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  1. A few years ago I went travelling around the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The spoken language of that country is tonal; one word can have varying meanings depending on where you place the emphasis.

    This is what jumped to mind when I listened to the attached sound file, which is obviously pieced together from pre-recorded words. Because so much of what we glean from spoken communication comes from the way that something is said, it is not enough to have one of every word in the database. You need to have repeats of the same word, spoken in different tones. You also need software intelligent enough to pick out the appropriate cadence. Or a simple interface that enables a human user to do the same thing.

    I don’t have much to say about the Skid Row story beyond the usual hand-wringing sentiments: That money set aside for the socially disadvantaged needs to be intelligently spent for it to do any good. Also that treating the homeless, drug addicted and mentally ill as a problem to be dumped somewhere out of the way demonstrates a great poverty of human spirit.

  2. “Turn the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

    (Thank you, quote of the day)

  3. Sean Landers Sean Landers

    When I lived in LA, last year, I worked downtown – basically, right in this area, in the old Sewing District, about a block from the Grand Central Market to the north and east, a few blocks from Pershing Square and the LA Gas Building to the north, and a block from Skid Row to the south.

    The whole place is a mess of dilapidated and abandoned businesses. The entire downtown core is neglected and forgotten. There are two basic centers of legitimate employment — the large corporate towers that cluster near Pershing Square, and City Hall/the police headquarters.

    “Downtown LA” is kind of a misnomer — LA has no true core, no heart. It is a loose confederation of towns that sprawled into each other, interstitched by freeways. Downtown LA is, generally speaking, a ghost town and a leper colony.

    Downtown swarms with the homeless — but these aren’t your ordinary homeless, by and large. There are certainly a great number of functionally homeless individuals who aren’t too strung out or nuts to go about their day-to-day needs… securing food, shelter, hygene, et c.

    What’s really going down there is that there is this truly massive number of totally hopeless people. Hopelessly addicted to drugs, no concern for their health and welfare, alternately aggressive and totally withdrawn. Its like walking through Bob Dylan’s “Hard Rain”, or maybe the way I picture 1st century Jerusalem, choked with lepers and madmen. The streets are littered with amputees. Half of the homeless get around by wheelchair; it is really surreal. Toothless mouths in perpetual sneers or screams. There are open wounds, boils, sores. It has to be seen to believed. People screaming, just constantly screaming, with no rhyme or reason. People openly urinating and defecating in the gutter — or the street. I saw a woman bathe her baby in a plastic bucket, dabbing the washcloth in the filthy runoff. I was routinely approached with offers of crack, sex for money, et cetera, by utterly hopeless people.

    The more ‘together’ and functional homeless seem to cluster together in families and tribes, impromptu tarp-tent cities along the sidewalks, et c. Many of these individuals are also multiply addicted, and handicapped, in wheelchairs. More amputations, poor hygene, inability to maintain basic needs.

    It is also choked with squads of private security guards on bikes, hired by the nearby corporate interests — the banking district is right nearby, and there’s a bunch of streets just lined with jewelry stores, some kind of jewelry district — who patrol in purple shirts, on bikes, trying to rein in the worst of the excesses, calling in the cops when it gets too heavy.

    The actual LA cops here don’t even seem to care about something so ordinary as drug dealers selling product on the corner — they’re too busy stopping the all-too-frequent fights and beatings that seem to be routine amongst the dispossessed here.

    To call it “heart-breaking” defies the true power of this place. It literally defies description. It really did a number on me — there’s no real SANE way to cope with it, other than the time-honored solution of total apathy, rejection — pretending these people don’t even exist.

    It isn’t like a city like Boston, where you can ‘come to terms’ with the homeless you frequently see — striking up conversations, sparing cigarettes and change, taking time to treat them like the human beings that they are.

    To an extent, some of the homeless in downtown Los Angeles seem hell-bent on rejecting their own humanity, on being desocialized, on becoming wild, feral, and savage within the heart of one of the most wealthy cities in America, if not the world. Skid Row exists within an easy walk of City Hall, of the celebrated Gehry designed Disney Opera House, of the Museum of Contemporary Art, of a cluster of corporate clusters… total squalor in the midst of utterly lavish wealth.

    A lot of the abandoned buildings have been converted into loft space for artists and similar. I worked in one of those buildings — aside from our production company, the building was crowded with bohemians and starving artists (metaphorically starving, generally).

    Downtown LA is one of the craziest places I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I spent something like eight months of lunch breaks there.

    I used to walk the neighborhood and find some cheap place to eat lunch, or walk through the masses offering me crack, cheeba, h, as I wandered up the steep hills to the LA Public Library to consult their remarkable offerings.

    I sort of never ever want to visit it again. But that won’t help — because I know all too well that it exists, will always exist as it does in my mind’s-eye; choked with misery, self-destruction, hopelessness; the sick, the dying, people literally rotting on the ground, urine-soaked gutters and streets hazarding human feces. The Third World in the heart of the First.

  4. The crazy thing now is that downtown is being “revitalized”. I actually really would like to get a loft downtown. The problem is that the hipsters and this great mass (some say over 10,000) of homeless are vying for the same space. The problem really is twofold. One, there are so many services centralized in this five to ten block area and two, unlike many easter or midwestern cities, it never gets cold enough for anyone to seek shelter. Sunny southern Californian is ideal for living under the sky. With rents the way they are I have seriously considered living out of a combination of my car and refrigerator box.

    I just really hope that Mayor Villaraigosa is serious about spreading out the resources for drugs, alcohol and mental health throughout los angeles county.

  5. […] From the comments section for this post, by Sean Landers: When I lived in LA, last year, I worked downtown – basically, right in this area, in the old Sewing District, about a block from the Grand Central Market to the north and east, a few blocks from Pershing Square and the LA Gas Building to the north, and a block from Skid Row to the south. […]

  6. Skid Row is First-Century Jerusalem

    Over at the site of British writer Warren Ellis, somebody named Sean Landers writes about eight months spent working in downtown Los Angeles: What’s really going down there is that there is this truly massive number of totally hopeless people….

  7. Okami Okami

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has this to say about LA:

    “Junky, lunky, wunky, stunky, and what’s that other word and the air is yellow, woo.”

  8. antonio shamaica antonio shamaica

    iv never been to skid row, i just moved to california 2 years ago, i may be going down there for 6 months working on a documentary, any advice?

  9. […] While walking around in downtown Los Angeles last Friday, I was struck by how similar the Los Angeles of 2006 is to the Los Angeles depicted in Blade Runner in the way that the rich live high up in the buildings, and the poor and destitute live on the streets. Downtown Los Angeles has had a bit of a housing boom since 2000 with lofts sprouting up everywhere, but down in the streets, the sidewalks are still cluttered with heroin addicts who shoot up in plain view, homeless tent cities, Shitter’s Alley, garbage, and other forms of poverty. The downtown lofts are elegant and expensive, starting at $2.50 per square foot. The Skid Row of downtown LA is the most desolate and hopeless example of a ghetto I have ever seen. It’s apparently the largest Skid Row in the US, covering 50 square blocks and housing 11,000 residents. Before the City spends money to “gentrify” the area, they need to come up with a solution for the people who are living in this urban wasteland. […]

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