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MUMBAI ONLINE: the Eyes and Ears for Millions

November 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Although I am still in the midst of a Tryptophanic haze,
I want to again link to some of the remarkable citizen journalists (and in some cases professional journalists using unconventional means) who have been eyes and ears for the rest of us who wanted to understand the human dimension of the events that unfolded with deadly force in Mumbai over the past three days.

There was for example Dina Meta , an ethnographer and social media consultant whose Twitter feed can be found here.

And then there are the harrowing accounts from Aran Shanbhag who lives near the Hotel Taj Mahal. (Scroll down to find his first post.) In words and photos, he talks about his best friend’s brother being killed, about the blood from a dead waiter he sees on the pavement in front of the barbershop where he gets his hair cut every week, about the shock at seeing a landmark that had known all his life becoming a flaming palace of death.

NPR did a wonderful story on an Indian journalist named Sreenath Sreenivasanwho is the dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. Within an hour of the attacks, Sreenivasan set up a call in radio show to aggregate and curate the observations of his fellow journalists who were on the ground in Mumbai and related areas.

“It was technology allowing us to do things we could never have done even a year ago…” he said.

Here’s a link to the first of the series of broadcasts he did as news of the situation was just beginning to filter out. (And here is the link to subsequent broadcasts.) It makes for remarkable listening.

And, of course, there are the collective Twitter feeds, with #MUMBAI the biggest one

Instead of conventional linear journalism, suddenly we had an Einsteinian explosion of reporting in which many pieces came together to form an dynamically-evolving whole.


(Photo of school children in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad taking part in a vigil for the victims of the Mumbai attacks, by Amit Dave for REUTERS)

Posted in India, international issues, International politics, Pakistan, South Asia | 15 Comments »

Happy Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

For some reason this song always seems right on Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because Bill Withers communicates so unmistakably that we all belong to each other, if only we allow ourselves to see it.

Have a good one.

Posted in Life in general | 11 Comments »

Mumbai and the Rise of Social Network-Driven Citizen Media

November 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


While the cable television networks, radio and newspapers struggled to stay on top of
the fast unfolding terrorist horror in Mumbai, the social networks suddenly came of age as second-by-second sources of reporting.

We first saw the phenomenon of the Twitter feed as reportig entity when it was used here in Los Angeles the weekend of the LA fires when #LAFIRE had constant street updates that far outpaced the networks for speed and often, frankly, for accuracy. Photographers also uploaded their photos to Flickr and bloggers typed in real time.

The way it works is that anyone posting to Twitter simply uses a code as part of their “tweet.” Thus, in addition to its conventional appearance in it’s usual place on Twitter, the post also appears on a central thread that is keyed to the subject at hand. In the case of the fires in LA County, the key was: #LAFIRE.

To contribute to the primary Twitter feed that exploded online in the hours after the blast at the Hotel Taj Mahal, one had to tag one’s tweets with: #mumbai.

And here is what those tags produced second by second, ahead of the news.

Wikipedia was also remarkable in its speed of evolving an accurate picture of what had happened, and continued to do so as the day wore on.

But the awful day belonged mostly to Twitter as citizen observers posted harrowing details from their cell phones second after second after second.

Yet, as more details true and false, spilled out, some of the conversaton on Twitter turned vicious and posters began to caution each other not to encite the terrorists who were suspected to be tracking he Twitter feed too.

Posted in international issues, International politics | No Comments »

MOCA and HOMEBOY: LA Treasures at Risk

November 26th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Last week, the LA Times ran a big story
about the financial troubles being faced by LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art—MOCA

The idea of MOCA being so cash-strapped due to the failing economy (plus a teensy bit of its own fiscal mismanagement), that it might be forced to sell off some of its art collection was deeply unsettling to many. Yet fortunately it seems as if disaster has been averted by Eli Broad, who has stepped into the breach to the tune of $30 million dollars.

As Broad rightly said in his Op Ed of last Friday:

“MOCA is one of our city’s cultural treasures, and it would be tragic both for the cultural health and civic reputation of Los Angeles if this institution ceased to exist.

Yes. Of course.

But here’s the thing: Los Angeles has more than one kind of imperiled treasure.

Homeboy Industries, Father Greg Boyle’s 20-year-old gang intervention program, is also running mostly on fumes these days.

