March 29, 2016

Pay to play, Hollywood disrupted casting

Forget casting directors schlepping to 99-seat theaters to check out plays, another once-common, now nearly extinct form of assessment. "Productions aren't paying for them to make discoveries on their time," says manager Alan Mills, a partner with Marshak.

Technological disruption has changed the landscape, too. Perhaps the most significant change occurred in 2003, when Gary Marsh's Breakdown Services, which has a virtual monopoly as a clearinghouse for casting notices for upcoming TV projects, went from messenger delivery to digital. This has been a boon for efficiency but cut a key human element out of a human resource function. "Breakdown streamlined a ton of things," says Scott David, who casts CBS' Criminal Minds and also owns a workshop studio, The Actors Link in North Hollywood, where he runs classes. "Agents used to come to people's offices and discuss their clients with a book of their clients. Now you can get a reel on somebody in seconds via online."

September 10, 2015

On Californian demography

I had to explain that the upper-middle-class suburbs -- mainstream white America -- is the Wild West for Asian-Americans. So for as much as the show may cater to a white audience (i.e., those horrible faux accents), there is something for "us." And for many Asian-Americans -- whether here by adoption, immigration, or born here -- so much of life here as Americans is the desire to be accepted, and the rubrics for acceptance. In that sense, Fresh Off the Boat is universal in its theme.

-- Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

Tags: Korea, California.

September 20, 2014

Mayor of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley needs a de facto "mayor", the person who represents its broad interests, and not those of a particular company, industry or advocacy groups. The Valley began with such individuals--Stanford's Fred Terman, Dave Packard and then Intel founder Robert Noyce. But that ended with Noyce's premature death in 1990. Now, poised to reinvent itself one more time and lead the global economy again, Silicon Valley needs another leader to address the great changes to come.

August 19, 2013

Walker wlks: Denis the dentist part 10

Few in Los Angeles get more joy from walking than the walking activist Alissa Walker (I kid you not). A journalist by trade, she has lived car-free by choice since 2007 and is on the steering committee of Los Angeles Walks, a volunteer organization dedicated to repairing the city's image as a walker's wasteland. "The basic goal is to make people realize you can walk in L.A.," she said. Better sidewalks, signage and city policies are all part of their mission.

Continue reading "Walker wlks: Denis the dentist part 10" »

August 5, 2012

Fighting forest fires from airplanes

According to the RAND report, a quick, pre-emptive attack on an emerging fire could save $3.3 million, on average. Thus, it said, spending more on firefighting planes could save money over all.


Edward G. Keating, an economist who was the study's lead author, said some government agencies leased the scooper planes for $1.5 million to $2.5 million per season; depending on estimates of the destructiveness of fires and the effectiveness of air tankers, it might save money to use up to 55 of them, the study said.

But the Forest Service, which relies on older tanker planes that must land at an airport and be refilled by pumper trucks and which uses only a handful of scoopers, said the RAND study was wrong. The skimmer planes mostly drop water or foam, when often what is needed is fire retardant, said Thomas L. Tidwell, the chief of the Forest Service. And, he said, "they're underestimating the cost of scoopers and overestimating the cost of tankers."

Congress is considering a plan submitted by the Forest Service this year to buy C-130J air tankers, a variant of the Pentagon's cargo plane, but those could cost $85 million to $90 million each once refitted to carry fire retardant, government officials say.

The new study and the Forest Service's response highlight fundamental disagreements about how to fight fires. The study, for example, noted a "dearth of statistical evidence" about the effectiveness of using air tanker drops on already large fires. It used a term sometimes used by firefighters, who refer to "CNN drops," high-visibility efforts that give the impression of a strong government response.

The study also acknowledged uncertainties about the relative value of water, which is cheap and widely available, and retardant. Some of the water will blow off target or evaporate on the way down, and it will not last long on the ground, so dumping it in the path of a fire may not be effective. (Aircraft do not usually put out fires; they slow them down so workers on the ground can extinguish them or establish a firebreak around them.)

"Often when we're having these large fires, the relative humidity is in the single digits," Mr. Tidwell said, and what reaches the ground may be "just a real light sprinkling."

The retardant, which is denser and does not evaporate, can penetrate the canopy of leaves if the fire is in a wooded area, experts say, and can be dropped from a higher altitude, reducing risks.

