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Thursday Briefing

December 07, 2006|Andrew Malcolm and Brian Hanrahan | Times Staff Writers

It's a matter of superdistribution

In his Bit Player blog, Jon Healy gives a bit of his experience with a new piece of listening technology. "I'm writing this from a jury assembly room in Los Angeles, listening to a Microsoft Zune, the only one in the room, I'm fairly sure." What is the Zune? You can find out at



Zillow adds on, which has won the hearts and eyeballs of homeowners with its sale price estimates, now aims to actually help sell the houses. The website will allow owners and agents to post virtual "for sale" signs on the site.

Zillow is also indulging sellers' fantasies in another way, letting them post a price -- however far-fetched -- that would persuade them to sell. "What number would it take for you to call the movers and hand over your keys?" asks Zillow's co-founder and president. Page C1


Hold the onions

Taco Bell removes green onions from 5,800 restaurants because of an E. coli outbreak, and the federal government and produce industry hear renewed calls for tougher safety regulations.

Fresh or raw produce accounts for more illness outbreaks than any other food product, says an official with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which seeks new regulations. A Food and Drug Administration spokesman, though, says it would need much more funding to enforce such rules. Page C1



Christmas Liszt got you stumped?

Times critics make a living telling you their opinions, and today they put their expertise to use by helping you find gifts for the people on your shopping list. The jazz critic suggests buying a percussion instrument; the classical music critic mentions an audio player; and, other critics suggest DVDs, CDs, games or gadgets. Page E26


Film board honors two by Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's two views of the battle for Iwo Jima are among the 10 best films of the year, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures says.

The board, composed of film professionals, educators, students and historians, calls the Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima" the best film of 2006 and also honors its English-language predecessor, "Flags of Our Fathers." Page E5


This drummer was a headliner

Sandy West was the drummer for the Runaways, an all-girl teen-rock band from the '70s that also included Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford. Although the Runaways had a cult hit with "Cherry Bomb" and influenced many female rock bands that followed, they never quite hit it big. "No one could take us seriously in the beginning, and by the time they did, it was too late," Currie says.

Unfortunately, it's also too late for a Runaways reunion; West died of cancer in October. But friends and followers are paying tribute to her Saturday at the Knitting Factory in West Hollywood. Among those on the bill are the Bangles, the Donnas, the Adolescents, and Michael Des Barres. Page E10


It's hard to shake the guys who flake

Bad boyfriends are the crummy gift that keeps on giving, Samantha Bonar writes. What they deliver is "post-traumatic relationship disorder" -- a malady that causes women to act like loons toward the occasional good boyfriend who comes along.

According to Bonar, signs that you're suffering from PTRD include flipping out when your new boyfriend innocently mentions an ex-girlfriend; flipping out when your new boyfriend makes a little joke about one of your idiosyncrasies; and even flipping out in a good way when he performs a small act of kindness. Page E16



It's always decoration day

Eric Cortina turned his love for the trappings of Christmas into a rewarding career. He's the creative director for a Newport Beach home and garden center, and his eclectic, even somber ornaments are winning acclaim. "Eric's designs have a point of view, a mystery and drama to them that is rooted in the past when Father Christmas was feared," says a New York buyer. Page F8


Gift rapping

Christmas altruism sometimes equals "a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy," as songwriter Bob Dorough once scoffed. But doing good for the globe while putting good things under the tree isn't so hard. Shoppers can buy products that support struggling workers, save vanishing craft traditions, or fund worthy causes. Page F4


Will reality show?

Back in John Henry Hopkins' day it was easy enough to write lyrics such as "Gather around the Christmas tree! Evergreen have its branches been, It is king of all the woodland scene." Today Hopkins might have to start out "Gather around the injection-molded polyethylene," which lacks a certain reverence.

Advances in the art of artificial trees, though, are making it harder to tell the God-givens from the assembly-requireds. Take a look at the photos on Page F3 and see if you can spot the fakes.


Santa, baby

For columnist Chris Erskine, December brings his youngest son's birthday and the arrival of his wife's Santa complex: "the big boots, the faux fur, the profligate spending. She dashes all over town running up debt that our grandchildren will be paying off ... in the hopes that Christmas will be an epic event that will make everybody grateful and happy and full of love, if only till brunch on the 25th." Page F7

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