Nonprofits all over Los Angeles County are struggling or threatened because the foundations that have given them life-sustaining grants in the past have watched chunks of their own investment portfolios vaporized in these last two months. Thus the grants they are handing out are getting smaller and fewer—if they are handing out grants at all.

Such has been the case with some of the big donor organizations that usually fund Homeboy Industries.

Yesterday, I spoke to Homeboy’s financial officer, a smart woman named MaryEllen, who told me that many of the foundations and other funding sources Homeboy has counted on in the past were either not able to give grants at all or had informed Homeboy that the grants would be delayed for six months.

“We had commitments from people who have said, ‘Look, we want to honor them, but we can’t do it now.’”

Father Greg said that the funding crunch is coming at a particularly bad time because more people than ever are desperate for work.

“This is the last time in the world you want to let this happen,” he said. “We have 1000 people a month walk through our doors from 700 gangs and 45 different zip codes. And we have four job developers who can’t find jobs for the people we serve.”

“In 20 years, he said “I’ve never seen it like this. And never have we been more inundated.”

In the past, when jobs were in short supply, Homeboy has provided minimum wage work for former gang members—male and female—-who are particularly desperate. At present, more than 300 such people work at the Homeboy office or at one of its various businesses.

“But, now we have a hiring freeze,” Greg said. “Normally, we’d give guys jobs right out of camps or prison. These are men who come to us and say, ‘I just got out yesterday and you were the first person I came to see.’ That’s the guy you want to grab right away,” he said. But, with grant money suddenly in such dangerously short supply, Homeboy is in no position to hire those guys. And Father Greg is doing all he can to avoid major layoffs.

“Now a big part of my week is watching grown men cry in my office because they can’t pay their rent or buy Pampers for their baby.”

“I like contemporary art as much as the next person,” he said. “But if you have to choose between the two things, these lives are consequential.”

Homeboy will survive, Greg assured me. “We always do.”

But at the moment, the organization is just hoping to meet its next payroll.

And if Homeboy ceased to exist, where would all the guys and young women who stream through its front doors go then? Where else would they find help with jobs, mental health counseling, tattoo removal, parenting classes, or just plain hope and encouragement?

No one seems to have a good answer to that question.


PS: Follow this link to see a two minute-ish video of Father Greg talking about what’s going on.

Hmmmm. And then there’s this on YouTube (if you can get past the sorta plastic-sounding reporter.)

Posted in Economy, Gangs | 30 Comments »

2000 Days and the Perversion of American Ideals

November 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Today the Surpreme Court will decide whether of not to hear the case of Ali Marri,
who has spent nearly 2,000 days locked up a Navy brig in South Carolina, without charges or a trial .

He is locked up solely because George W. Bush has designated him an enemy combatant.

According to the Bush administration’s interpretation of its powers, Mr. Marri could be held in this state of imprisoned limbo for the rest of his life, with no legal recourse whatsoever—-even though he was a legal resident at the time of his arrest and has been tried and convicted of exactly nothing.

Mari’s attorney, Jonathan Hafetz, has written a very troubling Op Ed about his client’s situation for today’s Los Angeles Times. Here are some excerpts:

Ali Marri is now 43 years old. He came to the United States in September 2001 with his wife and five children to study for a master’s degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

Three months later, two FBI agents came to Marri’s home in Peoria and arrested him. They believed he had information that could aid the government’s investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and detained him as a “material witness.” Two months later, the government filed the first of three indictments against him, claiming that Marri had engaged in credit card fraud and lied to the FBI.

Marri maintained his innocence and prepared to contest the accusations against him. The district judge scheduled a trial date for July 2003.

But the trial never took place. Less than a month before the trial was scheduled to begin, Marri was taken in the middle of the night to a military prison in South Carolina. He was no longer a man accused of a crime. The president had signed an order declaring him an “enemy combatant.” All of the Constitution’s protections had been erased with the stroke of a pen.

Once removed from the criminal justice system,
Marri was deprived of any contact with the outside world, paving the way for a brutal interrogation regime. He was shackled in a fetal position to the floor of a freezing cell, kept from sleeping for days on end, and threatened with violence and death — all in a deliberate attempt to create a sense of hopelessness and despair. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had come to America.

The interrogations continued for 16 months before Marri was finally allowed to see a lawyer. Recordings from those months of interrogations, meanwhile, were destroyed by the Defense Department.

