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Sunday, November 30, 2008


'The Book is Like a Hammer'

James Gleick, who was involved on the Authors Guild's side of a 2005 lawsuit the Guild filed against Google for scanning millions of out-of-print books and making the text searchable on the Internet, opines in the NY Times on the future of the book:
"As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete. Even when builders pound nails by the thousand with pneumatic nail guns, every household needs a hammer. Likewise, the bicycle is alive and well. It was invented in a world without automobiles, and for speed and range it was quickly surpassed by motorcycles and all kinds of powered scooters. But there is nothing quaint about bicycles. They outsell cars."

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


'Growing The Pie'

After the extreme highs of election night, and the extreme lows of Wall Street … after watching housing values soar far beyond the wildest dreams of homeowners, then seeing many of them foreclosed upon ... after bracing ourselves for the approach of $5-per-gallon gasoline, only to witness its sudden retreat to less than $2 a gallon ... after drinking more water to be healthy, then learning that the plastic bottles from which we drink it might contain hazardous chemicals ... after all of that, and more, it's likely I'm not the only one who believes what this nation needs now is pie.

Apple pie. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie.

President-elect Barack Obama appeared to tap a similar sentiment during today's pre-holiday press conference, at which he said: "... I've tried to bring together the best economic minds, people who don't always agree with each other but who all share a commitment to make sure we're growing the pie"

Yes! By all means! Grow the pie!

For too long our nation has been trying to "make the pie higher." But now the time has come to grow the pie, to fetch it down from the lofty windowsill of the wealthy, and put it within the reach of all on the kitchen table of democracy.

This year we can be thankful for whatever size slice we have, but especially for the hope of a bigger pie to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

— TJ Sullivan

Cross posted at LA Observed
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Monday, November 24, 2008


The 2008 LA Auto Show

Photos by TJ Sullivan - Click to view photo index

I grew up in Detroit. I have the disease.

My first bout with it involved a 1977 Chevy Camaro that I purchased for a mere $100, an investment that was soon dwarfed by the cost of the Bondo required to patch the rust holes in the fenders, not to mention the spray paint that, for the first time in years, made the car one solid color — primer red. There were additional expenses — the carburetor that had to be rebuilt, and the valve cover gasket I had to replace. Then there was the exhaust manifold and muffler, and the alternator, and the radiator, and the hole in the floor on the passenger side, and the horn, and the plugs, and the battery ... My brother and I split entire summers between the restaurant where we waited tables, and the cars under which we slaved and slept.

Determined as I was to distance myself from the car-killer curse suffered by my father, my first car still became my first money pit. However, unlike my father, who took new cars and drove them until the wheels fell off (OK, the wheels actually fell off only one of the cars he owned), I was investing in an education. Every dollar I put into that beat-up old Camaro was more than matched in blood and sweat. And in return I received invaluable knowledge, as well as the ability to recognize any crooked auto repairman seconds after he suggests an unnecessary repair. But with this knowledge also came an affliction that is difficult to describe. And so, each year, I pay a visit to the Auto Show alone.

Despite the anticipation going in, most times I leave feeling drained and depressed. (The Big Three lost my attention about the time Ford transformed the Mustang into a hatchback.) This year was mostly more of the same in that regard, except for the Chevrolet Camaro concept car, a version of which is set to hit assembly lines in 2009, and showrooms in the 2010 model year — provided there's still a GM assembly line up and running next year. Not that I'll be in the market for one, but I might pretend long enough to take a test drive.

I took the camera along to the show on Saturday and put the photos together in the video slide show above. [The stills are online at this link].

* And if you go ... be sure to check out the Caraoke that VW set up inside a 2009 Beetle. It's posting videos directly to YouTube throughout the show and some of them are pretty damn funny.

— TJ Sullivan

* Crossposted at LA Observed.
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Saturday, November 22, 2008


Line For Free Groceries A Quarter-Mile Long

The blog LA NOW reports that thousands lined up today in Los Angeles for free groceries and Thanksgiving meals.

This from LA NOW:
In a sign of how strained families are just to put food on the table, more than 1,000 people are lined up today for bags of groceries at Montebello Park. The single-file line is about a quarter-mile long, and some families have been waiting since 7 a.m.

