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“They Tormented a Clerk” – UPDATED

April 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


If you read between the lines of Barack Obama’s answer to Jake Tapper’s question
about waterboarding last night, it is clear that the issue of torture is not going to fade away any time soon. Here’s a clip.

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, “We don’t torture,” when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.

And then the reason was that Churchill understood
— you start taking shortcuts, over time, that corrodes what’s — what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.


UPDATE: Commenter “reg” flagged this column from the London Times. It speaks specifically to the issue of the British in WWII, captured spies, and even the incidents of “ticking time bombs.”


Then in this morning’s LA Times there is an Op Ed by Joseph Margulies, a lawyer for Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah, if you remember, is one of the handful of enemy combatants who has been used to justify the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a real big fish of terrorism—-and the first person to vanish into a CIA black site.

Or so we were told. Later, however, the WaPo and the NY Times interviewed DOJ officials and former intelligence officers who said that…actually Abu Zubaydah was far from being a leader or an insider; he was “a personnel clerk.” Our bad.

And how did we treat the personnel clerk?

First, they beat him. As authorized by the Justice Department and confirmed by the Red Cross, they wrapped a collar around his neck and smashed him over and over against a wall. They forced his body into a tiny, pitch-dark box and left him for hours. They stripped him naked and suspended him from hooks in the ceiling. They kept him awake for days.

And they strapped him to an inverted board and poured water over his covered nose and mouth to “produce the sensation of suffocation and incipient panic.” Eighty-three times. I leave it to others to debate whether we should call this torture. I am content with the self-evident truth that it was wrong.

Second, his treatment was motivated by the bane of our post-9/11 world: rotten intel. The beat him because they believed he was evil. Not long after his arrest, President Bush described him as “one of the top three leaders” in Al Qaeda and “Al Qaeda’s chief of operations.” In fact, the CIA brass at Langley, Va., ordered his interrogators to keep at it long after the latter warned that he had been wrung dry.

But Abu Zubaydah, we now understand, was nothing like what the president believed. He was never Al Qaeda. The journalist Ron Suskind was the first to ask the right questions. In his 2006 book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” he described Abu Zubaydah as a minor logistics man, a travel agent.

“They tormented a clerk,” writes Margulies. Then he goes on to explain the disintegrative effect that “enhanced interrogation” had on Zubaydah’s psyche.

“Already, he cannot picture his mother’s face or recall his father’s name. Gradually, his past, like his future, eludes him.”
PS: Remember when Barack Obama talked about things that are corrosive to a nation’s character….? That’s the kind of thing he meant.

PPS: Oh, yeah, and then there’s the Spanish judge who has just expanded his investigation of torture at Guantanamo. Details and more here on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Obama, torture | 40 Comments »

Scenes From Saturday Night With Homeboy Industries

April 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday Homeboy Industries held their yearly fundraiser at Union Station. The event is called the Lo Maximo Awards.

Each year the evening gathers together an unusual stew of people—city leaders, a few celebrities (Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston are regulars), a swath of LA’s wealthy and semi-wealthy philanthropic types, plus a few people like me who fit into none of those categories but who are simply friends of the program. Most importantly, the night is a celebration for the homeboys and homegirls who either work at Homeboy now, or did once and have moved on, yet always come back and dress up for the fancy yearly event because they feel Father Greg Boyle and his program saved their lives.

The primary purpose of the evening is to raise money. And this year the fundraising need was crucial to the point of desperation. For months Homeboy has been teetering on the edge of being unable to pay its bills. During the pay period just before the dinner, the teetering nearly became a fall into the abyss. It is hoped that the proceeds from the evening will let Homeboy pay the salaries of the men and women working in its various programs for a few more months without having to resort to layoffs—which for many, who have no other place to turn, could mean catastrophe.

As the title of the event suggests, during the evening Homeboy Industries presents “Lo Maximo” awards
to a couple of people who have done a lot for the organization. This award-giving is a way of expressing appreciation, of course, but it is also planned in the hope that the honorees’ most affluent friends will show up and write big checks. For instance, this year one of the awards went to Rick Cummings, the guy who launched Power 106, and a longtime Homeboy patron. (As part of the presentation, Power 106 superstar DJ, “BigBoy” filmed a video to trumpet Cummings’ and Homeboys’ accomplishments.)