Mr. Keating, the study's lead author, said such operations would be dangerous even with newer equipment. "There are extremely irregular wind currents because of the heat coming off the fire," he said. "You're at high elevation and low altitude in irregular terrain," close to the ground in mountainous areas, "and, oh, by the way, it's on fire." In some crashes, pilots may have become lost in the smoke.

But the RAND study argues that more frequent drops of water may be more effective. A scooper plane, which flies about 100 miles an hour over a river or lake and lowers a small scoop to skim off hundreds of gallons in a few seconds, can manage 60 loads a day if the water is convenient. That may be 10 times the capability of a plane dropping retardant. Two-thirds of the fires fought by the Forest Service are within 10 miles of a suitable body of water, the study said, and fires near towns are even more likely to be near water.

Another goal is to spot emerging fires that can be stopped by dropping water or retardant and focus on those, a challenge that the study called "dispatch prescience." Some firefighting assets, including helicopters, move so slowly that positioning them in places where they are most likely to be needed is an important step.

Firefighting strategy has other complications. Some environmental experts worry that scooper planes, or helicopters that lower buckets to collect water, could spread exotic mussels that contaminate rivers or lakes. And in some places, planes dump saltwater on the soil.

The Forest Service contracts for a variety of aircraft, mostly converted antisubmarine warplanes from the middle of the last century. At times it has used the Bombardier 415, a Canadian plane designed to fight fires. The plane can land on water, but refills its tanks, totaling 1,600 gallons, by skimming water off the surface in a fast pass.

A California company, International Emergency Services, has been trying to market a Russian plane that holds 3,000 gallons. This year, the company flew two Forest Service engineers to Russia to evaluate the plane, the BE-200. David Baskett, the president of International Emergency Services, offered to bring the plane to the United States for a "flyoff," but, he said, the Forest Service has not responded.

Continue reading "Fighting forest fires from airplanes" »

June 10, 2012

Sod on top: green roofs save energy, sewage

Putting living vegetation on the roof is not a new idea. For thousands of years people have made sod roofs to protect and insulate their houses, keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The modern movement for green roofs began in the last 50 years in Europe. Germany, where about 10 percent of roofs are green, is the leader; some parts of Germany require green roofs on all new buildings.

Greening a roof is not simple or cheap. Over a black roof -- flat is easiest but sloped can work -- goes insulation, then a waterproof membrane, then a barrier to keep roots from poking holes in the membrane. On top of that there is a drainage layer, such as gravel or clay, then a mat to prevent erosion. Next is a lightweight soil (Chicago City Hall uses a blend of mulch, compost and spongy stuff) and finally, plants.

An extensive roof -- less than 6 inches of soil planted with hardy cover such as sedum -- can cost $15 per square foot. An intensive roof -- essentially a garden, with deeper soil and plants that require watering and weeding -- can double that. But because the vegetation is thicker, it will do a better job of cooling a building and collecting rainwater. Plants reduce sewer discharge in two ways. They retain rainfall, and what does run off is delayed until after the waters have peaked.

Continue reading "Sod on top: green roofs save energy, sewage" »

May 1, 2012

California squeezes middle class

California Democrats want to raise taxes even more. Mind you, the November ballot initiative that Mr. Brown is spearheading would primarily hit those whom Democrats call "millionaires" (i.e., people who make more than $250,000 a year). Some Republicans have warned that it will cause a millionaire march out of the state, but Mr. Kotkin says that "people who are at the very high end of the food chain, they're still going to be in Napa. They're still going to be in Silicon Valley. They're still going to be in West L.A."

That said, "It's really going to hit the small business owners and the young family that's trying to accumulate enough to raise a family, maybe send their kids to private school. It'll kick them in the teeth."

A worker in Wichita might not consider those earning $250,000 a year middle class, but "if you're a guy working for a Silicon Valley company and you're married and you're thinking about having your first kid, and your family makes 250-k a year, you can't buy a closet in the Bay Area," Mr. Kotkin says. "But for 250-k a year, you can live pretty damn well in Salt Lake City. And you might be able to send your kids to public schools and own a three-bedroom, four-bath house."