The New York Times ran an editorial yesterday urging the Supremes to hear Marri’s case, the stakes for which go well beyond the life of Mr. Marri.

…The federal appeals court made clear that its ruling upholding the president’s power to detain enemy combatants applies equally to American citizens. If the ruling stands, presidents would be able to throw out due process, habeas corpus and other basic constitutional and statutory rights for anyone they declared to have terrorist ties. That is an intolerable reading of the law — and one that the Supreme Court should quickly reverse.

Intolerable is exactly the right word. It has been intolerable to have our democracy highjacked by an administration so drunk on its own unchecked executive power that it has crossed a line, the crossing of which, as British historian Andy Worthington put it, “.. cannot be accepted in a nation, like America, committed to basic human rights and the principles of its Constitution.”


Because we will soon have a president who will not repeatedly fill us with shame and dread by imprisoning people without due process.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment | 6 Comments »

The Anna Politkovskaya Murder Trial

November 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times has a welcome editorial
that calls for openness and transparency in the trial of three men accused of being part of a plot to murder Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a remarkable woman whose death on October 7 2006, shocked writers and others across the world. (The shooter, captured on videotape, has never been caught.)

Here’s the backstory on Anna and the murder of this woman whom many called the conscience of Russia.

Posted in crime and punishment, international issues, International politics, journalism, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

LA County Kids’ Scorecard

November 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


CHILDREN NOW, a national nonprofit that monitors
the wellbeing of American children, has just issued its yearly scorecard for California, with measurements that are separated by county.

So how does LA County score in relationship to the rest of the state?

We are home to 2.8 children under the age of 18. And when the scores are converted to grades, overall LA County gets a C -.

Among a number of decidedly uncheering scores, one of the most disheartening numbers was the percentage of high school students who had not been victimized and who felt physically safe at their school’s school: a mere 23 percent.

In other words, less than one fourth of LA County’s adolescents feel that school is a safe place.

Among the other scores, there is the fact that only 62 percent of LA’s kids “feel connected “to some adult or other. The same percentage, 62 percent, report very good to excellent health. (Meaning a more than a third of LA County kids do not report good health.)

There’s more at both a state and local level.
So take a look.

ALL THS SCORING of the existing health and well-being of the state’s kids cannot help but bring to mind the suggested budget cuts that will affect the future health and educational scores of California’s children and young adults.

For instance, there is the following:

At present there are more than 900,000 California kids enrolled the state’s Healthy Families program. These are kids who would not have health insurance otherwise. But, because of the state’s budget woes, at a time when parents are losing their jobs and health benefits, the state, for the first time ever, is considering freezing enrollment and starting a waiting list.

That’s, of course, along with such other fun cuts like the planned amputations for K-12 education totaling $2.5 billion, and those that are causing the Cal State Universities to announce a likely enrollment cut-back of 10,000 students for next year, and the cuts that are making it necessary for the UC’s to raise their tuition (another) ten percent (triggering protests yesterday), and the positively draconian $332 million budget slashing that has been proposed for the lowest rung of the state’s higher education ladder, California’s community colleges.

One wonders what those cuts will do to the physical and educational health of California’s young.

Posted in families, Los Angeles County, Public Health | 1 Comment »

Race, Crime and Violence in LA

November 24th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Tonight I’ll be participating in a panel called “Race, Crime and Violence
sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. As the title suggests, we’ll be talking about the way the media deals with race when reporting on crime and violence.

The panel organizers have gathered an interesting line-up that includes: Otto Santa Ana from UCLA, columnist Sandy Banks from the LA Times, and the wonderful poet/author Ishmael Reed.

(I’m the…um…white chick outa the bunch.)

Filmmaker/author M.K. Asante, Jr.. is moderating.

The panel starts at 7:30 p.m., with music and refreshments starting at 6:30.

It’s being held at Eso Won Books, in Leimert Park, 4331 Degnan Blvd.

Come on down and talk….jeer…applaud….throw fruit, whatever you like.


And while we’re on the subject of race in relationship to the coverage of crime…….blogger (and sometimes WLA commenter) Browne Molyneux has some interesting things to say over at LA Eastside about why she wasn’t one bit sorry to see the demise of the LA Times Homicide Report.

As you know, I’m an ardent supporter of the Homicide Report, and was furious when the Times suspended it. But Browne’s points are thought-provoking and very much worth a read.