There was also a tribute to the late, great LA sculptor, Robert Graham, a longtime Homeboy board member, who for years mentored various homeboys in his art studio—one of whom, Juan Carlos Munos, now an artist himself, gave the moving tribute that had Graham’s widow, Anjelica Huston, fighting tears for several long minutes.

Yet the big award of the evening was the Homeboy of the Year award, presented each year to an outstanding former homeboy (or homegirl) who has come a very, very long way.

This year the award went to a guy named Felipe Antonio. Felipe, who is the sweetest of men, first came to Homeboy eleven years ago when he was 17 years old and struggling to get control over his life after being paralyzed by a gunshot wound.

Like many, he came but he didn’t stay. He was feeling too angry, too hopeless.

Three years later, however, he returned in his wheelchair and, with Father Greg’s encouragement
, enrolled in school while working at Homeboy, first doing graffiti removal, then learning data entry.

Two years later still, a man who had volunteered to give a few remedial math classes at the Homeboy office noticed that Felipe
was hard-working, and also really smart. The volunteer decided to take a chance and offered Felipe a job at his mortgage business. The chance paid off.

Fast forward to today-: Felipe has gotten his Associate’s Degree at East LA College and, with the help of his mentor-boss at the mortgage company, he has finally transformed his immigration status from undocumented to permanent legal resident. In 2007 he was hired by Bank of America where he still works in their Customer Marketing Department.

Felipe accepted the award in his wheelchair,—lifted to the stage, chair and all, by four other homeboy/friends. He announced in his speech that he is training for this year’s LA Marathon.

The other guys and women in the clips and photos each have equally dramatic stories
. There is Joey Ray Lucero, once a hard case who spent over a decade of his life in prison, now a highly valued senior staffer at Homeboy Industries, and one of organization’s most in-demand public speakers. (If you watch the video you’ll see that Joey Ray positively bleeds charisma. And, just to be clear, he has the large heart and soul to back it up.)

There is Frances Aguilar, formerly a high-profile female gang member known all over Boyle Heights,
now a wife and mother who is one of the few women on her unionized construction crew. “I was late because we just did a cement pour at work,” she said as she slid in beside me at one of the dinner tables. Frances, whose family is the subject of the book on which I’m working right this minute, was the first “Homegirl of the Year” at the 2005 Lo Maximo dinner.

(It is Frances’ happily raucous laugh you’ll occasionally hear in the video.)

There is Ramon Rodriguez who,
when I knew him as a teenage gangster in the early 1990′s, often didn’t seem like he’d live out the weekend (And he eventually did succeeded in getting himself shot nearly to death). Now he’s married with kids, a home mortgage, and is one of the So Cal crew managers for a well-known gas and oil company.

The list goes on from there.

Saturday night also marked the introduction
of the Homeboy Journal, edited by my brilliant friend Leslie Schwartz together with former gang members turned writers, Agustin Lizama, Hector Verdugo and Maynor Aguirre—all very bright men who were once in terrible shape, whose transformed lives are now nothing short of remarkable.

Robert Juarez, the guy who reads the poem in the video, is one of the Journal’s many featured writers who have recently found their voices and their artistry.

I should warn you that the video above is as jiggly and amateurish as it gets.
(I shot it with my tiny digital still camera, simply on a whim, and I am not what you would call steady-handed.)

But the people the video captures are, I think you’ll find, worth braving my lousy film-making.

(Plus there’s also a snippet of the speech that Father Greg Boyle made that night, and Greg is always worth the price of admission.)


And if you have any rich friends who want to help save and change lives—or even semi-solvent friends—please direct them here.


NOTE: The name of the third homeboy in the video is Anthony Collins. He was the one person whose name I didn’t know as I made the video and slide show last night.