According to Mr. Kotkin, these upwardly mobile families are fleeing in droves. As a result, California is turning into a two-and-a-half-class society. On top are the "entrenched incumbents" who inherited their wealth or came to California early and made their money. Then there's a shrunken middle class of public employees and, miles below, a permanent welfare class. As it stands today, about 40% of Californians don't pay any income tax and a quarter are on Medicaid.

It's "a very scary political dynamic," he says. "One day somebody's going to put on the ballot, let's take every penny over $100,000 a year, and you'll get it through because there's no real restraint. What you've done by exempting people from paying taxes is that they feel no responsibility. That's certainly a big part of it.

And the welfare recipients, he emphasizes, "aren't leaving. Why would they? They get much better benefits in California or New York than if they go to Texas. In Texas the expectation is that people work."

April 20, 2012, 7:19 p.m. ET

Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus
A leading U.S. demographer and 'Truman Democrat' talks about what is driving the middle class out of the Golden State.

January 15, 2012


Liquid Space is like an AirBnB for coworking space and real estate: blog.

Big in San Francisco, California and NY.

January 3, 2012

Kim Chi, artisanal ?

The first offerings of artisan kimchi comprise the most popular recipes: napa cabbage and daikon (the long, white East Asian radish).

Open the mason jar just a tad and the pungent aroma of kimchi wafts out.
Napa Cabbage Kimchi. Leaves of cabbage marinated in a sauce of red chiles, onion, scallion, chives, salt, sugar, garlic, ginger, anchovy sauce, oysters, salted shrimp, beef stock, sesame seeds and rice flour.

Daikon Kimchi. Crunchy cubes of daikon are easier to eat without dripping the sauce, made of red chiles, onion, scallion, chives, garlic, salted shrimp and beef stock. All flavors combine on the palate: chile flavor (and heat), garlic and approximation of citrus, which isn't an ingredient.


Lauryn Chun, a former wine consultant and founder of Mother In Law's Kimchi, spent nine years ferrying kimchi from her mother's restaurant--Jang Mo Gip in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County, California--to her home in New York City. Her friends couldn't get enough of it. Then the light bulb went on--BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY!--and she began to produce artisan kimchi locally, using her mother's recipe plus napa cabbage and daikon grown by a Korean farmer in New York's Mid-Hudson Region.

1, 2.

May 21, 2011

Gov. Jerry Brown, fit at 73

Brown's stamina and fitness are noted by adversaries and allies alike. "I hope I'm in that good health when I'm 72," Dutton, the 60-year-old Senate Republican leader, said a few weeks before Brown turned 73. Still, Brown acknowledges he has lost a beat. He is bald, which has the effect of sharpening his already hawklike visage, with bushy white eyebrows and a slight stoop that sometimes makes him look like just another state bureaucrat as he wanders the halls of the Capitol. He has a huskiness of voice and a slight stiffness as he gets in and out of a car. "Oh, yeah, I feel the effects of age," he told me as we sat in his office in March. "You're not as acute as you were when you were younger. There's an aging process that I certainly have experienced. I'm in pretty good shape. And I do know more; there's an accumulation. But there's a big difference between 56 and 72. You do age. There are limits to our lives. They come to an end."

He is compulsive about daily workouts: a three-mile jog along the Sacramento River with Anne or lifting weights in a gym. In an otherwise loosely structured existence, exercise is the one constant on his daily schedule. When the governor ran into Anne at the lunch he attended with Beatty in Oakland, the couple could be overheard engaged in this bit of bantering:


"You look great," Brown said to his wife.

"You look great," Anne responded. "Did you work out today?"

"Yes, I did," Brown said. "Did you work out today?"

"Yes I did," Anne said. At that point, Beatty, who is 74, turned in astonishment to Brown. "You did?" he said. "For how long?"

Brown does push-ups, and he has a chin-up bar in his suite of offices. "I am the one who got him to do pull-ups," Anne said. He lost a belly of weight before his most recent campaign, and Anne is always on him to watch his diet. When a waitress asked Brown during our dinner if he wanted more wine, Anne intervened. "He'll have some water first," she said. Brown, who was picking at bread and French fries, was not on the program. "No, I'll have more wine," he said.

