Defending Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Executive H. Lee Scott Jr. in town last week to address a gathering at Town Hall Los Angeles, reiterated the retailer's commitment to open new stores in California including 25 this year. Locally, the chain has faced significant opposition in its efforts to open supercenters, 200,000-square-foot stores that sell groceries. Inglewood voters blocked a supercenter there last year, and the city of Los Angeles is considering restrictive zoning measures. Excerpts from Scott's speech:

On California: "There is going to be a battle from now until I am long gone. Supercenters will do well here because there are a lot of people in the state who need Wal-Mart. This market, with grocery prices what they are and customers needing savings, it's a perfect marriage for Wal-Mart."

On Inglewood: "It looked like an opportunity for Wal-Mart for redevelopment of an area that doesn't have a lot of jobs. Today, there is nothing there that is creating economic value. There are no jobs there. There are no better prices. There is no better assortment. There's no nothing. The only thing that was created was a safety zone for people to charge higher prices and to take advantage of the very people who can't afford to be taken advantage of."

On health care coverage: "I don't think anybody should have a competitive advantage because they either do or do not pay health care. Government has to get involved. You resolve the health care issue if you decide that anyone who employs over 25 people has to provide health care and that anyone who employs less than 25 people doesn't have to."

On Wal-Mart as an employer: "Wal-Mart's average wage is around $10 an hour, nearly double the federal minimum wage. The truth is that our wages are competitive with comparable retailers in each of the more than 3,500 communities we serve, with one exception a handful of urban markets with unionized grocery workers. If Wal-Mart weren't an attractive place to work, we wouldn't find ourselves, as we typically do, with thousands of applications for the hundreds of jobs we create when we open a new store."

On opposition to Wal-Mart's expansion: "I would rather have people who are just honest and say: We don't like you because you're too hard to compete with."
Rachel Brown

Being Boiled
Skooby's Hot Dogs, the Hollywood wiener stand that popularized basil mayonnaise and garlic bread buns as accompaniments, wants aficionados to contribute their own tube steak recipes.

The recipe contest is both a celebration of L.A.'s cultural and culinary diversity as well as its love of the hot dog, according to the owners of the Hollywood Boulevard eatery.

There should be no shortage given that in 2004, Angelenos purchased nearly 42 million retail packets of hot dogs, ahead of New York, Chicago and other cities, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

John Hooper, who founded Skooby's in 2002 and now runs it with his brother Stephen, said he has experimented with ethnic variations of the classic hot dog, with additions such as jalapeno peppers or Greek salad on top of the sausage. He hopes different ethnic groups embrace the hot dog as their own.

"Some of it is geographical, some of it is cultural I'm sure there are all sorts of subcultures here in Los Angeles that have their own ideas of what to put on a hot dog," Hooper said. "We're really open to experimenting with this all-American food."

The finalists will be judged during SkoobyFest 2005, scheduled for June 30 at Skooby's.
James Nash

Star Search
Don't have a hot dog recipe to contribute to Skooby's? Well, how about helping Caltech with some astrophysics research?

Dubbed Einstein@Home, the project is enlisting anyone with an interest in the galaxy and a computer to search for gravitational waves in the universe by sorting through data collected by U.S and European detectors.

Antennae at various observatories pick up signals from the far corners of the Milky Way Galaxy, up to distances of thousands of light years, producing reams of measurements. Caltech is the headquarters for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which in conjunction with MIT collects data from two observatories in the U.S. one in Washington state and one in Louisiana.

Now here's the @Home part: a downloadable screensaver program analyzes data while a PC is idle; and Einstein@Home reported 16,000 downloads during the first week of its launch in February, according to Dr. Albert Lazzarini, astrophysicist and group leader for Caltech's LIGO lab. At any one time, about a third of the participating computers are running the software, each analyzing a little corner of the universe.

The screensaver displays a map of various constellations, with a moving marker pointing to the portion of the sky being analyzed by that particular computer.

The goal of the program is to detect slight signals that come from extremely dense, rapidly rotating pulsars, neutron stars or quark stars. The fast rotation and the shape of these dense stars can cause gravitational ripples that travel through the universe and can carry with them signals about their origins.

The potential payoff of the project is, well, cosmic.

"It would be the first ever detection of a rotating neutron star," Lazzarini.
Hilary Potkewitz

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