Posted in criminal justice, Gangs | 7 Comments »

Jerry Gets Jacked (But Has A Soundtrack For It.)

April 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Even though he’s California’s “top cop,” Attorney General Jerry Brown
got two of his tires stolen yesterday. “No matter,” he tweeted on Twitter. ” I got 2 new ones and I’m rolling again.”

Jerry sometimes goes quiet with his Twitter posting but this week he’s been entertaining.

For instance, he planned a “recession reception” and solicited possible songs for a playlist, which he has posted on his Facebook page.

(In case you also have need of such a playlist-–and who doesn’t?—I’ve pasted in below.)

Name – Artist
Brother? Can You Spare A Dime? – Abbey Lincoln
Why Don’t You Do Right (Get Me Some Money Too) – Peggy Lee
Money Blues – Camille Howard & Her Boyfriends
Money – Pink Floyd
Busted – Ray Charles
Money Honey – Elvis Presley
Get A Job – Sha Na Na
I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash
Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Come Together – The Beatles
For The Love Of Money – The O’Jays
I Get Lifted – George McCrae
Take the Money And Run – Steve Miller Band
Sad Songs (Say So Much) – Elton John
Cash Machine – Hard Fl
Crumblin’ Down – John Mellencamp
Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads
Under Pressure – David Bowie
Get Up Offa That Thing – James Brown
Youthless – Beck
Black Friday – Steely Dan
Takin’ Care of Business – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
Emotional Rescue – The Rolling Stones
Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads
Like A Rolling Stone vs. Times Are Changin’ – Bob Dylan
I Need A Miracle – Grateful Dead
Don’t Stop Believing – Journey
Try Me (Remix) – Bob Marley
Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
Wild World – Cat Stevens
Working On A Dream – Bruce Springsteen

He also directed our attention to the latest polling information on the Dem side
of the 2010 governor’s race.

Yes, Jerry’s ahead. Otherwise would he have told us to go look at the poll? Uh, no.

He’s 71 years old. So, as everyone reporting on the issue has noted, if he wins, he would become California’s oldest governor.

Or as Republican contender Steve Poizner put it on his own website, “When it comes to Jerry Brown and Election Day for California voters, it reminds us of the film ‘Groundhog Day.’ Every day is the same. Jerry’s always on the ballot.”

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), State politics | 13 Comments »

Cliff May, Jon Stewart & Torture

April 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Part 1

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

Last night, Jon Stewart did a really smart thing with in his interview with Cliff May. May is the head of the neocon-ish Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a vigorous and noisy defender of America’s torture policies. Stewart’s conversation with May was far, far longer than he showed on air, but he let the conversation keep going and Comedy Central posted the unedited version, which I have here in three parts..

By the way, in Part I May says that the only people who were tortured
were three “high value” prisoners who were the really, really bad guys.

This isn’t true. We may not have water-boarded anyone but those guys. (At least not that we know of so far.) But there is plenty of evidence that we’ve tortured people in the hundreds, many of whom were not charged with any crimes, and gave us nothing of value—because they had nothing to give.

Or sometimes instead we handed people over to others to be tortured.

We must have Congressional hearings. As a country, we really need for the truth of the torture policy to come out in the open—all of it, in it’s complexity—so that as a nation we can make an informed decision about who we want to be.

Part 2

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

It think I mentioned earlier that I am just now reading Jane Mayer’s
The Dark Side. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It is really the book to read right this minute to put all these policies into a comprehensive, meticulously researched context.

Part 3

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

Posted in torture | 41 Comments »

Seattle Blogger Wins $225K over Public Records Lagging

April 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The AP reports that King County, Washington has agreed to pay conservative blogger Stefan Sharkansky
$225,000 to settle a public-records lawsuit he brought over the county’s delay in releasing documents about the 2004 governor’s election.

Good for Stefan Sharkansky. King County officials complained that they didn’t have the time to comply
in timely fashion—which since, the election appears to have hinged on someone getting to the bottom of voter anomalies—is hardly an acceptable excuse.

