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26 Questions with Joseph Mailander

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Joseph Mailander is like many native Los Angelenos that you will run into -- softspoken, easy-going, but sharp as a tack, and eloquent. Head honcho of the left-leaning Martini Republic, Mailander had the opportunity to meet Ann Coulter (pictured, above) this summer and had nice things to say about her in this exclusive interview -- the same can't be said for his feelings about The Grove, Little Green Footballs, and the L.A. Times.

1. nickname:
Lynn makes me keep that private.

2. birthplace:
I was born a block west of La Brea.

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3. LA neighborhood you live in:
It's called Franklin Hills by the street sign, but we know it better as Los Feliz. I live very close to the Shakespeare Bridge. I could easily hit it with a nine iron.

4. how long have you lived in LA?
All my life---49 years and change---excepting a few college years in NYC and a turbulent year of marriage in Marin.

5. other than your own, what's your favorite LA neighborhood?
Hands down: Playa del Rey. It is pretty much the same as it was in 1957. The Harbor Room is great---there's an effing autographed photo of Frank Layden there...The Shack is great when you're outside on the patio looking at that Culver streetsign, feeling the ocean, the occasional ancient 747 from 26R banking off to Hawaii. There are some really nice residential properties there now, yet there is almost no pretension in any commercial corner of it. You go there to drink with people who remember the City from forty or fifty years ago.

6. what film has captured LA the best for you?
That's a great question! Chinatown lent the whole city gravitas, but Repo Man was closer to its failling, flaky bones. Pulp Fiction is the best LA feelgood movie, and I do love Shampoo as well. But I think I'm going to have to go with The Graduate. The hotel affair, the alcoholic mom, the sexual confusion...no film has brought the special zeitgeist of VSOB (Valley South of the Boulevard) to life so chillingly.

7. Has LA getting better or worse in the last 25 years?
Are you kidding? Twenty five years ago, the City ignored its pronounced Latino presence. Now Antonio is Mayor. It's way healthier. Twenty-five years ago, we had to wait until the New York City Opera came around in November to see opera; now we have a great company with a real season and a real repertoire and real drama. Twenty-five years ago we had way more smog. Twenty-five years ago, there were almost no coffee houses. Twenty-five years ago, we had almost no homegrown fashion biz other than Carole Little. Twenty-five years ago, going to an art gallery meant going to La Brea. Except in pop music, twenty-five years ago, we had a topline sampling of culture, and now it is everywhere, and it is good everywhere.

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Yet there are strains, and they are the natural strains of cosmopolitanism. Everyone was middle-class twenty-five years ago---now "middle class" is a class of mosty paralyzed, property-rich wage slaves, and it only exists in pockets. Twenty-five years ago, social services were just beginning to deteriorate, and now they have morphed into something else entirely, into a strife of advocacy groups ironically promoting the causes they would like to eliminate. This is, unfortunately, becoming a harder place to be poor. But it's better in so many other ways, especially for people who have been here a while.

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8. your alltime favorite LA band?
You know you are going to kill me with that one, Tony. Zappa? Waits? Mingus? X? I guess I'd pick X. But how can I turn my back on my high school's own Beach Boys? I liked The Motels, I think they were underrated as a key historical element...there's no Paisley Underground without The Motels blazing a trail a little earlier...the seventies were great here...so is today, for that matter. But right now, the best LA band is the LA Philharmonic. I just wished they played in the Dorothy Chandler still...

9. Santa Anita or Hollywood Park?
Both have much to recommend them. Santa Anita is obviously one of the most scenic and historic tracks in America, if not the world. Hollywood Park is always beleauguered by cash flow; but one thing I love about Hollywood Park is that the people who have to go to the races go there. It has those Bukowski tinges everywhere. They keep trying to remove them. Instead, as a promotion, they should offer a free "do not resuscitate" tattoo day.

10. what really prompted you to start Martini Republic?
A group of us from old Motley Fool days had a message board at ezboard, and the principles there and I started Martini Republic. Martini Republic is really an outgrowth of an old Motley Fool message board from 1999, when I was in banking, called "Martini Club." We alienated the site's proprietors at the Motley Fool so much that they renamed it "Apple Martini Club" to piss us off. We had to flee, and we fled around 2002 for a message board.

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Still, all the components weren't in place. I had a mostly cultural blog, joyrides without maps. In 2004, it was getting sandbagged by politics---the audience wanted the cultural. So from the start Martini Republic was a place that would fuse the political with the cultural a little better than a single-person, stand alone blog could.

My Martini Republic partner Alex and I met on the Motley Fool Iomega message board in 1998. I think we lost that one--missed it by about a year.

