The Snake and Us

snake-in-the-grass.jpgSome 60 million years ago, snakes added venom to their arsenal of survival tools.  The first predators mammals faced were snakes.  And so, according to this story on Science Blog, some primates evolved better eyesight, larger brains and more dextrous hands and feet to avoid being poisoned and/or eaten.

According to Lynne Isbell, a UC Davis anthropology professor,

“There’s an evolutionary arms race between the predators and prey. Primates get better at spotting and avoiding snakes, so the snakes get better at concealment, or more venomous, and the primates respond…. A snake is the only predator you really need to see close up. If it’s a long way away it’s not dangerous.”

The eye that would prevent a sneak snake attack eventually became the eye that could distinguish other things in our world, and facilitate social interaction. Primates fortunate enough to live in a paradise where snakes lack venom tend not to have evolved as far, according to Isbell.

Try to stack this theory up with Genesis. Snakes tempted humankind to acquire knowledge, the Bible says. Indeed, they may have. Perhaps God’s wrath was unwarranted. Or perhaps Adam and Eve left of their own accord, trying to get away from that snake, whom they could now see with frightening clarity.

Isbell is writing a book about primate origins. Her article appeared in the Journal of Human Evolution’s July edition.

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Get Over Newspaper Polling

I think it’s borderline unethical for news organizations to conduct polls and then report on them “exclusively.” If they want to pay for a poll, fine, but then open up the results to everyone to read for themselves, including other news organizations, bloggers, professional researchers — whoever. If the sponsoring organization wants to write a news story about the poll, let them do it knowing that every other news organization has simultaneous access to the same data, and will be publishing their own interpretations.

I respect the science of public opinion. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with professionals who conduct surveys that will influence big decisions by clients. Their polls are carefully worded and structured to make sure no bias creeps into the way questions are phrased. The reports on the polls, likewise, assess the data dispassionately and with a precision that clients sometimes find cruel. But useful.

Not so with newspaper polls. Oh, the polls themselves might pass muster, but you and I don’t really see the poll. We see a news article based on the poll, for which the results have already been mined for “news value.” That’s inherently unscientific: The reporter is trying to figure what will make their readers say “a-ha!” or what will make people buy the newspaper, or what adds to the sum of human knowledge…or, as many political ideologues suspect, what will help elect someone the reporter favors and hurt someone the reporter disfavors.

It doesn’t matter which motive is at play. Plugging the juicy stuff is not what professional opinion researchers do, and using that criteria alone almost always leads to a misrepresentation of the information.

According to the conservative site Powerline, that’s what happened when, earlier this month, the LA Times topped the news with a story suggesting that a high percentage of voters, 37 percent, would not vote for a Mormon candidate, e.g. Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, a Republican who has talked about running for president in 2008.

The story described Romney’s religious background in depth, and quoted a Southern Baptist Convention website as associating Mormonism with “cults, sects and new religious movements” — all of which became relevant to a political news story only because of the poll findings. The incendiary article startled Republicans, and clearly made Romney appear to be a less credible candidate. Undoubtedly, it was circulated by other Republican candidates and influenced fundraising and endorsement decisions.

But the story got the poll results wrong, Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff says:

…the underlying report shows the Times’ July 3 story to be misleading, in my view. The question posed by the pollsters was, “Just thinking about a candidate’s religion, do you think you could vote for a Mormon [or Jewish, or Catholic, or Evangelical, or Muslim] candidate.” Thus, contrary to what the Times reported, the poll does not show that 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon candidate; it shows that 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for a Mormon candidate if they thought only about that candidate’s religion. Indeed, the report (but not the story) acknowledges that “there is nothing to indicate that numbers such as these, while certainly indicative of a basic level of resistance, are a real barrier to legitimate candidacy.” In addition, the report (but not the story) states that there is no evidence “to infer that a candidate’s religion would trump other important voter criteria such as trust, charisma, shared values. . .or the candidate’s stand on [issues].”