The post was published at 12:31 PM.

— TJ Sullivan in LA
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Thursday, November 20, 2008


Prop 8 Was Not Just Another Issue

A couple weeks ago I posted photos of a Prop 8 protest without comment.

The photos spoke for themselves. They did one of the things journalists are supposed to do. They gave voice to the voiceless.

Of course, some will disagree with the characterization of the losing side as voiceless. Some will say what they've been saying to me in anonymous blog comments and in e-mails, that the time for voices to be heard has passed, that the voters have spoken and more than half of them said "yes" on Prop 8. Some will view this as just another ballot issue, and declare anyone who dares to express dissent little more than a sore loser.

But, this was not just another ballot issue. This wasn't about fixing an injustice, nor was it about closing some legal loophole that was costing taxpayers money.

This was and continues to be about taking away rights, civil rights, and for those whose rights were taken away to remain silent now would equal acceptance for generations to come, not just here in California, but in the states that will surely seek to mimic us.

Voters aren't always right. Courts aren't always right. Who now, for example, would dispute that the US Supreme Court was flat wrong in 1896 when it upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson? Yet, as obvious an abomination as that ruling is today, it took our nation 58 years to undo it, then another 10 years to get the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act passed in the mid '60s.

Without question, it's a mistake to think of Prop 8 as just another ballot item. This is about procedural fairness in law, and protection from discrimination. (Note the recent eHarmony settlement).

Both sides praised Wednesday's announcement that the Supreme Court in San Francisco has decided to hear arguments on the validity of Prop 8. But, considering how that court has ruled before, and the legal question to be considered, it's hard to imagine anything but an invalidation of the proposition.

Although Keith Olbermann [see inset] expressed a similar point of view before the court made its decision to hear the matter, it's hard to imagine his mind has changed. We can only hope more people in Olbermann's position speak loudly and often about this issue.

As Olbermann points out, supporting Prop 8 is impossible to reconcile with the credo "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

— TJ Sullivan
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


To Burn, Or Not To Burn ... NOT!

Photo from BBC
Hat tip to Publishers Lunch for pointing out today's story on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA, Vladimir Nabokov's unfinished novel, which the author asked be burned following his death, which occurred in 1977.

Nabokov's son, Dmitri, who is publishing the work (set for release in 2009), speaks out for the first time about the book's contents.

Via The Independent:
He described it as "an extraordinarily original work" which was "captivating" but also "not necessarily always pleasant – shocking in some ways".

The hero of the book is Philip Wild, an overweight and physically unattractive academic with a brilliant mind who has a "wildly promiscuous" and unfaithful wife named Flora, whom he married because of her resemblance to a young woman he once loved. In the novel, which is both playful and dark, Wild toys with the idea of committing suicide.

There's also a BBC program online about the work.

— TJ Sullivan
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Any Suggestions On How To Freelance?

Ever since I departed full-time newsroom life four years ago, I get this question with increasing frequency from my friends and former colleagues.

"Any suggestions on how to freelance?" they ask.

I'm always happy to share what I've learned, but they always seem to want me to skip past the sermon about paying extra special attention to those contracts, and jump right to the part where they get paid. What so many of my full-time brethren seem to misunderstand is that they might not get paid if they don't pay attention to their contracts.

Even with a contract, there will be times you have to fight for your money.

Witness this rare public disclosure by Edward Champion at Reluctant Habits.

In the piece, Champion writes of what he went through after learning recently of the fateful folding of a publication that still owed him money for a story, 02138. Of course, just like any of us, upon hearing the news, Champion immediately set about getting paid. He looked at his contract, which stipulated that he was to be compensated upon acceptance, but acceptance had already occurred and still no dough. He phoned the publication to inquire about his pay check and was told, of course, that this wasn't a matter that could be handled by the people he knew. No newsroom types could solve this. No sir. This was a matter for the business side, the COO, and that's when things appear to have gotten nasty. He says he was told the check was in the mail, and to not to come down to the office in search of his check. The company attorney even got involved.

