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HOWTO buy your way out of a California speeding ticket

Pricenomics revisits the perennial scandal of the 11-99 Foundation, which benefits California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Major donors to the foundation receive a license-plate frame that, drivers believe, acts as a license to speed on California highways. The plates were withdrawn in 2006 after a CHP commissioner's investigation seemed to validate the idea that CHP officers would let off drivers with the frames. The frames are back now, thanks to a funding crisis from 11-99, and some posters on cop-message boards say that the frames themselves aren't enough to get you out of a ticket -- because many of them are counterfeits -- but if you have a member's card, too, well, that's another story, wink, nudge.

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Bay Area drone-fliers' meetup

Jeffrey writes, "Bay area flyers, come talk and fly drones over pizza and beer in our massive 17 foot tall ceiling warehouse! Amateur and professionals are welcome to come and talk drones and show off their airframes in action. We'll have plenty of charging stations, onsite repair workbench, tasty local beer, and food/snacks for flyers. Compete for fun prizes, fame, and whimsical trophies in our drone flying contests. Starts at noon on April 5, contests start at 2 PM. Plenty of parking and free for all." Cory 3

Anti-video-game California politician indicted for gun-running

California Senator Leland Yee has been indicted, along with 25 others, in an organized crime bust that includes charges of wire fraud and firearms trafficking, as well as accepting bribes for legislative action. Yee is best known for sponsoring legislation to limit the sale of "violent" video-games to minors, which federal courts declared unconstitutional and struck down. (via /.) Cory 22

LAPD says every car in Los Angeles is part of an ongoing criminal investigation


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to figure out what the LAPD is doing with the mountains (and mountains) of license-plate data that they're harvesting in the city's streets without a warrant or judicial oversight. As part of the process, they've asked the LAPD for a week's worth of the data they're collecting, and in their reply brief, the LAPD argues that it can't turn over any license-plate data because all the license-plates they collect are part of an "ongoing investigation," because every car in Los Angeles is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, because some day, someone driving that car may commit a crime.

As EFF's Jennifer Lynch says, "This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity."

This reminds me of the NSA's argument that they're collecting "pieces of a puzzle" and Will Potter's rebuttal: "The reality is that the NSA isn't working with a mosaic or a puzzle. What the NSA is really advocating is the collection of millions of pieces from different, undefined puzzles in the hopes that sometime, someday, the government will be working on a puzzle and one of those pieces will fit." The same thing could be said of the LAPD.

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Winchester Mystery House gets permit for overnight stays and on-site booze


The Winchester Mystery House is San Jose, CA's legendary tourist attraction, built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, who believed that she was haunted by the spirits of Native Americans who'd been murdered with the guns and designed and ordered the construction of over 160 rooms that she designed by means of automatic writing in a special seance room.

It's just been granted a permit to allow for overnight stays in the house, along with the right to sell booze throughout the property. Now I know what I'll be doing the next time I'm in northern California.

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Why does Hollywood like dystopian LAs and utopian SFs?

Jon sez, "When conjuring up the future, why do writers and filmmakers so often imagine Northern California as an edenic utopia, while Southern California gets turned into a dystopian hellscape? While Hollywood, counterculture, and Mike Davis have each helped to shape and propagate this idea, Kristin Miller traces its roots back to the 1949 George R. Stewart novel Earth Abides. Her essay follows the north/south divide in science fiction films and literature through the decades, and explores how it's continued to evolve. In the accompanying slideshow, Miller photographs stills from sci fi movies filmed in California, held up against their filming locations, from 1970's Forbin Project to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It shows not just the geographic divide in SF, but also how our futures have evolved, and how movies have the ability to change how we see our surroundings in the present."

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UC Berkeley gets its first Wikipedian in Residence

UC Berkeley has just appointed its first Wikipedian in Residence: Kevin Gorman, who has been a Wikipedia editor since he was a Berkeley undergraduate. Though some 50 cultural institutions -- libraries, museums and archives -- have Wikipedians in Residence, Gorman is the first to serve at an academic institution. His own work focuses on improving gender diversity and cultural diversity in Wikipedia editing, and he's assisting professors in crafting assignments that have students using and improving Wikipedia as part of their class-work.

When I was teaching at USC, I assigned my students to help improve Wikipedia articles by sourcing and footnoting facts in articles related to our lectures, and reviewed their contributions and the ensuing discussion in the articles' Talk pages as part of our weekly classes. It was a very satisfying exercise, especially as it ensured that the work of my students served some wider scholarly and social purpose, as opposed to term papers and exercises that no one -- not me, not the students -- would ever want to read after they were graded.