The story also neglects to mention that, while half of the Democrats who expressed an opinion said they would not vote for a Mormon if all they thought about was religion, independents and Republicans showed less prejudice. About 60 percent of independents who expressed an opinion, and more than 70 percent of opining Republicans, were prepared to vote for a Mormon even if they thought only about his religion. Thus, Romney’s religion would appear to be less of an obstacle to his nomination than one might infer from the Times’ story, which quotes a political science professor who states that religious-based resistance to Romney “among Southern Baptists” could be a “huge problem.”

Romney may or may not have a “huge problem” due to his religion. In either case, The LA Times seems to have had a problem reporting on its own poll.

My suggestion to the Times: Stop doing polls like this. Go out and find news. If you want to demonstrate that Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith will block his candidacy, find actual people who will say that to you. (The only quote of that nature came from Emory University’s political science professor Merle Black, who was reacting to the reporter’s questions and description of the poll, and nothing else.) But don’t hide that assertion behind the alleged science of a poll — especially if you aren’t willing to assess the poll accurately.

Truly, if all the big news organizations stopped polling now, we wouldn’t be deprived. There are lots of research companies issuing their poll results directly over the Internet now. If there was ever a time when we needed newspapers like the Times to get information from the science of opinion polling, that day has passed. In the meantime, the journalism associated with newspapers reporting on their own polls is so suspect as to have lost all credibility.

“Say What??” Or: A Trip Down Memory Lane With Saturday’s LA Times

If you’re too young to have listened to Jim Healy’s nightly sports news/comedy act during evening rush hour, too bad, and today’s column by former LA Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre (“Journalist Bill” on Healy’s show) won’t affect you like it affected me — laughing helplessly at the recollection of how Healy mashed up real sports scoops with sound clips of various sports figures at their worst. You can listen here to some of Healy’s bits — out of context, who knows if they’ll seem funny unless you heard them when they were fresh.

Dwyre got me to raise my eyebrows when I read this part:

Healy had news flooding in from everywhere. He had a million leakers, and it became a badge of honor to be one of his snoops. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if he were clairvoyant.

Once, a decision was made about a major firing in The Times’ sports department, and Journalist Bill, who was going to do this Friday, told his wife about it Wednesday night. He told no one else. Thursday afternoon, Healy had it on the radio. Mrs. Journalist Bill has not been trusted since.

Okay….

Speaking of the LA Times, today’s front page carries a long feature by former pop music editor Robert Hilburn. Now, if you were too young to miss his long journalistic career, no worries. The story is the encapsulation of almost everything he ever wrote — Hilburn distilled, for better and for worse. Only Bruce Springsteen is missing among the cast of characters he profiles.

Despite all the caveats about Hilburn’s clunkiness and repetitiveness, I recommend the piece. He tells many stories I found (to use a Hilburn word) “affecting.” Like this one about John Lennon:

I was a fan of the Beatles. But I also wanted to know more about the man behind the 1970 album “Plastic Ono Band,” a flat-out masterpiece. It was Lennon’s first solo album and a chilling attempt to move beyond the emotional scars of being abandoned by both parents.

In the opening lines, Lennon sang about loss so painful that his voice seemed tied to a nerve deep inside: “Mother, you had me / But I never had you/ I wanted you / But you didn’t want me.”

When I finally met Lennon in 1973, he was temporarily estranged from his wife, Yoko Ono, and living in Los Angeles. Depressed about the separation and the pressure of trying to live up to his fans’ high creative expectations of him, he spent much of his time partying with friends or drinking and taking drugs on his own; sometimes drinking a bottle of vodka or half a bottle or more of brandy a day. Years later, he told me that when he had an important business meeting the next day, he’d spend the evening with me because I didn’t drink.

“I think I was suicidal on some kind of subconscious level,” he said of what he called his “lost weekend.”

“The goal was to obliterate the mind. I didn’t want to see or feel anything.”