Guess what happened when Champion went ahead and made that visit to the publication's office anyway:
"I left this morning, entered the building, handed my ID over to the security guard, and told him I was going up to the Manhattan Media office. My name had been placed on the building’s “Watch List #1.” I told this friendly guard, who laughed over the cautionary subwindow on his screen, that I had not been placed on any watch list before, but that he could watch me as long as he liked, particularly if he remained suspicious of my intentions. Perhaps in watching, he might see something that I hadn’t observed in the mirror. Or perhaps, I also argued, I could watch him and put him on my own private “Watch List #2.” Perhaps we could generate thousands of Watch Lists and share the results of all this watching with interested parties. I stood around for a while, and he then let me go up."

It's a good read, and an important one for any full-time journalists who remain of the opinion that freelancing is for lightweights. Brothers and sisters, you have no idea.

— TJ Sullivan
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Monday, November 17, 2008


Goodbye Jerry Yang

It looks like this is goodbye to Yahoo Inc CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that "Yang will step down after the company finds a replacement, closing a tumultuous and short tenure ..."

Shi Tao, however, continues to do time in a Chinese prison for reporting the news.

Under Yang's stewardship of Yahoo, the company played a major hand in the arrest of mainland Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was eventually convicted by the communist government of China for “divulging state secrets abroad,” all because Tao used his Yahoo email address in 1989 to communicate with a pro-democracy Web site, informing its readers of an order by the Chinese government banning Chinese media from covering the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests.

As Reporters Without Borders said in 2005, the cooperation of Yahoo with the Chinese government's effort to track down Tao, lowered Yang's company to the level of “a Chinese police informant.” To make it worse, Yang defended his company's actions as simply complying with local law in a country in which Yahoo did business, never mind international and US laws regarding the prohibition of selling "crime control and detection" equipment to the Chinese. It was, to put it more simply, just business.

As Reporters Without Borders said so well:
"It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government’s abuses and it is quite another thing to collaborate.”
Perhaps the saddest part of Yang's departure is that the Chinese government probably won't deliver news of it to Shi Tao's cell.

— TJ Sullivan
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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Going Through 'The Changes'

Without referencing any of the near four dozen jobs eliminated a couple weeks ago — 17 from the newsroom, including three photographers and three reporters — Ventura County Star Editor Joe Howry wrote a column published in Sunday's edition that highlights how much better the suburban LA paper's local coverage is about to get.

Howry says "the changes we are making center on preserving the quality and quantity of local news." He says "the changes we've made are substantial, but they don't include fewer news reporters covering local news or a decline in our overall news coverage." He says he's "confident our local news coverage will increase as a result of the changes." (All the bold was added for emphasis by yours truly.)

Here's the gist:
"We understand how unsettling changes to the newspaper can be. To help readers navigate the changes, Monday's paper will provide a visual, comprehensive guide to how The Star has been reorganized.

The Star is evolving. We have become more streamlined and, in many ways, much more efficient. The one thing that has not changed through the evolutionary process is our DNA. We will continue to be the most complete and comprehensive source of local news in Ventura County."

There's even a John Lennon lyric quoted in the piece, though perhaps those who lost their jobs might consider a David Bowie lyric more apropos, something from "Changes," because "... They're quite aware of what they're going through."

Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows how heavily corporate budget cuts and staff reductions weigh on the editors who must impose them. No one in this business wants to see anyone lose their job, particularly in an industry where people put so much effort into their work. I don't doubt for a second that Howry, for whom I used to write, hates like hell that it's come to this. Those who remain in any newspaper's employ after such a devastating layoff must soldier on, not just because their own futures depend upon it, but out of an obligation to the readers they serve. At the same time, however, those who've been let go as part of "changes" intended to strengthen the company's financial position deserve to at least be acknowledged, don't they? After all, everyone leaves eventually, and who wouldn't want to be well-remembered?

See related post here.

— TJ Sullivan

* Cross-posted at LA Observed.

** UPDATE: Romenesko has a post about Ventura County Star cartoonist Steve Greenberg, who was among those laid off.
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Saturday, November 15, 2008


LA's Fire-Orange Sun

Photo by TJ Sullivan © 2008

We can't see the smoke plumes or smell the smoke on the Westside, but the sun is that same fire-orange color it always gets when there are big fires burning anywhere in Southern California.

— TJ Sullivan
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Thursday, November 13, 2008


Why $700 Billion Might Not Be Enough

When US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced this week that he was ditching the plan to buy up complex mortgage-related assets, many people were surprisingly surprised. What? Wait! We gave him $700 Billion to fix this mess. How can $700 Billion not be enough?