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Disneyland's un-gangs


A number of friendly, charity-minded social clubs have sprung up in Disney fandom. They dress in disnefied versions of biker wear, gather together in Disneyland, help people out, and keep each other company. I encountered the Neverlanders several times last year when I had a residency at Disney Imagineering, and I loved the way they blended counterculture and fandom. A long, smart piece about the clubs in OC Weekly traces their history and growth -- fuelled by Instagram -- and the way they encountered mainstream Disney fandom through message-boards and in the parks.

As the article notes, there's a long history of counterculture at Disney parks, from the Yippie invasion to the goth takeover of Tomorrowland prior to the New Tomorrowland renovation. This sort of thing was my direct inspiration for proposing a fan takeover of Disney in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and the goth redesign of Fantasyland in Makers.

The presence of counterculture/bohemians in Disneyland shows how appropriation runs in two directions, and also points to a new direction in fraternal organizations. The activities of Disneyland's social clubs -- Neverlanders, Pix Pak, Black Death Crew, Main Street Elite -- would be recognizable to my grandparents, who were active in groups like Kiwanis and B'nai Brith, and who unwound with their friends through bowling and card-games and multi-family picnics.

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Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction and California: "California is a terraformed space"

In this interview with Boom Magazine, Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the relationship of California to the future. Robinson is a profound ecological thinker, and two of his books in particular, Pacific Edge (the best utopian/optimistic novel I've ever read) and 2312 (a dazzling work of environmentally conscious, wildly imaginative eco-futurism) are both important works for thinking about a way out of our current dire situation.

In this interview, Robinson's analysis is particularly cogent, making a microcosm out of California for the whole world, and making important points about the way that good technology is key to any answer to questions about humanity's future on and off Earth. Especially worth reading are his views on the relationship of science to capitalism:

"Capitalism’s effect on humanity is not at all what science’s effect is on humanity. If you say science is nothing but instrumentality and capitalism’s technical wing, then you’re saying we’re doomed. Those are the two most powerful social forces on the planet, and now it’s come to a situation of science versus capitalism. It’s a titanic battle. One is positive and the other negative. We need to do everything we can to create democratic, environmental, utopian science, because meanwhile there is this economic power structure that benefits the few, not very different from feudalism, while wrecking the biosphere. This is just a folk tale, of course, like a play with sock puppets, like Punch and Judy. But I think it describes the situation fairly well."

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Ugotarrested: Man charged with operating revenge porn site Ugotposted.com

California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the arrest of a man said to have owned and operated a so-called revenge porn website. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), the site operated by Kevin Christopher Bollaert published over 10,000 sexually explicit photos. The young women who appeared in these images, some of whom were minors at the time they were taken, were charged up to $350 each to be removed from the site.

California Department of Justice agents arrested Bollaert, 27, in San Diego where he lived. He is in San Diego County jail on $50,000 bail, and has been charged with 31 felony counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion. If he is convicted, penalties may include jail time and fines.

The arrest warrant is well worth a read. It includes the stories of a number of young women who ended up physically exposed and personally identified on the internet against their will. In some cases, private photos made their way online after their accounts were hacked or phones snatched. The women speak about how that violation damaged their lives and destroyed their sense of privacy.

During an in-person interview with two special agents, Bollaert bemoaned the burden of all those emails he was receiving from young women and teens, asking for images to be removed -- a service he charged hundreds of bucks for.

"At the beginning this was like fun and entertaining," he said to the agents, "But now it's ruining my life." At the end of the meeting, the agents served him with search warrants.

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UC Davis's Officer Pepper Spray gets a $38K payout for mental trauma of being hated by the entire world


Mark wrote in July that Lt John Pike, the UC Davis cop who attained notoriety after he sadistically hosed down seated, peaceful protesters with pepper spray, jetting it directly down their throats and into their eyes, had applied for worker's comp for the psychiatric injuries resulting from everyone in the world thinking he was a horrible, horrible person.

Now he has been awarded $38K by California's Division of Workers' Compensation Appeals Board. He left his job (which paid nearly $120K), and has had to change addresses and phone numbers several times to dodge harassment from his detractors. Davis settled a lawsuit by the protesters he sprayed for $1M.