Here are some of the details:

Sharkansky filed his request in December 2004, seeking a list of everyone who voted in the county in the election that year, but the county didn’t satisfy the request until more than two years later.

He said the documents that were ultimately provided revealed that elections officials in King County counted hundreds of ineligible ballots — including double votes and votes from unregistered or improperly registered voters. That could have changed the outcome of the razor-thin race between Democrat Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi, he said. Gregoire won by 133 votes following two recounts and a trial in Chelan County Superior Court.

The documents were not produced during the trial,
and therefore “the trial never explained this mystery of why there were more votes than voters,” Sharkansky said April 24.

Sharkansky is a controversial and occasionally polarizing figure in the Seattle area.
That is of no consequence here. He battled ferociously for reporter’s rights and for the public interest with this lawsuit.

And he won.

Read the rest here.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Free Speech, Freedom of Information | 3 Comments »

9th Circuit Tells DOJ “Secrets” Claim Not Good Enough

April 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday, the California-located U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
, rejected the Executive Branch’s claim that the “very subject matter” of a case alleging torture is a state secret. The 9th Circuit Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and said that the case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, can proceed.

The suit—brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by the ACLU— alleges that American defense contractor Jeppesen—a subsidiary of Boeing—-knowingly flew five people to various foreign countries where they were tortured as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.

The details of the Jeppesen allegations are instructive to read:

In two of the five cases the men were handed over to countries known to torture—namely Egypt and Jordan, where according to the suit, they were indeed tortured severely—with electricity, beatings, and other forms of physical and psychological torment.

In two more cases, the defendants were allegedly tortured–physically and psychologically (the suit has the details)— by Americans at one of the CIA’s “black sites” in Kabul, Afghanistan—then eventually released, with no terrorism charges ever leveled against them.

In the fifth case, the defendant was captured and flown to Morocco, allegedly tortured there, then flown to the US black site in Kabul, then eventually transferred to Bagram Air
Base, where he was where he was “subjected to humiliation, degradation,
and physical and psychological torture by U.S. officials.” Finally he was transferred to Git’mo. Now he is back in London, where he is a permanent UK resident, while he waits for an appeal.

So, given the fact that three of the men at least
, are walking around free, two of them with no charges whatsoever, the third released on appeal, we can guess that these were not “high value” prisoners whom we must subject to whatever torments we deem necessary to prevent the death of thousands of Americans and head off some ticking-time-bomb of apocalypse.

Following the 9th Circuit decision, the lower trial court must now evaluate which evidence in the case is actually subject to the state secrets privilege and whether there is sufficient non-privileged evidence available to fully litigate the case.

Since the knowledge of the extraordinary rendition program has long been out in the open, I’m betting that the secrets being protected are the identities of CIA agents. Fine. So find a way around that.

The truth is, if this case goes forward, it will open the door for many more like it. Jeppesen allegedly had 15 aircraft making these secret flights.

I’m in the middle of reading Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, a brilliantly and meticulously reported work that concerns itself with just these issues.

In fact, a former Jeppesen employee, Sean Belcher, informed Mayer that, at an internal corporate meeting, a senior Jeppesen official stated, “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights – you know, the torture flights. Let’s face it, some of these flights end up that way.” Belcher’s sworn statement is now part of the lawsuit.

Based on the book, and on the material in the lawsuit,
we can be sure that these five are the tip of the torture and extraordinary rendition iceberg.

Now the ice is melting. The Obama administration must let the floodgates open.


PS: Before the February oral argument in the case, the Constitution Project called on Attorney General Holder to reverse the litigation position previously taken by the Bush administration in this case, and to consent to have the trial judge review the evidence at issue.

(Here’s the letter that the Constitution Project sent Holder.)

Posted in Civil Liberties, torture | 13 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

April 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



LA Observed has this story. Kevin and I talked about the issue at the LA Times Festival of Books, and we were both shocked and saddened by the Times’ short-sightedness .

LA Youth is a remarkable project that has been around for two decades, and the LA Times has always helped out by picking up the tab for the printing. Not anymore. Yes, we understand they’re cost-cutting to the bone. But I bet if I looked at a few executive salaries (cough….publisher…cough) I could find the $15 grand it takes to put out this newspaper that has done so much to give LA’s kids a voice.