One evening at his hotel, Lennon turned on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and ordered up cornflakes and cream. I didn’t think much of it until the same thing happened another night.

“What’s up with the cornflakes?” I finally asked.

He smiled.

As a child in London during World War II, he explained, he could never get milk, so this was special. The lesson of the evening was that there are some childhood losses you can deal with through room service. For
Lennon, the harder ones could be exorcised only through his songs.

michael_jackson_scary.jpgAnd then this story, with a similar subtext, about Michael Jackson:

I got the rare chance to observe this new pop phenom at close range, before allegations of child molestation and the resulting legal actions began to rule his life. In 1984, during the “Victory” tour, I worked with him on his autobiography for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, then an editor at Doubleday.

She wanted a formal autobiography; he wanted a picture book. One evening, I began to see how difficult a book of any sort would be. Jackson had handed me a folder with dozens of family photos. I picked out a shot of an elderly man, who turned out to be his grandfather.

“I love him very much,” Jackson said.

“OK, shall we put that in the book?”

He looked shocked. “Oh, no,” he said, “that’s too personal.”

After nearly an hour of this, he decided it was enough work for the evening. Popcorn was ordered from his personal chef, then he pulled a video from one of the huge trunks he took on tour. Slipping it into the VCR, he settled on a couch and said, “Let’s watch cartoons.” Jackson was 26.

For all his brilliant showbiz instincts, Jackson was ill-equipped to deal with many of life’s most routine matters, as if the years of childhood stardom had left him socially stunted and more than a little frightened. His world was so guarded that admission to his room was strictly by invitation only.

Part of this, most certainly, was security, but Jackson also was not good at dealing with people, especially adults. Adults could be cruel, he said.

I understand Hilburn’s working on a book. I’m sure I’ll read it, gnashing my teeth all the way through, to find nuggets like these.

Not-So-Tiny Bubbles and Global Warming: News from UCSB

A team of UC Santa Barbara scientists went diving one day in 2002 in an area of the Santa Barbara Channel called Shane Seep, when the earth did something alarmingly rude, though not unexpected.

She belched — a “massive blowout of methane,” that “sounded like a freight train,” as Science Blog relates the story.

“Other people have reported this type of methane blowout, but no one has ever checked the numbers until now,” said Ira Leifer, lead author and an associate researcher with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. “Ours is the first set of numbers associated with a seep blowout.” Leifer was in a research boat on the surface at the time of the blowouts.

Aside from underwater measurements, a nearby meteorological station measured the methane “cloud” that emerged as being approximately 5,000 cubic feet, or equal to the volume of the entire first floor of a two-bedroom house. The research team also had a small plane in place, flown by the California Department of Conservation, shooting video of the event from the air.

Leifer explained that when this type of blowout event occurs, virtually all the gas from the seeps escapes into the atmosphere, unlike the emission of small bubbles from the ocean floor, which partially, or mostly, dissolve in the ocean water. Transporting this methane to the atmosphere affects climate, according to the researchers. The methane blowout that the UCSB team witnessed reached the sea surface 60 feet above in just seven seconds. This was clear because the divers injected green food dye into the rising bubble plume.

Atmospheric methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and is the most abundant organic compound in the atmosphere. The ocean floor’s release of trapped methane hydrate — a form of ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure — in bubble form is both a symptom and a cause of global warming, according to UCSB geological science professor James Kennett’s theory.

When ocean temperatures rise, the methane releases are more likely to occur in the form of blowouts, like the one UCSB’s researchers saw. Those bubbles make a marked difference in the quantity of methane in the atmosphere, “thereby initiating a feedback cycle of abrupt atmospheric warming.”

Studies of seabed seep features suggest such events are common in the area of the Coal Oil Point seep field and very likely occur elsewhere.The authors explain that these results show that an important piece of the global climate puzzle may be explained by understanding bubble-plume processes during blowout events. The next important step is to measure the frequency and magnitude of these events. The UCSB seep group is working toward this goal through the development of a long-term, seep observatory in active seep areas.

