that it is, in fact, a movement. It's gone from just having a few thousand people taking to the streets last year to millions of people participating in and supporting tea parties. It's been just a meteoric rise."

So fast, in fact, that in its early stages it managed to catch at least one longtime tea connoisseur off-guard.

Pearl Dexter, editor of Tea: A Magazine, was invited to a tea party meeting last year in Connecticut, where her magazine is based. She showed up with several copies of the magazine, including one that had an image of newly inaugurated President Barack Obama on the cover.

"When I started to read the information they had there, I thought, ‘Well, this is not going to be for me,'" Dexter said. "And it was very clear when they saw the magazine cover with President Obama on it that they had changed their minds about me as well."

Of course not all tea partiers would clash with the tea party.

Don Shapiro has gone to afternoon teas in Chicago for about 25 years, savoring the serenity and civility of the tradition.

"I am a tea enthusiast and I have been for years, and lately I've been embracing some of the ideas behind the tea party movement," said Shapiro, who can be found almost weekly sipping a vanilla black tea at the Four Seasons. "I'm personally dissatisfied with the way government is running in the past year or so. and I think things need to be shaken up a bit."

Shapiro and many others in tea circles admit that the juxtaposition between the often rowdy media images of political tea partiers and the serene images of whole-leaf-organic-tea tea partiers reveals an unmistakable dissonance.

Sipping a cup of king-grade Tie Guan Yin tea in his Naperville shop, Robertson, the tea importer, took a politically neutral stance on the movement. He did, however, wonder whether tea party members might be calmer if they drank something better than tea made with the cheap tea bags they hoist at protests and mail off to politicians.

"I worry that they're drinking bad tea," Robertson said. "They don't know how to relax. If you just sit back and have a good cup of tea and talk, things tend to work out."