There's no easy answer, of course, but The New York Times series The Debt Trap, published back in July 2008, is a good place to get a sense of the magnitude of this crisis.

Here's a snippet:
... As Americans have dug themselves deeper into debt, the value of their assets has started to fall. Mortgage debt stood at $10.5 trillion at the end of last year, more than double the $4.8 trillion just seven years earlier, but home prices that were rising to support increasing levels of debt, like home equity lines of credit, are now dropping.

I had to read that line over a couple times before I believed my eyes. Even as incomes were stagnating, mortgage debt in the US more than doubled in a mere seven years. Where'd we come up with that additional $5.7 trillion?

We didn't.

We aren't even saving money anymore. Our nation's savings rate, which measures the money that mom and pop sock away for a rainy day, accounted for more than 8 percent of disposable income in 1968. But, as reported by the NY Times, that same rate at the start of 2008 stood at 0.4 percent!


Yet another way of looking at the problem is this digital animation of a roller coaster [see inset above], which was created a couple years ago using the same data as Robert J. Shiller's index of housing prices in the US from 1890 to 2006. Be sure to watch for the year indicator to pop up in the lower right corner of the screen.

— TJ Sullivan
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Drop, Cover, and Hold On! Today's ShakeOut Day

Nearly five years ago, I spent two months researching, conducting interviews, and writing a package of stories to mark the 10th anniversary of the Northridge Quake, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that occurred at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, nearly 11 miles beneath the San Fernando Valley, on a blind thrust fault.

That quake, known today in LA as simply "Northridge," pushed parts of the Santa Susana Mountains an additional 2 feet or more above sea level, started massive natural gas fires, collapsed bridges and buildings, buried people alive, killed 57, injured more than 9,000 and displaced at least 20,000.

It could have been worse, far worse.

Had Northridge occurred during work hours, when more people were in their cars beneath those bridges that failed, or at their desks in buildings that sustained major damage, there is no doubt that the death toll would have been much, much higher.

I wasn't here for Northridge, but after writing that story, I expect I tested my spouse's tolerance for doomsaying as I pushed us to prepare.

I secured all our shelving to the walls (I'm a writer, so that's a lot of shelving), stocked an ample supply of batteries and water (all rotated on schedule to ensure freshness), placed emergency kits in our vehicles (water, batteries, flashlights, first-aid supplies, matches, food, blankets, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, tampons, etc...), purchased a set of two-way radios (cell phones won't work after a major quake), and, did I mention water and batteries?

Are you ready?

Today is The Great Southern California ShakeOut, "the largest earthquake preparedness activity in U.S. history." That alone is reason enough to check out the Web site and get a sense of what to expect. I guarantee it will at least move you to put together a reunion plan should such a disaster occur when everyone in your family is in a different location throughout the LA area.

Consider how much advance notice we get for hurricanes, and yet people inevitably end up stranded without food, water, or medical care.

Earthquakes are no-notice events.

— TJ Sullivan

* Cross-posted at LA Observed
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Thursday, November 06, 2008


Protesters Descend Upon Mormon Temple

All Photos by TJ Sullivan © 2008

A march to protest the passage of Proposition 8 drew more than a thousand people (and just about every TV news van and helicopter in Los Angeles) to the Westside Thursday evening. So, I walked over to the Mormon Temple* on Santa Monica Boulevard, camera in hand, and grabbed a few shots. The resulting photo essay is online here at www.TJSullivanLA.com.

TJ Sullivan

* The temple's proper name is the "Los Angeles California Temple" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), located at 10777 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.

Cross posted at LA Observed.
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A Cold Day In Ventura County**

Perhaps, as a former writer at the Ventura County Star, I'm too close to this. Maybe I'm just too familiar with how many extra hours staffers there (and at many newspapers that size) routinely put into election coverage, hours they'll never get back to spend with their families, extra hours that, at least when I was there, never made it onto the time cards (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, take comp-time later, no problemo). Perhaps, because of all that, I'm the wrong person to opine on the E.W. Scripps Co.'s decision to conduct a post-presidential-election layoff today of 45 people at the Star — 17 from the newsroom (more than 20 percent) — according to a VCS source.