11. about how many hours a week do you spend on the computer?
Probably between forty and fifty, if you include time not logged in, working on other stuff.

12. what's the best thing that has happened to you through blogging?
I introduced myself to some parts of LA's writing community. I had always been very quiet about such things before.

13. other than LAist, what's another LA blog that you admire?
I like MayorSam. I'm a political junkie in the way Hunter Thompson was---an angry voyeur who wouldn't dream of being an activist or a pol himself but whose ironically priviliged point of view drives him to drink and worse. Lots of people are offeded by the commenters, especially on the liberal side. But reading the comments at MayorSam is pure political voyeurism at its most desperate level, and it feeds right into the enchanting chemical dependancies I maintain in midlife.

14. what was it like meeting Ann Coulter just days after she said those critical things about the 9/11 widows?

It was like meeting any thin actor from Connecticut with nice tits. Glenn Close, Ann Coulter, there's almost no difference, it's just that what they're selling is very different.

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15. what was the most you've ever won at the track?
No gambler in his right mind would tell you. But I will tell you that when I have a good day at the track, I will generally take home around $500 more than I came with. I don't bet the pick six lottery-crap or even bet half the races, so I don't get enormous paydays. I bet like a loan officer, more concerned about risk management first, optimizing return second. I will often go to the track to make just one or two bets, and I am there not only to watch the race but to make sure the horse isn't squeamish or nervous in the paddock.

That said, certainly one of my best bets ever was the day Buzzards Bay won the Santa Anita Derby last year. I had decent money down at 29-1 or so, can't remember, but the odds were stratospherically high for a horse that had won two races trained by the trainer who had won that race two years running and where the favorite was a filly who had never ran against boy horsies before, and you always like to put a little more than usual down on a big race...

16. if you were Mayor of LA how would you have handled the LAUSD situation?
I would hold a "curriculum summit" the way he holds housing summit, devoted to making it easier for the schools to partner with businesses, professionals, universities, and other learned people. We've already proven it's not a matter of resources, or a matter of administration---it's a matter of what's being taught: enormous swaths of nothing. Money, physical plant, political restructuring can't buy true education. I believe that old saw that education is not filling a pail but lighting a fire, and I would try to lead by changing the classroom energy itself rather than by changing everything else around it. Let's not talk about unions, management, physical plant---let's talk about history, geometry, poetry, and ask the teachers what the hell they're teaching that gets such pisspoor results in half the district year after year.

17. favorite LA bar and why
At Martini Republic, we call the bar without which you cannot live a "Buddha bar." (Nothing to do with Paris's Buddha Bar, which is more a scenster bar). Of late, my Buddha bar has been the Drawing Room, after years and years and years of the Rustic taking the top honors. It's not only that Mel, one of the most beautiful bartenders in America, left the Rustic for the Drawing Room---but it did happen at roughly the same time she crossed the street. And it's not only that a called Manhattan can cost you $9 at the Rustic these days but only $4.50 at the Drawing Room. Both bars have very storied drinking histories, and legacy is certainly is critical to thinking in terms of a Buddha bar.

But the Rustic and the Drawing Room have had that kind of symbiotic relationship for many years. One day about ten years ago, midshift, Carmen got mad at an old barhand named Pooch. Pooch went over to the empty Drawing Room and evidently told the owner that if he hired him, he could bring about ten customers over right away. Then Pooch came back into the Rustic and said, "Let's go guys!" About ten or twelve of us braved the knockout afternoon light of Hillhurst and took the walk across the street with Pooch.

The funny thing about the Rustic these days is that nobody there remembers Myrtle yet they still have the Myrtle Burger on the menu. There are some great stories I could tell from the Rustic from the early nineties, when KABC was still shooting Eyewitness News in the neighborhood. But you get the idea. Both bars have a legacy. In fact, the simple fact that the Drawing Room has that sign---"Cocktail Lounge Open 6 a.m."---in a kind of official, City ordinance font---that fact alone may give it the nod these days.

18. what secret of LA took you years to discover?
That the way the City looks is far more of a reflection of what kind of projects local bankers are willing to give loans to than what architects and even developers would like it to look like. I've worked in both commercial banks and big law firms, and the banks offered the bigger revelations. In LA, banks "lead with credit." This is very different than the east coast and most of the midwest, where they "lead" with asset management and cash management services...and it explains more about what gets built here and what doesn't than most other theories. For all the growth, this is still a credit-centric town, like a goddamned frontier town, and that's also why so few big corporation are headquartered here anymore, and why all the names on the buildings downtown celebrate businesses that are based elsewhere.