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Eugene A. Zanger, master cup flipper and roadside attraction proprietor

Zengerrrr

Last weekend, my family had a wonderful meal at Casa de Fruta, an RV resort, motel, candy shop, wine store, gas station, and restaurant in the Pacheco Valley of Northern California. There is also an operational scale model train for the kiddos to ride. The terrific painting at right hangs in the restaurant. I posted it to my Instagram feed and included the full caption of the plaque above it: "Eugene A. Zanger, co-owner of Casa de Fruita, flipped over 3 million cups 1969-1999. Appeared on David Letterman Show 12/23/87. Enjoying retirement." Above is video of Mr. Zanger's appearance on Letterman.

The Ghost Fleet of Suisun Bay

On a train from Portland to Oakland last week, my husband and I were startled to pass the rotting carcasses of dozens of battleships, moored together in clusters in a still, reedy bay north of San Francisco.

Turns out, our Navy stockpiles warships the same way we stockpile nuclear weapons. These boats were, originally, meant to be waiting in reserve, ready to go fight when needed. At the peak, there were 400 of them in Suisun Bay. But that was a long time ago. Today, the ships rusted hulks that leech heavy metals and other contaminants into the surrounding water. Their numbers have been shrinking in the last few years as ships were moved and dismantled for recycling. Fewer than 55 remain today. By 2017, they should all be gone.

In 2011, photographer Scott Haefner published a series of photos taken over the course of two years as he and two other photographers managed to slip past the ships' security detail and document the ruins, inside and out. At his site, you can see the photos (obviously much better than mine, above) and read the story of how the shots were taken (it involves reconnaissance missions and the purchase of an inflatable raft — not to mention whole weekends spent living aboard the ghost ships). The results are fantastic.

Thanks to Graham Coop for the link to Scott Haefner's photos!

Bakersfield cops and CHP beat man to death while he begs for his life, then confiscate witnesses' footage

Kern County deputies are accused of savagely beating a man to death while he begged for his life and then intimidating witnesses into giving up their cameras and phones in a coverup. The victim, David Sal Silva, was a 33-year-old father of four, and is alleged to have been publicly intoxicated in Bakersfield, CA, when Kern County deputies and California Highway Patrol officers began to beat him. After he was dead, the officers are said to have then systematically intimidated all witnesses into giving up their cameras and phones:

John Tello, a criminal law attorney, is representing two witnesses who took video footage and five other witnesses to the incident. He said his clients are still shaken by what they saw.

"When I arrived to the home of one of the witnesses that had video footage, she was with her family sitting down on the couch, surrounded by three deputies," Tello said.

Tello said the witness was not allowed to go anywhere with her phone and was being quarantined inside her home.

When Tello tried to talk to the witness in private and with the phone, one of the deputies stopped him and told him he couldn't take the phone anywhere because it was evidence to the investigation, the attorney said.

"This was not a crime scene where the evidence was going to be destroyed," Tello said. "These were concerned citizens who were basically doing a civic duty of preserving the evidence, not destroying it as they (sheriff deputies) tried to make it seem."

A search warrant wasn't presented to either of the witnesses until after Tello arrived, he said, adding that one phone was seized before the warrant was produced.

Tello said the phone of the first witness was taken after the deputies told him he was either going to give up the phone the easy way or the hard way.

"They basically told him they were either going to keep him at this house all night until they could find a judge to sign a search warrant or he could just turn over his phone," he said.

Dad who died during arrest 'begged for his life'; witness videos seized (via Reddit)

The wild rivers above California

Atmospheric rivers are meteorological phenomenon that we humans only discovered in 1998 and which supply about 30-to-50 percent of California's annual precipitation. In the NOAA satellite image above, the atmospheric river is visible as a thin yellow arm, reaching out from the Pacific to touch California. Or, more evocatively, reaching out to slap California silly with a gushing downpour.

An atmospheric river is a narrow conveyor belt of vapor about a mile high that extends thousands of miles from out at sea and can carry as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers. It strikes as a series of storms that arrive for days or weeks on end. Each storm can dump inches of rain or feet of snow.

The real scare, however, is that truly massive atmospheric rivers that cause catastrophic flooding seem to hit the state about once every 200 years, according to evidence recently pieced together (and described in the article noted above). The last megaflood was in 1861; rains arrived for 43 days, obliterating Sacramento and bankrupting the state.

As you might guess, climate change is also involved. Evidence suggests that warming global temperatures could increase the frequency of atmospheric rivers. That, combined with the 200-year event expected soon and the fact we're learning so much much more about these storms, means that you should expect to hear the phrase "atmospheric river" more often.

Scientific American has two interesting stories on the phenomenon right now. The first, which I quote from above, is a blog post by Mark Fischetti. The second is a much longer feature story that gets into the forces that cause these storms and the climate change connection.