LA Observed also has ways that you can donate to help out.
(Or click here.)

To give you an idea of what is worth saving, here’s a story by a 15-year-old video journalist who found, through reporting, what in his South LA community really matters.



Today, AG Jerry Brown will release a 30-page report
saying that the City of Maywood Police Department “routinely used excessive force, did not obtain probable cause to justify arrests and searches, and operated without adequate oversight by the Maywood City Council and the City’s Chief Administrative Officer.” This report is the result of a 16-month investigation which exposed “gross misconduct and widespread abuse,” including unlawful use of force against civilians.

According to the press release, Brown has sole legal authority under California Civil Code 52.3 to ensure that police departments do not deprive “any person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States or by the Constitution or laws of California.”

Okay, Jerry, now that you’re on a roll,
and we’ve discovered you have that “sole legal authority” thingy, how about taking a look at Men’s Central Jail?



USC sent out a Swine Flu Alert yesterday-–as did, I imagine, a lot of other institutions, even though the number of confirmed cases in the US are still few, located mostly on the East Coast, and thus far there have been no fatalities.

But the CDC is sending out jittery warnings because this is a nasty flu that, in Mexico anyway, has spread uncomfortably quickly out of season.
So caution is appropriate. Thus USC, as the responsible parent, is appropriately telling everyone to be cautious too.

Which brings us around to the political side of this story—namely when certain Republican lawmakers elected not to be appropriately cautious, but to play politics instead by insisting that pandemic preparedness be stripped out of the stimulus package.

My pal Marc Cooper also has a smart take on the issue.



Fatima Bhutto, niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, has written an excellent and alarming column for the Daily Beast that I hope the right people in the Obama administration manage to read. It says that the biggest cause of the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan is the government’s failure to provide the simplest of desperately services for the nation’s poor. The Taliban has moved into that vacuum handily with schools, with medical relief and with generators when the government does not even provide electricity.

She writes:

In Pakistan things move at a leisurely South Asian pace. We missed our goals to eradicate polio recently because we, a nuclear nation, could not sustain electricity across the country long enough to refrigerate the vaccines. Garbage disposal is a nonexistent concept, and plush neighborhoods in Karachi boast towers of rubbish piled on street corners and alleyways. Prisons and police cells are full of prisoners awaiting trials, and our justice system, despite the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meting out free and fair access to justice.

One thing moving ridiculously fast, however, is the Taliban’s stranglehold on the country…..

In a conversation a year and a half ago, Fatima warned me the fundamentalists could gain power if the government continued to neglect its most poverty-stricken citizens. Her views turned out to be prescient.

When Pakistan’s weak and notoriously corrupt president, Asif Zardari, comes to Washington next week to ask for money, Fatima suggests that the U.S. should instead, insist that Mr. Zardari’s government do its job.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Los Angeles Times, Pakistan, Public Health, Social Justice Shorts | 31 Comments »

THE FUTURE OF MEDIA: LA Times Book Fest Version

April 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In the middle of the panel called MEDIA: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
at Sunday’s LA Times Festival of Books, Marc Cooper made news—or at least mini-news—when he remarked in passing that the Sacramento Bee feels it does not have the staff to adequately cover the upcoming race for governor—at least the So Cal part of the race—so they are looking to partner with the Annenberg School of Journalism in the hope that they can use student reporters can fill in the gap.

Now keep in mind that the Bee has the largest number of reporters covering the state capitol of any California media outlet. So if they’re in trouble covering an issue of state government….even the So Cal part…. this is a sign that spoke loudly to the subject of the panel.

As yet, Marc said, no deals have been struck.

(NOTE TO SAC’TO BEE: as you are a (theoretically) a profit making enterprise, you have to pay any students whom you use. You know that, right?)


was one of the festival’s big, sell-out events, with just as many people outside the auditorium, waiting in line in the hope of getting a seat, as those who were already seated.