19. how did the Huffington Post just show up on the blogosphere and skyrocket into the top 20?
It didn't, at first. The celebrity thing didn't really work---they had to co-opt some ringers. One reason it works is because of Arianna's content deal with Yahoo. Another is because Arianna can work a room like nobody else.

20. summer is almost over, what was one really great blog post on Martini Republic this summer?
This post attracted the most attention this summer.

It was one of those tipping-point posts that Alex does so well with regard to Iraq. When you read "Perhaps the overriding question is whether the Bush administration has any intention of leaving Iraq within the next 2 years, or ever? If so, why the permanent bases?" you were reading exactly what the Administration must have been reading in the AP story cited. Remember, that was written June 28, way before a couple of days back when Bush said we wouldn't be leaving Iraq as long as he was president. The news item really pushed Bush to tip his hand on Iraq, and Alex was very much alone in the progressive blogosphere for long a time in bringing it the kind of wider publicity it merited. The whole item will definitely have political repercussions here, because it means that Bush can't make any false promises about Iraq in this election cycle---he broke it and now he definitely owns it and now everyone can at least see that much, even people who don't follow the news.

21. if you were Publisher of the LA Times for one year, what would be your first big changes?
I would first short the stock! Then I would go to Otis and some marketing firms to look for some top-flight designers who could help out. I'd make sure the presses printed flawlessly, and try to fix them if they didn't. I would try to put out something that looks like it was put out by artisans, rather than by traditional newspaper people. The paper would look beautiful---that's the most pressing thing, it has to look way better, like something precious, for it to even fetch fifty cents, because the Intenet is free, and it's often better looking.

Of course, Jonah Goldberg and Max Boot would be cut in a nanosecond. I'd look for conservatives that liberals can actually stomach, and vice versa. I'd quit trying to piss average citizens off on the editorial page, and try to piss off elites instead.

I'd tell Nick Goldberg to walk around a part of LA every morning until noon, write down whatever pissed him off, and then go find someone who can write about that. I'd get Hymon back on hard local news, not feelgood fluff. I'd set up competitions all over the place, playing this reporter off that one for better and better stories.

I actually don't think the Times needs to change a lot. But because its typography is dreadful---it looks closer to 1906 than 2006---it looks like it has to change immensely.

22. What's your take on Little Green Footballs?
I think that Charles Johnson is a product/consequence of the failure of Catholicism to remain relevant in a person's life over a lifetime---he's a lapsed Catholic, you know. He obviously rejects the religion's touchy-feely, peace and love side entirely, yet the muscle memory of remaining contextualized by a strong, age-old culture full of jots and tittles of law is still there within him. So even though he's turned his back on religion in general, the broader contexts of religion and philosophy keep framing his psyche, and he's produced this site, an extension of his psyche as all sites are, that is obsessed with the struggles over religion and ethnic identity, obsessed with fanaticism itself. The site enables the blogger to remain tied and even relevant to strong and muscular cultural traditions, even while he has rejected his native one.

23. over the years we've seen 3rd Street in Santa Monica revitalize that part of town, City Walk, and Hollywood & Highland, what's your opinion of The Grove?
Not as strong as on the others you mention. Citywalk is an atrocity on the level of Dunkirk; Jon Jerde is the Albert Speer of retail culture. If you want to fix LAUSD, start by levelling Citywalk. Third Street and H&H are Planning Department cures for no known disease. Some day people will find out that we don't need to buy bright shiny new things every weekend of our lives, and then maybe these places will go away. Even so, I get most of my cocktail glasses at Crate & Barrell at The Grove. But I make that outing once a year or so, and I think a once-a-year max is a healthy relationship to the absurdist retail complexes.

24. what local tv news team are you down with?
Channel 9. I knew Sylvia Lopez way back when. She was a cutie and remains so. She was in a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in---gasp---I better not say. I hope she doesn't read this, but I never can watch her on TV without thinking back to those times...

25. whats the first thing you do every morning?
I think, "How am I breathing? How are my nerves?" Then I'll either take some medication, or a shot of Jim Beam, or pour a cup of coffee, depending on the degree of dilapidation.

26. first there was the blogosphere, then MySpace, and now YouTube... what do you think is the next big thing?
Knowing that nothing disappears into the past as quickly as our vision for the future, I'll hazard: convergence media in general. More and more people, especially under 25, get content and info from digital television. More and more films are being produced without getting distributed. The "Long Tail" is real, it's the best marketing precept in two decades, and we're going to see more and more niche-product media delivered digitally.

top photo by Emmanuelle Richard