(Not to make light of this disturbing news, but there is a bright side. Here’s one big blowout in Santa Barbara that can’t be blamed on Wendy McCaw.)

E(lusive)-Mail from Thomas Pynchon

gravitys-rainbow.jpgWho was the cool novelist to read when you were in high school? For me, it was Thomas Pynchon, author of Gravity’s Rainbow, which I was reading when I graduated, read all summer, and continued to read when I started college.

pynchon_crying_lot_49_small.jpgI still haven’t completely finished it, having lost my way in the endless and completely surreal third section that seems to take place in the immediate aftermath of World War II. I did finish his first two novels, V. and The Crying of Lot 49.

Pynchon popularized the thermodynamic concept of entropy as a metaphor for history; and his basic theme was the paranoid search through cryptic evidence for clues that might make sense of a world that seems increasingly chaotic. These themes were expressed most clearly in The Crying of Lot 49, which for a time was something everyone read; it was barely 200 pages and though bizarre, it had a limited number of characters to follow, unlike the huge populations and decades of history covered in his other two books.  The plot turned on the main character’s discovery of a centuries-long, secret war between rival postal services — which might not exist.

(I’m omitting Pynchon’s later novels, Mason & Dixon and Vineland, only because by the time these were published, the minimalist style of fiction had replaced the Joycean surrealism school that Pynchon commanded, so he was less in vogue. Vineland didn’t deliver, and while Mason & Dixon was fun, I couldn’t get through it. Although, now that I’ve become interested in astronomy, it might be worth another look, since the real Mason & Dixon played an intriguing little role in the history of astronomy.)

Pynchon’s mystique was aided by the fact that he had not let himself be photographed since high school, and lived like someone in witness protection. However, gonzo-esque journalists of the 70s would report on him, eyewitness accounts. Supposedly: He was a math genius. He was overwhelmed when he heard the Beach Boys. He wrote a lot of Gravity’s Rainbow while high, and later when editing it didn’t remember entire episodes. He lived in Mexico. He lived in Manhattan Beach. (Garrison Frost, of the South Bay-focused blog The Aesthetic, interviewed people who knew him when he lived there in the late 60s and early 70s, and wrote a great piece, arguing that Pynchon having written Gravity’s Rainbow in Manhattan Beach should be commemorated locally.) He lived in Redwood country. He lived in New York. His family’s pedigree went back to the Mayflower. He was not, in fact, strange; he was friendly and polite.

Thomas Pynchon has a new novel coming out in December. Amazon has a page where you can pre-order it. For about a day, there was a blurb on the page — written by Pynchon himself! Then, mysteriously, it was taken down.

However, on one of the forums that now accompanies items on Amazon, someone named Reid Burkland re-posted it. Here it is:

“Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.”

–Thomas Pynchon

I wonder how central the Tunguska event is to his story. I wrote about it here.

Another Pynchon-LA connection:  In the months after the 1965 Watts riots, he wrote “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts,” which ran in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. It was one of his few works of non-fiction. Clicking on the title will take you to the whole essay. Here’s a sample:

In the daytime, and especially with any kind of crowd, the cop’s surface style has changed some since last August. “Time was,” you’ll hear, “man used to go right in, very mean, pick maybe one kid out of the crowd he figured was the troublemaker, try to bust him down in front of everybody. But now the people start yelling back, how they don’t want no more of that, all of a sudden The Man gets very meek.”

Still, however much a cop may seem to be following the order of the day read to him every morning about being courteous to everybody, his behavior with a crowd will really depend as it always has on how many of his own he can muster, and how fast. For his Mayor, Sam Yorty, is a great believer in the virtues of Overwhelming Force as a solution to racial difficulties. This approach has not gained much favor in Watts. In fact, the Mayor of Los Angeles appears to many Negroes to be the very incarnation of the little man: looking out for no one but himself, speaking always out of expediency, and never, never to be trusted.