Continue reading "Gov. Jerry Brown, fit at 73" »

March 15, 2011

Startups better suited to San Francisco Bay than New York City

And that's precisely what's wrong with New York: it's filled with hyper-stressed, aggressive, social climbers who are actually kind of effete and helpless at the end of the day, and probably need to outsource their software development, because they're not, like, technical and all that. Except there's one problem....there aren't that many hackers in New York, and the few there are (I know because I used to be one of them) won't leave their $300,000 jobs on Wall Street to work on your hopelessly risky idea.

-- Antonio

Counterpoint: UK expat Paul Carr. bring the meh

July 27, 2010

Supporters of Arizona's immigration law say the Obama administration should be going after local jurisdictions that have proclaimed themselves relatively safe places for illegal immigrants.

Critics of the Obama administration's decision to sue Arizona over its new law to control illegal immigration accuse the government of overlooking a more obvious target: the dozens of cities that called themselves a "sanctuary" for immigrants.

"Everyone has noticed the hypocrisy of the government going after Arizona and ignoring the sanctuary cities," said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "They have it exactly backwards. Arizona is applying federal law, and sanctuary cities are violating it."

Kris Kobach, the Kansas law professor who drafted the Arizona law, said he particularly objected to cities that have a policy of freeing criminals who are illegal immigrants without notifying federal immigration officials. "It's pretty clear they are breaking the law. And they are doing it with impunity," he said.

He pointed to a provision Congress added to the immigration laws in 1996. It says state and local agencies and their officials "may not prohibit or in any way restrict" their employees from "sending" information about a person's immigration status to the agency then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

But Congress did not set a penalty for violations. And since then, neither Republican or Democratic administrations have taken legal action to enforce it, according to government officials and immigration lawyers.

-- David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
July 25, 2010

Continue reading "Supporters of Arizona's immigration law say the Obama administration should be going after local jurisdictions that have proclaimed themselves relatively safe places for illegal immigrants." »

June 18, 2010

Middle class under $7 million

The estate tax is one of those hyper-combustible issues where emotion, and shrewd lobbying, can loose an outsize uproar. That point was made last week with news that the multibillion-dollar fortune of a Texas oil tycoon, who died this year, would pass to his children and grandchildren free of the federal estate tax.

But before railing against the wealthy -- or encouraging your rich relatives to take up cliff diving -- it might be wise to look at what the real-world effects might be next year, when the estate tax of up to 55 percent might be levied on any estate worth more than $1 million.

At first blush, that policy sounds destined to take big chunks out of estates across a broad swath of the population. While supporters say the estate tax affects only the richest members of society and helps counteract the concentration of wealth, that million-dollar limit would seem to ensnare many people who consider themselves decidedly middle class -- especially in the Northeast and California where home values are high.

What is the dividing line between wealthy and upper middle class? Or between someone who owns an estate and someone lucky enough to have bought a home decades ago and watched its value grow to seven figures?

According to the Tax Policy Center, a research group, unless Congress revises the law by Jan. 1, the number of estates affected in 2011 would increase to 44,200 next year from 5,500 in 2009.

Even so, that figure represents less than 2 percent of the 2.5 million Americans expected to die next year, and is far below historical levels. In 1976, 139,000 estates representing 7.6 percent of all deaths were taxed when the exemption was set at $60,000 (nearly $230,000 in buying power today).

And these figures also don't take into account the world of estate planning, where numbers can be fungible. With a bit of planning, tax lawyers say, most families can legally shelter significant portions of their estates. In addition, the law contains provisions that allow owners of small businesses and farms to take additional exemptions.

Such caveats offer little comfort to those who call the tax the "death tax" and have fought for repeal, saying it is a form of double taxation.

"The proper exemption should be everything," said Dick Patten of the American Family Business Institute, a lobbying group that says the estate tax stifles job creation. "These people have already paid a lifetime of taxes to build the businesses they own." (Estate tax supporters say the levy helps the government capture a portion of capital gains that have never been taxed at all.)

Continue reading "Middle class under $7 million" »

March 21, 2010

California coast over inland

What is Southern California holding its breath for? To see whether this is all because the economics of housing are simply pushing problems further inland from the coast. From San Diego to El Centro; Orange County to Riverside and San Bernadino; LA to the Antelope Valley and Bakersfield; Santa Barbara to Santa Maria.

-- Evan Rodriguez