The panel featured the aforementioned Marc Cooper, Arianna Huffington, Sharon Waxman (of the excellent new site covering entertainment news The Wrap), and Andrew Donohue, editor of the Voice of San Diego (the online newspaper that many see as one of the crucial new biz models). James Rainey, the LA Times media columnist was the moderator.

Before the panel started, the crowd was admonished that there could be “no recording” in the auditorium.

A bit later, Arianna remarked dryly that, at a panel
about the future of media, “asking people not to record the session is absurd.” At this the crowd applauded vigorously.


During the hour plus (the panel ran overtime), much was said on the subject of monitization
—which is inevitably the BIG TOPIC for every one of these panels. Among some of the better remarks were the following:

Arianna said, in her deadpan Greek drawl, that the only sure fire content that people are willing to pay for is porn. “People are willing to pay for weird porn,” she said. The crowd laughed.

Cooper followed with, “This is the first time in history when the right to publish is not in the abstract. Anyone can do it.” But we’re not going to know the business model for a while…..The old system is dead. The new system has yet to be invented.” He likened the present cultural moment to three or four decades after Johannes Gutenberg introduced his little invention.

Huffington: It’s time that newspaper editors admit that we cannot go back to the old model when content is behind a wall. If that’s where they go, they are going to fail. Consumer habits have changed.

Rainey: “I kind of liked the old world when Walter Cronkite was involved…. and when we were behind that wall.” He was kidding. Sort of.


Rainey also asked the other question that is always, always, always front and center during these FOM (Future of Media) discussions, namely: Where is all the great investigative work going to come from?


Cooper, Huffington and Waxman each leaned quickly toward their mics to say that great reporting isn’t going away, and that, in any case, it is produced by individuals not institutions, and that while great work came out of conventional media—there was also a lot of mediocre work too, and many many stories that were missed, and that new media has moved into that gap.

Waxman: “Only when you work for the New York Times,
do you understand how much a part of the establishment that the New York Times is.” (Waxman used to work for the NY Times.)

Huffington: “Where were the mainstream journalists
covering the whole Wall Street mess? They completely missed that story. And they’re still missing it.”

Cooper: Some of the reporting may come from non-journalists “who are not stupid, by the way. You don’t have to go to journalism school to be a journalist. I didn’t go to journalism school,” he added—which was another big applause line.



When asked to list the publications she looked at each morning, Sharon Waxman listed all the electronic outlets and news feeds she peruses, then she said, “And I do look at…..” and she paused for thought. Rainey jumped in. “The LA Times?

Right, said Waxman, as the audience laughed, “the LA Times.”

“Don’t make me beg here,” said Rainey.


At some point a woman from the audience asked what would happen to longform journalism—what with everyone’s diminishing attention span and all. Was it as good as dead? The panel seemed stymied.

Then Andrew Donohue, who had said little during the hour, spoke up. Well, he said, actually, people will read long narrative or investigative pieces, particularly when they are run as a series. “We regularly run 10,000 word series….and our readership goes up when we do.” The key is, Donohue said, they have to be good, not boring.

(Yep. That’s the key alright—a point with which I repeatedly hector my Lit Journalism students.)
In the “greenroom,” where all the authors, panelists, and miscellaneous LA literary types hang out during the two day festival, there was much talk and gossip about the same topics as those discussed by the panel—plus the other big subject: the future of publishing.

On that count, literary agent Betsy Amster said she’s a new convert to the Sony Reader, Sony’s answer to the Kindle. “I love it. It makes me feel like reading’s suddenly fun again, like it was when I was a kid,” she said.

Bonnie Nadell (agent to the late and still missed David Foster Wallace, among others) said, as she cruised through the buffet line to grab some fresh vegetables, that people still want to read as much as they ever did. “I don’t see the demand for books going away at all,” she said. I told her about Amster’s new Sony Reader infatuation. She nodded sagely and said that manuscripts are now sent to her and other agents for the Kindle and the Sony reader, and it’s actually pretty great.