Here are a couple of clips from Browne’s list regarding why she she doesn’t miss the blog in question:

2. [It] Gave the Times a whole section to point to when asked if they were covering the African-American and Latino communities, “We have the Homicide Blog, so we cover them everyday, actually we over cover them. We are quite diverse in our coverage.” Why could not murders in our neighborhoods make the real paper?

3. Though I believed Jill Leovy’s heart was in the right place, that blog was like a nuclear bomb. The road to hell is paved with good intentions (and quite a few book deals, yeah that would also include you Steve Lopez.) I understand that the point was to showcase and put a face on the violence. I think in general it just made people even more desensitized to Latinos and African-Americans dying in violent ways.

Race, Crime and Violence. How we report about that weave of issues ain’t a simple matter.

Posted in media, race, racial justice | 44 Comments »

Okay, Well at Least the LA Times Hasn’t Gone THAT Far

November 21st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

(Short take in posting today as I’m drowning in deadlines, but the stories below were too….uh….memorable to miss.)

In the Creepy Newspaper Management Tricks derby,
it seems there is always a brand new contender.

This week we have two winners:


According to Editor & Publisher, after the Newark Star-Ledger offered buyouts last month to 151 of its news staff—-including Pulitzer-winning photographer Matt Rainey—it followed up that strategy by moving two of its veteran journalists to jobs in…..the mail room.

Reporter Jason Jett and Assistant Deputy Photo Editor Mitchell Seidel have been filing, sorting, and delivering mail for more than a week, according to sources.


On the same day Newark story was reported, the news broke that the northern Colorado-located Longmont Times-Call sent around an internal e-mail inviting members of the news staff to work as…..valets at a private Christmas party for the Lehman family, the generous people own the paper. (The staff was not invited tothe Lehman’s party.)

Two reporters have taken the Lehman’s up on the offer.

3. LOOKING ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. TypePad, the blogging software people, is offering a bailout for laid-off journalists.

Here’s what WIRED has to say about the….uh…proposed bailout:

Six Apart [the company that owns Typepad] has announced that it is offering free pro accounts on TypePad to journalists and professional bloggers who recently lost their jobs.

A pro account differs from a basic in that it allows multiple authors and blogs as well as more storage and control over the design.

The Journalist Bailout Program is limited time only and also includes a spot in the Six Apart Media advertising program, promotion on and other information and advice in how to succeed in online journalism.

It’s no $700 billion, that’s for sure, but is a nice little perk for freelancers and out-of-work journalists.

Posted in journalism, media | 1 Comment »

Bummed Out: The Complicated Politics of Rear Views

November 20th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Alright. Let’s begin at the beginning. The whole kerfuffle started on Tuesday
when my pal Erin Aubry Kaplan caused something of a stir with the cover story she wrote for Salon. The article, you see, was about Michelle Obama’s…um….well… her butt.

Here are some clips:

“…..There is a certain freedom in the moment – as in, we are all now free from wondering when or if we’ll ever get a black president. Congratulations to all of us for being around to settle the question.

But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack’s better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and — drumroll, please — a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I’m going to talk about the first lady’s butt.)


Lord knows, it’s time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it’s been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization (of course, it also made them mighty attractive to white men, which further stoked fears of miscegenation that lay at the heart of legal and social segregation). In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho’s, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious. (Black women are not the only ones with protruding behinds, by the way, but they’re certainly considered its source. How many gluteally endowed nonblack women have been derided for having a black ass? Well, Hillary, for one.)

But Michelle is bringing those two falsely divided minds together in a single presentation — finally, unity for the real world!

The rest is a happy and appreciative hallelujah written with a lovely sense of exuberance and humor. It is also an intelligent essay on issues of body image, race and women, all done with a light touch. Erin is and always has been a good writer. And this kind of political-meets-the-highly-personal is where she particularly excels.

At least that’s what I thought when I read it.

To say that not all Salon’s readers had such an upbeat reaction would be to understate the matter considerably.

Many in the crowd were quite aghast.

“This article was stupid, vapid, and demeaning and not even funny, nor ironic in any sense of the word,” wrote an outraged reader in what turned out to be one of the tamest of the comments.

But the angry response to Erin’s boo-tay bantering did not limit itself to Salon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in gender, Obama | 30 Comments »

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