Layoffs are horrible. No doubt. No matter when they take place, it's a bad time. So, is it worse for a company to do a layoff immediately after it got the election coverage it wanted? Worse, for example, than doing the layoff the week of Christmas?

Yes. Yes it is.

TJ Sullivan

* Cross posted at LA Observed.


It looks like other Scripps properties are getting hit with layoffs today too. Here's one at the Southwest Florida Group, which includes the Naples Daily News, Bonita Daily News, and Marco Eagle.

Although no story about the layoff has yet appeared on the VCS Web site, many staffers have begun updating their Facebook status to note whether they were included in the layoffs.

Coverage of the layoff by the National Press Photographers Association.

Three more Scripps properties are reporting layoffs. The Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, TX, is losing 23 positions, The Abilene Reporter News is eliminating "seven full-time and four part-time positions between now and the end of the year," and the Evansville Courier & Press is losing 32 positions.

Editor & Publisher is reporting that E.W. Scripps is reportedly cutting 400 positions. Also see Fitz & Jen.

The Ventura County Star put up a brief, sans the usual reader comment option, after 4 p.m.
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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Spike Lee: 'You Cannot Deny the Seismic Shift'

Spike Lee:
"I'm still trying to put in words and feelings what I experienced last night. I did not cry last night though. I woke up early this morning and watched the various news shows and the tears were streaming, not as much as Jesse Jackson was last night, but uh ... Jesse, ooh, they were coming down with Jesse ... It was amazing. It's a new day, it's a new dawn, it's a new beginning. And I'm just blessed that I'm here and God is great. It's wonderful."

[Snip ...]

"Let's think about the pictures that we saw of McCain-Palin rallies. Contrast that with the rallies of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The Republican party is stuck in a land of TV Land — 'Leave It To Beaver,' 'Father Knows Best,' 'Howdy Doody.' That America does not exist anymore. The Republican party has got to do something because their base is totally white."


"The America that's come behind Barack, this mosaic, is the America of today — white, black, brown, yellow, various religions, gay, straight — That is the new America. And Giuliani and these other guys are stuck in the 1950s."

Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Los Angeles, Election Day 2008

All Photos by TJ Sullivan © 2008

The line of people waiting to vote at the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center at 2551 Moter Ave. stretched back more than 100 yards prior to the opening of the polls at 7 a.m. Likewise, there were long lines outside polling places set up in two fraternity houses near UCLA.

I've posted a brief photo essay online here at www.TJSullivanLA.com, and plan to add to it throughout the day.

TJ Sullivan

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Sunday, November 02, 2008


'Yes We Can'

"Yes We Can," By will.i.am, of The Black Eyed Peas.

Speech by Barack Obama.

The lyrics:
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics ... they will only grow louder and more dissonant ... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can.
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Saturday, November 01, 2008


Don't 'Blame Canada,' Palin's One of Us

Gov. Sarah Palin fell harder for this one than the Bush White House did for that whole Iraq-WMD thing.

For six full minutes Palin really sounded as though she believed she was on the telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, even after he suggested that they go hunting together [he also asked that they not take VP Dick Cheney along, an obvious reference to the 2006 hunting mishap in which Cheney pumped some birdshot into a friend's face].

[Audio at this link]

Palin, apparently feeling some need to reassure the French president, promised: "I'll be a careful shot."

The call went on (and on) until the pranksters finally had to reveal to Palin that they were actually the Montreal comedy duo of Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel. Palin then gave up the phone to the assistant who failed to properly vet the caller. [Transcript here]

Much as some on the right will now surely Blame Canada, writers and comics have to admire the performance of both Audette and Trudel. They were over the top, but not too far. They were irreverent, but not disrespectful (OK, not TOO disrespectful). They never let it get away from them. They played it quite well, and far nicer than the average American (like me) would've done. If anything, we should pity Canada. They've had to listen to news of the US presidential election for two years now and they don't even get to vote.

Palin's campaign responded with this:
"Governor Palin was mildly amused to learn that she had joined the ranks of heads of state, including President Sarkozy and other celebrities, in being targeted by these pranksters. C'est la vie."

Click to e-mail TJ Sullivan in LA
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