The Economic and Youth Opportunities Agency (E.Y.O.A.) is a joint city-county “umbrella agency” (the state used to be represented, but has dropped out) for many projects scattered around the poorer parts of L.A., and seems to be Sam Yorty’s native element, if not indeed the flower of his consciousness. Bizarre, confused, ever in flux, strangely ineffective, E.Y.O.A. hardly sees a day go by without somebody resigning, or being fired, or making an accusation, or answering one–all of it confirming the Watts Negroes’ already sad estimate of the little man. The Negro attitude toward E.Y.O.A. is one of clear mistrust, though degrees of suspicion vary, form the housewife wanting only to be left in peace and quiet, who hoped that maybe The Man is lying less than usual this time, to the young, active disciple of Malcolm X who dismisses it all with a contemptuous shrug.

“But why?” asked one white lady volunteer. “There are so many agencies now that you can go to, that can help you, if you’ll only file your complaint.”

“They don’t help you.” This particular kid had been put down trying to get a job with one of the larger defense contractors.

“Maybe not before. But it’s different now.”

“Now,” the kid sighed, “now. See people been hearing that ‘now’ for a long time, and I’m just tired of The Man telling you, ‘Now it’s OK, now we mean what we say.'”

Speaking of LA Radio…

It’s more than a little ironic that, according to the Spring 2006 Arbitron radio ratings released yesterday, talk-radio KFI is tied for first place with Univision’s KLVE, which programs music in Spanish. KFI’s afternoon and evening programming is now almost completely dedicated to tirades about illegal immigration, especially “The John and Ken Show,” four drive-time hours of rabble-rousing. It’s the first time an AM station has been in the top slot for nearly 20 years, so I have to assume that screaming about “closing the border” and the alleged perfidy of MEChA is a hit formula. Bummer.

———

bud-furillo-with-the-ladies.jpgAlso, Bud Furillo, R.I.P. The obituaries emphasized his role as sports editor of the Herald-Examiner, nurturing gifted columnists like Allan Malamud and Melvin Durslag, but I got to know of him through his long stint as the lead sports guy on KABC. Can you imagine, a news-talker like KABC devoted three or four hours every afternoon, during drive time no less, to sports? The best show I heard was “The Steam Room” with Bud “The Steamer” Furillo and his partner, usually Tommy Hawkins, but also Geoff Wicher or Rick Talley, which was on the air from about 1979-87.

(Furillo is pictured at right, looking kind of nervous.)

KABC had the Dodgers during that period, so my drives home during baseball season would be all about listening to Bud and Tommy set up that evening’s Dodger game.

Bud’s radio persona was that of an ever-optimistic fan. The Dodgers would win a few games, look like they might be turning a mediocre season around, and there would be Bud, imploring LA: “Are you on the bus? Are you on the bus??” He got me onto that bus many a summer.

Saul Levine and the Long Tail

saul-levine.jpgIf you haven’t lived in LA for decades, the name Saul Levine might not mean anything to you, but if someone was going to compile a list of “100 People Who Make LA Great,” Saul Levine would be near the top.

For years, anyone who has owned a “stick” (e.g. a license to operate a radio station) in a major market like Southern California sold it to the highest bidder, who would program it for the biggest audience, to reap the most profits. That’s why Los Angeles radio is so alienating; why most of the AM dial is dominated by redundant right-wing talk, goofy sports or Spanish-speaking programming, and why most of the FM dial plays hip-hop, classic rock or Spanish-speaking programming. Even public radio has succumbed to compulsion to maximize dollar value per program. It’s why KPCC’s once-great music programming was replaced by way too many NPR chat shows, and why KUSC’s daytime classical programming has become so dumbed-down, playing only the movements of symphonies and concertos that are easy to work, eat or drive by.