The 130,000 plus people who swarmed happily around the UCLA campus
all day Saturday and Sunday, purely for the love of reading, seemed to agree: Books are not going away. Not even a little bit.

PS: THE TWO PANELS THAT EVERYONE BUZZED ABOUT—just because they were so damned funny—-were those that featured my pal Tod Goldberg—plus some other very witty people like, novelist Seth Greenland, cartoonist, Lalo Alcaraz, and the Daily Show’s Larry Wilmore.

And listen: I’m not saying this because Tod’s my friend, I’m telling you the unvarnished truth.

See you there next year.

Posted in literature, Los Angeles Times, media, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

Electricity Down Leads to Blogging Pause

April 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

No, I’m not kidding. The neighbors’ tree took out the power line. Ah, Topanga!

There is much to tell….Nuggets of juicy news from the LA Times Book Fest….A new story or two of former gangmembers redeemed (with video)…and more.

Expecting power–and—resumed blogging Monday mid-morning.

Posted in arts, media | 4 Comments »

LA Times Festival of Books Weekend!

April 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


I realize that some people who live in the greater LA area
think it’s just fine to do things other than go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend, but they would be wrong. Very, very wrong.


Yes, there is other news: for instance….an ambiguous medical marijuana case in LA fed court.
…and Billings, Montana wants to be the new Git’mo, (fortunately the MT Senators say, oh, he-ell no!)….and Bill Maher has a smart and snarky Op Ed…and Paul Krugman stops opining about economics for a minute and talks instead about taking back America’s soul…

...But sometimes it’s important to take time for literature.


As most of you know, the LA Times Book fest is a free event that draws more than 130 thousand book lovers to the UCLA campus every year on the third weekend in April. There are readings and panels and speakers and kid events on an astonishing number of book-related topics.

I’m not on a panel this year, so will be happily sitting in the audience as an adoring acolyte at a number of panels both Saturday and Sunday.

To give you an idea of the wide variety of offerings… are some of my favorites in and around the 3 p.m. hour on Saturday alone.…. (Since these 3 p.m. panels feature some of my smartest friends, I am desperately trying to figure out how I can teleport between all five.)



At 3:30 p.m. in 100 Moore Hall
Humor & Race
Moderator: The brilliant and wildly funny Mr. Tod Goldberg—who, all by himself, is reason enough to make sure you see this panel. Trust me on this.
Mr. Lalo Alcaraz (terrific political cartoonist)
Mr. Christian Lander (very funny blogger/commentator)
Mr. Larry Wilmore (of Daily Show fame)


At 3 p.m. in Young Hall
Memoir: The Bigger Picture
Moderator: Ms. Dinah Lenney (brilliant)
Ms. Samantha Dunn (also brilliant)
Ms. Lynne Sharon Schwartz (totally amazing and wickedly smart)
Ms. Gabrielle Burton (don’t happen to know her but know she wrote a terrific book called
Heartbreak Hotel)


3 p.m. at the Fowler Museum, Lenart Auditorium
The Future of News (With the great mix below, drama is guaranteed!)
Moderator Ms. Karen Grigsby Bates (NPR)
Ms. Geneva Overholser (Dean of Annenberg School of Journalism. Go, Geneva!)
Mr. Russ Stanton (LA Times Editor-in-Chief)
Mr. Jacob Weisberg (Newsweek columnist and editor-in-chief of Slate)


AT 3 p.m. in Dodd Hall
Mystery: Cops & Crooks in California
with a bunch of the kings of the California mystery novel….chatting.
Moderator Mr. Robert Crais
Mr. T. Jefferson Parker
Mr. Joseph Wambaugh
Mr. Don Winslow


At 3:30 p.m. in Humanities Hall

Dave Cullen in Conversation with David L. Ulin
Interviewer Mr. David L. Ulin (Our fantastically smart LA Times Book Review editor)
Mr. Dave Cullen (author of the new very, very good new book, Columbine,….about, you know, Columbine.)


HERE’S THE FULL SCHEDULE …loaded with much more on Saturday and even more on Sunday.

Posted in Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 14 Comments »

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