Except Saul Levine, owner of K-Mozart, a commercial FM classical station, and KKGO-AM, which plays pop standards. According to a lovely profile in today’s LA Times Business section, Levine could sell the FM station alone to a conglomerate for $100 million, which is about $99,999,975 more than he paid for it. He’s grandfathered into having an 18,000-watt signal, when the current FCC standard is just 680 watts. But Levine just won’t sell. He wants to keep his stations independent — and playing the music he wants to play.

Brahms symphonies…Nat King Cole singing “Sweet Lorraine”…that’s what Levine provides Southern Californians, really, out of his pocket. He undoubtedly makes money doing it, but nowhere near as much as he could serving a bigger audience. Levine is a throwback to a time when people chose a vocation out of love, not necessarily to maximize profit. But he also might be a man ahead of his time:

(He) does not want his children, both of whom are involved in the operation of the family company, Mt. Wilson Broadcasting Inc., to sell when he is gone and live off the proceeds.

“You are supposed to work,” Levine said. “I would not want them to sit around on an island in the Mediterranean.”

Levine’s son, who is KMZT’s marketing director, declined to comment on the station’s future.

“He is still the owner,” Michael Levine said quietly.

In the meantime, Saul Levine forges ahead. He loves to talk about podcasting — the station offers listeners downloadable interviews and lectures about music on its website.

“Otherwise, you are in the horse-and-buggy era,” Levine said.

Now, I haven’t yet read The Long Tail, but I wonder if Saul Levine has. Chris Anderson’s book, which evolved from this 2004 article in Wired (which he edits) believes that the “hit” mentality that has driven the media for a century is giving way to those media providers who will cater to non-mainstream tastes — a process enabled by the zillion-channel universe of the Internet. From the Wired piece:

To get a sense of our true taste, unfiltered by the economics of scarcity, look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service (owned by RealNetworks) that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks.

Chart Rhapsody’s monthly statistics and you get a “power law” demand curve that looks much like any record store’s, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks, which is about the amount of the fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the average real-world record store. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero – either they don’t carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store.

The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.

This is the Long Tail.

You can find everything out there on the Long Tail. There’s the back catalog, older albums still fondly remembered by longtime fans or rediscovered by new ones. There are live tracks, B-sides, remixes, even (gasp) covers. There are niches by the thousands, genre within genre within genre: Imagine an entire Tower Records devoted to ’80s hair bands or ambient dub. There are foreign bands, once priced out of reach in the Import aisle, and obscure bands on even more obscure labels, many of which don’t have the distribution clout to get into Tower at all.

(skip)

What’s really amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it. Combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you’ve got a market bigger than the hits. Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are (see “Anatomy of the Long Tail“). In other words, the potential book market may be twice as big as it appears to be, if only we can get over the economics of scarcity.

Venture capitalist and former music industry consultant Kevin Laws puts it this way: “The biggest money is in the smallest sales.”

Radio is a classic “scarcity” medium of the 20th century. Only so much spectrum in any given geographic area. Except now, the spectrum isn’t as much of a limiting factor. Each satellite radio service offers more than 100 channels. Internet audio, including podcasts, grabs more and more ears. And services like Rhapsody and Yahoo! Music allow you to program your own audio streams, either on your computer or in your mp3 device, without having to buy the tracks (unlike the somewhat overpraised iTunes, which demands that you buy a track before you can listen to it.)

Now, Saul Levine is a radio programmer from the get-go. His first act after hoisting his antenna atop a flagpole in 1958 was to spin Franz Lehar’s operetta “The Land of Smiles.” And this is what he and his staff still do. They decide what plays, and you can listen. The element of choice that Rhapsody or Amazon give us, Levine’s stations don’t give you — although his interest in creating podcasts is a big clue that he gets it, that choice is the future.

I guess what you could say about Levine and the Long Tail is that he kept the flames burning until the media could catch up with his craving to serve minority tastes. The kinds of music he programs have been in danger of disappearing from the culture, but in LA, classical music rides one of the region’s strongest signals. Some kid might stumble on K-Mozart tonight and hear Beethoven for the first time. And tomorrow morning, try to find more Beethoven in his computer.